Disclaimer – Everything either does belong to Joss or it should. I’m just borrowing his shiny ‘verse for a while. This is an expanded and hopefully improved version of my Fic of the same name posted at FanFiction.net. Think of it as the "Textually Remastered" Directors Cut
* * * Transport Ship Serenity – In Transit – 2517AD
Mal was pacing the bay trying to think how he could get Inara to stay without having to blurt out his feelings when his stomach lurched.
He was reaching for the intercom when his arm suddenly got too heavy to hold up and he nearly collapsed to the floor before finding himself practically floating.
Mal punched the intercom button ‘Kaylee what the heck is up with the gravity on this boat?’
The mechanics voice responded quickly ‘It’s not us Captain. The AG Generator is throwing a fit trying to compensate, it’s like transition interference when we enter a Gravity Well but there’s nothing out there and the field is pulsing up and down.’
‘If we don’t get this sorted the whole crew are going to lose their lunch’ Mal stated as he found himself twice his normal weight again and nearly fell once more.
‘Mal this is Wash’ interrupted another voice on the intercom.
‘I just got to the bridge. The Inertial Suppressor is going haywire too. Something is really going nuts out here.’
‘Can someone tell me what’s going on?’ Mal asked as the internal gravity dropped to one-quarter gee and his internal organs felt like they were suddenly springing up into his throat. The entire experience was downright nauseating.
River bounced into the cargo bay she seemed totally unfazed by the shifting gravity and she easily adjusted her pace when the field sprang back up to around 1.5 gee. Girl had a grace to her that's a fact Mal thought.
‘Something up with the Continuum’ River said to nobody in particular ‘Gravity is just a product of the warping of space-time by matter’ she continued ‘Our Gravity Engine is interfering with a random quirk in reality.’
‘Care to explain that in Captain Dummy talk?’ Mal asked hopefully.
As if she had never seen him there before River turned to Mal and rolled her head to one side ‘Interference in 10 Dimensional Space-time. The Superstrings are vibrating wrong and our four dimensional perception of the ‘Verse is breaking down.’
‘Still not following River’ Mal responded. ‘In fact less than ever.’
River looked exasperated ‘Everything is superstrings. The nature of the ‘Verse is determined by how they vibrate. They’re playing off-key and we’re strumming the guitar by trying to bend the ‘Verse to our whim by technology.’
‘You’re saying we need to turn off the Gravity Engine?’
There was a lurch. Then Gravity on the ship began to oscillate faster and faster.
‘Too Late’ River said ‘Music’s all wrong and we all fall down’ she lay on the deck so as to best withstand the gravitational peaks. Mal did likewise beside her.
‘We going to die?’ Mal asked with surprising calmness.
‘Yes but I can’t say if it’s going to be now or not’ River answered. ‘Here we go’ she said taking a deep breath and closing her eyes.
Across the ship the whole crew felt themselves being pulled in an indescribable direction harder and harder. The gravitation field got stronger and stronger until eventually they began to pass out.
Wash was the last person on the ship to pass out, after years in the pilots chair he was more used to high-gee manoeuvring than anyone else and coped better with it. His last conscious act was to hit the distress beacon and give full command to the automatic pilot. Serenity and it’s electronics was made of sterner stuff than her frail human crew and her computers were still running perfectly.
The entire ship began to vibrate stronger and stronger until neither the Gravity Engine nor the Inertial Suppressors could cope with trying to ride out the storm and they gave out.
Finally an electromagnetic pulse surged through the ship and tripped all the safeties cutting power to the electronics and putting the reactor into emergency shutdown.
Reality tore, silently in our four-dimensional perception of space but deafening in the true 10-dimensional nature of existence.
Serenity fell out of the ‘Verse at a place where ten years earlier the first of the Alliance’s experiments in Quantum Weaponry had been tested, and then abandoned due to unforeseen side-effects. There had been no reason to leave a warning buoy, it was far off the space-lanes and it was thought best not to draw suspicion to another multi-billion credit failure.
A split second later the Firefly fell back into the ‘Verse.
of them anyway.
* * *
Wash opened his eyes. He felt the familiar after-effects of gee-force induced black-out and tried to focus on the controls. Everything was dead.
Shaking himself awake the pilot hit the emergency override switch which put the bridge on battery power then examined the readouts.
‘Been out about an hour’ he said to himself, ‘gravity is still down and the reactor's off-line.’
Wash flicked on the ships loudspeaker system. ‘This is the bridge can everyone report in.’
The Captain awoke to find himself floating in the middle of the cargo bay ‘Somebody switch on the damn Gravity’ he yelled.
Unfortunately for Mal his wish was granted and he fell the better part of eight feet to the deck when Kaylee regained consciousness and powered up the AG again.
‘You should watch what you ask for’ said River walking over to help him get up. He was okay but both his pride and his ass were hurting thanks to a clumsy landing.
Mal walked over to the intercom and pressed the button ‘Wash we okay?’ he asked.
‘Readouts show no faults that’ll kill us. We’re running off the batteries but I’m showing no faults on the reactor so Kaylee should be able to get her running again’
‘What about the crew?’
‘Everyone has called in except Inara’ Wash responded his voice tinged with a degree of concern.
Mal span, pounded up the gantry stairway and shot through the airlock into Inara’s shuttle only to find her sat there looking in horror at the total chaos around her
‘Everything floated around’ she said ‘It’ll take me days to sort this mess out’ she complained then noticed the expression on his face ‘what’s wrong with you?’ she asked.
‘When you’re told to report in you rutting well report in’ Mal bellowed.
‘Don’t you use that tone of voice at me Malcolm Reynolds’ she retorted equally loudly and rather more indignantly.
‘I thought you were hurt’ Mal snapped back ‘Good God woman don’t do that to me’ he snapped and then stormed back out of the shuttle heading for the bridge.
