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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE
Mal, Inara and Book are captured and find themselves in the hellish world of the Reavers. River's loyalties appear to have changed.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1995 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Things Fall Apart – Chapter 7
The Reavers picked up Lessing and Ossa, slung Wai-Lan over someone’s shoulders, kicked and dragged the rest to their feet and began a quick march towards the airlock. There was blood on the floor where the Reavers had lain in wait for them, and Mal felt a grim satisfaction that some of those being carried were their own men. It soon faded. Book was ahead of him, one arm hanging uselessly, and he saw Wai-Lan’s pale, terrified face looking back from over one of the Reaver’s shoulders. There were weapons all around him, but going for one would probably get him killed. No point doing that unless it gave the others a chance to escape, and there was no chance of that now. All he could do was wait for an opportunity to present itself.
They were taken through the airlock back into Section A, then on into the central stairwell where there were more Reavers guarding the access point to the upper decks. Their captors led them through a set of doors that had been propped open and into the banqueting hall.
Inara was ahead of him and Mal saw her hesitate and stumble as she was shoved forward. As he went through he saw why, and stared with a kind of dull horror at another vision of hell. The Reavers had set up camp. There were hordes of them scattered around the room, and every one looked as dangerous as their captors. Some were grouped around tables where an assortment of loot had been laid out – weapons, jewelry, clothing, anything that might have some value to be traded. Not far from the tables lay a pile of bodies, most of them stripped, many mutilated. They were below the balcony to the upper deck entrance. Captured soldiers had been strung up from the railings, dangling from their necks or their feet depending on the mood of their executioners. Mal hoped none of them were still alive, and tried not to look too closely as the bodies were pushed aside for them to pass.
The captives were marched to the far end of the hall beneath what had been the view port, although it was sealed shut now. Many of the Reavers turned to watch, and there was a chorus of whoops and shouts as they crowded around, grabbing at them and gabbling excitedly. The Reavers who held them bristled, snarling at anyone who came too close and beating off the incautious with heavy blows. Against the wall were huddled another group of captives, mostly older girls and young women, although there were three teenage boys off to one side. Some of the captives were children little more than Wai-Lan’s age, and they all showed signs of rough handling. Mal’s group were led between them and either dropped or shoved to the floor.
“Sit still and shut up,” the leader snapped, glaring around at the crowd that had followed them. He said something to his men, who formed a tight circle around them, weapons drawn. Then he left.
“You know that man?” Book asked Mal, leaning back against the wall and breathing heavily. He held his wounded arm awkwardly to one side. There was a deep cut from elbow to wrist, still seeping blood.
“Not so’s I’d recognize him now,” Mal replied, “But I ain’t that surprised. Heck, some of the things I seen in the war made me wonder how far we were from Reavers anyways.” He abruptly cut off that line of thought and examined Book’s wound. “Gotta do somethin’ about that. I ain’t the doctor, but I think I can get it to stop bleeding.”
Cautiously, keeping one eye on their captors, he began peeling back the shredded sleeve. The Reavers seemed more concerned about the crowd of kinsmen that surrounded them than their captives. Book laughed a little at Mal’s concern.
“Doesn’t seem much point,” he said. “Probably a better way to die than anything the Reavers can think up.” Then in a lower voice so that Inara and the child wouldn’t hear, “Lessing’s dead.”
Mal glanced at the man’s body lying at their feet, then at the Reavers protecting them.
“Zhe shi shenmo lan dongxi?” He muttered.
“I don’t know,” Book said, gritting his teeth as Mal tore open the sleeve. “We should be dead.”
Mal grimaced. “I always figured I’d be headin’ for hell myself, so I can’t say as I’d be overly surprised to find out this is it. Thought you had the man on your side though. Looks like getting’ religion ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, does it?”
“If I was dead then this arm wouldn’t be so ni tamade painfull,” Book hissed as Mal used the tattered pieces of cloth to fashion a tourniquet.
