Eidolon (Chapter 32)
Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The officer crossed his arms, looking back at the Reaver woman as she silently watched them, two predators stalking their prey, like mirrors to each other. "If it were up to me, I'd have them all shot and the bodies burned." (The wretched)


The central hanger was clean and featureless as to be expected. If he had his preferences, he might have more appreciated the functional and striking aesthetic of the open view from the transparent airlocks of a carrier, the long walkway floating among the stars. Perhaps. If he hadn't been raised in a claustrophobic underground complex.

Two officers were waiting at attention in the mostly empty space, standing a distance specified in an operating procedure manual appropriate for the circumstance and the docking code used. A blonde traffic controller in her greys. The other, Captain Teram Baker, a man built like a marine in a grey naval uniform; tall, lean, square jaw, and a brown regulation haircut with somewhat flinty eyes. The Operative approached them.

"Ensign," he acknowledged. She processed his identification with an attitude that could only be described as politely bored, and almost managed mild surprise when she saw his full security clearance. She hesitantly saluted, and he inwardly sighed at the all-too-familiar confusion. "I have no rank," he explained to her, before she could attempt to ask. "Nor any name, and you would be advised, after this conversation, to consider that I am a figment of your imagination." Little more than a shadow, easily forgotten, and if what he'd heard about this facility was accurate, everyone stationed here was heavily modified and could be remote wiped or commanded as necessary. Parliament was very serious about controlling dangerous information and security leaks, and almost as serious about not wasting any more resources than they had to.

"O-of course," she answered, dubiously, and carefully swallowed the 'sir' that she was trained to add. She exchanged a look and a nod with her supervisor, and was dismissed. They none of them had any idea how easily they could disappear.

He was on the clock now. Nine hours from that reading, a notification from over the cortex would reach the citadel on Londinium, confirm the tracking data from his stolen transport, and another nine hours later the manhunt would begin. The ranking officer fell into step, and the Operative allowed Captain Baker to play the diplomatic tour guide and escort him to the turbolifts. "Welcome aboard," the man greeted. "My apologies for the extra scrutiny. We've just captured the leader of a terrorist cell. Can't be too careful."

"You have Reynolds?" Monitoring military chatter as he traveled had revealed the new impossible situation the small-time freighter crew had gotten themselves into. Their ability to appear at the center of chaos was nothing short of astonishing.

"Apprehended him about an hour ago planetside, after an expensive bit of sabotage. He managed to take out our ASREVs on the ground and steal some important medicines." Baker frowned, either out of annoyance at the sheer bravado of the act, or perhaps just now wondering why his superiors had dispatched an assassin to his flagship. "Is he the purpose of your visit?"

The less said about his intentions the better. "I'm looking for the fugitive River Tam. Reynolds has information I need," the Operative answered.

A nod, and the lift panels slid silently aside to admit them. The broad circular platform was wide enough to transport an entire platoon at once, and the overhead the shaft seemed to narrow to some distant horizon at around the hundredth floor. "You're in luck. Our contractors think they may have located her. We should have her and all her associates shortly." His escort tapped at the controls in the central podium, and the panel lit up with a chime. The anti-gravity generators hummed as they began to move.

He kept his features calm. "I'll need to see her parents and fellow students as well. Where are you holding them?"

His counterpart stood feet apart, looking at the numbers over their heads as they ticked away, military at-ease in a stance that never looked particularly relaxed. Viewscreens flashed by of walkways suspended above a man-made chasm, lined by thousands of compartments. Like a glacial fissure, frozen in time. "Most of them are in stasis," he said, indicating the bioluminescent cells. "Reynolds is in quarantine," he explained, then added, at the inquiring glance, "Research labs. With the other Reavers."

The steel doors opened for them to a bright vault beyond, sectioned off into transparent observation cells and the path between them. There were people in them, seeming long forgotten, lying limp on the ground or against the walls of their cages, their eyes blank and distant. Most were in hospital garb, some in straightjackets. A few startled to activity at their entrance, dazed and aimlessly crawling around the white tiled floor like feral animals. Each cell was sparsely furnished except for a drain in the center. To hose down the blood and waste, he supposed.

"They're hyperviolent," the captain said, his voice almost hushed as though they could hear them. An understatement. "They can use anything as a weapon. We took out all the bedding and the heads to stop the Reavers from breaking them into parts. Then some of them chewed their own limbs off to sharpen the bones." The man shook his head wearily. "Now we just monitor their vitals and pump in a sedative when they start to rile up."

A malnourished woman suddenly bumped up against the barrier of her prison, then again, her glassy eyes staring at them, her jumpsuit torn, her face a mess of scarred over self-inflicted mutilation behind long scraggly hair. She slid down the glass the third time and stilled. One of her arms was missing. "There's no cure?" he asked, and already knew the answer.

