Malcolm Reynolds Vs. Caleb (Unabridged)

“Caleb?” The sound curled through the air like sweet, sweet cotton candy. It was the most beautiful thing Caleb had heard in a very long time. And it wasn’t that this voice was the only voice he’d heard in centuries. It wasn’t that this was the voice of a little harlot he’d put on the end of a knife back when he was alive. It was that the First and most Purest form of Evil had not abandoned him like he had feared. The First had come for him. It’s power pulled his consciousness together like mercury and soon he was with form. He could see his hands and he could feel the first filling him with its strength. He attempted to fill his lungs with air, but none would come.
“Yeah. You’ll have to wait a spell for that. We’re a little ways away from any air. Don’t you worry yourself, though. No harm will come to you while I got you.” The first said.
“That is a comfort.” Caleb attempted to say, but with no air, there was no way for him to make noise.
“Yeah. That too.” The first made a girlish giggle that was an abomination to all laughter.
“So how is this supposed to work?” Caleb thought to himself.
“I thought that would be obvious, Caleb.”
“Of course.” Caleb thought. “What would you have of me?”
“I want you to see something. Close your eyes for me.” The first said with a seductive drawl.
“Open or close. It might be the same difference out here.” The former preacher peered deep into a vast black nothingness.
“Believe me, it’s better if your eyes are closed.” Caleb did as he was bid. Like he suspected, there was no difference between the black he saw with his eyes open than the black he saw with his eyes closed.
“You can open them now.” Caleb, again, did as he was bid. Now he was standing in a room filled with screaming and fighting. Bloodied men with axes and swords were being chopped down like wheat at harvest time. More over, the one doing the chopping was a little girl. She might have been about eighteen, if that. Her wavy, dark hair fanned out in arcs as she spun around the men’s attempts to end her. One by one, she fell them all and made it look like art. She was horribly still as the last of the men dropped to the ground. Blood spattered up either of her arms and marred her sundress.
“Slayer.” Caleb thought.
“I don’t blame you for thinking that, Caleb. No, she is something else. The slayers died out when the world died, but that’s all old news.”
“Not for me. When did the world die?”
“A long time from now. The humans didn’t need my help for an apocalypse after all.”
“I’m sure you could have done a better job at it than they ever did.”
“I’m sure I could.”
“Another question. You’re sure she ain’t a Slayer. She’s looking a hell of a lot like one.”
“I’m sure, Caleb.” The first said, sounding vaguely annoyed.
“I’m not afraid mind you. It’s just that the last Slayer I came up against sliced me from my balls to my neck. That will give any man pause.”
“Caleb, don’t be crude.”
“Fair enough.”
“Caleb, I want her. I want her in the worst way and I send you forth to gather her for me.”
“I haven’t been doing much lately, anyway.”
Jayne was doing in his bunk, what everyone assumed he did in his bunk when he was alone when the first appeared as an old friend.
“Christ, Jayne!” The first cried, turning his incorporeal head away from the large man. Jayne snatched up his pants and threw his blanket and pillow over his lap for good measure. A long string of Mandarin curses poured from Jayne’s mouth before he recognized the man standing before him.
“Wash?” Jayne said softly. His mouth fell open.
“You think they make bleach for eyes. If not, I’d have to settle for taking them out with a fork.” The first said.
“Wash, you’re dead.” Jayne said.
“Yes. That would be a way of thinking of it.”
“No. There ain’t no two ways about it. You got a big hunk of metal through your chest a while back.”
“Jayne, I’m aware. It hurt like hell, but here I stand, traumatized by your …that.”
“Your wife, Zoe. She don’t realize it, but I can hear her crying at night sometimes, alone in her bunk.”
“She’s hurting. I’ve seen. She has a hole in her that I need you to help me fill.”
“You asking me to sleep with your wife?” The first let out a string of Mandarin curses himself.
“No, Jayne. This hole isn’t literal. I need you to help bring me back to life. Next time the cockpit is empty, I need you to redirect the ship.”
