STOLEN MOMENTS: 32. "Illumination"
Friday, June 24, 2005

"The crew go back for Mal and River. Badger gets more than he bargained for. Simon discovers something disturbing."



SUMMARY: "The crew go back for Mal and River. Badger gets more than he bargained for. Simon discovers something disturbing." The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly' are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No infringement of copyright is intended.


"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Everyone was on the bridge when Wash brought Serenity in to land as close to St. Thomas's as possible, the palpable tension in Simon leaving each of them on edge. Jayne still thought it was a bad idea but as everyone was ignoring him he watched and listened in sullen silence, purposely avoiding looking at the Preacher. Not wanting to see any hint of censure in the man's eyes. Book was the closest thing Jayne had to an actual friend. Almost a father confessor though he never completely opened up to the man. Always held something back as if giving himself an escape route should it all get too messy. Never was much of a one for discussing feelings or motivations. He left all that kind of introspection to them as didn't have jobs to do. It was weird the way things had snuck up on him. Hadn't meant to stay so rutting long. It was all their *shenjingbing* Captain's fault. If the man hadn't impressed him so much with the way he had handled the attempt to riddle him and his second with bullets and steal their boat he would not have gone along with him. Wouldn't be standing here now staring out at a place he in no way wanted to return to but couldn't seem to leave.

No one seemed to notice the mercenary's lapse into deep thinking, all of them too taken up with formulating a workable plan. Kaylee trying to comfort Simon while Zoe and the Preacher worked out the details. All that Jayne could think about was the fact that he had left Mal and Zoe behind. High tailed it outta there like his backside was on fire and Reavers were in hot pursuit. He felt a flush of shame and that made him ansty but the fear that place set in him was all kinds of terrifying. Didn't see how the others could fail to understand. *Diyu* even Zoe didn't get it and she had been there with him. With the Captain. His mouth felt dry. *Tianna* the Captain. How in the nine hells was he going to be able to make this right? He respected the man even when he didn't agree with him. The Captain was equal parts smart and stupid, some days it being a toss up which was on top. But there were all kinds of other unsettling qualities that had somehow conspired to bind Jayne to not only the man but also this ship and crew. Mal had turned a job for hire into a career. A ship into a home. A crew into family. And Jayne had left the man behind. It hurt. It burned him something fierce but worse than that was the fear that going back to the graveyard would be a re-run of his earlier blind panic. A panic that had seen him fleeing, shooting off wild shots one of which had hit Zoe. He still could scarce believe she had let him live but the cold stone look in her eyes had told him there would be a reckoning. *Wode ma*, wasn't that always the way of it? Gorrammit, this was what happened when you let people get close.

It was the Shepherd who brought him out of his reverie. "Jayne? You *are* comin' with us?"

The big man turned his head and realised only the Preacher and Wash were still on the bridge. "Shenme*?"

"We're going to look for River, try to find out what happened to the Captain." He paused and placed a hand on Jayne's shoulder. "It's time to do the right thing."

"Huh," Said Jayne, trying to hide any feelings from showing through. "If we was doin' the right thing we wouldn't have come back."

Wash looked surprised. Before the pilot could say anything Book spoke, his voice a warm wrap of comfort and understanding. "You don't mean that Jayne. Besides, Inara says the fog's lifted. Whoever set this up has nowhere left to hide."

The mercenary stared at him for a couple of long seconds, his mind slowly trawling through the cracks in the Preacher's reasoning. "Still reckon this is a mistake."

"The only mistake," Said Wash in a deceptively mild voice, eyes flashing. "Was leavin' them in the first place."

Without a word Jayne spun round and stomped off the bridge, the Shepherd giving Wash a nod before following close behind him.

* * * * *

It had been the most confusing and enlightening experience the Captain could remember in a long while. Confusing because he had no idea where the good gorram they were going, the tunnels and linked catacombs winding and splitting over what seemed an endless area of underground caverns and corridors. Enlightening because River was speaking almost constantly inside his rutting head, explaining the children and what they were doing there. The more he learnt the more he respected the little genius, his heart going out to the children who had taken refuge here.

*Not refuge, sanctuary* River corrected him.

