Part 9

"What can I say? There's always something new around the corner," the Doctor finished.

"That's what I like about space," the Captain amended, "No corners."

I perked up. "Ion clouds."

"What?"

"Corners in space. Sorry, bad memories, I know."

The glare in the crew's eyes soften at my apology, and the ever-present questioning returns.

"So, Ace, it's time for your story."

I rest my eyes on River Tam and set my jaw. "You know." And then point it at the Doctor. "And so do you but you refuse to believe it."

"The Fourth Wall."

"Yes."

Jayne raises his hand with surprising politeness. "Hold on. What's this fourth wall sh*t?"

River pats his shoulder tenderly. "It's the wall between the show and the audience."

"So, what then? You're from one of those shows?"

I shook my head. "It's how I know your inside jokes; I'm from the audience. In my home world, you're the show. Well, Arnie, you're from a book."

"So how do we end?"

"Jayne, he doesn't know. He's not part of the story."

He accepted River's explanation with a grunt, despite clearly wanting to press the issue further.

"So what do we do with you?"

"Captain?"

"Do you have any directives, quests, places you need to be? Where is home for you?"

"Earth-that-was is home, early twenty-first century. Originally, I just wanted to go home, but I've realized there's no-where I less want to be than there. I doubt you'd accept me as a member of the crew, since I hardly bring any skills to the table, but I'd like to travel with you for a time, if you'll let me. Maybe even stand in for a Shepard where I can."

Kaylee wiped at her eyes, trying not to let the tears shows at the rising memories, and Simon pulled her against him.

"I'll confess, though, Doctor, I'm not sure I could handle the bustle of your lifestyle. However, if they won't take me, I'd appreciate if you could give me a lift, preferably to the fifteen century of Earth-that-was instead."

The Doctor looked surprised. "Not to the splendors of the twenty-first? Or later still?"

"I'm more of a Dark Ages, pre-Renaissance kind of guy."

"I'll see what I can do."

I nodded my thanks, but before anybody could say another word, a load roar shook the ship.

"Who's flying this thing?" River starts in a dead prefect imitation, "Oh, right, it's me."

I share a grim grin with her, and she leads the rest of us to the cockpit.

~

"What is that?" Jayne asks the unasked question as everybody stares out the front of the Serenity.

"Dragon, I'm afraid." He stares dumbly at me. "What? It's no more mythical than Reapers."

The Dragon wheeled over a cheddar-yellow island, upon which dance thin black beasts.

"Wonderful. Just bloody wonderful." I watched the scene for a long moment before realizing they were waiting for me to say something more. "Yes, sorry. I've faced this one before. If you can dock--"

River turned to comply even before I finished speaking.

"--on the underside of the island somewhere. Oh, and don't make eye contact with any of the smaller guys."

"Why not? I ain't afraid." Jayne fondled his gun.

"Bad things. Just trust me. And for once, that gun won't do anything but make things worse." To the rest, I added, "Best use River's Last Stand method."

Captain Mal caught my eye and nodded slightly, before starting to bellow orders. The bottom levels of the island wheeled into view, and there was already a ship waiting for us. Its balloon was largely collapsed, but I still could make out the name printed on the side.

"The Mark Trine. Bloody wonderful."

The End

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