BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

BYTEMITE

Eidolon (Chapter 31)
Saturday, June 23, 2012

Such a landscape was treacherous as sand, shifting and burying, flitting across the mirrors to distort and shatter the image until everything overlapped. Her own fears in three echoes and relived through different perspectives. Answers in hidden tendencies, honed from pre-existing inclinations. (Reflections)


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3079    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

There was a moment, breathless, rushing as the air parted. A meteoric ascension towards one small spark from amid the screaming inferno looming above, detached and blank before convergence. Nightmares wandered through the labyrinth; grasped, captured, victims dragged away trying to escape the needles and machines. Strapped them to tables in sterile rooms behind bolted steel.

They were pleased. A mistake had been corrected, and one of their more elusive subjects was within their grasp. Ten years of carnage ended. An accusation. There are many kinds of monsters out there. None better or worse than others, just more self-aware.

"I don't -" Feeble denial, spoken in tandem.

"Yes you do. I know you do." Painful truth, haunted by the past. They could wake up from nightmares, but not from reality. Not from what they were and what they'd become.

Then she was River again, standing in the cold harsh-lit parallel. Outside they were planning, and waiting, as the lounge function demanded. She had to hurry. Prove them all wrong. They'd saved the dawn rose from the frost, and this time the spindle would wake her. She settled on the perch like a little bird and whispered in sleeping beauty's ear. "I'm going to tell you a story," she whispered.

- - - - - Inara was lost. The abyss crushed around her so she couldn't breathe, couldn't speak. She was abandoned and alone, hostage to her fears. Sinister shapes hovered at the edges of her sight, and her only company was a repetitive echo, dripping water and a rhythmic beating rendered in electronics like a measure of her life.

"It's a fairy tale," said the voice. "Because I'm -" A terrible piercing screech rose to drown out the explanation, like feedback from over the cortex, and a girl fluctuating between an alarming mix of children's laughter and sobbing.

"River?" The thought filled the space around her like a shout. The air stilled, dying down to a low murmur of conversation.

We were deceived. But how? This capability was always there. Everyone has a shadow, repressed feelings hidden by outer conduct, growing ever denser the brighter the surface is. This is the danger of descent - the dissolution of the persona, falling prey and possessed by an emerging and overwhelming violence.

It consumes them. They'd slit their throat to spite their neck, and gnaw their arms off rather than be shackled. They are as much a threat to themselves as they are to everyone else.

Dope him.

River continued despite the interruptions. "Once upon a time there were three families, separated by a pretty blue ocean."

In the background was a high pitched hum rising in scale, whining both expectant and demanding. A charge and a discharge. No response. The files suggested this might be an issue. Again.

"But they were bewitched," the teenager narrated. "One brave but reckless, another with grace too gentle, and the last cursed with curiosity. The clever little sister would lose her mind, the princess would fall into an endless sleep, and a courageous knight - " she paused dramatically - "would become a beast."

She could hear another tense discussion, just barely, fainter than the others, as though farther away. Reavers ain't men. Or they forgot how to be. Now they're just nothing.

You saw them then?

This was important, Inara realized. A memory? A message? A warning? Inara wasn't sure yet. She couldn't quite focus on any particular topic, but they all seemed related.

"One day the ocean grew jealous. Swelled and knocked down all the castles. Swept everyone away and they almost drowned. Dulcinea would not revive."

Then she remembered. Bright lights, and a terrible darkness. Anxiety gripped her. Was she there?

Kinda darkness you can't even imagine. More'n even the space it moves in. Mal?

"The hero found a way to break the enchantment, and she pricked her hands on the rose thorns, but too late; he had to swim against the rising tide to reach her, and she jumped in after him."

Where was he? If he wasn't with her, then chances were he'd tried something incredibly stubborn and noble and foolhardy. What had happened to her? What had he done? She had to find him before he hurt himself. But the bleak atmosphere wouldn't permit her. If anything, it grew thicker around her, as though to stop her.

"And that's when they got them. Sterile blue gloves that came out of the black. Put electrodes in their heads and shocked them until they couldn't scream."

