[Firefly-Fiction] [NEW] Mine Eyes Have Seen _R_ (1/1)
hosscheka at yahoo.com
Sat Jan 7 11:03:54 EST 2006
Mine Eyes Have Seen
hosscheka at yahoo.com
Please see part 0 (template) for warnings and summary.
The corridor was Alliance: bright, unstained, three meters tall and half a
world long. It arced around the station's rim in a slight curve that made the
squares of flooring just barely uneven, ensuring the panels on the inner curve
never matched the outer. The line of prisoners - detained combatant personnel
- sprawled against the inner wall and halfway across the deck, leaving clear
only the floor beside the starscape panels that sectioned the outside panels.
The walls were white and clean and carried a hint of ionizing disinfectant.
The line was grey and ragged and frankly stank of devitalization.
A man might be forgiven for hating that corridor, and that line, with the sort
of bone-deep, bitter, futile anger best reserved for animate objects. If a man
were interested in forgiveness, that is.
It had been six weeks since the cease-fire of Serenity Valley. Malcolm
Reynolds, late of the Fourth Independent Army, felt the weight of every moment
since, layered on his shoulders like dust.
Beside him, Zoe sat quietly, her head tipped back against the wall and her eyes
shutting away the 'verse. Beneath the lights, her skin was dull, even the pale
cap where they'd clipped her hair short like a spring ewe. Past her, the line
stretched out hundreds of meters before it cut out of sight around the bend of
the passageway. To the other side of Mal, a narrow-faced man with an old scar
twisting his mouth rested on his heels, staring across the corridor at nothing.
The line extended in that direction as well, towards whatever end the Alliance
command had in mind for those it had gathered up.
Gathered unwillingly - Alliance commanders and Independent troops alike were
displeased by the progress of events that had set the mass of prisoners on the
station. Mal had heard tell, somewhere, weeks before, that the detainees
numbered better than seven thousand.
Zoe had laughed at the number. "Ain't that many of us alive any more."
Mal had agreed with her, but since then he had seen so many captured that he
doubted his own eyes. There'd been troops from every Independent unit that had
stood long enough to agree to a name and a patch - Whitefall First Volunteers,
Second Persephone Artillery, 42 Lotus Falling. Some he hadn't seen for years,
since the start of the war. Other units he knew had never been in Serenity
Valley. *They might be ghosts*, he thought. *Caught up by the Alliance, and
with no home left to go to.*
No home but this creeping journey through a bright-lit hell.
In any case, it made no never-mind what patches the prisoners wore. The
Alliance had badgered them and insulted them and tagged them like lost beeves
and then thrown them together - officers and enlisted, volunteers and regulars,
mostly ground troops but with a passel of air cav and even a scattering of
space crews. They shared the same open bays during the dimlight hours, ate
from a common pot, stood in the same line, from can-see to can't-see, or what
passed for such outside of a world's gravity.
The day before had been spent in the line - following a snaking trail from
small hours and a scant breakfast, and dragging on, and on, until it ended
eighteen hours later. So had the day before, and the day before that. The
stops at the ID stations, at the interview station, the medics - all of those
were a blink and a miss, between hours in line.
A shift forward would ripple down the line like the flutter of a banner, three
steps at once, then four more. Then the line would stop and lean against the
wall. If the pause was long enough, the prisoners would slide down in ones and
twos and tens to sit on their duffels and the bare floor and, finally, stretch
out in sleep on the deck.
The line was moving again - a clump of figures rising, walking a handful of
paces, and then slumping down, one after the other. Mal struggled to his feet
and wrapt his hand around his duffle strap. Didn't bother to swing it up this
time, only set the end down on his foot and stepped it forward that way -
thump, slide, thump, slide. Five meters, ten, thirteen. Then the man ahead of
Mal stopped and dropped his bag to the floor, his haunches following. Mal sat
and leaned back. Beside him, Zoe slid down the wall and sat beside him,
keeping her feet tucked up against her, tidy-like. Mal shoved his boots out
into the corridor.
The line kept rippling down the corridor and out of sight, like the water in a
mud puddle after a frog jumped out. Or, it would have, had it not caught up
against a piece of refuse along the way.
