SHADOW (07) Part (05)
Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The revelations have consequences, as Serenity draws closer to Shadow.



Part (05)

Follows THE TRIAL (06). Precedes ONE MAN’S TRASH (08).


The revelations have consequences, as Serenity draws closer to Shadow.

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* * *

Inara opened the hatch to Mal’s bunk and called down, “Mal, may I come in?”


“See, that’s why I usually don’t ask,” she replied, climbing down the ladder.

“I said no,” Mal reiterated with an angry look. He turned his back on her and resumed pacing. “Inara, I’m not fit for company tonight.”

“You were—very fit,” Inara answered. “It’s Dr Ip who didn’t have the good sense to shut up.”

“Seems you don’t either,” he said rudely, making it quite clear that he wanted her to leave.

“You really aren’t fit for company.”

“Damn right I ain’t. Said so. You should go afore I say something we both regret.”

“You should talk it out, Mal.”

不要 Bù yào,” he snarled, resuming his pacing.

She held her ground and waited. The minutes ticked by.

“You want I should talk?” he exclaimed suddenly. “Okay, I’ll talk! You seen that planet we’re headed toward?” he demanded. In truth, she hadn’t especially noticed it. Which of the many points of light visible from the bridge window did he mean? But she nodded. “It’s Shadow. My home.” He exhaled loudly, rubbing his hands through his hair, and still paced furiously. “Ain’t seen it since I was twenty-one.” He paced another lap around the small room. “Went to the war, never came back!” He suddenly drove his fist into the bulkhead. Startled, Inara jumped. He ignored her and resumed his pacing, shaking the pain out of his fist.

He didn’t speak or look at her, just paced unseeing for several minutes. She thought that he was done talking. She wondered if she should take her leave. “It’s all wrong,” he said with vehemence.

“What’s all wrong?” Inara asked softly.

“It’s yellow!” He spat. He threw something at the wall, she didn’t see what. It went pinging off the wall and rolled under the bed. Inara wondered what was wrong with the color yellow. Clearly something was wrong with yellow. “Yellow like poison!” She looked at him, but he wasn’t looking at her. He picked up another object from his desk as he passed, and pitched the thing at the outer wall, where it smashed. “Like the flames of hell!”

He stopped pacing suddenly, and turned to Inara. “Should be blue,” he said with an intensity that shook her.

“Mal, I’m sorry…” Inara began, reaching toward him.

“Please leave,” he said, turning his back on her again. “Please. Just go.”

* * *

Gorramit! Ip thought, echoing the language he had acquired living among the crew of Serenity. Here they go, circling the wagons again, and I’m on the outside. What was going on? The silence at the table had become uncomfortable, the hostile stares unbearable. He was disconcerted by the unwillingness of the people he had considered friends to make eye contact. Then River called him a boob, and Inara excused herself abruptly, giving him a reproachful look as she passed out of the dining room toward the Captain’s quarters. Maybe he should take himself off and hole up in his room in the passenger dorm to think things over, but he didn’t want to move.

It was incredible. The Captain had been to Miranda—his friend Brother Chan ’eil Càil had told him so, and the Captain had all but confirmed that, mainly by his refusal to have anything to do with the subject. Now it seemed the Captain was also a native of Shadow. If the Captain knew anything about Ferdinand Moon—well, that would be like winning the jackpot three times in succession. What were the chances?

River could tell him what the chances were. But she held her tongue. The Captain considered Miranda, Ferdinand Moon, and Shadow for that matter, subjects to be talked about only on a need-to-know basis. And the Captain held that Ip did not need to know. River didn’t agree with the Captain on this matter, but she was on his crew. The best approach would be for the Captain to convince himself that Ip did need to know.

* * *

Inara climbed out of Mal’s bunk, and returned to the dining room. Serenity’s crew was still gathered around the table, and the uncomfortable whispers stopped abruptly as she entered. “How’s he taking it?” Kaylee asked, her eyes glistening with sympathy.