Inara watched him stamp away. Despite the mess around her she smiled.
* * *
‘Tell me again Wash where are we?’
‘For the last time Mal I don’t know
’ replied the pilot tersely. ‘We aren’t where we were, we aren’t anywhere near where we were. According to the navigation computer and my star-charts we’re not even in the same gorram Galaxy.’
Mal looked out at the stars. They all looked the same to him ‘There’s got to be a computer error or summat.’
‘Captain let me explain this to you' Wash began. 'We determine our position in space by triangulating our position relative to Pulsars because they’re easy to spot and we know where they all are' he explained. 'I don’t know where we are but I do know the Pulsars aren’t where they should be, and more than that there’s the wrong number. We are not in the right Galaxy’
Mal frowned ‘You’re sure?’
‘I don’t tell you how to hit people and you don’t tell me my trade’ Wash replied evenly.
Mal looked outside into the black ‘How in the name of the nine hells are we in the wrong gorram Galaxy
‘Wrong gorram Universe
’ River said entering the bridge. ‘We’re somewhere else entirely’ she declared.
Wash coughed ‘What?’
‘We’ve fallen into another part of the multiverse' River explained. 'One of the infinite number parallel to our own' she continued. ' Our ‘Verse ripped and we fell through into this one. We felt it tear, why do you think it felt so wrong
?’ she asked.
‘We’re in a parallel universe?’ Wash said doubtfully ‘It’s Science-Fiction time again’ he said with a slight smirk.
‘This was always a theoretical possibility, the top minds have debated it for five centuries' River noted. 'I guess we’re just lucky to be the ones who proved the theory’ River said. ‘Or not’ she continued with a shrug, it's all a matter of perspective, or maybe relativity would be a better word?' she asked rhetorically.
The ships pilot looked at his Captain. 'Are you buying any of this Mal?' he asked.
‘Well either you’re right about it being the wrong Galaxy, or she’s right about it being the wrong entire Universe' Mal replied, 'but one way or another we’re definitely in the wrong darn place
. So the question is how do we get back?’
‘The tear must exist on both sides so we reverse course and induce a similar event to the one that got us here’ River replied with more certainty than the situation perhaps deserved.
Mal looked at her curiously ‘And we do that exactly how?’ he asked.
‘Our Gravity Drive and Inertial Suppressors seem to have induced the effect so I assume they do the same over here when we go back to the rip’ River responded.
‘Then we’ve got a problem ‘cause the Inertial gear ain’t running like it was’ Wash announced pointing to the console.
Mal looked at the warning lights ‘Can Kaylee fix it?’ he asked.
‘Sure but only on the ground. It’s a sealed unit that doesn’t like being opened to vacuum because of pressure differentials and you can only get to it externally' Wash replied. 'They never go wrong so they don’t bother making it too convenient fixing them’ he explained.
‘We need to find a planet with a breathable atmosphere?’ Mal said wincing ‘What’s the chance of that?’
‘Nah Mal we just need pressure
’ Wash responded. 'Type of gas don’t matter none. We can work in EVA suits’
‘Look for a planet’ Mal ordered ‘I’m going to check on the engine room.’
* * *
The stench of sulphur was in the air and a yellow cloud wafted over the village. It was sacrifice day again and soon the minions of the Evil One would arrive to choose a plaything for their master.
The villagers cried and wailed. Some considered running but this was the only sheltered valley any knew of where water flowed and crops could grow. Others talked of fighting but that was hopeless. The other villages had tried that and had ended up either dead or working themselves to death in the quarries.
You could kill the minions, although even that was hard when your best weapon was a club or quarterstaff, but the Evil One himself was invulnerable. He was strong beyond belief, vengeful beyond measure and ingenious in his wrath.
Each family prayed it would not be them that had to give up the sacrifice this time. Those that still had faith also prayed for deliverance.
Most doubted that there was anyone listening to their cries.
* * *
‘You’re kidding?’ Mal responded.
‘No seriously it’s oxy-nitro and pressure should be well within tolerances’ Wash answered. ‘Not a lot of vegetation, looks volcanic for the most part but from the spectrum it’s not too far off from the norm.’
‘Temperature, pressure, gravity?’ Mal asked.
‘Hotter than a terraformed world, pressure maybe 11 pounds per square inch at sea level so it’ll feel a bit thin but the oxygen content is up at 25% so you won’t get light headed' Wash reported. ' Gravity is about .75 gee’.
‘There must be a lot of cytoplankton equivalents in the oceans if the oxygen is that high on a world where the land is barren’ River theorised.
Simon was nonplussed ‘What are the chance we’d find a world with a breathable atmosphere?’ he asked, not expecting an answer.
‘I could calculate them but suffice to say they’re not very high’ River replied to her brother. 'You could calculate them too, if we had a couple of years' she teased.
‘Perhaps a higher power is intervening on our behalf’ Book said ‘In any case I imagine we’ll be landing?’
‘Got no choice if we want to fix the boat’ Mal said ‘Take her down Wash.’
‘Lots of nasty thermals from the volcano’s so I suggest everyone straps in it could get bumpy with the inertial suppressors not working right’ the pilot replied. I’ll give you five minutes to get prepared before I drop her out of orbit.’
‘Always knew there was a reason I found myself a good pilot’ Mal told him.
‘Don’t underestimate me Captain. I’m a great pilot’ Wash replied then started playing with his switches.
* * * In an inexplicable location somewhere, and somewhen, else in the multiverse the Powers-That-Be smiled to each other. They had once again given fate a little push to restore the balance, and soon their new champion would be bought into the game. All they needed to do now was induce a minor volcanic eruption.
* * *
Serenity was shaking so hard Wash had his mouth clamped tightly shut so as to not risk biting off his tongue. Typically he talked all the way down from orbit to landing, usually to himself, but this time he couldn’t even if the actual flying hadn’t required his total concentration.