Fifteen meters down from Mal, a black-haired woman with a 5th Eris Volunteers
patch on her ragged jacket stood twisting her hands and craning her head back
and forth, staring moon-eyed up and down the corridor. A green-crusted bandage
had been plastered over one eye and the side of her head. The uncovered eye
was glazed and unfocused. As the line around her flopped like sacks of grain
to the floor, the woman's head moved faster, side to side, and her mouth fell
"Here it comes," muttered the grey-haired woman on the other side of Zoe. And
on the heels of the words, the Eris woman began grunting - "*Ah! Ah! Ah!
A chorus of lamentations swept down the line.
"Stuff a boot in her, mister!"
"Enough of that *gos se*!"
"Oh, come on! Not again!"
Even as the complaints gained volume, the soldier beside the injured woman - a
boy, face still red-berry speckled - reached up, hand flailing before it
latched onto the woman's belt. A steady tug and a murmur, too quiet for Mal to
hear, brought the woman's attention down to knee level. Clasping his hand in
both of hers, she collapsed to the floor, ending her descent tight against the
other troop and silent.
One voice kept up the complaint anyway. "Rutting brain-blown skut - shoulda
left her for the purple-pissers." The speaker was a thick-armed man in a
regular's colors. "Not too late to stick a knife in her."
There was a low murmur of sanction, and a louder snarl of opposition. Beside
Mal, the scar-faced man spoke without turning his head. "She made it this far,
she ain't hurting nobody." There was no heat in his voice.
The regular wasn't having any of it. "She's stinking up the whole goram line
with her face rotting off and that ruttin' racket she makes don't let me sleep!
I get up the line, I'm gonna tell the purps `bout that crazy bug you got there,
so's they take her someplace else!"
The Eris boy half turned to shout down the line, "*Choo fay wuh suh leh*!" his
arm holding the other troop close.
"Watch me, stick-boy!"
Down the line, another voice spoke, "It ain't her swanking now, army man. Just
your fat ass. Shut up and leave it alone."
The reg swung around to glare behind him. Before he could speak, a voice
hissed, "*Bee-jway*! Guards coming!"
Over the top of the warning, Mal heard the tramp of feet. A squad - five
troops in close-order, clear shields held by their sides, with a broad
shouldered sergeant leading.
"Make a hole there! Make a hole!" Grumbling and cursing, the prisoners pulled
their feet out of the middle of the corridor, and shuffled tighter to one side.
At Zoe's glare, Mal drug his heels back in, but otherwise declined to move.
The Alliance troops had the whole corridor to walk through; they could lend him
half a meter. From Zoe's look, she didn't seem to think the guards were going
to cotton to that.
Mal lifted his head in time to see the Alliance NCO pick up his foot and set it
against a duffle that was lying a centimeter too far into the line of traffic.
"Keep the corridor clear!" The pack bounced off the wall when it hit, its
owner scrambling after, away from the same boot. Up and down the line, there
was a shuffle of feet tucked up and gear drug further in.
Zoe turned her head to watch the lavender-livers go. Mal let his eyes slide
shut, closing away the light and the sight of that shiny clean corridor. He
could do nothing about the sound and the sullen mutter of the prisoners that
rasped on his ears like rusted wire. Day in, day out, the bitter words never
stopped. Even late at night, when the lights were dimmed as far as they went
(or so claimed the Alliance guards) and the long dining halls-cum-barracks were
filled with row after row of blanketed forms, huddled like roosting hens, there
was always someone speaking, someone whispering a long train of invective
against the Alliance, against a fellow prisoner, against fate. In the small
hours, it would fade into a rat-scrabble hiss that rose and fell like the wind
in a roof-shingle, only to grow again in the morning over breakfast; fed, like
the prisoners, on thin gruel and stale rice cakes.
In the line it would gather itself into a jouncing rhythm, like a horse
settling into a mile-eating jog. On occasions, it would wane quiet, and at
others rise to a near shout. Some *would* shout, like the head plastered woman
down the line, and her reg friend. Then, others would shout back, and their
mates, and the whole corridor would ring with cat-calls and fair-thee-wells.
