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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE
River's ploy to get Book safely off the Nexus seems to have worked, and it looks as though the prophet may finally have the answers he's been looking for.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2109 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Author's note - this one was damned hard for many reasons. All my resolve to get it out three weeks ago made not the slightest bit of difference. So here it is, horribly late, and I only hope that it hangs together. I'm sure it could do with some trimming, but that's not happening tonight!
Disclaimer: None of this is mine, I borrow only by the grace of Mutant Enemy etc.
Things Fall Apart – Chapter 11
“No! The preacher is mine!” The Reaver leader shouted, rounding on River. “You said they’d want the girl! Do they think we’re playing games here? Ek sal vir hulle wys wat dink ek van hulle spieletjies!”
He turned and strode away down the aisle of the theatre, heading for the door where the Reaver who had brought the news of Serenity’s demands waited uneasily. The Reavers guarding the theatre muttered amongst themselves, unsettled by the sudden disagreement. The cause of it lay flat on his back on the stage, out cold.
The prophet was slumped in his chair, pale with exhaustion. “We haven’t time to waste on your vendetta,” he snapped at the Reaver leader’s retreating back. “The Alliance are little more than four hours away, and we must leave soon. We need this last subject. Without him, none of this means anything.”
The Reaver leader stopped and half turned, muscles rippling along his arms as he clenched his fists. “I have waited years for this chance. Years! I will take my revenge for what was done to me and my men. I will have his hide!”
“He has repented,” River said in a thin voice, staring absently at the floor. “He chose a different path.”
“By the time I am through with him he will have repented a whole lot more,” the Reaver leader growled. “I’ll gut him before he leaves this station, and I’ll have that girl flayed for this! They will take what we offer them or they will take nothing!”
“That will leave our people exactly where they were before, lost and confused and bickering amongst themselves while the Alliance drive us further and further out into the black,” the prophet retorted. “The only way we are going to stay one step ahead of our enemy is if we take every advantage we can get! Knowledge is our power in this war, Kaptein. We cannot match them in numbers or in weapons, but if we know where we are going while they are blundering about in the woods, then our people may have a chance of living through this. Sheep know no better than to trust the shepherd, and they will pay the price for their ignorance. We are not sheep, Kaptein, but if you keep this knowledge from us we might as well be.”
“The falcon cannot hear the falconer,” River murmured. “We left a trail of breadcrumbs through the wood, but the birds have pecked it all up. There’s no going back now,” she sighed.
The Reaver leader spun around and almost ran back down the aisle, jumping up on stage to stand over the prophet, jabbing one finger towards the unconscious man on the floor besides the wheelchair. “This man sent me and my men out to die to save his career,” he hissed. “We trusted him, and he treated us like beasts. We believed in him and in the mission. It was all lies.” He paused, jaw working as he stared at the still body of the Shepherd. “He betrayed us. Everything I had ever believed about myself, what I did, why I did it, was a lie, and he knew it. None of it meant anything to him!”
The prophet regarded the man towering above him with shadowed eyes, his face made gaunt by exhaustion. “What he did was reveal to you the truth behind the lie you had been living,” he said quietly. “It was no more than what was done to me, or her,” he gestured to River, “or to any of our tribesmen. We have all had the vale removed from our eyes, and now we gaze upon the truth. That is no easy thing. We have all had to suffer for this freedom. But you may take some consolation from the knowledge that his loss will bring us even greater gain. Besides, he is the service of the Great Betrayer. In time, he too will be betrayed. It is inevitable.”
The Reaver leader’s eyes narrowed. “The souls of my men demand vengeance.”
“And they will have it,” the frail young man said in a voice suddenly much stronger than he looked, carrying beyond the stage. “They will have their vengeance upon the Alliance and its minions a thousand fold for the crimes committed against them. Their ancestors will be well pleased with the souls taken in their memory, in the victory of those who fight the Great Betrayer.” He struggled to sit forward, a fierce light in his eyes. “There is no honour in dying like sheep, Kaptein. If you want your revenge, then live! Live when they would have you dead. Use your head when they expect you to use your heart. Have knowledge when they have none. Make the exchange. Give them what they want so that we can take what we need.”
