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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
The madness of Captain Mal.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2385 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Back to Chapter 15.
* * * * *
Everyone but Wash was gathered at the dining room table, busy with their own thoughts as they picked at their food. Despite the silence in the room, no one noticed Mal stepping out of his bunk.
“Someone die or somethin’?” he asked from the doorway. They all turned to him in surprise. Mal exaggerated counting the bodies around the table. “Okay, seven here, plus me makes eight. Where’s Wash?”
Zoe answered, “Bridge. Checkin’ the scans.”
Mal came down the steps. “Then I guess we got ourselves a full house. So why y’all so gorram glum?” he forced a grin and noticed how they all relaxed in response.
Kaylee jumped up from the far end of the table with a smile. “Cap’n!” She started around towards him, but Mal nodded to her and took his seat before she could reach him for a hug. She stopped uncertainly, then caught Simon’s look. Make him feel comfortable, be nice. Kaylee took a breath and brought her smile back. “Good to see ya Captain,” she said more sedately, and returned to her seat.
“Thank you Kaylee.” Mal glanced around at the rest of the crew, his eyes skipping past a few of them. “And thank y’all for coming in to get me. I’m sorry about earlier, outside the infirmary. I wasn’t quite feelin’ myself.”
“Don’t worry about it, Captain,” Book said as he passed a serving bowl toward Mal. Mal took the bowl but didn’t reply.
“Did you get some sleep?” Simon asked.
“Sort of.” Mal didn’t elaborate as he dropped a few spoonfuls of protein mush onto his plate. He didn’t feel at all hungry, and the options they had for dinner didn’t help: brown gunk and green gunk. “So we out of seafood dinners or did I make that up too?” he asked awkwardly.
“Jayne polished ‘em all off,” Kaylee replied with a mischievous smile.
Jayne hurrumphed. “I’d have saved you some,” he told Mal, “but I kind’a forgot, bein’ busy with the rescue and all.” Kaylee jabbed him with an elbow. Be nice, she whispered. I am, he replied.
Mal watched their exchange. “That’s fine Jayne.” He returned to his plate. “It was a good plan. Must’ve taken some doin’.”
“We got River’s boyfriend to thank,” Jayne said.
“Not boyfriend!” River snapped at Jayne. She was sitting on Mal’s right, and turned back to him to say in a quiet but defensive voice, “I remind him of his daughter, that’s all.”
“Who’s this?” Mal asked.
“Trevor,” River said, then glanced at Inara. “Prefect Marone.”
“He was my client’s houseguest,” Inara explained, “on Oeneus.”
Mal didn’t look at Inara. “What’s his part in all this?” he asked Zoe.
“We couldn’t have gotten you out without him,” Zoe replied. “He plugged us into the security system at the Alliance base, and got Jayne in.”
“Jayne had to shave,” Inara said with a teasing smile, watching Mal’s reaction.
Mal only glanced at Jayne. “I noticed that,” he said, then he continued in a sarcastic tone, “That’s a heavy sacrifice for a man to make. Hope you’re bearin' up okay.” Everyone looked away from him and no one replied. After an uncomfortably silent couple of seconds, Mal sighed and added, “Actually Jayne, from what I recall it went off real smooth, and I certainly wasn’t much help. You did good workin’ it out.”
“Oh, well…” Jayne wasn’t sure how to respond to praise. He tipped his head toward Zoe. “It was a good plan.”
Mal nodded agreement. “So where’s this Prefect guy?”
“He’ll be meetin’ us on New Melbourne,” Zoe said as she started filling a plate for Wash.
“Don’t tell me we’re gettin’ more fish,” Mal said.
“Nah,” Jayne said. “We got a big fish to fry though. A Big Ricky fish.” He grinned at his own wit.
“Don’t worry 'bout it Captain,” Zoe said. “You just rest up.” She headed to the bridge with a full plate, laying a hand on Mal’s shoulder on her way out.
“And eat something,” Simon nodded at Mal’s untouched plate.