At times, it seemed everyone had friends. Everyone except Malcolm Reynolds.
The scarred man climbed to his feet. Mal waited until Zoe nudged him; then he
stood and picked up his duffle. By this time, there was a three meter space
between Mal and the next man. Two men stepped out into the middle of the
corridor and tried to pass. Zoe threw out her arm.
"Keep your place - we're all going to get there."
One of the men looked inclined to argue. The other just said, "You're holding
up the line. Keep him moving."
"Ain't him holding up the line - talk to the lavi-livers, if you got some place
to be." But with her other arm Zoe was pushing Mal forward.
Five steps. Ten. Twelve. Then the man ahead of Mal stopped, set his duffle
Mal stared for a moment at the pale, stubble-flecked head. Then he dropped his
duffle as well. Sat on it, shifted his weight off a firm edge, sat again.
Slid off the duffle and curled next to it, on the floor. Closed his eyes.
He must have slept, then, for when he woke he could not recall where he was.
The light overhead was saffron, not ivory, and flickered. It made the paler
faces around him look peaked and sickly, and even Zoe's skin was flattened, her
She touched his shoulder and made a motion with her chin up the line. Mal
turned and followed the gaze of the other prisoners, all watching the squad
picking their way along.
This was a six-count - a regular squad plus an officer. A young one, boots
slick-shined and trouser leg ceases sharp as regret. Mal felt the
cleanliness-hate well up in his throat again, and choked it back down.
The NCO, like the man before him, was pushing the line back towards the inner
wall. "Make a hole! Keep the deck clear!" Mud-turtle sullen, the prisoners
The officer's eyes swept up and down the line, a frown forming around her
almond eyes. Her voice, when she spoke, was Alliance, just like the corridor -
light and unmarred. "Independent personnel, you have no excuse for behavior
that puts this station at risk. You will keep this corridor clear and you will
maintain the line. You have been briefed on this daily. Do not feign
Mal thought maybe someone would volunteer an observation unoriginal and
inspired by stupidity - perhaps even one of the scowling regulars - but the
glare of the Alliance NCO kept the looser tongues behind teeth. The lieutenant
paced slowly up the line, looking at each prisoner, one by one.
At the bandaged woman, the officer paused, nose wrinkling. "You, there -
what's your unit?"
The boy straightened up, pressed a hand to his squad mate. "We're Fifth Eris,
"Has she been to a medic today?"
"Yessum, she's been, she's fine."
"Today? She got those bandages today? Which medic did she see?" The
lieutenant pulled out a pad, started making notes.
"I dunno, all the uniforms look the same." A snicker ran down the line, and
the Alliance NCO barked, "At ease!" The snuffling laughter died away. The
officer still frowned. She flipped over the woman's id badge, read the
"I don't care if she's already been to the medics today - if she starts having
problems, you contact one of the guards, and we'll get her to a hospital
The boy nodded, eyes wide and terrified. The officer stepped back. "Sergeant,
let's keep moving."
As they moved down the line, the boy's gaze followed them.
Mal had first laid eyes on the woman three days before, and her bandages had
been stain-soured then. The medics made a call for injured and sick every
morning. Some went. Most didn't.
Mal had come to the station as one of four - four *left* - when ten weeks
before he had been one of two hundred, and one of a thousand as recent as three
months ago. But he had ended the battle for Serenity Valley shorn of the
responsibility of command, stripped clean of the sort of entanglements that
comrades and squad mates and brothers in arms evoked. Being free, it was
understood, of comrades and squad mates in general, and in specific down to one
other person who knew the name he had been born with.
Some of the others had come to the detainee station similarly orphaned. Most
did not stay that way - latching onto a knot of survivors clinging together, or
finding another couple of one-counts to mesh with. Mal found himself shedding
people as the days went on.
There had been four. Four, and one had died, and one had gone to sick call,
and not come back.
Try as he might, Mal had not shaken Zoe loose.
*Is he going to eat that?* The man across the table had gestured at Mal, but
his words were addressed to Zoe.
