Final Exam-Wash's Tale
Friday, January 27, 2006

No matter how good you might be, there's always that little twinge of doubt. Hoban Washburne is very good at flying, but he isn't any different.


This is a story set before the series, so there isn't any risk of spoilers. This is the second in my ongoing Tales series, which covers all of the BDHs, so if you like it, the rest can be found here: River, Mal, Kaylee, Zoë, Simon, Inara, Jayne, Book Rated PG for some very mild language. Chwen Joo=Retarded pig Ma Fuhn=Trouble Wuo Duh Tian Ah=Oh my God Da Shiong La Se La Ch’wohn Tian=Explosive diarrhea of an elephant Dohn-ma=Understand? Bao Jone=Take care Mo Min Chi Meow=Ridiculously strange ***** Hoban Washburne sat down on his bed and sighed. The latest scores had come in. There was no way that Wash could beat Manfred Asbach out for top of the class. That chwen joo had managed to get in above him somehow. Wash just couldn’t believe it. This sort of thing was supposed to happen to other people, not ruggedly charming folks like him. Not even the final live flight test tomorrow would make any difference. Even if Wash managed to make his shuttle dance a complicated little jig and Asbach plowed his directly into the nearest convenient large rock it wouldn’t be enough to move him out of second place. Although, the thought of Manfred spread across Beaumonde’s geology in a fine paste did make him smile a little. Wash got up and looked at himself in the mirror of his dormitory room. He rubbed his eyes and shook his head once to try and clear it. His upper lip still bothered him. The fuzz growing there stubbornly refused to come together into that mustache he’d always wanted. The other students had told him that he looked like a ten year old boy, almost daily, for as long as he’d been here, and everyone knew that the first and best way to assert one’s manliness was to beat some poor sap to a pulp. Wash, however, was not very skilled at the beating of or into pulp, so he settled for growing facial hair. He was sure that it’d all work out fine. “Nah. We both know you don’t wanna see Manfred dead. Suffering, definitely, but not dead.” Wash was never sure why exactly he addressed his reflection like it was a different person. The closest he could figure was it wasn’t quite talking to himself, but it still meant that he didn’t have to talk to someone else. After all, who would a man tell about his private fantasies about torturing his flight school rival? Wash sighed again and looked down at the care package on his nightstand. Another box from Mom. If Mom was still putting in those little voice recording chips with the goodies, then Wash definitely wanted to get it out and listened too long before his roommate got home. That whole manliness thing, you understand. He picked up the box and pulled open the tabs. Sure enough, there right at the top was the vocoder chip. He pulled it aside and dug through the rest of the box. Some apples, a bit of chocolate, and some pictures from Mom’s last trip out into the country. Mom had always hated all of the haze in the cities of Beaumonde, and she tried to make it out to the less spoiled country as often as she could. Wash understood just what she meant. All he really wanted was to get out of atmo and into the black. Beaumonde had been good to him, and to his mother, but factory work just wasn’t for him. The foremen always had problems with his Hawaiian shirts, for one thing. And then there was the fry cook episode… The all of it was that Wash just couldn’t live here. He needed to get out and do some soaring. He loved his Mom, even though she could still manage to embarrass him beyond any reasonable definition of the word, but he just could not handle this place any longer. Mom understood that. But she still had a hard time letting go sometimes. Dad had died a few years back, and Wash graduated to instant all-she-had. Thus, Wash would regularly get packages complete with vocoder chips. Speaking of which, there wasn’t any point in putting it off any longer. Wash ducked his head out of the door and checked both up and down the hallway before shutting the door. Tightly. Just because he loved his mother didn’t mean everyone in the ‘verse had to know about it. Manliness. He turned on the vocoder. “Hobie! I hope that everything is goin’ okay for you up there! It’s a shame that you couldn’t come with me on the camping trip. Oh, it was so much fun!” Mrs. Adrienne Washburne went on about the country for about fifteen minutes. In the meantime, Wash plucked the biggest apple of the bunch and took a good long bite out of it as he lay back down on his bed. He closed his eyes and just enjoyed the flavor of the fruit and the news from home. It was pretty much just more of the same with Mom. Another very good reason why he needed to get out of the world. He was getting really sick and tired of more of the same. “Well, that’s about it, Hobie. You know that your mom loves you more than anything in the world. You’re a leaf on the wind, Hobie. You can’t help but soar. I’ll see you soon.” “Yeah, you’re a regular falling maple there ‘Hobie.’” Wash