Mal considered his dinner and made a face. It didn’t look like real food; it looked like melted plastic. But he was feeling light headed, and having something in his stomach would likely help. “I’ll do my best,” he told Simon as he picked up his spoon.
Mal managed to get down a few mouthfuls while Kaylee launched into a description of some new toy of River’s. The crew all watched her avidly, faces cheerful, and no one turned back to Mal. Such a polite group, he thought, allowing him privacy to be moody at the dinner table.
His eyes flicked between them. It was clear they knew he wasn’t right, that they weren’t sure how to act around him. He didn’t know how to treat them either. Mal studied Book as the preacher replied to a comment of Kaylee’s. The man looked harmless, but Mal knew that wasn’t the way of it. Book could do things, knew things, that no preacher had any business with.
Kaylee was laughing, hands in front of her as she mimed something that looked vaguely like juggling. Her eyes caught Mal’s for a second and she quickly looked away. Poor girl had never been anywhere but some backwater world and this ship. Probably wouldn’t be a bad thing for the doctor to take her someplace better.
Kaylee’s gestures got more expansive, and Inara caught one of her elbows before it could bump her face. Inara playfully slapped Kaylee’s shoulder, looking open and kind and unguarded. Looking real. Mal felt his expression turn bitter and he forced himself to look away from her. He realized that he’d been scowling for some time.
He looked down at the spoon in his hand, then dropped it onto his plate. It didn’t feel right, being here. What he needed wasn’t food. What he needed was to go back to before this all happened, try to figure out what was real and what he’d invented in his own head.
“How long was it?” he quietly asked his plate.
“They had you for a day,” River replied from his side. “Another day since you got out.”
Mal looked up at her. “That all? Two days?”
“What’s wrong?” Simon asked from River’s side. “Captain, are you feeling sick? You look pale.”
Simon sounded oddly far away. Looked far away too, like down a tunnel. Mal tried to steady the spinning in his head, but it sped up. “I ain’t hungry. Two days, you’d think I’d be hungry. Ain’t right.”
“It’s probably all the drugs,” Simon answered, his voice still fading. “They’re still affecting your system.” Simon fell silent and the conversation around the table tapered off. The room grew unnaturally quiet. Mal stared down at his plate again. He could hear his own breathing, sounding slow and heavy and ragged. He also heard a buzzing: quiet, high pitched, distant.
“Not again,” he whispered and dropped his head in his hand. The bright light reflecting off the table under his plate made him squint. Fluorescent light on a clean white table. He glanced down at the neutral gray carpet. It looked familiar, and he didn’t like it. There were no blood stains on it, not yet, anyway. His eyes returned to his plate, then wandered the length of the table.
Mal was on his feet before he knew it, gun in hand and pointed at the Fed across from him. His chair tilted back and banged on the floor behind him. “What the hell you playin’ at?” He spat at the Fed. “You think you’re gettin’ in my head again?”
Faintly he heard – Captain! Mal! And a slimy shuddering feeling went up the back of his neck. Why would the Feds let him wear a gun? He shook his head. No time to think about that. One of the guards, a big guy who looked familiar, stood up. Mal swung the gun at him. “Sit. Down.” he ordered coldly. “Y’all just stay settled.” He backed away from the table so he could cover them all, and they did as he told them.
Mal returned his gun to the Fed at the head of the table. “You won’t be hurtin’ her again,” Mal told him. “She ain’t done nothin’ wrong.” He heard steps coming down a corridor behind him and he slid to his left so the guards couldn’t come in at his back.
“You tell them to let her go. Now,” he told the Fed, “or I will mess up that pretty uniform.” Mal was bluffing. He wanted to shoot the hundan while he had the chance, but he couldn’t pull the trigger. His finger wouldn’t obey him. At least the officer had the grace to look terrified.
He heard the guards clatter through the doorway, but didn’t look over. He didn’t want to see Kaylee’s limp body and her shocked, empty face.
“Sarge! Stand down! Sarge!”