A white flash burst over them, the glow lingering on her skin. Inara managed to break free, gasping as though she'd been submerged in water, or perhaps trapped in a deep faint or sinking through tar. She heard them talking again, closer and too real. Again. Higher this time.

She was treading, still fighting, and then she was in safe hands, warm around her own, drawn upwards as though on steel wings. Lightning split the gloom before her, and the stars fled like hopes she thought she'd resigned. Electricity crackled along beneath her like roots, spreading out from the shining fissure stretching from the sky, illuminating every corner and chasing away the memories. Her feet touched down, and she ran. Through a bright corridor, military and efficient, then a land of mist and snow, through the rising water cold upon her soles.

A low growl followed her, hurrying her footsteps. She thought she was being hunted; she wasn't sure how far she had gone. Not far enough. The snarl rose to a roar, and the ground shattered, burst apart in the firelight, mistaken momentarily for the sun. The smoke drifted from the ground around her and she gasped against its acrid taste. Inara passed the ghostly dead, silent in their uniforms and staring with glazed eyes shining out from the night, an army of two sides bound where they had fallen, coats and scarves, jackets and armor. She chased the deep rumbling bird-call of an engine, aflight and burning, a torch to light the way through the trenches and the tunnels like catacombs.

Then she was there at the airlock, Serenity lying in a hollow like a wreck in its grave. River was waiting for her, the guardian of the gates - "I'm just the medium," she corrected - dressed in a girlish sundress and pigtails. "Hurry."

- - - - - The captain was aggravating as a brother. He'd seemed like a fool at first, recklessly cheerful and a wild card, bantering friendly with everyone even across trenches with the purplebellies. Soon, Zoë was just one of the boys of the 57th Overlanders to Mal, which was better than she could say for her other C.O.'s and squads. She figured he was just reserves and would harden up or die, until she found out he'd joined up around the very beginning and had already survived two and a half years through some of the worst of the earliest fighting.

After that she thought maybe he was unhinged, but that was also just how he was. He understood all the death, talked about friends he missed, his lost family back on Shadow, and prayed over every life he took. Somehow, nothing he'd seen had dimmed whatever it was about him that had rallied soldiers around him. He acted like he was on adventure, his first time off-world. Everyone was good people and all the life or death was just heroics, to last until the war was over and the Alliance realized their mistake.

Only Serenity Valley and the surrender had managed to put a damper on his mania. Early on there hadn't been any anger or hate yet, just a bone-deep shock and weariness. He'd been there for them, keeping up morale as negotiations dragged on and disease and desperation set in, but he'd also grown inwards, and since then never showed his lighter side much. As he became more distant, and then when they were separated into the internment camps, Zoë understood how much just a familiar face and friendship and Reynold's jackass brand of horseplay had kept them alive. Barely, and sometimes dropping some very unwanted excitement on them all, but they survived, because if a yě shēng hú ní like that could manage, they none of them had any excuse dying.

Entire month she'd been so angry with him, and angry with herself, because somewhere down deep she couldn't disagree with the choices he'd made, even with what they'd cost. Looking back, he'd never done anything truly unforgivable. Until this. Until he hadn't come back, and she was left alone to remember.

Soon as they were back and the hovermule was secure, Zoë called Kaylee down from the engine room while Simon administered the treatment to Inara, then they regrouped in the cargo bay for a debriefing. Mal might've been a natural leader, but Zoë wasn't promoted to corporal and second in charge under his command because she liked to sit around and look pretty. She gave Jayne a hard look. Best get the hard part over with so they could get moving. "What happened?"

Jayne looked angry, and not a little defensive. "Got tricked by them women. They cried wolf, Mal fell for it and ran right into the Feds," he admitted. Grudgingly, like he was stung by the betrayal. "Figured somethin' was up first, so he told me to get the meds to the doc. Then the huǐ xī went gunnin' for me while they hauled him out to their flyin' fortress, an' here I am."

"Yǎo rén gǒu bù lù chǐ," she muttered. For a moment she wondered if Jayne hadn't been in on the plan, greedy for some pay-off, but then he wouldn't have shown up within shooting distance of her and wouldn't look like a pit bull that'd just been kicked and crawled up tail between legs.