“Very hard, I’m afraid,” Inara answered.

“It’s too soon,” Zoe put in. “He’s not ready to talk about it.”

Inara nodded her agreement. “All he would say was, it’s yellow, and it should be blue.” She looked at River, as if she expected her to understand the cryptic remark, and to her surprise, River looked back with lucid comprehension. “Do you understand what he meant?”

River nodded seriously. “Little Boy Blue kept the cows in the meadow. The Giant came down from the sky and stole all the blue for itself. Left nothing but yellow behind. Yellow and grey and black.”

“Well, that sure clears it up,” Jayne said with disgust. “What the hell does that mean?”

“Apparently our course takes us toward Shadow?” Inara inquired.

Zoe nodded. “We’ll be making a Shadow fly-by in three days. I was surprised when he ordered the course. He’s avoided going within sight of Shadow the whole time I’ve been flying with him.” The whole crew felt the significance of Zoe’s statement, except Neumann.

“It’s on account of the experiment,” Ip said. “He set the course so that I could get the measurements necessary to…” No one was listening to him. The wagons were still circled. “Why does he avoid Shadow?” Simon asked.

Of course the Doctor would ask the stupid question, Zoe thought. Then she reconsidered. Maybe the question was actually very insightful. Why did Mal avoid Shadow, other than the obvious reason that it was painful? Captain wasn’t especially known for taking the best course of action in dealing with painful subjects. She opted not to answer Simon directly. “The area around Shadow is an embargoed zone. Illegal to fly within four thousand miles of the surface.”

“Since when has the mere illegality of anything actually stopped the Captain?” Simon asked.

Zoe scowled at Simon as she registered the look of shock on young Neumann’s face. 天啊 Tiān ā that boy was naïve. Still didn’t have a clue what kind of boat he’d signed on to. Unless, of course, he was a Blue Sun agent, and knew exactly what kind of boat he had signed on to. Good thing he didn’t know the cattle were being smuggled.

“Our course sticks strictly to the legal side of the boundary,” Zoe informed Simon. “The Captain has no desire to attract the attention of the authorities.”

“There’s also the matter of safety, isn’t there?” Inara asked. “Isn’t that the reason the Alliance established the embargoed zone in the first place?”

“The reason they gave,” Zoe interjected, obviously skeptical of any reason given by the Alliance.

Ip spoke up. “Shadow is the most volcanically active world in the ’Verse. There have been massive volcanic eruptions, with plumes of ash rising hundreds of miles above the planet’s surface. There’s even the possibility of volcanic ejecta into space.”

“Volcanic ejaculate?” Jayne asked, his curiosity aroused.

“Shadow might spew out rocks into space at any time, Jayne,” Simon interpreted.

Now the others were interested in what Ip had to say. He was the only one with particular knowledge of the geologic situation on Shadow, even if it was knowledge gained from his studies rather than from any personal experience.

“Shadow has a huge amount of sulfurous volcanic activity. Sulfurous compounds such as hydrogen sulfide gas and sulfur dioxide have poisoned the atmosphere. The sulfurous clouds, as well as surface coatings of elemental sulfur from vents and fumaroles, have given the planet its yellowish tinge.”

“Air’s not breathable?” Kaylee asked.

“No. The climate alteration was massive and global. At first there was a huge increase in surface temperature. Massive quantities of magma rose to near-surface, and when the lava overspread the valleys, burning and burying the grasslands and forests, the atmosphere warmed as the lava cooled. The lava poured into the sea, on a scale not seen anywhere else in the ’Verse, literally boiling it away. Shadow was once a blue and green world, similar to Earth-that-was, I’m told. Terraforming took hold quite well. Shadow had bountiful oceans. The continents were situated mainly in the temperate climate zones, and by an accident of geography there was very little desert, and a lot of green.” Ip paused, remembering the many images of Shadow before that he had studied. “The plant life that wasn’t in the direct path of volcanic activity was killed by the sudden temperature change and the acid rain caused by the hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen chloride, and other compounds in the clouds.

