Man of God
Disclaimer: I do not own the contents of either Firefly or the Increasingly Inaccurately Named Hitchhiker's Trilogy. I did not even write a single line of dialogue used in this story.
Setting: Alternately 'Safe' and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Note: This is not meant to be taken seriously. At all.
Book swam back to consciousness and a haze of pain. He was on a stiff surface, and there were voices all around him."How did this happen?" That voice was cold and harsh. As Book blinked his eyes into focus, his mind slowly processed the stiff stance and uniform. Alliance.
Zoe began to answer the man's question, only to be cut off by a clearly aggravated Mal.
"Bystander in a gun fight back on Jiangyin. You can check. Not he nor any of ours were the aggressors."Oh yes
, Book thought, that's what happened.
He remembered the sounds of gunfire that always threw him back to those hard years. He remembered the bullet thudding home, and he remembered pain. Pain that hadn't stopped, had barely even abated. He just wanted it to stop, but he knew these people wouldn't help without a good reason.
"We aren't an emergency facility, Captain," the Alliance man sneered. "Our services aren't simply available to any—"
But Book wasn't just anybody. "Commander," he said weakly, his voice thin and quiet, but somehow silencing the entire cargo bay. He didn't want them to know what he had done, didn't want anyone to know, but he could barely think through the pain. "My . . . ident . . . card . . . pocket," he gasped out through vocal cords that didn't seem to be doing what he told them to. He gestured weakly towards what he thought to be his pocket and struggled to remain awake as the man pulled the card out of his pocket.
If the man knew what the card meant, then that might spell the end of his too long life. But it was more likely that he wouldn't know what it meant, for how could anybody trust an agency that had let an ignorant fool decide the fate of the universe?
Book—though he had not called himself that then—thought that he was sitting in his home, alone with The Lord. That was how he thought he spent most of his days, except for the days when those men came to bring him new things and ask questions. He thought that it was just like one of those days when he perceived a sound much like someone knocking on the door. He was a little surprised that they should come twice in one day, as that had never happened before, but quickly realized that it was very presumptive of him to assume that they had already been today just because he remembered their visit, saw mud on the floor, and new items for his consumption on the table.He remembered that when this knocking sound had happened before, it meant that someone wanted to come in. He opened the door. "Hello?" This was how he greeted the men who came in the six black ships, and it seemed to work well for them.
The three figures on the other side of the door did not look like anyone he remembered seeing, but perhaps The Lord knew them well.
"Ah, excuse me," one of them said, sounding very distressed, "I have reason to believe..."
"Do you rule the Universe?" said the one with two heads and one more appendage than Book.
Book did not recall ever having been asked such a question, though he was hardly certain. He enjoyed new things, and smiled at the man with so many limbs. "I try not to." He felt a slight dampness on his skin as wind buffeted the rain towards him. "Are you wet?"
"Wet?" cried the questioner. "Doesn't it look as if we're wet?"
"That's how it looks to me, but how you feel about it might be an altogether different matter. If you find warmth makes you dry, you'd better come in." He held the door wide open, and stepped back.
The three figures—a man, a woman, and a many-appendaged person, or so they appeared to Book—stepped into the relative warmth and dryness of the small house. The man eyed his surroundings with wrinkles between his eyes and his mouth twisted into a sharp line. The woman looked on with wide eyes while the many-appendaged person walked with a bounce to his step and a wide grin on both of his faces.
"Hey, er . . ." said one of his faces, "what's your name?"
Book was slightly surprised by that question. He saw no point in having a name. "I don't know. Why, do you think I should have one? It seems very odd to give a bundle of vague sensory perceptions a name."
His three guests were silent, so he invited them to sit if that made them comfortable. The two-headed man stretched out on the mattress beside The Lord, saying some things that Book did not understand, while Book sat on the edge of the chair, beside the quiet woman.
The serious man quickly spoke up from where he leaned against the table. "Listen," he said, "I must ask you some questions."
"All right," Book said serenely, "you may sing to my cat if you like."
"Would he like that?" the two-headed man said.
"You'd better ask him," Book answered. He thought these people were strange indeed if they expected him to know what someone else liked. But that was just what he thought.
"Does he talk?"
"I have no memory of him talking," Book informed the many-limbed man, "but I am very unreliable." He rested his steepled fingers on his lap and smiled in what he thought was a reassuring manner.
The serious man pulled a few pieces of paper out of his pocket, and began moving his finger down the list as he spoke. "Now, you do rule the Universe, do you?"
"How can I tell?" Book said, mildly curious.
The serious man moved his fingers over the paper again. "How long have you been doing this?"
Book wondered at the question, for how could he tell what he was doing at the moment, let alone at other moments? "Ah," he said, "this is a question about the past, is it?"
The other man looked at him, his facial features configuring to express Book knew not what. "Yes."
Book shook his head slightly as he realized the strangeness of the other man's reasoning. "How can I tell that the past isn't a fiction designed to account for the discrepancy between my immediate physical sensations and my state of mind?"
The man looked at him for several seconds. Book—though he did not have that name then—idly wondered if the man were indeed looking at him, or if perhaps he wasn't looking at something else that happened to alternately occupy the space Book inhabited.
"So you answer all questions like this?" said the man.
"I say what it occurs to me to say when I think I hear people say things. More I cannot say."
The man with many appendages made a barking sound that Book found very interesting. "I'll drink to that," said the man, pulling out a mostly cylindrical object and handing it to the man who would be called Book.
The man who was not yet called Book eyed the new item with curiosity as the many-appendaged man continued to talk.
