Exaggeration and Blank Verse
Holy Water
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Jayne came bouncing into the common room, moving just a little faster than he did when things were all systems go, with a grin that didn’t tell Mal much except that he ought to expect a pounding headache sometime in the very near future.

“Captain, we got monks.”

Mal stared at him. He felt the first twinge of the headache. “Come again?”

“Monks. You know, holy men in little brown robes? ‘Cept these ones are wearin’ green. Sittin’ in a big circle all around Serenity.” His message apparently delivered to his satisfaction, Jayne moved over to the kitchen area and started helping himself to some lunch.

“Jayne,” Mal said as patiently as he could manage, “did these monks happen to give a name?”

“They’re known as the Children of Leeah,” Book said, stepping through the door with an expression of faint distaste. “And calling them monks is really giving them more credit than they deserve, Jayne.”

Jayne shrugged. “It’s what they call themselves.”

“Yes.” The preacher really wasn’t bad at putting a whole world of meaning into one word, Mal decided. The headache was still revving itself up for the jump to full burn. “Captain, they’re nothing more than a cult. They were founded about fifty years ago, by a crazy man calling himself a prophet, awaiting the coming of a messiah...standard, ridiculous, heretical stuff.”

Jayne took a bite of whatever nasty concoction he’d put together from the supplies in the kitchen. “Their money spends all right.”

“And just how would you know that?” Mal demanded, turning his chair to face the kitchen.

“Worked for ‘em during the war. Spent some time guarding one of their compounds, temples, whatever.” Jayne frowned at his bowl and started digging through the drawers for something. “Paid better than either army.”

“Were you a believer?” Book asked, and Mal decided that if Jayne choked himself laughing, he was going to make it a direct order that nobody help him out.

“Naw, preacher, all those prophecies and divine revelations are too complicated for me. I’ll stick to the basics, thanks.” He found whatever he was looking for and added it to the bowl. “Course, when they figured out that I wasn’t interested in converting, they asked me to leave, and that was the end of a nice steady paycheck. But I robbed the head priest’s office before I left, so it came out all right.”

“You stole from a holy man?” Simon asked from the corner, summoning the power of speech for the first time in the whole bizarre exchange.

“A false holy man,” Book corrected, and Mal felt his headache reach maturity and celebrate with a debutante ball on Persephone.

“All right. Let’s focus on the here and now for just a minute. Did you ask them to leave?”

“Course we did. Preacher and I went out to see what they wanted, and I even took a couple shots at them, but they ain’t movin’.” Jayne shrugged complacently and dug into the food again.

“Did they say why they’re camped out around my ship?”

“They believe they’ve found their messiah,” Book explained quietly. “Their prophecies are apparently quite clear on this point, at least in their minds.”

“I’m pretty sure I had the ship fumed for messiahs last time we were in port, Shepherd.”

“Well, they are crazy, Captain, but they truly believe they’ve found the One their faith has been waiting for.”

“Yeah,” Jayne said, swallowing and pointing across the room at River, curled up on the couch next to her brother. “Her.”
*****
“I’ve really got to keep River away from the fringe religious types,” Simon muttered, peering anxiously out the little window on the cargo bay doors to watch Mal’s energetic negotiations with the leader of the local group of the Children. “Half of them think she’s a witch, the other half think she’s their savior. Why won’t they just let her be River?”

“That’s your job, son,” Book said, resting a comforting hand on the doctor’s shoulder. Kaylee squeezed in between them to take a look out the window as well.

“Wonder what the Captain’s gonna do if they won’t leave? We can’t just take off with them all sitting there...wouldn’t want to suck a monk into the engine, you know?”

“Took a week to get all the parts of Niska’s guy scraped out of there,” Wash agreed, standing on tiptoe to peer over their heads. “Oops, they’re coming back in. Mal doesn’t look too happy.”

They scattered away from the doors and tried to look casual as Mal, Zoe, and Jayne came back inside and locked the door behind them.

“Not too happy” was an understatement. The captain’s expression was downright thunderous.

“Somebody find a tablecloth and something to drink that isn’t water. The head of the church is coming to meet River.”

“What?” Simon’s voice hit a range usually reserved for dogs and small children. “Captain, you can’t let those maniacs near my sister!”

“Only way to get rid of them, doctor. I figure they’ll meet her, figure out that she’s nothin’ holy, and then hopefully they’ll go away.”

“Don’t worry,” Zoe said, giving the doctor a half-smile as she followed Mal up toward the bridge. “We won’t let them take her.”