Wash had chosen a relatively calm plateau for a landing site, and was nearly on final approach, when the nearest volcano blew its top and started raining rocks all over the place.
The pilot bought the Firefly into a steep turn to avoid the eruption, and went looking for another place, trying to avoid the more vicious thermals and more uneven surface areas. Much of the ground beneath was broken in the extreme and not somewhere you'd like to risk the landing gear on.
Then Eden appeared.
It was a sheltered valley, between two small mountain ranges that shielded it from the Volcano’s that otherwise littered the landscape.
It was green with lakes and fields and…
Wash did a double take. Honest to God fields
, as in agriculture! I must be hallucinating he thought.
Anyway it was the best landing spot he could find so the Pilot bought Serenity into a shallow approach.
Is that a town? he thought to himself with increasing amazement.
Well if you’re going to visit another Universe you might as well introduce yourself to the locals Wash thought, and he chose a relatively unkempt field about half a mile away from the small cluster of dwellings bringing the ship into land.
As Serenity smoothly set down Wash powered down the variable-geometry engines and flicked a switch that turned on the ships internal loudhailer.
‘We’re on the ground and you ain’t gonna believe this but I found a settlement’ Wash said then paused for effect ‘I want to be the one to say “take me to your leader”’ he announced.
* * *
The villagers had seen the great metal bird thunder overhead supported on pillars of fire and assumed it was another manifestation of the Dark One.
Those who had been in the fields to the south of town where it set down fled in terror back to their dwellings to hide and pray.
The more courageous peeked through barely open doors when strangely clad apparitions appeared in the Village talking in the same strange tongue as the Dark One. The evil language of mysteries and incantations that the Dark One had made them all learn and which he called “English”.
One of the apparitions stopped in the village square.
‘We mean you no harm’ it called out ‘Ours is a peaceful race.’
‘Jeez Wash is that the best you can come up with?’ another exclaimed in a clearly disparaging tone.
‘Err guys you really
ought to see this’ said another apparition with the voice of a woman. She waved them over to meet her at the other end of the Square where the Obelisk was.
‘Does that look familiar to you?’ the woman asked pointing to the stonework.
‘Son-of-a-bitch’ cried another in a tone of disbelief.
The one who had been first to speak stared at the Obelisk ‘Who the hell is Caleb and why is his name written in English on an Alien World, in a different Universe below a pretty recognisable carving of you Mal?’
One of the apparitions removed a wide hat and for the first time the villagers peeking out saw that it was the Dark One himself.
‘Okay’ he said thoughtfully ‘Forget the past. This
is what going mad feels like’
* * *
The crew looked at each other. This was turning out to be a staggeringly
weird day. River traced Mal’s features in the stonework with her fingers ‘Mal means bad’ she said ‘Caleb is.’
‘We welcome you Lord Caleb’ said a strangely accented voice from behind.
The crew span and found themselves facing a fairly ordinary looking human of about sixty in a light tunic and what looked like cloth pants. The only one who hadn’t spun was Jayne who was already behind the man pointing a firearm at him. It’s difficult to get the drop on the big mercenary. If it had been easy he'd never have lived this long.
The rest of the crew had also drawn guns and were covering every direction. Caution, or frankly paranoia, is a valuable survival trait when you live your life like a Serenity crewmember.
Fingering his pistol Mal looked at the man then walked up to him ‘If you’re talking to me my name ain’t Caleb and I don’t know the man’ he told the local.
The village elder looked confused. Perhaps this was a test? He dropped to his knees in supplication just in case.
‘We are ready for the sacrifice. We are honoured you came in person’ the elder told Mal. ‘Bring out the tokens’ he called out loudly.
Other villagers appeared slowly and sheepishly from the small dwellings. All fathers Mal guessed, bringing out their teenaged daughters from the looks of it, there were half a dozen of them. You could hear women and children wailing from within the simple houses. The girls themselves were clearly petrified and were crying.
‘Choose the most worthy Lord so she may please you’ the elder said to Mal eyes cast downwards.
Wash started laughing ‘What is it about you, crappy towns and getting offered wives. Just don’t kiss her this time’ he advised.
‘I think they’re meant for someone else’ Mal said ‘No offence but I ain’t looking for a bride I’m just here to say howdy’ he told the village elder smiling.
‘A bride my Lord?’ the Elder said puzzled ‘these are sacrifices. Dirty Girls to be your playthings’ he explained, mystified by the Dark One's words.
Mal looked around in growing horror and distaste ‘I ain’t interested in taking a young girl for sexual slavery or some such neither. And get off the damn ground’ he snarled.
The elder sprang to his feet, this was getting really strange now he considered ‘But this is the way of things' he said 'have you decided to change our laws My Lord?’ he asked confused.
Mal turned to his crew and shrugged his shoulders. Hoping someone would have some helpful input to make.
Reading the situation Book spoke up. ‘I fear you have mistaken our Captain for another' he began. 'We are travellers from another place and have never been here before’ he explained. ‘We saw the carving on the stone which looks like Mal here but I assure you it is not him.’
‘Yup my name ain’t Caleb and this is my first visit here' Mal interjected. 'I guess I just look like someone else’ he theorised.
‘In an infinite number of possible universes there would be many with people who would look like you’ River interjected, ‘but the chances of dropping in on one would be infinitely small’ she furrowed her brow ‘I’d say someone is playing with chaos’ she said thoughtfully.
‘We’ve been beating the odds all day so I guess we’re still just doing so’ Mal responded, ‘In any case take my word on this I ain’t this "Lord Caleb" guy’ he told the locals. 'Matter of fact I ain't got much truck with aristocracy as a rule myself.'
‘But you are him’ the elder insisted.
Mal narrowed his eyes ‘No I’m not
’ he replied coldly.