"No, their minds are damaged beyond our ability to repair them. We can't even apply a neural-overlay or give them a new personality," Baker answered, with genuine pity but not without a hard edge. "They're also contagious. Anyone exposed to them becomes just like them." The officer crossed his arms, looking back at the Reaver woman as she silently watched them, two predators stalking their prey, like mirrors to each other. "If it were up to me, I'd have them all shot and the bodies burned."

The overlays sometimes did not integrate fully with the subject, leaving memory fragments or even creating split personalities. While the solution was still workable with conditioning and triggers, such as if the surgery and tampering had left a sleeper agent or assassin emotionally unstable, it could also be unpredictable. The Operative wondered how much the man knew, if he remembered anything about his past life. Then the tension broke, and Baker led him deeper into the labs, where they kept the more dangerous specimens.

- - - - - River danced out of the infirmary ahead of her, a stream of pronouncements about a sunrise as she secured her loose saffron dressing gown around her. On waking, Inara realized that she had fainted - again- in front of Mal. Her secret would be impossible to hide now. What must he think of her? The usual, she supposed, the damsel in distress in need of rescue. The memory River had shown her lingered. The past month, the medical clinic, the fear and confusion. Helpless. Drugged.

She had just enough strength to stand, leaning against the bulkhead, and she smiled wanly at the crew as they looked over from their intense discussion. The conversation stilled and she faltered under the scrutiny. Had she lost their trust? Simon's relationship with Kaylee was in turmoil because of her, and Zoë was frowning at her as though she had betrayed Mal. In a way, perhaps she had. They deserved the truth, when she could barely accept it herself.

The doctor forced a courteous smile. "Good to see you're awake," he said, seeming perfectly sincere, but there was something almost pained underlying the well-wishes.

As though prompted by Simon's show of civility, Kaylee stepped out from among the crew, her eyes rimmed in red, took in the companion head to toe as though searching for something, then strode over and buried her face into Inara's shoulder with an insistent hug. Inara met Zoë's steady cool gaze over Kaylee's hair, and the other woman gave her a curt nod. "Thank you," Inara answered, disconcerted.

Jayne was less enthusiastic. "Ain't still infectious, is she?" he asked.

Simon rolled his eyes. "She wasn't... No Jayne."

The moment was short lived, and Kaylee pulled away from her, suddenly furious. "Didn't tell me, didn't tell the captain, d'you know how scared you had us?" she ranted. "We're s'posed to be your friends!" The girl swiped her wrist across her cheek and turned aside in a huff.

"I told Simon," Inara offered meekly, prompting a few glares. She sighed. They all meant so much to her. She hadn't many options when she first joined them. Hers was a lonely road, carefully detached and maintained, a mercy for herself and others to lessen the ache of their parting. She never expected to be welcomed into their lives as she had. For their acceptance to be so appealing. "I'm sorry. I didn't want to upset any of you."

Jayne snorted at her. "Well that worked out all right," he commented, full of sarcasm.

Clearly not. But if they already knew, there was no use putting off reality any longer. "How long was I out?" she asked.

"About a day," Simon replied, sympathetically. Before she could accept his answer with disheartened resignation, he spoke up again. "It wasn't the Ataxia," the doctor added, "not this time."

She blinked. What? His statement carried the gravity of an even more serious problem. "Captain ran off to find some medicine for you," Zoë said, mildly. There was anger underneath her words, an accusation in the former soldier's narrowed eyes. "Went and got himself captured on your behalf in the process."

Her dream, River's warning. "I was afraid he might," Inara admitted. Why did he have to be so frustrating and imposing and stubbornly noble? He had always thought she needed saving. More than ever this would have confirmed his suspicions, and prompted him into reckless action.

That set Kaylee off again. "And now he's in the clink for us all," she complained miserably, "and apart from all the thievin' and explosions and shoot outs he ain't even done anythin' wrong." Inara wasn't sure if it was more to Kaylee's credit or Mal's that she could say that without any amount of irony.

"Not just any prison either," Zoë corrected grimly. "When we were first picked up after the surrender, Alliance wanted information we none of us had. None of us were in any shape for interrogation, half-starved, feverish and exhausted. Didn't stop them from trying to beat it out of us. So captain got the heat off the rest of us, volunteered himself for their attention."

"Violently, I'm guessing," Inara observed wryly.

"Got it in one," the corporal confirmed. "For that they flagged him for special imprisonment. Took him up to the Ratched. He won't talk about it, but we all heard rumours. Some of the inmates up there, they just weren't right. Savage men from the far edge, inclined to cannibalism and other such pleasantries." She thought a moment, then shook her head. "He had no living family anymore, they must've figured he wouldn't have been missed. But I still don't know why they stuck him in among them."