Jayne smirked at Simon. “Well, not unless they offer cash.”
*****
“So as you can see, your highness...your lordship...sir...” Mal shot a hopeful glance at Book, but the Shepherd wasn’t helping. “That is, your holiness?” The green-robed man stopped glaring at that one, so the captain ran with it. “She’s not the messiah you’re looking for.”

“The prophecies are very clear.”

“No, they ain’t either- if they were, they wouldn’t be prophecies.” Sometimes Mal suspected he was going to spend the rest of his life with one of these I’m-surrounded-by-idiots headaches.

“You are mentioned as well.” The man tucked his hands up inside his wide sleeves, glancing around the room with a serene smile. “Each of you.”

“Really?” Wash looked thrilled. “By name?”

“By title.” The monk rocked his chair back and forth on its back legs, and Mal eyed the join between them and the seat dubiously. The folks outside would probably never leave if their holy man got dropped on his ass inside Serenity. “You, Captain, can only be the Guide. Doctor, our scrolls speak of you as the Beloved...Miss Frye, you are the Gentle Friend...” He shot a dark look at Jayne. “The Betrayer. You will burn in hell for a thousand ages.”

“Let’s go easy on the hell talk,” Mal said hastily as Jayne clenched his fists. Book grabbed the crewman’s arm and whispered rapidly in his ear. This was shaping up to produce a fine theological debate later in the evening, and Mal hoped to be dead drunk before that started. This was not his best day. “Look, your holiness, isn’t it just possible that you’re wrong? Somebody made a mistake in translation?”

The monk gave him a withering stare. “The Revelation was only fifty years ago, Captain. We haven’t had to translate it into anything.”

“Of course you haven’t.” Mal glanced around for help. None was forthcoming- Wash, Zoe, and Inara looked like they were going to have to leave the room for a good laugh, Kaylee just seemed confused, Jayne was still troubled over the burning in hell idea, and Simon was about ready to cry. Only Book and River appeared calm, but neither of them were looking at Mal. “Well, the thing is, your holiness, we really can’t leave her behind, because we’re kinda fond of the kid and we’d hate for the Alliance to find her.”

“She will be safest among the faithful.”

“Until she says something you don’t like and you burn her at the stake!” Simon said, jumping to his feet and glaring. River smiled faintly and squeezed his hand. He looked down at her, puzzled, and she stood, shaking out and smoothing her skirts as gracefully as any lady of the Core.

“It’s all very kind of you,” she said, smiling at the monk. “Really, I’m very flattered. But I’m not your messiah. She’s on her way- don’t worry- but she’s not here yet.”

“Are you certain?” he asked, and she reached out to touch his cheek gently.

“Quite certain.” She glanced around at the crew of Serenity. “I have other responsibilities. So many things to do.”

“Well. As you say, so must it be.” He bowed his head. “You say our Lady is coming, though?”

“Oh yes. Patience.” She returned to her seat on the couch, and the monk stood and slowly shuffled out of the room. Kaylee hurried out behind him to get the door.

Mal sat there, open-mouthed. River smiled cheerfully at him. “Girl,” the captain growled after a moment. “That was all you had to do to get rid of them?”

She shrugged.

“Then why, pray tell, didn’t you do that a few hours ago?”

“Well, I wanted to hear their offer,” she said, rolling her eyes as if it should be the most obvious thing in the world. “It's not every day that people come along offering to worship me, after all.” She stood up again and skipped over to the door. “I think I’ll go take a nap now, Simon. Wake me for dinner, please.”

Mal stared at the empty doorway for a good few minutes after she was gone, because if he looked at Wash or Zoe they were going to laugh themselves into an injury, and he didn’t want to be held responsible.

“Well,” Inara said, and he could hear the giggles straining around the edge of her voice, “I guess that settles it, then. She’s not their messiah.”

“Nope,” Simon said, slumping down in his chair. “She’s just a brat. Like I said all along. And this is going to go to her head for a week.”

Book shook his head. “I’m not sure what I think of the way she looked at us when she said she had other things to take care of, though.”

“Maybe she thinks she’s our messiah,” Wash said, grinning. “Sent in that box to save us all.”

River’s voice floated in from the hallway, ghostly-sweet. “You do take such an awful lot of looking after.”

Mal shut his eyes tightly. “Anyone who’s not converting to the Church of River,” he said flatly, “go get the ship ready for take-off. We’re getting gone from this rock as soon as the area’s monk-free.”

They obediently scattered, and he allowed himself a small grin. River might or might not be somebody’s savior, but as long as it was his name was on the ship’s registry, he was still Serenity’s personal god.

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