BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JANE0904

Operative - Book
Monday, October 30, 2006

A standalone, that wrote itself, so I thought I'd upload just to see what you think ... it follows on from my other Operative piece.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1467    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

My name is Derrial Book. What I am now is a Shepherd. What I once was … well, that’s what this confession is all about.

I was born on a small moon away from the Core, where men and women worked the land to provide for their families, to give shelter to those that needed it, and to thank God for both. Not that there was much time for that, save on Sundays, when my family would all dress up in their finest (which wasn't much different from their everyday clothes, but with fewer mendings) and go to Church.

We’d sit and listen to the preacher, a Shepherd name of Owen, who read from an old Bible he said was from Earth-that-was, bringing the stories of Daniel in the lion’s den and David smiting Goliath to life. Shepherd Owen didn’t think much of the New Testament, with its heavy emphasis on forgiveness – he preferred the ‘eye for an eye’ battles from the Old, and I would sit there watching the tales unfold bloodily in my head, one of the few pleasures in a hard existence.

My Pa always thought I was going to be a farmer like him, and I was pretty sure he was right, but by the time I was fourteen the idea of breaking my back in the fields every day had lost its allure. I saw him, almost unable to straighten up of a morning, old before his time, and I came round to the conclusion that I wasn't going to end up like that.

“So what else you likely to do, Derrial?” Pa said when I told him. “You ain't got the book learning to be much more.”

“I know that, Pa,” I said. “But I’ve been reading much as I can, and the Shepherd’s been giving me extra lessons.”

“Yeah, I saw that.” Pa looked at me with that shrewd expression I had come to know. “That what you wanna be? A Shepherd?”

“I don’t think so,” I admitted. “Having to be polite to people all the time, ministering to their needs … it don’t seem like I could do that.”

Pa smiled. “No, you always was one to head out on your own.” He sighed, something that seemed to come right from his boots. “So what did you have in mind?”

“I …” I found it hard to put it into words, this vague feeling I had in my mind.

“Come on, spit it out, Derrial.”

“I kinda was thinking about joining the military,” I said, in something of a rush.

“The army?” Pa shook his head. “You know your Ma would never stand for that. Having her son away from here, doing things … maybe getting himself killed …”

“You can get killed here too, Pa,” I insisted. “Look at Kyle Goodman’s boy … got hit by a falling tree during that tornado last year. He weren’t no older’n me.”

“That’s true.” Pa sucked his teeth pensively. “But one way or the other they ain't gonna take you ‘til you’re sixteen. Might be you’ll have changed your mind by then.”

“Might,” I agreed. “Got nearly two years to change Ma’s too.”

Pa laughed. “Reckon you might at that. But I’ll tell you, son, if you think it’s gonna be easy, think again. No matter what battles you might get yourself involved in if you do join up, there ain't none of ‘em gonna be as hard as getting your Ma to let you loose from her apron strings.”

One year and nine months later I was waiting to embark, standing at the dock with the other new recruits, Ma crying her eyes out.

“Ma, you still got Amon, and Matthias to help you out. And Ginny’s growing fast – she won’t be a hindrance much longer.”

Ma hit me on the shoulder, her fist barely making a dent in my skin any more. “You know that ain't the point,” she said. “And Ginny’s never been a hindrance.”

I hid the smile. “I have to do this, Ma. You know I do. I’ve been saying it for a long time.”

“That don’t mean I have to like it!” she said, a flash of fury in her eyes.

“Ma, I'm gonna be a soldier. Maybe even get sergeant’s stripes, or more. But it’s what I want, Ma. To be a man.”

Be a man … the words echo in my mind like a bad taste, never really gone. Be a man … she would be ashamed of that man.

The army was as good as its word. It clothed me, fed me, taught me how to march in time, how to make a bed, how to kill …

That it did. How to kill on the word of command, not thinking of where the bullet was going, whose father, son, mother, daughter it might be, just pulling the trigger and making each one count.

And I was good. Dear God, I was good. Better than any of the others in my platoon, and that got me noticed.