Mal had just finished tying a tourniquet when there was a commotion at the back of the crowd and a gradual lessening of the din. Ossa was stirring, raising his head dazedly. He looked up at the two men who had pushed their way through to the front. One of them was the old soldier. The other was a much taller man, heavily built, what could be seen of his arms and face covered in tattoos. Unlike every other Reaver Mal had seen he carried only one visible weapon, a hunting knife on his belt.
Mal heard Book draw in a sharp breath and glanced at him, then did a double take. The preacher’s face had lightened several shades and he was staring at the tall Reaver like a man in shock. Mal looked back and saw the tall Reaver’s eyes narrow, but that was as much a sign of recognition as he gave. The old soldier muttered something to him and the bigger man nodded. The old soldier gestured and the crowd behind them parted. River stood on the other side.
Inara gasped, and Book muttered an oath. River stepped through the crowd like a cat walking on broken glass, face pale and fists clenched. Every Reaver in the crowd strained forward and there was a murmur as she passed by, although Mal couldn’t understand what they were saying. River stopped a few feet away from the two Reavers at the front. She was staring at the floor, flicking quick glances at those that surrounded her.
“Which of these are your people?” The old soldier asked her. River blinked several times and her mouth worked, but she stayed silent. The Reaver repeated the question, surprisingly patient.
“You told us there were three. Which of these are your people?”
River’s eyes slid to him and back again. Her hand shot out, pointed to Mal, then Book, then Inara.
“These ones?” The old soldier asked, mimicking her gesture. River nodded.
“My tribe,” she said, her voice high and sharp. “They’re not to be harmed.”
The old soldier grimaced. “They’re alive.”
“They’re not to be harmed!” River insisted, glaring at him.
“They’ll not be harmed,” he agreed, not meeting her eyes.
The big Reaver spoke suddenly, and there was a general shifting and muttering from the crowd. Reluctantly they began to disperse, leaving only those who had been with the old soldier. Then the big man glanced at the old soldier and said something. The old soldier grinned, and as the big man turned away he gestured to his men. They immediately fell on Lessing’s body and Ossa, who shouted and struggled. Two of them grabbed for Wai-Lan, but Inara clung to her and wouldn’t let her go. Mal scrambled up to intervene and was clubbed across the head and knocked to the floor.
“River!” Book shouted. “Stop this!”
River screamed, and everyone froze. She stood shaking and panting, teeth bared.
“Let her go! She is mine!”
The Reavers dropped Wai-Lan as though she was rabid and Inara snatched her back. The old soldier snarled, “You did not say she was one of your people!”
“I claim her by blood debt. She is the sister of the man who is beholden to my kin, and therefore beholden to me,” River rattled off, and frowned suddenly at Wai-Lan. “Your brother lives,” she added.
Wai-Lan looked at her with huge eyes and wailed, “Yuxi! I want Yuxi!”
Inara stroked her hair, trying to quiet her down.
The old soldier spat to one side. “There is much blood debt in your tribe,” he growled and glared at Mal, who was being helped upright by Book. “Good thing for you, or you’d better believe you’d’ve been hangin’ by now.” He turned and followed his men. River hovered, hands clenching as she glanced between them.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, then turned and ran out of the hall after the tall Reaver.
“What about me?” Ossa screamed as he was dragged towards the balcony. “What about me? Help me!”
There were yells and whoops from the Reavers as they stripped Lessing’s body, showing the same efficiency with Ossa as they took shirt, boots, and anything else they wanted. Then a couple of the Reavers wound chains around Ossa’s ankles and threw them over the balcony railing. Book started to pray under his breath and Inara turned Wai-Lan’s head away, covering the child’s ears.
“Mal, can we do anything?” she asked under her breath.
“No,” Mal said bluntly, his face frozen. “I think the only reason we’re alive just left the room. Ain’t gonna risk it.”
