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Fan Fiction:
Book's Legacy

Chapter posted Nov. 1, 2008

Chapter Eleven:
Finding Answers


ZoŽ eyed Mal curiously as he passed through the dining area on the way to his bunk, one eyebrow arched speakingly at the axe in his hands as she poured herself a drink. "Branching out into new forms of weaponry, sir?" she said, dryly.

"You never know," he replied off-handedly, miming a stabbing motion with the sharpened end of the haft. "Should've seen what I done with a screwdriver, last time I lost a hold of my gun."

"You expect to run into another sword-carryin' húndàn sometime soon, then?" she asked, quirking a bemused smile behind the rim of her mug.

Mal resisted the urge to roll his eyes at her. She had a point-- it was hard to imagine what sense there was in bringing an axe to a gunfight, no matter how shiny. "I purely hope not," he said. "But I conjure the Shepherd left it to us for a reason."

Both eyebrows went up at that, and ZoŽ eyed the unusual weapon with wide, calculating eyes. "Shepherd Book left that here?" she asked.

"Accordin' to Jayne," Mal agreed. "Handed it to him on Haven, told him to keep it safe 'til a package arrived from Southdown Abbey."

"By which I assume he meant...." She frowned and gestured toward the bridge, curling one hand into a shape the size of a 'wave tape.

"Looks to be so." Mal shifted his grip on the axe, turning it slightly to show her the blade's full, decoratively painted profile. "I'd hesitate to name anything so plainly murderous as nīnī..." he drawled.

ZoŽ snorted. "But if that ain't a blade was made for a teenage girl..." She scowled fiercely at the pretty thing, tone full of disgust. "Wāngbadàn de biăozi."

"You'll get no argument from me on that point," Mal replied, solemnly. "Men as could put this in the hand of a child and order her to do battle in their place ain't men at all, to my way of thinking."

"Hard to believe a good man like Book could ever have been part of such a thing." ZoŽ sighed. "You got any more notion yet what this will mean for the crew?"

"Workin' on it." Mal briefly considered telling her what he'd read about Book's trip aboard the Loring, then decided against it; he'd flag the file for her when all was said and done, but for the time being she had enough to be worrying on. "When I do, you'll be the first to know."

She nodded thoughtfully at that, then took another sip, and Mal took advantage of the pause to take his leave of her and duck on up the forward passage. Kaylee had finally put up a hastily calligraphed sign designating the bunk across from his as "Kaylee and Simon's"; Mal took a moment to admire it, grateful they weren't sharing a wall with him no more, then opened the hatch to his own cabin.

He made to put a boot on the ladder, then stepped back again, frowning at the awkward shape of the axe in his hands. He turned it one way, then t'other, visions of slipping on the ladder with that thing and doing himself an injury causing him to hesitate. Not that such was like to happen, he scoffed inwardly, but he hadn't got to the age he was now by being plumb foolhardy--

Well, actually he had; but that was neither here nor there. Mal had a healthy respect for things as could cause him pain, and had no further need nor desire to see the Doctor that day. Damn thing really needed a sheath of some kind; he'd have to jury-rig a carrier 'fore he let River so much as touch it.

If he let her touch it. That weren't a sure thing yet, to his mind. He didn't doubt she'd be as zhēn de shì tiāncái with it as with any dangerous thing she laid a hand to of late, but whether he approved or not really depended on what the good Shepherd had to say. What had it been made for? What had been its purpose 'fore it come into Book's hands? If it were a product of the people as had sent him 'round the 'verse stealing the daughters of honest, hardworking folk, then Mal would sooner dump it out the airlock than gift it to one of their victims.

He finally sighed and held the axe out over the open hatch, then let it drop it to the floor. He doubted it was yì suì enough to be damaged by a fall of a few meters, not if it survived the landing on Mr. Universe's moon. It made a satisfying clatter-clang at the bottom of the ladder, and he climbed down after it, closing the hatch as he went.