Kaylee's fingers brushed over the coat, as though to confirm for herself, and then she looked around at them all like they had all the answers. "What'll we do?" she asked.

Jayne didn't bother to talk soft around the girl. "We leave Mal up there, they'll mind-bend 'im. Make him talk."

Simon spoke out. "Most of the Alliance forces are on the ground and the cruiser probably only has a skeleton crew." He checked with the former soldier for confirmation, which was granted, but if anything he only got more hesitant. "If River and I were to fake turning ourselves in, we could use that as an opening to get in and rescue the captain."

"No," Zoë answered flatly, at about the same time as a panicked shout - we can't lose anyone else! She glanced at Kaylee, who was begging soul in eyes to protect Simon from his own magnanimity. Zoë nodded to her. "She's right." Wash hadn't died so Simon and River could throw his efforts away for a chance at capture and torture.

"The captain is annoying, insane, and I've had to spend hours patching him back together after some ill-advised plan," Simon argued. "He's my patient. We have to do something."

Zoë knew it. What had happened to Mal after he was taken to the Ratched, he'd shut down for a while and never fully came back. Mal'd gone along with these Ezra rebels into the lion's den, had been willing to risk capture, subject himself to that again, to sacrifice himself for a chance at getting off-world and to save Inara. She searched around the crew, cogitating for any other ideas, when she spotted River through the infirmary window. The mindreader suddenly looked over at her, before launching into another wild speech of some sort.

- - - - - Serenity, for once, was completely quiet. For as long as Inara had been on the ship, there had been a messy collection of oddities kept in the cavernous bay; cargo they hadn't found buyers for, but that Mal had at least kept somewhat organized and tied down for transit and safety. Now debris and overturned crates were scattered everywhere and gathering dust. The power had failed and the lights didn't respond to her movement, and the space remained grey, indistinct, barely enough to see, motes suspended in time as she made her way by memory.

There was no one in the common lounge or the passenger dorms, all in disarray, the furniture broken, fabric torn. Inara climbed the stairs to the galley - if she would find anyone, they would be there.

Yet, despite her expectations, she was startled when she saw them, vague apparitions just standing around the dinner table, motionless as statues. This wasn't the active lively scene she had left, but they were all there, except for one, her friends and children not yet born. "What happened?" she asked. They did not speak to her, but raised their arms lifelessly to point towards the front hall.

Inara took their direction, and somehow ended up in neither the front hall, nor the bridge. She would have approached Mal, at the apex of the helm, his hands planted on the glass as he stared out into the vast empty black through his reflection. A barrier that kept them safe from that terrible place of nothing.

He was there with her anyway, red and brown and in this same white expanse, standing away from her, braced against the far wall. Between them on the tiled floor, a dangerous-looking silvery katana stuck through a leather coat, almost auburn, and curled around a pool of scarlet; her own dress, her own self, their hands joined and so pale. The sight struck her, as sharply as a blade. They'd always been racing each other to an early grave. Now it looked like they finally crossed the finish line together.

She closed the distance, following the vivid footprints stained against the canvas. He was wounded, she saw, blood soaking his side, and she wasn't so certain the gown she was wearing had always been crimson. "Never thought there'd be jasmine perfume in hell." He looked over at her, and she almost flinched at the intensity of his blue eyes, the emotions that were almost always there - sad, tired, worried. "You shouldn't be here."

The sound of their pursuit was getting louder. It's time to go. She tried to smile, a reassurance, not sure if it was for his benefit, or hers, and they faded away together.

- - - - - Dreams had a mind of their own. From the subconscious; underneath knowledge, shared awareness. Some danced in meadows while others opened locked doors. The prophets and philosophers from old saw significance in them, but only by granting them meaning. Such a landscape was treacherous as sand, shifting and burying, flitting across the mirrors to distort and shatter the image until everything overlapped. Her own fears in three echoes and relived through different perspectives. Answers in hidden tendencies, honed from pre-existing inclinations.

Not the first time, or the last. One could awaken from a dream, even from the dream of death. What light through yonder window breaks? With a fan of butterfly wings fair psyche opened her eyes, and was welcomed. The silt settled, provided the solution. "Be ready," River told her.