started up. He hadn’t even heard the door open. She was standing in the doorway, grinning at him in a very unsettling manner. Janice St. Clair had been Wash’s roommate for as long as they had both been in flight school. She was taller than Wash (sometimes it seemed like everybody was taller than Wash), thin, with long blond hair. She wasn’t an especially pretty woman, and she’d taken it upon herself to be the one to keep Wash grounded while his scores kept shooting up. And yes, Wash was painfully aware of the awful puns possible by the use of the word “grounded” in this context. “Janice. As usual, you’ve managed to show up at just the right time to ruin an already bad day.” “Oh, take it easy Washout. I’m just giving you a little hell. You could use it. Being all serious just don’t fit right on you.” Janice had altered Wash’s chosen nickname within the first five minutes of their acquaintance. She figured that, since she had caught him while he was talking to his mirror, in a Hawaiian shirt, he had about three weeks before they kicked him out. Then, when he started posting scores that made everybody jealous (except for the chwen joo) she decided the name was even funnier. Thankfully, nobody else had picked up on it. “I have been called many things, but ‘all serious’ was never one of them,” he said. “Well then, stop lying there all contemplative-like and I won’t say it anymore.” Wash decided to change the subject. “So, you ready for our big important flight tomorrow?” Janice snorted a little. “Washout, if you can do it, then anyone can do it. I’d lay good money on a monkey pulling it off.” “I’ll have you know that a prehensile tail would be a huge asset in flying. Just think about the possibilities!” “Don’t worry. I’m sure that you’ll find a great job somewhere doing shadow puppets or something.” Wash was about to mention his excellence in the field of light induced puppetry when Janice cut him off with a gesture he was pretty sure was obscene on most worlds. She moved over to her dresser and adjusted the plastic dinosaurs, with matching palm trees, that she’d picked up on a vacation to the border planets. Janice called it the bargain of a lifetime. She loved that kind of stuff, the kind that had absolutely no purpose. Wash wasn’t quite sure what to call it. Apparently, out on the border worlds they’d sell anything. And Janice would buy it. Wash gave some thought to going out, maybe try and find himself a pretty young thing that he could flaunt around. But then he decided against it. After all, there was that big, important flight tomorrow. And it would be unbelievably embarrassing if Manfred’s ship did the dancing and he plowed into that rock. ***** The next morning, Wash woke up early, but didn’t bother to get out of bed. Janice was still asleep in the bed across the room. Wash was pretty sure he felt the vibrations of her snoring through the floor. He looked over at the clock. 5:00. He wasn’t scheduled to be at the landing field until 11:00. Neither was Janice, but she managed to sleep like a rock. A very loud and insistent rock. The fact that Wash couldn’t tune her out was a sign of just how nervous he was about his final flight. He’d worked hard to get this far. Well, actually he hadn’t. That was part of the reason why he was nervous. Flying came easily to him. It was like breathing. He sat in the pilot’s seat and the world made sense. You pull the stick back, you climb. You tell your boat to bank left, she does. Wash’s relationship with the training simulator was probably the most stable relationship he’d ever had with any woman. Then again, “any woman” in this case consisted of exactly three women, and one of those was his next door neighbor when they were both seven. Beggars can’t be choosers. He hadn’t ever had to try when it came to flying. He’d ask the ship for something, she’d give it to him. He might have to lay on the smooth talk and rub her just the right way, but eventually she’d come around for him. That’s part of what worried him. Wash was scared that maybe, just maybe, he’d finally meet a ship he couldn’t sweet talk. Even if it wasn’t the shuttle he’d be flying today, it might still happen later with some other boat. Maybe when he was carrying food stuffs for some poor colony. Or when he was piloting a starship full of sick orphans. Or, worst of all, when he was flying a large group of registered companions to some big registered companion shindig. Hey, a man can dream. Wash hadn’t earned his ridiculously high scores. Flying just came to him, like intuition. Janice spent hours going over manuals, logging extra sim hours, and getting help from the instructors. She worked herself to the bone to get her pilot’s certification. She was going to earn it today. Wash, on the other hand, might finally have that day when his natural talent wouldn’t cut it anymore. He’d be sent home and blacklisted, and no school would want to touch him. Wash was more scared of that than most anything else. He loved to fly. No, he lived to fly. He didn’t want to think about what would happen if he couldn’t. He shook himself out of the funk