Disclaimer: I own nothing! I just like to borrow them all once in a while and rearrange the pieces.
Chapter 5 – Unravelling
Pandora – Centre Town
Zoe had left the men with the mule while Captain and Jayne were loading up their cargo. She strolled through the town, picking up provisions here and there. She liked this time to herself. Anytime to herself really. Not much privacy to be had when you lived on a ship. Walking the small and often dusty streets of whatever backwater moon they’d find themselves on gave Zoe Allain Washburn that privacy. Finding herself in a line at the mercantile, she waited patiently, a hand laid lightly over her holster, calm eyes regarding the world with cat-like sharpness. This was the perfect place to hear stories, mostly rumours, but news none the less.
It was the conversation between two older women that got her attention. Obviously local regulars, they leaned comfortably against the counter, their long grey skirts bobbing with their chatter.
“Och, I heard Miller’s boy’s come back from that contract colony. Mettie Lian says he don’t come back right. Don’t talk to folk, keeps to the house. Ma Miller don’t talk ‘bout it neither. I heard Pastor Keegan say a prayer over the Millers when they came to mass. The boy wasna with them. Folk will start to talk if he don’t show up to church. Ain’t right.”
The other woman, dark braids wound around her head, elbowed her friend and picked the story up from there. “Och, I hear too that Cassandra Sampson, you know she’s got the little house next to theirs, heard the boy hollerin' a storm come middle of the night. Pa Miller came to the porch a’terwards, nodded to her like nothin’ at all was the matter. She say he looked madder’n a storm cloud.”
The man ahead of the women turned to them then and shook his head at their hemming and hawing.
“If the Miller’s boy came back from T’ien N’yao, you sure say an extra prayer for him and hope he stays away from ye and yours.”
The women, obviously not caring for the warning, but hungry for the information the man had, graced him with wide smiles. The one with the dark braids angled closer.
“And who you be mister?”
The stranger tipped his hat to the women and smiled brilliantly.
“My name’s Cadigan, ladies. I’ve come from Paradiso, heard some tellins told bout these new contract colonies T’ien N’yao’s been settin’ up.”
The woman with the braids, unable to contain her curiosity, latched on the to the man’s sleeve.
He extracted his sleeve from her grasp.
“They get you to sign up by promisin’ you good pay for a short time in their mines. They’re mining some moons that T’ien N’yao owns, rich in ore. They say you work for T’ien N’yao for a year; never work another day in your life. Turns out that’s got a ring o’truth to it.”
The women look eagerly for him to go on.
“Most folk don’t come back from these colonies. Those who do? Never right since then.”
The women gasped. The man nodded solemnly. One of the women latched onto his sleeve and looked him in the eyes.
“Mister, they bring sickness?”
The man shook his head solemnly.
“Only sickness they bring are the fears that haunt them. Met me a man who came back once. Wasna much o’him that was man. Talked a lot of craziness ‘bout what he saw down in the mines. None believed him. Ye will’na be wanting ter know what he said.”
But they advanced on him, eager for the gossip. “Talked ‘bout beasts rising from the abyss. Darkness taking over the human soul that no church service could tramp out.”
The women crossed themselves, muttering prayers under their breath. One of them, voice timid with anticipation, tugged on the man’s sleeve again.
“What happened to the feller then?”
Cadigan leaned towards the women, eyes solemn and bright. “Killed himself. Poor bastard. Pardon my language, ladies.”
Their eyes were as wide as saucers.
But his purchase was rung through, and tipping his hat to them, he walked out. The women grew quiet and just stared at each other with wide eyes, their faces pale and sombre.
Zoe finished her buying and made her way to the mule. For some reason the story bothered her, and it really shouldn’t have. Just another tale told as store gossip. But something about the way the man told it put her on edge. It was when she heard the scream from the way of the tavern that the unease she had kept in check all day poured forth. Hauling the bags over her shoulders and drawing her gun, she ran towards the noise with the rest of the people on the streets.
“Zoe!” She spotted the Captain, already on the mule, Jayne revving the engine; ready to get the hell out of this town gone wrong. Dropping the bags into the back, she hopped up.
“What’s going on?” He eyes were sweeping the crowds and landed on a group of people surrounding a young man holding a Bible and shaking it at folk.
Exchanging several meaningful glances and very little words, all three of them had their guns ready and loaded should the need arise for them to shoot their way out of this situation.
