Series: Scarborough Fair
Author: Patrick Sanders
Spoilers: Fair game up to "Objects in Space."
Disclaimers: All characters property of Fox, Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No infringement intended, no profit realized.
Dedication: To WillowX. ^-^
The Shaman twisted in the deepest layers of her ship, many of her children basking in the dark with her, their bellies full of flesh, fountains of blood flowing from rotted maws. A fresh pelt was twined around her; the kill had been her own, both the mother and the gestating child. The flesh of a child that had not been touched by the air always had a special succulence. An unborn baby was always a delicacy, to be tasted only by the Shaman. The oldest and most vicious of the Bulls did not dare steal that from her.
She arose and hosted her staff forged of bone and steel and twined with a thin strip of intestine. The mark of her calling, of her authority, of her supreme Reaving. From her throat she took hold of the flute, crafted from the windpipe of a minstrel and sounded it. One of the Calves beside her was slow to rise. She drove the sharpened point of her scepter into his soft skull, the smaller Calves lapped at the black blood that began to ooze forth.
“What is the law?” she began, the voice filling the empty ship.
Her eyes scaled the heights of the ship, the towers of steel, the kilometers of paneling and open wiring, all of the upper depths where the Bulls dwelled, fastening the latest trophies of the kill into their charred, gray flesh. She called to them, she called to the Sows with bellies ripe with Calves and breasts swelling with blood, she called to the Herdsmen, bodies bound by birth into the machinery, guiding whatever course would bring them meat.
“What is the law?”
They came to her, out of the darkness out of the black; the oldest with faces bearing as many as nine bolts of iron. The youngest with only the most minuscule of nails protruding from smooth, clean brows, skin only beginning to loose pigmentation. Those with unmarked faces, those that not taken the Black Walk with her, the power of the Reaving not yet revealed to them.
“What is the law?”
One of the Sows replied at last to her, her tongue and throat intact.
The Shaman pounded her staff against the hull of the ship.
“What is the law?”
A thousand voices answered, broken and twisted, many little more than gargles and clicks and stops.
All of the tribe came before her. Crushed faces, faces without eyes, eyes without faces, broken creatures trailing only a few feet of spinal bone behind them, crawling towards her.
“Do we hunger? Do we thirst? Do we grow fat? Do we grow content? Do we loose what is ours? Do the soft skins and their false ways reign instead?”
None dared answer her.
Across the hull she came through the Calves, and until she came to one that was obese with flesh and blood. She brought the blunt edge of the scepter into its face, crushing it and sending pink blobs of tissues flooding out of the skull. She wrenched out a handful from the mess. As she passed the other calves where upon it.
She bit into the brain, always the pleasant, waxy taste. Better when it was already soaked. Always better when it was soaked.
“Hunger...and...thirst...that is law...”
“Hunger...and...thirst...” her children chanted back to her.
“Hunger...and...thirst...that is only law”
“Hunger...and...thirst...” her children chanted
“Hunger...and thirst...that is Reaving”
“Hunger...and...thirst...”“her children chanted.
“Hunger...and...thirst...”...that is Reaving’s gift...”
“Gift...gift..” they chanted.
“...what is gift... to Reaving...?”
“’Verse...’Verse is gift...”
“Yesssss...’Verse is gift...”
The Shaman unfastened the catch at the back of her skull and the ten bolts sprayed open, the bright bubbling red viscera of her face displayed with great vanity to the tribe. Slobbering moans of lust echoed from many of the Bulls.
“’Verse of soft skins...’Verse of the unsoiled...what is gift?”
She answered, so none of the faithful would take the fear of invoking the Holy Name.
“Reaving...Reaving is gift...Reaving is gift to ‘Verse”
Her sermon reaching climax she hosted her specter above and let it sink down her gullet as far as it could reached. It reached the desirable place and she tore it out. The partially digested baby followed it. A wall of a shock took hold of the tribe. The Shaman refusing her annoited meal?
Blood and mucus smeared across a steel fastened smile, she stared again at her children.
Sounds of pleasure resounded throught the ship.
The tribe began to follow, fingers, bones, strips of metal, all went down already raw gullets.
Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
For once she was a true love of mine
Once a year, during that season was rotated closest towards its overworked sun, the planet Araby had the bazaar. Not any festival, or tradeshow, it was the bazaar; the grandest shindig in all the ‘verse.
