Wolves at the Door
The co-pilots chair is cool beneath her. Despite the fact that she’s been sitting here for some time, it hasn’t seemed to gain any warmth at all. Logically she knows that is an impossibility. Her heart beats, her blood flows, her body produces heat that is then transferred to anything that contacts it. The very proximity of her skin, filled with vital warmth and life should have transferred at least minimally to the chair.
But it hasn’t. There is a coldness in the artificial air that has nothing to do with the vacuum they’re in. Drifting between the stars like travellers lost in the dark. No. this pervasive chill comes from the crew itself. From their minds.
It is a melancholy feeling, a sadness that drags at her mind and pulls her attention in and down. Makes it harder to remember that there is more than just this.
It’s harder now.
Before there was so much noise, so much pressure inside her skull, so many people talking all at once, into and over her, it was maddening. It had been difficult enough to pick out the pieces of herself, making sense of the world and the weight of what lay within her senses was an almost impossible task. In those days so much of her focus had been on holding on to what little she could gather together, trying to defend herself from an unceasing onslaught of thoughts and emotions.
But ever since Miranda. Since the overwhelming secret that kept bouncing around in her skull, the weight of thirty million silent minds far too vast to be comprehended but far too important to be dismissed, was revealed. There is more of her. The single voice lost amidst echoes of screaming, of pain and the rush of humanity flooding her mind with so many pieces of themselves, was louder now. Now she can push back against the secrets of others, drown them out with her thoughts instead of the other way around.
She can’t stop them. Minds press against hers with a right they shouldn’t have, a liberty they never earned. But she can hold herself together, now there is a her to react.
But it isn’t as happy as she thought it would be. She knows that she is broken. Pieces of a puzzle that wasn’t hers crammed in amongst her parts, when they stitched her together they did it wrong. They took pieces from her to make the new ones fit, and she knows that. In a way it hurt far more than the pain they’d inflicted upon her.
It was one thing to be broken, sharp edges and confused senses. It was quite another to know it could never be fixed. Cracks in a reflection, permanent and etched into her flesh and bones.
It isn’t that she hates her life now. Nor does she wish for the days where there was less of her. Serenity has been the refuge its name promised, the staunch ally the blood that stained its memory demanded.
She slides her fingers across the seat, embedding the texture in her mind. Analysing it as the thoughts became sharp and the memories that weren’t hers knocked at her skull.
As a child she had never thought much of ships themselves. Their intricate mechanics were interesting puzzles to be solved, somehow creating a flying beast from scrap metal and rusted paint. Knowing that the slightest variation in hull density could potentially spell disaster for an ascending crew.
She’d admired the freedom that flying provided, a limitless sensation to escape the bonds of the earth beneath them. To escape the cage that the albatross had been imprisoned in.
But she’d never known ships could have souls too. That their spirits, though alien, could bond with their crew, watch over them with a peacefulness that belied mortality.
Some nights the halls felt warmer than they should. Not unpleasant, where heat had escaped from the engines to permeate the whole with sticky miasma. But an emotional warmth, a blanket to cocoon around the heart to prepare for the darkness that lay ahead.
Other nights, like tonight, there were notes of grief in the song of the ship. Where the lights never quite glowed as bright, where the halls felt chilly and the dinosaurs on the pilot’s console seemed to harden against the press of time.
Serenity needs her on these nights. She listens, not just to the sadness of the ship, but of its crew.
It is, she thinks, a proper thing. A sign of respect, a duty to share in the pain of his loss as well as the joy in his life. The vision that should have saved him came too late, shaped by terrible luck. It should have buried in the nose, angled down and away from him. Serenity would have needed repairs but they all would have survived. But something had changed the variables, the shot that should have missed didn’t and by the time she saw it she was locked down in the mess, struggling to free herself, to explain.
He was her friend, one of the few to reach out at first, and she had failed to save him.
Perhaps he would have known what to do. How to explain what it was that she was experiencing. He was insightful, more than most people gave him credit for, or he’d divert with a charming story. She missed those stories, though they weren’t always spoken aloud.
She missed the way they’d look at each other in a flash of remembrance, how the air would be coloured by their souls painting of the happiness they’d shared. Even in the scattered haze of her early days, it had calmed her. it had shown her that the world wasn’t just darkness.
But those colours have dimmed around Zoe now. The painting of those memories is harsher, dark lines and vivid grief, cut across the hints of sunshine through stardust speckled windows as laughter echoes. The wounds are still too new, too sharp to heal.
Something flickers on the edges of her awareness. A heaviness that does not belong to an idle crewman. So wrapped up in the novelty of feeling, she had ignored his twisting thoughts. His mind was a chaotic jumble, Serenity valley strong in his steps and the need to orient himself amongst the stars is paramount. He wanted to drown himself in the vastness of space, remind himself that losing people was part of being a soldier, of being human. That no matter what he lost, he had to carry on.
Her presence would not help his thoughts. The terrible tangle of his mind couldn’t be plucked apart in the gunfire speckled battlefield he found himself remembering. But his quarters were close. Too close for her to divert him, or to scurry away unseen as she normally would.
