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Death or Glory (Part VII)
Thursday, January 22, 2004

An interlude in the lives of the Serenity Crew and their new passengers


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 5077    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Disclaimer – Everything either does belong to Joss or it should. I’m just borrowing his shiny ‘verse for a while.

The 21st Lancers belong to the British Army so I’m borrowing them too. I hope they don’t mind

* * *

Transport Ship Serenity – Deep Space – 2519AD

Once again wandering, or rather limping, around the ship at night Mal found Steven sitting at the table with a cup in his hand. Tea most likely as he had bought a couple of pounds of the stuff with him when he arrived on Serenity. He had the tea, his wife and kids, a really big gun and all the rest of his remaining worldly possessions were in a few bags.

Steven looked up as Mal entered and nodded a greeting.

‘Just put Cally back to bed?’ Mal asked heading over to make himself a coffee.

‘Yes she’s calmed down now’ Steven gave Mal an apologetic look ‘Sorry if she woke you up, another nightmare. I’m also sorry we couldn’t keep her in the shuttle with the other two but they can’t take it either’

‘I guessed at the nightmare from the screaming. That’s three out of the last five nights’ Mal poured his drink into a cup and sat down across from Steven.

‘Four’ Steven said ‘You must have slept through one of them. Tomorrow night I’ll take up Simon’s offer and give her a sleeping pill’ Steven shrugged ‘she probably needs the rest herself anyway’ He drank sipped his tea and grimaced ‘artificial sweetener’ he said ‘It’s the most heinous invention of human chemistry’

Mal gave Steven a look of concern and commiseration ‘I guess ten is a bit young to have ended a life. I was fully grown and the first time bothered me for weeks’.

‘Same here and I did it from eight miles away not eight feet. I suppose she’ll get over it but I’d give anything if she didn’t have to’ he looked sad beyond measure.

‘How are the other kids holding up?’

Steven brightened a touch. ‘John’s fine, he’s just got a new Firefly shaped adventure playground to explore. Kaylee keeps finding him in the ducts. We had to send Claire-Marie in after him earlier today because she was the only other one that fits’

Mal grinned ‘Kaylee told me. She said she keeps expecting to find him every time she opens up a panel. First time that happened he went “Boo” and she nearly died of shock’ Mal paused ‘What about Claire-Marie?’

‘She keeps wanting to go home. Difficult for her to accept she can’t I guess’ Steven took another sip of tea ‘She’ll come around though, she’s like her mother, pretty on the outside, core of laminate armour within. She’s probably more stubborn than Cally just doesn’t let you know about it so much’

It was always a pleasure to watch Steven talk about his children Mal thought. He clearly loved them and as much for their quirks as anything else. He certainly didn’t pretend they were perfect, either to himself or others, but they were his and that was enough. Mal respected the familial devotion; Steven would kill or die for his family without hesitation and always be there to give them a hug in less trying times. It was the kind of thing that made you want to raise a parcel of kids yourself.

‘How’s Jennifer anyway?’ Mal asked

‘Coping better than I could have ever hoped’ Steven answered. He smiled remembering something ‘Day before yesterday she caught me moping around sat me down and asked what was wrong. I told her I was a failure as a husband and father, that because I’d let myself stay involved with you lot, despite knowing you were on the run, that I’d ended up losing my families’ home, my job and my future’

‘What’d she say?’

‘She told me to stop being an introspective hwin dahn, pointed to our children and said that we hadn’t lost anything that was worth a gorram thing’ he chuckled ‘then she told me to go do something useful and clean up the cargo bay’

Mal smiled ‘I was wondering why I found you doing that. It weren’t that messy anyway’ a thoughtful look came over his face ‘Women often got their priorities straighter than we do’ he said.

‘Probably why they start less wars’

‘Might have something to do with that’ Mal could see there was something else disturbing him. It was the look in his eyes ‘How you holding up’

‘I’m fine’

‘Gôu pì. There’s something else bothering you’

‘What are you? Ships’ father confessor? Doesn’t Book complain about you stealing his work out from under him?’