“Why you ain’t talking to Mal about this. Why not your wife? Why me?”
“Because Mal, Zoe, River, Simon, Kaylee, they’re all going to sleep peacefully when they die. As much as we didn’t get along in life, I still wouldn’t wish what’s coming for you when you catch a bullet one of these days.”
“What do you mean?”
“The dead are eager to have you, Jayne. You’ve wronged a lot of men. Bad men, most of them, but men with grudges they all remain.” The first transformed into a dirty looking man with one eye gone.
“You shot me, Jayne. You shot me in the back over ten credits.”
The first transformed again, his face growing an eye where there was none. The face grew cleaner, more handsome.
“You shot me over five.” The first transformed again, a massive beard sprouting from his chin and stretching down his chest.
“You didn’t waste a bullet on me. You just left me drifting in a dead ship with only half an hour of air left. I didn’t die well.”
“It’ just like in those Christmas stories.” The first said, turning back into Wash. “You’re a bad man, Jayne and hell is waiting for you. I want to save you from that. One good deed. One great deed can make up for the sins of the past.”
“You sound like Shepherd Book.”
“The Shepherd was a wise man. You know what I’m saying to be true. Jayne, save yourself. Save me. Help me hold my wife again.”
“Where am I redirecting the ship to?” Jayne asked, his gaze directed at the ground.
“Straight into the edge of space, where the Reavers are.”
“Reavers!” Jayne shouted. He repented and repeated it as a whisper. “Reavers.”
“I don’t like it either. I don’t want my friends, my wife anywhere near there, but we don’t have a choice.”
“If I’m sending us into Revere Territory, I got to let the others know. It ain’t right to lead them into a fight, blind.”
“I have found my way across death. I’m the best pilot this ship has ever seen. Don’t worry about fighting with Reavers. I can get you where you need to be without ever having them notice.”
“You’re sure of that.”
“I am.” The first said, offering Jayne a smile.
“That ain’t good.” Mal said, staring at Serenity’s navigation coordinates. “That is very not good.” The coordinates had been locked and he hadn’t the foggiest idea of how to undo what was done. He had no idea of where to start. He was split between two thoughts, racing down the hallways in search of River and staying put and figuring the problem out. He was getting nowhere with the latter, but River had found thousands of little nooks and crannies to hide in on Serenity. He’d spend his time better looking for a needle in a haystack. The thought came to him all at once and he was racing down the hallways screaming Kaylee’s name.
She was normally where he could find her and she’d be at least a little useful in this situation. He spilled into the engine room and then screamed out in horror. Kaylee and Simon scrambled to untangle themselves from one another and gather their clothing. Mal kept his gaze toward the doorway.
“Captain…I…I.. was just helping Kaylee…”
“Simon, I will shoot you if you talk to me without pants on.” Simon silenced himself at once, hurrying into his black slacks.
“What seems to be the problem, Captain?” Kaylee asked, laughing slightly at Simon’s discomfort.
“Somebody, probably your moon-brained sister…” Mal said, pointing a finger at Simon. “…locked coordinates to god knows where. I don’t like it when my boat does things I didn’t tell it to do.”
“I’ll go up and see what I can do, Captain.” Kaylee said, skirting pass Mal.
“Simon, see if you can’t find out where your sister is. Maybe she can undo what she’s done.”
“If she did it.” Simon added.
“Go find her, please.” Mal said. Simon moved past him and down the hallway. Mal took a moment to process what he’d just seen and then he was off to the cockpit to see what could be done.
The cockpit was the way he had left it, completely empty. Kaylee had a head start, should have been in by now, working the problem, but she wasn’t. Little did Mal know, she was near, just unconscious.
“I wish I didn’t have to do that.” Jayne said, tucking Kaylee into a crate like a parent might tuck in a child.
“I know it.” The first said, grimacing down at Kaylee. “But she was the only one that could undo what we’ve done. She’ll wake up with a headache, I swear. You didn’t hit her that hard.”