Sure enough, when he picked the thing up again there weren't no scratches he could see; he inspected the edge and the pointy end for any damage, but as far as he could tell the weapon showed hardly any marks of wear nor sharpening at all. Thing was damn near pristine. Whether that was from disuse or the strength of the materials it was made from was more difficult to figure. Would be interesting to see if the blade were sturdy enough for use as a shield against slug-throwers or beam weapons; would be a sight more useful if River could defend herself with it in a running gun battle.

Now, where could he store the thing that it would do the least damage if the ship were knocked about? Mal cast a glance around his quarters, considering hiding places under his bunk or in an emptied drawer, before his eyes lit on a wall hanging borne up by a pair of sturdy hooks. He took down the decorative woven image he'd kept as a souvenir of Shadow and laid it aside with gentle hands, then lifted up the axe so's the blade pointed downward and secured it to the hooks with careful twists of wire.

That done, Mal turned back to the desk and picked up his light-slate. Last time he'd been alone on the bridge he'd copied the files off Book's tape onto a datacard the smaller computer could read in the interests of privacy. He turned the desk chair around so's he could see the weapon where it hung on the wall, then set down and fiddled with the display 'til he had the journal's index again. The reader software on the slate came with a rudimentary search engine, and he carefully tapped out the word "axe" for its tracking code to seize on.

Only a handful of entries came up. The first was one he'd read before: an account of Book's first, palm-blistering experience chopping actual, natural-grown wood. Mal caught himself smiling a little as he read it, then cleared his throat and went on to the next. That one described an encounter with an injured woodsman whose children were in one of Book's classes. Life was hard out on the raggedy edge, and the young Watcher had been hard put not to proselytize about the wonders of Alliance medicine.

"There is an old Earth-that-Was saying still popular on the Rim: you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.

That saying is symptomatic of everything that separates these unenlightened worlds from the Alliance: a contrarian refusal to do what is in their best interests to do, simply because they cannot abide someone else telling them to do it. They bond in small groups, owing loyalty only to family, crew, or township; the only form of persuasion they truly respect beyond those tight-knit units is a superior show of force.

It had been my hope, and that of the Watcher organization as a whole, that there would yet be time to resolve the Slayer mystery before a mass application of such force would become necessary, but as with unruly children too long spared a corrective hand, I fear that stronger measures will be required to bring these worlds back into the fold of civilization."

Mal shuddered as he flicked his thumb over the screen to advance to the next entry. He had no doubt such thinking had been behind the settlement of Miranda; had been behind the experiments with the Pax, trying to create a 'verse full of calm, compliant drones. Instead, thirty million had died there-- millions more in the war that followed-- and the only thing even approaching an apology he'd ever heard had come from a dying woman on a twelve-year-old recording.

"People have to know, we meant it for the best..."

Mal had another Rim-world saying for folk of that kind: "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions."

He scrubbed a hand over his face, then turned his attention back to the journal. There were three more entries to read through, and he flipped through them in quick succession: another nothing entry from Book's wandering years, a mention of Haymer's vast and impressive collection, and then-- paydirt.

"...shaped like an axe, but with an unusual hook at the lower edge of the blade and a sharpened wooden haft. The sacred texts refer to it as the Scythe: a legendary Slayer weapon of considerable power, supposedly created at the dawn of recorded history and hidden for use only in desperate times. The Council's teachings have long assumed, however, that it was only a symbol, may in fact have never actually existed, and that due to the simultaneity of their appearance in our records the term "Scythe" should be interpreted as a nickname for that greatest of classic Slayers, the infamous Buffy Summers.

So how did a weapon identical to that mythical description end up in the salvage yards of Beylix? The yard agent claimed that it was part of a cargo taken from a ghost ship found drifting near Dyton: a lost colony ship from Earth-that-Was, launched some two hundred years after the Great Migration. At first glance, such a tale seemed impossible; any Alliance school child knows that the Earth was rendered tragically uninhabitable by pollution, overpopulation, and climate change less than fifty years after the colony fleet's departure.

