Monday, June 6, 2011

Malcolm Reynolds Vs. Caleb (Parts 25- Finale)

We've come to the end of this strange journey into the Joss Whedon Universe. I began this project so I could guiltlessly ignore my novel, The Last Rike, which currently hoovers around 42,000 words. What I found was an exciting and compelling story that needed to complete because I needed to know how it would end. I wasn't sure where this story would go or if it was a waste of time, but all that uncertainty has gone by the wayside as I post this. I hope you enjoy the last installment of MALCOLM REYNOLDS VS. CALEB.
THE STORY SO FAR: Mal finally faces off with Caleb and tosses him out into the depths of space. Later now, after the facts of Inara's death settle in, Mal falls into a depression. Meanwhile, the crew believed that the worst was over with the departure of Caleb, but they were wrong.

Reavers blasted through the black, toward Serenity at a haphazard pace. Ashen smoke billowed from the dying ships in long, swirling clouds. Mal was gone to the world, drunken and unconscious. Numb silence overcame the rest of Serenity’s crew. Zoe had been terribly shaken by the reappearance of her husband. She sobbed in the privacy of her bunk. Jayne heard her from his bunk and was stung by it. He found himself outside her doorway, hesitating to rap his knuckles against the metal when the Reavers came into view.
Panic washed through the cockpit where Kaylee, Simon and River sat, peering into the infinite darkness. Emerging from the starless black, at the edge of space, a flickering pinpoint came. It raged through the sky, nearly tumbling toward Serenity. The hull was pierced and torn and flames licked into nothingness. River at the controls, changed the course of the ship, forcing it away from the hellish sight. Death was on that ship and she could feel their minds screaming at her. Simon saw it first, saw he was losing her. Her face was turning ashen white and her hands trembled on the yokes. Tears were welling in her eyes.
“River, stay with me.” He said, placing his hand on her shoulder. Alarms chimed all around them and Kaylee gasped, looking into a blipping screen.
“They’re gaining on us. Three of them.” Simon attempted to make a connection with River, make her steady. He prayed to deities he didn’t believe in that she could be steady. He wasn’t sure if she had found her way into his mind or he’d found his way into her mind, but he saw through her eyes.
Blood and scream was all he could see and hear. Death, so much death. Simon fell to the floor, gasping at the horrors he saw. Simon began to scream.
River looked to Kaylee and to the screens she stood before. Kaylee started toward the writhing Simon.
“Kaylee, no!” River barked. Her hands were now steady on the yokes and her eyes were steely.
“I need you down in the engine.” She said. Simon kicked and gasped, his mouth frothed and his eyes welled with tears. Kaylee stood still and half-dazed, her eyes locked on Simon’s unfettered horror.
“They’re coming. You saw it yourself. We’ll die if you don’t go down to the engine room. We’re going to try a Crazy Ivan.”
“What?” Kaylee asked, weakly.
“You’ve seen how they’re moving. I know you have because I know.”
“They’re running on broken equipment. The lead ship only has one engine and is working close to exploding.”
“None of them will be able to handle a sharp turn. We can get away, but I need you.” Kaylee paused for a moment, staring down at Simon and then she was gone, running down the halls.
Serenity jostled violently as a Reaver harpoon punched into Serenity and ripping a chunk of metal away. Jayne swore in Mandarin as he crushed to the ground and rolled about. Zoe emerged from her bunk at the sound and stared down to Jayne.
“What going on?” She asked.
“I’m not sure. Mal’s locked up in his bunk. Drunk off his ass and River’s behind the wheel up there. Not sure if that was the best of ideas.” Overhead, speakers hidden within the walls crackled into life and River’s voice sounded.
“We’ve got Reavers. We’re going to attempt a Crazy Ivan. All available hands should help out Kaylee in the engine room, brace yourself or get smashed up when turn about.” Jayne’s face went pale at the word, “Reaver” and he was apprehensive about River’s piloting skills. He had less confidence about his own skill, so he wasn’t about to wrest the controls away from her. Doom crept up his spine as Zoe walked and he limped down the hall. He was heading to the cockpit and she was heading to help Kaylee prepare for the maneuver. The two was soon to part when Jayne stopped her, taking her by the wrist with a gentle grasp. She gazed into his eyes and the words caught in his throat.