The familiar voice cut through him. “Zoe?” Mal said, and he looked to his right. Zoe was on the steps down from the bridge, Wash behind her. Mal looked back down his gun sights, at a terrified Kaylee sitting at the far end of the table.
“Laotian, bu,” he whispered and all the breath left his body. He tilted his gun up to the ceiling and staggered back a few steps till his shoulder hit the wall. He dimly felt Zoe take the gun out of his hand as he sank to the floor.
“Mal - ” A hand was on his shoulder. He buried his face in his hands.
“Don’t touch me,” he muttered.
“Doc, a sedative might be helpful,” Book said.
“I can’t give him anything, not until those drugs clear out of his system.” Simon replied. “It’s too risky.”
Mal looked up. “No. No more drugs,” he ordered.
“Mal, you just pulled a gun on your own crew,” Zoe said softly.
“I am aware of that,” he replied sharply and quite unfairly. Was he really aware of anything?
“He wasn’t going to shoot anyone,” River said with confidence. “He was just confused.”
Jayne grunted. “If I ever got confused like that I’d get spaced.”
“He wasn’t ever going to pull the trigger,” River insisted. “He knew it wasn’t right.”
“Well, that is a comfort,” Jayne said with a snort.
Mal tipped his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. “Gimme a sec.” The crew waited while he forced himself to take a few deep breaths, then he opened his eyes. “Zoe, go in my bunk. Get all the guns, put ’em somewhere. Put ’em in your bunk and set a lock code on the door. Jayne, lock up your bunk too. And change the code on the gun locker. Any’a you others got guns, weapons of any kind, you make sure they’re put away.” Mal paused to think. “Wash, put a lock on the helm controls. And shuttle 2. Inara, get your shuttle.”
The crew stood in shocked silence. No one moved. “You heard the Captain,” Zoe said. She gave the Shepherd a look, then tipped her head toward Mal. Book nodded in return, and Zoe followed Jayne and Wash out the hatch toward the crew quarters and the bridge. Mal watched Inara put her arms around a trembling Kaylee and guide her out the opposite hatch.
Simon was standing next to the table, looking lost. “Doc,” Mal said, “may as well keep the infirmary locked up tight.” Simon nodded and headed aft.
Only Book and River remained. River was still sitting at the table; she picked up a piece of bread, bit off a chunk, and chewed on it like she was bored. Mal looked up, then quickly closed his eyes against the sight of the preacher standing over him.
“You want to talk about it?” Book asked.
“Not so much.”
“Captain, after what just happened, I think it may be time for you to accept aid, for your crew’s sake if not your own.”
Mal laughed softly. “Out here in the black I’m all I got. There’s no one for me to be leanin’ on.”
Book sat down next to Mal. “What gave you that idea?” he asked.
Book gave the Captain a long look. “I never said that. If you heard it, it was you sayin’ it to yourself.”
Mal let his head fall back against the wall, trying to recall where he’d heard Book say it. It came to him: on the catwalk, just before he went into Inara’s shuttle. Just after he woke up with a headache. Not real, never happened, he told himself.
“I guess I got myself a little free psychotherapy, courtesy of the mighty Alliance,” he said to Book.
“One could look at it that way. What you’ve been through is, in a way, a rare opportunity for insight.”
“I didn’t say that.”
Mal sat still for a moment, then he said softly, “You tried to tell me. About the path.”
“Do you see one now?”
“Don’t know if it’s in front or behind, but I saw where it went to.”
Mal didn’t respond, but River did for him. “It was Hell,” she said in a clear voice. “You were there, Shepherd.”
“Thought you weren’t gonna air my personals, little girl,” Mal told her.
“Sorry. I slipped.” She came over to sit beside Mal, and used the cuff of her sleeve to wipe the cold sweat off of his forehead. He closed his eyes and let her do it.
“Captain,” Book said, “if you think you’re headed for a dark place, I suggest you take a long look ‘round.” Mal turned his head toward the preacher, eyes questioning. Book continued, “There’re some folks on this ship standing tall beside you. You may want to try grabbing a’hold of some of them.”