‘Stop changing the subject’

Steven looked into his eyes. Thought about it then sighed ‘I haven’t killed anyone in years. It didn’t used to bother me, does now. You know I once ordered my crews to turn their chainguns on a massed infantry charge, must have mowed down nearly a thousand men in a few minutes, slept like a log afterwards, it was just the way things were’ he turned his eyes to the ceiling ‘As for now, well Cally’s not the only one not sleeping properly. I just don’t scream about it’

‘Being bothered about killing people ain’t a cause to be riled up about’ Mal said seriously ‘It’s not being bothered that’s worse’

‘You know when we were in the shuttle and I made the crack about having severe PTSD? Well I wasn’t joking, not completely. After the war I had it bad, took up drinking heavy, nearly ruined my family’ he cast his gaze at the table ‘I used White Phosphorus on that Ally Column back on Toulouse’

‘So? I gunned down lots of ‘em. I just didn’t have a grenade launcher or I would have blown them to hell too’

Steven shook his head ‘Think about it Mal. I burned them’

Mal twigged it. It was astonishing he hadn’t before, it was just that after a while you really didn’t see the scars you just saw Steven.

The former Lancer took a deep breath ‘The smoke, the flame, the smell of burning flesh, it bought back the bad dreams about being back trapped in that burning tank at Serenity Valley’ Steven looked up at him again ‘I’ve been shot. Hell I’ve still got some shrapnel in my leg they couldn’t dig out ten years ago but they were both absolutely nothing compared with being burned’

Time to set him straight Mal decided ‘We were totally outnumbered. We needed to knock as many of them out of the fight as fast as we could. You used the best tool for the job. Deal with it’

Steven looked at him ‘I know and I’d do it the same way again. That doesn’t take away the guilt or the dreams though’ he threw Mal a weak smile ‘don’t worry I’ll get over it, I’ve got over worse. At least we flew out with our people intact that’s so much easier to accept than the Valley was’

‘Damn straight. Just as long as you know there’s folks to talk to. If not me then I know Zoe has her dreams too if you want to talk to her instead’

Steven smiled ‘You care a lot about your troops but you know when to put them in peril for the greater good. You would have made a good Officer’ he said standing up and moving to the sink unit to clean and put away his cup.

‘You think too much. You would have made a lousy Sergeant’ Mal told him. ‘But you’re alright for a man who’s never done a decent days work in his life. I mean a Cavalry Officer and then a University Professor what kind of life is that for a man?’

‘Surprisingly eventful’ he replied ‘Goodnight Mal’

‘Goodnight Steve’ Mal said watching him head back to Shuttle Two which was where he was staying with his family. ‘Shouldn’t have drunk the coffee’ he said to himself ‘Got to stop doing that. People’ll think I’m always awake walking ‘round the ship at night cause I’m worried about things when it’s really the darn caffeine’

Well sometimes it’s the caffeine he thought.

* * *

The next morning Cally entered the Cargo bay with a determined expression on her face. She was a woman with a mission she thought.

As expected Simon was in the Infirmary reorganising the medical supplies. He did that that a lot, maybe it was his equivalent of Claire-Marie’s security blanket Cally thought, something familiar and medical to remind him he was a Doctor.

‘Can I have a talk with you Simon?’ Cally asked.

The Doctor turned around to see her waiting patiently at the door. She wouldn’t come in without being invited. If only everyone did likewise things would be so much more civilised Simon thought.

‘Certainly Cally how can I help you’ he gestured for her to come inside and she vaulted onto the examination table ending up sitting there facing him with her legs hanging down.