“How did River get here?” Book asked, incredulous.
“Zoe said she smuggled herself in on one of the shuttles. That girl’s got some talent, I’ll give her that.”
“What is she doing with the Reavers?” Inara’s voice shook and she fixed her eyes on Mal’s face, refusing to look across the room for fear of what she’d see.
Mal let out a slow breath, “Don’t know. Can’t say I’ve ever understood River, nor the Reavers neither. Maybe they got somethin’ in common there.”
He made himself examine the room while the Reavers hung Ossa up by his feet and began the slow process of killing him. The other captives sat staring dully into space, apparently indifferent. Not even the children cried any more. Mal could see four exits, all of which had around twenty Reavers watching them. The trade tables were doing good business and several Reavers picked through the pile of bodies, hoping to find something the others may have missed. Arguments were frequent and solved with blows as often as not. If it hadn’t been for body count and the dress code, Mal could’ve mistaken it for a market day on any of a dozen different colony worlds.
“You knew that man,” Mal said to Book after a time, wanting to distract himself from the screaming.
“What man?” Book asked.
Mal turned and grabbed Book by the collar, shoving him up against the wall. “Hundan! Be straight with me, dong ma? This is not the time or the place for this go se!”
“Mal!” Inara had hold of his arm, “Please don’t!”
“This man lied to us! All this time he pretended he knew nothin’ about Reavers, even when he was prayin’ over the bodies of the people they had killed. He let us walk right into this!”
“Please don’t Mal! Book, there’s no point, just tell him.”
Mal’s glare turned from Book to Inara, shocked. “You know? You know what it is?”
“Shenme? Bu qu!” Inara shook her head violently, “No Mal, but I know he’s hiding something.”
“She doesn’t know anything,” Book said, his good hand grabbing hold of Mal’s wrist. “Let me go Mal, I’ll tell you what I can.”
Mal’s grip on the preacher’s collar loosened and he eased himself back, still glaring. “You know that big Reaver,” he insisted. “I saw it in your face. He recognized you.”
Book sighed and closed his eyes for a brief moment. He looked exhausted, and Inara touched his good arm gently. He opened his eyes and smiled a little.
“Mei guanxi, wo hen hao.” Then he looked at Mal and the smile died. “I knew that man, yes. But I don’t understand any of this. I meant it when I said we ought to be dead. Nothing I know can explain why we aren’t.”
“About anythin’ you can tell me would be more than I know now, and that’d be better’n nothin’,” Mal said, flinching at the sounds coming from across the room.
Book took a slow breath, his reluctance obvious. “You already know I wasn’t always a preacher.”
“You always did know way too much about the mind of a sinner,” Mal agreed.
“There are a lot of reasons why a man might choose to leave his former life,” Book cut across him, annoyed. “It’s been the better part of a decade since I took my vows and I’m still not free of my past. The reasons why I chose to leave are my own and will remain so. Much of what I was, of what I did, I cannot talk about, not even now. There are many reasons for that, and one of the most important ones to me is your protection. I will not endanger your lives with knowledge that will be of no use to you.”
There was enough bitterness in his voice to keep Mal silent. Book stared across the room, his face drawn with pain as he watched the Reavers’ sport.
“About fifteen years ago, before the Alliance called themselves the Alliance, I was involved in a project called Bladerunner. We were to conduct a threat assessment on the Reavers, study their capabilities and determine whether they posed a substantial risk to the core worlds and their colonies.” Book grimaced at Mal and Inara’s incredulous expressions. “Some of those I worked with were convinced we had been set up to fail, and they weren’t wrong. It was almost impossible. I had made some enemies and I imagine they hoped I’d end up dead or discredited, either was good enough for their purposes. Anyway, we spent the better part of our time chasing rumours and shadows. As soon as we became aware of an attack it was over, and we would be left with nothing but smoking ruins. The Reavers were too unpredictable and moved too fast. Settlers who survived were often unable or unwilling to tell us much about them. The few Reavers we managed to catch ended up dead before they could provide us with any useful information.” Book shook his head slowly. “You’ve got to understand how they think. They consider death in battle the only fitting way to die, and would rather die than be captured. Reavers don’t surrender. They also don’t take prisoners.”
