Eidolon (Chapter 38)
Sunday, December 2, 2012

The girl processed that response. "He brought the medicine? He saved us?" Inara nodded, considering her own inclusion in the question. (Renewed)


The Ratched was calm at first, slowly stirring as though from a strange dream. Mass confusion and chaos quickly followed. They were handling the crisis well. Updates poured in from planet-side and over the intercoms to the bridge, asking for orders. A hold position was issued while the more immediate concerns were dealt with and the staging area was reclaimed.

He felt oddly detached himself, his memories of the past few days a blur. He remembered Miranda, the crew of Serenity, fighting an Operative, but he could not recall how he was now on an Alliance Cruiser. Why was he here?

There was something confused, he knew - a sense of two distinct lives he had somehow witnessed, and even more as a double agent with the browncoats and the military. Lies and secrets, information he shouldn't know. There was something important and elusive about students of the Academy, but more important, he needed to use his security clearance to get away, and get down the elevator to the hangar. He had an Operative's identification, and he would use that instead of his own.

The repair team he'd recruited nodded to him, and with a powerful sense of unease, he held a katana blade he both knew and didn't, and stepped out from the lift. He needed to find Serenity, he knew, and also felt the urge to pray.

- - - - - After several tense minutes watching the proximity readings, Zoë reclined back from her fading adrenalin rush into the embrace of frayed cushions and upholstery. The green-lit black spires of the I.A.V. Ratched sank around the curvature of the horizon behind them as they settled into orbit. Nothing had launched after them, near as she could tell. No pursuit. Too damn close, she thought. They were always skirting the edge of disaster. At least they hadn't lost anyone this time, but it was a near miss.

Even so. They were safe, but for how long? Bunch of surprises in just a few days, and she still wasn't even sure what had just happened. That was a liability bigger than any other. When the artillery started dropping, she wanted to know where the salvos were aiming. River likely had some idea, in that way she always did, but what the girl could tell them wasn't all that understandable at the moment. She'd wait for her to calm down before trying to commune with her.

In the meantime, that left them with a blind spot to sort out. Best she could figure they'd fallen into a special ops sting, and nearly stumbled into another one earlier with that ambush soiree Inara's friend put on. That meant Alliance had their IDs, as well as whatever the captain might've told them while drugged. She uneasily scanned the cortex chatter and ran tracers, half expecting a glitch to knock out the astronav, cut their power and send them tumbling into atmo. Lot of military encrypted sources, but incoming instead of outgoing. Alliance command was completely shut down.

The Ratched remained almost deathly quiet for a while, then she registered a flurry of communication with the surface. Guess they woke up, she thought.

Still no transmissions to Serenity demanding they prepare for boarding, and the sense of imminent danger lessened. Generally spook types didn't splash around failures over the cortex, so as long as the Alliance didn't put their faces out on a general alert, this was straight flying and clear skies for them. As she was looking, she noticed a few messages recorded in the logs. Mal had apparently saved the fake notice about Inara from the likely also fake neuro-clinic so he could brood over it later. Another one originated from Sihnon, some prim and gracefully aged lady, bejeweled and fine as a geisha doll in a high necked robe, frozen in replay. That was a mystery Zoë rather wouldn't delve into; the wave was time-stamped after the fact.

The last message they received two hours ago, and she had to respond. A few taps and keystrokes and she reopened the connection. Didn't have to wait long for the vid. The console chimed and the screen brightened to reveal a matronly woman in a headscarf. The shopkeeper appraised the former soldier coolly from under heavy lids and dusky eye shadow. "Go ahead."

Local cortex signal strong, no interference. She returned the gaze, just as keenly unperturbed, two bronze statues in a stare down. "This is Zoë Washburne to the Bûmelerze, communications up and transmitting."

"So I see." Under the static of the outdated technology, Zoë heard a slight hint of disapproval from Boss Tauwati. "I expected to speak with the captain."

