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An untitled Firefly proposal - Unpublished novel

Wednesday 5 September 2007, by Webmaster

Untitled Firefly Proposal

A few years ago I was one of a number of writers invited to pitch novel ideas to Pocket Books for a proposed line of Firefly/Serenity books. This was before the film was released, naturally, and the wrinkle was that we weren’t told anything about the status quo of the characters at the end of Serenity, for obvious reasons. ("I’m a leaf...", et al) Or maybe the others were told and I wasn’t. Either way, I didn’t know who lived or died.

With that limitation in mind I went off and put together what I thought was the Best Firefly Idea Ever, and sent it off to Pocket for their consideration. One thing lead to another, the movie came out and maybe didn’t do as well as it could, and for whatever reason the proposed line of books never eventuated, with Keith R.A. DeCandido’s novelization of the film being the only Serenity book to see release, so far as I know.

Digging around on my hard drive the other day, I came across my original proposal, which has been gathering dust for the last few years. It’s not much use to me now, but I thought someone out there in internetland might be interested in seeing what might have been, if the line had gone forward and Pocket and Whedon had been somehow duped into letting me write an entry for the franchise.

So here, warts and all, is my Untitled Firefly Proposal, for your amusement. (And clearly, not knowing who lived or died in the film when I wrote the outline, there are some very unworkable bits of the plot mechanics.)

Firefly Novel Proposal

[The high concept here is to bring Mal into conflict with a dark mirror version of himself, someone from a similar background who followed a different path. Intertwined in that conflict is a woman who isn’t quite what she seems, and her mysterious cargo. Comments on the plot are set aside in brackets.]

The crew of Serenity is on some high class planet near the central core. This is the big city, lots of high rise buildings, pleasure palaces, and government offices. There’s also a thriving black market at the spaceport, since people with money don’t always spend it on things that are strictly legal.

Mal has brought Serenity here in search of work. They’re down to their last dimes, and don’t have any prospects on the horizon. He hears about a wealthy woman who is looking to ship some cargo with an outfit that won’t ask any questions, and he thinks that they fit the bill perfectly.

Before Mal can make the meeting, though, he runs into some trouble with the local constabulary. It’s not a big deal, just a fight in the streets over the honor of the Brown Jackets, or something along those lines. Drinks are spilled, tables are overturned, and Mal gets nicked by the cops and thrown in jail. He’s just in the drunk tank for the moment, since they’re having trouble accessing the central Alliance records. At the moment, they just think he’s a drunk-and-disorderly whose jaw is out of line because he was on the losing side of the war. If they twig to the fact that he owns a Firefly-class ship that is suspected in any number of crimes against Alliance property and laws, he is going to be in much bigger trouble.

So the crew decides they’ve got to bust him out of jail. But they can’t pass up the meeting with the high class woman, or they won’t be able to afford fuel to get off the planet once they get him. So they send Wash and Kaylee to meet with the woman, while Zoe and Jayne go to bust the captain out of jail. [The only important fact here is that someone meets with the woman and someone goes to get Mal out of jail, so if any of these characters aren’t available for whatever reason, the roles can be swapped as needed.]

Mal is in jail. There are a few guys in the cell with him, and a few in the next cell over. To say that he’s surprised when he hears someone calling him by a nickname he’s not heard in years is an understatement. He’s floored. He turns around, trying to find the source of the voice. It’s in the next cell over. An old army buddy, Vince.

Vince joined the Brown Jackets the same time Mal did. They were from neighboring planets out on the rim, and went through training at the same time. They were never really friends, even in the early days, but they respected on another.

Vince was a natural soldier, and ended up in command of his own platoon. He and Mal saw each other infrequently over the course of the war, but they always had time to swap old stories and share a few drinks. Vince was hardened by the war, but he was still the same kid Mal had met on the transport, years before.

Vince stands on the other side of the bars, a prisoner in the next cell over. The years haven’t been terribly kind to him, but there’s that same smile that Mal remembers from all those years ago.

Vince says that he’s a bit down on his luck. He was in the system looking for work when he got picked up in an Alliance raid of illegal gambling den, and that it looks like he’ll be behind bars for a good long while to come.

Mal tells Vince not to worry, that they’ll figure something out.