*Gorrammit, you censorin' my thoughts now, mei mei?*

The laughter in her mind lit his up in a way which stole his breath away. Carla was frowning at him. "You okay Mal?"

It took effort to force his attention away from River but he didn't want the womenfolk realising that they were conversing on a sub vocal level. The whores were nervous enough as it was, the presence of the children unsettling them even further. "*Hen hao* Carla."

"It's just you seemed worlds away."

"Just thinkin' is all."

Evie peered round Carla's shoulder, her eyes flicking from the twenty or so children to River and the Captain. "Where did they come from an' what are they doin' here?"

The Captain was not sure how to answer her when River's thoughts popped into his head.

*Tell them. They have a right to know*

*Know what?*

*The truth*

*River, even I don't know the truth*

Her smile was gentle but her eyes flickered with muted mischief. Warily he watched her closely while the others watched their interaction. The children not saying a gorram word. *They're like me but not as advanced*

*You sayin' their brains got cut up too?*

*Smaller incisions, more precise*

He did not like the sound of that. *Sounds like those *tamade hundan* Alliance have a specific purpose in mind for these kids*

*Qu, each according to their talents*

*Not quite followin' here*

*Take Jeremiah, his gift is mathematics. Ruben's is languages. Deborah's is music and the arts, Paul's is...*

*Not so fast, xin gan. What do they want with enhancin' natural talent like that?*


The Captain blinked. All of them were following River through the catacombs, not one of them thinking it odd to be putting their faith in the girl. "Is that what they were doin' with you?*

She shook her head, her look sad. *Bu qu*

When she did not elaborate the Captain stopped walking and everyone else came to a halt behind him. River turned, wanted to urge him on but knew she had to tell him some time. Might as well be now. At least he couldn't throw her off his gorram ship. *I'm an assassin*

For a long moment he said nothing. Anna was getting ansty but Carla put a hand on her arm to quiet her down. Everyone waiting but not sure what for. The Captain stared at River, trying to grasp the thoughts cascading through his mind with images of the girl as a small child, learning ballet with the ease of someone born to it, using calculus as a form of meditation. Then he saw too clearly for comfort men with thin blue gloves and black suits, emotionless eyes staring, River's fear of them cutting right through to his own self and leaving him trembling inside. The naked fear was more unsettling than anything he could have imagined. The need to protect her and wreck terrible vengence on those that had hurt her swamped him, controlled only by River's plea for him to calm down.

*There's a better way, Mal*

The Captain was upset and trying not to show it though he knew he could not hide a gorram thing from her. He wondered if she had always been aware of his thoughts and feelings. *What way?*

*Better to show you*

River turned to face the others. Carla felt her pulse quicken, the women all on edge. Their confusion and worry making each moment of freedom unstable in their minds. The children gave River their total concentration. "Where did you leave the equipment?"

The oldest of the children was a boy called Ruben. He pointed above their heads. Mal thought it odd that for a boy whose gift was languages he chose to remain silent. River and Mal received an image in their heads. The Captain's eyes widened as Ruben mentally showed them what the equipment could do. In that moment Mal knew why the boy had not spoken out loud. "*Wode ma*, you're talkin' Armageddon!"

* * * * *

Badger was happy. Ecstatic even, not that he would admit it. Alice had agreed to find a buyer for the merchandise. All he had to do was keep it safe until he heard back from her. A smug smile settled on his face as he looked at his treasure, a flicker of irritation destroying his enjoyment when Finney, his computer expert, interrupted. "I'll be glad when this stuff's gone, *laoban*."

Intrigued, Badger forgot his irritation. "*Shenme*? What the gorram does that mean?"

"It means there's somethin' not right here."

"You're just unsettled 'cause it's cuttin' edge. Folks'll pay a fortune for stuff like that."

Finney did not look convinced but kept his mouth shut. Slowly Badger's good mood began to sour.

"What is it you ain't tellin' me? An' don't think to be holdin' nothin' back."

They were the only ones in the warehouse at that moment. Outside a couple of the boys kept watch, the others out doing Badger's business. Like perpetual motion a man like Badger couldn't afford to stay still for long. There was no profit in it.