The prisoner was the same shade of grey as the gruel - grey skin, grey hair,
brown coat gone to grey under the dust of ashes. Five weeks, and the Alliance
was still short of clean cloth for the detainees.
The grey man's spoon had clanked against his empty bowl. Mal kept his eyes on
his own plate, and tried to convince his stomach that it wanted the
*It's just that he's been staring at his plate for near half an hour. It's
gonna get cold. It ain't no good cold.*
*It ain't no good hot, either.*
*Is he gonna to eat it?*
*He eats slow. Mind your own business.*
*Chur ni-duh.* The grey man slammed his spoon down and shoved away from the
table. Mal didn't look up.
He didn't eat, either. Five hours later, Mal was of a mind to wish he had,
except every time he thought about the grey sauce, his hunger went away.
Another hour passed, and another fifty meters of corridor. Then the first
squad of guards came back, this time with twenty-odd prisoners in tow. They
stopped downline from Mal. The sergeant pointed, indicating a space in the
"There. You lot, fall in line there." The line voiced a low rumble of fury,
directed as much at the new prisoners as at the guards. It didn't help that
the new lot looked hot-washed and well-shod.
"You got a problem? Move it down, make a hole!" The squad looked ready to add
force to their scowls. The line made room.
The guards stood, waiting, until all of the new lot was squeezed into the gap.
Then they marched away, leaving the new prisoners behind.
Mal tried to shut his ears to the glad-handing, bitching and uncomplimentary
"Sir, we're moving again."
Rustling, thumps, footfalls, and the brief squall of the Eris troop, before the
other one quieted her again. Zoe wasn't lying.
"I'm not your boss anymore, Zoe. Quit saying that."
"If you're not my boss, *sir*, then you got no call to be telling me what I can
and can't do." She rose to her feet, a lurching roll that brought her into
his personal space and then out again. A drift of unwashed woman followed her
- sweat and stink, like the rest of them, but tempered with something less
He kept telling himself that he was letting Zoe tag along because he knew she
had nowhere else wanting her. And because she kept herself cleaner than any of
the rest of the station's lost lambs.
"Line's moving, sir."
He came to his feet.
He stayed with her because she'd be very angry if he went anywhere. Zoe's acid
tongue was bad enough, but her silences burned a man to the bone.
Nearly anything was better than that.
Being alone was worse.
The two men behind them were crowding Zoe again. One bent close, hand on Zoe's
shoulder, mouth at her ear. Mal swung about, *slow, too slow,* the man had his
other hand under her coat. Mal was fumbling with his duffle, aiming drop it
so's to have both hands free. Then the man released Zoe and, with a touch to
his partner, walked past them both.
*Hey*, Mal meant to say, but the word never came out.
"It's okay, sir, let them go." Zoe had her hand under her coat, and was
staring after them brow wrinkled and mouth perplexed. "I'm okay, let them
Mal swung his duffle up and walked on, keeping Zoe in the corner of his eye.
She kept her hand under the lapel of her coat. Five steps, and the two men had
shoved their way up three places in line. When the line stopped, Mal kept
half a meter between him and the man ahead.
Zoe sat down right close, her eyes bright.
"Look." Her hand came out from her coat, and in it was an apple. A molted,
bruised thing, pale syrup leaking through a split in the side, brown under the
green-red skin. Another moment and the smell of it hit him. Zoe already was
digging into it with her fingers, even then unwilling to bite into the fruit
whole. She passed the first chunk to him and Mal snatched the bit away.
It was overripe, dry where it wasn't bruised, and on the verge of rotten. He
swallowed that bit down, held out his hand for more.
They ate it all in seconds, even the pip. Mal had the last of it, and looked
at Zoe, his eyes following her fingers as she licked them clean.
"I suppose I should be glad you're eating."
He shrugged; resentful of the half she had eaten, guiltily aware that he would
not have shared any such treasure. "Up to you. You got water on you?"
"Not for you."
Mal looked at her again. Sometimes Zoe said things like that playful. With a
flat voice, and a face on the verge of smiling. Not this time. She looked
back at him square, and Mal turned away.
After a time he said, "Didn't ask you to stick around, Zoe."
"I know. It ain't your say."