“Still don’t feel right.” Jayne said, closing the crate.
“You’ll feel better about it in time.” The first said.
“What did you have me do to those lifeboats?” Jayne asked.
“Just me being nit-picky. I’d been after Mal to make minor repairs on them. The things that bother you when you’re dead.”
Serenity drifted like a leaf on the wind as Wash once said, moving ever closer to Reaver space. Mal and Zoe fumbled with the navigational controls, trying their hardest to stop what would happen anyway. Kaylee slept securely in her hiding place and Simon called looked for River in all the places he knew she liked to hide. River couldn’t hear his calls, because she had her hands clasped over her ears. Dead people were whispering horrible things to her.
Serenity arrived at her destination after Mal had ordered the crew into the lifeboats and came to realize that both had been disabled. Mal had the sense that he’d led his crew to the gallows. Though, he had no idea what it was, he was sure he’d failed them. They were coming on Death. That notion might have been close enough to the truth, but it didn’t look like Death when they came upon it. It looked like Mal, only dressed up like a Shepherd.
Zoe and Mal stared stupidly out of the view port.
“Captain, what are you doing outside the ship?”
“I ain’t outside the ship. I’m here.”
“That fella out there looks a hell of a lot like you.”
“Not really. The hairs all wrong.”
“Yeah, but not by much.”
“Why would we be hijacked, only to find somebody floating out in the black?”
“I can’t say I know, Captain.”
“This has just been a weird day.”
“Well, besides this. I saw Kaylee and Simon naked.”
“We need to institute some sort of early awareness system for those two. Like a necktie on the doorknob.”
“Except Serenity don’t have doorknobs. Just a weird day.”
“I can scan him, make sure he’s just a dead body in space.
“Do that. Then bring him aboard. Fella that good looking should have a proper burial.”
“The body could be full of bombs.”
“Yeah. The scans should pick that up. If he is, leave him be.”
“Yes, sir.”
Jayne wasn’t aware that he was getting on Zoe’s nerves. Jayne had heard that they’d found a man in space, one that was still alive. He wanted to see. He wanted Zoe to see. He was as excited as a child on Christmas morning. Confusion plastered across his face when he saw who they’d brought in.
“That ain’t Wash.” Jayne said aloud.
“What?” Zoe asked. She looked like she’d been slapped in the face. “What do you mean ‘That ain’t Wash?”’ Jayne went pale.
“Why the hell would it be?” Zoe asked. Moisture was welling in her big brown eyes, but rage was festering as well. Jayne tried to summon words, but none would come.
“Get the hell away from me, Jayne.”
Jayne hurried away, moving back to his bunk.
“You are dumb.” The first said with a biting sort of glee.
“What the hell was that?” Jayne said angrily. “Who the hell is that and why does he look like Mal?”
“How do you managed to breathe, you stupid ape?” The first was laughing openly now. Jayne swung at him and his hand went, harmlessly, through the incorporeal Wash. Jayne’s fist slammed into a metal wall and a loud crack issued into the silence. He’d just broken his own hand.
“Every single, last person on this boat is going to die, Jayne. It’s all thanks to you.” The first said, before disappearing into the shadows.
Caleb awoke on Simon’s table. His arms were bound down and he was feeling swimmy in the head.
“Morning, or Evening. It gets difficult to tell when you’re not orbiting a star.” Simon said, while washing his hands. “I gave you a sedative for any pain you might be feeling. Deep space isn’t good for your health.”
“And the restraints?” Caleb asked.
“Strangers tend not to be good for our health. Somebody ends up getting shot, or stabbed. One time, a stranger stranded the Captain in the middle of the desert, naked.”
“Good policy, then.” Caleb said, ripping the restraints out from the bed in one smooth motion. “You know, in theory.” Caleb stood and then stumbled to one side, holding his head.
“You gave me the good stuff, didn’t you.” Caleb fell to one knee. Simon picked up a scalpel.
