Eidolon (Chapter 34)
Friday, September 7, 2012

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)


Inara could not decide which seemed bleaker, their situation, or the sterile, featureless surroundings the guards escorted them through. The space was otherwise abandoned, and the unsettling desolation crept through her like frost warning of further bad weather. In the disquieting dreams she'd had, River had shown her a place like this in stolen visions. A glimpse, that had morphed into a surreal journey through frozen worlds and battlefields and tombs.

As a girl Inara had entertained herself with fairytales and stories about the spirit world. There, she could escape from the tower into the wilds. Then her mother crossed over, and the fantasy lost the appeal. Later she learned she had always been far closer to that world than she wanted to be, halfway there already; living, and in some ways already gone. She had been specially selected, and it wasn't as beautiful or lovely as she had hoped. Story of her life, really.

She knew this place like her last breath. If she should stay here, and allow her friends another chance, she would. She couldn't offer much else for them anyway. So it wasn't her fast approaching end that frightened her, but rather the prospects of who else she might find there with her.

Surrounded as they were, it wasn't until they had nearly passed through that Inara realized the foreboding gates had finally opened for her. The soldiers packed them into the lift tight, an oubliette of smooth steel walls. Another disappearance, unheard and silent through the black soundless and crushing around this prison. She was determined that would not be the fate of her friends. A blessing, that they were all standing so near; Kaylee was right beside her, and the soldiers were paying more attention to Zoe and Jayne and their penchant for brawling as the two gunhands slumbered.

Serenity's mechanic was just a girl, barely into her womanhood, and Inara sometimes wondered what Mal had been thinking, letting such a dear heart into the dangers they faced aboard the ship. Yet Kaylee had proven herself time and again; there was a special kind of bravery to fly around on the edge of civilization with all the treachery and aggression out there.

Right then Kaylee was a bundle of shivering nerves, her russet hair ruffled and her cheeks smeared with oil from the engines she had been working on. With a little reassurance and encouragement, she wouldn't falter. Inara pulled Kaylee into a hug - over the shoulder, a suggestion of shelter - and absorbed those fears until the trembling subsided almost with relief. "I think they're just holding us for now," Inara speculated. They hadn't killed them yet, after all.

Kaylee drew from her warmth. A little reassurance and encouragement and she was better. "Sorry how I acted 'bout you and Simon," she said, voice still quavering.

Inara felt another pang of regret over the incident, but couldn't help a wistful smile and a surge of affection of the girl. Of all the times and of all the things to apologize for at the moment. She wondered if she would see them again after this. "I should have told you all," she admitted.

"Kinda see why you didn't though," Kaylee answered. Another thought, sadder. "Cap'n doesn't even know he saved you."

The companion demurred, her eyes half-lidded, a fan of dark sooty lashes to hide her small sense of victory. "Perhaps it's for the best." Inara carefully slipped the screwdriver she'd pickpocketed from one of the guards into the heart-patch adorned front pockets of Kaylee's turquoise over-alls, then concealed her syringe in the marigold folds of her silk robes. "Getting arrested and forgetting everything he ever taught me? I can only imagine that lecture." Her words belied unexpected pride at the stealth of the exchange. No, instead he would tell her that she was not a petty thief like him and that she should never stoop to that. In between accidental compliments and trying not to praise her.

She smiled at Kaylee, who grinned back, and she tried not to think of it as a goodbye, but a joke shared between friends. The soldiers moved them out from the elevators towards the cell blocks.

- - - - - 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. Ghost images trying to live up to an ideal. Phantoms. Echoes. All in her head, cerebral impressions upon her senses, her memories. Cortex - shell, outer layer, surface, bark of a tree with brachiated roots and canopy. A sacred ash fed by the well lake and springs of wisdom, tended by the three maiden giants. There they lived, breathing myths, all beasts and mortals dying by the laws writ there.

Individual. Isolated. Connected. A cascade of electricity, whirling around her. The branches crackled against the sky like lightning. With a dedicated source, it would not short out. Beware all the tiān xiǎo de that might filter in though, bad influence on impressionable minds.

They thought she wasn't listening, too far under. She could hear everything, could never stop. Saw herself from the outside. Broken wreck and deadly assassin concealed behind dark curtains. The signals were crossed, needed to ensure her loyalty, her obedience. They had stimulated her temporoparietal junction, inducing another dissociative episode. Hadn't anticipated her defense. They had made her too strong. Suspended between here and there, simultaneously strapped to the chair and center of the storm. Louder here. Innocence under the malice, unaware of their actions as the would-be gods played with them.