Colored lamps, to be lit for the evening sellers, stood tall casting long shadows over what damned near seemed a thousand different stalls lined from street to street. Most were off-worlders, the only enterprises not yet regulated by Alliance monetary restrictions, such as yearly tithes for the highest executives.
Whatever your pleasure was, you could be damned sure the bazaar would cater to it. Women? Plenty o’those. Men? Plenty o’those too. A combination or derivation from the too? You could find them there. Flesh, fancy, flowers; the leading export of the planet Araby in its summer season.
River Tam’s eager hands encircled a great porcelin vase perched hapharzadly on a wooden plantform. At the sound of her brother’s voice she turned to him, and sent the vase to the dirt caked ground, breaking into about a thousands pieces.
“T’aint really,” a gap-toothed dealer chimed in, “Was thinkin’ of makin’ it into a spittoon, had it so damned long.”
“Sir, I am sorry, my sister...” Simon Tam began.
“Give us a couple creds, and we’ll forgit the whole damn thing”
Simon gave him the coins, making a mental check of that slightest decrease in the purse.
He had been mulling together all of his meager takes of the bounty he had recieved on his recent stint as surgeon on Senerity. Certainly the crew supported him with as much work as he wanted, more challenging work than any thing on Oiris had braced him for.
He regarded his brillant, half-mad sister, her attention now fixed on a massive orimental chess set. She presented him with more than any trauma room could have possibly prepared him. Decoded messages from a secret Alliance experiment, the careful and quiet funding of a resistance group for abduction, a complete renunciation of their family and status, a hitch on a renegade firefly with a captain as random in his action as she was, a heist on the largest medvault in the galaxy, a near capture by the Alliance, a near martyring with a stake and fire, a completely mad bounty hunter with promises of horrors to great to imagine, two close encounters with the nightmare-fodder Reavers, and the near death of a sweet, innocent girl.
The closest he dared get to that girl was the lacing of her stomach, she sinched in and out of consciousness, asked for her pa to come get her under the drugs. What was it she liked to say? Shiny, that was it. It suited her well, her face always got shiny when she set eyes on him.
River stood before him, staring stoic at him.
“Inner ear off balance” she said, “Captain Tightpants forbids Freemason affairs.”
She always took a little imagination; if you gave her that she made a little sense, regardless if she intended to or not. Captain Tightpants...rather obvious. Inner ear...the anti-grav. The anti-grav was on the friz. Freemason...ah yes, it was coming together. The anti-grav was on the friz, so Kaylee was forbidden to walk the bizaar until she repaired it. The Captain had given all his crew a mild bonus in the share of the bounty. He and Zoe were off picking up cargo, while the rest walked the fair, instructed to indulge themselves within reason. Save Kaylee, he was mildly upset with her for reasons undisclosed. Her share was withheld until she fixed the ship up right. Not that she minded, so she buckled down and started working, cheerful as ever. She even asked Mal just to give her bonus to River, to get something she likes.
“Yes, River. The throw-ups will be all gone when we take flight.”
“Core compressor still needs an update. Seventy point one six degrees north and seventy six point nine one east. There lies the answer.”
The Core compressor...Kaylee had been politely harping on Mal for mouths about that. He promised her an update for the next big heist. Degress north and east...locations. The location of an update that Kaylee needed. Simon didn’t bother to question how his sister had known that.
“Of course, Mei-Mei. I’ll be sure to drop that off to...” A flash of slanted sunlight broke his train of thought. He shielded his eyes.
“The magic man.”
A few meters ahead of them, his back against a stall. The light blazed off of a sliver star encircling in the small man’s chest, plain clothes wearing. A round face with multiple chins and dark glasses sealing off his eyes from the sun.
Simon took his sister’s hand, cursing himself for not letting her walk with Book. The old Shepherd had developed a natural affection for River, which Simon knew was not difficult. Lately, he was the only person on Senerity that made a point of visting with her often. In one of River’s heights of lucidity, Simon had come upon them hotly debating the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas, many times Book bowing his head and accepting defeat of his arguements with a smile.
“Toad of Toad Hall,” Mole smiled at the Simon, his small sharp teeth sticky with chocolate. “And Alice...back from Wonderland, I trust?” he said, gesturing at River.
“’O Oysters! Come walk with us!’ the Walrus did beseech,” River replied, never leaving Mole’s shaded eyes.
“Cute. Real cute,” he said, brown drips spilling over his pink lips.