“Then what are we? What are they?” Mal jerked his head towards the group of silent women and children.
Book sighed, staring at his hands. “They don’t take prisoners, but they do take slaves.”
“Is that what we are? Slaves?” Mal asked.
Book glanced quickly at Inara and Wai-Lan and shifted uncomfortably. “Most of the slaves are women and female children, although sometimes they will take boys. The only way an adult male lives is to become one of the Reavers. The only way to become one of the Reavers is to survive their initiation, and you don’t get that chance unless you’ve proved yourself a worthy opponent in battle. I told you, none of this makes sense. You and I should be hanging with Ossa right now.”
“River said that we were her tribe,” Inara broke in. “And she said that she claimed Wai-Lan by blood debt.”
The Shepherd examined Wai-Lan thoughtfully. “She said that Wai-Lan was beholden to her through the debt of a relative. Do you think she knows that Wai-Lan’s brother was rescued?”
“Only thing that makes sense, if you can call it that,” Mal agreed.
“I still don’t understand how she became involved in all this,” Inara said, shaking her head.
“Well she seems to have some knowledge of Reavers, because one of the few things that they do respect is tribal ties,” Book explained. “In Reaver society, your crew is your tribe. Much of the body modification – tattoos, piercings, hair and clothing – indicates tribal relationships. A blood debt, such as the one that River claimed for Wai-Lan and I presume she claimed for us, is usually incurred for saving a crew member’s life in battle. You incur such a debt, and it becomes the duty of your family – your crew – to honor it. These ties are many and intricate among the crew of any particular Reaver ship.”
Mal’s eyes narrowed as he examined the preacher. “I’m missin’ somethin’ here. You said you spent your time chasin’ rumours, tryin’ to catch yourselves a few Reavers. Exactly how did you learn so much about them?”
Book looked away again, his jaw clenched. For a long moment he was silent, and they could hear the sounds coming from across the hall with disturbing clarity. Inara rocked Wai-Lan and hummed a tune under her breath, trying to drown them out.
“Preacher,” Mal prompted, unable to take the silence any longer.
Book sighed again. “You’re right, we learnt hardly anything that first year. Most of what we know comes from the men we sent to infiltrate Reaver society.”
Both Inara and Mal stared at him in disbelief.
“How’d you manage that?” Mal demanded.
“They went willingly?” Inara asked.
“They were handpicked from a group of volunteers. We had thirteen men to begin with. It was stupid, but we were desperate. Our careers were riding on the project’s success. We thought we knew what they’d be facing. We thought they were prepared.” He closed his eyes. “My God, we were so arrogant.”
“How many of them survived?” Mal asked quietly.
“Two made it out. We found seven bodies. The rest we assumed to be dead.”
“Only now you think differently,” Mal added.
Book stared across the room at the door the tall Reaver had left by and drew in a slow breath. “Depends whether you consider this living. The two men who made it back, the things they had seen, the things they’d had to do to survive…. You cannot stay sane. Your only defense is to become what they are, and what they are is about as far from anything resembling humanity as it is possible to get.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Mal said grimly. “There’s plenty evidence for madness among us civilized folk. Never thought war was particularly sane, an’ you an’ I both know what that creature Niska’s capable of. He’d likely be able to teach this lot a lesson or two.”
“Wu de tyen ah,” Inara murmured under her breath, closing her eyes briefly. Both Book and Mal looked at her, then guiltily at each other.
“You got any idea if River’s new friends’ll let us walk out of this one alive?” Mal asked under his breath.
“None. The rules have all changed, and I don’t recognize the game,” Book replied.
