Eidolon (Chapter 22)
Friday, October 28, 2011

Time sped back up with them, glowing red bolts tracking them as they went, through dewy fans of leaves and blossoms that seemed to burst into mist as they passed. (Run)


The first indication Inara had that she was still alive was the ringing in her ears, or rather, not just her ears. Jumping through a window with a passenger to evade a grenade, only to be thrown to the floor of an outdoor arcade around the second story, she had a new and interesting insight on how every particle of metal in a gong might feel. Her skin stung from the sandstone, her side was sore where she had cushioned their impact, her thoughts were dizzy and sluggish. As she stirred, shivering from the night chill, her eyes could barely focus and had to adjust to the diffuse and dancing moonlight.

Her pulse quickened; somehow they had survived. She hugged the tiny frame of the former slave girl closer in short lived relief.

As her mind caught up, she raised herself on one arm, alarmed, wincing at the pain. There was not a sound from the room they had escaped from, nothing of the boy who had saved them. She looked back into the room, then quickly looked away.

The girl, was she all right? Inara smoothed her hand over the child's forehead, who was fighting to stay conscious, beautiful black skin smeared with blood and smoke. On the surface, the companion was trying to remain calm and soothing. In her heart, a desperate instinct that sounded like her mother was trying not to panic. "You're safe now, sweetie, stay with me," she pleaded.

Inara set the girl down and began to tear strips of flimsy fabric from her skirts - gauze, she thought, slightly hysterical. She had seen entirely too much injury of late, back on Serenity nearly every week was another surgery or bullet removal, and she knew first aid so well that the motions were now almost automatic from repetition. It's not enough, she realized as her patient continued to wane, and gathered up the tiny limp form again, struggled to her feet, one hand buried in the short frizz at the back of the child's head. She needs a doctor.

She stumbled from column to column, passing through dark then silver until she couldn't tell anymore if she was still moving, or if her own awareness was merely drifting away from her and back. The ground swayed under her, the light and shadows shifting. She was waning, only determination keeping her upright, keeping one foot in front of the other as she focused on the end of the archway. She could hear voices, and she moved toward them.

There was some lapse in time before she recognized that she was out on the balcony with the party guests, and even then it was more of a vague sense than anything clear or substantial. There were people everywhere, jostling her, and it was so noisy, none of them interested in stopping for an injured child. They were herding everyone inside, and she knew on some level that wasn't where she wanted to go. She began fighting her away against the flow, drawn towards the balustrade, the gardens, the starry skies beyond. The captain was out there somewhere, searching for her. She needed to get back to Serenity.

"Inara." She turned before she could think it through. That wasn't what Mal sounded like, not from her communicator, which wasn't on anyway. The councilor was there, in black dress and pearls; Judith, frowning at her in disappointment. Her favourite client, because she hadn't known any better, about the councilor's family, about the slaves, about how she had only been a business transaction. "Here you are, covered in soot, and my guest room exploded," Judith sighed.

She clutched the girl closer. "I didn't..."

"I know," the councilor interrupted. "It's not your style. Either of you, despite what your captain did to my fence." Judith reached out pensively to the child, as though she had any right, considering what she had been part of, the suffering of the slaves. Inara recoiled with the child, just out of range of touch. The councilor's hand dropped, her face a mask, tinged with some regret. "You aren't terrorists, and Ezra will never be free from outsider control."

The crowd had thinned around them, but she was surrounded again, marines in black armor and helmets moving in from the sides. One pulled the little girl from her, another grabbed her arm as she surged after them, a futile attempt to protect the child.

"I'm sorry, Inara," Judith said, and then the councilor was flanked by two terrifying agents in black suits and blue gloves.

She wasn't sure what it was, but there was something familiar about this, a danger she had been warned about, a near escape that she couldn't recall for the roar of her headache. All she knew was that she wanted to get away from them as far and fast as she could. They were nightmares, haunting screams from the back hallway in a hospital, apparitions amid a broken battlefield of ghost ships. Inhuman. Unreal. Wrong. Dragging their victims down into the depths they emerged from, smothering any cries for help.

