Eidolon (Chapter 36)
Monday, October 1, 2012

"I cut the strings. They were never yours anyway.”(Liberation)


The path was forward was up in the air; both suspended as a walkway over the chasm between the stasis cell blocks and figuratively. The Operative worked his way down the ledge towards a restricted section of prisoners. Rarely had his training ever failed him, but an unsettled feeling that his mission might be compromised was rapidly becoming very familiar to him. Moments later, it blossomed into confirmation and certainty.

Empty. He had found no one in the holding area waiting for his interrogation as he requested, not the crew of Serenity, or River Tam's parents, or the students of the Academy. Now once more his quarry was two steps ahead of him. The pod was drained, abandoned, and shattered in an impressive display of force, as though the former resident had a grudge against the very glass of their prison.

He seldom knew aggravation like this. From the moment he had been assigned to track down a wayward empath from the Osirius facility, he had been confounded at every turn, even after the Miranda broadwave and now that his objectives had changed. He had granted them amnesty, and that had been a mistake. They were a liability now, if they ever told their story, and they had stolen the weapon he was after.

Thieves are never rogues amongst themselves, he thought wryly.

- - - - - Weren't bad escaping when there weren't bullets flying at them. Only one of them hurt was Mal, but that was just in keeping with the idiot ways. The captain always puffed himself up and told Jayne that he meant 'idiom ways' whenever he said that, but Jayne thought his take worked fine. So long as he didn't have a gorramn harpoon stuck out of his leg, or really anyone but him. Or Kaylee. Girl looked nervous as a hair trigger. More so whenever they passed more of them strange and creepy stupefied soldiers.

He wanted to grudge that against the captain, tangling the girl and all of them in this business, but the man was looking kind of pale at the moment. They hauled Mal's sorry hide up the stairs and all the way back to the hoistway, security opened right up for them. That was foreboding. Like walking into a big round metal trapping pit - a tin barrel, and them the fish.

Kaylee started hotwiring while he stood watch and the others were worrying over another crew member gone crazy. Moreso the doc while the captain's two curly haired women had some kind of argument between them, please and warnings only without words. Zoë, lean and stern and hard, and tall in particular, holding back Inara, small and slender and fancy but stubborn. Deputy and companion wrestled over Mal in a dignified tangle, their eyes flashing like thunderstorms. Finally, Zoë brooked no more debate, and still with her grip she looked to the doc, seemed to ask. "Well?"

Then it was like the curmudgeon heard her because he made a noise like a dying man, which Jayne supposed was about right. The anti-grav mechanics jostled them into motion, and Kaylee joined them all curious. "Cap'n?" she asked, him spread-eagle and her hazel eyes fearful and hopeful at once.

A few moments passed, and Mal returned bubbling up from limbo. Wasn't all there though. "Someone hit me?" Mal murmured hoarsely, muzzy headed.

"Beaten, more accurately, judging by this bruising pattern," The boy confirmed, kneeling by the captain with a medic's sight. His battered face was a mess of purple, all marks courtesy the Alliance. Except for the one nearly given him a black eye, Jayne was proud of that one. "Then shocked with electrodes and knocked out by a stun rifle. Also there's the stab wound and the psychotropic drugs." Simon pushed him back down when he tried to look. "Don't move." Not that the doctor's orders helped. Mal never listened to anyone except his own self.

Then the pain set in, and the layabout grimaced, the air hissing out from between Mal's teeth like the wind going out of his sails. "Always... been popular," he wheezed, a bitter laugh, dwindling away to almost nothing, his head lolling back.

Jayne had gotten to take down the captain's swagger a few pegs, he'd been hoping for another excuse. Least Mal knew who they were now, Jayne thought grudgingly, flexing his hand. Zoë must have figured the same because she didn't hit her old sergeant with a kayo from that fèi ​wù nonlethal Alliance carbine she'd picked up. The companion got herself free and scampered over to Mal, more obvious than she usually was, though not to say she ever hid that much as her training might be able.

Simon rose, glanced over, then back at Zoë. "We need to get him to the infirmary." Here Jayne would've thought Mal was going to dance for them if the doc hadn't said otherwise. "They can't have left Serenity undefended. How will we get through?"