“Jen dao mai, someone else holds all the cards and we’re makin’ it up as we go along.”
Then there was nothing left to say, and nothing left to do except listen to Ossa dying and the sounds of Reaver life continuing on around them. Wai-Lan hid her face against Inara’s shoulder, and Book tried to pray but found the words stuck in his throat. Mal’s mind wandered back to another place with the sound of men dying around him, sitting and waiting for it to be his turn. He closed his eyes, suddenly exhausted. When he opened them again, River was standing in front of him.
Mal started and swore. Book and Inara looked up. River stared at Mal, unblinking.
“You have to come,” she said earnestly.
The Reavers on either side of her stepped forward and grabbed Mal, dragging him to his feet. Inara made a sound of protest and tried to hold on to him, but Wai-Lan clutched at her, terrified, until she was forced to let go. Book struggled to his knees.
“Where are you taking him?” He demanded as the Reavers, one holding each arm, half carried and half dragged Mal away. River glanced back over her shoulder at the priest.
“To see the wizard and show him the path to righteousness,” she said. “Don’t worry, you’ll get your turn.”
She ran to catch up to the Reavers, leaving the Shepherd to stare after them.
It was Wai-Lan’s voice, and Book turned his head to see the child staring up at Inara. There were tears streaming down her face, and Wai-Lan was trying to brush them away.
“Inara, please don’t cry,” the child pleaded, her face crumpling as she began to sob.
Book reached for the Companion’s hand, his own eyes filling with tears. She held on, her eyes never leaving his face.
“How do you keep your faith?” She whispered, rocking the child. “In this place, how do you keep your faith?”
“In this place, faith is all we have,” he answered.
They held each other, and waited.
Mal found his feet about halfway across the hall and pulled angrily against the Reavers’ hold.
“I can walk, gorramit!”
He was ignored. The Reavers pushed him through the door and into a wide hallway. There were more Reavers here, but of a different breed to those in the ballroom. These were silent, watchful, every one heavily armed, and Mal spotted more than one piece of army issue – clothing, boots, weapons, and the odd tattoo. There wasn’t one of them without a weapon of some sort in his hands. Deserters, Mal thought to himself, or those for whom the War would never be over. River skipped ahead of them now, down the corridor and through another door, and Mal was all too happy to follow her away from the cold eyes of the men who guarded this place.
The room River led them to had been a small theatre. There were rows of chairs facing a stage, and a balcony above their heads as they entered. Mal looked up before he remembered why he shouldn’t, and was shocked to find that there were in fact no bodies dangling from the railings. There were more of the ex-military guards though, commanding a view of the auditorium. More on stage too, along with the tall Reaver they had labeled as the leader. And next to him on the stage was a boy in a wheelchair.
Mal blinked, sure he must be seeing things, but the scene remained the same. The tall Reaver stood with one hand on the back of the wheelchair and River bounded up on stage to stand on the other side, hands behind her back. The boy, who Mal realized was not as young as his slight build had first made him think, regarded him with his head lolling to one side. He raised a hand with an awkward, jerking movement, touching River, who glanced at him in question. The boy said something, the words so garbled that Mal couldn’t understand him, but River answered readily enough.
“This man was a leader for the Independents in the War. He fought the Alliance in Serenity Valley. If you want to know what it means to lead your people into war, to know what you will face and what your people will suffer in facing your Great Enemy, this man can show you.”
The boy’s head rested against the back of the chair as he regarded her. River stared back at him solemnly, then said as though she was answering some question left unspoken, “You will have to trust me. I will show you the paths you may choose and where some of them have lead. That is what I promised. After that, the choice is yours.”
The boy’s head fell forward and he regarded Mal from beneath a cowlick of mouse-brown hair. His hands twitched and jerked, then lay still in his lap. Mal returned the stare. He flicked a glance at River.
“What is this?”