“That’s brave of you, but I’d recommend running. Once the room stops spinning I’m gong to snap your neck like a chicken bone.” Simon took the advice and skirted around the preacher. Caleb vomited on the Medical bay floor.
Simon raced down the halls, his footfalls echoing through the narrow spaces and straight into Jayne. He cradled Kaylee in his arms. He was favoring his left hand. His right was clumsily bandaged.
“Kaylee.” Simon said in a near whisper. “What happened to her?”
“She bumped her head. I think she’ll be okay.” Simon brushed back her hair and pried apart her eyelids.
“Minor concussion. You’re right. Give her to me.” Jayne deposited Kaylee in Simon’s arms. “Go tell Mal that the man we brought in is awake and hostile.” Jayne did as he was bid.
Jayne arrived breathless in the cockpit, his favorite gun under his arm. Mal and Zoe were fiddling with the navigation control and Mal yelled out as sparks issued from the terminal.
“Simon says the Shepherd’s up and acting crazy.”
“So you’re going to shoot him?” Zoe asked.
“Seems like a good idea.”
“How crazy is crazy?” Mal asked.
“Crazy enough that Simon left running.”
“The three of us will go down, see if we can’t cool him down some.” Mal said, getting up from under the terminal.
The three of them arrived in the medical bay with blasters in hand. Caleb was hunched over on the examination table with his arm holding his stomach.
“Hello, My name is Malcolm Reynolds. I’m Captain of this here boat. I’d like to have a word with you.”
“What word would that be?” Caleb said, puling himself erect.
“Probably words about how one might treat his rescuers…”
“Words about why you have The Captain’s face and why we were led straight to you.” Zoe added.
“He does not have my face.”
“I don’t know about that. There is a resemblance. If it bothers you, though. I don’t mind smashing it in for you.”
“Comments like that make us not what to play nice.” Mal said.
“I don’t play at all.” Caleb’s threat lost credibility when he attempted to walk. He was all stumbling feet and flailing arms. Mal, Zoe and Jayne resisted the urge to laugh. Caleb got close enough to strike and he did. He sent the three of them flying into the opposite wall.
“Somebody start shooting, please.” Mal yelled. He found himself at the bottom of a pile of writhing limbs. Jayne was near sitting on his chest. Zoe was the first to fire and Caleb roared with pain as he fell back into the depths of the medical bay. Jayne was the second to fire, but that was more reactionary. His shots punched into the wall. Mal got up and drew his pistol. He moved forth before the other two and got a foot to the chest for his bravery. He flew past the other two and Zoe and Jayne opened fire.
“I’m tired of being hit!” Mal screamed out, getting back up on his feet. Caleb was getting up for the second time.
“Captain, He’s getting up more times than a shot man should.” Jayne called. Mal popped a few shots into Caleb.
“Just keep shooting him, he’ll get the point.”
“I don’t think so. I’m a slow learner.” Caleb said and then he threw the examination table at them.
Mal, Zoe and Jayne groaned under a pile of twisted metal and broken glass. Mal freed himself from under Jayne for the second time and limped down the hall. Mal had a gash across his forehead and his ribs were feeling tender, but he was on his feet. That was good enough for him. Caleb had left the three for the rest of the ship. There was a fair concern, in Mal’s mind, that Caleb was up to some sort of mischief. At least, the bullets had done some good. A dotted trail of blackish crimson snaked the hallway leading away from the medical bay. At least they hurt him.
Mal found Caleb panting by Inara’s shuttle. Caleb had beads of sweat creeping down his brow and blood dripped from his fingertips. Hate bristled on his face and Mal saw what he’d look like if he were an animal. This man he’d pulled from space wasn’t a man at all. Mal plugged him twice and a third time as he snaked his way into Inara’s shuttle. She wasn’t there, fortunately. Mal rose his gun as footsteps thudded toward him. It was Jayne. He was puffing and grimacing, favoring his right leg. It’d have to be set in a cast.
“He in there?” He asked, hefting his favorite gun.