"No, listen to me," the other man broke in, "people come to you, do they? In ships…"
"I think so," said Book, as this seemed to match the impressions he took for memories. Finished inspecting the cylindrical item, he passed it onto the woman, as passing it around seemed to be the thing to do.
The other man was unconcerned with the passing of the cylindrical item. "And they ask you to make decisions for them? About people's lives, about worlds, about economies, about wars, about everything going on out there in the Universe?"
"Out there?" said Book, not understanding the man's query. "Out where?"
"Out where!" the man insisted, sending a finger in the direction of the door.
Book politely followed the man's pointing, then sighed at the lapse in logic. "How can you tell there's anything out there? The door's closed."
This response made the other man's face darken as his voice grew louder. "But you know there's a whole Universe out there! You can't dodge your responsibilities by saying they don't exist!" As he stopped talking, he began to shake where he stood. Book wondered if perhaps the man were still and it was his eyes—and everything else—that were quaking.
"You're very sure of your facts," he said slowly, still considering the closed door and the trembling of his vision. "I couldn't trust the thinking of a man who takes the Universe—if there is one—for granted. I only decide about my Universe. My Universe is my eyes and my ears. Anything else is hearsay."
"But don't you believe in anything?"
Book lifted his shoulders and let them drop again in a gesture that, to him, felt like an expression of somewhat apathetic confusion. He picked up The Lord, enjoying the sensation of fur under his hands. "I don't understand what you mean."
"You don't understand that what you decide in this shack of yours affects the lives and fates of millions of people? This is all monstrously wrong!"
"I don't know," the man who would be called Book said. "I've never met all these people you speak of. And neither, I suspect, have you. They only exist in words we hear. It is folly to say you know what is happening to other people. Only they know, if they exist. They have their own Universes of their eyes and ears."
The female then spoke, "I think I'm just popping outside for a moment." She walked out of the door and out of Book's Universe.
"Do you believe that other people exist?" persisted the man, seeming very angry.
"I have no opinion. How can I say?"
"I'd better see what's up with Trillian," said the many-appendaged man as he too departed from Book's Universe.
The other man did not seem bothered by the disappearance of the other two. "But don't you understand that people live or die on your word?"
Book was growing tired of these questions. This man had a very strange outlook on the Universe. He heard a sound that made him think of black ships, leaving his Universe for a time. "It's nothing to do with me," he said finally, speaking over the noise in his ears. "I am not involved with people. The Lord knows I am not a cruel man."
The man gave a cry of what seemed to be triumph. "You say 'The Lord.' You believe in something!"
Book took pity on the man's ignorance. "My cat." He held The Lord firmly and stroked the soft fur. "I call him The Lord. I am kind to him."
"All right. How do you know he exists? How do you know he knows you to be kind, or enjoys what you think of as kindness?"
At least, the man seemed to be understanding what the man who was not yet called Book had been saying. The man who was not yet called Book smiled. "I don't. I have no idea. It merely pleases me to behave in a certain way to what appears to be a cat. Do you behave any differently? Please, I think I am tired."
The other man let out a great breath of air, turning his head from side to side. "Where are the other two?" he said suddenly.
Book was confused by this question. "What other two?"
"Beeblebrox and the girl! The two who were here!"
"I remember no one. The past is a fiction to account for…"
"Stuff it," the other man interrupted him. He leaped for the door and then he was gone.
The nameless man took a drink. He played with The Lord.
Some time later…
The nameless man thought he was sitting in his home, scratching his cat behind the ears—he did not comprehend why, but he supposed that it was The Lord's will—and observing the items on the table. Although his memory was by no means reliable, he recalled the men from the black ships bringing him these things.
He extended his arm toward one of the objects and found that it felt solid beneath his fingers. With increasing delight, he lifted the item from the table and held it for him and The Lord to see.
The Lord purred.
The nameless man slid his fingers along the side of the rectangular object and gasped when it fell open in his hands, lights flickering across its surfaces.
As he looked at the small black lines, curves, and dots on the page, he imagined he heard a gentle voice in his head.
"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," it read.
Days later, when his overwhelmed mind felt full to bursting with new questions and only a handful of answers, he closed the book and turned it over in his hands.
He traced his fingers over the cover and the words "Don't Panic" written in large, friendly letters.Well,
Book said to himself, it's a little late for that.
Shepherd Book awoke to find himself in the infirmary ofSerenity
, Captain Malcolm Reynolds standing over him. Slowly, he recalled the firefight, the pain, and the Alliance men."Well. That's not a face I expect to see in heaven. Guess I survived. Thank you, Captain. It was very resourceful of you." Book knew that it was more than resourceful for a man like the Captain to willingly turn to the Alliance.
"Had no reason to think it'd work," Mal said after a moment. "Just took a chance."
"Reckon that's how you do lots of things." Book recalled a time when he'd taken such a chance after taking a name.
The two men conversed easily for a few moments before Mal finally said what was weighing on his mind. "They let us come and they let us go. What kind of ident card gets us that kind of reception and send off?"
"I'm a shepherd," Book replied, and it very nearly felt like the truth on his tongue. "Folks like a man of God."
"No they don't," Mal shot back. "Men of God make everyone feel guilty and judged. That's not what I saw. You like to tell me what really happened?"
Book pondered Mal's proposal for all of three seconds. What would he possibly say? The all-access ident card is just a perk left over from when I was the Ruler of a Universe I didn't believe in.
No, it only took three seconds for Book to come up with his answer.
"I surely would. And maybe someday I will."
Mal couldn't handle the truth. The 'Verse, not unlike Book himself, was older, stranger, and all-sorts-of-things-er than Mal knew.
"It's good to be home," Shepherd Book said, and this time the words were the truth that he believed in with every fibre of his being.