‘But today is the day of the sacrifice' the elder persisted. 'Your servants were to come today to choose and that happens but once every five years.’
‘I ain’t got no servants and I ain’t taking sacrifices, this day or any other day.’ Mal stated then paused. ‘Hang-on for a darn second are you telling me you let this Caleb liúmáng
take your daughters
?’ he asked in utter bewilderment.
The Elder nodded. ‘It has been the way of our people for the whole of your reign. Each village gives up one girl every five years for your pleasure and this is our turn’ he said.
Mal rolled his eyes skywards and mouth a silent swear. ‘For the last gorram time I ain’t this Caleb' he eventually declared, 'and how many villages are there round here anyhow?’
‘There are nearly thirty villages in the valley’ the Village Elder replied.
Simon chuckled. ‘Sounds like a hell of a harem’ he said whilst walking around looking at the villagers curiously. They certainly looked like typical examples Homo-Sapiens and nothing special except for their primitive clothes, technology and customs.
The Elder was puzzled ‘“Harem”?' he repeated. 'I do not understand.’
‘The place where your Lord keeps his “sacrifices”’ Inara said smiling disarmingly. She envisioned a local warlord with a suite of rooms filled with unwilling slave-girls. Sort of like a Companion House without the individual freedom to choose to leave or reject her lovers attentions. The notion was unpleasant but hardly unique in human society.
‘Oh you mean the graveyard
’ the Elder realised. ‘That is by the castle gates’ he told the strangers.
Book nearly dropped his bible which he had bought with him to give to the natives ‘He kills
these girls?’ he exclaimed in horrified tones.
‘What kind of crappy planet is this?’ Mal said in astonishment. He looked around at the local menfolk still standing holding their weeping daughters with an expression of revulsion at the idea. ‘You let this sick bastard take your children away to kill them for fun?’
The Captain turned to look back at Kaylee and River. They weren’t even his kin and he’d die before he’d let someone take them away. What was wrong with these gorram people?
The village elder was by now utterly confused by the developing conversation. Could it really be that this was not the Dark Lord, but his double. It was said in the old legends that everyone had a twin in another world who was the opposite of his character and that was what kept the world in balance. Maybe the legends had a timeless truth after all?
‘Have you come from another realm?’ he asked the one called “Mal”.
‘That’s as good an explanation as any’ Mal replied, ‘and despite the rutting Alliance it looks like it’s a darn sight better than this one’ he declared earnestly.
The Elder felt a wave of hope wash over him ‘Have you come to defeat Caleb?' he asked with all the hope he could muster. 'If you do we will pay homage to you instead' he offered, 'and hope you will be a better Lord. You could not be a worse one’ he said truthfully.
‘I have no interest in running this little world’ Mal replied, ‘but I am thinking about changing the local politics around here before I leave’ he continued.
The Elder looked at the strangers one after another. ‘You will need mighty weapons' he advised. 'The Dark Lord is powerful and his minions carry swords and axes while I only see knives on your belts and strangely shaped clubs in your hands’ he said pointing to Mal's pistol.
Simon chuckled ‘They’re pre-industrial' he observed. 'No gunpowder even’ he said grinning at the very notion. These locals made even the most primitive rimworlders back home look high-tech and to a man raised in the Core it was almost hilarious to think about.
River smiled with her brother then turned to the elder ‘I think you’ll find our “strangely shaped clubs” are probably more of a threat to the other side than you’d think’ she told him confidently.
* * *
The dozen men in black robes and hoods arrived in the village. They had walked for several hours to get here and were displeased that the elder did not immediately appear to greet them.
They were even less pleased when a stranger in unusual dress appeared instead.
‘Rules around here have changed’ said the stranger ‘you’d best be on your way’ he advised.
The hooded men were shocked at the nature of the stranger. He looked and sounded exactly like their master but felt completely wrong. It was not their Lord, he had a different aura and he radiated an impression they had not felt since they came to this world.
Champion, he was a champion.
The hooded men considered the situation. There was only one course of action to take.
Swords and battle-axes emerged from within the folds of their robes.
* * *
Mal looked at them in their thick hooded robes. How did they even see out of those things?
‘Final warning’ he said and pulled back his Independent Browncoat to reveal the pistol at his side.
Still no response.
‘Your choice’ Mal said drew his pistol and dropped the nearest one with a round straight in the chest. He hit the ground like a brick and writhed silently.
‘Have I made myself clear now?’ Mal asked in the most authoritative, commanding tone he could manage.
There was still no response from the newcomers, the figures appeared unmoved by the fate of their comrade. That was bizarre in itself. Any primitive agriculture people would surely be terrified at the first display of a firearm?
‘What the hell…’ Mal swore as they suddenly came at him without warning. They had not said a word, there was not even a battle cry. They just ran to attack him.
‘Open fire’ Mal yelled and began firing his pistol into the onrushing mass. Zoe emerged from behind the Obelisk and fired her Lever-Action pistol into them as fast as she could. It was loaded with cut-down rifle-cartridges that were far more powerful that those fired by other pistols and any target she hit was sent flying backwards.
Jayne took a step out from behind a house carrying a pump action shotgun and began working the slide as fast as he could blasting round after round of cubic buckshot into the robed assailants at close range, it was about the most devastating weapon you could carry for this kind of work. "Ideal for social occasions" is how he had described the weapon to the doc.
None of the hooded men got within ten yards of Mal. A few were writhing on the floor, again silently, but most must have been killed outright after a few brief minutes of badly lopsided combat.
Jayne had emptied the shotgun and slung it on his back pulling his revolver ‘Want me to finish ‘em off Mal?’ he asked.
‘No need for that’ the Captain told him reloading his own pistol.