Was Jayne the only one of them with any lick of gorramn sense? Seemed so. They'd stand around overthinking until they got caught, whereas he just wanted to get the hell away from the cruiser. "Not a problem so far," Jayne snorted, checked the cartridge in his side arm and scowled. Low on ammo. "Less'n the guards are like to wake up soon."

The lift slowed and stopped, doors opening to the hangar sprawled out before them. And the crazy girl, waiting for them halfway to gone. Simon saw his sister and moved first, rushed out just asking to be shot if there were any feds around. Zoë tried to grab him, pull him back into cover, no luck. She cursed and went to pursue, pushing the captain's re-appropriated pistol into Inara's unsure hands before she could follow. "Help him," Zoë told her. "Jayne, get Kaylee to the dock controls." Then the girl veered away, playing tag, and they were all three of them off on a wild goose chase.

"Be careful!" Kaylee called out to them. Jayne rolled his eyes. So much for surprise on their side. She smiled apologetically at Inara, tugged at his arm. "C'mon, this way," she said, and he grudgingly let the little mechanic pull him out of the lifts and lead him along. The longer he stayed, he might catch whatever it was that'd dropped all the purplebellies. They made a path along the walls deeper into the ass end of the cruiser, where no lights shone, when he heard talking from the hub. He gave Kaylee a glare that stopped her short and went on the prowl, hunting, and grinned to himself when he saw.

- - - - - The blonde sisters were irritated, more so than usual since their captivity. A wall of ming typeface scrolled up the monitor array almost too quickly to follow. Iris hovered behind them, watching nervously as she cradled a laser rifle like her oversized child. Where was the lockdown command prompt? "Found it yet?" she asked.

June shook her head. "Not in this mess." She exchanged an uncertain glance with Lena, and the look was returned, both overwhelmed by the sheer volume of packets across the network. The unspoken question hung between them. What were all these strange programs running over the cortex?

"I got an idea!" A man's voice, boisterous as he entered with cheerful sarcasm; the mercenary thug they had double-crossed. The girls jumped and whirled, their guns out, but he already had them in his sights. A girl in coveralls peered at them from around him, frightened by the stand-off. "How 'bout y'shut it all down, or else y'all get shot."

- - - - - Where was she going? Simon had trouble enough understanding his sister on the best of days, when the spark of her genius wasn't clouded by her condition. He was horrified to think what could have happened to her in the time she had been alone among her worst fears, what they might have done to her again. He could hear Zoë behind him, and knew that the captain couldn't wait, not any more than he could leave River like this. Maybe her sleep phrase would help. He hated to do that to her almost as much as she hated the effect of the programming on her, but he couldn't allow her to just run off by herself.

The first mate caught him by the arm and jerked him back. He shrugged her off him, and she stared back coldly. He turned back to his search, and River had vanished into the twisting labyrinth of identical hallways. Lost her. He whirled back on Zoë, ready for a confrontation. "Can you imagine what it must be like for her?" he demanded, "How upset she must be? This place is something out of her nightmares."

Zoë nodded. "I can," she answered brusquely, "I've seen what this place can do to people, your sister included. And that's why you need to leave her the hell alone." She cut him off again before he could voice his outrage. "S'pose she ain't herself, and she hurts you. Or worse, maybe she's on orders and baiting you for a trap." There was pragmatism in her words that he didn't want to hear. "She found us once, she can again anytime. You'll lead her back to Serenity, she'll lead you to trouble."

"Here I am," announced the intercoms, with a strange reverberation, and Simon only realized that River was behind him when she clasped her hand over his mouth. Zoë hefted the stun rifle, but River shushed them. "They'll hear you," she said, and explained before he could ask. "Guardians of the underworld."

Still his sister, Simon thought, comforted. He had just enough time to wonder where she'd gotten the chloroform before she moved on to Zoë and he lost consciousness.