“Private Book, sir,” the sergeant said as I marched into the small office, standing at attention before the desk.

“Book,” the man said, looking up at me. I kept my gaze just above his head, but could see he was not old, but not young, dressed in a grey suit that was of a fit and quality I had never seen. “You have an increasing reputation for getting the job done.”

“Thank you, sir,” I said, a certain pride in my chest.

“I have a proposal for you. A certain branch of the government is looking for men like yourself, with skills that can be honed, improved upon, sharpened. There will be severe tests all along the way, but if you make it through you will be one of the elite.” He looked at me, calculating whether he thought I would make it. “Would you like to be one of those elite, Book?”

“Sir, yes, sir.”

He smiled a little. “It won’t be easy, let me reiterate that. If you fail at any of the stages, there will be no turning back. Do you understand?”

How could I understand? I was barely seventeen, and it sounded like the greatest adventure of them all.

“Sir, yes, sir.”

“Very well. Be packed and ready for transport at 09:00 tomorrow.” He stood up and came around the desk, putting out his hand. “Welcome to the Academy.”

They taught me other things, smoothed out my rough edges, gave me manners along with the skills to take a life without emotion, without heat, just doing it because it was required of me. For the higher cause, to make the world a better place for my masters to live in. And I believed, I believed with a vengeance in what I was doing.

For many years I lived their life, taking orders, completing every task they set me, and I grew in their estimation. I was given increasingly difficult missions to undertake, but I delighted in them, my pride always at being able to reach my goal, no matter how many dead I left in my wake.

Then came the order to find the girl. Just a girl, but with gifts that would make her a boon to the Academy, if they could condition her right. But she had run, away from the school, hiding in the fringes of the system until there was no-one could find her except me.

I looked, under rocks and stones, turning towns inside out, destroying where I needed to, taking life in every effort to find hers.

Until the Shepherd asked me my name.

I couldn’t answer. For so long I’d had no name, just been known as an Operative, and proud to bear it. But he made me think, made me remember who I was, and that scared me. More than anything I had ever done, more than all the people whose lives had been in my hands, praying that I would spare them. As he lay dying at my feet, bleeding because I had killed him, he asked me my name, and for the first time in an age I told someone.

I looked down at his dead body, at the others laying around, the destruction I had visited on them, and I turned away. I pushed the guilt aside, burying it under the layers of conditioning as I had been taught, until there was nothing but a trace of dust to say where it was. And I went about my task.

I visited planets and moons, each one more remote than the last, until the day I confronted her. Until the day she could run no more.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked, her long blonde hair whipping around her face, her thin body trembling.

“Because they want you back.”

“No!” she screamed, and it cut into my heart. “I can’t go back! They hurt me, hurt the others, and I won’t go back there!”

“What you want is irrelevant,” I said, stepping towards her, a part of me wanting to wrap her frailty in my arms and give it shelter, while the greater portion knew she was there to be taken home. “You belong at the Academy.”

She backed away from me, towards the cliff edge. “I can’t,” she moaned, clutching her arms around herself. “Do you know what they do to me? The needles, the scalpels, the cutting into my brain to try and find me?” She shook her head. “No. No.”

“You are coming back. You are too important to them.”

“I’m just a toy!” she shouted, tears on her cheeks. “I don’t mean anything to them. Just something to play with, experiment on, until there is nothing of me left!” She took another step backwards.

“You are important.” I began to move forwards, but she was quick.

“I won’t go!” she cried, and turned away from me, running towards the cliff.

As fast as I was, she was faster, her small feet flashing through the dust, until there was nothing beneath them and she was flying, her hair streaming behind her, reaching out into the sky. Then she fell.

She had reached the bottom of the ravine by the time I stood at the edge, lying broken and bleeding on the rocks below, her golden hair stained red.

I had failed. For the first time as an Operative I had failed, and my failure lay in pieces below me. I turned and headed back to my ship.