He made fists of his hands, dug his nails into his palms. He could try to open
a hole to the Black by beating his hands on the floor, and it would have as
much effect as arguing words with Zoe.
A sliding hiss of feet and words meant the line was moving again. Mal got to
his feet by his own self, and slung his duffle on his back. One more thing to
put between him and Zoe.
Only eight steps this time. They all kept their feet for a little while, then
slowly took their places again. Zoe didn't say anything.
The line did not move again, not for a long time. Mal stared across the
corridor at the blank wall until his eyes ached. Zoe folded her arms and put
her head on her knees.
"You should sleep, sir."
"Shut up, Zoe. I sleep fine."
"How long since the last time I told you, sir, that you're a lousy liar?"
"Not long enough." But he kept his words quiet, because Zoe's voice was no
more than what a man could call *peeved*, and he knew she was dozing, as tired
as he was, because when the man in the next bunk woke up shaking and whimpering
in the middle of the night, hour after hour, a woman didn't get much more rest
than the man with the nightmares.
Mal stared at the white wall until he was bored with hating it, then shifted
his duffle around. He had just gotten comfortable when the Alliance troops
came back. It was the squad with the conscientious lieutenant, and the Eris
troops huddled closer together.
They weren't the only ones surprised when a man shouted, "Hey, guard! Yeah,
you! What the hell are you doing? We need tiedowns, all of us! You trying to
The voice belonged to one of three shaven-headed spacers, fifty meters back.
Mal didn't know where they came from, or how they had ended up in a column of
ground troops and mixed armor. In their barely scuffed flightsuits, the trio
stood out like a black cow on an alkali flat against the tattered coats and
mixed mufti of the surface troops. One of them stood up, tall and near-clean
and with a slight gut. They all still had their gloves. Mal knew they hadn't
been among the troops for more than a day.
The lieutenant stepped forward, framed by the observatory window behind her.
"You will maintain your place in line and you will keep the main thoroughfare
clear. Failure to do so hampers the efforts of this station to process you as
swiftly as humanly possible. I think none of you want to be on my station any
longer than necessary."
A security lieutenant no more owned the station than had deed to the stars
behind her. Mal focused on that and tried to ignore anything else she
The knot of spacers down the row had no intention of being ignored.
"You're going to kill us all, Alliance murderers!" The look on the
lieutenant's face said, *Don't I wish*, but she only tightened her lips and
remained silent. "We need harnesses! We need tie downs! All of us - this
corridor's a death trap!"
An ugly murmuring spread towards Mal from the spacers. By appearances, the
ground troops hadn't thought of that. Before this moment, that was.
"You have no need for harnesses or hi-gee restraint!"
"That bulkhead's half a klick off, damn your eyes!"
"Four hundred and thirty meters, to be exact, perpendicular to this platform's
line of thrust, which would make it perfectly safe, even if this vessel had the
capability of generating that type of vectored acceleration. Which it does
*not*" The muttering of the line was only growing louder, and the lieutenant
raised her voice to cut over them.
Mal could have told her to save her breath. This lot was beyond listening to
logic. Or Alliance. Or orders.
"We need harnesses!"
"You do *not*. This is a docking facility, maintained in a synchronous orbit.
We do not have acceleration capabilities."
"You're going to murder us!"
"We don't have harnesses for security personnel assigned, much less for seven
thousand Independent troops. As you can see, neither myself nor my squad have
hi-gee restraint gear - because it is not needed!"
"We need -"
The squad NCO stepped in, finally, and barked, "Shut it *down*!" at the spacer.
His voice - and the rifle at port arms, jerked in a short, brutal threat - did
what his officer's logic could not, and forced an end to the conversation. The
lieutenant said, "Enough, move out," into the silence.
The line was already moving forward as the Alliance soldiers marched away.
When it stopped, the bandaged Eris woman started shouting again.
"Shut that bitch up!" The thick-armed regular was back on his feet, shouting
past the intervening bodies at the skinny kid. "You shut her down or I goram
"Go rut yourself, you *bun tyen-shung duh ee-dway-ro!*" the boy spat back. The
woman was down now, and silent, huddled in the circle of the boy's arm.