“Zoe.” The First whispered. “Zoe.” He called again.
Zoe opened her big brown eyes. Her gun was somewhere else. Somewhere far from her hand and she couldn’t quite remember why she needed it.
“Zoe.” The First cooed. Zoe turned her head, it was difficult to do so. She’d been moved from where she’d hit the wall. She’d been arranged so she’d be comfortable.
“Zoe.” The First said again.
“Wash?” Zoe said with a shuttering voice. The First formed a smile that could have had love, but really razor sharp teeth hid behind those lips.
“You’re very close now. You’re so close to me.” The First said. “Come to me, baby.” Zoe felt fresh tears welling in her eyes.
“Come to me.” The First cooed. “Look there.” The First guided her gaze to a scalpel that laid close to her hand.
“Come to me.” The First said.
“I think that they got him out of the medical bay.” Simon said to Kaylee.
“It was Jayne. Somebody’s talking to him.” Kaylee said as the two of them hurried their way to the medical bay. Blaster fire echoed through the halls, but that was behind them. More blaster fire sounded before them, along with Zoe’s roars. They arrived to see Zoe fire her gun into empty air. Her brow was furrowed in hurt and anger. She was shaking in anger and tears were rolling down her cheeks in steady streams. Kaylee put her arms around her and held her as she sobbed, making cooing noises.
“I saw him.” She whispered. “I saw him.”
Simon surveyed the damage. Everything was gone, smashed thoroughly. He predicted that this would be the worst time to not have medical supplies.
“Having trouble?” The First asked.
“Don’t you come to me as that bitch.” Caleb said through raspy breaths. The First had taken the form of a thin blonde with pouting lips. The girl had died along, but not before killing Caleb and thwarting the First Evil.
“You’re not forgetting who controls who, right?” The First asked.
“No. I’m just a little cross because I’ve been shot up so much. Ain’t exactly fun I’m having.”
“Well, while you were getting shot up, I’ve been working on your backup. She should be around shortly.”
“You ready?” Jayne asked Mal. Mal was more concerned about how handy Jayne would be with his bum leg. They both had their guns raised and ready for the fight ahead of them, which meant they were completely unprepared for the fight behind them. River disarmed Jayne first, driving her foot into his bad leg and then popping him in the throat and lastly, she drove her knee into his solaplex. He fell back, puffing and moaning. By this time, Mal had time to realize that something had happen. Mal got an elbow in the throat and a foot in the groin. He dropped to his knees. River gripped Jayne’s gun, but didn’t fire. Mal fell over to one side and that seemed to be enough for her.
Caleb limped into the hallway and River gripped him around the waist, beginning to sob.
“Mal, They’re everywhere. They’re trying to get in my head.” Caleb was tentative about the small girl gripping him so tightly, but he slowly wrapped his arms around her.
“You stick with me, darling. We’ll get them all.”
Zoe stood up on unsteady legs, rubbing tears from her eyes. Kaylee tried to help her, but she pushed the girl away, putting her palm on the girl’s shoulder and applying not unkind force to it. Kaylee put her arms around herself and watched as Zoe stumbled toward the doorway. Simon was sifting through the wreckage of the medical bay.
“Any idea where the Captain went?” Zoe asked, clearing her throat and peering down the hall.
“Not sure. The action moved out toward Inara’s ship, probably there.” Kaylee said, watching Zoe with concern. Simon drew in an excited breath and Zoe and Kaylee turned to look at him. He gave an embarrassed look and showed them a small, black leather bag about the shape and size of a bible.
“Not everything is broken.” Simon said shyly.
“What is it?” Kaylee asked.
“Just some antibiotics and sedatives. Nothing, really.” He dropped the hand holding the bag.
“He was walking funny, like he was drunk.” Zoe said, looking back down the hall.
“The man we brought in? Yeah, I administered a sedative.”
“Would that do the same thing?” Zoe asked.
“Something like it, yes.”
“Than we’re going to visit your patient.”