One of the wounded attackers dragged himself to his feet and came at Mal again. Zoe fired a round which dropped him for good ‘These guys don’t quit’ she observed as another one began crawling towards her, barely able to grip his axe it looked like.
Mal shot the crawling one with the axe then developed a puzzled expression ‘They ain’t made one gorram sound’ he said ‘not even the wounded ones.’
‘It ain’t normal’ Jayne said ‘man with buckshot in him that don’t die straight away always screams something’ he continued with the certainty of a man who'd filled many a man with buckshot before.
Zoe kept a weary eye on the men ‘I’ve known a few get shot and not feel it straight away but not like this’ she agreed.
‘Doc’ Mal called out, ‘you want to have a look at these guys?’
Simon appeared carrying his medical bag and ran towards the wounded a purposeful, professional look about him.
‘Watch it Doc. Make sure to kick the weapon away from any you treat’ Mal ordered ‘Zoe you watch out for him. Any of them move to attack, kill ‘em’ he ordered.
‘Yes Sir’ Zoe responded and moved to where she could cover Simon from any threat that arose.
‘You can come out now. Fighting’s over’ Mal said loudly after which villagers began to peak warily out of their homes. They had cowered within whilst the thunder had raged outside and were almost as terrified of the strangers in their midst as they were of Lord Caleb and his minions.
The villagers gaped at the pile of bodies then realised none of the strangers were so much as scratched. They must have magical weapons, perhaps even powerful enough to defeat the Dark One himself?
Simon pulled the hood off one of the men and stared, he then did the same to two more nearby ‘Tmde
’ he swore ‘Mal get over here’ he called out.
The Captain starting walking over to the Doctor ‘What’s up?’ he asked on the move.
‘I know why they didn’t say anything’ Simon declared.
‘Yeah?’ Mal replied.
‘No tongue’ the Doctor told him bluntly ‘been cut out’ he explained pointing out the fact.
’ Mal exclaimed ‘all of ‘em?’
Simon nodded. ‘Yes, looks like, but that’s not the really weird thing’ he said.
Mal arrived and knelt down next to Simon ‘So what is?’ he asked
Simon pointed downwards ‘No eyes' he replied with an element of disbelief in his own findings. ' They’ve been burned out’ he noted clinically.
‘Bù kê néng’
Mal said as his jaw dropped.
* * *
‘Caleb calls them “Bringers”' the Elder explained. 'According to our story-singers they arrived on our world with him nearly twenty generations ago’ he continued.
‘Twenty generations! You’re trying to tell me Caleb is like…’ Mal calculated ‘Five-Hundred years old’ he exclaimed.
‘He is an immortal. He has never aged, are not you, who wears his face, not an immortal also?’ the Elder asked.
‘Not so much’ Mal replied shaking his head.
The Elder pointed to the holstered pistol on Mal's belt. ‘But you have magical weapons. Surely you are as he is?’
‘I’m just a man’ Mal explained ‘and I don’t believe in magic, or immortals or such.’
Simon returned from his investigations. ‘I’ve done tests on the wounded' he said. 'I don’t know how, but they seem to be able to see despite the lack of eyes. Maybe some kind of extra-sensory perception?' he wondered.
‘Like your sister?’ Mal asked.
Simon shrugged. ‘Perhaps but I don’t see surgery scars’ he replied.
‘So what does River think’ Mal asked.
‘She’s been reading them and says they’re the warped spawn of hell and should be "cleansed from the ‘Verse"’ Simon responded with an expression that indicated some doubt in his sisters pronouncements. He loved her, but even he accepted she was more than slightly remiss in the sanity department on occasion.
Mal rolled his eyes in response and agreement. ‘Anything more constructive?’ he asked not entirely expectantly.
‘Like the local says, they are not originally from here River believes' Simon told him.
Mal scratched his nose. ‘So where are they from?’
‘Earth-That-Was she says’ Simon answered ‘But not ours
another ‘Verse entirely’
The Captain looked at Simon askance. ‘You’re yanking my chain?’ he said.
Parallel Universes Captain' Simon replied. 'Why not?’
Mal couldn't argue with that. "Infinite" makes pretty much anything possible, even certain. ‘Well how'd they get here?’
Simon grimaced. ‘She said they died’ he answered.
?’ Mal responded in a start.
‘They died' the Doctor repeated. 'They were on their way to hell, or rather what she called a “Hell Dimension” and some force bought them here instead.’
Mal looked at Mr top two percent. ‘Come off it Simon’ he said.
‘I’m just repeating my Sister' Simon told him. ' She’s still trying to read them for more information right now, Jayne is watching over her.’
Mal frowned ‘So anything more about this Caleb guy?’
‘He’s evil’ River said appearing in the flesh herself. ‘The right hand of the First Evil itself. Defeated by a Champion and banished to a Hell-Dimension by the Powers-That-Be' she declared. 'Unfortunately his Master had other ideas and twisted reality enough to bring him here instead, planning to retrieve him at a later date to do his bidding.’
Mal didn't know if any of this could be true but there was some weird stuff going on on this here rock and River was a mind-reading genius. ‘Guess the boss never called’ he observed.
‘Looks like’ River replied. ‘Well I suppose with nothing else to do, and an eternity with which to do it, Caleb decided to carve out his own little Empire, seeing as how he had his own little army.’
Zoe hovering nearby was sceptical and raised her views on the subject. ‘Evil?' she asked. 'You mean as in real evil. Lucifer and such?’
‘In an infinite multiverse what we call Demons may just be other forms of life that occasionally shift between dimensions’ River responded. ‘Just because they match our perception of what the supernatural is doesn’t mean it really is the paranormal, it’s just another version of reality.’
‘I don’t buy it’ Zoe said.
‘I can read minds not so long ago you wouldn’t have bought that either’ River replied reasonably and with a wink at the towering warrior-woman.
