Friday, October 23, 2009

The Seven Deaths of Malcolm Reynolds

For Jake, who comes up with the hardest writing prompts.  (For those of you wondering, Malcolm Reynolds is the name of the captain played by Nathan Fillion on the fan-favorite Firefly show.  If you don't know that, you probably won't get virtually anything that follows.  And even if you do, no guarantees.  *smirk*


      I never should have let her go, Captain Reynolds thought to himself. 
Before him, in the vast panorama of darkness and diamonds that was Serenity's forward viewport, three gleaming hulks strove vainly to escape into the deeper darkness.  The patchwork hulks bore the unmistakable jutting hulls, broken externalia, and blood-red smears found only on Reaver ships.  "Keep runnin', you gorram sǐ bùyàoliǎn sǐ guǐ!" Mal said aloud to the empty bridge.
      A year ago, before they'd discovered the origins of the Reavers on the rim world called Miranda, Reynolds never would have guessed the Reavers would run from anything.  Yet here they were, the angry corona of their unshielded drives showing their desperation to escape.
  After the incident at Miranda, the Alliance had split right down the middle.  Somebody had traced back the drugs that had made the Reavers in the first place, and used it to make a weapon that killed Reavers from a long way away.  Just a beacon, like a dog whistle that only they could hear, or so Simon had tried to explain to him.  Apparently word got out fast and the Reavers ran like rabbits out into deep space.  Most of 'em, at least.
      A few went even more crazy than they already were and decided to go out in a frenzy of blood and death, charging right into the center of what had been Alliance space.  Tons of 'em died like moths charging a campfire, or at least, that's what happened when colonies built and fielded the beacons fast enough.  But some of the colonies couldn't in time.  So many people died.
      He'd felt bad for all those colonists, but stayed well out of the way up until he'd heard a Reaver ship had taken a merchant rig where she'd been docked.  Now Mal had gotten one of those beacons for himself and he'd gone hunting.  And here before him ran the last of the fleet he'd chased for so long.
        He knew they couldn't outpace him.  He'd made Kaylee show him how to unshield Serenity's drives once he'd found out what they'd done.  Kaylee had shown him, and he'd had to close the door in her face, all their faces, at gunpoint.  Jayne, the fool, thought he'd been joking, so Mal shot him in the thigh just to prove his point; seemed the natural thing to do.  Gorram but it felt good to shoot Jayne.  Then he'd up and left them all behind.  Followed the trail of carnage, chasing them out past Alliance space until he'd caught up with them, one after another.  And now there were three.
      Suddenly, weapons fire flashed from the starboard side of one of the smaller Reaver ships.  Mal grabbed the sides of the nav console, bracing for the impact of whatever they had just unleashed.  A second later, he realized they weren't firing on Serenity, but rather on the largest of the Reaver ships.  Nice.  Small rippling explosions bloomed along its port side, culminating in a great burning mass which fled from it like so much blood.  The hulking ship's drive corona winked out and immediately it began to list.  The other two smaller vessels instantly accelerated beyond her.
      Mal cut the power to his own drive.  He had already forgotten the other two Reaver ships; this was the one he wanted.  Eyes locked on that broken hulk, he watched as it spun toward him slowly, revealing its crudely captured cargo trapped beneath it like the web-shrouded prey of some vast spider.  He could feel the fear and hate rise within him in anticipation, knowing exactly what he was about to see.
      There alongside that great Reaver ship another, smaller vessel hung, massive grappling cables holding her fast.  It was the burned out Kaddison's Glory.  All her cabin windows were dark and no doubt had been for days.  Kaddison's Glory had been taken deep inside Alliance space near Carson's World.  Mal didn't give a fig for Kaddison or her crew; they were shady men to the end and probably deserved what they got meeting the Reavers.  Well, no man deserved to fall into the claws of Reavers.  But the one he did care for--Mal's breath caught as Reaver ship completed its spin such that the full length of the captured merchant ship could be seen.  There it was, still docked on Kaddison's underbelly:  Inara's shuttle.