“What?” Zoe asked forcefully, but not unkindly. Her tone made it harder for him to articulate what he wanted to say, but then he did what he always done. He was a man of action, not of words. He pressed his lips against her and explained everything he meant with that kiss.
The two parted from one another and Zoe stared with such unabashed confusion. They stood in silence for a while as the ship jostled and bucked. The Reavers were coming, but for that moment neither could care. They stood frozen in time and then time sprung forward at double-speed. Zoe was far gone, hurrying down the hallway and out of Jayne’s sight. Jayne moved in silence to the cockpit, unsure of what to make of what had just happened.
Mal felt the bucks and turns of the ship as River evaded the pursuing Reaver ships, but he plainly didn’t care. Inara was there, with him or something that seemed like Inara. She whispered such lovely thoughts to him and he lapped them up like a puppy dog does gravy. He attempted to draw his fingers through her hair, but he felt nothing, both literally and in a figurative sense. He couldn’t quite smell her scent, but he remembered it all the same. She laid, stretched across his bed beside him, smiling. He was smiling as well. He was welling to be lied to, if only for a moment. He’d understood Inara’s death, but he wasn’t ready to accept it.
The First hadn’t been up to its regular treats with Mal, most likely because it expected everyone on Serenity to be made familiar with a Biblical style massacre. Mal was surrendering by slow degrees, his eyes drooping lower and lower. He fell unconscious, into the incorporeal realm of dreaming. He was back on Shadow. Dust laden wind caressed his cheeks like a lover’s touch and the tall grass swayed from side to side. The sun beamed down on him and he stared across a golden plain to a freshly painted farmhouse. He turned onto a secluded dirt road and was soon joined by a man who looked much like himself.
“Shepherd.” He said, neighborly.
“Malcolm, good to see you home.”
“Ain’t looking to be around too long. I got myself a ship and a crew.”
“But your ship’s beat to hell. Your crew’s dying one at a time. You’ll be back here, soon enough. If you’re not dead, of course.”
“I’m trying like hell.”
“Like you were trying on Maranda? Wash died, there. Shepherd Book before that. So many good men and women died and died under your command. You’re carrying a torch that has been extinguished long ago. It’s about time you hang up the Brown coat, maybe?”
“Really? That easy?” Mal looked to the opposite side of the Priest. Shepherd Book peered back at him with tired mournful eyes.
“We’ve lost the battle.” Mal said, looking to the farmhouse.
“You’re starting to sound like him. Explain, what’s the difference between you and him?” Book asked.
“ I don’t know. I’ve killed my fair share of people. Man who hadn’t done nothing to me, but were in the wrong place.” The wind kicked up and the dust masked the three men’s faces.
“ I wouldn’t look back.” The other Shepherd said. Mal did anyway and a long precession of dead men followed the three. Mal remembered all of them, every soldier he lead over a hill to die, every men he shot dead for being too heavy while he was trying to escape, every friend who closed their eyes, forever more. Mal looked back to the farmhouse.
“What do you believe in, Mal?”
“Nothing anymore.”
“Don’t you? Not the friends you have? Not the family you have?” Book asked, pausing slightly after saying ‘family.’ Mal looked to Book.
“You feel the jostling, don’t said you don’t. I’m technically you and I feel it. That’s the ship being brought down by Reavers while Serenity’s Captain lays drunk in his bunk. Something seems wrong with that.”
“They’re already dead.”
“Not yet.” Mal said. His eyes opened and Inara was gone. The First was gone.
The Crazy Ivan was ready and the crew was braced together, praying that River and Kaylee’s assumption was correct, that they could get away. Kaylee and Zoe waited for River’s command. Jayne secured the writhing Simon into a chair without ever asking what had happened to him. A fair guess might have been that Jayne didn’t care, but that wasn’t it. River knew it and Jayne wasn’t really trying to hide it. The truth was that this one move could easily leave them all killed and skinned like rabbits. Asking questions were only a distraction and the answer only would matter if they lived afterward. River had him flip toggles and pull levers. He had done his best and River kept her patience.