There was a profound silence. Then River suddenly looked up, cocking her head as though she had heard something. She drew in a quick breath and turned to the prophet with wide eyes, saying urgently, “The beast is coming! The birds are calling, can you not hear them? They wheel above it like rooks on a hawk. We haven’t much time.”
“Your tribesmen are waiting for your lead,” the prophet murmured. The Reaver leader was still glaring at the Shepherd, jaw set mutinously.
“Hulle’t geweet,” he snarled, and turned the glare on River. “How? How did they know?”
River blinked and looked confused. “Birds chatter in the wood, it’s the silence you ought to worry about. They ate all the breadcrumbs and now I can’t find the path. If you do not know where you are going, any road will take you there.” She smiled slightly. “My mother used to say that.”
The Reaver leader bared his teeth briefly in annoyance, although he watched her warily. “She chatters like the birds she talks about, all noise and no sense.”
“The drugs and the memories haunt her,” the prophet said. “I only hope she can stay focused long enough.”
The tall Reaver sighed briefly. “Alright, ons het so ver gekom. But this had better be worth it, prophet.”
Shepherd Book woke to the unpleasant sensation of being carried flat on his back at some speed. He tried to crack open an eye, but the ceiling rushing by over his head only made him feel more nauseous. The brief glimpse he’d had of his surroundings assured him that he was still on the Nexus, and that those carrying him were Reavers. He couldn’t decide whether to curse or thank the Lord he was still alive.
The motion of travel stopped, and he heard the siren of an airlock door sound. Curiosity overcame good sense and he lifted his head to see where they were. Large letters above the door indicated that this was the entrance to the BC airlock, upper deck. The airlock above the one that he and Mal and the rest of their group had entered. The door opened, and he was forced to lay his head back down or throw up. He could hear feet running past on either side of the stretcher bearers going into the airlock, no doubt securing it. Then they were moving again.
The Shepherd could think of no reason for this journey. That he would get off this station alive was a hope he had left behind many hours ago. He had expected to wake up dangling from a balcony, with the Reaver leader’s grinning face watching over his slow torture and death. But the leader did not even appear to be among the Reavers carrying him. They had stopped inside the airlock now, and the Shepherd’s eyes opened wide when he hear a familiar voice.
“Where’s the preacher? I ain’t movin’ till I see him.”
“Jayne?” The Shepherd asked incredulously.
The Reavers carrying the stretcher moved a few paces forward until they were in front of the emergency hatch, and in the glare of the lights the Shepherd could just about make out the bulky figure of the big mercenary, aiming his trusty Vera into the airlock from what looked like one of the shuttles.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Book asked.
Jayne’s eyes settled on him briefly, then resumed their nervous watch on the Reavers. “Be careful there preacher, you’re forgetin’ your cover. Well, send him on over,” he said impatiently to the Reavers.
“Are you the commander?” One of the men holding the stretcher asked in heavily accented English. “The dominee does not leave till he’s on board.”
“I’m here,” said another voice from behind Jayne, and Duvenage’s face appeared at the hatch. He took in the scene at a glance. “I’ll come down.”
“I’d wait till we got the preacher on the shuttle,” Jayne cautioned.
“This hatch is only big enough for one man. Someone has to go first.” Duvenage replied calmly.
He stepped through and took the rungs of the ladder slowly, stepping onto the airlock floor and holding his hands clear of his body.
“You,” Book said. “I should’ve known.”
Duvenage spared him a look. “Yes,” he agreed, “you should have.” Then he addressed the Reavers. “I’m the one you want.”
“You’re the commander?” The Reaver who had spoken before sounded doubtful. He looked the slightly built Duvenage up and down.
“I’m the one responsible for evacuating the wounded Alliance soldiers, yes.”
The Reaver snorted. “Geen wonder.” At a gesture from him, the Shepherd found himself dumped roughly on the floor. “Op jou bene,” the Reaver told him. Book understood the sentiment if not the words. Struggling with nausea, he sat up.
“Are you alright?” Duvenage asked him quietly. “Do you need help?”
Book managed to get to his knees. “I’m alive, that is enough of a miracle for me,” he replied. When he tried to stand up, he staggered, and Duvenage quickly caught hold of his arm.
“You’re wounded,” Duvenage commented, taking in the now roughly bandaged gash on the Shepherd’s forearm.