‘I haven’t been sleeping’ she said. ‘Bad dreams about the man I killed’

She was so young to be saying such a thing it broke Simon’s heart but he gave her a reassuring smile ‘I know, I sometimes hear your bad dreams’ he paused ‘if you want a sleeping pill you’ll need your parents to ask for it’

Cally shook her head ‘No I don’t want one of those. I was talking to my father last night and it made me remember something he says sometimes “Nam ipsa scientia potestas est”’

Simon smiled more broadly this time and translated ‘Power is derived from knowledge’. Francis Bacon said that’

Cally was happy he knew the quote. ‘That’s right’ she said ‘So I was thinking if I’m going to get the power to overcome my fears I need to know more’ she gave him a serious look ‘So what happens when somebody gets shot. From a medical standpoint I mean’

Simon was a touch taken aback ‘Um I’m not sure I should be taking to you about that. I don’t know if you’re old enough’

‘If I’m old enough to have shot somebody I’m old enough to know what happens when somebody gets shot’ she said reasonably. She crossed her arms and gave him a determined look ‘Anyway you owe me’ she stated.

‘I still think I should talk to your parents’

‘I already asked Daddy. He wasn’t keen but I talked him around. You can ask him if you don’t trust me’

Simon looked at her ‘I trust you Cally. Alright what do you want to know?’

‘Everything, if you use words I don’t understand I’ll ask you to explain them’ she said ‘I’ve got all morning’

And so Simon spent the next couple of hours explaining the effects of being shot on the human body. He tried to avoid being too gory until Cally realised and nagged him into the full details. He explained how bullets expand and fragment, he explained the effects of hydrostatic shock and internal bleeding. He even finished with a trauma surgeons perspective of patching up bullet wounds.

He also explained what the effects of being shot in the head were with a pistol at close range. Cally seemed happy to find out that the man she killed would have almost certainly not felt a thing. Actually he told her getting your brains blown out by a piece of high-velocity metal is one of the most humane ways to kill somebody. It’s very messy for those around but for the person most directly concerned it’s a great way to go, you’re usually dead well before you could possibly realise it. There are freak cases of people surviving but not usually without severely extensive brain damage. Normally the lights just go out in a flash, he told her, and that’s it.

Simon was very surprised at how intently she listened to him and how well she seemed to absorb some of the more gruesome aspects of the subject. In the end she dropped back off the table thanked him very much and gave him a hug which he returned. It bought back memories of giving his sister a hug at around the same age after she grazed her knee, Simon had sterilised and cleaned the wound and sent her on the way, he had always looked after her even though she was a brat at times.

Simon watched her bounce out of the Infirmary and smiled.

* * *

Part one of her mission complete, Steven’s eldest embarked on part two and it presented itself close by.

Jayne was pumping iron as he did whenever he had a spare moment. It both relaxed him mentally and kept him in good condition to do his job properly. He was working on his bench-press when Cally walked over to him.

‘Mr Cobb can I ask you some things?’ she asked. She didn’t really think she knew him well enough to call him Jayne like everyone else.

‘No I’m busy go away’ he told her tersely and kept lifting weights.

‘Please Mr Cobb. I’m sorry if I’ve been waking you up at night but that’s sort of why I’m here’

Jayne hooked the bar back into place and sat up. ‘It’s like we’ve got River back like she was’ he said gruffly ‘she used to scream all the time too’

Sitting up he was really intimidating. He towered over her father let alone her and looked like he was ten times her size.

Cally persevered ‘I’m sorry Sir but like I said I’m trying to sort that out’ she paused ‘you know I killed a man. Shot him dead?’

‘So I heard. Well done’

He was missing the point she wasn’t after praise.

‘No you see I’m trying to find out about shooting people. Simon just explained what happens to a person medically when they’re shot but now I want to know more about what it’s like to shoot people’

‘Ask your Pa. He’s shot plenty of folks’

‘He doesn’t like to talk about it, at least not to me. I don’t think anybody else would talk to me about it either, so I came to you. You’re the expert anyway from what people say’

This was a bit of a surprise. Jayne wasn’t usually referred to as an authority on anything, he always considered he had a craft and strove to be good at it but people didn’t usually see his job as being socially acceptable enough to talk about. Now here was a little girl who wanted to discuss it with him.