"Rut you, *go tsao de* twig-ass!"
"No, rut you, you fat-bellied mother-rutter!" Fear was thick in the boy's
voice, and even Mal could tell his mouth was running fast and far ahead of his
brain. "How'd you get so fat? Chow down on the rest of your squad?"
"You little father-rutting - " The other man was down the corridor in three
fast strides. The Eris troop was slow to rise, slow to shake off the injured
woman. The first blow hammered him back down to the floor.
The reg's hand closed over the boy's throat like a docking claw - cold steel
fastening with the inertia of a million kilos of ceramic frame, a grip an angel
would envy. The boy cried out and pawed at the hand as his feet left the deck.
The reg held the boy there for an instant, staring at the purpling face and
then shook him - three fast, teeth rattling gyrations - before putting his
whole body into throwing the boy against the bulkhead.
The boy hit shoulder first, feet and skull following. The detainees against
that portion of the wall scrambled out of the way, leaving an empty space to be
filled by the boy's crumpled form. His head lolled back, eyes rolled so the
whites showed clear against his swarthy face.
"Cut that *gosah*!"
"Shut it down!"
"Purps gonna to shoot you, *nee mun doh shr sagwa*!"
Warning shouts rippled from the altercation like waves from a stone. The reg
ignored them. "Get up, you little slot, I'm going to beat your ass into the
deck seam, so get - aaag!"
The woman had no subtlety in her approach, and no visible technique. Her
target's focus had allowed her one good swing. She wasted it, throwing herself
at his back, flailing at his head, hands pattering on his back.
She did not get a second chance. The reg's roar echoed down the corridor. Her
shriek overlaid the end of the shout as his hand gripped the side of her face
through the bandages. A jerk and the bandages ripped free, sending the woman
to her knees and splattering pus three meters down the row. Cursing, the reg
threw the fistful of rags to one side. The woman pressed both hands to her
face, her screams filling the air.
"Bitch!" The reg stepped in and kicked her in the stomach. The screams cut
off in a damp sob. She lay there a moment, mouth gasping for air. When she
struggled back to her knees, eyes staring through Mal, the reg kicked her
The third time, he caught her in the face. The fourth splattered blood against
"Guard! Guard!" The reg ignored the warning shouts and drew his leg back
"Make a hole! Damn your eyes, make a hole!"
The woman was twitching now, shuddering quivers of her hand as she reached out
toward Mal, toward nothing, hand closing on air. The grimy boot made a sound
like an ax into a steer's head, like a hundred pounds of viscera dropping onto
the slaughterhouse floor. It tossed her over so that she lay face up, blood
bubbling into froth at the ruin of her mouth and nose.
And he kicked her again. The blood landed on Mal's face this time, and when he
opened his eyes, the Alliance troopers were there.
"Hands high! Hands high! Down on the floor!" The reg's face was locked on the
woman as he kicked her again. There was a crunch this time. The boy screamed
and reached for her, held back by another pair of reg troops, who forced him to
The woman began thrashing. The Alliance squad had the man pinned before he
could land another blow.
It took three of them to secure the binders on him, with two more holding guns
on the other prisoners and the lieutenant herself with a pistol aimed at the
two men holding the boy. Mal watched the woman writhe on the floor beyond
their boots, mouth a gaping cavern, one eye wide and sightless.
The big reg went to his knees with a thud. The lieutenant stepped back to the
woman, gun still steady, one hand at her lapel com.
"Sector E-four, corridor 12. I need a medic. And another squad." She knelt,
eyes flickering from the prisoners to the woman and back again. The woman was
still. Mal couldn't see if the blood still flowed.
One hand felt for a pulse, shifted position, felt again, fingers crimson to the
second knuckle. "Rutting piss. Yee, get over here, start compressions.
Darin, Oh, keep your positions." She slapped at the mike again. "I have a
prisoner with contusions and without a pulse, I need that medic now."
They worked over the woman - heart massage, ventilation, the officer's face
damp with blood - until the medics arrived, and when the medics would have
stopped, the officer made them keep going until a second team arrived with a
long board. But Mal saw their faces as they left, and he saw the way the
woman's body had fallen onto the board.
