Attack on Ariadne

by E.V. Jacob on June 7, 2012

For Melissa Jacob.

The planet loomed, huge and green, before Captain Malcolm Reynolds as his ship swept in closer. He studied it as Wash brought them smoothly down through the highest reaches of the atmosphere – one of the many benefits of having a master pilot on hand was the smooth space-to-atmosphere transitions.

As they drew in, Mal could just make out Roan, one of the first new towns this new planet. The town was unimpressive, save for the high wall that surrounded it, starkly outlining the little settlement against the dense green of the surrounding forest.

“Rather lush planet,” Wash remarked, echoing Mal’s thoughts.

“Easy to terra-form, I heard – they say it’s about as close to Earth That Was as it gets.”

“Bit out of the wa–yah!” Wash interrupted himself as they passed through a cloud that rocked the ship with turbulence. His toy dinosaurs scattered across the bridge as he adjusted their flight path.

Well, even masters had their moments.

“Do try not to crash my ship, Wash,” Mal said blandly.

“All’s well, Captain,” Wash said as he leveled them out.

As they flew in over the small town, Mal noticed something that struck him as odd.

“Seems awful quiet,” he observed, leaning forward to see more clearly out of the view windows.

“Maybe they’re very indoorsy settlers,” Wash suggested.

“Well, provided we make it to the planet alive, let me know when we’re ready to unload,” Mal said as he turned away from his pilot.

He swung himself down the steps that led from the bridge to the walkway and made his way to the cargo bay, where Jayne and Zoe were readying their shipment. Basic necessities for the new settlement – seeds for crops, non-perishable foods, medical supplies, simple clothing. It wasn’t their most interesting job, but Mal wasn’t going to complain. Sometimes, life got too interesting. Boring was a welcome break from adventure.

“We all set?” he asked his crew, leaning over the railing and looking down into the cargo bay.

“As soon as Jayne stops going through all the food, then yes, we’ll be all set, Sir,” Zoe said, giving Jayne a pointed look.

“They got better food than we do!” he said, outraged. Jayne held up a box of canned goods. “Look at this! This is real food!”

“They ordered it.”

“Might be nice to have something real. Maybe some fruit…” Kaylee said wistfully as she eyed the open crate.

“Indeed it would. These settlers like to feed their people fancy things like real food. Me? I’m happy to give my crew the cheapest food-like substances I can find, long as they keep workin’,” Mal said as he climbed down the steps.

“I noticed,” Jayne grumbled. He put the box of cans back into the crate and helped Zoe seal it.

Mal could tell by the slight pitching of the ship that they were touching down. Wash announced over the intercom that they had landed, and Mal helped Zoe and Jayne load the crates of supplies onto the trailer of the mule and opened the hatch.

That was when Mal noticed Simon, standing off to one side, looking torn between stepping up to say something and ducking back into the med bay, where he spent most of his time.

“Somethin’ on your mind?” Mal asked.

Simon glanced up at Mal, then back to the crates. “I just…thought maybe I should go with you. There are a lot of medical supplies there. It might be best if someone familiar with the equipment and medicines showed the settlers how to –”

“You really need to get off this ship, don’t you?” Mal asked with a smirk.

“Aw, it’s sweet, Cap’n. ‘Sides, everyone could use a little time planet-side,” Kaylee said with a smile.

The young doctor looked a bit embarrassed, and nodded sheepishly. “Yes. It would be nice to get a little air.”

“Right. Well. I s’pose, long as you can keep from getting yourself caught, then it wouldn’t hurt to have another set of hands to help unload.”

Kaylee gave a little clap of appreciation.

“I figure we’re far enough from any Alliance outposts for me to raise any suspicion,” Simon said calmly.

“You thinkin’ of bringing your sister out, too?” Mal asked, his tone carefully casual.

Simon didn’t miss the apprehension, though. “No – she’s been rather reclusive lately. But she’s doing well, all things considered…she just…likes to keep to her room for now. I-I’ve already asked Inara if she’d keep an eye on her. You know. If I were to go.”

Mal nodded, but didn’t press the matter. “Alright, Doc, hop in the mule.”

Simon tried to look completely passive as he climbed up into the little vehicle. He didn’t want to admit it, but he was excited – it had been over a month since they’d been able to set foot off-ship, and Ariadne was a new planet, a prospect which intrigued Simon’s ever-curious mind.

Kaylee hurried in after him, securing herself a seat right beside Simon. She smiled broadly at him and he nodded, somewhat shyly, back at her. Jayne, Mal, and Zoe climbed in, making the tiny vehicle feel cramped. Finally, Wash arrived, slipping into the driver’s seat and steering the mule down the hatch and onto the paved landing pad that Serenity was parked on.

“Sorry about the delay – I was trying to contact the control tower, but their system must be down,” Wash said as he drove them across the pathway toward the city.

Again, Mal noticed that it was eerily quiet. Two more ships sat in complete silence at the tiny space port, which seemed to be entirely empty.

“No contact from the tower?” Mal asked Wash as they cruised away from the tiny space port and into the town.

“Not a word,” Wash said, his tone distracted and a little concerned – he was feeling the same uncertainty, the same nervous inkling that something was amiss.

After they passed the first few store fronts, Mal told Wash to stop the mule. The Captain stood up and looked around, the vague uneasiness turning into a deeper suspicion. Something was not right.

Mal climbed out of the mule and looked around at the small town.

All the stores, shops, and the few houses he could see from whre he stood were intact. And everything was new – nothing here was broken or ravaged by the passage of time or the abuses of the elements. Everything looked just right, except…

Except that there wasn’t a single person in sight.