“What, to drag along with me?” Mal asked.
Book smiled. “You’ll find we’re not so easy to pull down.”
“You just gotta have faith in people,” River said in a sighing voice.
Mal had heard that before, but he couldn’t place it. He didn’t know how to answer Book, so he turned his mind to the business at hand. “I gotta make sure Zoe finds all my guns,” he said in a tired voice, but he didn’t move to get up.
Book rose next to him, and Mal looked up. Light shone on the hand that stretched down to him. Mal took it and let Book pull him to his feet.
* * *
Mal climbed down the ladder to his bunk. At the bottom, Niska was waiting for him. The old madman had a crooked smile on his face and he stroked his snaky torture pet. “Welcome back, Mister Reynolds,” he said fondly. “Eh - where were we?”
Mal stepped back and put a hand over his left ear.
“You all right, sir?” Zoe was standing alone in his cabin, next to a small pile of guns on his bed.
“Yeah, just makin’ sure it’s still there.”
“Certainly not my mind,” he said under his breath.
“Not important.” Mal dropped his hand from his ear and walked around the ladder. “How many you got there?”
“A rifle and two handguns, including the one you had upstairs.”
“You missed a few.”
Mal popped open a small panel in the wall over his bed. “It don’t work, but…” he shrugged and tossed her the Lassiter. Then he reached above one of the beams running through the cabin, pulled up a strip of tape and took down a handgun. He checked the safety and threw it on the bed. Another tiny gun was tucked under the mattress, a third hidden in the sink drawer.
“I guess you’re prepared for the dreaded bunk siege, sir.”
“Exactly. Never can tell when you might get attacked by a well-spoken seductress with drugged up lips. And it’d be a good thing to have a gun to reach before you pass out.”
“Good plan sir. That’s it then?”
“There’s one more taped overhead outside.” Mal pointed up the ladder.
“Bounty hunters in the hallway.”
Mal stood and waited while Zoe stacked the guns carefully in a box. She started to pick it up, but then hesitated. “Sir, you know you can talk to me, don’t you?” she asked Mal.
Mal threw up his hands. “Renci de Fozu!” he said . “I get a little mind-coa and suddenly everybody wants to talk.”
“A little talkin’ ain’t always a bad thing.”
“Maybe I just want some quiet,” he snapped.
Zoe shrugged and picked up the box. She turned away, but then stopped at the bottom of the ladder when Mal spoke again in a casual voice, “Hey Zoe, you ain’t expectin’. Are ya?”
She turned back to him. He was leaning against the wall and looking at the floor. His expression might have looked neutral to anyone else, but Zoe could see the tension in the set of his jaw. “Expectin’ what?” she asked.
“You know. In a family way.”
“No, I’m not. Why you askin’?”
“Just wonderin’.” Mal sat down on the bed but still didn’t look at her. “Because if you were, or you were trying, and, say, you wanted to leave the ship, I would understand.”
“That’s very… understanding of you, Captain.”
“And you’d be better to leave sooner rather than later. Cause I would want you to be safe. I can manage the ship without you, there’d be no need for you to be riskin’ your little one.”
Zoe set the box of guns on the floor. Then she crossed her arms and looked down at Mal. “So that’s what happened?”
He finally looked up at her. “What d’you mean?”
“I got pregnant. And somethin’ bad happened to me and the baby. And you figured it was your fault.”
Mal shook his head; he didn’t like being so easy to read. When he looked at her again, she smiled and put a hand on her swollen stomach. Mal started to smile back, then he noticed the blood pouring out of a hole in her temple. But I never saw them shoot her! his muddled mind protested before more obvious things occurred to him. He turned away from her. “You ain’t pregnant Zoe. And nothin’ bad happened to you.”
“Then why you lookin’ so shaky?” Zoe sat down next to him, her unpregnant self again.
“Cause my brain is bruised.” Mal tried to laugh.