‘That was science’ Zoe responded ‘not gorram witchcraft’ she said. 'And yes I know you were nearly burned for that yourself, but that was just plain ignorance.'
River smiled. ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’ she told her ‘have an open mind’ she chided mischievously.
‘In any case what are we going to do with this Caleb character?’ Simon asked returning the conversation to its root.
Mal took a deep breath. ‘Don’t much matter if he’s genuine evil incarnate or just another Dictator with a cute cover-story. We kill the lousy bastard' he declared.
‘The correct word apparently is “Slay”’ River told him.
* * *
When his Bringers did not return to the castle with his new toy Caleb assumed that another Village had sought to defy him and this time had done so with enough skill to actually defeat one of his patrols.
This could not be tolerated. An example must
Caleb still quoted the scripture. He had been a man of God and some of the Old Testament style wrath, fire and brimstone really got the blood pumping. He gave orders for his forces to form so he could send them against the “Philistines” and he decided to lead them himself. It had been many years since he had personally smote an enemy.
The First had hijacked him to this miserable world along with a veritable host of several hundred Bringers and with them he had conquered the land, or at least this part of it, as the rest wasn’t worth having unless volcanoes were your thing. They looked dramatic, he agreed, but they weren't much practical use except as a backdrop.
The only bonus had been the humans already here. The First had told him, whilst he travelled to this place in a redirected portal vortex, that many years before it had bought people to this place to use as a source for food for a future Demon Army. They were now his to do with as he wished although he must not kill them all and make sure the breeding population remained large enough to adequately provision the army when it came.
After bringing the locals to heel and establishing his dominion Caleb had forced them to construct this fortress, many of them perishing during the back-breaking labour. It took many years to complete but he was an immortal, ageless now as well as practically invulnerable, so it was worth waiting for. The style was gothic, very much akin to the dark foreboding castles of Hollywood Legend that Caleb had seen in films during his mortal days back home. It looked sufficiently intimidating to keep the populace kowtowed and also gave him the opportunity to cast people off the battlements when the fancy took him.
The torture chamber in the basement was a nice touch too he considered.
Caleb was, he himself considered, a restrained patient man. He would only take one girl from each village every five years and make each one last a long time before giving up on them. He had become very inventive over the centuries and one of his more recent innovations were the twin girls who he had trained to inflict torture for him while he watched. Eventually he would get one to kill the other but for now they were very stimulating to watch in action and they seemed to improve with each passing year.
The twins were curled up in a ball either side of him. Sometimes he would get them to fight each other until they bled freely, bruised all over and begging him to let them stop, but not too often and the forthcoming massacre of the rebelling villagers would keep him satiated for some time.
When he left to lead his army he made sure to place his hands on each one and gave her a blessing. They were his absolute favourite toys.
* * *
Caleb watched as his legions of black robed Bringers formed in ranks just outside the tiny village. He had bought over two hundred of them in order to make sure the message was reinforced that his rule was absolute and his troops too numerous to oppose.
He had decided to go with a classical approach and sow the local fields with Salt after he left to leave the land infertile and barren as another symbol of his power. It was little touches like that that leave the peasants properly in awe and ensure a good supply of playthings. For the same reason he was launching the attack at dawn, clichéd perhaps but classic nonetheless.
Caleb signalled for his first wave to attack and they hurried to obey. The next group were bearing flaming torches with which to raise the tiny hamlet to the ground once the inhabitants were dealt with.
He had given orders to spare all girls under eighteen. The twins could be so creative if given a group to work with and he decided to treat himself for once.
The first fifty Bringers advanced bearing swords, axes and shields. It was always a delight to see one’s forces in action Caleb considered, very satisfying to have such power in your own hands.
* * *
Jayne grinned before putting his professional's game face on for the imminent action. This was going to be the most fun he’d had in ages he thought continuing to smile inwardly.
The big mercenary watched the group of Bringers march towards the village and went out to meet them on his own. The Shepherd had earlier given him a blessing and told him that since today he was an instrument of good against evil he was probably helping to shift the balance of his life back towards redemption.
Jayne wasn’t really convinced by the whole good versus evil gôu pì
but those blind Bringer types with the missing tongues sure were creepifying and this Caleb guy that looked like Mal sounded like a real dòngwù.
The mercenary wasn’t all that bothered generally about which side he was on, but by preference he did lean towards shooting at those that deserved it more. If nothing else for one thing he got less aggravation from Book and Mal when he did that and those two could nag like nobody he'd met since he'd left his mother back home.
You wouldn’t have thought it from a casual acquaintance with the man but the mercenary wasn't quite as shallow as some might suppose. In fact he was something of a thinking man at heart, and it occurred to him that one of the great philosophical debates of the time was about to be answered. What is more mighty, the hell-spawn minions of evil or a Callahan Full-Bore Autolock in the hands of someone that knows how to use it properly?
Jayne moved the rifle across his chest, pulled back the receiver chambering a round, and then raised the best gorram firearm of the 26th Century to his shoulder, dropping to one knee for stability. Kinda strange not having to use cover but those swords didn’t exactly have the reach of his jet-propelled ammunition.
The mercenary looked across to Zoe who was lying prone for accuracy with the 54-R Sniper Rifle he had picked up on Whitefall. She gave a thumbs up still looking through the scope.
‘Give the word Mal’ Jayne said into his headset microphone.
‘Take ‘em’ came the clear reply through his earphones.
Vera began singing a sweet tune.
* * *
‘What in the name of….’ Caleb cried out as a man carrying what appeared to be a goddamn machine-gun appeared two hundred yards in front of his troops and started mowing them down with great efficiency.
Caleb was suddenly splattered with blood and gore as someone blew the brains out of the nearest Bringer then others began to fall randomly along the line, there must be another enemy out there with a long-range firearm too. Had they fallen through a portal to this world he wondered briefly? Well however they got here, he decided, the weapons of industrial humanity were more than a match for his fanatical followers and he knew it.