Meanwhile, Wash and Kaylee are meeting with the high class woman with the job offer. Her job is a simple one. She’s got a case, locked tight, about the size of a coffin. What’s in it, she won’t say. All she will say is that she’ll pay handsomely for it to be delivered to her nephew on one of the rim worlds. So long as no questions are asked, of course. Her only stipulation is that her personal secretary, Adeline—a meek, prim woman who sits in the corner of the room, without saying a word—must accompany the cargo on the voyage out. The secretary will arrange for her own transportation back, but the high class woman will pay handsomely for her passage out on Serenity.

Wash and Kaylee quickly agree to the terms, and arrange to have the case brought to Serenity. Adeline will meet them there within the hour. Wash explains that they may need to leave in something of a hurry, and insist that she not be late.

Zoe and Jayne arrive at the jail. They don’t have time for subtlety. This is a brute force smash-and-grab operation, with the captain being the prize. Luckily, this is a small precinct house, so there aren’t more than a half-dozen officers posted there at this hour.

A spectacular gun battle and fight scene follows, during which Zoe manages to make it to the cells, while Jayne holds off the surviving guards. Reinforcements are on their way, and should be there any moment.

Zoe starts to burn through the bars with a handheld welding torch. Mal says that as soon as she finishes opening his cell, that she needs to open the one next to it.

Zoe says that there isn’t time.

Mal insists. He says to look who is in the cell.

Vince calls Zoe a nickname she’s not heard in years, and which she’d just as soon forget.

Zoe gives a sly smile, recognizing him immediately. She goes to work on the cell’s bars, insisting that she’ll get them both out in time.

Zoe, Mal, and Vince race back to Serenity, with Jayne bringing up the rear. Jayne thinks the fun part of this little escapade is just about over, since the reinforcements have arrived. It’s time to move on.

The jail-breakers and jailbirds arrive at Serenity just as Adeline and the coffin-cargo show up. Everybody gets on board quickly, and the ship takes off, one step ahead of the law.

Everybody is settling in on the ship. Adeline is given one of the remaining guest rooms, with the coffin-shaped cargo container stowed in her room. Vince bunks out in the shuttle, since they don’t have any other rooms.

[This part of the story is mostly about the character interactions, and as such assumes that the crew’s complement will be the same as on the series. The plot points can be tweaked in the event that things shake up.]

[However, at the outset, the idea is that there will be two major threads going through this part. One will be between Mal and Vince, with Zoe and Wash as significant players.]

Once they’re out of sight of the high class core world, Vince asks Mal if he’d be willing to drop him off on a planet along their route. Vince has some friends there who might be willing to help him out. Mal agrees, and the two of them spend the next few days reminiscing and drinking. The crew is kind of surprised to see Mal tossing back so many drinks, but they chalk it up to high spirits at this impromptu reunion. Zoe sits in on a lot of these old war stories, and the chummy way that she and Vince get along makes Wash more than a little jealous. Throughout, though, there is the creeping suspicion that Vince isn’t quite the man he used to be. He seems darker, a little more mean-spirited. He’s followed a hard road, and it shows.

[The other thread will be between Adeline, Simon, and Kaylee, with bits of River at the fringes.]

Adeline is refined, composed, the portrait of the high class woman. Everything that Simon was raised to think a lady should be. He falls for her, hard. She doesn’t talk much, but he’s able to draw her out, a little at a time, until she’s comfortable talking to him. They have similar backgrounds, both coming from well-off families, both educated at the better schools. Kaylee, who at first had taken a shine to Adeline, now begins to hate her with a passion. Simon has no time for Kaylee anymore. Simon goes so far that in a conversation with Kaylee he describes how Adeline is so perfect and refined, not at all rough and rustic like Kaylee. He doesn’t mean any offence, but he’s so far gone with his infatuation that he doesn’t stop to consider what that will sound like to Kaylee until he’s already said it.

The ship travels on. They are a day away from the planet where they’ll be dropping off Vince, when Wash discovers something strange. The ship has been broadcasting a beacon for some time now, and he has no idea who set it up. It’s encrypted, and he has no idea what it might be broadcasting. He tells Mal about it, and Mal starts to get very suspicious. A ship appears on their screens, coming in fast.