- - - - - The gun was heavy in her blood stained hands, the point of the muzzle dipping as Inara watched the rest of the crew separate. She turned back to Mal, and tried to wake him again, grasping his shoulders. Zoë was wrong, her cautions unnecessary. She didn't care if Mal attacked her, she had to aid him and it would even be a relief to see him still fighting this. I can't do this on my own, Inara thought, beseeching, and meant so much. She couldn't carry him alone, not him or his self-destructive attitude. She'd known what he would sacrifice for her, and she couldn't ask this of him, the others depended on him so much. Honestly, she depended on him as well. He'd given back her life, if only temporarily, and she couldn't face this again without him. Please. I can't.

She closed her eyes against it. No. She would not cry over him. Not again. She swiped at the corner of her eye with the gold sleeve of her robe.

Mal was watching her when she looked again. So sad, so tired, full of regret and compassion. "You okay?" he asked, in barely a whisper.

She sighed, because otherwise she would have to choke back a laugh, or maybe more tears. Of course. Battered and partially impaled, dazed, barely able to even see straight, and of course he would ask if she was all right. Mal didn't even have the facilities at the moment to realize the significance of the question - that he had nearly lost her, that she was still here because of his efforts. He reached for her face, the wet trail she could still feel on her cheek, but she intercepted him. "We need to leave," she answered, and I need you to help me, she didn't say.

He peered around blearily. "Where we goin'?"

"Back to Serenity," she reminded him. She eased him upright, and he was too anemic to manage more than a wince of objection. "Lean on me," she suggested, and tucked herself under his arm, the other curled protectively around his midsection. She would assume his burdens for now. As she had another time he had been stabbed, defending her honour instead of her life, and they walked back home together.

Too much exertion; he was breathing too hard, his heart beating too hard. She gave him a few seconds to try to recover. He went quiet, and she thought he might have expended all the conversation he could manage. She should have learned not to underestimate him. "Pretty nurse like you... Shouldn't be on the front lines," he drawled.

That was so wrong, she didn't even know where to start. Inara managed to shift herself just enough to stare at him. "You're..." Her brow furrowed at him, testing the word as though it was a novelty, "flirting with me." He really was in a terrible state. Did he even know where they were? When they were? She supposed it was for the best he didn't recognize their surroundings. "You're half-dead, and now you're practicing flattery?" That was the most unlikely part. Five years, and the best compliments Mal could give tended to be backhanded. She shook her head. "Unbelievable."

Mal smiled to himself faintly, languishing again. "Curves like that ain't flattery."

Between juggling the weapon Zoë had given her and Mal, she was having an impossible time finding an angle for leverage, but then that was normal for her dealings with him. "Just... hold this," Inara told him, flustered. "You can tell me what a wonderful nurse I am after I've gotten us out of here." She gathered herself for the effort to lift him, glanced towards the threshold.

Two men in dark suits blocked the light from the hangar bay and their escape.

She remembered. The rain from the red skies was almost an impenetrable veil as she watched it from under a parasol of pink silk and cherry blossoms. Each droplet glittered as it caught the ever-moving luminescence of the Easis commercial district holograms, the dragon of Sihnon breathing cool fire among the fluttering red ribbons. The details of that outing had been inconsequential, except for those stolen moments in time, leading up to her discovery. She saw lurking figures behind the curtain of falling stars and hurried the girls along.

Later, after they had returned to House Madrassa, far from the city, they laughed off the anxiety and walked together around the gardens. That was when a black stealth craft appeared in the air above them, trapping them in the spotlight. A pair of fearsome shadows fell over them. The girls scattered into the wilderness, but they set upon her. Her dress tore, off her shoulder, split down the side. She ran, hiding wide eyed and with tangled hair in a thin compartment under a stairway, ducking back as the searchlight came too close. It seemed hours later before she heard the almost silent engines hum as they left, and she stayed there until one of her guild sisters found her and reached for her, all long limbs and dark grace.

In the hospital's experimental clinic, there had been a couple of Blue Sun contractors just like them in charge of removing the evidence and the failed specimens. Half asleep and paralyzed she had seen them stalk along the quiet rows of ghostly bedsheets and patients shining grey from the darkness, until they stood like death beside their victims.

They left only screaming and blood wherever they went. They were merciless, inhuman, and they would kill everyone.

