Badlands (chapter 2)
Monday, October 24, 2005

This one's fun to write. Hope it's fun to read, too.



The lights were getting brighter; lights and pain. Both sharpened, and Simon winced, his face contorting. A second later the pain subsided and he began to slip back into the comfortable warm darkness.

This time there was a man’s voice. "Doc." Again the pain shot through him.

"Hey." Another jolt of pain, more distinct, stabbed at his side.

"Quit kicking me!" he heard his own voice say.

"Mornin’, Doc. Rise and shine," Jayne said with a smile.

Simon realized he was lying on his stomach in the infirmary. He lifted his cheek off the floor and squinted up at the towering figure above him. The room swam into focus, a wreck of shattered glass and bent steel. The overhead lights flashed on and off like bursts of lightning. "What... happened?" he managed, struggling to turn over.

"Nothin. Why?" Jayne said casually.

"Are you… Are you some kind of a lunatic?" the doctor asked with growing outrage. "Wait, of course you are, what am I saying. Why were you kicking me? I could have had serious injuries."

"Yeah. You don’t." Jayne seemed disinterested in the whole conversation and was slicing off a piece of a ration wedge.

"How could you know? You’re not even-"

"Cause ya ain’t crying like a itty-bitty child. Ya ain’t even... cut up too bad or nothin’," Jayne said, waving the knife toward Simon and looking him over with disgust. "Luckiest sumbitch in the verse, you ask me."

As much as he disliked the idea, Simon was forced to agree. A patient’s table, which had ripped away from the floor, had sheltered him from the brunt of whatever destroyed the infirmary. "Is everyone all right?"

"Well, now, that’s all relative, ain’t it?" Jayne said.

Simon’s eyes widened. "River. Where’s River?"

"Case in point." Jayne popped a ration wedge into his mouth and motioned upwards with his knife.

The doctor raised his eyes to the ceiling and found himself face-to-face with his sister. She had lodged herself between the walls near the entrance and was staring down at the two of them, her expression blank.

"Don’t ask," Jayne said, chewing feverishly.

Simon ignored him. "River, what are you doing?"

"This was the floor," she replied. "This was the floor before."

"But... it’s not the floor now, is it?" Simon coaxed.

"No, Simon!" River giggled. "That would mean you’re on the ceiling."

Suddenly her expression was solemn again. "But I’ve decided to stay here for now-" Simon looked at Jayne, who was mouthing River’s words along with her, as though he knew them by heart "-in case it becomes the floor again."

"I told ya not to ask," Jayne continued as River finished.

Zoe rounded the corner and stopped in the doorway. "Doctor, nice to see you’re up and around. Don’t look too much worse for wear, either. I guess Jayne filled you in on our situation."

"Well, not exac-"

"Wash able to raise the captain, yet?" Jayne interrupted.

"Radio comes and goes. But no, not yet."

Simon’s head was still swimming. The first of a hundred questions was bubbling to the surface when Zoe yelped.

She had discovered River.

Zoe pointed up. "What is she...?"

Simon and Jayne answered in unison. "Don’t ask."


"Still, can’t say as I’m too surprised to see you hanging there," Patience said.

"That makes one of us," Mal grunted as a noose around his neck tightened. The other end of the rope was looped over a beam and tied to his hands, holding them over his head and turning any attempt to move his arms into a fight for oxygen. "All this fei hua for some cargo? You know we can always deal, Patience. Bygones and all that." Doing his best to look unconcerned, he watched as ropes were fixed for Kaylee and the shepherd beside him.

"Oh, I got all the cargo I wanted right here." Long afternoon shadows from the tiny barred window near the shepherd fell across the dingy jail, hiding her face as she spoke. "That’s your problem, Mal. You never see the big picture. Always focused on your little jobs. Your little business."

All of the ropes had been tugged taut, and stillness fell over the scene. Mal could hear Kaylee’s shuddering breaths.

"Well, you gonna kill us or not?" the captain said.

"I’d just as soon you didn’t, ma’am," Book interjected.

Kaylee nodded enthusiastically.

"Yeah, I was gonna," Patience replied, then paused. "But I got a better offer. Seems there’s a respectable gentleman out there in the black who wants to do it himself - bad enough to offer me a world o’ credits for your ugly hide. Enough to buy this pissant rock a dozen time over."

Book exchanged looks with the captain. Kaylee, who was tied in the middle, looked back and forth between their worried faces.

"The unfortunate part of this deal is that you gotta be alive," Patience continued. Then she stepped into the narrow beam of sunlight, and her face had a look that was all too familiar to Mal. "But, see, there’s a kind of hitch."

"Here it comes," the captain groaned to himself.

"You try to escape, all bets are off. Guess Mr. Niska’d rather have a dead body than nothin’."

One of Patience’s men entered through a creaking door and whispered something into her ear. She nodded and smiled in a way that made the hair on the back of Mal’s neck prickle.