Too late do they realize who must have sent the beacon. Vince corners them in the cockpit, and tells Mal to order Wash to stop Serenity dead in her tracks. That’s Vince’s people coming to collect him, and he wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt while they were around.

Vince’s ship docks, and his crew boards. They are like a dark mirror version of the crew of Serenity. Where Mal’s crew are thieves and smugglers with hearts of gold (more or less), Vince’s crew are cutthroats and villains. They are pirates, in every sense of the word. They’d as soon kill Mal’s crew as look at them. They’re almost as bad as Reavers.

Vince won’t let his crew kill Mal or his people, though. On account of their long friendship he’s going to let them live. But he will be taking all their credits, what provisions Vince might find useful, their weapons, and of course the cargo that Adeline has in her cabin.

Adeline is locked down in the operatory with the rest of the crew, and doesn’t know that they’ve taken her cargo until Vince’s ship is away. Serenity’s engines have been disabled, and it will take Kaylee at least a day to get them up and running.

Mal is all for washing their hands of the whole business. He’s furious that he was taken in by Vince. Furious that Vince would betray his trust. He wants to drop Adeline off at the nearest Alliance station with his apologies and light out for the rim.

Adeline has other plans. She does some serious kung fu and lays Mal out on the deck. While Mal is rubbing his jaw, trying to figure out how she decked him, Adeline explains that her mission is to safeguard the cargo she brought onboard, and that it means more than all of their lives combined. Serenity will go after Vince’s ship, and Adeline will retrieve her cargo, and if she has to kill them all with her bare hands and pilot the ship herself, she will.

The crew of Serenity is unarmed, since Vince’s guys took all the weapons, and none of them can match Adeline’s martial arts. What is worse, she is armed, too, producing small arms hidden on her person. Adeline is a serious bad-ass. The prim, meek and mild persona was just an act. She’s in charge now. She reveals that when she first boarded she planted several explosive devices in the ship that she can detonate at will, insurance against any possible move against her.

The rest of the crew isn’t happy about being shanghaied, but then, several of them are eager to go after Vince themselves. Jayne wants his favorite gun back. Zoe wants a bit of payback, since her trust was betrayed, too. Wash just wants to see Vince suffer. They voice their opinions, telling Mal they should go along with Adeline. Mal resists, but doesn’t have much of a choice.

With Adeline calling the shots, Serenity gets up and running, and chasing after Vince’s ship. Adeline reveals that she can trace the location of the cargo, if she’s within a few thousand kilometers. They track Vince’s ship to their home base, an old mining facility on a moon.

Mal and the crew, under Adeline’s supervision, have to storm the mining facility and retrieve the cargo. The only firearms they have are the small pistols that Adeline snuck onboard, and she isn’t giving those up. So they have to be creative.

In the action that follows, Vince ends up getting shot, and Mal is there when he dies. The cargo is destroyed, leaving Adeline unable to fulfill her contract. Vince’s crew takes to the skies, planning on scuttling Serenity as they go, but Kaylee has snuck onboard during the action and planted Adeline’s explosive devices on Vince’s ship instead. As soon as they bring their weapons systems online, the devices trigger, causing explosive decompression. The ship crashes into the side of the moon in spectacular fashion, ultimately destroying the mining facility entirely.

Mal and his crew just make it back to Serenity before the big blow. They get into the sky just in time to see the mining facility go up in a huge fireball. Riding the crest of that fireball, though, is Adeline in a little personal transport she’s commandeered from the pirate crew’s little fleet. Since she failed in her contract, she can’t go back to her employer. Her code of ethics means that she is now damaged goods, a disgrace. She is like the ronin of ancient Japan, a masterless killing machine, drifting with no purpose. But if she wanted to blame one person for her failure to complete her mission, it couldn’t be Vince, since he was dead. And besides, Vince was just the bullet. The one that pulled the trigger was the one who brought Vince onboard the ship in the first place. And that was Mal. If she ever sees Mal again, he’ll regret it.

[And that’s where we end. The status quo of the books is restored in the last pages, with the crew of Serenity out in space, broke, without any job prospects, looking for some good luck over the horizon.]

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