There were layers of meaning, unspoken; the usual shifty cloak and dagger subterfuge for discussing the extralegal. Then again, explaining around the captain's injuries to skittish contacts was well-trodden ground for Serenity's first mate, lest they take it as a weakness. Never give them a reason. Never show them you're bleeding. "He's with our medic."

Boss Tauwati frowned, unsatisfied with the explanation. "There are rumours that he has been captured or killed by the soldiers," she mused.

That was fast. "Neither true," Zoë lied. At least, weren't so anymore.

A knowing sigh. "So he's hurt, then. Somehow I'm not surprised, after the stunt with the roller." Zoë found herself very much in agreement. She almost liked this shrewd black market ringleader despite herself. "And that horse and the balcony, and the medicine. All to impress his pretty young bride, and her him."

His what? Oh yeah, there would be no end of teasing them. Mal and his heroics, Inara running off into the Reavers to find him. Both of them were ridiculous over each other, and they'd have to run out of denial after this. Just figured that even the entire planet of Ezra could see it too. They'd better own up, she thought, the two of them couldn't take much more self-sacrifice and grand gestures anyway. "They'll live," Zoë deadpanned. If they didn't kill each other first.

The mogul's look sharpened. "Where is the team I sent with your people?"

Zoë shrugged. "Still with us." She said nothing about the betrayal of the three women. Were they acting on orders? She searched for any sign of the plot in the woman's broad features, any recognition or foreknowledge. None she could see, but she wasn't about to get careless. Not after the captain got injured again, and she wasn't even there.

Scrutiny across the cortex, then a nod of acceptance. "I have cargo for you. Come to my store. As soon as the girls are released I will give you the coordinates." The feed cut, leaving Zoë alone on the darkened bridge with her thoughts.

Not the most reassuring exchange, and the Alliance could still be a problem. Risky just for another job. All the same, she wanted those women off Serenity.

She rose from the pilot's chair, her finger's lingering a moment on the fabric of the arm rest, and descended the few steps and the hall towards the galley. Zoë could hear someone rummaging around in the cabinets, and she found Jayne sitting at the table, inspecting his new hand cannon, while Kaylee went about reheating the last meal they'd had. "Kaylee, we're landing again soon. Pack all the food away and get to the engine room."

"Aww," the younger girl muttered to herself, loud enough to hear, "but we all worked up an appetite. Less'n from those meds make you throw up."

Jayne furrowed his brows with an expression like an overly suspicious gorilla. "Why the hell we wanna go back there?" he objected, annoyed, paranoid, or maybe just lazy.

Zoë glanced over him. "Locals payin' us to," she answered.

The mercenary turned on a dime. "Okay."

"Bring your gun," she added, already on the move again.

- - - - - He threw open the floor panels while Zoë gave cover, her sidearm drawn and cocked. She was downright ominous, her curly mane gone wild, and there was no one wanting to bring down that hormonal pregnant fury, least of all the three they had stowed down in the brig. She looked to be thinking on spacing them anyhow, the fallow skin of her knuckles pale against the stock of the double-barreled shotgun. Dumped out the airlock, Jayne pondered. Made his stomach churn. Better them than him, though, if her mood turned on the rest of them.

A minute passed before she could even speak. "Out," she ordered, her voice hard as wrath and promising bullets. The crew gathered to see the double-crossers off, the cargo bay opened out to morning and the sand swept city. They just about chased the three girls off the ship with the force of their glowers, into the church square and the rabble standing around their landing gear. Too gorramn many people. Couldn't see any snipers on the rooftops. He felt itchy just being there, like a bullseye was painted on his back in laser sights.

The boss lady of the firebrands moved to greet them, then like a thin mirror Zoë raised her muzzle vertical and stepped forward into view just shy of the ramp. Jayne joined her, drumming his fingers against the underside of the bull-pup as a reminder. He smirked out at the crowd, and they backed off even as Zoë frowned. "Where's the cargo?" she asked.

Before he could shoot or curse, a pack of backbirth yokels carried and dragged official stamped boxes of supplies up to them then retreated. "Donation from the invaders," Boss Tauwati explained. "They've been confused and their outpost in disarray for a few hours now."