“Shhh,” she admonished him, “you are not the one asking questions here.”
“I think I got a right, since you seem to have switched allegiances. Mind tellin’ me why?”
“Hush!” River snapped, “neither the place nor the time, Captain. Play the cowardly lion.”
Mal’s frown deepened. “I ain’t understandin’ you River, and I’m about through with patience. You got me an mine held hostage by a bunch of savages as likely to kill us as look at us. You got some explainin’ to do.”
The tall Reaver grunted and said impatiently, “Jy mors tyd. Wys vir hom hoe ernstig ons is.”
One of the men holding Mal pulled a knife, gripped his hair and put the blade to his throat.
“I really wish you would listen to me, Captain,” River said apologetically. “I bought your life with my own, you see, but the currency doesn’t go far here. Please don’t make it any more difficult than it has to be.”
“Hao ba, no more questions,” Mal agreed, wincing at the sting of the blade.
“Kom nou, dars geen tyd vir hierdie kak. Doen wat jy’t gesê jy wil doen en maak dit vinnig,” said the tall Reaver to River, who nodded quickly and dropped to her knees to rummage through a large bag on the stage behind the boy in the wheelchair.
The tall Reaver gestured to the two who held Mal, and they dragged him up onto the stage and then shoved him to his knees in front of the boy. River turned around, holding up a syringe and a small vial. With careful concentration she drew the liquid into the syringe, checked the amount, then looked expectantly at Mal.
“Hold out your arm please.”
Mal stared at her. “You have got to be joking.”
She looked a little surprised. “I assure you I am very serious, Captain. Please hold out your arm.”
“What is that?” He asked, nodding towards the syringe.
“It’s a powerful hallucinogenic. It produces an effect similar to lysergic acid diethylemide so I’m told, only the effects are more controllable,” River said, studying him intently. “Don’t worry, it isn’t addictive and there aren’t any side effects. At least I don’t think there are.” She looked thoughtful. “That’s what they told us when they gave it to us, but it was experimental…” River shook her head suddenly, “Oh well, I never suffered any ill effects so you should be fine. Your arm please.”
Mal raised his eyebrows, “You’re gonna inject me with some kinda drug that makes me hallucinate? After the day I just had? You must be fong luh. It ain’t gonna happen, River. ”
She sighed. The tall Reaver nodded to the two Reavers holding him. They wrestled him to the floor, then sat on him while they held his arm immobile.
“If you’d calm down it won’t hurt so much,” River said gently as she rolled up his sleeve. “If it makes you feel any better, I’m going to be taking it too. And I was always top of my class in the practicals.”
“That’s just great, I’m gonna have a crazy person for company,” Mal snarled as he struggled against the Reavers’ hold. “River, don’t do this. Don’t you do this to me.”
River deftly inserted the needle and depressed the syringe. Mal let out a string of swearwords. After a time he stopped struggling and said despairingly, “This ain’t no way for a man to die, River.”
Her expression was sorrowful, and she touched his face tentatively. “I’m sorry Captain, but you won’t die. Not this time.”
“No, I guess that’d be too much to hope for,” Mal murmured. He closed his eyes and waited.
Chinese: *Zhe shi shenmo lan dongxi?* What the hell is this? *ni tamade* fucking *Hundan* asshole *go se* crap *Mei guanxi, wo hen hao* it’s OK I’ll be fine *Wu de tyen ah* Dear God in Heaven *Jen dao mai* Just our luck *Hao ba* alright *fong luh* nuts
Afrikaans: *Jy mors tyd. Wys vir hom hoe ernstig ons is.* You’re wasting time. Show him how serious we are *Kom nou, dars geen tyd vir hierdie kak. Doen wat jy’t gesê jy wil doen en maak dit vinnig* Come on, there’s no time for this shit. Do what you said you wanted to do and make it quick.
Saturday, December 06, 2003 12:49 PM
Monday, December 29, 2003 6:56 PM
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