he’d found himself in. All he was doing was adding ma fuhn where it didn’t need to be. “Okay. No more depressing morbidness. Time to hit atmo.” ***** Wash’s flight instructor for the day was a stuffy little man by the name of William Kim. Wash had always had a feeling that Kim didn’t really like him, mostly on account of Wash flying circles around him daily. Kim thought he was the best pilot to ever hit sky, until Wash came along. Wash was sure that, when he died, one of the few things he’d remember would be the look on Kim’s face when Wash landed a sim shuttle on the first try. After the sim had kicked in with the “loss of port engine” program. He was pretty sure that he heard a blood vessel in Kim’s head burst. It was kind of like looking into the face of the most frightened fish in the ‘verse. Kim looked down at him like he was looking at a fungus. “Mr. Washburne. Today you will be flying your final run for our institution. And, may I say, not a moment too soon.” Wash almost, almost, said “I love you, too,” but resisted. Kim ushered him into the shuttle and followed after him. It was a standard short-range shuttle, the kind you found on cargo haulers and freighters all over the ‘verse. The shuttle didn’t even have a name. The only modification was a second seat in the cockpit for the instructor. There wasn’t anything else special about it, at least not as far as most people could see. But Wash was never like most people. That was one of the few things that everyone who met him could agree on. To him, this shuttle was another dignified lady in need of his special breed of attention. He pushed his tension to the back of his mind as he introduced himself properly. He walked through her slowly, trying to get a feeling for her. He needed to know what all of her hot buttons were. Every ship was different, and if you didn’t treat them like it they tended to get fussy. Wash wanted to know what she liked and didn’t like, what made her purr. You’d be amazed just how much a man can learn about a ship just from the feel of her deck plates under his boots. Kim was in the cockpit well before him. Wash heard a throat clearing from the front of the ship. He decided to ignore it and spend more time with his new lady friend. “Mr. Washburne!” Wash moved slowly fore to the cockpit. He was pretty sure that he had a feel for her now. The slight twinge of tension came back to the front, regardless. He’d never flown with her before. This could be the one. He might shoot himself right out of the sky this time. He fought the fear down as he strapped himself into the pilot’s seat. Across the landing field he saw Janice getting into her shuttle. She must have seen him getting into the shuttle, because she threw him that obscene gesture again. For some reason, Wash found that kind of reassuring. He felt a calm come over him as he fired up the engine. He eased her off the ground, and sure enough, the ship decided to do whatever he asked. He was even able to make her purr. Wash was sure that she’d follow him wherever he wanted to go. As the ground fell away, Wash pulled her up and made for the black. This was a pretty standard run, the kind of thing he’d be doing daily no matter what job he took. He was going to take her up out of atmo, up around the nearest moon, and back. No fancy maneuvers, no tricks. Just him, a very cranky flight instructor, and his ship. The only trick was that this was the first time that Wash had ever actually been in the black. He’d simmed it hundreds of times, but never an actual live flight. When he stopped firing the engines, the tension came back. The course was plotted, the shuttle was set to orbit gently around the moon and then come back. That meant that Wash didn’t have a whole lot to do besides look at his instruments. Either that or talk to Kim, and he didn’t think Kim was much for conversation right now. In fact, he looked a little bit like he’d swallowed something. So he decided to study the rapidly approaching moon to take his mind off what he was doing, which in this case was mostly nothing. The moon was basically uninhabitable, a black rock. There were the usual set of asteroid impact craters, but those faded from view as the shuttle passed the terminator into the moon’s night side. That was when Wash saw it. He was absolutely awed by it. Wash had never really seen the stars like this before. And now there wasn’t anything to distract him. There weren’t any clouds, no shining moon or sun to block them out. It was absolutely gorgeous. “Wuo duh tian ah.” That was the exact moment that Wash knew that he couldn’t live on dirt anymore. This was his future, a place with limitless possibilities. All sorts of people and places to see. And, yes, there was also the chance of making more money than he could even dream about on Beaumonde. And then it got better when the shuttle rounded the moon. He saw his home, surrounded by the night sky he’d never seen. He knew that the fear, the worry, couldn’t compete with this. It didn’t matter if he flew from instinct or not. He flew, and that was what mattered. He had to keep flying, and he had