Inara barely heard the marshals as they informed her she was bound by law, but she heard the gunshot that followed. In the ensuing chaos, search, and raised weapons, she was released, and ran, scrambled for the balcony. The agents began to move after her, one of them withdrawing a curious silver wand from the inside of his jacket. Realizing their mistake, the soldiers called for her to stop or they'd fire. Moments later, they did, the lasers passing just over her head as she fell in a flutter of nebulous white trimming.

- - - - - Mal caught her, somehow. The horse let out a startled squeal and chose that moment to rear up, like a still-smoking barrel pointed skyward. But he managed to juggle the reins around his gun hand, get his sidearm back holstered. Then some divine and frazzled-looking creature tumbled into his arms. "Take me home," she requested.

"Bossy woman," he complained, or tried to, though he supposed maybe the quick shǎ táo zuì smile he couldn't keep from his face might undermine the gruffness somewhat. At any rate he could almost forget she'd nearly injured him again, and was torn between forgiving her and admiring her. She was impossible. A tangle of normally immaculate styled midnight waves and scanty dress out of a costumer's trunk, had around her all the perfume of a bonfire, and none of that mattered because he was holding her. If he was squeezing harder than was strictly necessary, it was only to keep both their balance as he settled her side-saddle. He figured she would push him away any second, but he allowed himself that much.

Her own embrace tightened around him, her face pressed into the crook of his neck. And when he was no longer stupefied, some sense of reality and foreboding began to return to him.

She gave no other response, not even to quip that his domineering self was one to talk. Like months before, when her lack of fight was his best warning, he understood; things were gone wrong. Even if just having her near him had a warmth like relief swelling through him, they had a garrison of Alliance within waving distance of them and their guise was blown. They needed to hightail.

Their getaway had about the same idea. The hooves pawing at the air clattered to the ground, and the horse didn't need much encouragement beyond a snap of the reins to dart off down the cobbled path. The movement jerked him out of the moment. Time sped back up with them, glowing red bolts tracking them as they went, through dewy fans of leaves and blossoms that seemed to burst into mist as they passed.

He was not without plan, even if others were like to say different. His involved the elephantine and currently much irate beast lashed to the jambs under their sharpshooters heels, presumably left for the easy loading of party guests. All he had to do was goad some acts of wanton mayhem and convenient distraction. The regular tomfoolery, that never failed, but his karma took some issue with.

The Councilor's elephant went rogue at the metal gadfly nearly stung its ear. Trumpeted like the apocalypse come and took it's tether with it, bringing a good part of the balcony and the infantry crashing down.

Any other occasion he might've thought it was funny. There was something, an undercurrent of the night that had him uneasy, a notion that the situation was worse than he'd figured. Cautions unsaid were fine, but she hadn't even expressed alarm over his actions, and she never had a shortage of insults for him or his half-cocked stunts.

"'Nara," he muttered, and shifted her a little, trying to snap her out of it but carefully, so as not to unbalance them as they rode. He repeated himself, insistent. "'Nara. C'mon, darlin'. 'Nara."

This silence was something new. Maybe just exhaustion, or the adrenaline. And he didn't believe that for a second. He pressed his heels into the horse's side, urging more speed, curling himself around her to ride lower, faster. There was a chill working over his skin, into his veins, past worry and closing in on desperate. As the sounds and shouts over of several tons of fractious elephant grew more distant there was a quiet like muffled fog that fell over him. The evening in echoes, indistinct, except for the rolling thunder of their full gallop, drowned out only by the pounding in his ears. Rhythmic, rocking with each stride as he drove their steed onwards. Towards Serenity, freedom, safety.

Zoë's sawn-off barked out, shattering the spell-like focus as he was grazed in the shoulder, right where his coat was patched before. Ambush. Should've seen it coming.

He slowed the animal to a stop just short of the shuttle landing pad, hidden not very well in some of the meager garden cover, their shiny white horse like a beacon in the dark. He dismounted to a crouch, kept his head down. Had just enough time to slip the bridle and bit off, an old habit from earlier years, before he had to rush back to Inara as she slumped over and near slid bodily to the ground.