Squinting in the glare of the emergency hatch’s lights, Book grimaced. “It could have been worse.” He held Duvenage’s stare. “Do you know why you are here?”
The other man’s face was expressionless. “I have an idea, yes. The doctor’s sister. She has something to do with this, doesn’t she?”
The Shepherd frowned. He had not expected Duvenage to know that much. “You are good,” he said grudgingly. “She’s trying to keep us alive. So far, she has succeeded.” He looked grim as he searched Duvenage’s face. “You can change that. I know you already know what you are willing to die for, and nothing I say can change that now. But these people are like family to me. I would consider it a very great favor if they made it off this station alive.”
There was a brief silence. The Reavers fidgeted. When Duvenage spoke, it was as though he hadn’t heard the preacher. “We brought a medic with us. Can you get up the ladder?”
“I think so,” the Shepherd sighed, and grasped a rung with his good hand. He gave Duvenage one last look. “At least I can take some consolation from knowing that shortly you’re going to feel as wonderful as I do right now.”
A flicker of what could have been amusement came and went on Duvenage’s face. Then he turned back towards the Reavers. Before Jayne had closed the hatch door after the Shepherd, the Reavers had left the airlock, and Duvenage with them.
Inara woke suddenly, drawing in a quick breath and raising her head so quickly she nearly hit it on Mal’s jaw.
“Hey there, sleepyhead,” he quickly loosened his hold on her as she pulled back, “Ni mei shi ba?”
She blinked a few times, frowning intently, and looked around the room. He saw realization creep across her face, and her shoulders slumped a little. Then she turned and stared at him with an intensity that made him distinctly uncomfortable. He really hoped she couldn’t tell what he was thinking right now, because seeing her half asleep like this had made his mind go all sorts of places he was too embarrassed to follow.
“Mal?” She asked.
“Do you know where you are?”
Now he frowned. Had he missed something? Were they no longer on the station? He couldn’t have been that out of it, could he? “We’re on Nexus, aren’t we?”
A look of intense relief crossed her face, “Oh, thank God.”
Her reaction made no sense to Mal. “Last time I checked, that wasn’t a good thing.”
“No,” she smiled, shaking her head and still studying him with that strange intensity. “No, it isn’t a good thing. But it’s an improvement.”
“On what?” he asked in disbelief.
“On where you were.” She fell silent, her wide, expressive eyes dark and sorrowful.
“I’m not understanding you, Inara.” If it hadn’t been for her expression, he would have been getting annoyed by all this double speak. “What happened? I woke up in this room with you, no idea how I got here, with one mother of a hangover I don’t remember gettin’. Last thing I do remember was bein’ in that hall with River and the cripple boy. Somethin’ went on in the middle, and I’d like to know what it was.”
There was a quick flash of pain in Inara’s eyes, and she looked down. It was then that she realized the position they were in. Mal still had one arm around her, something he’d been hoping she wouldn’t notice for a while, and it wasn’t hard to see that they’d been a lot closer a short time ago. She flicked a surprised glance up at him and pulled back further, slipping out of his hold. He let her go, feeling it somewhere in his gut as he did so but knowing there was no point in trying to stop her.
Inara struggled to straighten the remnants of the gown she was wearing, which by now was revealing rather more than she would have liked and enough for Mal’s mind to suddenly head southwards again. Slamming a lid on that thought in case she saw it in his face, he prompted again, “Inara, tell me what happened?” Then a rather horrifying thought occurred to him. Perhaps her uncharacteristic discomfort had something to do with him. “Oh no. I didn’t…I mean, I couldn’t have-” She looked up at him, confused. He struggled for the words to explain. “I have these memories. They’re not very clear, but I think I remember kissing you. And then I woke up and we were-” he searched desperately for a word that didn’t sound too suggestive, “together, only I can’t remember how that happened. Did we…did I do something to compromise our business relationship?”
Inara’s eyes went wide and that quick, wry smile he knew so well flashed. She shook her head, “No Mal, you didn’t. You behaved very well, considering.”
“Considerin’ what?” he asked doubtfully.
Her expression sobered, and she studied him again. “What do you remember after seeing River in the theatre?”