Zoë sent a cool glare at her counterpart. "Lose any others?"

Just like Zoë, Mama Tauwati set her face in a mask and her spine iron rod straight, and just like Zoë, she looked the more grief-stricken for it. "Just one. My own son, Enjolras."

They were silent a while, some kind of kinship passing between them. Then Zoë shot him a warning. "Jayne." He rolled his eyes and handed his gun to the other woman, so she could give it back to its previous owner.

Still no one left right away once the business was done, and the rest of the crew began venturing out warily. Finally one of the former slaves, a mousy desert rose newly outfitted in a charity-given linen dress and veil brought out her former livery and dropped it before them. Then another as she turned away, a man with a tremor who shook the doc's hand. A little teary-eyed smudge of a girl ran up to Zoë.

All the pilgrims and vagabonds surged forward, each bearing gifts. Now this was the way to buy bygones. King for a day. He could accept that. Bag of millet, fresh greens, bundled wool, pile of frilly slave girl costumes, a bejeweled knife laid at his feet. They were milling around despite Zoë's attempts to keep order, shouting and cheering and saying thanks none of them understood. Kaylee hugged each of them in turn anyway, caught up in the hilarity. Jayne saw Simon standing petrified nearby, suddenly holding a rope in his hands tied around a she-goat. Before long he was struggling with the animal to stop eating at his shirt. Eventually the goat got pushed away, and trotted off the ship. In the turmoil the doc made a poor guard for the infirmary.

- - - - - Inara felt a strange open vulnerability, a turmoil of emotion for once unguarded as the captain slept. He looked pale, and cold under the lights, and unusually calm. Almost sweet, if she could use that word to describe him. Only moments before, he had startled awake, seeming in a panic, and she carefully pressed him down into the infirmary chair to stop him from thrashing and opening his stitches. His gaze met hers, and focused for a long moment, and he'd called her an angel before his lashes fluttered closed. She couldn't decide whether to find a quilt for him or be furious with him, but if she left him to look for a blanket he might slip away again.

Every time, she seethed. The gunshot or the knife was always centimeters away from an artery. He'd leave them all; Zoë the only one to carry the memory, Jayne to his worse nature, Simon, Kaylee, and River without their protector. For what? For his own pigheaded high ideals? For a companion he mocked and insulted on a daily basis?

She didn't want to die. Yet despite how he might try to save her, there was no cure. His efforts meant so much - they meant everything to her, but she couldn't thank him for it. Not when he was always sacrificing himself for the impossible.

Aware suddenly of how closely she was sitting to him, she distanced herself from Mal, almost prepared for a joke at her expense from Kaylee or Zoë as they walked in on her, or Simon's understanding smiles as he checked on his patient. She couldn't handle any of them at the moment. A tug at the hem of her gold robe, and she turned to see the little girl she'd shielded from the grenade a few nights before, dressed in bright geometric patterns, her dark eyes shining with admiration from her midnight skin. "Oh sweetie," she exclaimed, "are you all right?"

A shy smile, a flash of brilliant contrasting white, and she held out her arms, asking to be held. Inara picked her up, cradled her in her lap. The companion wondered at how natural she felt, playing mother for this tiny stray. "Who's that?" the child asked, her voice small, studying Mal as he slept.

"That's Captain Reynolds." She listened to the electronic beat of the heart monitor.

The girl processed that response. "He brought the medicine? He saved us?" Inara nodded, considering her own inclusion in the question. The little one shifted to look up at her. "Did you really rescue him from the soldiers and escape from their sky tower?" she asked eagerly, clearly enchanted by the rumours.

Inara shrugged her shoulders awkwardly, a little uncomfortable with the line of inquiry. "I had help," she answered carefully. She wouldn't be the one to deconstruct those childhood dreams.

Her small grin was mostly innocent, cherubic, but also slightly teasing. So hopeful. "Do you love him?"