Simon guide his sister behind him, his hand secure on the little peach wrap Inarra had given her.
“Do you have it Mole?”
“Why in such a hurry, Mr. Toad my boy? Stop, smell the flowers...”
Across the stalls from him, there was an auction of failed Guild apprentices. There was a young girl with the guiding collar on her neck, not any older than River, a full breast sagging from a torn dress. Mole reached with a pudgy hand and clasped the air, his mind no doubt filling the rest. Simon pulled River closer to him.
“I have your money Mole. No need to get sociable if we can avoid it.”
“That how you treat your friends Mr.Toad?”
“You’re not my friend.”
“Oh yes I am,” Mole turned towards him, the lenes around his eyes slipping, his small red eyes half visable. “We lost two of our best operatives smuggling the little cutie out of there. We found ‘em circling Persephone after you took off. Killed in a manner that has yet to be idenitfied. I’m your friend, Mr. Toad.”
He came closer, placed a flithy smelling hand on Simon’s shoulder.
“I’m your friend, ‘cause I’m the only thing in the ‘Verse that’s stopping every fedsquad
within transmitting distance from bearing down on your upper-born ass. Cute as she may be, the little bitch ain’t worth two of our best.” Great blobs of slabbery chocalate splattered out as Mole spoke.
At “bitch”, Simon resisted every urge in his body to drive a fist into that great spongy face. Now, he wished he brought Mal along with him. An unkind word about any of his crew provoked an violent reaction. He wished he had involved as much of them as he could. They were as much River’s family as he was. As much as she had.
“I think a little rutting graditude would be nice now and then, right Doctor Tam?”
“Of course,” Simon said, the black gaze of the little fat man begining to unnerve him. “I can’t possibly put a price on what your organization has given me. Has given back to me.”
“Aww, man can’t put a price on somethin’, he ain’t got no imagination.”
One on the bloated hands reached for a catchpocket on his elastic belt, began to unlach something.
“So, you’ll make one up for me.”
“‘Xactly...freedom for the struggling masses don’t come cheap.”
Mole brought a thin vial of glistening green fluid to Simon’s eye.
“Is that all you could manage?”
“Hold it, Mr. Greedyguts, I have nine more just like it. ‘Sides, just a little goes a long way, just like me,” Mole made a theatrical grab at his neither regions. “Just give her a couple milligrams a night, those bad dreams, like a bat outta hell, gone, gone, gone.”
Simon reached for the glass and Mole pulled it back, slapping his hand.
“Alliance prototype, not even imprinted yet, won’t be on the market for a year and a half. At what I’m askin’ I’m practically given’ ‘em away.”
“I’ll take them all.” Simon said, reaching to the leather pouch at his back.
“Maybe I don’t want to play that way. Maybe one here, one on Sayuma skyplex, one over the mail...”
“If you give them to me now, I’ll fund your whole gorram organization.”
“There it is, boy I knew you had a sack down there someplace.”
“Just take it, just shut up and take it all-“
He went again for his purse and his hand closed on air. His attention then shifted to his other hand and the lack of weight in it.
Inarra’s wrap was there. River was not.
“Boy, you done lost her again!”
Simon broke away from the stall into the mess of humanity scaning both sides of the street. When the auction of failed campanon came into sight, he felt a white hot streak of panic flood into him.
He had heard the dark stories of Araby. Stories that if your fancy was blood, they catered to that as well. If you had the coin, they set you in an adobe where you could watch a pretty girl be beaten to death. Just a little more and you could do it yourself. Just a little bit more and you could do anything you wanted to the corpse. There were flesh trades for the Border-World barons, harems of stolen boys and girls, sold for top dollar. River with a slave brace on her throat calling for him, calling again for her big brother to come save her...
Have her make me a cambric shirt
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Without no seam nor fine needle work
And then she'll be a true love of mine
River Tam danced through the streets of Araby, her brother’s purse in hand.
All of the colors were coming out. The sun was illuminated the planet with a rich ruby luster, the crust of the planet was soaking with gold, the air was coated with emerald, and all of humanity before her was tinged with every flavor of the spectrum.
Before there had been snow, there had been rain, there had been wind, there had been darkness. The Blue Hands had brought that to her, numbed her up with the snow, then soaked with the rain, lashed her with the wind and choked her with the darkness. And yet River had found her wisdom. Had held as best she could for when the darkness was thin she could see it before her, a millennium away; the Diamond Light.