“It’s all a blur. There are things, but they don’t make any sense.” As he thought about it, the images rose in his mind’s eye. Many of them were familiar, scenes he knew more intimately than he cared to admit. He looked away from Inara, frowning. “It’s like a dream,” he murmured.
“A nightmare,” she corrected. “And not one you could wake up from either.”
“Shenme?” he asked, confused and rapidly loosing the good feeling he’d had only moments before.
“They drugged you and forced you to relive your memories of the war. Unfortunately, River couldn’t bring you back. You started to react as though what you were seeing was real, and you became violent. River panicked and called me.”
Mal’s face was incredulous. “What?” he said again.
Inara’s eyes snapped with anger at the memory. “I don’t know why they did it or what drug they used, but it induced hallucinations. You thought you were back in the war. When River couldn’t bring you out of it and the Reavers were having trouble controlling you, they threatened to kill you. River had them call me instead. She thought I might have better luck than she had.”
Mal stared at her open-mouthed. He wouldn’t have believed her if it hadn’t been for the fact that so many strange bits of memory kept surfacing that could have no other possible explanation. Such as the image of River and the cripple boy – who was suddenly able to walk – standing beside him in the middle of Serenity Valley. And Inara’s voice pleading with him while he watched a sniper take out a fifteen year old boy driven mad by fear, saying over and over again that it wasn’t real.
“Mal?” Inara’s worried voice broke in on dark thoughts. He blinked and looked at her, unaware of how grim his expression had become. She studied him warily, and asked, “Are you sure you are all right? You were pretty out of it for a time there.”
“Sure,” he said. “Got pumped full of drugs that made me relive the worst days of my life, practically got me killed, still haven’t a gorramned clue why we’re here or if we’re goin’ to get out of this alive. Xie xie, I’m just fine.”
Inara’s eyes narrowed. “Oh, you’re definitely feeling a lot better,” she said dryly.
Anger prompted an adrenaline rush, and Mal couldn’t sit still any more. He stood up quickly, and then had to stop and lean a hand against the wall as the room settled. Inara was on her feet, poised to grab for him in a way that suggested this was something she had done before.
“Drugged,” Mal said in disgust, swallowing against nausea and studying the tremors in his hands. “Thanks for talking me down. Sounds as though you saved my life.”
“Only fair, considering you saved mine,” Inara replied with a slight smile. “Just take it slowly please, you’re no lightweight.”
He almost smiled, but he was still so angry it made his gut clench. “None of this makes sense,” he muttered, taking a few practice steps towards the door. “How long have we been here?”
She shrugged. “I’m not sure how long I was asleep.”
“Do you know whether the others are alright?”
“The Shepherd and Wei-Lan were still with the rest of the captives when I was taken.”
“What about River?”
Inara frowned. “What about her?
“Do we know what she’s doing here? What this is all about?”
She shook her head slowly. “No. I couldn’t understand a lot of what she said. But I got the impression that you were not the only one.”
Mal eyed the door, wondering how many Reavers were on the other side. “The only what?”
“Candidate for the drug.”
Mal glanced over his shoulder at her and grimaced. “You mean some other poor bastard is feeling as wonderful as I do right now? I tell you, when we get out of this, me an’ that little tchen wah are going to have a serious talk about settin’ some boundaries.”
Without warning, he reached out and opened the door. Inara made a half-strangled sound, and Mal quickly raised his hands as three gun barrels pointed his way, a series of ratcheting noises making it clear that they were ready for use.
“Just checkin’ you guys hadn’t gone to sleep out there,” Mal said with a grin. Stony silence greeted him. He shrugged. “Fine, sorry, won’t do it again. Someone couldn’t bring us some water could they? Been in here a while an’ all.”
The door slammed in his face.
“Well, it was worth a shot,” Mal turned back and studied Inara’s pale-faced, wide-eyed look of horror. “Reavers ain’t got much of a sense of humor now, do they?” He commented.
It was the first time he’d heard her use that particular word. Perhaps she had learned something during her tenure on board Firefly after all.
“Interesting,” Duvenage commented, looking around him.
River watched the knife warily, holding on to the prophet’s hand. She was feeling sick. She’d had to take another dose of the drug because of the delay, and she didn’t think that she should have. Not that there’d been much choice, of course. The prophet was looking marginally better than she was, but then he didn’t have to do all the work. He was just along for the ride. That was good, because River couldn’t have made sense of what she was seeing anyway.
