The Girl in the Fire Space
Captain Malcolm ‘Mal’ Reynolds left the area outside of Serenity’s infirmary. Zoe and Wash had things well in hand
patching up the doctor’s leg, and his conversation with Inara had ended
abruptly with her refusal to let him look at her lip. He didn’t see any sense in sticking around.
Mal decided to go back to the ship’s cockpit. After all, the ship couldn’t stay on autopilot forever, and the rest of the crew was otherwise occupied.
As he moved through the cargo bay, Mal stopped to take in what everyone was doing. He could see Kaylee and River playing jacks in one corner, like overgrown children, and Jayne and Shepherd Book using the weights in another. Shaking his head, he walked to the stairs that would take him up to the fore passage and the cockpit.
“I can win this,” River stated decisively, looking at the rubber ball in her hand.
“I’m hearin’ a lot of talk there, genius,” Kaylee said. “Come on, show me what you got.”
River smiled to herself as she proceeded to play, listening to Kaylee talk about boys. Her mind wandered, and for the first time in a long time, she felt safe. She let her memory drift back to the feeling of safety in times past.
In her mind, River could see the family room of her parents’ mansion, Simon sitting on the sofa across from a roaring fireplace, studying, while she climbed around and joked about the Independents attacking on dinosaurs. Her eyes closed, and as she concentrated, she could almost hear the crackling flames and feel the heat on her face.
River’s eyes suddenly opened, and she stared intently at the space in the hold beneath the stairs Mal was just starting to climb that would take him up towards the cockpit.
Mal placed his right foot on the first step, about to go up, when a spark of light under the stairs caught his attention. He craned his neck to try and see what was there, but whatever it was, it was just out of view, so he took a step back.
As he moved to check in the space under the stairs, Mal saw flames. Worried that his ship was on fire, he spun around to tell someone to grab a fire extinguisher.
No one was paying attention to what was happening except for River, who was staring directly into the fire. Kaylee continued to play, chattering on about something or other, and at the other end of the hold, Jayne and Shepherd Book were swapping places at the weight bench (Jayne still lamenting his missed opportunity to butt heads with the assassin that had snuck onto the ship).
Looking back at the fire again, Mal noticed that it hadn’t gotten any bigger, and it didn’t seem to be spreading. He squinted his eyes and tried to look at the inner wall of the hold, but when his gaze went beyond the fire, he couldn’t see the wall. It looked like there was space behind it, and when he examined the area around the fire, he could see what seemed to be the faded outline of an ornate fireplace.
Mal closed his eyes and shook his head. Something wasn’t right, and if nobody else had noticed, then there must be something wrong with him. He had, after all, been recently knocked unconscious by a slightly unhinged bounty hunter.
Opening his eyes, Mal looked into the small alcove under the stairs again. The fire was still there, as was the space beyond and the frame of the fireplace around it. This was out of the ordinary.
All of a sudden, he heard sounds echoing on the other side the fire. ‘Out of the ordinary’ didn’t begin to cover it. Mal could hear footsteps, as if someone was pacing! He looked around the hold once more, and still, no one seemed to realize that there was anything amiss.
THIS must be what going mad feels like, Simon had said back on Higgins’ Moon when the folks in a nameless bar started singing about Jayne, the Hero of Canton. Simon had no idea what going mad felt like…
Mal moved closer to the flames, trying to figure out what he was seeing and hearing. Now, with an overpowering sense of curiosity, he reached out his hand and ran it tentatively along the top of the fireplace. He noticed that one end was slightly higher than the other, and he pressed his hand on the higher end.
The second Mal took his hand off the top of the fireplace, the floor started moving under his feet. Startled, he looked up and around, and before he could move, a seam opened up in the wall. The half circle-shaped section of floor on which he was standing rotated with the center of the fireplace acting as the hub of a wheel.
“Kayl-“ he started to call out to the ship’s mechanical genius, but it was too late. He closed his eyes as the hold disappeared from view.
When the floor stopped moving, Mal opened his eyes one at a time and cautiously looked around. Logic would have dictated that he’d be on the outside of the ship now, but he wasn’t. He was still in front of the fireplace, but he wasn’t in the hold anymore. In fact, he didn’t recognize the room he was in at all.
Mal had opened his eyes just in time to see a female figure stop her pacing back and forth across the room. He opened his mouth to say something, but he had no words.
The woman in front of him was wearing a traveling cloak, the kind he’d seen Inara wear whenever she left the ship to meet a client. That, along with her elegant bearing, was where the similarities ended, though. She was in her mid-30’s, had blond hair that was twisted up in an intricate style, and she was wearing a grand ball gown, the type of which he hadn’t seen since attending that party on Persephone. A few feet away from the fireplace sat a trunk on the floor.
The woman started to turn with a relieved smile, but her smile fell as she saw his face. “Vous n'êtes pas lui,” she said. Mal didn’t know what language she was speaking or what she said, but it was said with such with an expression of sadness that he wished the fireplace would start turning again right then.
“Ummmm…” he began. “Excuse me?”
