Blue Sun Rising
The winged insect was small and delicate, and fluttered from one wizened blade of grass to the next. River wondered what he was looking for among the brown and dusty scrub; it didn’t look very interesting. The insect had very pretty wings, which glowed like a rainbow when they hit the sun, so pretty. The Captain told her that there had been insects called fireflies back on Earth-that- was, whose bottoms glowed when they flew, that’s why Firefly ships were called what they were. She wasn’t too sure about that, she’s never studied them in class. Maybe she’d ask the old man later…
River sighed; insects were nice, always silent and determined, no stray thoughts came from their little brains. She dragged her eyes away from the flying insect and eyed Zoe and the old man. Being around people was always a bit puzzling, with their mouths saying one thing and their heads another. They’d been throwing words back and forth for ages now, but they still hadn’t got past the whole ‘rising from the dead’ thing. She though of interrupting, but the old man seemed to be enjoying himself…
“I told you, I’m immortal!”
“Yeah, right, what do you take me for, some dirtside hick? You must have some kind of vest on…or something…”
“Here, let me show you.”
“Uh-uh, no sudden moves!”
“I just need to get to my knife—”
“Do I look like an idiot to you? I’m not letting you reach for a weapon!”
“Oh, for crying out loud…listen, you’ve got a rifle trained on me. Do I look stupid enough to bring a knife to a gunfight?”
River watched with amusement as she saw the struggle on Zoe’s face. “What do you want with the knife?” she asked warily.
“I’m just going to do a little demonstration, prove to you I’m telling the truth.”
“This better not be a trick, or I swear I’ll riddle you so full of holes they’ll need a dentist to identify you!”
“Don’t worry, I’m not looking to be shot again. Dying is never fun.”
Silently, River crept closer as Zoe reluctantly nodded her permission. Slowly, the old man took his knife from the sheath on his leg, grinning as he noticed Zoe raise an eyebrow. “Missed that one,” he said mischievously. He was thinking mischievous thoughts too, naughty old man.
She watched as he pressed his lips together and dug into his palm with the blade. Blood welled up and started to seep through his fingers onto the ground. “Watch,” he said, raising his palm so that Zoe could see the wound.
Fascinated, River watched as the wound slowly closed, little sparks of light flickering across the edges of the broken flesh. A moment later, the wound closed over, and he rubbed the palm against the ground to wipe away the blood. “It always works like that,” he said simply. “I get wounded, I heal almost immediately. I die, I revive.”
“Doesn’t make you immortal,” Zoe observed. “You can still grow old.”
“Actually, no, I can’t,” he said quietly. And River drew back instinctively as she felt the darkness flicker inside him. He banished it away almost instantly, sending it back to corners of his mind, and River felt a swift pang of envy, wishing she could do the same.
“You don’t age,” Zoe said flatly.
“No,” he said, shrugging as he put the knife back into its sheath. Zoe didn’t protest, which River took as a good sign.
“That isn’t possible,” Zoe said, but the rifle barrel dipped to the ground.
“It shouldn’t be, no, but there you have it,” the old man said quietly.
“How old are you?”
“That ain’t an answer.”
“He remembers Earth-that-was!” River piped up excitably, pleased that she could provide an answer for him. He threw her a dirty look, and she scowled back. “But you do!” she protested. “I can see it in your head. All the plants and the trees, and the water, and the animals…so many different kinds of animals…oh, and the whales! The whales were wonderful!”
The old man’s face grew still. “Yes, they were,” he agreed, smiling slowly.
“Whales,” Zoe said, shaking her head in disbelief. “I don’t believe I’m hearing this. Is Caruthers even your real name?”
River opened her mouth to answer but caught the glare on the old man’s face. “It’ll do for now,” he said firmly, and River pulled a face but nodded reluctantly.
Zoe sighed. “I don’t know what to do with you,” she admitted lowly.
“You don’t have to do anything,” the old man answered. “Nothing has changed. I’m still just a paying passenger, just one that looks real good for his age.”
“Ain’t no time for jokes,” Zoe muttered, but River could sense the amusement flitting through her mind. “What the hell am I going to tell Mal?”
River wasn’t sure Zoe meant to say that aloud, but the words were already said. The old man tensed, his face becoming pensive. “Do you have to tell him?” he asked.