to keep flying out here. Insecurities didn’t have a chance of keeping him in the world when he could have this. Wash almost teared up, but held it back. Manliness. Before he knew it, they had descended back into atmo. Wash was used to getting a rush after he’d gone up on a flight, but this was different. He had earned his certificate, and he’d be able to go offworld and fly through the ‘verse. The only way that he could lose it now would be a disaster that he couldn’t even imagine. Just then, Wash saw an explosion off to port. Kim started yelling about what was going on, but Wash ignored him. He started scanning the readouts, until he found a ship in the immediate vicinity of the explosion. It was a shuttle registered to the flight school. He checked the registry to see which shuttle it was. It was Janice’s. “Da shiong la se la ch’wohn tian!” Wash pulled a switch and tried to get through to her. She showed up on the screen and Wash saw something he’d never seen from Janice before. Janice looked afraid. “Janice! What happened, what’s your situation?” “Wash, we had a coupler go out on the stabilizer. We’re upside down and we’re losing altitude. I’ve got some control but I can’t turn her over. I’ve got throttle and the landing gear works, but it’s not going to do me any good when the ground comes in through my canopy. “I’m going to die, aren’t I?” Wash noticed that, for the first time ever, she had called him by his name. He pushed that aside. He was about to ask about her instructor when he saw the arm, covered in blood, in the seat to her right. He looked square into the pickup and said, “No, Janice, you are not going to die. Just hold on and try to keep her from hitting the ground, don’t slow down unless I tell you to.” “Mr. Washburne! I demand to know what you are doing! This is school property and I will not allow you to endanger it in anyway…” Wash had taken just about all he would. He didn’t raise his voice or look over from his controls. “Mr. Kim, as much as I’d love to listen to you ramble, I’m busy keeping us all not dead. Dohn-ma?” Kim stopped talking, but he kept making little sputtering noises. Wash tuned those out too as he came up behind Janice’s shuttle. He came in just off her starboard wing, slowly approaching her so that he didn’t overshoot. Slowly he came along side her and matched speed. Gently, he eased the shuttle’s profile down just below Janice’s. He had brought the two ships into nearly the same velocity, with his shuttle just below and starboard of hers. “Okay Janice, just hold on, and whatever you do, do not steer. Read me?” “I read.” If Wash had taken the time to notice, he’d have figured out that all of his tension was gone. He had finally come into his element. Of the three people in the air, he was the only one who was calm. There were people who needed him to be exactly the brilliant flyboy that he was advertised as. That was what mattered right now, not his fears. Without noticing, he’d realized that he didn’t need to worry about flying anymore than he needed to worry about walking. He just did it. Thinking about it only complicated matters. So maybe, in hindsight, it was good that he didn’t take the time to notice. Wash slowly sideslipped his shuttle in next to hers. His port wing was just below her inverted port wing. Eventually the two ships were flying nearly side-by-side. He didn’t look at Janice before he performed his stunt. He didn’t want her to panic when she heard the more than slightly insane stunt he had in mind. He simply said “Hands off the stick, now!” Wash brought the two shuttles together at the wing. The two wings collided and stuck together, sending sparks flying out along the landscape. A nasty grinding sound echoed through both ships, and Janice let out a hearty “Gorramit, what are you doing?” Then he rolled both shuttles over, hard, to starboard. He had to be careful, because if he did it too fast, Janice would go flying out of control, and if he did it too slowly, then the roll wouldn’t carry Janice around and she would probably crash right into him. Wash saw the world turn upside down as his shuttle did just what he thought it would. She did do whatever he asked of her. As Wash’s shuttle had rolled over to its right, its wing provided motion for Janice’s. He pulled the shuttle into an inverted flight, which pushed Janice’s back into a correct orientation. Before there was a chance of causing any more damage to their shuttles, Wash sideslipped again away from Janice. Once he hit a safe distance, he rolled back over to landing orientation. Janice looked shocked. She looked speechless, which was another first. “Okay Janice, do you think you can bring her in now?” “Yes, yes I think so. Thanks Wash.” Kim had lost consciousness somewhere between “Dohn-ma?” and “Thanks Wash.” ***** Final exams were over, and the time had come for the students of Beaumonde’s premier flight school to graduate and move on to other things. Wash sat on his bed, thinking about the future. He would be getting his certificate at graduation in two days. He’d done it. He was right, though, about Asbach. Even though