“The people were killed, of course. Some were caught in the path of the eruptions, swept away by pyroclastic flows…”

“He means lava—”

“Extremely hot gas, rock, ash and mud, moving at a very high speed,” Ip corrected. “There were also jökulhlaups—”

“Yokel whats?” Jayne interrupted.

“A sub-glacial outburst flood,” Ip replied, then clarified. “If a volcano is underneath a glacier, and the lake of melt water is suddenly released when the glacial dam breaks, hundreds of millions of cubic meters of water may be released in a matter of minutes. The effect is catastrophic, as you might imagine. The jökulhlaups have occurred mainly on the part of Shadow’s northern continent known as the Northside, because of the extensive ice field in the mountain ranges. But mostly people died of asphyxiation. The toxic gases killed them.” Everyone was silent, thinking about the many horrific ways to die Ip Neumann had just outlined. “In some cases, it was the heat. Intense heat that burned up everything organic.”

“Didn’t no one survive?” Jayne asked.

Zoe took up the story. “There certainly were people who survived the first eruptions. But the Alliance wouldn’t evacuate them. This was towards the end of the War, remember, and all attention was focused on Hera, where the Battle of Serenity Valley was reaching its heroic conclusion,” she stated with heavy irony that was lost on Ip. “Shadow was a world in rebellion. Sent more soldiers to the Browncoat cause than any other world of its size. It was the Alliance bombing that set off the chain reaction that led to the disaster.”

“The Alliance couldn’t muster the resources in time,” Ip said, reciting the version of history he had learned at school in the Core.

“Alliance didn’t care to rescue the rebels of Shadow. Figured they were well rid of them,” Zoe replied.

It was Simon, surprisingly, who broke the standoff. “I thought volcanic eruptions generally caused a decline in global temperatures,” he said reasonably.

“They do,” Ip replied. “The heat I was talking about is generally the direct result of proximity to an active eruption site. The cooling comes about as a result of the gases injected into the stratosphere—the so-called volcanic winter. The sulfur dioxide gets converted to sulfuric acid, which stays suspended in the stratosphere for years. The sulfate aerosols reflect heat from the sun, and they also absorb the heat radiated up from the surface of the world. Historically, on Earth-that-was, we have a record of hemispheric crop failures for an entire year as the result of a single volcanic eruption, while extended periods of volcanism have been implicated in causing or at least contributing to mass extinctions. Shadow has undergone eight years of massive, world-wide volcanic activity. There is no place on Shadow that could sustain plant or animal life anymore.”

Much of Ip’s vocabulary had passed Jayne by, but Inara interpreted. “It’s like having the lights turned down to low all the time. Nothing can grow.”

“Good god, can a planet that is that messed up ever be fixed?” It was Jayne who asked.

“That’s a question I would like to answer,” Ip said. “Shadow was a very productive world until this disaster struck. I’d like to think it could be so again—that it’s worth fixing. But until there’s some consensus as to what went wrong, I’m afraid re-terraforming is out of the question. Too risky.”

* * *

Nobody spoke to Mal about Shadow when he emerged from his bunk the next morning. In fact, the dark cloud around him was so palpable that most of the crew avoided him for the entire day. He worked in solitude amongst the cattle, and spent the rest of the time on the bridge, seeing no one but Zoe, who brought him food but knew better than to accompany it with talk, and River, who came to take the helm.

“She can help. He can, too.”

“Don’t want to talk about it, River,” Mal said bluntly. He had spent much of his day watching Shadow grow into an ever-larger disk of glowing dirty yellow, not an exercise designed to build his calm.

“I know,” she replied. She sat silent for some time, focusing on the console as Mal transferred the helm to her desk. A while later, River spoke again. “She understands loss. You can tell her.”