Zoe sighed. “Captain, I guess you picked up that Wash and I have been talkin’ about havin’ a kid. We ain’t agreed on it yet. But there’s one thing I know for sure.” Zoe’s voice turned serious. “I am NOT leavin’ this ship.”
“But Zoe - ”
“I know things ain’t good right now, and we’re runnin’ from hot place to hot place. That’s one reason Wash and I are waitin’. If things settle down, well, maybe we’ll be wantin’ to set up a nursery. But no matter, I got your back, and I ain’t goin’ nowhere.” Zoe got up and stood in front of him again, but Mal didn’t look up at her. He was studying his hands. She continued in a firm voice, “If that’s gonna cause you pangs of worry or guilt that you can’t handle, I suggest you find a way to get past it. I’m with you till whatever end we got comin’ finds us.” She paused but Mal didn’t reply. “Now, you got any more guns squirreled away?” she asked.
Mal swallowed before he replied. “You got ‘em all.”
“Good. But there’s one thing you missed.” She nodded to a large gray and blue bag sitting in a back corner of the cabin. He recognized it; it had been on the transport when they left the Alliance base.
“You got me somethin’?” Mal asked her with a tired half-grin. “Really, you shouldn’t have.”
“Cap’n, you won the Alliance charitable donation sweepstakes. Take from the criminals, give back to the criminals. All it took was a little finagling to get the right form.” Zoe opened up the bag and pulled his coat out of it, followed by his gun and holster and the clothes he’d been wearing when he disappeared from Atalanta station. She tucked the gun in her belt and left the coat and clothes on the stool.
Mal didn’t reply. He stared at his coat for a moment, then smiled and looked down at the floor.
“You want some company?” Zoe offered. “You don’t have to sit down here by yourself.”
Mal shook his head. “No, you go on. Check on Kaylee, make sure she’s okay.”
Zoe paused to consider arguing, but then she picked up the box and balanced it on her hip. “You’re the Captain. Try to get some sleep.”
Mal knew he wouldn’t be sleeping, not with the dreams he had waiting for him. He sat on his bed, leaning back against the bulkhead, trying to breathe deep and easy. The back of his head still ached dully where the wires had been injected. He put his hands over his eyes and sank into the silence of his bunk, occasionally aware of faint clomps as someone passed along the corridor outside.
He supposed that this was what Book had been talking about, when the preacher told him to grab ahold of someone. Sounded easy, and he knew these people would do it, most of them anyway. They’d sit with him, keep him awake or watch over him while he slept, if he asked. River and Zoe had offered already. But that just wasn’t his way. He couldn’t be the captain he was to these people after he let them hold his hand over nothing more than bad dreams.
Maybe there had been a time he’d have gone to Zoe; she’d seen him messed up plenty of times. But she had a husband now and Mal couldn’t bring himself to make the demands on her that he used to. No, he told himself, it was better that he sit it out, wait until all this wasn’t so close to tearing him to pieces. Then he’d be able to talk and joke about it, but not yet. For now it was best he keep it to himself.
“Once the drugs flush out, you should be fine.”
Mal started and lifted his hands off his eyes. “Doc. I didn’t hear you come down.”
Simon held up a small flashlight, shone it in one of Mal’s eyes, then the other. The light was painfully bright.
“No, this is all wrong,” Simon said to himself, shaking his head as he studied Mal’s face. “I need to do something about this.”
Simon turned to Niska, who was standing behind him with his glass of cognac. Niska’s free hand tapped a tray full of surgical tools, all lined up and ready for use. Simon set down the flashlight, and picked up a scalpel. Niska nodded with a smile, pointing to one of his own eyes, then tipped his head toward Mal. Simon turned back to his patient and raised the scalpel.
Mal was unable to move while he watched this exchange, but as the scalpel hovered an inch from his eye it occurred to him that he wasn’t tied down. He used both hands to shove Simon’s arm away, which didn’t work so well seeing as how the doctor wasn’t actually there. Mal tumbled to the floor and pushed himself back so he was sitting against the curved back wall of the cabin.
