Disclaimer: I own nothing anyone recognises.
A/N: This might one day become something longer, or a part of something longer. It might not. Of course, the chances of a longer something developing would improve if anyone happened to be interested in such an occurrence. That is of course my long-winded way of saying if anyone does have any interest in reading that something longer, then they should (please) display that interest.
Oh, and spoilers for Fragile Balance for SG-1. Set post-BDM for Firefly, but no spoilers.
The room is one of Serenity's cabins. Mal stands just over the threshold, feeling a little out of place. It's his ship, but he can't help but imagine he is intruding on something he shouldn't. It's an odd thought to have. Because of the two other people in the cabin, River is currently the saner.
The other is babbling, meaningless words falling out of his mouth in splintered sentences. His speech is constant, a steady stream of nonsense that doesn't pause for breath. Each previous time this happened the words hadn't stopped once no matter what Mal or any of his crew had said, no matter what they had tried.
River understands the words or maybe the thoughts behind them, when no one else so much as recognises the languages that are spoken. She translates when she sees fit, when the fractured phrases are complete enough to allow interpretation, or when she in enough in her own mind to do so.
It's a different language to the usual, this one; Mal can tell by the flow, and the syllables. But it is just as incomprehensible as the other that more often makes an appearance. This, today's, is anger, and fear, and threats, all at once. It's an awful lot to pick up from the gibberish words of a dead language he can't understand, but Mal knows what he's hearing. The emotions are there, even if the language ain't.
Across the room, River remarks 'I shouldn't translate that one. Not nice.'
And then she wafts serenely out of the room, in that way she has.
Mal sighs, concealing it well. At least they both weren't acting all crazy (though they seem to be good – somehow – at timing their bouts so at least one of them was somewhat sane). Mal leaves the room, closing the door firmly shut behind him, and tries to ignore the sinking feeling in his gut that comes from having to handcuff a kid – whatever River said the young man looked like a kid – to the wall. It didn't make a bit of difference if it was for the kid's own protection or not.
Left by himself in the cabin the teenager snarls at long-since-dead captors in a dead language, and yanks viciously at the hand cuffed to the wall.
It was one of his bad days.
It had only been another job, another plan cooked up to keep them flying for another week. The same as every other job they ever take. The same, except they had never really intended to collect payment for this job, because they had never really intended to undertake the kidnap of a teenager and deliver him to the employer-of-the-week.
It isn't a job they ever intend to undertake.
Mal hadn't really been expecting to pick up another stray crazy as a result. Now that he thinks about it, with the benefit of hindsight, he really should have been. Because his life is just like that.
And if he believes River, then the young man they picked up from a cell in the basement of a Core-world mansion is stranger than merely occasionally insane. Mal still rarely understands River's cryptic comments, and even more rarely without prior knowledge of what she is talking about.
But she speaks of duplication, and replication, and degradation of copies. Experimentation, and by that Mal doesn't think she means the Academy. Repetition of memories, and double memories, and experiences that are not the teenager's but which he possesses, and those that were never his but he owns regardless.
Mal thinks he doesn't want to know what she means. But he believes that he probably isn't in much danger of finding out.
When Jack wakes up – it feels like waking from sleep, but he knows it isn't sleep from which he is waking – he nearly goes over the edge again, from the sight of the handcuff chaining him up. Only for a second, and then he realises where, exactly, he is; grasps what must have happened. Ghosts of memories flit in his head, in the back of his mind, fragments of words that materialize and then vanish.
He sighs, and straightens from his half-lying, half-sitting slouch to sit cross-legged on the bunk, resting his head on wall behind him. His right hand is still attached to it by the cuffs. This does not appear to be Jack O'Neill's day.
Hell, it isn't even his century.