They were in what looked like a garden, although it was a strange one. There were tall hedges on all sides, so high that nothing could be seen beyond them. The three of them – the knife, River, and the prophet – stood on the edge of a wide expanse of lawn, in the center of which was a small temple. Or it had seemed small. River realized when she looked again that the temple itself was huge, a rambling structure across several levels, but perspective wasn’t working as it should here and it appeared to be closer than it actually was.
“What is that?” She asked.
“The House Madrasse,” Duvenage told her. “You may know it as the Whore’s Temple. It is situated on Sinon. A beautiful place.”
River frowned. “Inara,” she murmured.
“What are those?” The prophet asked, pointing to what looked like gaps in the hedge that surrounded them.
“I believe that they are ways into the maze,” Duvenage said, studying the nearest intently. “Or perhaps they are ways out. It would depend whether we are inside or outside, I’d imagine.”
“But why are there three of them?” the prophet asked. “I thought that there was only one way into or out of a maze.”
Duvenage frowned just a little and studied the young man thoughtfully. “There is never only one way. There is always a choice. You just have to recognize it for what it is.”
The prophet fidgeted. “But I don’t understand,” he said irritably, and glared at River. “You said there would be a third way, a middle path. How am I supposed to know which one it is?”
River looked at him with bruised eyes, struggling to bring enough of her mind together to deal with this problem. “It’ll be the path you haven’t taken.”
“Which one is that?” The prophet demanded, staring at the entrance to the nearest.
“You don’t know where you’ve been?” Duvenage asked. “How do you expect to know where you are if you do not know where you have been?”
“Enough!” The prophet snapped. “You were supposed to show me the way out. River said that you would know the way. Do you?”
Utterly unconcerned with the prophet’s temper, Duvenage started to walk slowly across the lawn, hands held lightly behind his back, studying the hedge with some interest. Sighing in annoyance, the prophet tugged on River’s hand and followed after him.
“Well, do you?” he demanded.
Duvenage looked up towards the cloudless sky above them and smiled. He glanced at River. “Is this your vision?” He asked.
“Shenme?” she asked, dazed.
“This place, is it how you see me? I have to admit it is not how I would have described my psyche, but then it is a little difficult to have perspective on one’s own idiosyncrasies. It is somewhat more…organic than I would have thought.”
River eyed him warily. “We all come from the earth,” she said. Knives had to be treated with caution, even ones apparently sheathed. “It is ordered,” she added by way of appeasement.
“That it is,” Duvenage agreed. “And quite peaceful. I didn’t expect that.”
“You are wasting time!” The prophet shouted, making River flinch. Duvenage stopped, eyed the younger man with some regret, and sighed. “Yes, I suppose we are. You must forgive me, it is just that such an opportunity has not been presented to me before and likely won’t be again. I am utterly intrigued by what it is that you are both capable of. It has made me forgetful of our purpose here.” He gestured towards the nearest entrance. “Do you see down that path?”
The prophet shook his head, “No, I don’t…oh….” As he stared, the gap in the hedge widened, and he looked down onto a valley beneath a grey sky. Constant shelling had churned the ground into soup, and there were other things sticking out of the mud that didn’t bare closer examination. “Yes, I know that way,” he said shortly. “I have no intention of taking that path.”
Duvenage began walking again, following the line of the hedge. River squinted up at the sky and was dragged along by the prophet. At the next gap, Duvenage turned and looked at the prophet expectantly. The prophet stared, and saw through the gap into a churning darkness. He shook his head. “That is where we have been. There is nothing left that way.”
The prophet followed after Duvenage again, tugging at River’s hand and glancing irritably back at her. She was staring fixedly at the sky. He followed her gaze and saw black dots swirling high above them, centered somewhere over the border of the hedge.
“Heralds,” River murmured.
They were at the entrance of the third path. River stared at it, her expression twisting in fear. The prophet could see a road leading away into the sunlight, wide and straight. Fields stretched away on either side, corn waving golden and lazy in the breeze. In the distance he could just about make out the towers of a city. He frowned, and looked at River in confusion. Her eyes had widened in horror, and he felt her hand close hard on his. When he looked back, he saw the image of the city shiver. Buildings shifted, twisted, and something raised its head off its paws and stared back at him. The beast rose, and the earth shuddered.