She understands now, the need for space. To be alone, even when all the other person wants to do is help.
There is no helping it though.
She curls up, legs tucking up to her chest and making herself small and quiet. Better than hiding, which would only cause suspicion and discord if she was discovered.
His eyes don’t notice her when he enters. Instead they seek out the stars, as if they held the answers, as if they could calm him.
Mal. Bad in the Latin. But he had saved her, let her in and kept an eye. He’d made her part of the crew, when it was in his best interest to sell her out.
He’s bleeding, not physically, but usually his restraint keeps his mind calmer than most, quiet when it counts. The anchor she can cling too when the world becomes too raw, too overwhelming to understand. But now that calmness is disturbed, a turbulent flurry of thoughts and emotions that drag her along.
She wants to close her eyes, rest her hand across them and try and ride out the dizzying blur. But moving would draw his attention. Right now she was invisible, silent and frozen.
But he’s ridden out her darkness before, fought against her when the world had become a dark and simple place. Where instructions to destroy had been implanted and activated and everything had gone quiet. Where people had ceased to be people.
He finally sighs, and she takes it as her cue to appear, “Shouldn’t bottle it up. Rattles the floor when you walk.”
His surprise is gratifying and amusing, as is the long string of Chinese that spews from his mouth as he finally comprehended her presence.
His mind pressed against hers, strangely though it is the only mind that doesn’t bother her to hear.
“You spyin on me little albatross?”
Her eyes focus forwards, the directness of eye contact would make him feel attacked, under the microscope.
“You’re loud.” She pauses almost petulantly, “I was here first.”
It’s a childish thing to add. But it helps calm the dizzying spiral his mind is making, curricles of amusement echoing through. It makes the world real again, makes people out of paper shades.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” his question probes, but his mind asks a different question, ‘How much did you hear?’
It’s not deliberate. It takes her a moment to answer the right question., “didn’t ask me.”
“River.” His tone is slightly chiding, and she quirks her lips in response, “not my fault if you aren’t paying attention.”
“it’s my gorram ship!” his outrage is faked. But it’s said as if it was justified. As if the ship was truly a place to be safe. But even this place wasn’t safe. Not always. It was haven. It may even become home. But enemies still slunk inside her belly when she wasn’t looking. Caution was necessary.
“there are wolves at the door. Should always be paying attention.” A warning. But she’s not sure why. The words were right, but they weren’t hers to start with. An echo of a future too intangible to sense.
“no wolves in space.”
She lifted her hand and pointed, “they’re in there.”
His silence is long, and she worries if she’s said too much, pried in a way that isn’t allowed. For all her abilities, she isn’t sure how much is too much. What should be said and what should be restrained. She’s never had that much responsibility before.
“Well if that ain’t all kinds of strange.” His voice finally breaks the tense moment, amused yet disturbed he lets her know where she stands. He doesn’t want her digging any further, a tactic he’d used on her in the past.
It used to irritate the hell out of her. He’d deflect what little sense she could conjure, deliberately obscure the warnings she tried to give him. It is only now, now that she is more herself, that she understands those deflections for what they are. It was never about ignoring her. It was a way of shielding himself from the pain her words could cause. He did it with everyone, and that somehow reassured her now.
It was his way of coping, of making the intangible discomfort into something that could be turned away.
For a brief moment, a photograph flash, she catches a glimpse of the wolves in his mind. The supernatural beings that dripped blood from their teeth, moonlight eyes glinting with a savagery that defied normality. They prowled through the battlefields, an echo his deep seated rage, his hatred and fear of the alliance. But their prey wasn’t just alliance soldiers, they sunk their teeth into friend and foe alike. Rage, it seemed, was his burden. Used unwisely it would turn all to shambles.
He’d dreamed of them, dreamed of the prowling wolves on the blood soaked fields of Serenity Valley. That’s why he was afraid. That’s why the image of a wolf was so vibrant in her mind and her understanding pricked like needles across his skin.
She knows the dreams he has.
Dreams where he is once again surrounded by gunfire. Dreams where he must watch the alliance rain hell down upon them, where the betrayal is most poignant, most shattering.
They clutch at her, draw her in when there is nothing else to hold her still. She watches, as he relives those dark memories. The taste of desperation in the air like cloying wine, thick and bitter across her senses.
Her hand lowers, tucking itself back against her body. The point made and it was rude to point. She murmured softly, eyes cast on the stars, “Storms too turbulent to fly through. Have to sit still a spell. Too dizzy to see straight.”
Her words change the air between them. an implicit understanding, an acceptance of the line and a careful deviation from the sharp words. Amusement flickers in his mind, changing the melody of gunfire to something softer, memories of this serenity. With that thought, came warmth. A warmth she revelled in, drowned in.
Brilliant and shining in the dark spaces of his mind it reminded him there was more than blood.
Silence falls again between them. but not marred by the terrible tension to speak. Not that it was a tension she was accustomed to. She’d helped though. Somehow. Given him a little peace that he usually brought to her.
Perhaps now his mind would calm, perhaps the curious melancholy that pervaded the ship would subside and she would stand vigilant here.
That wasn’t such a terrible fate.