COMMENTS

Saturday, June 23, 2012 6:50 PM

EBFIDDLER


I'm going to admit that I saw an earlier draft of this, and it is very cool to see how it has evolved.
There are *so* many things going on in this chapter--it's very rich with symbolism and foreshadowing. Every time I read it, I'm seeing more. I especially like the Beauty and the Beast references and their conflation with Sleeping Beauty: both the prince and the princess need saving. Loved Zoe's recollections of Mal in the war; builds more backstory. The many references to Reavers are very disturbing.

Sunday, June 24, 2012 6:21 AM

AMDOBELL


Beautifully written and by turns lyrical and disturbing. The dream sequences fogging up what is or is not the reality of the situation. That last paragraph was such a good depiction of River even if voiced by dream like nymphs. Hopefully with more clarity in the next chapter will come the hope of a successful outcome for all. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, June 24, 2012 6:55 AM

BYTEMITE


Symbolically I tried to remove some of the unfortunate implications of sleeping beauty while still keeping the basic gist of it, though I guess beauty and the beast has that whole weird abduction stockholm thing going on. In my defense, Mal kind of abducted her from the training house, though she also went along willingly, and then there's the whole unhealthy codependence thing with the beast nearly dying because she leaves for like a week. Though that's STILL better than the sleeping beauty stuff.

In all honesty Snow White would have been the better reference, though I'd have to use apples to wake Inara up as a subversion, and with Mal that symbolism might have become more explosive than I really needed.

I guess I just couldn't resist throwing roses in there.

As for Zoe's recollections, this was my attempt to reconcile how optimistic Mal seems in the war and magnetic and friendly, with how kind of disturbing it is to be all that several years into a vicious and bloody war. I suspect that most of it was keeping up an act for his troops so that they had some way to cope with the stress, and that Mal never broke character until they lost. But I also can't rule out that he was trying to deal with some stuff of his own and maybe he was just a little crazy then too.

Sunday, June 24, 2012 7:11 AM

PLATONIST


Very insightful dream sequence, is River trying to bridge Mal and Inara?

Sunday, June 24, 2012 7:43 AM

BYTEMITE


EB, you and platonist have been an incredible amount of help, essential even, as I've been getting into these really tricky chapters and this vague uncharted plot territory. That has to be said and I should have said this much earlier.

Platonist: River has been implanting a lot of ideas with these dreams, and that will be very important in chapters to come. But this time there's a lot of information that's very immediate, things Inara needs to know about what Mal has been through that even he doesn't always acknowledge, and also a connection to his fears and what he's currently going through. So yeah.

Ali: yep, some scariness. We still have some chapters to go, so I can't promise a resolution by next chapter.

Sunday, June 24, 2012 9:32 AM

ALIASSE


For me, this is Byte at her Byte-ist: multi-layered, cryptic. Demanding! I find it very poetic, the way atmosphere is built. Inara's state contrasts horribly with the last chapter. And at the same time you manage to move the narrative forward and build back story. The word 'manic' is perfect for Mal. I clung on to Jayne's horrible prediction as one of the few bits of fact in this. Are you going to be brave enough to show us what's happening to him?

Sunday, June 24, 2012 9:55 AM

BYTEMITE


The good news is, I think there's only one really cryptic River point of view part that I have in mind coming up, but it's exposition heavy so I'll also probably have a character find the related information and translate.

There's some hints already what's happening to Mal and what's being done to him, but we'll see eventually how bad he is.

There's actually a lot of facts in here, since a lot of it is symbolic foreshadowing. Thanks be to River for her ability to turn nice dreams into nightmares. But, the nightmares are important, and River being eerie is in her nature, so that's probably just inevitable.

Sunday, June 24, 2012 10:53 AM

ALIASSE


I think I got those hints. Poor Mal. Give him a pair of slippers and an armchair somebody. I wonder how eerie River was before she was got to.

Sunday, June 24, 2012 11:24 AM

BYTEMITE


Apparently in the top secret labs on their capital ships the Alliance likes to use 1950s interrogation and psychiatric techniques.

River was plenty weird, but at least then her weirdness was mostly play with no connection to reality.


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