Caleb was just about to order a retreat back to the castle when something huge and deafeningly noisy appeared overhead from behind. He looked up and couldn't help but gape at the apparition above.
A voice boomed out from the aircraft, or rather spacecraft
that thundered overhead on what looked like swivelling rocket engines, it was so out-of-place that even the ever unimaginative Bringers seemed to be transfixed for a moment. The vessel must have had a loudspeaker with plenty of wattage behind it because the words echoed down the valley, audible even over the engines noise.
‘I’m guessing this is not your best day ever’ roared an extremely
familiar voice from the craft. 'and I'll bet this here development really
burns your britches.'
A split second later worse was to come from the sky than acerbic witticisms, sound and fury as a hatch on the keel of the vessel opened and to Caleb's increasing horror grenades began to fall from the ship.
The explosions were even louder than the loudspeaker had been, and a great deal more destructive.
* * *
After around a dozen mixed fragmentation and concussion grenades fell amongst the massed Bringers, causing barely conceivable harm to the tightly clustered group, the ship moved away and set down nearby, a large ramp lowering at the bow before it even kissed the dirt. Caleb had cause to gape again as he watched a man with his
face wearing what looked to his 20th Century eyes like something from the Old West disembark the ship. The doppelganger wielded a pump-action shotgun which he used to ruthlessly gun down the nearest Bringers, working the slide fast and smooth, before it ran out of ammunition and he dropped it in favour of a pistol with which he began to take down more Bringers with a clinical efficiency that Caleb could not help but admire. The way he'd drawn the pistol was also noteworthy, the man had drawn it quickly and stylishly from what looked like a leather gunbelt, again in keeping with his western clothing.
The gun almost looked like it was an old-time six-shooter for Pete's sake Caleb considered. Who were these people with their strange mix of culture and technologies.
You had to give it to the Bringers though, despite their horrific losses already, they didn’t know when to quit, and as Caleb watched the remainder in the vicinity charged the man simultaneously. He fired as fast as he could but couldn’t shoot and reload fast enough to stop them all, they were gaining ground on him fast.
Behind the man, and equally oddly dressed in a summer dress and what looked like Army Boots, a girl appeared on the Ramp. Despite the events so far Caleb smiled, and looked over the teenager, she’d be a fun plaything he thought to himself observing her intently.
The girl was just walking down the ramp with her hands nonchalantly behind her back, oblivious to the carnage around her.
The man with Caleb’s face yelled to her ‘River get back’ he said slowly retreating towards the ship, obviously having either overestimated the shock effect of the bombing run or having underestimated the fanaticism of his foe.
The girl “River” looked at the thirty or so Bringers who were charging towards them.
‘Don't worry Captain' she said brightly. 'I can win this’ she announced with certainty and raised her hands revealing she had an automatic pistol held in each one.
In an instant the girls entire body language and movement changed as if someone had flicked a switch changing her from a person to a killing machine. She began running and firing, weaving around the Bringer bodies as she went. Her moves were too perfect to be merely human, her accuracy too precise as she effortlessly scythed through her enemy.
‘A slayer?’ wondered Caleb as her pistols cut a swath through the onrushing Bringers. One got too close and she abruptly turned, span and kicked him in the head sending him flying to the ground stunned by the suddenness and power of the blow, which was far beyond what you might expect from a slight young thing like her. The Bringer eventually dragged himself up just before the Man with Caleb's face levelled his own pistol and blew the bringers' teeth through the back of his head.
The two doubles met each others gaze for the briefest of moments before a high-velocity rifle round hit Caleb in the chest. He spun around and fell to the dirt just as the last of his Bringers were being systematically shot to pieces.
* * *
Jayne and Zoe walked up to meet the ship putting additional rounds into Bringers who were still trying to lash out. The entire area was absolutely littered with corpses but like they taught Zoe in basic training, a million
casualties aren't a lot if they're on the other
‘You okay Sir?’ Zoe called out to her Captain.
‘I’m fine thanks to River here’ Mal called back turning to smile at the young girl ‘Good work’ he told her, provoking a smile back. River liked it when Mal praised her, it made her feel less like a burden and more like just another one of his crew.
‘Couldn’t let anyone hurt my Captain’ she told him then with a start she suddenly span back around with a look of fright on her face ‘he’s still here’ she declared.
‘Damn right I’m still here’ Caleb said standing up from the pile of Bringer Corpses surrounding him, ‘and now you’re all going to pay for what you’ve done. Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord.’
Utterly unimpressed Mal looked Caleb over as he reloaded his pistol ‘You’re pretty, I’ll give you that, but you’re one dumb son-of-a-bitch if you think you’re going to come out ahead today.’
‘Yeah ain’t you keeping count. We’re winning on points’ Jayne interjected as he arrived on the scene, sweeping Vera around to indicate all the bodies. ‘Want me to put this one down too Mal?’ he asked swinging his rifle muzzle back so that it was pointed directly at the Captain's "twin".
‘Seems like it should be me that does it’ Mal replied. ‘I ain’t a sadistic tamade húndàn
like yourself so I’ll make it quick’ he told Caleb raising his pistol.
‘Try it’ Caleb retorted smirking.
The pistol bucked in Mals hand and Caleb staggered back but straightened up unharmed ‘You’ll have to do better than that’ he said with an appropriately evil smile.
Mal fired three more times to no avail ‘Okay this is kinda unexpected’ he said frowning. 'Man just don't seem to go down when he's shot, like a man should' he said. 'If I wasn't seeing blood I'd be thinking he had armour on.'
Caleb snorted and drew his knife ‘I’m going to cut on your little girl there for a good long while’ he said and began advancing on River.
‘Okay lets try something with a bit more punch' Mal suggested. 'Jayne. Take him down’ he ordered.