If it was possible, the woman’s face fell even further. “You’re not him,” she said, in heavily-accented English.
“Well,” he started, “miss, that depends on who him is.”
“The Doctor,” she said, still staring at him in disappointment. “You are not the Doctor.”
“No, that’s true,” Mal responded. “I ain’t the doctor. I know a doctor, but he’s not here right at the moment.” The woman looked at the floor in resignation before walking over to look out the window. “If you don’t mind my askin’, who are you?”
“My name,” she replied without looking at him, “is Reinette. Reinette Poisson. And who are you?”
Mal took one step away from the fireplace. “My name is Malcolm Reynolds. Captain Reynolds. My turn, now. Where am I?”
Still staring out the window, Reinette said, “You are at the Palace of Versailles.”
Not being familiar with the name, Mal needed more information. “Apologies, but I’m gonna need a little more detail.”
Mal’s confusion caught Reinette’s attention, and she finally turned to face him. “You are at the Palace of Versailles,” she repeated, “in the country of France.”
He searched his memory but still drew a blank. “Ok, a little more, if you please? What planet is this?”
Reinette looked at him skeptically but answered anyway. “This is la Terre. I believe the English call it Earth.”
Mal’s eyes almost bugged out of his head. “Earth? As in Earth-that-Was?!” Reinette’s expression was blank. “Never mind,” Mal said as he moved to the window. If he had somehow ended up on Earth-that-Was, he wanted to get a good look.
Following him with her eyes, Reinette commented, “You called yourself ‘Captain’. How did you get here, and how is it possible you do not know where you are?”
“Well,” Mal started, still looking out the window at the gardens, “that is a mighty good question. This may sound strange, but I was on my ship, and a fireplace appeared in the hold. That fireplace,” he said, pointing at the one in question.
“It is not as strange as you would think,” said Reinette. “Not long ago, another man came through that fireplace from another ship.”
Turning to look at her, Mal asked, “Would this be the Doctor you mentioned before?”
“It is,” answered Reinette, taking off her traveling cloak with a sense of resignation. She draped it across the end of her bed. “He left momentarily, and he said that he would return, but he has not yet. Too much time passes every time he leaves, but I fear that I will not see him again.”
“I’m terribly sorry to hear that,” Mal said.
Reinette smiled sadly to herself. “And I am terribly sorry to say it.”
Mal gestured at the traveling cloak and at the trunk still sitting on the floor. “You were supposed to go with this Doctor?”
“I was,” Reinette responded. “He was supposed to show me the stars. He told me to look at the sky, choose a star, and that he would return in two minutes. That was just before you arrived.” Mal didn’t know what to say, so Reinette continued. “Please, Captain, tell me about your ship?”
Feeling a swell of pride, Mal said “She’s the best ship there is. Name is Serenity.”
“Serenity,” Reinette repeated. “A state of being calm and peaceful. That is a lovely name for a ship.”
“And it suits her,” Mal replied.
“What type of ship is Serenity?” Reinette inquired. “And to where does she travel?”
Mal decided to make himself comfortable, so he sat himself down on the trunk. “The crew and I handle mostly cargo and salvage, but we’ve been known to take on passengers from time to time. We go all over the ‘verse.” At her raised eyebrow, he clarified, “The Universe. Wherever the work is.”
“You travel the stars?” asked Reinette eagerly, moving over to stand directly in front of him.
“That we do,” Mal said with a smile.
Reinette tilted her head as she considered Mal for a moment. “You seem quite calm for a man who came through a fireplace and did not know where he was.”
“Well,” Mal began, “I’ve gone from one end of the ‘verse to the other. Seen some very strange things in my time, ‘specially lately.”
“I see,” Reinette responded.
Mal looked down at his hands. He had only known this woman for a few short moments, but he already felt a connection to her, especially the need to be out there among the stars. He was about to do something he believed that the rest of his crew would consider insane.
He stood and moved towards the fireplace and placed one hand on the top of the frame, but he didn’t press down. He turned, and said, “Well, I know one man on a ship said he’d show you the stars.” Reinette looked down, and Mal continued, holding out his other hand to her. “Here’s another, making the same offer.”
Reinette smiled and took a step forward, but she hesitated. “I want to. So much, I want to. But somehow, I know that I should be here. That I am supposed to be here.”
“We can find a way to get you back here,” Mal said.
“You really believe so?” Reinette asked with hope in her voice.
Mal smiled. “We have a passenger on Serenity who seems to be able to make all manner of strange things happen, and I suspect she had a hand in bringing me here. I think we’ll get you back in time to do all the things you’re supposed to do.”
Thinking for a moment, Reinette came to a decision. Silently, she walked to the end of her bed and picked up her traveling cloak. She flung it ‘round her shoulders and walked to the fireplace. She placed her hand in Mal’s and said to him, “I would like that.”
Mal didn’t say anything but simply pressed his hand down on the frame of the fireplace. The floor started rotating, and Reinette followed him into another world. Even if it would only be for a short time, she was going to see the stars…