She was slack and pale, her head awkwardly thrown back over his arm where she'd collapsed, still breathing, the air passing between her parted lips. Like the spirit that carried her snuffed out, like the empty black bereft of stars, her lashes low and her gaze unseeing.

The sight seized him something awful; a scene out of nightmare recurring, final moments he'd witnessed throughout his life flashing by in rapid succession. His free hand moved to brush her cheek without permission, tilted her chin back towards him, then hovered, shaken, over her eyelids to close them. What she'd felt he couldn't tell, whether pain or sadness, accusation or acceptance, whether she was already lost to him. But he knew, with a bleak, hollow rage, that this was his fault again.

He'd told himself that he knew what was between her and his medic. Because that secret the doctor wouldn't tell him, confronted in a dirt tunnel like a sepulchre after waking, because that terrible hour she'd fainted and wouldn't revive until he'd carried her to her shuttle, there was a truth there that was better to deny. She'd had men, many of them, younger and more pleasing than him, and he'd clung to that like hope, because the alternative was she was here, her life fading as he watched, leaking out through whatever it was in her that had finally broken. He'd give his blood for her, without a second thought, but couldn't protect her from this. Not any more than from the sunburst mark just over her heart, left from the stray bullet that had him forcing her off his ship a month before.

Inara wanted to go back to Sihnon, then one way or another he'd get her there. He started to lift her, then spun and drew on a black-garbed soldier skulking towards them. He frowned. "You shot me," he accused, lowering his gun.

His second in command didn't seem nearly troubled enough by the fact, or how she was wearing the uniform off an Alliance guard. She shouldered her shotgun. "Plausible deniability," she shrugged. He tried to read from his first mate if her latest wardrobe was the result of already having a run-in with the patrols, though he really didn't have to ask. There wasn't any where else she could've gotten the armour. They could be surrounded, reinforcements arriving by the minute or plunging from the sky in Serenity and not a chance in di yu, and Zoë would still be the picture of calm.

"Denia - You shot me," he insisted, highly offended. He transferred his piece back to his side, gathered up Inara. Zoë looked aside at the fallen woman, and he shook his head; he didn't want to say, and couldn't have answered her anyhow. He could see searchlights like fireflies off in the bushes, getting closer. "Kaylee got us ready to go?"

At the affirmative, he ran for the shuttle hatch like his life depended on it while Zoë followed, laying down suppressive fire.

- - - - - Zoë pulled off her helmet and tossed it aside, took a breath like fresh air. Damn things were uncomfortable, and there was an electrical hum running through them that could drive a person to distraction.

Some of her building aggression traded for urgency. She watched Mal settle with Inara against the slant of the hull, and felt as though she was witnessing the final moments between herself and Wash from the outside. Inara looked like a porcelain doll, more fragile even through the contrast of their lifestyles than the career soldier could imagine. The captain seemed at a loss of what to do, somewhere between wanting to try to shake the woman awake and hold onto her like a drowning man.

Kaylee hovered off to the side, caught off guard by their arrival, carrying some conflict in her still. Her hazel eyes were wide. "What's wrong with her?" she asked, sounding like she wasn't sure if she should be glad to see them, worried, or nursing her upset.

The captain didn't answer. "Zoë, take us out of here," he ordered instead, unable to look away or leave Inara. "Kaylee, need any tricks you've got to keep us hidden."

- - - - The wooden timbers of the ruined deck seemed to groan in pain as Captain Baker leaned over the edge of the hole. He had pulled the rest back, in some cases not metaphorically, and mentally he was reviewing just how much paperwork this debacle was going to require. Perhaps he'd avoid mentioning that their target escaped on horseback like something out of one of those dreadful cortex dramas; he was having trouble believing it had just happened himself.

"Somebody shoot the bastard already," the soldier he was helping demanded, annoyed, and then managed to get off a couple charges as punctuation from her precarious position.

Quietly he agreed, but the Blue Sun agents weren't about to make things easy. They stood to the side, completely unaffected by the chaos and the cries for help from the destruction. "Captain, please remind your people that the target is to be captured alive."