Instinctively, Mal reached for his revolver, checking that it was there in its holster. He felt better knowing his gun was within reach. Just in case.

“Hello!” he called out. His voice rang through the empty streets, but no reply came.

“What the hell’s going on here?” Jayne asked, climbing out of the mule. Zoe and Wash piled out, too, and the four began to make their way cautiously along the road. Simon and Kaylee followed, not wanting to be left behind.

Mal looked around, then turned back to his crew. “Seems to me we’re in a ghost town.”

* * *
They had broken into three groups of two: Zoe and Wash, Mal and Kaylee, and Simon and Jayne. They set off, scouting out the town, looking for signs of life, or at least a clue as to what happened to the settlers of Ariadne.

Simon wasn’t terribly excited about being stuck with Jayne, but his anxiety over the eerie ghost town was outweighing any annoyance he felt from being teamed up with the gun-slinging lunatic of the crew.

“This ain’t right,” Jayne muttered, looking around. Simon was, for once, glad to see that Jayne had more than one gun on him.

They wandered about, but the town was entirely devoid of life. There were no animals, no people, nothing, save for the few little signs that life had once been there.

A truck behind a shop, back open, half the boxes unloaded, stacked in the warehouse, the other half still in the truck. Two boxes lay on the ground, dropped, their contents spilled out.

A TV left on, blaring static to an empty bar, where half-finished mugs of beer sat on the tables and bar stools lay overturned on the floor.

The kitchen of a diner, pots and pans on the stove, burners still on, eggs and bacon fried almost beyond recognition, and a heavy stew in a large pot, cooked so long that it had congealed in the pot.

Simon switched the burners off for no real reason other than it seemed like the thing to do. He looked at Jayne, who was clearly disturbed. When he was nervous, or angry, or antsy, or anywhere near scared, Jayne wanted to shoot something to make it better. As Simon was the only living thing within reach, Jayne was left to glower at the empty diner, searching for something to blame all this on.

“Maybe we should just go back to the ship. It’s starting to get dark out. Maybe…I don’t know, this doesn’t feel right…” Simon said, finally breaking the silence.

Jayne opened his mouth to respond, but was cut off by a very soft, very weak moan.

The two men froze, staring at one another, unsure if they’d heard the sound, or just imagined it.

But no – there it was again. Barely audible, but definitely not a figment of their creeped-out imaginations.

They made their way through the diner and to the supply closet, where the sound grew stronger by the tiniest margin. The door was slightly ajar, and Simon hesitated only a second before he took a deep breath and pushed it open.

One of the shelves of supplies had toppled over, crashed into the other, where it was stuck at a 45-degree angle to the ground. Boxes, bags, cans, and other supplies were scattered all across the floor.

“H-hello?” Simon called into the room. His voice quivered, and he was sure Jayne was going to make some joke about how cowardly Simon was, but Jayne remained silent, listening.

In response, they heard another strangled, gurgling groan. Whoever it was, they were trying to form a word, Simon realized – they were trying to say, “Help.”

Simon and Jayne made their way carefully into the supply room, moving as quickly as they could without upsetting the delicate balance of the fallen shelf.

“I’m here to help,” Simon said in as clear and calm a voice as he could manage. “Where are you?”

Just then, he saw a hand poking out from under a pile of boxes. Simon knelt down and carefully cleared away the boxes that were piled on top of the man lying there.

“Help,” he croaked, his voice raw and scratchy. Simon didn’t know how long the poor old man had been lying there, but it couldn’t be long – without water, people only lasted a few days.

“Are you hurt, or just pinned down?” Simon asked in his calm, doctor’s tone as he continued to move boxes and cans. Jayne grabbed the shelf and righted it, grunting with the effort of lifting it.

“I don’t…I can’t…” the man whispered weakly. He found Simon’s hand and clasped it.

“It’s alright, I’m a doctor, I’ll take care of you.” Simon looked up at Jayne and said, “Find me a med kit, probably behind the counter.”

Jayne nodded and stepped out of the room while Simon finished clearing away the fallen objects that held the old man down. Once he was uncovered, though, he still didn’t move – he was too weak from his injuries and lack of sustenance to do more than wheeze and cough. Simon could see a broken bone protruding from the man’s arm, which must’ve been agony these past days.

“What happened?” Simon asked as he checked over the old man with careful, practiced hands.

The man struggled to speak, but he broke down into a fit of coughing, and was unable to answer.

Jayne returned and handed over the extremely basic med kit. Simon took it and tore it open, looking for anything that might be useful.

Just then, in the distance, he heard gunshots.

* * *
“River? What’s wrong?” Inara asked in a sweet, calm voice.

River was curled up in the corner of her small room, crying and hugging her knees to her chest. Inara had heard her scream from clear across the ship and had come over to see what was the matter.

Inara was kneeling, watching a girl in the throes of an episode and feeling completely helpless. She wondered how Simon did it every day – looking after his poor, mad sister.

“They can’t, they just can’t,” River said, her face still buried against her arms.

“They can’t what, sweetie?” Inara asked.

“All of them. All. Even the littlest ones. Even the tiny babies…”

“River, I don’t understand…”

Shepherd Book peeked into the room just then, looking from Inara to River, and then back to Inara.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“I heard her scream, and came to check on her. She’s upset about…something, I’m not sure what. River?”

“They just come and get you, they do. Leave all the little pieces.”

“What are you talking about, River?” Shepherd Book asked in his steady, even voice.

River looked up at him, her face stained with tears, her eyes wide with terror.

