Prologue: The Oncoming Storm
“This is me, for forever
The room isn’t quiet, not really. His ship is never silent, never still—and yet right now it feels silent. It isn’t the first time he’s felt this; he doubts very much it will be the last. Alone again, with only the repairs to his ship and his soul to command his attention. He feels as though half his self has been torn away.
He sighs, leans his head back against the control panel base. Dear heaven, he’s getting maudlin in his old age. Much more of this, and he’ll find himself dumped on an ice planet or something, locked out of his own ship until he’s in a proper frame of mind. She’d do that to him; she’s done it before. He hurts, oh yes, and it is by far the worst bit in a very long time—but sitting about moaning isn’t going to save anyone. There’s a whole universe out there, and it wants helping.
And he’s used to being broken.
One of these days, he figured he’d not be surprised to see her sitting in Wash’s chair, though he didn’t anticipate it’d be anytime soon. He’d given up the pretense of official piloting almost immediately, and turned it over to her. The little albatross was bidding fair to be just as good a pilot as Wash was—and without all the fancy schooling. So he let her have the chair, and pretended not to notice that Zoe avoided the bridge. Not like she was getting along real well with any sort of stairs at the moment, anyway.
He edged through the gap between stair rail and console and settled in the co-pilot’s chair. “Everything clear?”
“Clear as crystal.” River’s long brown hair curtained her face as she leaned forward to adjust something on her own panel. “Clear as water, clear as—”
“All right, all right, I get it. No call to ramble on.” Mal propped a foot against the console and reached out to toy with one of the plastic dinosaurs perched on its rim. No one had the heart to pack them away. He doubted they ever would. “Three days to Persephone, then. And hopefully,” he muttered, “we ain’t gonna have any trouble.” It was almost a prayer, and the thought brought a wry twist to his mouth. Wouldn’t the Shepherd laugh.
It was a feeble prayer, and one he’d uttered an awful lot these past five months. He didn’t hold much hope of it being answered. “Things never go smooth” had long since become a personal motto.
A soft noise beside him drew him from his thoughts. River was sitting up straight in her chair, hands motionless on the console, eyes staring wide into the black. Mal frowned. Not the first time he’d seen that look. “What’s wrong, meimei?”
Oh, sweet hopping Buddhas. “What’s coming? River? Don’t leave me in the dark here, darlin’. Something’s comin’, you give me warning, right?”
She turned to look directly at him. Her eyes were black, the pupils were opened so wide. “The storm. It’s coming.”
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