“So then,” Niska said, “we will have to make do with the other man.” He tipped his glass to Wash, who was strapped to an apparatus Mal recognized. Wash’s shirt was open and electrodes were attached to his chest. Simon stepped up to Wash and brought the scalpel to his face.
Mal pressed his back against the curved wall and closed his eyes. Not real, he thought. Nothing I can do. He spread his hands on the wall on either side of him. I’m on Serenity, my brain is messed up, but I’m here. I’m here.
He concentrated on the surface beneath his back and arms, feeling in it the slight vibration from the engines. Behind the steel, cables and wires ran from the bridge to the rest of the ship. On the other side of the gap, the solid outer hull held back the emptiness of space. Less than a meter from his body: empty, dark, quiet space.
Wash’s screams pierced the blackness. Focus, Mal told himself, keeping his eyes shut. He slid his hands along the wall, picturing the curve of it extending up and around the ‘neck’ of Serenity, over the hallway at the head of the ladder, down the other side behind Zoe and Wash’s cabin, under and up again to meet his back. He held the closed circle in his mind until it was solid, then he stretched it out to his right, over Kaylee’s cabin next to his and Jayne’s across the way, then on over the bridge. To his left the circle widened over the body of the ship, enclosing the dining room and kitchen, and underneath those the cargo bay.
A frame model of the ship pieced itself together in Mal’s mind. He knew his girl, knew every knobby bend in every corridor, every secret hidey hole where two rooms didn’t quite line up. Knew the air ducts and the spaces between walls where the systems that kept her alive and breathing had their vessels and lines. The Serenity in his mind looked like one of those cutaway doll houses he’d seen when he was a boy on Shadow, but his doll house had hinges everywhere. He could open her up however he pleased, admiring the sensible beauty of her form and exploring each compartment and everything in her.
There were little toy piles of crates in the cargo bay, and tiny curtains and candles decorating Inara’s shuttle. The cushy chairs and sofas in the common room could be shifted around. (He avoided looking into the infirmary; he didn’t want to see the glint of the silver instruments there.) He put mismatched chairs and a tiny wooden table in the dining room, with a lamp in the middle and placemats neatly arranged. Delicate strands of lights were strung around the entrance to Kaylee’s bunk, and buttons and displays flashed on the console in front of the pilot’s chair.
He finished building his model ship and found himself hovering in the blackness of space, looking down at it. Then the whole bridge section swung upwards of its own accord, showing him a cutaway view of the crew quarters. In his own cabin, Mal saw a little toy Captain sitting on the floor, eyes closed and back pressed to the curving outer wall. A Niska doll holding a tiny amber cup was placed next to a plastic haired doctor with red hands, and the Wash doll strapped to the orange metal pyramid had empty gaping eye sockets.
Mal whimpered as the ship in his mind shattered. He slid sideways to the floor and stretched out on his stomach, arms spread to the side with palms down. He pushed his thoughts into the steel of the deck, then under the bulkhead and into the next room. Slowly he built his frame model of Serenity again, with meticulous attention to every detail. When it was complete, he sped up time. The crew he imagined inside his ship moved faster and faster, pausing here and there before continuing on their business. They became grey blurs whizzing silently through the corridors, filling the seats at the dining table or the beds in their bunks, but never for long enough to be recognizable. Only the Captain doll laying on the deck of his cabin was still, and the walls and floors of his ship grew more solid around him as time flew by.
Simon found River laying in the corridor outside Mal’s cabin, her eyes closed and arms stretched out to her sides. When he touched her, planning to lift her and carry her off to bed, she pressed herself down, whispering, “I have to stay still. He can’t see me, but I’m there. I’ll disappear like everyone else if you make me move.” Simon stroked her hair once, then left her. He returned a few minutes later to spread a blanket over her still form.
He chose a chair from the sitting area and pushed it toward her. Curled up in the chair under another blanket, Simon watched over River until his eyes grew heavy and he drifted off to sleep.
Laotian, bu: Oh, god, no
renci de Fozu: merciful Buddha
On to Chapter 17.
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