“The ghosts,” she whispered.

* * *
Mal and Kaylee wandered cautiously through the abandoned town, finding nothing that helped them make sense of the quiet horror of this place.

It was all so perfectly normal. Except for the parts that weren’t. Farm lands tilled and tended, but lacking any livestock. Tractors sitting in the middle of fields, half-way through plowing. The doors to houses left open, beds left unmade, dirty dishes piled by a sink left running, water spilling onto the kitchen floor. Everything seemed to be paused mid-way, left right in the middle of things.

“These people didn’t pack up and go…” Kaylee said, not because she thought Mal needed to be told, but because the silence was so heavy now that she was starting to shake.

“No, that they didn’t…didn’t have time to. Looks like everyone rushed out of here…unless…”

“Unless they were taken,” Kaylee said in a terrified whisper. She looked at Mal, eyes wide. “Cap’n, I wanna go back to the ship. Let’s go back to Serenity and just…just fly on outta here. I don’t like this place. Not one bit.”

Mal was only half-listening, though – his attention had been caught by a movement in the house just next door to the one they were standing in. A little flash of motion through the window, barely visible in the twilight.

He headed outside, hand on his gun, ready, but not aiming. Not yet. It could be an innocent.

“Cap’n?” Kaylee called as she followed him outside. Her voice squeaked in near-panic.

“Stay put, Kaylee – be ready to run, if need be,” he instructed, marching carefully toward the house.

The door was ajar, and standing on the porch, Mal could hear a scuffling, slurping sound coming from inside. He nudged the door open with his boot and stepped inside silently, holding his gun at the ready, checking his blind spots.

The sound was coming from the next room. Carefully, carefully, he edged into the room.

And that’s when he saw it.

Few things had ever startled Mal so much as to paralyze him, even momentarily, but this sight did. There were two bodies lying on the floor – one of a young woman, and the other of a little boy, no older than three. Their bodies were strange looking, as though they had been sucked dry of all their fluids.

And poised over them, a long, needle-like protrusion sticking into the body of the little boy, was a creature Mal had no name for.

It was tall, taller than Mal by about a foot. Its body was a strange, crescent-like curve of scaley flesh that was eerily white, almost translucent. It stood on three many-jointed legs that ended in sharp claws. Something much like a face was located about midway up the body, or at least, Mal thought it might be the face. It seemed to have several eye-like orbs located there, which shone with a pinkish-purple glow. Underneath the six or so “eyes” was the disgusting needle-appendage, which was busily sucking the fluids from the little boy’s body. At the top of its weird, crescent-shaped body were six many-jointed arms that looked like smaller, more delicate versions of the legs. In the center of the six arms was a long, thick, whip-like thing with a wicked stinger.

The stinger swung at Mal, and he snapped out of his trance. Acting on years of battle instinct, Mal raised his gun and fired two rounds into the horrible creature.

* * *
“Get to the ship!” Jayne heard the Captain order from far off.

Simon was busily working on the old man, but Jayne was sensing that they were going to have to make a run for it.

“We need to get him an IV,” Simon said briskly.

“We need to get the hell out of here!” Jayne retorted.

“This man is hurt. I’m a doctor, I’m not leaving him.”

Jayne considered, for just a second, leaving Simon behind, but he knew that the Captain would be mad, and that crazy kid would throw a fit if her brother were lost. Apparently she thought she could kill people with her brain, and Jayne wasn’t eager to test that theory out.

He grabbed Simon’s arm and pulled him roughly to his feet, dragging the protesting young doctor away. They ran out of the supply room and right into a gaggle of monsters.

Surrounding them, all around the edge of the bar, were creatures straight out of a nightmare. Tall and pale with too many arms and too many eyes. Their greedy hands reached toward Jayne and Simon, their flickering pinkish eyes glimmering.

“What the –?” Jayne started to say.

One whipped a long stinger around and jabbed it into Jayne’s shoulder. He roared in pain and shot at the weird creature. It fell back, spasming wildly, but Jayne found that his entire left side was completely numb now, and he felt slow, heavy, like he might topple over any moment.

“Jayne?” Simon called, sounding far off as Jayne sank to his knees. He raised his gun and pointed at another one of the monsters, taking shaky aim and pulling the trigger.

The last thing he was aware of before collapsing was his bullet finding its mark. He was a damn good shot, he was.

Then, he was also unconscious.

* * *
They ran, darting through the town, back to Serenity. Mal could just see Wash and Zoe up ahead, but there was no sign of Jayne or Simon.

“What are these things?” Kaylee huffed behind Mal. He had her wrist clasped in his hand as he dragged her along after him – there was no way in hell he was going to risk her falling behind.

The strange aliens were coming out from either side of the street, but after seeing Mal shoot a couple that got too close, the rest seemed to hang back, nervous, or just waiting.

“What are these things?” Wash called back.

“Just get to the mule!” Mal answered.

He looked around, still trying to find Jayne and Simon, but they were nowhere to be seen.

Kaylee yelped as one of the creatures drew nearer. Mal turned to shoot, but the stinger arced through the air like lightning and struck him in the forearm. He narrowly avoided dropping his gun, but swung Kaylee around so that the evil thing couldn’t get to her.

Another scream made Mal turn, his vision already going blurry, to see the ranks of the strange aliens closing around them, forming a circle. Kaylee backed into him, desperate to get away from the creatures.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Mal muttered, raising his gun in a futile gesture.

The roar of an engine cut through the air as the mule slammed through a line of the weird aliens. Zoe had a gun in each hand and was firing at the creatures, taking them down with one effective bullet each.