“I’d appreciate you keepin’ out of my mind,” Mal replied, testily. He made no move to leave the pilot’s seat, but just sat, staring out the window at the large, baleful disk.

River sat silent for a long time, reviewing the log, running routine checks of flight and navigation systems, and re-calculating the course. The last task she did just to take up more time. At last she spoke again. “He wants to help.”

“Who wants to help? Help with what?” Mal asked. His mind had drifted, and he had no idea who she meant.

“He knows things. Things you need to know. The reality is terrible, but it’s not as bad as your imagination.”

“River, you just leave my imagination to me. It’s not a fit place for you to be lookin’.” He stood up and left the bridge.

River was satisfied. She had succeeded in getting him off the bridge, away from his obsessive staring. And she had planted the seed. She hoped it would grow, that he would grow, and the new growth would heal some of the damage.

* * *

Ip Neumann and Simon were discussing a point of scientific interest in the infirmary when the Captain’s voice sounded on the comm. “Dr Ip, you might want to join us on the bridge. There’s a view you might want to see.” There was something odd, tight and strained about the Captain’s voice. Simon noticed it right away, and when Neumann headed for the bridge, he decided to follow.

When they arrived at the bridge, Mal and River were sitting in the pilot and co-pilot seats, respectively. Neumann’s attention was immediately taken up by the view. They had come a lot closer to Shadow since he last looked, and the planet loomed large in the viewing window. Part of it was in light, but most of the disk was in shadow. The volcanic activity was remarkable, visible even from space. Large ash clouds from volcanic plumes floated on the prevailing winds in grey bands that streaked the yellowish atmosphere in the lighted crescent. On the dark side, spider webs of glowing red cris-crossed the blackened surface, active lava flows large enough to be visible from space. Simon thought the planet looked like an image of hell he had once seen in a painting, and he found himself wondering if the artist had seen Shadow from space. As they watched, they witnessed a truly extraordinary sight. Rounding the curve of the planet, they saw edge-on, in perfect silhouette, the cone of a colossal volcano in active eruption. The plume of ash, steam, and debris rose hundreds of miles high into the atmosphere. Neumann and Simon watched in awe at this demonstration of the incredible power of natural forces. Later, Simon would remember this as the reason he had not paid attention to Mal.

A sudden commotion at the pilot’s seat drew everyone’s attention away from the view. Simon’s first thought was that the Captain was having a seizure. He flailed his arms and kicked with his legs, smashing the dials and screen on the bridge console with feral energy, as plastic dinosaurs and shards of glass scattered across the bridge. His breath was rapid, gasping, and his eyes were open but clearly not seeing what was before him. Mal was a strong man and a trained fighter, and he moved with a desperate strength. He was also armed, and Simon wondered what strange thinking had made Mal carry his weapon today, aboard Serenity, in space. He hadn’t pulled the gun, thank goodness, but Simon knew Mal was an incredibly fast draw, and he was unwilling to tempt fate by approaching him. Simon dared not intervene as Mal struck with wild energy and shards of glass flew off the console. The Captain was shouting, gasping “No! no! no!” but for the most part his words were incomprehensible. Blood dripped from a gash on the Captain’s head and his arms and hands were bloodied, and Simon noted a jagged strip of metal torn from the console. He wished he’d had the foresight to bring a hypo gun.

Neumann had backed away at the Captain’s sudden violence, and that’s when he noticed that River, too, seemed to be having a fit. She sank down to the floor, hugging herself and rocking, her attention focused on the Captain with a look of pain and concern, as her mouth worked in silent distress. A second ago he wouldn’t have believed that anything could tear his attention away from the awesome natural phenomena visible on Shadow, but between the Captain and River, gasping, twisting, clawing, flailing, rocking, Shadow was completely forgotten.