I wish I could say that that moment changed my life. It didn’t. No more than the death of the Shepherd. But it had planted a seed, watered with her tears, that grew over time into doubt about myself.

When the war finally began, the Independents against the Alliance, I was in my element. With my skills I was able to find those who could cause most problems, who might rally people to their cause. The list was long, but I was good, and the number of names crossed through grew with every passing day. Then I reached his name.

He was only a man, a single man, who had the ability to make other men follow, do things they would not have believed possible. If this man had been born on a Central planet he could have been a leader, inspiring his followers to great heights. As it was, he was a Sergeant, nothing more, the backbone of an army of Browncoats who held the great Alliance at bay.

They were entrenched outside a small township I didn’t even know the name of, just that it was a mass of ruins, battered by both sides into nothing more than debris. It was easy to get through the lines – they weren’t expecting just one man, and I didn’t have to kill more than two or three.

He was sitting at a small fire, warming his hands, his back to a rock. Beside him was a woman, tall, dark, her hair tied from her face as she stared into the flames.

“Haven’t had any orders for days, sir,” she said, her voice as dusky as her skin.

He laughed. “Orders? Since when did we actually take any notice of them?”

“The lieutenant says we’re to hold this position.”

“Then that’s what we’ll do. It’s what we’ve always done.”

“Rations are low, too.”

“We’ll see what we can scout out in the morning,” he said, his voice soothing. “I’ve a notion we should be able to find something around here.”

“Do you ever feel that we’re going to lose, sir?” she asked.

He shook his head. “We’ve held out on a dozen worlds. That makes us mighty. The Alliance may have the better equipment, more men … but we got God on our side. That’s all we need to win.”

I crept forward, a knife in my hand, ready to strike, to send blood arcing into the air from a jugular slashed open.

“God, sir?”

I tensed, about to …

He smiled, his face open and warm in the light from the fire. “All we need,” he said, pulling a crucifix from inside his collar, kissing it with an honest and devout love in his eyes.

I couldn’t. Something stopped me. A power I couldn’t understand stayed my hand, sent me slipping back into the darkness, away from the light that burned my soul.

I got back to my ship, took off, sending it into the black with no idea where I was going. I couldn’t think, couldn’t allow myself to feel, afraid of what I had seen. I had believed for so long, a belief so strong that I was right, that I was doing what I was doing because it was the right thing to do. Yet this night, in this man, I had come up against a belief stronger than my own, and it overwhelmed me. A belief, not in himself, but in his men, his God.

For days I wandered, ignoring the calls on my vidlink, eventually disconnecting it so I wouldn’t be interrupted. I couldn’t eat, drank only enough to survive, in some kind of fugue. When I did sleep I saw all the people I had killed, all the lives I had taken, faces contorted into their final death agony, lifting hands stained with blood, calling out, asking why I had done these things, and I woke fighting nothing but air.

Eventually a message on my board alerted me to the fact that I was running out of fuel, and I turned my craft, heading it into the nearest planet, hoping that it would take the decision for my death out of my hands. But I wasn’t so lucky. My ship, built by the best the Alliance could supply, crashed but I didn’t die. I crawled from the wreckage, bleeding and bowed, heading into the unforgiving sun. But I was denied even that as a walled building came into my fevered view, and a man hurried from the gates, a grey shirt on his back and a white collar around his neck.

“Father,” I grunted through dry, cracked lips, giving in. “Help me.”

The Shepherd put his hands under my arms and lifted me up, carrying me into the Abbey, tending to my physical hurts. But the dreams continued, waking me screaming in the night, all the old ghosts crowding around my bed, hating me, reaching out to drag me into the dark.

“My son,” the old Shepherd said, wiping my brow after another night calling for salvation, “you must begin by forgiving yourself. No matter what you have done, you will be judged for it, but you must live with it. Salvation is not something that is given, but earned.” He gave me an old Bible, the cover tattered but intact. “Read it. Let it begin to heal you.”

I opened the book, let it fall to a random page, and read … ‘Thou shalt not kill’. And those words were like a thunderbolt, a lightening strike that pierced me to the core, breaking open all the dark places where I had hidden.