      Tears fell onto his clenched fists as the view burned itself into his mind.  Inara had been taken.  By Reavers.
      Unbidden, unwanted, came the memory of a kiss and he sobbed.
      Two weeks ago, she had showed him a copy of the letter she had sent to her Companion superiors, cancelling all her contracts and rescinding her status as an active, well, whore.  He couldn't believe it, he couldn't remember saying anything, but he remembered the look in her eyes, how much she'd enjoyed his luminous shock.  She was leaving everything behind to be with him.
      Then she'd broke the news to him.  One more job, and he wasn't going to like it.  "What does the job entail?"  He'd asked, not really wanting to know.  "You know I can't speak to that, Mal.  It's just one more job."  He'd just sat there, watching her leave, reeling over the kiss with which she'd silenced him.  That was the last time he saw her.  Two weeks later, he'd gotten word that Kaddison's Glory, her last 'client', had been taken.
      He mopped his face with his sleeve and noticed it was wet with more than just tears.  His nose was bleeding badly.  His ears were ringing too--the radiation from Serenity's unshielded drive had taken its toll;  it wouldn't be much longer.
      The hulk before him continued it's uncontrolled spin, carrying the image of the trapped merchant ship away into darkness.  Slowly, he drifted into range and absently threw the lever which activated the beacon.  He imagined he could see a ripple in space as the wave of something passed through the Reaver ship, killing every Reaver on board like the invisible hand of God, or so the Shepherd would say.
      For several minutes, Mal let Serenity continue to drift in silence slowly toward the listless hulk.  There, everything he could do was now done.  So much he wished he could have done, wished he had done, and he was left with this.  Two ships, drifting in darkness, drifting toward death.  Mal remembered telling Inara once that everybody dies alone.  That might be the one argument with her he wished he'd lost.
      On a whim, he shoved the control console forward and Serenity responded, leaping toward the hulk with renewed energy.  Mal's head ached, worse than any hangover he'd ever experienced.  Worse than all of them put together.  A few minutes and some delicate maneuvering later, Mal found himself down at the old dock on Serenity where Inara's shuttle used to rest.  Through blurring vision, he set up a tunnel between Serenity and what remained of the Reaver ship's unused dock.  He thought he could hear music for a minute, but just shook his head.  It swam as if he were drunk.
      Mal crawled down the tunnel into the darkness of the Reaver's ship.  A cancerous stench assaulted his nose, though it seemed to come from far away, as if someone else was smelling it.  He climbed out of the tunnel unsteadily, smiling all-ironical like at the fact that his boots now rested on the deck of a Reaver ship.  And he'd put them there of his own free will.
      A bit of wandering brought him past heaps of dead Reavers, down hallways of hanging cables and smeared obscenities, all the way to the threshold of Kaddison's Glory.  And then through it, to the door of Inara's shuttle.  He pulled it open freely.  Its once luxuriously furnished interior had been ransacked thoroughly, panels torn from walls, her accommodations a shambles.  One question only rang through him, holding back the tears like a great stone dam:  had she been alive when those monsters came through the door?
      At her wardrobe table he found his answer.  Hammered into the polished wooden surface was the short bodkin she kept sheathed high up on her leg; Mal had only seen it once when he had so foolishly tried to defend her honor and got himself into a sword fight way out of his league.  Now, the slim blade held fast a sheet of parchment marked by her lovely script:

      Mal, my lovely Mal:

      I know you are coming for me, but I cannot wait.

      I love you.

      Next to the parchment sat an empty vial marked 'hemlock.'
      Tears fell freely from Mal's eyes and he slumped into a broken chair.  As his eyes dimmed and the ringing in his ears sang in a gathering darkness, he laid his face on the parchment.  At his last, Captain Malcolm Reynolds whispered, "Hello, Inara.  I love you...and goodbye."

* * *

      "No way, Malcolm Reynolds would never go out like that," Taylor said, sipping from his 64 oz. Diet Dr. Pepper.  Before him, an array of papers, dice, and snacks nearly covered the surface of the dining room table, around which sat five other boys.
      One of the others, looking up from behind a thickly bound hardcover rulebook, petulantly asked, "Are we going to play or what?  Mark, what does your character do?"
      "Whatever.  This game is getting stale.  I think, faced with the array of confusing options before him, Jayne would just start shooting stuff."
      Two of the other boys groaned; Mark always became impatient whenever their role-playing games degenerated into any sort of talking.  If there were no actual battles going on, he always found a way to start one.  Here it comes, they all thought.
      Mark picked up a handful of dice.  "Jayne shoots Mal."  He started shaking the dice hungrily, like he was sitting at a craps table waiting to finish off a round of good luck.
      "You what?!" asked James, the boy playing Mal in their role-playing adventure.
      "Seriously, Jayne pulls out his Mk IV (which he lovingly calls "Vera") and fires a full burst at Mal.  He's wanted to for a long time, and he knows Mal is carrying lots of money right now.  All the more to send home to his mom," said Mark.
      Tim, the boy running the game, just shook his head.  Idiot, he thought.  All that planning in the adventure, all of next week's plans shot.  Literally.  He glanced at James, who was also shaking his head.  Tim thought, next time I'll have to rig the selection process so that Mark has to play Kaylee.  "Fine, roll your attack."
      Dice scattered on the table, ominous numbers revealing themselves.  James took one look and shook his head again.  He glanced at his character sheet where Mal's remaining hit points were recorded.  Not good.

* * *

      Gilbert couldn't believe his luck.  He was sitting across the table at Burger King with the most gorgeous girl he had ever seen.  Hair black as night, as if she'd dyed it that same evening.  Black lipstick adorned her pouting smile, broken only by the smooth steel rings piercing the lovely lips, pale white skin the shade of moonlight in November.  She wore a black, lacey fairy costume complete with wide, diaphanous wings.  He tried not to notice the fact that she bent them near to breaking, squeezed as she was into the Burger King booth.
      Gilbert glanced over her shoulder.  Across the street, a thousand other conventioners would leave the Red Lion looking for food soon and this place would be swarming with them.  But for right now, she was all his.
      She said, "So I was thinking, we should write a story together.  You like Firefly, right?  Have you ever written any fanfics?"
      Gilbert immediately thought of the Powerpuff Girls/Pokemon crossovers he wrote in middle school.  "No, I never have.  You?"
      "Oh yes, all the time.  Right now, I'm working on a story where Edward from Twilight meets Buffy and they fight for a while and then fall in love.  But I'm bored with it and want to try something new.  Maybe I could come over to your house and we could work on something?"
      Gilbert swallowed visibly.  A girl.  In his house.  Well, his mom's house, but same thing.  "Uh, sure, yeah."
      "Okay, so I was thinking, I like Twilight, you like Firefly.  How about if Edward somehow gets transported into the future onto Serenity and immediately falls in love with Inara.  But of course, Mal will object and Edward will have to bite him in the neck."
      "Uh..." started Gilbert, but then he just nodded.  He could trade Mal for a little time with this particular girl.

* * *

      He could see the look on thousands of fanboys' faces so clearly in his mind's eye.  Their hearts would melt.  Their souls would burst.  He'd have ten thousand twitter followers!  Greg hustled toward the dry cleaners, his last stop before he could get home and upload the bootleg video to the torrents all over the internet. 
      He rushed into the cleaners only to find a huge lineup stretching back from a single clerk moving slow as molasses.  Greg's armload of clothes got heavier and heavier standing there in line until he finally had to dump them all into a chair in the lobby and re-organize them.  Several suits, ties, a sport coat, even a small down comforter.  Maria, his girlfriend had insisted he get his suits cleaned, and he grudgingly admitted they needed it.  He'd leapt forward in his company's sales department and was making very good money, even if he'd never pictured himself in a suit.  No matter.  The main question was going to be how to explain to Maria that he'd paid a man $50,000 of that good money for a bootleg DVD which he'd discovered in the collection of a disgruntled archivist down at Fox Studios.  A second season of Firefly!  Was the world ready for this?!
      Greg finally handed off the pile of laundry to the clerk and flung himself out the door.  Four minutes later, another customer approached the clerk holding an unlabeled DVD in a cracked jewel case that had fallen between chairs in the lobby.  The clerk glanced at both sides, shrugged absently, and dumped it in with that morning's coffee grounds.