The commotion on the bridge had drawn Zoe’s attention. She arrived on the bridge at a sprint, took in the situation in a glance, and in an instant she had knocked Mal out cold with a single blow. He slumped to the floor. River’s sobs subsided, as she, too, collapsed like a rag doll on the floor.

Zoe exchanged a look with Simon. “Flashback,” she said, and Simon nodded.

“Help me get him to the infirmary,” Simon requested. “He’s going to need stitches on some of those gashes.” He reached under the Captain’s shoulders as Zoe pulled the dazed Captain up. “Ip, will you—?” he requested, gesturing with his look toward River.

Neumann looked uncomprehendingly from the Captain, to River, to Zoe, to the smashed console, to Simon. “PTSD,” Simon said tersely. “Something triggered the Captain.”

Ip stared a moment, then scrambled over to where River lay as Simon and Zoe helped the Captain down to the infirmary. “River?” he asked, putting his arm around her shoulders and lifting her gently to a sitting position. “Are you alright?”

“So painful.” River spoke as if breathing hurt her.

“Are you in pain?” he asked with great concern. Broken rib? he speculated, and began looking for an injury.

His pain,” she gasped. “Hurts him so much.” She looked at Ip with huge, sad eyes. “Broken. Conflates imagined horrors on Shadow with real horrors of Serenity Valley. Fights for his life.” Tears ran from the corners of her eyes, as she repeated, “Broken” in a small voice.

* * *





不要 Bù yào [Don’t want to]

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011 6:09 AM


Oh so painful but how I wish Ip just had a sense for what other people were feeling rather than blundering single mindedly through whatever traumas they may be undergoing in pursuit of his singular passion. Even Jayne is more sensitive. Loved River as ever though I don't always agree with her methods her prognosis is usually accurate. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Tuesday, September 13, 2011 8:09 AM


Very dark but well done chapter.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011 5:09 PM


My oh my, too dark?
Hmm...gotta have the valleys or the mountain peaks won't seem very high.
Ali D: Ip will begin to get a clue. He's got some growth coming his way. Hope he's not too annoying in the meantime. And just for the record, he's not me.
And now a word from my inner science geek: I drew a lot of inspiration for this story from Io, Jupiter's moon. Check out for a picture of a very sulfurous world, and scroll down a few pages to see an amazing picture-vid sequence of Tvashtar Volcano on Io erupting--the image I had in mind when writing the description of Shadow's volcano.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011 5:54 PM


More sad than dark, for Mal his planet is unrecognizable, not sure anyone can help with the kind of pain he’s suffering with, as much as they want to.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011 9:20 PM


Oh no not to dark. I was thinking more depressing dark than gritty dark. Though i like dark stuff, i mean unless you start killing, torturing and worse to the crew it won't be to dark and little of that is good. I mean with out some dark lost in the deep black moments, then the bright moments won't shine as bright, you know. :)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011 7:54 AM


Thanks for the link, and for using Io as the inspiration for a deterraformed Shadow, very interesting.

I use this site, it’s free to sign-up, it’s linked to the Smithsonian and other credible sources.


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ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (20)
“Vaccinations?” Jayne asked, with a stupid expression. “Fer chickens?”

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (19)
“Inara, I ain’t willing for you to bribe—” “Who said anything about bribes?” “What other form of persuasion you plannin’ on using? I’m not sure I like this plan.” “Mal, I can be very persuasive,” Inara replied. After a short beat, she added, with a touch of asperity, “Fully clothed.”

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (18)
Extreme measures as more things go wrong

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (17)
In which things begin to go wrong

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (16)
Waiting for the other shoe to drop

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (15)
Serenity enters the Core, Mal and Inara sleep together, and Simon and Ip come up with a plan.

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (14)
In which we find out more about Miranda

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (13)
Simon makes an announcement; Zoe and Inara take Mal to task

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (12)
Mal tells Inara a folktale from Shadow

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (11)
Inara and Zoe have a little palaver