Keeping an eye on the young man with the bible, Mal was already dialling the ship, yelling for Wash to get Serenity ready. It was then that the first shot was fired. Everyone froze for a moment, the three of them dropping low in the mule, guns pointed towards the source of the sound. Towards the boy with the bible. Over the hush in the crowd, his words rang out.
“And great daemons shall be spewed forth from the darkness and they shall walk this earth and stain with their vileness all. The prophets speak of the end! And the end is here! I have seen the gaping maw of the beast! We are doomed!”
She watched an elderly pair of people, his parents, standing to the side, the man had his arms around the shaking woman who was trying to reach and touch the boy. But he was beyond hearing now. He was consumed in the fire of his delusions and his madness. And Zoe knew that this was not going to end well at all.
Serenity – River’s bedroom
Simon watched River sleeping, the drugs relaxing the fret lines from her brow. Her breathing slowing down. She looked so quiet and content. And it broke him to know that inside, she was anything but. He felt a hand slip into his and Kaylee’s comforting touch eased him, her body leaning against his side.
“Did you eat?”
Her words startle him and he looks into her amber eyes, still and restful. He shakes his head.
“Come away, she won’t wake a while yet. I’ll make you somethin’.”
And she leads him after her, his guiding light, his beacon in the dense darkness.
River dreams. This dream is fear and anticipation. It isn’t her fear, she can recognise that now with a certain clarity as so many fears that live inside of her are not hers. It’s his fear. His desperation, his belief that nothing can be salvaged. His horror rides over her in waves, and for an instant she hears the roar and shivers and her own fear mingles with his. The darkness reaches for her, curls around her wrists, caresses her neck, licks along the back of her knees, hold her hand. She can hear him screaming, but no one can help. They do not understand. Can’t feel the true evil of the abyss that has begun to live once again. They’re there now. She and him, looking into the black. He steps closer to the ledge, his narrow hand cold in hers. She tries to pull him back, but he slips from her grasp, like smoke.
Like he was never there.
Pandora – Centre Town
“Why we always gotta be surrounded by moon-brain folk?” Jayne’s whine was met by cold stares from both Mal and Zoe.
The boy ranted and raved at his weeping mother and the town folk. But then he stopped. Silent and still, like a pillar. Eyes wild, searching the crowds.
They landed on the face of a little girl held by her father.
“You think you can protect her? You think any of you will make it? The darkness will devour you. And you won’t even know what happened. You’ll die screaming.” His voice drops to an anguished whisper. “Everyone always dies screaming.”
He had fallen to his knees, ripping his shirt open and the people pushed away from him in horror of his flesh. Festering wounds gaped at everyone, the four sharp and vicious cuts, swollen an diseased were shocking. The little girl in her father’s arms was crying.
The boy raised his haunted eyes to the heavens and Zoe was shaken to see the sky reflected in them, serene and crystal-blue, too perfect a sky for a day like this. Too perfect a colour for his pain.
Something flickered in his eyes, a spec of sanity, a grounding thought. He raised himself off the ground, assuming that unnatural stillness. Little boy eyes landed on the face of his mother.
No one saw the gun held between pages of the bible. It was as if everything happened in slow motion.
The book fluttering to the ground. His hand raising to his head. Steel gleaming in the sunlight. His mother’s scream. Zoe’s whispered objection. The book hitting the ground sending up a cloud of dust. The click of a cocking gun. The thud of a bullet and the boy falling to his knees, blood tramping the dust cloud like crimson rain.
Serenity – River’s bedroom
She doesn’t follow him, but kneels to watch his body sail down into the black; his little boy eyes open wide and impossibly blue even as the dark consumes him.
She feels a hand drawing her away from the edge. She turns to find herself looking at a familiar face.
The golden one dissipates into a thousand humming lights that brush by River’s skin like an invisible wind. She shivers, and nods to nothing in particular.
She’s standing alone on the edge again, the darkness beneath has sunk back deeper into the bowels of the ‘verse. A voice carries a message to her and she extends her hands for it to settle in her palm, her very own divine intervention.
“Seek out the light, and by that light you shall make your way.”
Pandora – Centre Town
“Drive Jayne.” Mal’s voice is cold and dead. He doesn’t look at anyone, just stares into nothingness, cold and frightening. Zoe sits silently in the back, fury and pain burning her eyes.
