HEAVEN AND HELL: 22. "Battle Lines"
Monday, May 10, 2004

"Ty gets help from an unexpected quarter while Mal gets no help at all. Meanwhile the crew of Serenity make a surprising discovery."



SUMMARY: "Ty gets help from an unexpected quarter while Mal gets no help at all. Meanwhile the crew of Serenity make a surprising discovery." The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly' are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No infringement of copyright is intended.


A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Sheriff Martin Bowman stared. He couldn't help it. What he had just heard had to be the most preposterous thing he could imagine and yet the boy's words had the ring of truth to them. Not to mention the injuries he had sustained which the Sheriff's wife was carefully and systematically tending. The warm ambient light from the fire flickered like silent punctuation across the boy's open and anguished face. He looked as if he wanted to cry but was beyond tears. It tore at the lawman's heart and more than anything convinced him this boy's story was true. "What in *diyu* is this Phoenix?"

"A sign, a concept, a rallying call to arms."

The Sheriff's eyebrows rose slowly. "Call to arms?"

Mary's busy hands paused just a fraction then continued, her eyes fixed on the task of her hands but her ears twice as busy. No sound passed her lips.

"Yeah," Tyrone Garvin paused and sucked in a quick breath. Mary flicked him a quick look of apology and was more careful with the next stitch. "After the Valley those that survived the surrender were scattered. You know the why of it."

The Sheriff nodded. "Alliance didn't want any of the Independents able to take up their old positions, form new places of power. Wanted them kept isolated."

"That's why none of 'em was allowed to return to their home worlds even after their *re-education* was complete."

Re-education. An Alliance fancy word for torture. The Sheriff's expression twisted in distaste. The Alliance hadn't simply wanted to torture the Browncoats they wanted to break them. Leave them in so many pieces nothing could ever put them back together again. "An' these folk, they wanted to kill ya for that?"

Ty shook his head. "Not the knowin' but what I might do with it."

The distinction surprised him. "They thought you would betray them?"

"No, I'd never do that but someone was makin' pretty sure it looked that way."

"Ya got a turncoat?"

"Worse than that."

The Sheriff gave him a long slow look. Cassie Mary Bowman knotted off the last stitch and cut it with the scissors. Gently she applied bandages to hold the gel soaked pads against his wounds. Healing balm to speed up his body's recovery. Already the coolness of it was another step closer to heaven. "Best you speak plain, son."

"I just hope I ain't makin' things worse trustin' you, Sheriff."

A little dry smile dusted the lawman's weathered lips. There was something very comforting about the Sheriff. "Ya ain't hangin' from a rope so I guess that's a good sign, *dui*?"

Ty laughed and immediately regretted it, the tight pull on raw stitches making him almost gag. Mary shot her husband a cross look and his smile slipped into smug then vanished from his face. The boy reminded him of someone else and he had to keep catching himself though the pull was irresistable. In the end he just took the bit between his teeth. Had to know. Wouldn't hurt to ask especially as now they had hit the point of no return. To trust or not to trust.

"Ya know a man named Malcolm Reynolds?" The quick startled look of recognition was enough for the Sheriff. The boy tried to hide his reaction but Sheriff Bowman had seen enough. Realising he could not hide much from him Ty gave the lawman a sharp look. "You know him?"

"*Qu*. Almost hung him."

The boy's eyes widened, startled and horrified in equal measure. The Sheriff chuckled. Truly, he was enjoying himself though he would not let the boy suffer for too long.

"*Rongyi*, ain't no call for you to worry - *dong ma*?"

"You almost hung him?"

"Yeah. Story's a mite complicated but let's just say I couldn't bring myself to believe what he was supposed to have done. Then it came out he wasn't the guilty party after all an' we got the whole ruttin' mess cleared up."

Ty took a steadying breath. Bandages now in place, Mary Bowman carefully helped him put on one of her son's shirts. The boy's own had been discarded the moment she was able to wash it off his back. Too blood encrusted to peel straight off she had to soak it with tepid water and inch it off as he bled anew. It had sickened her but been necessary. The boy gave her a quick grateful smile then pinned his look to the Sheriff's face with a determination that gave fair warning that he would not budge until he got answers. "He alive?"

A chuckle now. "Yeah, your hero's alive, son."

"*Shenme*? What makes you say that? Never said he was no hero."

"Never said he wasn't neither but I got eyes. Ears too."

"Then maybe you need get 'em checked, Sheriff."

The Sheriff looked at him for a moment in surprise then threw his head back and laughed. Tyrone frowned, annoyed as hell until the Sheriff managed to compose himself. Unable to wipe off the sloppy smile. In laughter all the rough craters on his pock marked face vanished, the hue of pleasure and humour giving him a comely aspect and hinting at how he would have looked had desease not ravaged his youth to mark his old age. Impossibly the sight made the young man relax more than his words or reassurances did. "Well aren't ya the feisty one?" He paused, a serious look dimming his smile. "I didn't hang him an' wouldn't let nobody else hang him either. He's a mighty fine man that I'm lucky enough now to call friend. That good enough for you, son?"

Tyrone Garvin shook his head. The Sheriff held his breath and waited. "No, it's not. I need more."

"*Duo yidianr*?"

"*Qu*. I need to know where he is. Find him."

Sheriff Bowman was frowning now. "*Weishenme*?"