Mal shoved Kaylee forward into the mule and stumbled in after her, barely making it. He could feel his legs wobbling like jelly.

“Where’s Jayne? And Simon?” Wash asked, sounding frantic.

“Don’t know…” Mal managed to gasp. He was losing consciousness fast. “The ship,” he managed.

Mal slipped away to the sounds of Kaylee screaming, Zoe shooting, and Wash cursing loudly.

* * *
When Simon woke, his entire body ached. He tried to move, but he was stiff and sore, the pain spreading out from the spot on his arm where one of the creatures had stung him.

In the scientific part of his mind, Simon made note that the stingers’ venom, while incredibly painful, didn’t seem to be lethal. At least, not yet.

Simon forced himself to sit up, wincing in pain, and looked around. He was in a dank little room with smooth walls that looked like polished stone. In the stone were veins of minerals that glowed a brilliant turquoise. Twisting around the turquoise veins were thin, goldish veins of dimly glowing light. Simon stared at these, transfixed, his head throbbing.

As his eyes adjusted, he could see that he was not alone in the room. There were about twenty other people in little clusters around the rocky enclosure. The veins of gold and turquoise light ran through the floor and the ceiling as well, casting their unsettling, dim light from all angles.

Turning his head hurt, but Simon needed to know if any of the others were with him. Where was Jayne? Had anyone else been taken?

He spotted Jayne and was immediately relieved. At least he wasn’t completely alone. A familiar face – even an infuriating, brash, irksome familiar face – was so much better than being alone.

“Jayne. Jayne,” Simon whispered, creeping over to Jayne and shaking him slightly. Jayne groaned, but didn’t open his eyes.

“Wake up!” Simon hissed.

“Go’way,” Jayne murmured.

Simon jabbed a finger into the spot on Jayne’s shoulder where the creatures had stung him. It wasn’t the nicest thing to do, but it was all Simon could think of, and he wanted to be sure that Jayne wasn’t just going to die on him.

“OW!” Jayne roared, jerking awake and wincing at the pain of his movement. He glared at Simon, then realized where they were and looked around, fear evident on his face.

“Where are we?” he demanded.

Simon sighed. “You ask as if you honestly expect me to know something. I just woke up.”

Jayne groaned and sat up. The other people in the smallish room were turning to look at the newcomers, but made no approach. Simon noticed then that everyone else had scooted away from them, pressing against the walls, leaving the two of them alone in the center of the room.

“Friendly bunch,” Jayne muttered. Then, louder, so the rest could hear, he said, “Where the hell are we?”

A figure crept toward them, looking ghostly in the eerie turquoise light. As it drew nearer, Simon could see that it was a young woman. Behind her, a man jumped to his feet and followed her over.

“Hi,” she said, giving a nervous attempt at a friendly smile. “Are you guys alright?” She was young – no older than River. A teenager. A kid.

“Yeah. Yeah, we’re fine…” Simon said, looking up at her.

The man behind her was only a few years older than the girl, but his face was stern and he hovered over her protectively.

“Oh, good. My name’s Millie, by the way. And this is my brother, Jack.”

The young man gave them a curt nod, but said nothing.

“I’m Simon, that’s Jayne,” Simon answered, extending a hand for her to shake.

Jayne eyed them uneasily, feeling for his gun. It wasn’t there.

“Where did you two come from?” Millie asked, kneeling down beside them. She started checking their wounds, using herbs from a little pouch around her waist to soothe the pain.

“We’re on the crew of a delivery ship, we were dropping off some supplies someone ordered,” Simon answered.

I am on the crew. He’s just pompous,” Jayne muttered, cranky from the bad day he was having.

Simon ignored this remark. “What, um, what is this place?” he asked, casting a glance around at the others confined in the little room.

“We don’t really know. It seems almost like a hive…but…not…” Millie said. She shook her head like she didn’t know what else to say.

“What happened up there? In the town?” Jayne asked.

“Those…things…those creatures, they came and attacked,” she answered. “At first, people were disappearing one by one. The first was a little boy. He got taken one evening when he was out tending to his family’s chickens. Then, it was a man heading home from the tavern late at night. After that, we set up a guard, but all our guards got taken, too, our father was one of them…we called the Alliance, but they said they couldn’t send more forces for a while.”

“Didn’t care all that much,” Jack muttered.

Millie nodded solemnly. “People kept disappearing, nothing was being done. All our law enforcement men and women disappeared. We were scared. We didn’t know what was happening…”

“Then what?” Simon pushed.

Millie looked down, then to Jack. He picked up the story from there.

“We started staying in, soon as it got dark, everyone locked themselves up. Went home, shut our doors and windows. Disappearances stopped. We still didn’t know what was happening, but we thought we at least knew how to keep safe.

“Then, just a couple days ago, a big storm came through. In the middle of the day, it got dark out, big clouds blocking out the sun. We were out, unprotected, just going about our day. Soon as it was overcast, they attacked. Hundreds and hundreds of them, swarming everywhere, grabbing everyone. They’d get us with those nasty stingers. Some fought, died. Others tried to run, but they still got caught. They loaded us up in these things, these cages on wheels, and brought us down here.”

Jayne and Simon were quiet for a moment, absorbing this.

“What do they do to their captives?” Simon finally asked.

“Eat us. Experiment on us. Dunno exactly what they have planned for our little lot, but we’ve been waiting here since they captured us. No one knows what to think.”

Everyone fell silent after that.

“So, how we gonna get out?” Jayne asked.