Uncharacteristically, Jayne listens. Grunting, he navigates them through the crowd of people who have begun to mourn.
They ride in silence a while; only when the town disappears in a cloud of dust behind them does Mal swear. It’s particularly foul and harsh and Zoe cannot find it within herself to disagree.
“Zoe? Mal? What’s your ETA?” Wash’s worried voice comes over the line.
“Wash, we’ll be in the hangar bay in about ten minutes. Get ready to get the hell off of this rock.”
Something in the Captain’s voice reaches Wash and he confirms without further questions and goes about preparing Serenity to fly.
Slowly, Mal turns his head to look at Zoe, who face still reflects the ridges of her anger.
“Gorram it, Zoe!” He wants to go on, to say something, but the absolute ice of her eyes stops him. Zoe doesn’t turn her scary on for no reason and she has never turned it on Mal. Her eyes hold his for a second and he knows what she is thinking. He nods his understanding and turns to keep his own council.
Serenity surfaces throughout the sand clouds ahead and Mal’s heart lifts at the sight of her bulk.
Refuge. Safety. Home.
Pandora – Aboard Serenity
“Kaylee, get down to the hangar, help them unload quickly.” Wash is all business, trying to keep his worries at bay.
Caught unawares in the public sitting area, having a laugh with Simon, Kaylee sits up.
“We got trouble?” It wouldn’t be different from any other time.
“No trouble far’s I can say. Captain wants to leave in a hurry.”
She hears something unsaid in his voice and the worry lines crease her nose. Simon flashes her a look of concern and she squeezes his hand.
“I’ll grab my med kit and meet you down there.” Silently she nods and not looking at him again, rushes out.
Simon slides the door to his quarters quietly, trying to not wake River up. His hand reaches for his medical bag when with a rustle of covers; River sits up in her bead, dark eyes shining in the dim room.
“No one’s bleeding.”
Simon is bracing himself against the doorframe, heart beating too fast, breath all but gone out of him.
“What?” His brain is too muddled for clear thinking and he blinks rapidly at her still form.
“No one’s bleeding.”
Simon’s head clears slightly and he regains his balance. For a moment, they stare at each other and then as suddenly as she sat up, River lies down again under the blankets, barely visible under the covers.
But Simon is already rushing out of the room, med bag in hand.
He’s gone when River’s head peeps up from under the covers. Her voice is a clear staccato in the darkened room and so comes out haunting and ethereal.
“You can’t fix what’s wrong.”
Orbit of Ariel
The space station is a globe of swirling lights. In the deep recesses of space it looks like a giant ball of white fire. She has given her ID over to the doc yard personnel; her files are being vetted and processed for docking.
The uneasy sense of apprehension settles over her just as the voice on the vid com calls her back to reality.
“Phoenix-7, please prepare for docking.”
She inputs the information and sits back as the space station grids lock onto her ship and she is pulled in. The level of her apprehension rises as Phoenix comes to a complete stop. The smiling face and chipper voice of the docking clerk reach her again.
“Docking successful, air lock secure. Welcome back to St. Jude’s Dawn Summers.”
She nods at the vid screen and smiles. She knows it doesn’t reach her eyes, but she hopes the clerk cannot tell.
Taking a deep breath she heads towards the exist, stopping to glance in the mirror. Even although she knows the vanity to be pointless, superficial habits, even needless ones such as this, die-hard. She practices a smile for her reflection.
“You’ll do. Here goes.”
The latch opens, the air and noise rushes in. As she waits for the door to lift fully the dark silhouette on the other side begins to come to life.
She first sees the polished shoes and the black pants, perfectly draped and creased at the front. Black jacket and smooth pale skin gleam at her. Familiar brown eyes settle on hers with a sense of gladness and unease, both of which are feelings of her own.
They stay like that for a moment, taking each other in, making no sudden moves. He breaks first. Strides towards her, wraps her in his arms and even though she is telling herself to resist, her arms go around him and she inhales his scent. Memories flood her, and for the first time in quiet a while, a genuine smile blooms on her face.
He exhales into her hair, still not letting her go least she flit away again, and draws her away from him to get a good look at her.
“I am glad you have come home, kiddo.”
“Don’t call me kiddo.”
“I’m glad you’re home, Dawn.”
She lets the comfort of his embrace settle her in, exhales a decidedly weary breath and tightens her own embrace.
“I’m glad I’m home too Angel.”
T’ien N’yao – Sky Bird