"Well, it’s been good catchin’ up. I gotta go see to my town," Patience said, tipping her cap. “In the meantime..." She stopped and looked directly at the captain. "I hope you try to escape."

Then she turned and walked through the door, followed by her men, and the jail was once again silent.

"They don’t have the ship yet," Mal said. "They won’t hand us over ‘til everybody’s accounted for."

Book was whispering something out the window and didn’t seem to be listening.

"I don’t think faith’s the answer this time, preacher," the captain said.

"Someone has to do something," Book said.

"Don’t be silly, captain’s got a plan," Kaylee smiled hopefully. "You... you have a plan, right, captain?"

"Course I do," Mal smiled back. And he started trying to come up with a plan.


"All I know is that we’re somewhere in the Whitefall badlands," came Wash’s voice from beneath Serenity’s engine. "The nav-data was corrupted before-" There was the clang of something heavy being dropped. "Tah mah de!"

Wash rolled out, holding his hand.

"You all right? Let me have a look at it." Zoe crossed the room and took his hand.

"There’s a connection break somewhere," he said, shaking his head. "Kaylee could find it in second, I know. I thought maybe a problem with the primary artery line, but I can’t even see down there. Then with the dropping and the pain... And the truth is I’m not even sure what’s broken." Zoe kept messaging his hand. "We need... Kaylee," Wash said.

Her hands crept up his arm to his chest, then down his sides. She leaned in close to his face. "Bao bei?" she whispered.


"Can we not talk about Kaylee right now?"



A girl’s silhouette moved across the red desert sunset. Her hand slid along the ship’s underbelly, her mind full of all the love and dreams and unspoken words that haunted its hallways.

River froze. There was something awful howling beneath the wind. She strained, trying to hear it.

Now Jayne was here. He had one of the guns he loved so much, and it was pointing at her. There was anger.

"Gorram it, don’t just stand there starin’ at me! Duck!"

River fell to all fours and listened to the gun yell at a man behind a rock, a man she hadn’t seen before and couldn’t quite hear. The yelling scared a horse, and it carried another man away before Jayne could yell at him too.

The awful howling was gone now.

"Scouts," Jayne said. "One of’em got away. We better find a way outta this ruttin’ place, and fast."

"Everything’s pretty again," River said, smiling deeply at Jayne. "Thank you."

Jayne twitched uncomfortably.


The captain had the dim sensation that his collar was too tight. He went to loosen it, but his hands wouldn’t move and there was a sharp pinching at his neck. "Ow!" he said, jolting himself awake. "Okay, this is gettin’ damn annoying."

A narrow shaft of moonlight now streamed in from the window through which the shepherd was intently watching.

The captain’s voice had awakened Kaylee, and her head rolled toward him. "Captain. I was havin’ a bad dream," came her groggy voice. Suddenly her eyes shot open. "Hwoon dahn! It wasn’t a dream!"

A few feet away from her panicked face, was the shepherd’s. He was smiling.

"What?" Mal asked.

On the other side of the room, the door opened and a waifish wisp of a girl rushed in. Couldn’t have been much more than eight or nine. She ran somewhere out of sight. Then there was the scraping sound of a chair being moved across the room, and a second later, Mal felt his ropes fall away.

He turned in confusion to the little girl with the big knife.

Book was still smiling, getting his first good look at the girl he had met through the jail window a few hours earlier. "Malcolm Reynolds, I’d like to introduce you to Faith."

The girl extended her hand.


"Are they gone?" Patience studied the horizon from the back of her horse.

"Yes, ma’am," a man’s voice said. "Just rode out on the horses we left."

"Release the girl’s family," she replied. "And send out some scouts. I wanna know where I can find’em when the sun comes up."

"You’re not going after’em tonight?" said a surprised voice.

Patience gave a look of disdain. "You have any idea what time it is??" Then she turned her horse around and headed home to bed. "It’s damn cold out here."


Chapter 3 here


Monday, October 24, 2005 11:10 AM


Again with the great chapter. You have a great River "voice" keep up the writing. I wanna see chapter 3!

Monday, October 24, 2005 11:38 AM


So looking forward to more. I love your River.

Monday, October 24, 2005 12:00 PM


faith. hee!


Monday, October 24, 2005 1:27 PM


Patience is just evil, isn't she?

I'm with the others, standing over here in the 'we want more' line.

Monday, October 24, 2005 3:30 PM


Thanks so much for reading, everyone, and please keep sharing your thoughts, positive, negative, or vaguely indifferent. I'm trying to entertain YOU here.

Hopefully the story will keep getting better. It's meant to "feel" like an episode, so we'd be at the second commercial break now.

Oh, and Faith was my little wink at BtvS.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005 10:35 AM


You write River so well!
More please! Soon.
Not that I'm being demanding. Well, yah, okay. I'm being demanding.

And seriously, with Patience and Niska... I'm really thinkin' Mal needs to start shooting first and dealing later!

Friday, October 28, 2005 4:16 PM


You really do have River down well. The whole scene with her on the ceiling was my favorite.

- -Soul


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