She was shiny alright, more than she knew. The Light from her was so powerful, River did not dare look at her sometimes for fear of blindness. Jayne looked better in red, Inarra was violet in her bloom and Captain Reynolds a thousand shades of gray. Kaylee was clear, she was the Great Seal; she was pure orgasmic reality with a gloss of engine grease.
She dreamt of Kaylee while she was bound, with the singing machines and their ever so sharp teeth. They sliced open her head and dug into her brain, improved on the choice matter that was already there, an overstimlis here, a dead zone there, a special graft here and there. Her evolution would be patented, controlled and profited by. Save the Blue Hands and their singing machines could not direct the course of her flow. River’s flow would lead her in her due time to the sea, and the name of the sea was Kaylee.
“Rutting Reavers moving closer.”
“Band o ‘em, took down an cruiser just over Whitefall.”
“Wuh de tyen, ah”
“Purple bellies got real purple all the sudden.”
Random voices amongst the stalls. Attracting her attention and not receiving it.
“COME ONE...COME ALL!”
An old man, dressed in motley standing before a thick velvet curtain.
“You’ve all heard the stories...the very stuff of nightmares they are, their existance denied by the Alliance, the Church...only because they KNEW that human minds could NOT fathom the NIGHTMARE...the NIGHTMARE that is the very NIGHTMARE of the ‘VERSE itself.”
For all his flare the Barker was a very dull, bleak color inside. Kind of nausating.
“Imagine, if you will, staring out into space, INTO the Black. Seeing the Black reflecting your own face BACK to you...and now, IMAGINE your own face, as transparent as the Black...IMAGINE what YOU would reflect...what your very SOUL would reflect into the Black? For six bits, yes madam for six bits only, you WILL see the answer...you will SEE the true face of mankind!”
True face? She’d already seen that. She reached out for what was behind the curtain. She found static and darkness.
She went past the Barker, toward the dumpy-faced woman collecting the bits and dispensing tickets. She regard River with a hint of a curl in her brow.
“Little young ain’t ya?” she said, still taking the girl’s money.
“Mine is an old soul,” River replied.
“Right. My fault for asking,” she gestured towards the curtain with a brown tinted fingernail.
There were two heavy-set men standing before the velvet. On sight of River they lifted a flap for her to pass through.
Inside had the distinct and severely unpleasent smell of horse piss. There was a googol-watt bulb somewhere on the murky ceiling making every inside look even sicklier. There was a ring sent into the stone, a consider drop down. Rusty metal bars up to the chest kept the overlookers in place. A considerable set of them stood there, peering down at something out of common sight.
A few meters down, the full force of the bulb cascading her was what looked like a young girl of about sixteen furrowing in the dirt with discarded animal bones and other far less pleasent things scattered all around her. The lighting gave her skin a diseased, almost decayed appereance.
It wasn’t the light.
The girl had lost all of the hair one her scalp and there were places were the skin was scaly and thining.
She hadn’t been rutting.
As River stepped towards the edge, the girl peered upwards.
Her mouth was sticky and dripping.
River focused her attention to what lie in the dirt.
It didn’t stay in the dirt. As the girl moved it moved with her, rising up and hovered a few inches below its mistresses’ jaw, case she grew hungry again.
The girl was eating her own hand.
As her face lifted towards River, the croud saw the vidid details of her maturity.
There was a nine inch steel screw fastened into the girl’s forehead, not even scraping the skull, just held in in place by the lumpy skin there.
She opened her mouth and displayed her filed teeth in the murky light.
Her eyes were so thickly glazed there appeared to be no pupils or irises to them.
River remembered the ship full of ghosts, the screams still trapped there. The flithy stench of darkness soaking through everything. Everything the Alliance slapped you with, religion, ethics, empathy, it melted that all away.
“Well... campfire stories... Men gone savage on the edge of space, killing, and...”
“If they take the ship, they'll rape us to death, eat our flesh and sew our skins into their clothing and if we're very very lucky, they'll do it in that order.”
The echos in her head of Simon and Zoe were as fresh as if someone had delievered them over a instant messenger wave. She remember the raw creeping feeling that flushed through Senerity as the shuttle had passed them. She could feel it when she awoke. She felt the one thing that made the Captain, who feared neither God nor man tremble a touch in his boots.
The dull bleak man had stolen a rutting Reaver.
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