Wash had done a pretty good job of getting his shuttle to dance a jig, Asbach hadn’t run into that rock. He was still top of the class. Wash decided to let it go. After all, it wasn’t like he cheated or anything. Wash and Janice had both reported to the administrator’s office, along with Instructor Kim, to explain the situation that had led to the death of one of the school’s instructors. Kim had, as expected, told quite the story about Wash’s ridiculous disregard for safety. Luckily, his long bout in sleepy land left his story worth a little bit less than he’d have liked. Janice told them exactly what had happened, a mechanical problem that led to the explosion. The administration decided that no one was to blame for the accident, and Janice still had sufficient credits to graduate if she repeated the last flight. As for Wash, it was decided that he couldn’t be rewarded for his insane stunt, but you couldn’t argue with the results. They decided to hush the whole episode up. The students weren’t so keen on that idea, though. Wash was becoming sort of a legend at the school. He’d even heard that they had started to refer to his now burned and dented shuttle as “The Washburne.” Janice couldn’t forget about it, either. She didn’t see it as a merry adventure, though. She used to always get downright giddy when she got to fly. Now she was different. She wasn’t afraid, exactly. It was more like she finally realized that she could die in the air. Up until now it was almost a game for her. Now she saw that it could be way too real. She’d lost her confidence for flying, and without that there wasn’t any point in leaving the ground, forget about atmo. Janice came into the room without saying anything. He’d seen this coming since the accident. Janice just hadn’t cared about flying since then. She looked down at him without any of her bluster. She walked slowly across the room and sat next to Wash on his bed. Her belongings were already packed in suitcases sitting by the door. She had left one box sitting on her dresser. “I, ah, wanted to thank you again Wash.” “Don’t mention it. Just the first in what will surely be a long string of hair raising escapades.” “It’s not funny, Wash. I felt helpless up there. We could have all died.” “Maybe, but would you rather I let you slam your head into the ground with a shuttle?” “No.” She smiled at him, slightly. A little of that old Janice showed in her eyes. “You didn’t do half bad up there, Washout. Maybe you’ll make a decent pilot after all.” “What are you planning on doing, anyway? I know a great shadow puppet master in New Dunsmuir.” Janice chuckled. “No, I think I’m gonna go out and get myself a ranch job. Get me some good clean air. Get away from all this muck.” Janice got up and moved towards the door. Wash thought about what she’d said. She’d felt helpless. Wash couldn’t really relate. He may not have realized what he was doing while he was doing it, but he surely realized it now. He’d done something so crazy that he should be dead, but he wasn’t. He was okay with that. It didn’t mean that he might not still die in some similarly crazy stunt down the line. That didn’t really matter anymore. He’d seen his life, and it was in the black. When he was in the cockpit he would do whatever needed done. That was all there was to it. If his captain needed him to fly through something that would terrify most, he’d do it. He didn’t keep the fact that he might trip keep him from walking, and he was not going to let a “might” anything keep him out of the sky. Janice gathered up her bags and turned around to take one last look at their room. Wash looked over and saw the box. “Hey, you forgot something Janice.” Janice stood in the doorway and smiled at him with that old smile. She might just be okay after all. “Call it a going away present Washout. I’m sure you’ll find something to do with it.” Wash thought about giving it back to her, but didn’t. He settled for getting up and shaking her hand one last time. “Bao jone, Janice.” “Bao jone,” she said. Then she walked out the door. Wash never saw Janice St. Clair again. ***** Later that night, Wash looked down at the box that Janice had left for him. He sighed as he picked through the contents. Inside were the dinosaurs. And the palm trees. This was just downright mo min chi meow. He picked up two of the dinosaurs and looked deeply into their plastic eyes. “What the hell am I supposed to do with you?” The stegosaurus in his right hand answered, “Don’t ask me, I’ve been extinct for millions of years and have a brain the size of a walnut!” The allosaurus in his left hand suddenly shouted, “And your breath smells just like rancid dogmeat!” The stegosaurus spun around in a maneuver that looked just like a Crazy Ivan, if one was absolutely stone drunk, and returned fire. “For that insult, you shall DIE!” It looked like a full blown war was about to explode, but then, after three hours of intense negotiations, Wash was able to broker a tense truce between the two lizards. Who could say how long such a truce would last before it was ended in sudden betrayal and bloodshed?