He thought about it for a second ‘Okay what do you want to know?’ he indicated she could sit down on the bench next to him if she wanted and she did. It made her look even smaller by comparison.

‘How does it make you feel when you shoot people?’ she asked.

He considered giving her the usual macho gôu pì but that wasn’t what she was after and anyway he wasn’t trying to impress her none. She was after information not offering hero-worship. ‘Normally I just feel satisfied I got him before he got me. If I make a difficult shot it makes me feel good to know I managed it’ he turned his eyes towards the ceiling ‘I like being good at what I do’ he finished.

‘Daddy says a man should strive to be the best at his work or it isn’t worth doing’

‘He’s a smart man. Different kind of smart from me but he thinks about things and so do I’ Jayne was thoughtful for a second ‘Mal is a smart man too but that’s for a different reason again, same for Wash, Kaylee, Zoe everyone. It’s a good crew’ he looked down at her ‘don’t tell them I said that’

Cally smiled ‘That’s okay Mr Cobb I won’t tell’ she looked down at the floor ‘How old were you when you first shot someone?’ she asked quietly.

Now this was a subject Jayne hadn’t thought of in a good long while. Eventually he decided to tell her something no one else on the ship knew ‘I was maybe a bit older than you are. Man came into the house to hurt my Ma. I took my Pa’s old shotgun and killed him’

Cally looked up at him ‘When I killed the man I froze up and starting shaking did you?’

‘Nah. I’d been hunting for years so looking at him lying there bleeding didn’t bother me none. Thought about it a lot afterwards though’

‘Bad dreams? Promise I won’t tell’

Jayne looked at her ‘A few at first but they went away. So will yours’ he frowned thinking to himself that he couldn’t believe he was talking to her like this, he must be going soft he thought.

‘So you think I’ll get better?’ she asked hopefully.

‘You’ll be fine’ Jayne told her and smiled hoping no one would see.

Cally suddenly grabbed him and gave him a hug ‘Thank you Mr Cobb’

He didn’t know what to do ‘Get off I’m all covered in sweat’ he eventually told her. She let him go and started walking up to the Dining Area. It was almost lunch.

The mercenary watched her go ‘Call me Jayne’ he called after her.

She turned back and beamed at him ‘Thanks Jayne’ she said.

Jayne couldn’t help but smile back then he spotted Simon looking at him grinning.

‘Rutting girl ruining my image’ Jayne snarled and grabbed a towel. Ruined my exercise session too and I still need a shower before I eat or Mal will chew me out’

Back in the infirmary Simon had watched their short conversation him and then watched the hug that followed. Incredible he thought, I talk to her for two hours and get a hug and he talks to her for a couple of minutes and gets one too. It’s like that “Hero of Canton” thing again. I’m either unappreciated in my work or Jayne is drastically over appreciated in his.

* * *

The ongoing turf war for ownership of the kitchen was being played out at lunch. Jennifer and Book were fighting for possession of the crews’ souls or rather their stomachs and there were signs of escalation. Jennifer considered that she was fighting for the honour of her ancestors and would prove the superiority of French Cuisine over all comers. Book was Serenity’s top cook and did not want to relinquish his crown to the newcomer.

To everyone else it was hilarious and petty but competition was driving the two of them to produce excellent meals and Wash in particular was stirring the pot, so to speak, to keep hostilities going.

Steven had already made the mistake of praising one of the Shepherds recipes and had to put up with the wrath of wife as a result. Since then he had declared himself a single minded advocate of ‘Separation of Church and State’ and remained secular and vehemently neutral on the whole issue.

Lunch was a vegetable soup prepared by Jennifer. That meant Dinner would be produced by Book. An uneasy standoff enforced by Mal had them alternating day by day. It was more of an armistice than a total cessation of hostilities though.

Jayne was the last to arrive still dripping but at least not with sweat. Jennifer passed him a bowl of soup and then sat down herself. There wasn’t room around the table for the children too so they had a small table set up for themselves.