"I just don't like it, *laoban*, an' that's nothin' to do with it bein' cuttin' edge."


"All I can say is it's some kind of gorram computer system."

"Even I can see that!" Snapped Badger.

Finney nodded slowly, his eyes flicking from the equipment filling the centre of the warehouse to his boss's face. "Yeah, but like no computer system I know. For one thing, why doesn't it have any buttons?"

The thought had never occurred to Badger before. He frowned slightly and leaned over what appeared to be the main piece of equipment. The boy was right. No buttons, switches or obvious controls. His frown deepened, the shiny taste of sweet anticipation turning a mite soure in his mouth. Should have known this was too gorram easy. "If it ain't a computer system then what the *diyu* is it?"

Only because everything had gone praeternaturally quiet did they hear the soft sudden click. Both men looked at each other then turned their heads to look down as the main component began to hum, little blocks of panneling lighting up in a sequence that was all kinds of creepifying. As they watched in mute horror, the other components one by one came to life and all the hairs on the back of Badger's neck stood on end. Fear sent beads of cold sweat down his face and crawling down his back. "Gun ququ*, I know what this is!"

Finney locked eyes with Badger. "It's a ruttin' bomb!"

Sudden panic lent their feet wings, just one step ahead of the intense flash of blinding light that enveloped the air around them, setting fire to the oxygen in their lungs as the swelling concussive blast wave knocked the two men off their feet as reached the door. Pressure spun them the rest of the way through it, their hearing dulled to a throbbing ache of pain that innured them to the blood running down from their ears, their backs scorched, clothing on fire. Behind them hell had found a new outlet. Unable to hear, Badger was unaware that as his tears burned his face he was screaming.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*shenjingbing* = crazy *diyu* = hell *tianna* = oh God! *shenme* = waht? *wode ma* = mother of God *mei mei* = little sister *hen hao* = very good *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *qu* = yes (lit. go) *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *xin gan* = sweetheart *laoban* = boss *gun ququ* = get the hell out of here!


Friday, June 24, 2005 1:51 AM


Very cool, looking as always forward to your next chapter.

Friday, June 24, 2005 6:45 AM


I really like the idea of River "censoring" Mal's thoughts. Very shiny. I look forward to more.

Friday, July 1, 2005 7:18 AM


Jayne was a joy - as ever in your hands. Loved his internal monologue - and his assessment of Mal: "equal parts smart and stupid." I adore it when so few words say so much about characters. I can really understand Jayne's perspective and see how wrong it is at the same time. And it gives a very neat assessment of the complexities of our dear Captain.

River's announcement that she's an assassin was very touching - compared with the other kids whose talents were being used for more peaceful (if not good) purposes.

Nice cliffhanger too.


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His head still ached from the rutting probe but after the men had satisfied themselves that his story was true a thousand questions peppered the air like machine gun fire.

The vessel was shiny, sleek and black with nowhere near the bulk of an Alliance ship. Something about the way it moved through the Black was more than a little creepifying.

Personally she didn't care if Serenity was towed off to a junk yard and stripped into spare parts. She had promised the ship to Jer and his crew as a bonus but it looked like scavengers had beaten them to it.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: 2. "Counting Chickens"
The fact that her eyes were hard and sharp with intelligence kind of chilled him. Smart women always made him uneasy, it just weren't natural.

What in the nine hells were they so afraid of? Then he remembered Tracy. The body mailed to them by their old war buddy and all the trouble that had brought down on them.

If it was too gorram wet to hunt for rabbits what in the nine hells was his son really hunting? And was it something on four legs or two?

The man was in a terrible condition, his pulse weak, and for some reason he was soaking wet which did nothing to staunch the blood soaking through his clothing and seeping from the poorly tended wound where he had been shot.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 9. "All The King's Men"
The man sighed like the weight of the of the 'Verse was on his shoulders but unlike anyone else he looked like he could carry the weight.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 8. "All The King's Horses"
Without warning something came through the opening and rolled with a metallic clang across the ground before exploding.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 7. "Friend or Foe"
Then he found himself falling, the whole world silent as in slow motion the hordes of *diyu* came to swallow him up and everything disintegrated in fire, blood and pain.