“What?” Millie and Jack said together.

“What, you’re just gonna sit here and wait for them freaks to come get you? We gotta get outta here!”

“We can’t escape – we’re trapped,” Millie said, watching Jayne like she was suddenly very afraid of him and what he might do.

“Yeah, s’why we have to break out, ‘cause they won’t let us just waltz on out and be on our merry way,” Jayne said sarcastically.

“They’ll kill us,” Jack argued.

“Looks like they’re fixin’ to do that no matter what you do,” Jayne snarled.

Jack glared right back, holding Jayne’s angry gaze.

This wasn’t going to get them anywhere, though. Simon raised his hands in a gesture of peace.

“Look, Jayne is right, they’re going to kill us either way. We may as well try and find a way out. However, we do have to be smart about it, form a plan – there’s absolutely no sense in charging out there recklessly and getting ourselves killed,” Simon concluded, shooting a pointed look at Jayne.

Jack shook his head and sighed, but didn’t say anything. Instead, he watched Simon expectantly. Millie, too, was looking at him closely, her expression a strange mixture of fear and hope. Jayne also looked at Simon, but that was mostly so Simon wouldn’t miss Jayne rolling his eyes.

“So, any brilliant ideas?” Jack demanded. He didn’t sound very confident, but that just made Simon more resolved to get out.

“Well, I’m assuming – hoping – that the rest of our crew managed to get away. I don’t see them here, so that’s good.”

“Unless they got eaten,” Jayne pointed out.

“Which we’re hoping they didn’t,” Simon stressed. “Anyway, if we can get to them, we’re safe – they’ll pick us up and fly us off this crazy planet.”

“How are we ever going to get everyone out?” Millie asked.

“I don’t know. We’re going to have to figure something out. And fast.”

* * *
Mal was trying to think, but it was hard when River wouldn’t stop screaming.

“Can you shut her up?” he snapped at no one in particular. Kaylee rushed over to the girl and sat on the floor beside her.

River was curled into a corner of the bridge, which Mal hadn’t minded when she was being quiet, but now that she was carrying on so loudly, it bothered him a bit.

“River, River, it’s OK,” Kaylee cooed.

“No! They’re everywhere!” River shouted.

Kaylee looked helplessly at Mal, then turned back to River.

“Who is?”

“The ghosts!” River wailed. She pointed at Mal. “He saw them. He knows.”

“I can guarantee that I have never seen a ghost. Now be quiet, I’m trying to think of a way to find your damn fool of a brother.”

“The ghosts are underground. Buried deep, deep down…” she muttered, hugging her knees.

Mal was about to tell Kaylee to take the distressed girl away, but then he stopped, turned slowly, and eyed her.


River nodded.

They had been scanning the dense forest that surrounded Roan, but they hadn’t picked up any signs of life that would explain the attack they’d witnessed, nor any clue to where Simon and Jayne could be. The ship had remained over the small town, hoping for some sign of their crewmates.

Mal turned to Wash. “Wash? Any way we can scan for subterranean structures?”

“Can do, Captain. Let’s see…” Wash muttered to himself while he worked.

“Zoe, we got anything on this planet and creatures that may’ve lived here before colonization?” he asked.

Zoe didn’t look up from her screen as she answered. “Not yet, Sir. I have managed to find several reports of strange activity on Ariadne, reported by the colonists over the past few weeks, but the Alliance hasn’t conducted an official investigation or made any statements yet.”

“Big surprise,” Mal scoffed.

“Hey, Mal? We got something,” Wash said.

Mal made his way over to Wash and peered over his shoulder.

“What am I looking at here?”

“You are looking at…a really, really huge underground network of tunnels and caverns. I’m picking up a lot of life signatures.”

Mal studied the tunnels – numerous off to the side of the map, with large caverns going deep down into the earth. A few tunnels stretched to where Roan was located on the planet’s surface, opening just inside Roan’s protective walls.

“Well, boys and girls, looks like we found our aliens.”

* * *
It had taken a while to work out the logistics of their plan, and quite frankly, it wasn’t all that impressive, but Simon wasn’t going to complain – it was better than laying down and dying.

Millie and Jack had explained how, twice daily, a couple of the creatures would come and deliver food. It wasn’t particularly suited for humans – the last delivery had been some water, a couple heads of lettuce and some raw eggs – but it kept them alive enough, and it meant the doors opened occasionally.

Simon guessed – and he had been very clear about the fact that this was a guess – that the aliens, apart from their stingers, were rather weak. Their bodies didn’t look particularly strong, and their arms and legs were downright flimsy. The long, venomous stinger was a danger, but if they could evade that, they could probably overpower the creatures.

The four of them (plus a few other prisoners, who weren’t willing to fight, but were willing to offer some assistance) had scraped together some materials to make a crude shield. If it was thick enough, Simon theorized, then the stinger would be stopped, at least momentarily. This should allow them to do something to the creature – tackle it, punch it, knock it back. Then, hopefully, they could make a run for it and find a way out.

There were a disturbing number of “ifs” and “maybes” in this plan, but Simon was trying not to think about it.

“OK – everyone knows their part?” he asked. His mouth felt strangely dry. It was like his first day as a doctor, nervous and excited and completely uncertain about his own abilities.

Millie nodded, a smile on her face. She was scared, but she was excited, too. Jack was not pleased that she was involved, but she’d been so adamant that he wasn’t able to convince her otherwise. Simon sympathized – he wouldn’t have wanted his sister in on this, either. But on the other hand, he wouldn’t want her to die at the hands of those creatures. It was tough call to make.