He grunted and dragged the spitfire out of the breach the rest of the way, under no illusions that the two spooks would explain why they needed Malcolm Reynolds and associates beyond what they'd already given him. If an officer wanted more information than vague portents about company secrets and acquisition of stolen property, they should look elsewhere from Blue Sun. He retrieved his handset from his belt, keying the com-device as he pushed to his feet. "All units, we have a runner westbound for the catch." He found the agents watching him with twin, blandly cat-like smiles, and stared back. "Surround and apprehend, do not use lethal force."

"Hope they at least wound him," the extracted girl grumbled, joining the other troops standing at the doors they had ushered the party guests through and nursing her pride.

The company liaisons nodded to him, no longer challenging his command. He was glad to look away. "Lieutenant," he called, addressing the man climbing out on the other side of the gap. "Form up all ranks on the transports, and prepare for prisoner transport back to base." There was only a small window he would have a chance to ask his questions before the blue hands intervened, but he was intending to take full advantage.

The Councilor seemed to be in some shock at the demolition of her spectacle and the sunken quarter of her obviously expensive veranda, but the unexpected order finally snapped her out of it. "That's it? You dropped all this on us, put our families in danger, and now you're leaving?" Her eyes were icy, but she looked somehow vulnerable, lost, as she crossed her arms over her dusky gown like a petulant child, golden strands straying as the elaborate style of her hair came undone. "Aren't you supposed to defend citizens of the Alliance from the bandits and whatever else is out there? You could at least stay and do your job."

"The intelligence you offered led us to an abandoned wreck. You could consider that this situation has the potential to get much worse," he informed her dourly, acutely aware still of the dangerous men-in-black hovering nearby, the dangerous quarry even now heading into their trap. His handset buzzed for attention. "Report."

Several different voices from their field team began to chime in. "We have visual." "We have contact." "Hold fire!" "Who the hell is that?" "Dammit, hold fire!" "Enemy down." Then, triumphantly, "We got them!" The distant sound of shuttle engines belied the claim. "We... don't got them."

Captain Baker sighed, buried his face in his hands, and changed radio frequency. "Control, have our ASREVS home in on the pulse beacon you've been tracking. They've taken flight."

"Sir? Our sensors indicate they're still on the ground."

The vessel receded until it looked like a distant point of light, indistinguishable from all the others, vanishing into the night skies over New Jerusalem. "If you're done," the councilor put in, her voice steeped in condescension, "I'm going inside to find my husband, son, and my guests and see that they remain safe. You're welcome to join me. Otherwise, get off my property."


Saturday, October 29, 2011 5:28 AM


I really dislike that rotten councilor, betraying Inara like that. But I did cheer when Inara leapt and landing in Mal's lap, and him on a white gorram charger come to the rescue! Very good chapter, hope our heroes get away clean though I am surprised the Hands of Blue didn't activate their little rod anyway. After all they do not like to leave any witnesses to their nefarious doings. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, October 29, 2011 5:53 AM


They seem to only do that if some kind of sensitive information may have been compromised. The mistake of the marshals in Ariel was that they talked to River and Simon. Also, in that case they had a convenient party to blame on the deaths (escaping fugitives).

If they just left a trail of bodies wherever they went, civilian and military, it would raise suspicions. Also, supposedly they on occasion work with military or law enforcement. They have a license to kill anyone who could compromise them or their investigations, but that doesn't mean it's wise to ALWAYS kill.

Saturday, October 29, 2011 5:32 PM


Mal's rescue of Inara, dashing up on a white horse and catching her in his arms, was just as dramatic and heroic as I could have anticipated, but you've upped it by having Inara unconscious and possibly dying. More dramatic than I had expected. Glad that you remembered that a white horse would be a rather conspicuous target. The detail from Zoe's POV, "She watched Mal settle with Inara against the slant of the hull, and felt as though she was witnessing the final moments between herself and Wash from the outside."--very well done. I was a bit surprised by Zoe's involvement in the firefight--seems risky, given her condition. I liked that Kaylee was able to confuse the pursuers with her clever use of the pulse beacon. Liked the detail of the elephant adding to the chaos. A symbolic elephant in the living room? Oh, the councillor! Has feelings, but not exactly of the most endearing kind. The girl Inara tried to rescue--her plight tugs at my heart, but not at the councillor's. And the Blue Hands are in the middle of this, too? Aaack! Altogether a great chapter, Bytemite.