The fairytale, Inara thought sadly. Everyone always wants the fairytale. Despite what some liked to think, she wasn't a princess, or an angel, and however noble and heroic a thief Mal managed to be he was also just a man, as fragile as any other. A pound of pressure. He just had to learn the hard way, sometimes he even had to repeat the class. She glanced over at him, heat in her eyes. You had better not be listening, Malcolm Reynolds, or so help me - "Yes." An admission, with no hesitation.

There must have been something, an inflection in her tone. "Are you mad at him?" the girl asked curiously.

Inara sighed. "Almost always." She reached out to the bandage around his midsection, checking carefully, fingers brushing the coarse fabric, self-conscious about the matching gauze wrapped around her arm. "He never can stay in one piece."

"The lady outside is angry too," the child commented, her grip tightening. "I wanted to thank her more, but then she got really scary."

Zoë? Inara wondered, turning her head towards the direction of the cargo bay. She had been so lost in her thoughts she hadn't heard anything until now.

Two more visitors startled her, waiting nearby, a patient bearded man she recognized vaguely as the leader of the village where the crew stayed, and the kind elderly matchmaker. Both seemed amused, and she felt her cheeks warm in embarrassment. They'd heard the entire conversation. The patriarch tipped his head to her. "Forgive the intrusion, we merely wanted to pay our respects to the captain."

She hastened to set the girl down and stood - gracefully, without scrambling, she told herself - and nodded to them. They each approached, and closed their eyes in a prayer for his welfare. Inara silently added another of her own.

Another glance towards the commotion outside. "I should help," Inara excused herself.

Grandmother Hani beamed at her. "You already have, dear," the old woman said. Inara very much doubted that. "He might put himself in harm's way for you, but as I understand, without you, he might be dead. He is a lucky man, to have you watching over him. And I daresay, the same is true for you."

Inara was careful not to react to their words of comfort, but they seemed to know anyway. The patriarch took the little girl by the hand, an unspoken promise that they would take care of her, and they left the infirmary. Inara followed them out, and stood on the landing beside Zoë as they joined the crowd, waving goodbye as the airlock closed.

- - - - - The shift in artificial gravity always felt to Simon like a sort of uneasy tension in his chest, some unconscious ancestral memory that recognized that he belonged on the ground, not flying around and leaving breathable atmosphere. He unclipped himself from one of the harnesses hung in the common room. They were generally only used for turbulence or rough re-entries when they'd lost a buffer panel, but in view of the ever-present danger of a hull breech or even falling apart, he thought that it couldn't hurt to be too careful.

He checked the infirmary, where he'd strapped the captain to the operating table, less because of the large aftward fusion engine currently pushing them away from Ezra, and more because the man seemed to think sheer willpower could conquer medical common sense. The doctor was seriously considering approaching the first officer about doping the captain for the week-long transit to Persephone. That approach had worked wonders on Mal's recovery after their crash landing.

There were other reasons as well, Simon worried, thinking of the violent and unpredictable behaviour they'd seen on the Ratched. Not that Mal wasn't always violent and predictable to begin with. He wasn't sure how they'd tell the difference.

Once he was satisfied from the monitors that he wouldn't lose his patient in the near future, he found a note pad laying on the table in the lounge, and headed back to the dorms to see to River. She was going to be upset that they had to lock her in her room, even if there wasn't a security code on Serenity she couldn't crack. She'd be offended on principle, and that she wasn't allowed to see their parents. Then again, he was perturbed that his own sister had chloroformed him.

He knocked on the panel. "River?" he called. No answer. He braced himself, slid the screen aside, and entered, and found River kneeling on her bed, as though she were waiting, bored and annoyed. "I brought you a sketch book," he offered. She frowned at him, then wordlessly she flopped over on her side and turned away from him. He tiredly watched her ignore him, and wondered if he had been this much trouble as a teenager. "River," he coaxed, "you have to stay in here a while. You attacked us."

"Didn't know what to do," she murmured into her coverlet petulantly. "They would have killed you."

He set the tablet aside, and knelt down by her. "What happened up there?" he asked.