Inara was already in motion as the memories flashed before her eyes, away from where Mal was half-laying as she threw herself upon the dais at the center of the platform. One of the men withdrew the deadly rod from the lapel of his jacket, and she brought her palm down on the buttons as silver antennas extended from either side of the device. The doors slid closed.

She earned only a second of peace. When they burst in again she wrapped her arms around the podium and clawed for a handhold as they tried to drag her away, back towards the entrance.

A deafening gunshot ricocheted around the chamber, and they dropped her. Mal leveled his pistol at the intruders from the ground, raised up on one arm, his expression dangerous. He fired another round, driving them back a few more paces, then again, until Inara could crawl over to the controls, shutting the hunters out once more. The captain moved his aim slightly, and put a bullet through the wall panel by the doors, sealing them in. His gun hand lowered and he laid back, his energy spent.

Eventually the ringing cleared and only the sound of their breathing remained. Inara crawled over to Mal, small and scared. He looked like a wraith, too pale even as night seeped into his skin. He wouldn't endure much longer, and neither would their defenses. The yāo ​xié would bypass the circuitry and break through eventually, and the half clip of ammunition would not be enough.

Inara drew the syringe from the concealed pocket in her sleeve. Two doses of the most bitter medicine. She had hoped for a different outcome - this was her last resort, a mercy if she reached him and he was already lost to his personal horrors, a measure against a lifetime of isolation, experiments, and torment. She could still spare him from this fate. "Mal?" she said, tentative. He blinked up at her in response listlessly, as though wondering why she was keeping him away from his peaceful slumber. "I have something that will dull the pain and stop the bleeding." He closed his eyes in acceptance, and knew what she meant.

She sat with him, kneeling, and ran her fingers through his hair, and prayed without incense to offer. For Zoë and Wash, and someday that they could be together; for Kaylee, and River, and Simon, and happiness; for Book and redemption; for Jayne and - Jayne. For the captain, and that she might meet him again.

He arched, constricted, a pain or maybe ecstasy, and then it was over. Her hand stilled on his forehead, and she reflected on the cruel jokes that the universe played in the shining metal tomb around them, in the crash of finality against the steel walls. "You won't have him," Inara vowed, defiant. She embraced him as she could not in this life, and covered him as the ghosts rushed in to claim them.

- - - - -

She left them dreaming, hidden away from the dangers, to waken with the passing of the storm. They would make their own way back, she didn't have to guide them like the others. Perhaps they simply were more rational, less likely to fall between the cracks into the mists or the rising torrent. Her brother the surgeon. The mother-to-be with her holster on her hip. Both giving life in the midst of bloodshed. They would stand witness.

Death and demise were before her. River resisted them, a concerted effort of neurons and electricity exerted remotely over every system in range of the network. She had been the best of the students, the most receptive even unaugmented, limitless when integrated. Her friends supported and encouraged her further.

She moved through the empty space, sheltering the star-crossed souls within her. She was fearless. She was Serenity.

They drank of hemlock. There was poetry in this, in the fan of moonlight wings. These were the deeper dreams, stinging that bring the tears like dew to the corners of their eyes. An origami doll and a tin soldier, hearts burning, waiting to rise with the ashes. The final moments played out for her, pressed forever on her vivid memory.

The undertakers did not understand the significance, unsatisfied by their claim. “They are beyond death,” she explained. Beyond command. They looked to her and thought the code words before they spoke them, but she interrupted. “No. I cut the strings. They were never yours anyway.”

Her disobedience was unprecedented. They tried to order her before, and she had captured instead of killed, nets instead of knives. She had survived. Too valuable to lose control.

She'd stolen their power to use against them. “You have to pull the trigger to make me sleep,” she told them. “I'm not your weapon anymore.”


Wednesday, October 3, 2012 1:44 PM


Okay, Bytemite, I am finding Inara quite confusing in this part. Did someone give her drugs too? Funny how all of a sudden the most sane one seems to be River! Can't wait to see what happens in the next shiny part. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Wednesday, October 3, 2012 3:47 PM


Yeah, she injected herself too rather than be killed or taken by the Hands of Blue. The syringes I saw in the series seemed to have two doses, one syringe seems to have been used twice. So that's what inara did here.


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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)