Mal clomped into the cockpit, sweaty and red nosed. He had a sick daze to him, but his eyes were steely focused.
“Thanks for joining us. We’re about to die.” Jayne said, bracing himself in the doorway after he entered. Mal peered about the blipping lights and flicking needles.
“We going for a Crazy Ivan. Our fuels a little low for that. Got ideas about that?” River dropped her finger on a Radar screen, indicating the lead Reaver ship.
“Me and Kaylee are thinking this one’s over-running its engines. We’re hoping it’ll blow trying to get at us, taking the other two with it.”
“Drawing them in for that?”
“Of course. It’d be easier with two pilots.”
“That’s where I’m useful.” Mal said, taking the co-pilot’s seat and grasping the yokes.
As River had hoped, the lead ship’s engine did blow as power was moved to the engines. The left engine spun around and Serenity wrenched in the other direction. The ship leaped up and the three Reaver ships ascended upward like starved crocodiles in the adventure movies of yore. The first blew in its attempt and took out the second ship, the third lurched away to the left and spun wild. Serenity blasted forward, first on its own engine and then on the explosion. The ship spun wild over and over before River and Mal could right her.
Something had been knocked loose in the maneuver and sparks washed everyone in the cockpit. The fizzled on River’s shoulders and her head slumped on the yokes and she fell to one side, blood draining from her nose. Mal caught her before she could hit the floor and Simon sprang and took her from him. He rested his ear between her breasts and then relief washed over his face.
“The medical bay is out of commission. We need to get her somewhere for medical attention.” Mal pressed a comm. button and called from Kaylee.
“We’re going to be limping along, Captain.” She said.
“Can you do me any better?”
“The Crazy Ivan caused a little hell down here, but I’ll see what I can do.”
Serenity limped along through the swelling black with fears of the undestroyed Reaver ship. The air grew thin and the plan became to abandon the ship once she wouldn’t take them any further. They’d pile into the remaining shuttle and they’d fly until that ship could take them further and then they’d probably die.
By whatever benevolent forces that oversaw the path of stars and the fate of battered man, Mal found a vague blip on his Radar. Out that far, where the starlight was such a distant memory, no one was doing even dealings. Mal had Jayne prepare his nicest guns in case their saviors were at all squirrelly.
Their saviors turned out to be smugglers moving stolen protein and counterfeit Russian Nesting Dolls. They towed Serenity back onto the edge after some extensive haggling. Mal lost all of his cargo, but gained the lives of himself and his crew’s lives. Serenity rested on one of the older, outer rim planets and they pulled a couple jobs to get Serenity sky-worthy. The crew lifted off and out into space, flying hurt, but true.
Life on Serenity didn’t change much, but also changed beyond description. Misery weighed on all their hearts, but was eased by each other. Zoe and Jayne left their kiss back in Reaver space, though they both thought of it and they were more tender with each other.
Kaylee and Simon carried on as they did, though Simon would wake in the dead of night, shivering as he remembered being inside the tempestuous mind of a dozen Reavers. He understood the pan his sister had gone through over and over again. He had given her stability, so she could save the ship.
River found herself, barefooted in the co-pilot’s seat listening to Malcolm Reynolds philosophized about freedom of space travel and the love of a good ship. She never let on that she knew about the sorrow and doubt in his heart. Neither he, nor she knew what turned the First Evil away, though they both had theories like fragmented machinery. Mal figured that whatever the First evil was, it was only talk without someone to do the breaking for it. Everybody on Serenity had gotten wise to its mind games, so it turned tail. River thought the entity might have been made of cruelty and the worst of mankind and when Mal got up to aid his crew when it would have been easier to die, it was forcibly expunged. She stayed by his side, letting him know that he was not alone.
The crew of Serenity flew like a leaf on the wind as Wash once said, moving on and closer together.


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