The boy saw it too, and he wailed, an ugly, hitching sound. The others had
released him, and he lay on the deck, grinding his face into the flooring,
"Shut up!" The officer stood, scarlet mouth pressed into a line. "Shut up.
Get in line. Police up your belongings, maggots." She stepped over, kicked a
duffle back against the wall. "Get in line."
Her squad moved to back her up, weapons at the ready. Mal drew his feet in,
kept a hand on his duffle. Someone pulled the boy back up against the wall,
leaned him against his ruck.
"Lawless animals, all of you, *tyen-sah duh uh-muo.*" Her glare was like jet
wash, blistering heat, slamming against them, then gone.
"Form up. Sergeant, let's go."
The boy sat where he had been dropped, sobbing, his bloody face cradled in
shaking hands. None of the other troops went to him, but the next woman down
snarled a warning at one of the regular lunks when that man would have gotten
to his feet.
"You stay down. Keep that shit secured or I'll pack it for you." Two men,
Banto Badgers by their patches, like the woman, shifted up onto their knees.
The regular scowled, but folded himself back up against the wall.
Eventually, the boy's sobbing slowed, became a series of hiccupping sighs.
That too, stopped when the rest of the corridor went silent. The whole line
watched as a new squad of guards marched up, a cleaning crew in their wake.
The line watched, soundlessly, as the crew spread absorbent pads and
disinfectant over the blood left behind. A series of sniffs and coughs as the
stink of the cleaning spray spread through the air, but nothing more.
When they had finished, and stripped off their stained gloves and bagged those
along with the crumpled absorbing pads, the squad leader singled out the
"You. Yeah, you, with the bloody face."
The boy looked up, numbness battling with terror on his face. The guard took
another step forward. "You need a medic?"
The boy stared, then shook his head.
"I said, do you need a medic? Answer me!"
"No, sir." A phlegmy voice.
The guard looked up and down the line. "Anyone else here need medical
The watching eyes stared back.
The patrol went around the corner, armor dark against the bright walls.
>From up ahead the call came: "Move up, move up! Next twenty, move up!"
The line rippled to its feet - the little man, the shave-headed scarface, Mal,
Zoe. Down the line, the boy was clambering upright, the straps of his duffle
passing through his fingers. It fell twice as Mal watched. The boy kept
struggling with his battered fingers to drag two packs. The woman behind the
boy stepped around him, kept going. Mal shouldered his duffle and faced
forward, followed the scar-faced man around the corner.
When they stopped, it was on the other side of a closed door, and the boy was
not on their side of the hatch.
An Alliance administration troop moved down the line, passing out cards.
"Fill these out as the instructions describe, indicating your choice of
destination. Come forward in order, single file. Your next stop will be a
shuttle loading bay, prior to your departure for your destination. Note that
you can only request the worlds listed here. Fill these out..." At Mal's
back, Zoe let out a long sigh.
"Hey," she said.
"Look at me."
A touch at his face, a tear and the faded scent of old disposable cleaning
squares. Mal flinched away.
"Stop it. I'm not bunking with a man with blood on his face."
"Ain't none of us clean anymore, Zoe."
"Not what I mean, sir. Hold still."
She got at what she could, above his collar, then opened another, and scrubbed
away the blackening smear on his hands. When she was done, he sat staring at
the white card and the empty lines on the stiff paper, wishing he was back in
the bright corridor, with something to hate.
Story Notes: 5,800 words. Obvious debts to Veejane's "Cradle Elbows Wide".
For Victoria P's Lyrics Challenge at
Tears have been shed, faith has been lost
I've got my freedom but I don't have much time
--"Wild Horses" by The Sundays
"Troop" is used here as in modern US military practice: as a singular noun
indicating a military member of either gender, regardless of branch of service,
generally, but not exclusively, enlisted rather than commissioned. Persons who
disagree with this definition may apply to the DoD, the Pentagon, with
recommended alternate terms.
Close observers may note differences between modern practices of guards in
proximity to prisoners, and those depicted in this story. The author would
like to assure those readers that she does indeed know better.
### The End ###
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