Simon held the make-shift shield, pieced together from some thick jackets, a couple books, and a few belts. It was very, very pitiful, and Simon felt silly just holding it, but it was the best they could do. Millie, Jack, and Jayne stood around him, clutching their “weapons” – a walking stick for Millie and a pocket knife for Jack. Jayne didn’t have a weapon because he didn’t need one; he was plenty dangerous all on his own.

They expected the aliens to drop off the next “meal” anytime now, so they were stationed in front of the door, waiting. Simon didn’t actually see the door in the blank rock face, but Millie and Jack insisted that it was there.

It was taking a while, though – they had been waiting for almost an hour. At first, it had been kind of nice, since they were so nervous that the lack of activity was just more time that they didn’t have to act on this crazy plan. But the longer it dragged on, the more Simon wished something would just happen already. On top of nerves, he was starting to feel silly, and he didn’t want the plan to fail simply because they felt awkward standing guard in front of a rock wall.

But then, finally, there was movement. A thin outline of glowing white light appeared in the rock face, forming a roughly rectangular shape in the wall before them. The four of them tensed, ready to move.

“Ya’ll are damned fools,” said the elderly man who’d volunteered his cane. He was tucked away with the others in a far corner, eager to be as far away from the lunatics with an escape plan as possible. Many of the captives, while terrified, weren’t willing to risk a failed escape. Simon had tried to reason with them, Jayne had called them a bunch of nasty names, and Millie and Jack had implored them, but no one was willing to risk their necks. It was unnerving.

Simon ignored the old man. The white light grew stronger, and the stone slid away from them, then to the side. Three of the creatures were there. One was holding a small tray of radishes and chunks of raw meat, while the other two stood guard on either side of their comrade.

No time to think – time only to act! Simon charged forward at the one holding the tray. He saw the pinkish eyes brighten, and the stinger whip forward, right at him.

He swung his pitiful shield up, and the stinger stuck firmly into one of the books lashed in place with belts. Simon was pushed back, but when the alien tried to yank its stinger free, it pulled Simon along. He let his momentum carry him forward, right into the alien’s body. As he hit, he grabbed the tray as a second shield, radishes and raw meat pelting him in the face and shoulders as he swung it around and held it against the other two.

The guard on the left swung its wicked stinger at Simon, and in a purely instinctive move, Simon jerked the tray in front of it seconds before it would have struck him in the heart. The tray splintered, but held fast, and that bought him time.

In that time, Millie, Jack, and Jayne all charged forward, swinging their weapons and driving the guards back.

The first alien had freed his stinger, but Simon punched it right in its cluster of pink eyes and it made a terrible, high-pitched keening noise that made his head spin. It was disoriented, though, and missed as it swung its stinger wildly.

“Come on!” Jayne yelled. He had pummeled one of the creatures down into a twitching mass on the ground, while the other scurried away from Millie and Jack, screaming and wailing as it went.

Simon scrambled up and they took off down the tunnel, heading in the opposite direction that the third alien had gone. Millie and Jack still had their weapons, and Jayne had acquired a spear-like thing from the guard he’d attacked. Simon had lost his shield in the fray and was now completely defenseless. Not that his pitiful little shield would do much if they were attacked.

Simon’s heart was hammering, and he was jittery with energy as they bolted down the tunnel. It was dimly lit by the same strange, turquoise veins. Simon kept expecting the creatures to come flooding in and attack, but so far the tunnel seemed empty.

Jayne’s right arm was twitching and jerking as they ran.

“What happened?” Simon gasped.

“Gorram thing grazed me,” he muttered.

“Millie,” Simon whispered.


“Were you awake when they brought you down here?”

“Um, yeah. Why?”

“Do you have any idea how to get out?”

Millie thought for a moment, then said, “Simon, I-I don’t know…I think this tunnel goes somewhere, but I just don’t know…”

Simon nodded, “Just keep your eye out for anything that looks familiar.”

They slowed to a quick walk, looking around nervously, but finding nothing. It made Simon uneasy.
Looking back and seeing nothing, Millie let out a little squeal of delight.

“Wow! I can’t believe we did that! That was crazy!”

“Keep it down,” Jack cautioned affectionately. He was grinning, too, though – the excitement of surviving making him giddy.

“I’ve never done anything like that in my life,” Millie went on as they walked the tunnel.

“You’ve lived on a farm your whole life, who would you fight with, the cows?” Jack teased.

Millie gave him a playful swat and Jack reached over and messed up her hair.

Simon smiled sadly at their display. There had been a time when he and River weren’t so different. Happy, carefree, playful.


Simon shook those thoughts off and focused on getting out of the underground tunnels alive. After a while of walking, they reached a fork in their tunnel, which branched off in two different directions.

“Which way?” Millie asked, her eyes wide and fearful in the gloom. Simon felt guilty – she seemed to think he had some kind of clue as to what he was doing.

“I say left,” Jayne said, starting toward that tunnel.

“Based on what?” Simon demanded.

Jayne paused and looked at him quizzically. “Based on the ‘I don’t wanna stand around waiting for those freaks to catch up to us and eat me, so let’s keep moving’ theory!” he hissed.

“We have no way of knowing what’s down either tunnel…” Jack said, peering into the darkness of the right tunnel.

“I’m goin’ left. You can stand around flipping coins if you want, but I’m outta here,” Jayne snapped.

Simon sighed and followed Jayne, trailed by Jack and Millie. This tunnel was darker than the others – the turquoise veins had stopped right at the mouth of it, and only the thin gold veins remained. The ground had a slight upward incline, just enough to make walking more difficult.