“Of course I have to tell him,” Zoe snapped. “He’s my gorram captain!”
“I see,” he drawled. “How do you think he’s going to take it?”
“Not rightly sure,” she said, sighing. “But I reckon the conversation will be loud.”
“What about the others?” the old man asked warily, and River sensed the wheels turning in his mind. River looked up at Zoe pleadingly, begging her to say the right words.
“We’ll deal with Mal first,” she said grimly. “Then we’ll see.”
He nodded, and River felt his acceptance of the situation. She beamed at him happily as she sprung to her feet. “You’re going to stay!” she announced.
The old man groaned, then laughed. “Looks like it,” he said. “Can I stand up now?” For a moment, River was puzzled, then she realised the question hadn’t been directed at her.
“Yeah,” Zoe sighed wearily. “You might as well.”
He got to his feet and dusted himself down, eyeing the blood in his shirt. “Guess I’ll have to close my coat,” he said tiredly, as he buttoned the heavy garment. “Knowing my luck, I’ll probably die of heat exhaustion before we get to the ship…not a pleasant way to go.”
Zoe eyed him. “How many times have you died?” she asked eventually.
“Lost count a long time ago,” he said briefly. “I’ve led a very eventful life.”
“Well, it ain’t going to get any quieter anytime soon,” Zoe said dryly.
And River frowned, knowing that Zoe spoke more truly than she knew. She tried to shut it out, but it just got louder and louder. “Can’t stop the signal,” she muttered.
“What was that, River?” Zoe asked gently.
River shrugged, she had tried to find the words to describe it before, but they just seemed to make people more confused. Even Simon had looked at her funny, and he always tried so hard to pretend he understood her. Which he didn’t, she didn’t understand herself most of the time. “Nothing,” she told her. “We best be getting back, Mal is getting worried about us.”
Cautiously, Zoe made sure Caruthers was never at her back as they descended the hill. She figured he knew what she was about, but he never broached the subject, content to walk ahead. She wished she was as easy with the situation. He was immortal - who the hell was immortal? It was like something out of one of those trashy fantasy novels Wash had been so fond of…my name is Caruthers and I am immortal, I am centuries old, and I cannot be killed. Let me tell you about my adventures through time.
Zoe shook her head in bemusement, if she’d read it on the back of a paperback, she’d have dismissed it as drivel. Yet how could he deny the evidence of her own two eyes? “Mal is going to go ballistic,” she said under her breath, and she caught the hitch in Caruthers stride as she spoke.
He kept walking though, and Zoe was glad of it, she needed the precious few moments she had, before they got to the ship, to collect her thoughts. The whole idea was preposterous but, now that she thought of it, it would explain a lot. His strange way of talking, the weird contradictions between his manner and his actions, that big, gorram antique sword. For all she knew, he probably forged it himself, back on Earth-that-was.
He was still wearing it; she could see the cloth pull against the harness as he moved down the hillside. Why he was so attached to it? As he said, there’s no point bringing a knife to a gunfight…
“Why do you wear it?” she asked abruptly.
“Excuse me?” She could see the wariness in his eyes.
“The sword,” she said, tapping the harness through the coat. “You never leave it behind.”
“Habit, I suppose,” he said lightly. “It was the weapon of choice, when I was young.”
Zoe mentally added a few centuries to his age, even as she realised he wasn’t telling her the whole truth. “What else?” she asked.
For a moment, he looked uncomfortable. “I just feel safer with it,” he said eventually. “It basically boils down to that.”
Which was the truth in a way, she sensed, but he was still leaving something out. She decided not to push the subject. It might all be immaterial, anyway. Mal might decide that he was too much of a liability, and then it’ll be bye-bye Caruthers, one way or the other.
Lost in her own thoughts, Zoe fell silent as they reached level ground. She had told Caruthers that she would tell Mal first, and he seemed to accept that, but he was definitely less than pleased about the idea of the rest of the crew knowing. She could understand that, she supposed, but Serenity’s crew were close, and it was hard to keep a secret for any length of time.
At last, Serenity’s hull came into view, and she breathed a sigh of relief. Mal stood on the ramp, trying to look casual, but she guessed he’d probably stood there since he’d arrived back, clucking like an anxious hen as he waited for them. She hid a grin as she climbed the ramp. “Captain,” she said, coming to a halt.