Saturday, October 29, 2011 7:49 PM


Zoe's thinking a lot about her condition, having to join in was not her preferred course of action either, and she's already thinking Wash was right and this lifestyle is just too dangerous for children. This doesn't do much to convince her otherwise. To be fair to Mal, he doesn't know yet, and Zoe didn't even know before the day before.

When I wrote the councilor, I wanted someone that had very real motivations for why she does what she does, but even though they're understandable, her actions are not forgivable. She's not really a villain, not compared to some of the other people in this story and relative to customs on Ezra, but she's part of a social structure that allows villains like the slavers, Blue Sun, corrupt elements of the Alliance and so on.

Her characterization was inspired by the unfilmed parts of the shooting script in War Stories - Inara goes to the councilor for help, and the councilor makes it very clear that she's only willing to look out for herself and her family. Even when Niska isn't as much of an issue, she barely is willing to help Inara so far as to offer the chance to use a dermal mender to fix Mal's ear. She very rudely almost throws Inara out, because she's married, because Inara is a companion, because, the councilor suggests, it's improper for a companion to go ask their client for help. Inara believes that what she has with her clients is meaningful, but every now and then we see her with clients that don't reciprocate the kind of care she offers and deserves. She trusts people, and sometimes. They cheapen her and what she offers, they disappoint her, or even betray her.

The little girl ended up being a favourite of a lot of readers. The crew actually does end up making things better for her and the other slaves.

The elephant ties in to the Little Clay Cart that the actors were performing - in the second act of that play an elephant goes rogue.

The Hands of Blue made a brief appearance in an earlier chapter. I have a lot of separate threads going on, and it can be easy to lose track of little things I've mentioned - which is good for me, because that means people will forget about them when I reintroduce them in more important/dangerous circumstances.

Thursday, January 5, 2012 12:37 PM


Byte, STOP stealing my titles!!!! Because my titles are so original!!!!


Thursday, January 5, 2012 12:46 PM


Suggested ending for Eidolon: And the little girl who was snatched out of Inara's arms lived happily ever after.

What do you think?

Thursday, January 5, 2012 1:04 PM


Confession, this title was inspired by an awful angsty US pop song. Can you guess which one? Hint: Snow

She gets better! Not right away though...


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Eidolon (Epilogue)
Someday, she knew they would visit the graves of Serenity Valley and not hear the howl of the ghosts. Someday, they would walk across the green prairie of a restored world and watch the rain. (Glimpses)

Eidolon (Chapter 40)
Clouds were blossoming in the distance, promising rain for the city later. The crew of Serenity and the badlands around Eavesdown Docks to the south would probably see only a harsh windstorm. Two different worlds, she mused, caught between them. (Deliverance)

Eidolon (Chapter 39)
The question seemed to hit her hard. In the mirrors of her eyes, he saw himself, forced to see her lose more ground every day. Hurt more, because of him. Saw her watching him back as she pulled him out of a nightmare. (Try)

The Gift
They don't have much. But they have each other. (Just a little holiday story from the Firefly verse. Belongs to Joss)

Eidolon (Chapter 38)
The girl processed that response. "He brought the medicine? He saved us?" Inara nodded, considering her own inclusion in the question. (Renewed)

Eidolon (Chapter 37)
A wind clear and sweet stirred the air, humming as a shimmering, ever-shifting blaze of color flashed from one horizon to another. The breeze carried with it a distant song, rising over the hills and through the vales like a soulful hymn from his childhood. (Flight)

Eidolon (Chapter 36)
"I cut the strings. They were never yours anyway.”(Liberation)

Eidolon (Chapter 35)
A few twists of a little turnscrew and the mechanic was stripping wires and rerouting circuits in moments. (Break)

Eidolon (Chapter 34)
Stars scattered in the night, coalesced from the stellar dust from a far away sun and others that came before. A spark, scintillating into a network, a stream, like the lights and streets of a city. (Cascade)

Eidolon (Chapter 33)
"Put me back in that place," River said, "Little bluebird singing in a cage, puppet on broken strings." (Capture)