She reached out into the current raging around her. The disruption sent ripples throughout the entire network, to each individual node. Land of butterflies and bluebirds and forgotten memories. A virtual reality, bound intricately to the other lives that sustained it, both the incorporeal and their changeling impostors. A suggestion arced towards her, seeking, imperative, invasive. They would drown her if they could. She intercepted the thought, and it unraveled in her hand.

These thieves, of both bodies and souls. Con artists down in the eighth circle with the vipers, smiling and biting. This could work both ways. Live by the sword, die by the sword. All weapons were double-edged.

Voices drifted to her as though on the breeze, other tortured students of the academy, friends, family. They imbued her. Her lifeline. Thread through the maze. Frustrate the devouring monster lying in wait. Need only follow it back and she would find them. She had her guide. Sialia - Cho, so insistent. All of them so desperate to reclaim what was theirs. Perhaps they were cheering her on.

Dive into the deep, dowsing herself for spirits. The shock might have killed her, quickening of synapses, but she knew the way back. Answer the rallying cry. The sea boiled, all of it away. They gathered to her, and she emerged, eyes open, released from bondage, and they followed her like fledglings down the hall.

- - - - - The Ezrans had been arriving for almost an hour now, grumbling and marching through the streets to gather, lit by the glow of the fuel fires behind the line of Alliance soldiers. At first when there had been a call away from fighting the blaze to deal with a situation at the north barricades, they thought they were just going to have to disperse curious civilians and turn looters away. Instead, they'd found a near riot that began jeering the moment they appeared along the wall.

The men and women of the regiment gazed out over the throng, their Iskellian laser carbines at the ready and growing ever more irritable from every shout directed at them. The lieutenant looked about ready to start yelling himself. "We're shining the light of civilization on this desert pit. They could at least be grateful," he bit out, gripping the rifle stock like a stranglehold.

Not that they could really understand any of it. "You'd think if they were going to try to insult us, they'd speak a language we actually know," Josie added. She saw Mick frowning as he ran it through the translator. Dà huò lín tóu. If he was concerned this was serious. "What're they saying?"

"Slavers, plague rats, curses involving goats," Mick answered with forced nonchalance. "And something about explosive sleep poison. They're demanding medicine."

It took Pvt. Haverson a moment to process that. "The flashbangs?" Josie asked, disbelieving.

The citizens had started to attack the roadblocks in a frenzy, working to tear the obstacles down and swarm the wall. A thrown rock nearly winged the lieutenant's ear, and that prompted him out of his indecision into frustration. "They don't like non-lethals, maybe they'll appreciate this," he growled, hand pressed to the speaker and microphone in his helmet. "Turrets, lay down scatter fire on my signal." He pulled his side arm and fired into the air, three times, rapidly. They surged forward, outraged and undeterred.

Was that the signal? Josie wondered. The civilians were now too close, the turrets would just slaughter them. She glanced at Mick, and they pulled their concussive grenades. A single red shot seared into the night.

- - - - - When last he had seen Captain Reynolds, there was fire in his eyes and soul. They had been adversaries then, a fight for survival, for unattainable ideals, for all the lives on Miranda, lost and forgotten; for revenge for an fleet destroyed, for an entire settlement of friends and an entire planet of strangers. Alliance justice had cut down both innocents and the unsavoury in its crusade by blade or bombardment alike; at the time, the Operative had not known the full extent of that guilt, had seen the atrocity brought to the skies overhead but not his own. Then he had witnessed the truth he had been sent to silence, forced to acknowledge what they had created and what he would preserve. The Reavers attacking the fleet, all those dying were his own fault, his own failure, complicit with the actions of his superiors. There was no better world, only monsters.

From that perspective, their actions had been self-defense. Humbled, he had granted the crew of Serenity pardon, and Reynolds, now merely an enemy of an enemy instead of his prey, had threatened violence if they ever crossed paths. The Operative promised he wouldn't. There is nothing left to see. The ship had rumbled free from the bounds of the ground and sky, and a former true believer had disappeared among the machines and rough hewn storehouses of the docks.

He was beyond redemption. So many times he had offered his victims an honourable death for the sake of the Alliance, and that had almost been his own fate. The captain had taught him the only reason for his continuing mortal defiance, however - to merely fall on his sword was too easy, and too painless, for the penance he deserved. His mind had been in a turmoil still, haunted by the ghosts of the lives he had been responsible for, the long list of his crimes.

They surrounded him again now like an arctic chill. This was a charnel house, and they were all Reavers on either side of the glass.