They traveled for what felt like a long time before they heard a strange, scuffling sound from behind them.

“What is that?” Jayne asked.

Millie gasped and grabbed Jack’s wrist, and Jack pulled her closer, staring down the tunnel, eyes wide with fear.

“It’s them,” he said.

For a frozen instant, no one moved. Then, all at once, the four of them took off down the tunnel.

It was no use, though – the creatures were catching up to them, their strange skittering movements echoing louder and louder off the tunnel walls.

They ran, flat out, gasping and heaving, but never slowing. Simon had never run so fast in his life – he could feel his heart hammering, his lungs straining, his muscles burning, but he couldn’t stop. Fear is a powerful motivator.

As the sounds of their pursuers got louder, Simon braved a look over his shoulder. The creatures were scurrying after them, stretched out horizontally, using their arms and legs to propel themselves along the tunnel floor.

“Up ahead!” Jayne called. Simon strained to see, and he could just make out a faint light ahead. Maybe, just maybe, the tunnel opened to the surface.

What then? Simon didn’t know, and he honestly didn’t care, he just wanted to be out of this suffocating, claustrophobic place.

As fast as they were going, they reached the mouth of the tunnel in seconds, the four of them scrambling to get out. The tunnel opened in a clearing of the forest just outside the town’s protective wall.

Jayne stood guard, pushing Millie and Jack through, first, then Simon. As he went to pull himself through, the first wave of the aliens caught up to them. Jayne stabbed at it with his spear, but just as he buried the tip of the spear into the creature’s body, its stinger hit Jayne in his thigh.

Jayne howled in pain and fell back, unable to stand on his injured leg. The creatures were pouring out now, scrambling all over the ground. Simon took the spear from Jayne as he began to lose consciousness. The aliens swarmed out, but they held their ground, fighting and swinging. Simon stood over Jayne, reluctant to leave the big oaf unconscious on the ground. On either side of him, Millie and Jack fought. There was no hope of running away – they had to either beat these things or die trying.

More came up behind him, but Simon dove to one side and stabbed at them. He had no idea how to fight, but he had instinct, and it kept him moving. A stinger grazed Simon’s side, but he didn’t have time to stop. He swung the spear and hit another one of the aliens, knocking it down.

They were down to four of the vile things. Simon dodged a stinger and jabbed one in what he thought was its belly. Or its face. Either way, it screeched and fell. Now there were three left.

Overhead, Simon heard the roar of engines. He looked up and saw Serenity, silhouetted against the dim dawn light, hurtling toward them.

“They’re here!” he cried, only now allowing himself to feel hopeful.

He turned to see Jack and Millie, to tell them they were saved.

He turned just in time to see a stinger plunge into Jack’s heart.

Jack seized up, then collapsed in a heap, unmoving, eyes open, but blank.

“Jack! Jack!” Millie screeched.

Simon dove across the distance between them and grabbed Millie, yanking her out of harm’s way as the creature that’d killed Jack swung on her. It was injured and slow moving, but it still had its stinger.

She was sobbing and hysterical as Simon dragged her back over to where Jayne was. Two of the creatures had taken hold of Jayne’s feet and were dragging him back toward the tunnel. Simon picked up a rock and threw it at one. It only grazed it, but the creature dropped Jayne, turned to Simon, and charged.

Simon swung the spear and caught his attacker in the side. The second one was also racing forward, ready to attack. Simon’s spear was caught in the first alien’s body. He yanked, trying to free the tip, but he was running out of time.

Millie darted around Simon and brought her walking stick down on the creature, beating it repeatedly until it lay still on the ground. She gasped and looked up at Simon.

“Thanks,” he said, panting.

“No problem,” she said with a sad smile.

Then the tip of a stinger came shooting out of her neck. Millie gave a choked, strangled little cry and grasped weakly at the stinger, staring at it in horror. She fell, and the alien behind her withdrew its stinger and started toward Simon.

It couldn’t move fast – it was missing a leg, and had to hobble forward on its remaining two, but Simon was too stunned to react. He stood there, staring at it in shock, as it advanced toward him, stinger at the ready.

From above came a gunshot, and suddenly, the creature collapsed in a heap.

Simon looked up and saw Zoe hanging over the edge of the open hatch, a rope around her waist holding her fast, gun at the ready.

“You OK, Doc?” she called down.

Simon nodded, still too shocked to do more than stare. He looked down at Millie, then over to Jack. Not the first people he’d seen die. Not the first time he’d lost someone he was supposed to take care of.

Just the first time he’d lost someone in battle.

Mal and Zoe dropped a ladder down to them, and a harness to pull Jayne up with. Mal climbed down and helped Simon secure Jayne into the harness. They watched as he was reeled up and hauled into the ship by Wash and Zoe.

“Sorry about losing you, Doc,” Mal said with genuine concern.

Simon just nodded, “It’s OK…we’re OK…”

Mal glanced back at the bodies, both alien and human, that littered the small clearing.

“I…was hoping…thought we could bring them along…” Simon said, his voice hollow. All the adrenaline had drained away, leaving him feeling empty and exhausted. The aftermath of violence and terror was settling down on him, and he felt then like he might simply topple over.

Mal patted Simon on the shoulder. “You did good, fought well. It’s hard, losing someone in battle. But you did your best. End of the day, that’s all we can hope for.”

Simon nodded, then turned and climbed up the ladder and into the safety of the ship.

“Wash, I’m thinkin’ it’s about time for us to be going,” Mal said as he pulled himself into the ship and rolled the ladder up.