Sparks popped down onto Caleb’s chest. The First had him and River go into Inara’s shuttle. He wasn’t much for machinery, a priest and murderer by profession, and he made his frustration known. It wasn’t really his fault either. He was being asked to work with technology a handful of centuries more advanced than anything he’d ever seen. He growled as he tried to undo what the First had had Jayne do earlier. The First whispered instructions, which Caleb found more and more difficult to take.
“You are a special kind of guy, aren’t you.” The First said, a hollow smile stretched across its face.
River sat in a corner, wiping silently with her hands over her head, a small bit of cruelty on the First’s part. The First had the ability to appear to a singular person, to whispering, to corrupt. The First hadn’t chosen to do this. No, the First decided to allow River to see it as Wash and to see it as Wash with a sucking chest wound, complete with dribbles of blood. This wasn’t the fully extent of the First’s cruelty. River had barricaded the door with Inara’s old furniture. She’d seen hordes of the undead gnashing and clawing at her. Blackish brown blood streams from their mouths, noses and from their eyes. They bore jagged, shattered teeth in their mouths and they looked hungry. She couldn’t understand what she was see, couldn’t rationalized how hundreds of dead people were both animated and on Serenity. The First had spared Caleb the constant sounds of ragged fingernails scratching against the metal.
The shuttle began to hum softly to life and Caleb gave a celebratory hoot.
“River, darling. We’re getting out of here.”
Mal blinked and blinked again. He smiled softly as a lovely voice spoke his name. It was Inara’s voice, though Mal wasn’t sure how that could be. Inara was gone. But he looked up to her face. Plush lips, soft skin, long, dark curls and such lovely eyes.
“Mal, you need to get up.” The news that Mal wasn’t privy to, was that Inara wasn’t there. His heart would shatter when he learned that fact.
“Mal, you need to get to the cockpit. Reavers, Mal.” Reaver knew Reavers and need to get up. What wasn’t Inara was right, if there were Reavers. He patted around, looking for his gun. His hand landed on his weapon. Where Jayne laid unconscious, Mal saw a writhing Reaver with a face striped with blood and bits of metal. He aimed the gun down at Jayne, fixing to put the Reaver out of his misery.
Jayne’s eyes cracked open to the sight of Mal aiming the gun down at him and Jayne uttered an apology for the wrongs he did. He remembered the conversation Mal and him had after the business on Ariel. Mal chose not to kill him, and Jayne knew it was a choice.
“Mal. Do it quick. It was my fault.” Jayne said softly.
He felt the blast before it came, though the blast never did. The gun exploded out from Mal’s hand and footsteps rushed toward the two of them. The world was swirling around for Jayne, but he steadied everything enough see Mal do something Jayne never thought Mal would do. Mal drove the heel of his boot into Zoe’s chest, just in time to stop Zoe from shooting Mal.
Simon screamed that Mal wasn’t the other guy, but Mal wasn’t backing down, so Zoe wasn’t either. Simon was fumbling with a black bag and fished out a needle, which he stabbed into Mal’s neck. Mal gave a scream and then collapsed to the floor.
Simon was tending to the unconscious Mal, though Jayne was the one with the bad leg. Simon hadn’t forgotten what Jayne did, nor Kaylee, nor Zoe. There was more than a little bit of bad blood flowing in the corridor. Nobody was aiming a gun at Jayne, which Jayne was grateful for. A finger might slip, accidentally on purpose. Jayne wasn’t sure how much they gleamed about his part in the matter. He wasn’t looking to hide any of it, but he would have liked to share that information with an unarmed party. He figured that if anyone would, it would be Zoe. Simon was sweet on Kaylee and Jayne attempting to sell his sister to the Alliance didn’t help the relationship the two of them had. Kaylee was probably still sore about being knocked out and stuffed in a cart.
“How many of those sedatives do you have left?” Zoe asked Simon.
“One more.” Simon said with a wilted tone. “He shouldn’t have been able to move around like he was with the sedatives that I gave him in the first place. This is weaker in comparison.”