The Callahan in the mercenaries grip fired a single supersonic Jet-Propelled Slug that punched a hole right through Caleb with a massive spray of blood. The black clad man gave Jayne a look of amusement and pulled open his shirt so that could see the wound closing back up before your eyes.
‘Little present from the boss’ Caleb said ‘Invulnerability’ he turned to River ‘Come here Darlin’ and I’ll give you some candy. Dirty Girls love candy’ he said lasciviously.
Jayne switched Vera over to full-auto and fighting against the recoil depressed the trigger blowing thirty holes through Caleb in a couple of seconds. The slew of impacts threw him to the floor and Mal immediately delivered the coup-de-grace putting a bullet right between his eyes.
The holes began to close up almost immediately to the increasing dismay of both men.
Thinking laterally Zoe took a different tack and blew a hole through Calebs right kneecap when he stood up yet again still smiling. When he fell she worked the lever action and put another hole in his left kneecap before he could get back up once more.
‘Can’t keep this up forever’ she said firing again keeping Caleb from getting up. ‘anybody got a grenade?’ she asked.
‘Used them all up’ Mal told her. 'Should have saved one but I didn't think we'd have to blow the man to itty bitty chunks to stop him'.
‘No creative thinkers around here?’ Jayne asked rhetorically and picked up a sword off a dead Bringer ‘Let’s decapitate the son-of-a-bitch’ he suggested. Jayne was more than a little shaken by the situation but whenever he was scared his violent tendencies moved into overdrive.
Zoe stared at Jayne in a rarely seen look of admiration. ‘If I ever call you dumb again remind me of this moment’ she said.
‘Hold still’ Jayne said swinging the sword clumsily, not being used to wielding one. He was more than a little surprised when Caleb caught it by the blade and pulled both it and Jayne towards him hard. The blade pierced Caleb’s chest just before his free hand formed into a fist and punched Jayne in the face hard enough not only to break his jaw but sending him spiralling away unconscious.
Zoe bought her Lever-Action up again just as Caleb threw the sword at her hilt first at huge speed. It hit her hard enough to crack three of her ribs and left her on her back, unable to move and gasping for breath.
‘I’ve got an idea Captain’ River yelled out running back to the ship ‘keep him busy’ she told Mal.
Caleb dragged himself to his feet, now to all intents and purposes alone with his double. ‘I’ve got to ask what your story is?’ he said.
Mal looked at his mirror image ‘Name’s Malcolm Reynolds. I Captain this boat and I look after my crew. I ain’t gonna let you harm them’ he said forthrightly.
harmed two of them’ Caleb replied sardonically. ‘Planning to have lots of fun with that girl. Got any others?’ he asked with a wink.
‘None of your concern’ Mal told him emptying his pistol magazine into Caleb, dropping him to the ground once again. This was proving fearsome expensive in ammunition a little voice pointed out from the back of his mind.
‘I think I’ll keep you alive’ Caleb said dragging himself up yet again. ‘Course I’ll have to cut your face up a bit because otherwise it’ll just be confusing.’
Mal nodded in agreement ‘Well I reckon it might but you’re still assuming you’ll win. Hell I can just keep you down long enough to pick up my crew and leave’ he pointed out finishing another reload.
‘You’re not the type' Caleb said confidently. ' You’ve got “Champion” written all over you. And worse than that you’re using my face too. That’s nothing short of sickening’ he said with a look of disgust.
Mal stalled like River had told him to. ‘My turn for a question' he said. 'What
the hell are you?’
Caleb looked down at the blood on his clothes, he'd have the twins wash them and repair the bullet holes later. ‘Five centuries ago I was a man of the cloth before those girls started testing my faith, and because of my righteous punishment of them I ended up the good right arm of the First' Caleb told Mal. 'For now though I’m the Lord of all I survey and those that deserve my wrath receive it.’
‘Not for much longer’ River said reappearing, trotting down the ships ramp with a beaming smile on her face.
Getting closer River threw something to her Captain who caught it with his free hand looked at it and grinned broadly holstering his pistol. ‘You’re a genius girl’ he said.
Caleb rose to his feet once again. ‘What’s that?’
‘This?’ Mal replied holding up the strange artefact, ‘This is the thing I’ve been trying to get rid of for ages but never rutting managed to. Never been glad of it until now’ he continued, ‘also real glad that Kaylee reenergised the battery core.’
‘I’ll ask again. What the hell is that’ Caleb asked with an annoyed tone.
‘What’s the matter? Didn’t they have Laser weapons where you came from?’ Mal asked raising and pointing the Lassiter. 'Say your prayers like a good man of the cloth son because you are humped and no mistake' Mal advised.
A beam of coherent light lanced out and burned a hole right through Caleb, starting near his groin and then rising as Mal raised his aim to cut his doppelganger neatly in half from his crotch to the top of his head.
For some reason inexplicable to Mal, Caleb’s last words were ‘Not again’ before his vocal chords got themselves incinerated as the beam reached his throat.
The two halves fell to the ground, as Mal lowered the Directed-Energy Pistol which had done little more than hum as it was fired.
‘Doesn’t pay to mess with superior technology’ he observed.
* * * The Powers-That-Be smiled. Another loose end had been tied up and the continuum was running a little more smoothly. ‘They will soon be back at the tear in reality' one said. 'Shall we let them return to their own Universe?’ ‘There is still one more mission for them to accomplish. We will tilt chaos in our favour and direct them there' the other said. ‘Agreed’
* * * Another day, another Universe
Wash looked up at the huge statue that seemed to fill half the sky. It was monumental architecture that put the pyramids of Earth-That-Was to shame.
‘I have only three things to say at this juncture’ Wash said. ‘Who the hell is Jasmine? Why does she look like my wife and when do I get to go to the crappy town where I’m the evil overlord?'