I inquired into the status of any other items of salvage from the cargo, and found that very little remained; as the ship itself was not of standard design, the parts were of no use for anything other than scrap metal, and most of the furnishings, clothing, and curios aboard had likewise been broken up for their constituent parts. Though many of the items were unique, they did not match any known historical imagery, and were largely constructed of cheap materials. Only the jewelry and metal coinage had been of any real value, and that had long since been sold.

All that was left was a short stack of ancient books. There had originally been more; the novels and books of poetry with familiar titles and authors had already gone to collectors. Only a few unusual volumes remained. He described them as follows: a fantastical compilation of imaginary monsters titled "Vampyr"; a "Watcher's Handbook" outlining a series of strange rules and scenarios, possibly for some sort of obscure role-playing game; and the nearly illegible, handwritten diaries of a family surnamed Fray.

What luck! Many of the original Watchers' Council texts were destroyed in a terrorist attack several decades before the first colony ships were built, and none of those that remained survived the intervening unrest, the generations-long journey, and the harsh early years of colonization on Londinium before the terraforming process was perfected. Only those records and volumes committed to computer storage or oral memory endured to enlighten their spiritual descendants. An original, unreconstructed copy of the Watcher's Handbook would be priceless.

I bought the lot in hopes that the other books would also prove useful, and returned to my ship. It will be the work of several days to thoroughly examine these artefacts, but if they prove to be authentic, this could be the most important discovery of my career."

Mal frowned thoughtfully at the entry, then reached down and opened the lowest drawer of his desk. There, still grouped together, were the books the Abbey had sent along with the tape; he lifted them out, one by one, and verified that they matched the list Book had included in his journal. He stacked them up on the desk, eyeing them suspiciously, then scrolled back up to the date stamp on that particular entry: July 24, 2501.

The date seemed mighty familiar, and he called up the index again, curious as to what other events had occurred around that time and what Book had to say after he'd had a chance to do his reading. Mal had cracked the cover of the thickest one-- the "Vampyr" book-- that first evening, and been put off by the horrific drawings; he'd seen more'n enough twixt the Reavers and the War to have any kind of wish to pollute his nightmares any further. How were these books at all relevant to River's troubles? And why had Book not sent them on to his precious Council?

The entries before that particular one were full of the same kinds of things as all the others; there seemed nothing at all different about 'em. Same with the ones after; the entries were a mite shorter, perhaps, but there was no further talk of books nor weapon. Quick searches on "Scythe" and "Vampyr" turned up the same lack of results. Only "Fray" got any other mention: one line in an entry four years later, right as the War broke out, claiming that "the Fray relics" had been sent somewhere safe 'til all was over.

Curiouser and curiouser. Mal dimmed the slate's screen, then leaned back in his chair, drumming his fingers on his thigh as he stared up at the axe again. Scythe. Whatever. A weapon not created by Book's people, but by those as came before, and intended only for use "in desperate times". Well, times were desperate, sure enough, but how it could be of any use against a blight the size of Parliament fair beggared the imagination.

Wait: that was how Mal knew that date, those Parliamentary warrants on the Cortex! River Tam had been born on July 24, 2501-- the exact same day Book visited those salvage yards on Beylix.

Lăotiānyé. Girl had been right: this all went far beyond coincidence.

Chilled, he reached over and lifted the "Vampyr" volume again, bracing its heavy weight with both hands as he flipped to the first page. He truly meant to find answers, then now was the time to do it: once they landed on Osiris the following morning the Tam's fates would be entirely out of his control.

"The world is older than you know," he read, squinting in an effort to decipher the faded print, "and contrary to popular mythology, it did not begin as a paradise...."

-~-

Chinese translations:

húndàn = "bastard"
nīnī = "girly"
Wāngbadàn de biăozi = "Whores of S.O.B.s"
zhēn de shì tiāncái = "absolute genius"
yì suì = "fragile"
Lăotiānyé = "Jesus"

 

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