“Will it slow him down?” Zoe asked.
“It’ll do something, I’m sure of that at least.”
“Zoe!” Jayne called. A low rumbling sounded through the hall that heralded a shuttles departure.
“Zoe! He’s in there. He’s got River in there, will him.”
“River’s in there?” Simon said, his eyes beginning to bug out of his head. He jumped up, leaving Mal to Kaylee’s care. He began banging on the porthole, leading into Inara’s shuttle. The door wouldn’t open. He screamed his little sister’s name and his calls echoed through the halls.
From the other side of the door, River couldn’t hear much of Simon’s desperate calls. Simon’s voice couldn’t carry through any ship worthy of space travel. But still, River heard him. It was a pin point of his psychic consciousness blazing light out to her. She thought his eyes and understood the world as he did. She wasn’t with Mal and the halls weren’t filled with the undead. Through his understanding, she saw the man before her and saw the bloody mess he’d made of her new family.
In the excitement and hurry, Mal hadn’t noticed that River still held Jayne’s favorite gun which was a horrific mistake considering the size of it and considering that the First was losing what control it had over her. Caleb turned to the sound of the gun cocking.
“ Such a big gun, being held by a little girl. Remember me, there darling?” Caleb said, walking casually to River.
“Ain’t no need for…” River fired twice into his stomach. It didn’t kill him, like all the other bullets didn’t him, but wasn’t her focus, he was just in the way. She fired again, blasting the shuttle’s navigation terminal. It sparked, exploded and the shuttle caught fire. Caleb stood with a wild blaze at his back. Violent arks of electricity lanced through the air and the two of them sneered at each other. Caleb was bleeding black acid and his fists were balled. River shot him again, popping him in the head. Caleb collapsed to the ground like a hog-tied bull. River went to the task of breaking down the barricade she’d made and of getting the door unlocked. The onboard computer wouldn’t allow the doors to open while the shuttle was launching, but she took care of that when she destroyed the terminal. The door swung open and she fell into Simon’s arms. She pulled away from his embrace and started toward the cockpit.
“We have to jettison the shuttle before he gets up.” She told him. She ran and Simon followed, tossing the black bag to Zoe.
It was all silence in the hall, apart from the constant crackle and buzz coming from Inara'’ newly destroyed shuttle. Zoe stood in the porthole with her gun drawn, eyeing the ruins. Smoke was bellowing into the halls, but Serenity’s carbon scrubbers and overhead extinguishers were taking care of that. Jayne was attempting to get up, though Simon might have told him it would be better to lay down.
“Zoe…” Jayne said, mournfully.
“You don’t need to.” Zoe said. “Whatever this is, it was trying to get me to kill myself back in the bay. Probably was screwing with your head, too.”
“Yeah. Made me think I could bring back your husband.” There was a long pregnant silence filled with the dying flames.
“Come to me.” Zoe said. “That’s what it kept saying.”
“Thank you.” Jayne said. “You know, for saving my life and all.” Jayne wanted to say more, but he wasn’t sure of how to say it, what it would mean if he did. So, instead he just gave up on getting up and leaned his back against the wall.
Groans and angered cries broke the silence. Zoe rose her gun and fired once, then she was knocked unconscious by a flying bit of debris. Caleb limped out of the shuttle, his eyes black and wet, like a shark’s eyes might be.

Jayne forced himself to him feet, using strength he didn’t have. He was without a gun, River had kept it for whatever reason. Jayne threw a fist and it connected, but did as much damage as if it had missed. He threw his other, broken hand and screamed in pain. Caleb stopped the screaming with a quick strike to the man’s head. Jayne fell unconscious.