“It’s coming!” River screamed. “Look!” She pointed skywards, and the whirling black dots resolved themselves into a wheeling flock of birds. Their cries sounded shrill and terrified in the clear, still air. Alarmed, the prophet looked back at the gap in the hedge. Where the city had been were clouds of swirling smoke and dust, and in them something moved. The clouds of smoke billowed, racing down the road towards them, and the thing that stalked within it voiced a roar like a landslide. The birds shrieked, their wings buffeting the air above their heads like the rush of wind before a storm. The prophet staggered back, raising a hand to shield his face.
“What is this?” he shouted, holding on to River, who was by now almost hysterical with fear.
“Another path,” Duvenage commented, apparently unmoved by the theatrics.
“I can’t take that one!” The prophet looked around frantically, and saw another gap in the hedge. He frowned and straightened up, ignoring the wheeling birds, turning slowly as he examined the hedge. “Wait, there’s a fourth path. Why didn’t I see that one before?”
Duvenage frowned a little, as though slightly confused. “Because you were already on it,” he told him.
The prophet blinked. “What?”
“There always were four paths. When you looked before, you were looking back from the beginning of that path. From there you could see the other three, but not the one you already stood upon.”
The prophet stared open-mouthed at Duvenage. “You mean…all this time the path had already been chosen? None of this was necessary?”
Duvenage raised an eyebrow. “Oh no, I wouldn’t say that. It was very necessary if you believe that one path is much like another if you have no understanding of where you are going. You had already chosen to look for another way, something different from these three roads. The act of looking in itself created a fourth way.”
The prophet shook his head slowly, “But where does it go? I can see the end in all the others. What is at the end of that one?”
Duvenage looked at the gap in the hedge thoughtfully. “I have no idea, but I’d certainly be interested in your interpretation. Shall we take a look?”
River staggered, half dragged and half carried by the prophet towards the fourth gap in the hedge. She could hear the knife and the prophet talking but could make no sense of their words. The weight of the beast stalking towards them shook the earth, and its impending arrival scattered any coherent thought. The wheeling birds screamed and beat at the air, and River whimpered, arms over her head, terrified.
“We must go!” She pleaded, tugging at the prophet’s clothes. “It’s coming! Please, we have to go!”
“Alright River, we’ll go now,” the prophet assured her. There was something different in his voice, a certainty that hadn’t been there before. “Come with me, I know the way out of here.”
The knife followed them out of that place, and River was only glad that it was between them and the beast.
“Tian Yeshoo, I don’t believe it. They’re leaving!”
“What?” Zoe covered the few feet across the bridge to where Wash sat, staring at the consol in wide-eyed disbelief.
“The Reavers are leaving! That’s the second one gone now!”
The Shepherd, wrapped in a blanket and swaying on his feet, looked out of the window. “The Alliance,” he murmured. “Bet on it.”
Wash flicked switches and dials, “Where are you, you bastards? Come out, come out, wherever you are...”
“Any word from the Cap’n?” Jayne asked. “Think he’s dead?”
“No,” Zoe snapped, and flicked the com switch. “Kaylee, get the shuttle ready. We’ve got to get the Cap’n off Nexus now, Alliance are on their way.”
“On it!” Came the jubilant reply.
Simon came hurtling up the ramp onto the bridge, “What’s happening? Are they alright?”
“Reavers are leavin’,” Zoe said shortly. “Don’t know anythin’ else right now.” She nodded to Jayne. “Gonna need you an’ that field medic. Get one of Duvenage’s men to come along, we may need the muscle.”
She ducked out of the bridge and headed for the shuttle at a run.
Ek sal vir hulle wys wat dink ek van hulle spieletjies! - I’ll show them what I think of their games!
ons het so ver gekom – we’ve come this far
Ni mei shi ba? – Are you all right?
Shenme? – What?
Sunday, March 21, 2004 2:26 PM
Monday, March 22, 2004 9:10 AM
Monday, March 22, 2004 9:27 AM
Saturday, October 23, 2004 3:43 PM
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