I found a new belief that filled me, almost papered over the cracks of a former life lived with violence, giving me a kind of peace. Days at the Abbey were structured, simple, shaped to make dialogue with God all the easier. For years I hid, hearing of the end of the war, of the Alliance destroying the last remnants of the Browncoat army at Serenity Valley, and I felt for the Sergeant I hadn’t killed. He was probably dead, among those lying decaying on Hera, but I hoped he might have been one of the few who survived.

Then I found myself growing uneasy. After eight years in the Abbey, away from the world, my thoughts went more and more towards those outside, those I could help, to make a difference. Even my garden didn’t content me any longer. I sought out my mentor.

“Do you think you can change things?” the Shepherd said.

“I don’t know. But I feel I have to try.”

“Then you have my blessing. Take what you need, what you can carry, and walk the world for a while. And remember, you always have a place here.” He placed the Bible he had given me in my hands, closing my fingers over it, and smiled.

I thanked him and left, pulling my few possessions on a trolley, vegetables and fruits packed carefully, and wandered the docks at Persephone until I saw her, the young woman outside the Firefly. Here, here, I heard my inner voice say, this was the place I was meant to be. And when I saw the Captain, in his brown coat, his first mate at his side, I realised that God had sent me here for a purpose, for the same reason he stayed my hand as I crept towards the firelight.

Despite the nature of the ship, the violence in so many on board, I stayed, and when she first appeared, naked and vulnerable, I could see she was precious. Each life is to be cherished, but hers was something unique, reminding me of blonde hair stained with red. And I knew that I had to protect her, keep her from others like me.

And I tried. I tried to keep them all safe, to teach them something of life, and forgiveness, to be there for when they needed me. And if I had to leave in the end, it was only because of my own failing, not theirs. I was still there, when they needed me, when they needed succour, a place to be for a while, to stop running. To talk with. To be their conscience. ---

I heard a ship land, just a few moments ago, and now I hear their voices, calling my name. I wish I could run to them, tell them, warn them, but I can’t even move.

The shame that runs through me is enough to keep me here.

He’s here, on his knees next to me. The man who has to carry on, who has to believe. There are tears in his blue eyes, and I wish I could comfort him as I have done too often, but the words I have left are not of comfort, but of insistence, for he has to understand.

My name is Derrial Book. And I am dying.

COMMENTS

Monday, October 30, 2006 3:29 AM

BORNTOFLY


Damn that was good.

A lot of people are of the theory that Book was an Operative, and while it's a plausible theory, it's not the way I'm taking Book's past in my fic (which has yet to be beta'd, let alone posted...all in time). But this...well, methinks that I like the way you've done Books past here.

The last line especially, was great. It brought an emotional impact to the whole fic, making it more poignant. Kudos!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006 10:46 AM

MRBLUESUN


Bravo!
Even better than your first piece, and that was damn good to begin with. The idea of Book as an Operative fits so well its uncanny. Absolutely first rate writing.
More Please!

Wednesday, November 1, 2006 8:33 AM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Wow...that was some amazing writing, Jane0904! Definitely was entranced with your tale of Book's past.

Kinda surprised you didn't have even a single line about Book realizing he was onboard the vessel belonging to the man he spared during the war. Probably doesn't matter...but I like to think that if this was some sort of prescient assumption of Joss' plans, that Book thinking on the hidden plan for him to ride with the person who brought the seed of doubt to fruition would have helped direct Book's actions:)

BEB

Thursday, November 2, 2006 12:31 AM

JANE0904


BEB - I sort of wanted to leave it that maybe it was Mal, maybe not. That there were other men like him in the Browncoat army, who believed like he did. I mean, it IS Mal, but that's my interpretation!

Thursday, November 2, 2006 10:57 PM

JANE0904


Thinking about it, I have amended this slightly after BEB's comments. He's right - it does need to be more spelled out that it was Mal whose life was spared by Book during the war.


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