Friday, January 27, 2006 11:44 AM


One word...Worderful!!!!!

Friday, January 27, 2006 7:41 PM


Chris, this rocks! You manage to capture Wash's sense of humor as well as his emotional complexity, and his fundamental bravery. I like this even better than the River story.

I think your Wash is the perfect precursor to the one I imagine in "Aftermath," by the way; for both us, this is a man who is most at ease when piloting a ship. But you take him much farther with that wonderful moment where he discovers what it really means to be out in the black; that's an instant of revelation that helps to explain much about him, why he ends up on Serenity, and what matters to him.

My only criticisms are quibbles about plausibility: I don't think it's likely that a flight school would only have students do a 'real' flight once before graduating them. As I understand various flight schools (civilian and military) you start out in simulators, then do real flight, with an instructor gradually giving you more and more control. After a certain number of hours of real flight, you get your certification. It just doesn't seem likely that something as complicated as spaceflight would have lower standards for training.

I understand why you did it, for the drama of having us see Wash as he first encounters the black. I guess I'd have separated that moment from the graduation/rescue and done them separately. It would avoid the plausibility issue, and still let you do all the things you want to do in the story.

Great work! Now, bring on the other seven!

Friday, February 10, 2006 9:30 AM


oh. my. god. if only my exams could be as exciting!!! and have such a cool reward at the end...


Wednesday, February 22, 2006 1:15 AM


“Mr. Kim, as much as I’d love to listen to you ramble, I’m busy keeping us all not dead. Dohn-ma?”

Typical Washlike comment. Love the introduction of the dinosaurs.


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