Kaylee’s eye went wide at the sight of Caleb. He towered over her, shivering with rage and pain. His hissing wounds oozed black sewage that might have been blood in a human. He limped forth to her, piloting an impossibly broken body. His left leg dragged, broken at an odd angle. The defrocked priest stopped before her, forcing shuttering breaths through a collapsed chest. Caleb brushed his fingers across her face and a single tear rolled down her cheeks as she struggled to breathe. She took his touch like a slap to the face. The world had dwindled down to the two of them, in that hallway. Sounds and light drained away like water out a storm drain and Kaylee didn’t notice Mal’s eyes open.
“Kaylee?” Mal said, weakly. From his point of view, he saw her first and saw the tear roll down her cheek, second. The third thing he saw was Caleb’s horrible face soaked in black blood and bile. Mal rolled from her lap and on to his chest. Caleb caught on to Mal’s motions and a broken smile cracked across his lips. Caleb took him up by the scruff of the neck and Mal winced as he held on.
“Kaylee, you get on.” Mal said with a clumsy tongue.
“You go ahead, girl. I’ll be killing you, later.” Kaylee stood and ran, pausing shortly to see Mal peer back at her.
Mal flew like a leaf on the wind as Wash once said. And like Mal’s boat, Serenity, he slammed gracelessly into the ground below. Mal bounced off some wayward crates Mal had sworn he told somebody to stow away. The crates hurt and the metal grated floor hurt worst. Mal spat blood as Caleb descended from the catwalks where Mal had recently been launched. He still had his broken, psychotic smile plastered on his face and Mal, inexplicably, formed a red one. Mal struggled to his feet, spitting more blood out. The two men stood eye to eye, oddly broken and amused by each other.
“Had a hell of a day, hadn’t it?” Mal said.
“Some day, for sure. Back in my day, we handled things with our fists. I’m all shot up.”
“We still do, mind you. Firearms are just more handy.”
“Very true. I think I’m going to kill you now.” Caleb made a fist and Mal did what was most easy for him. He let himself collapsed to the ground, only catching himself once he was on his knees. Caleb struck down and Mal rolled away from his attempted strike. He got back to his feet and fell away as Caleb attempted to strike again. This all seemed very random and clumsy to Caleb, but Mal was wilier than any coyote ever was.
Mal fell against the far wall where the large bay doors separated the crew of Serenity from the cold of space. His hand hit the control pad and opened the inner door. Caleb hit the wall close to Mal’s head and Mal laid hands on him. With all the strength his drugged and abused muscles could muster, he wrenched Caleb through the doors. Caleb dropped to the ground, crashing against the outer doors. The inner doors lowered as Caleb got to his feet. They were separated by a thick slab of space age steel and nothing separated Caleb from the chill of space. Caleb was weightless, but still there. Mal had the fortune of taking away Caleb’s strength advantage. It’s hard to smash and break without a momentum and traction. Mal could comprehend how a man could stare back with living, black eyes from out in the black.
Mal limped slowly up the stairs and down the halls to the cockpit. Something was dislodged from the ship and jostled him some. Turned out to be Inara’s shuttle as River had planned. Mal had words with her about that, but not before they figured the mussed with wiring. The First remained uncommonly silent and Caleb had failed to hide his way in. Inertia took care of Caleb. As Serenity sped, Caleb lost his grip and disappeared into the black. The crew was soon as whole as they possibly could be, realizing what Inara’s appearance to Mal meant.
A new silence washed over the crew, marred only by sobs kept to the crier’s selves. They thought the worst had left with Caleb, but they were wrong.
Mal sat in the silence of his room with Serenity drifting through the black. Inara’s form swelled into being before him, garbed in a flowing purple gown. She sat at his knee and peered up to him with her soulful eyes.
“Get away from me.” Mal said, bitterly.
“Mal. We never had our time, did we?” Mal remained silent and still.
“I died at the Alliance’s hand. I was shot down after they came asking about you. Might have been better if I never came aboard Serenity.” Mal remained silent and still.
“I was brave. Right until the last.” Mal remained still and silent.
“I did love you, Malcolm Reynolds. For whatever that means, I did. Did you love me?” Mal’s eye turn to a half full bottle of whiskey. He had a beautiful notion of making it empty.
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.