River tilted her head back towards him, looking as exhausted as he felt. "Cortex," she said. Right, Mal and Jayne and those three women had been trying to shut down the antlion to lift the landlock and reestablish a connection to the cortex so that they could escape. River pursed her lips, her nose wrinkled. "No, broadwave," she corrected herself. "Brain-wave." Another try. "All of us dancing to the unheard music."

Music? They'd trained River to respond to subliminal cues embedded in songs. He puzzled over her meaning. That wasn't right - she'd said all of them, everyone. All the unconscious guards, he suddenly thought, as if they'd heard River's sleep phrase. The thought struck him. Zoë had mentioned the Alliance had been performing experiments on the ship. What if it wasn't just on the prisoners or the Reavers? If they affect the soldiers like they could River, they never had to be concerned that their secrets or research might leak. "Mind control?" Simon asked her.

She nodded. Her eyes filled. "Plugged into the network. Tied me down, tried to erase me. Push the button." He brushed some of her hair out of her face, and she stared into him, desperation gleaming from her tears. "I pushed back. Ended the program." She crawled to him. "They're back, but they've all forgotten. I killed them."

He'd long since stopped being surprised what the measures the Alliance would take for complete domination. Simon shook his head and held her. "You freed them," he answered with certainty. Her hug was tighter. "And you're still not allowed out of this room," he added, as he pulled away and stood.

"Didn't know what to do," she echoed sadly.

"I know," he said, and she reached for her journal. He left as she immersed herself in whatever she was working on, and walked back towards the infirmary.

Zoë was already settled on the counter as he entered, watching the captain, expecting her pre-natal exam. Simon pressed a stethoscope to her skin, her shirt pulled up over the slight bulge of her stomach, and they listened to the second heartbeat underneath her strong pulse.


Monday, December 3, 2012 5:47 AM


So they're away from the Ratched, which still appears to be out of of action (good!), and they look to be in the clear -- for now anyway. Although I'm not convinced they're completely out of the woods. There might be further consequences. I like the visit with the inhabitants of Ezra, and bringing back some of those choice OC's, like Boss Tuawati and Grandmother Hani. Although good riddance to the three young fighting women, I say--they were more trouble than they were worth! The Ezrans' misconception that Inara is Mal's bride and that all these thrilling heroics have to do with the two of them trying to impress each other -- so funny and so true in some ways. I also was very amused by Jayne's griping about having to go back to Ezra, and then his complete turnabout when Zoe tells him it pays. I especially liked Inara's scene with Mal in the infirmary, and how the little girl catalyzes her admission. And it just figures that Simon uses the safety harness for a routine takeoff. I do believe we still have some people who were rescued from the Ratched aboard -- will we find out more about them next chapter?

Monday, December 3, 2012 6:02 AM


The Operative is still out there, and he still wants River's abilities or the other Academy students to use against the Alliance. But he also has other things to worry about. I might add a section dealing with the Operative to this chapter, I was planning to but I wanted to at least get this much put up.

We're going to fast forward a week after this, but we will get to meet those Academy students, who are harmless now, and River will also be released from her quarters and be able to sneak in to see her parents. Also, Simon will be letting Mal up and around by then, and we'll be arriving at Persephone, where we find out more about what has happened to Inara and the last of the loose ends will be tied up.

I still feel a little sorry for June, Lena, and Iris. They had some bad experiences, but they also made some mistakes and deliberately sabotaged Mal and the crew, so the anger they're getting is pretty justified. It's pretty obvious even to Zoe that they're just scared though, which is why she goes easy on them (for Zoe, anyway).

Wednesday, December 5, 2012 6:50 PM


They're finally away. I agree with EB though, not necessarily "safe"

I always enjoy Inara’s thoughts on Mal and of course Zoe’s musings on Mal and Inara, together or not.

Mal waking-up should make for some interesting conversation.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012 7:42 PM


Heh, you aren't joking about him waking up. *plot plot plot*

Thursday, December 6, 2012 11:41 AM


Can't wait to see that ^

Thursday, December 6, 2012 11:47 AM


I figured out a really excellent way to combine some stuff about how I wanted Mal to be after all this. Should be fun.


You must log in to post comments.



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)