The cell might as well have been vacant. Reynolds was a man who could lose everything and not be cowed, who endured pain and torture with alarming regularity. A larger than life personality, and yet imprisoned in this endless white space he should look so small. All of that irascibility and determination had been extinguished; no more roguish banditry, brave enterprise, or downtrodden dignity, only nightmares for company. The years seemed to weigh on the captain's beaten and haunted features, old hardships and the newer electrical burns drawn across his face. A lifeless body in an orange jumpsuit, left to waste away in the dangerous specimens lab. Shrunken to an empty husk.

Those blue eyes stared out from shadowed, skeletal sockets as the captain glowered at some phantom from the past. Reactions remained, instinctive; the prisoner had curled in on himself with his back to the wall, motionless and hunched over as though ambush were imminent.

The Ratched's commander had left to prepare the other captives for his visit, and the Operative stepped through the invisible seal in the barrier. Reynolds tensed at the intrusion, both aware and not. Their gazes met, a sudden distrust and anger without recognition or reason. This response to the interrogation drugs was not uncommon; memory enhancers and truth serum could have volatile results on prisoners with violent backgrounds. One time the Operative had seen six marines struggle to carry away one man, uncontrollable and enraged by the horrors he had been forced to relive. He could still remember the screams.

Then Reynolds rolled onto his feet, trying to circle to one side, assessing, dangerous. This was no longer a man, but a feral animal. The Operative drew his blade in sorrow, a merciful scrape of metal. The captain lashed out in response, almost staggering into the deadly steel. Bare metal bit sharp and cruel as Reynolds ducked under the arc of the swing and grasped at the cold edge. A red gash opened unfelt along the palm of his offhand.

The momentum of the feint jerked the Operative off his feet and separated him from his weapon. He scrambled back up as the captain lost his balance and stumbled. The blade clattered to the ground, Reynolds skidded on his side to a stop, and did not, could not rise. Paralyzed. Weak. The sedatives had done their work.

He retrieved the blade, the hilt back in his hands like an old friend. A well placed boot knocked Reynolds over onto his back, and through the haze, a light of familiarity dawned as the man stared up at him. He coughed. "This your better world?" he asked deliriously, his throat harsh and raw from Alliance questioning and still too far gone to save.

The Operative shook his head. "This is," he answered. The captain jerked as the blade slid through his center, an apology at the tip of a sword. "Rest now," he said, and pulled the katana free, and wiped it with silk as he walked away, another life bleeding out behind him. There were others who needed to be saved as well.


Saturday, September 8, 2012 8:58 AM


Unrelentingly bleak and depressing, Bytemite. Was hoping for at least a spark of hope somewhere in this rather forlorn chapter. Leaves me wishing this whole piece was just a convoluted dream sequence, sorry, nightmare. Maybehaps they will all wake up soon? Ali D
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, September 8, 2012 9:10 AM


That's me! I serve up a hefty meal of all the angst forever.

But, actually I do have a way to resolve all of this in an equally relentlessly upbeat manner. Everyone lives! Sort of!

It's not really a spoiler, don't worry. If anyone can guess it in advance though, I'll think up a suitable reward.

Except for EBfiddler. (unnecessary friendly-antagonism) Because I'm betaing for her and she kind of already guessed. Though I could draw her a picture too, October is going to be pretty much arts up the wall.

Saturday, September 8, 2012 12:22 PM


Thanks for the prospect of a shiny outcome (sort of) Bytemite! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, September 8, 2012 4:27 PM


Haha, no problem.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 5:15 PM


Good use of images and language in the first section to convey that sense of foreboding and ominous potential. I've said it before, but I just *love* how sneaky Inara is with her pickpocketing sleight-of-hand skills. River's got some kind of electrical connection. The Ezrans are rising against the Alliance troops with their Pax: I'm glad of it, although I'm sorry to see Pvt Josie and Mick caught in the thick of it, with an irresponsible lieutenant in charge. I rather liked them. Great job with getting inside the Operative's head: so messed up, he almost makes Mal look well-adjusted. And one heck of a cliff-hanger. (I'll keep mum. I'm not in the running for the "guess how it ends" contest.) And so begins the action-packed peak of Eidolon. Looking forward to the next few chapters.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 6:51 PM


Mal taught her some of it, Nandi some of the rest, but she's also always had her own talent at the surreptitious.

That lieutenant has kind of sucked from the beginning. He's straight out of officer school. Means well, but a little too gung ho to approach a situation with any ability to diffuse it. Josie and Mick get how the world works. They're good friends, Josie is a little hotheaded and Mick is the levelheaded one - I actually think of them as reverse gender versions of Mal and Zoe, Mick's maybe a little more zen than just cool, and Josie is almost trigger happy but otherwise yeah.


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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)