"I think I might," Simon interjected. "Most of the people on Miranda didn't turn violent; just the opposite, in fact. But if someone already had a preexisting condition the Pax might have exacerbated the problem, made them more susceptible to the other effects. Aggression, schizophrenia, personality disorders, anxiety disorders... and PTSD," he listed. "If doctors were looking for patients showing early signs of abnormal reaction to Pax, then any of those might have mimicked the symptoms and vice versa." Simon frowned. "Assuming they weren't also just selecting test subjects for Pax exposure."

"Might be," she agreed, grimly. "There were a lot of washouts from the program, I was with the Dust Devils when we started finding them. Most of them were yōumíng. Light's on, no one home. Traced them back to a hospital where they were sent to waste away and die." Her mouth twisted into a scowl. "Got there just in time for the fire."

"Cover-up?" Kaylee asked, eyes wide.

"Outbreak," Zoë answered. "Some of the patients snapped out of the stupor, went on a rampage. Alliance had to put them down." 30 million dead already. Perhaps the Alliance didn't think a few more lives would make any difference. "Mal crawled away somehow, found him in a ditch nearby. He seemed like another vegetable, but finally about a week later he looks up at me while I'm makin' soup, seein' how that was about the only way I could feed him, and asks me where the hell are we and why we aren't on the front lines. Didn't even remember the past year."

And he was back there now, because of her. Surely he had known he might be captured, but he had risked that anyway. Then again, she was about to do the same for him. "I've been talking to River," Inara started.

"She ain't goin' up there any more'n her brother is," Zoë interrupted with finality.

"No," Inara said. She gathered herself, all the poise and focus of her bearing and station compounded by her concern, her heart, and her love. "Not her. Me."

The first mate scoffed in disbelief. "After all that effort captain wouldn't want you in danger."

"Whether or not I try to help isn't Mal's choice to make," she insisted.

An echo rang through the ship, distracting, a sudden nervous fear descending on them as they raised their sights, Jayne and Zoë both already with weapons out. "We'll all go together," River intoned. Then, chilling: "They're here."


Wednesday, July 18, 2012 3:57 PM


A bit of clarification in here about Pax - I think Reaver victims act like Reavers themselves because the experience gives them pretty severe PTSD. Keep in mind as you read.

Thursday, July 19, 2012 6:07 AM


I also have to give a nod to Anothersky, I still get ideas and themes for Riverspeak from her Albatross story.

Thursday, July 19, 2012 9:24 AM


Poor Mal, not only in the thick of it but being treated like a Reaver. Wow, that is beyond bad. And I could shake Inara here. I'm hoping the Operative will be able to help, while our valiant crew have to get ready to fight no doubt for their lives again. Ali D
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Thursday, July 19, 2012 9:35 AM


Yeah, plus he's got all that psychological trauma going on from the first time around.

Shake Inara? Why? She's actually got a good point. Or rather, River has a good point that she discussed with Inara, and Inara is voicing it. Zoe isn't making any decisions at this point, she's struggling too much with her own sense of loss over Wash to be objective. Inara's willing to make a decision, and she has the least to lose here.

Not that it'll make any difference. TheEey're heEere...

The Operative is very helpful. Help them right off a cliff...

Thursday, July 19, 2012 9:41 AM


On the other hand, when I had that least exchange in the next chapter before I moved it here, Zoe did grit her teeth and think about shaking Inara herself... And while Zoe's reasoning is off, it IS genre savvy to not split the party.

And then Inara's all kinda like oh noes gotta go sacrifice for my luuuurve, which kinda got them into this mess with Mal in the first place.

So, okay, point.

Sunday, August 12, 2012 5:21 PM


Things look bad as Mal is referred to as "the leader of a terrorist cell" and is put "with the other Reavers." Aaack. I liked also these sentences: "the new impossible situation the small-time freighter crew had gotten themselves into. Their ability to appear at the center of chaos was nothing short of astonishing." And especially this exchange: "Is he the purpose of your visit?" The less said about his intentions the better. -- that not only highlights the Operative's purpose, it also hearkens back to Jubal Early, wanting not to have his intentions visited, and gives this scene a little extra creepy edge. River's pronouncements about "sunrise" smacks of foreshadowing. "and apart from all the thievin' and explosions and shoot outs he ain't even done anythin' wrong." -- leave it to Kaylee to say this without the least irony!

Monday, August 13, 2012 4:07 AM


Oh yeah, especially considering what Zoe says that Mal escaped from in regards to the Ratched. But he went into the Alliance camp anyway, even knowing that might happen to him again.

The Alliance Captain has all these memories...


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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)