* * *

      Miranda yelled to her husband in the next room, "Have you seen the paper?"
      "I think I threw it away."  Newspapers, Mike thought.  What was the point?
      Miranda reached into the trash and dusted off a few coffee grounds from the movie listings.  What to pick that they would both like?
      "Hey Mike, did you know they made another Firefly movie?"
      "Really?" Mike said, coming around from the den with an iPhone in his hand.
      "Yeah, comes out next week."
      "Wow, I hadn't heard that."  Which was surprising, since Mike spent quite a bit of time following scifi fan sites and upcoming movie listings.  Before Miranda could hand him the paper, he'd already looked up the IMDB entry.  Produced by Lance Henriksen, the guy who played Bishop in Aliens?  Directed by Summer Glau?  Ouch.  Everybody loves River, but director?  Yikes.  Mike'd rather be at the antiques roadshow than see that one.  Same category as Star Trek V, Aliens IV, Superman III.  Unfortunately for Mr. Henriksen, no one else wanted to see the movie, either.  Even the projectionist put in his earbuds and listened to an NPR podcast instead.

* * *

      The last copy of Serenity II purchased and burned, now that was a good day.  It took Joss Whedon forty years, but he'd gotten to all of them.  Of course, these last few years his health had been failing, so the task had fallen to his children.  On Christmas Day, they'd given it to him gift-wrapped along with a metal garbage bin, a can of lighter fluid, and a box of matches.  All smiles, that last day had been.  Quietly, Mr. Whedon went to sleep that night and passed on, a happy and fulfilled man.  Who knows, perhaps his last dreams were of Malcolm Reynolds and Inara: of what might have been, or what might yet be.

* * *

      Chini jacked in to the cloud, requesting some vintage entertainment.  Let's go way back, she thought.  What was that old guy in the oxybar chattering on about?  An ancient 2D video called Serenity?  Maybe she could find that.  Through her neck-jack, she demanded "Serenity" from whatever entertainment server might be listening in.
      Content not found.
      With an irritable tick, she upped her focus.  Searched the slum servers, virus-ridden but had the old stuff, the forbidden stuff.
      No secondary copies or backlinks found.
      1 fan site(s) found, links to video found, all links broken; site last updated 3 February 2079.
      Wow, this movie had gone stale.  Just as she was about to give up, the cloud servers offered her an upgrade feature, only 2300¥.  For this small sum, the server would re-create the title "Serenity" from its web context.  Cool, she thought.  And off the engines went with their residual up-sell cash.
      Generating.  Context engine searching:
      Role playing game site found: Firefly MMORPG v19.2 found; collating world and character data.
      Fanfic entry found "Edward vs. Captain Reynolds".  Collating.
      Blog entry found: "Seven Deaths of Malcolm Reynolds".  Collating.  Error, loop detected.
      Return error:  Cannot generate title "Serenity" from context.  Would you like to search again?
      Ugh, thought Chini.  There went 2300¥ for nothing.  She shrugged.  Search vintage titles:  "Twilight."


James Wood said...

The first section had me captured. I was breathless waiting for the conclusion. I felt betrayed when you jumped to roll playing. Then I was amused at the sci-fi ending. Nice work.

Jake Shore said...

Nicely done. I hope "Washington Irving meets Space Marines" is worthy. Malcom meets Edward. Ugh. The sad thing is that you know its been done.