After a silent grace by Book which elicited down-turned eyes from the theists in the room everybody started to eat. Jayne slurped his soup and was surprised when Jennifer told him to stop it and take his elbows off the table too. She was a petite woman but had a glare that would cut through hull plating so he acquiesced to her demands. Mal also had his elbows on the table but quickly removed them. He caught Steven’s eye and saw that the he was trying hard to keep a straight face.

Inara complemented Jennifer on the soup and the bread she had made to accompany it and everybody agreed. Jennifer merely apologised there was no second course but said she would do better for tomorrows dinner. The way she stressed “Tomorrows Dinner” had everybody looking at Book who had narrowed his eyes. Steven caught Mal’s eye this time and saw that Serenity’s Captain was trying to keep a straight face now himself.

River was still upset with Mal because he took away her Wolverine Carbine which Steven had given to her and which she had formally christened ‘Wolfie’. She had argued that she needed to keep it in her room in case the ship was boarded but he told her he insisted on having it locked away. She decided to reopen negations over lunch and after little progress finally said ‘You just think I’m dangerous’

‘River’ Mal said patiently ‘I know from the evidence of my own eyes you’re dangerous it’s just that when you have one of your “episodes” you might be dangerous to us as well as everyone else in the ‘Verse’

River scowled ‘You don’t trust me’

‘You once stabbed Jayne’

‘That was ages ago’

‘Seems pretty recent to me’ Jayne commented then bit off a chunk of bread he’d dipped in the soup.

‘This discussion is over River’ Mal said firmly

She looked to her brother for support but none was forthcoming. She began to sulk ‘Kuh-ooh duh lao bao jurn’ she mumbled.

‘Thinking of people giving away guns…’ Jayne interjected.

‘You can’t have my Brimstone’ Steven interrupted. You didn’t have to be River to read Jayne’s train of thought.

‘But I’d really look after it’ he said with an expression that might be best described as “puppy-dog” except to his face that is.

Mal rolled his eyes. He had real kids aboard and the biggest children on his ship were still his pet mercenary and his “psychic sidekick”, gorram he loved that phrase. Come to think of it his pilot played with plastic dinosaurs. It’s a children’s crusade across the ‘Verse he decided.

Marie-Claire and Cally had been given permanent dish duty. Mal had told them that everyone earns their keep on Serenity and they had agreed so they were cleaning up after lunch when everyone got back to what they were doing.

* * *

Mal was on the bridge looking out. Next stop the outer rim. At least after the time on Toulouse everything was running at one-hundred percent, they had spare parts aboard and they had plenty of money for fuel. Shortly after leaving Orbit, Mal had contacted Jack Foreman his former employer by tightbeam to apologise for going AWOL and still having some of his mining gear aboard. He’d been told to sell the equipment and pay back the money when he could.

Well it had been nice to work for decent folks for a while but now Serenity was wanted more than ever so they’d have to travel even further out than they had before. It would be all dodgy deals on the rim and low-tech planets from now on. Probably more Reavers too.

Oh well he thought, Still Flying.

He smiled into the void.

The Story Continues in Wolfpack Part I

COMMENTS

Friday, January 23, 2004 9:20 AM

ARTSHIPS


I like that you take what is known about the characters and their universe and expand it into unforseen areas. It makes for a very good read.

Saturday, September 18, 2004 2:38 PM

CASTIRONJACK


'Psychic sidekick,' IS a shiny turn of phrase.

Keep flyin'

Saturday, October 30, 2004 9:16 AM

GUILDSISTER


Just caught up on the Death or Glory series. Really first-rate work! I generally don't care for added primary characters, but Steven fits so perfectly and so many great compare-and-contrasts with Mal that he felt like one of the originals in very short order. The action is all excellent, vividly clear with concise description.

Your character development on 'our gang' is very good--particularly Simon. River still being 'crazy girl' but with Mal accepting and using her skills but with an element of wariness works.

You could use some serious punctuation editing, but it wasn't too distracting.

Great work!


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