Mal sighed. “This really is a da xiang bao zha shi de la du zi, ain’t it?” he said.
“What went wrong?”
“The Alliance got here first,” he said. “We’ve got a bounty on our heads, and Patience was looking to collect.”
Zoe nodded, she’d figured as much. “Where to next?” she asked, frowning as Caruthers stepped up beside her.
“Don’t rightly know,” he admitted. “We’re fresh out of options.”
“Maybe you should head for the core,” Caruthers suggested. “More bodies to hide amongst.”
“Yeah, you would know all about that,” Zoe said dryly.
Mal gave her a look. “Something you’re not telling me, Zoe?”
Zoe resisted the urge to laugh. “That’s one way of putting it,” she said. “Truth be told, I reckon it’s such a crazy story, you probably won’t believe me no matter how I say it.”
Caruthers sighed, his eyes glancing into the hold. “Perhaps we could do this somewhere else?” he asked.
“And why should I do that?” Mal asked, frowning as he crossed his arms.
“Better do as he asks, Mal,” Zoe said lowly “You won’t want an audience for this.”
Mal’s lips flattened into a straight line, but he nodded. “The Bridge,” he said, turning on his heels. “And this better be good.”
Methos was beginning to feel rather annoyed. He was tired, he was hot, and he’d just been shot in the chest. He definitely wasn’t in the mood for explaining his immortality to a man whose picture is probably plastered under the word ‘stubborn’ in the dictionary.
It really wasn’t his day.
He noticed River out of the corner of his eye, trailing behind them. She had been uncommonly silent on the way back. But, then again, maybe she’d already said enough back on the hillside.
Serenity was quiet, and nobody came to greet them as they traipsed through the ship. He wondered where the crew had disappeared to, but guessed that it wasn’t the time to ask.
The Bridge was empty when they arrived, and River quickly settled into the pilot’s seat as the Captain turned to glare at him. “Spit it out,” he said flatly
For a moment, Methos’ mind went blank as he tried to think of the right words. “Um, it’s a long story, really…” he prevaricated.
“He’s immortal!” River piped up, and Methos groaned.
“Will you please shut up!” he pleaded.
“Just trying to help,” she muttered, pouting as she turned her attention to the pilot controls. “All your words are sticky, and Mal likes ‘em clean.”
“Okay,” the Captain said sharply. “Will somebody tell me what the hell is going on here?”
“He got shot on the hill,” Zoe said briefly. “Died almost instantly.”
Disbelief shone on the Captains face as he ran his eyes up and down Methos very much alive body. “He looks gorram healthy for a dead man to me.”
“I got better,” Methos deadpanned, not able to resist.
The Captain glared at him, and then let loose a string of Chinese epitaphs that would make a Cheapside whore’s ears burn. Eventually, however, he ran out of steam. “He for real?” he eventually asked, turning to Zoe.
“Near as I can make out,” she admitted. “Open you coat, Caruthers.”
Sighing, Methos did as he was told, and revealed the bloodstained shirt. “Are we done now? I’m not big on show and tell.”
“Great, that’s all we need, another gorram freak on the ship…no offence, River.”
“None taken,” she said simply. “I am freaky.
“Anything else you got to tell me,” the Captain demanded, turning his glare on him once more.
“That’s pretty much—”
“Apparently, he doesn’t age,” Zoe interrupted. “And his wounds heal almost instantaneously.”
Mal’s face suddenly went thoughtful. “You know, that might come in handy,” he drawled. “Maybe I won’t throw you out the airlock after all.”
Methos’ ears perked up as he heard the crafty tone in his voice. “What do you have in mind?” he asked suspiciously.
The Captain grinned malignly. “Never you mind,” he said, and Methos felt a moment of misgiving. If there was one thing he had learned, over the last few days, it was that Malcolm Reynolds had a real mean streak to him if the need arose.
“You know, you’re taking this a lot better than I thought,” he said quietly.
“Yeah, well, give it time,” the Captain said, smirking. “I might change my mind.”
“Captain,” River said, her voice suddenly urgent. “Company.”
Mal’s head snapped round as he looked at the ships censors. “How many?” he asked.
“One, but it’s coming in fast.”
“Alliance.” Zoe observed. “No other ship could make entry that fast.”
“River,” Mal said tersely. “Get us out of here – now!”
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