“Really? I was hoping we could hang around a little while, see some sights, get to know the local people.”

“Oh my God, are you alright, Simon?” Kaylee cried, racing over to him.

“Ssure…don’worry’bout me….” Jayne slurred, opening his eyes and looking around in confusion.

“Glad to see you’re not dead, Jayne,” Mal said. “You should thank Simon, I’m pretty sure he saved your life.”

“Wha…?” Jayne demanded incredulously.

Shepherd Book came over to help Mal drag Jayne to the med bay, while Kaylee took Simon’s arm and led him along.

“How do you feel?” she asked, watching him with concern.

“I’m…I’m alright. I’m hurt, but they’re mostly superficial wounds, a little disinfectant and a couple band-aids and I should be just fine…”

Once in the med bay, Simon set about washing and wrapping his injuries. Jayne was starting to protest, and wouldn’t lay down until Simon threatened to give him a sedative.

“I’m fine, Doc. Don’t need your medicine, just need a stiff drink,” Jayne mumbled, analyzing the sting wound on his leg.

“After the day I’ve had, I think I could, too.”

“You’re gonna have a drink?” Jayne asked.

“Sure, why not? What have I got to lose at this point? Maybe I’ll even kill off a few brain cells that are keeping memories I don’t want anyway,” Simon ranted.

Jayne nodded solemnly. Then, hesitantly, asked, “What happened to them? To those kids?”

Simon just shook his head.

Jayne cursed under his breath, then winced at Simon tending his wounds.

“Tell you what, you hurry this up, I’ll share my stash with you,” Jayne offered.

Simon chuckled, then nodded. “Alright, deal.”

River was safe, Simon had survived the ordeal on the planet, and they were racing away from that terrible place as fast as they could go. With any luck, after a few drinks, he’d even be able to get some sleep. Simon decided to call it a day and just be done with it. As Mal had once told him: Everyone was alive, and the ship was still flying, and some days, that was enough.



** The standard fanfiction disclaimer: We don’t own Firefly or any of the characters – Joss Whedon and Fox do, and We’re naturally not making any money for this (in fact, we spent time we could’ve written freelance pieces to earn money instead writing this, and we own the Firefly box set, so if anything, we lost money on this), and this was done purely because 1) Firefly is awesome, and 2) Melissa asked us to.  The end! **

  • Mark

    Another great story. I haven’t watched Firefly yet (blasphemy, I know) so I have no real knowledge of the characters or the back story. But even without that, I was still sucked in. I loved the horror elements. Loved the description of the aliens. Bravo!

    • Elena Victoria Elizabeth Jacob

      Blasphemy, indeed! It’s a good show, I do love it (though, no, there are no aliens in the show. It does, however, have Reavers, which I think you’ll enjoy…:D).

      I’m glad you liked it! I think being familiar with the show would make this a little more fun, but my goal, ultimately, was that people who are complete strangers to Firefly could read this and still enjoy it without having to rely on knowledge of the show to understand it :D

  • Mel

    I…loved this story SO MUCH you don’t even know. It really *felt* like an actual episode of Firefly. You managed to capture everyone’s voices *PERFECTLY* from Simon’s naivety/innocence to Mal’s practicality/BAMFness. And of course some Wash silliness sprinkled in. LOL

    And not just that but you managed to nail each of their relationships & how they interacted with each other on the show. Which can be hard for a writer to do. :) If there was anyone I could trust to do a Firefly fanfic justice, I knew it was you. <3

    …and now I want to read more Firefly fanfic by you dammit! LOL But I guess I'll have to settle for fic written by other people. *pouts*

    • Elena Victoria Elizabeth Jacob

      :D :D :D

      I’m really happy to hear you say that it felt like an episode, because that was what I was going for – I saw the whole thing playing out in my head like an episode (to the point where I even imagined the intro music after Mal’s line “Seems to me we’re in a ghost town.” Haha!) and I was hoping to capture that feel, even though aliens were never featured in the show.

      I think I just really wanted a chance to work with aliens. It’s fun to create freaky creatures that bear no resemblance to Earth life :D

      I’m also really glad you felt the relationships and interactions came across well. I struggled with this in places because, I mean, Joss Whedon! How do I replicate that!? It was fun to work with, though :D

      As always, your faith in me is an inspiration~

  • Ravi Pradhan

    As someone who doesn’t tend to read fan-fiction, but also as someone who is a huge Firefly fan (only watched it and Serenity this Summer, but still), I thoroughly enjoyed this!

    What I liked most was the dialogue and crew interaction. It felt coherent and consistent, just like from any Firefly scene – though it would have been awesome if you included some of their ridiculous Mandarin expletives!

    Extraterrestrial life isn’t something that’s considered in the ‘verse at all, so I found it quite interesting you used that as a primary premise for your plot; it worked nicely though, and certainly gave a horror-esque flavour to the story.

    When fan-fiction is written like this, and is an enjoyable read, it certainly helps ease the pain of the lack of a canonical Firefly continuation – so cheers for this; I’ll be sure to check out your other works :D


    • Elena Jacob

      I’m so happy to hear that! :D I’m usually not big on fanfic, either (and before this, I’ve never written any), but I promised it to a friend, so here we are :)

      I love hearing that you liked their interactions–I so laboured over being true to the characters, the dialogue, and the overall feel of the show. Aliens were part of the request, so even though they aren’t part of the Firefly ‘verse, it was fun to work them in and see how it went.

      It’s good to hear that this has eased the pain of losing Firefly, which ended far too soon. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy our other works! :D

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