"I have to warn him, get to him before they do."

"An' if that ain't possible?"

A sadness enveloped the boy that fair filled up the little house. A heavy presence that brooded behind pain filled eyes. Memories unspoken relieved in a nightmare scenario that wept tears of blood. "Ya don't wanna know the alternative, believe me."

The Sheriff's voice dropped, soft and quiet-like but each word enunciated with fearsome precision. "*Cuode*. If Mal's in trouble I need to know as much as ya can tell me. Every sorry word an' don't think for a moment of holdin' anythin' back, son. I'd rather cut off my gorram arm than hurt that boy, *dong ma*?"

Tyrone Garvin stared long and hard into the quiet intense face of Sheriff Bowman then made his decision.

* * * * *

Race was frustrated as hell and his general knew it. "*Qing, shifu*. We can take him out. Clean, clinical *dong ma*? We take out Malcolm Reynolds the rest'll fold."

General Carlin leaned into the man's face. The sharp crisp lines of his uniform brought into sharp relief inches from his eyes. "No one touches him. That clear? Let her get into place then once we have the co-ordinates we move. Not a gorram second before then."

Race Mitchell nodded. More afraid of Carlin than any browncoat army those pathetic *wangba dans* could muster. Yet still he burned to rip that rutting browncoat to pieces. Men said his name like it was some kind of charm. He longed to turn those expectations upside down, rip the man inside out and show them the might of the Alliance was stronger. "Why we trustin' that whore?"

He never saw the blow but he felt it. Head snapping back like he'd been fired from a gun, his neck cracking in sympathy with the break in his jawline. Had never felt pain like it. Was not sure whether or not his jaw was broken but he knew better than to make another sound. Whimpering and sobbing back tears of pain didn't count. "I *ever* hear you talk about her like that and I'll string your sorry hide up by the testicles, *dong ma*? This order comes from the HIGHEST level, let that penetrate through that thick *chunren* skull of yours."

Unable to speak the man nodded slightly, even that small movement crucifying him. He closed his eyes as if that would block out the pain. He didn't hear the general's next words but when he opened his eyes he was alone in the barracks. The sound of his CO's sharp brisk steps a fading cadence to his own failure to keep his big damn mouth SHUT. Minutes later Rory Pierce came into the tent with a med pack. Their eyes met and though Rory didn't say anything the look said it all. *Baiting the general is as close as you can get to suicide and survive*. Right now Race didn't care. He just wanted the gorram pain to end.

* * * * *

Days like these he lived for. The swarthy squat man was grinning. It had been child's play finding out the flight path of the Firefly. Big *lese* piece of *fei hua* like that drew eyes, even if only to marvel that such an old ship was still flying. Fireflies were the workhorses of an earlier era but enduring enough that tens of years later they were still plying their fetch and carry across dozens of planets. The name of the ship amused him greatly but soon he would have better entertainment. Diamond Harry had booked a ticket on a passenger ship to Porchester and arrived within hours of his target. He forced himself to wipe the grin off his face. No sense in telegraphing what he was thinking and drawing attention to himself.

Knowing he would need some kind of disguise no matter how superficial he had forgone shaving. The uneven growth pricking him with the makings of a beard and causing his face to itch something fearsome but he would endure it for the pay off. A change in clothing and a deliberate slouch were enough to make him appear so different from his normal character that he doubted anyone would look twice at him unless he actually had the misfortune of walking slap bang into them. Best always to keep things simple that way there was less that could go wrong. He was covertly watching the vessel now. The big guy, the mercenary, was humping some rather heavy crates with the Preacher while the little mechanic operated a piece of lifting gear. The one with the terrible shirt shunted a mule into place and waited while the second mate gave instructions to the mechanic. He watched with detached interest, trying to see further up the ramp but only seeing shadow. Gorrammit he would have to wait until the doc stuck his nose out of the bay door but what if he stayed inside? On board? How to get to him then? What could he do to draw him out?

The solution was ludicrously simple. Man was a doctor. All he needed was to arrange an accident in close enough proximity to the vessel to pique his interest but he would have to time this carefully. His information was that the cargo had to be transported over land to a bonded warehouse where the crew would pick up their payment. That meant at least two of the crew would have to take the cargo, maybe more because of the weight of the crates. Judging by the number he reckoned on three trips at least. So. He would wait until they were on the last trip to coax the doctor out. That gave him just enough time to plan the how of it.

* * * * *

Mal woke suddenly and froze, not sure what had roused him. It was still dark and almost praeternaturally quiet. Gorrammit, his skin was itching like it was crawling with widow spiders. What in the nine hells was wrong with him? He turned his head slowly while his eyes adjusted to the near dark. The fire had burned low and no one was feeding it. Allowing it to burn down naturally. He noticed his brother was asleep as was Pepper and most of the men. Lenny Goss was keeping watch, his rifle cradled in his lanky arms like a newborn, relaxed but alert. The man turned his head a quarter and looked straight at him. It did not surprise Mal that he knew he was awake. A soldier's senses. The instinct that drew the line between alive and dead. Had danced along that rutting edge more than a time or two himself. He got up and padded over to him, not wanting his words to wake the others. He had a feeling they would be getting precious little sleep from here on in.

Lenny watched him for a moment. "You should try to sleep, sir."

"Did an' don't think I ain't grateful but I'm awake now."

"I mean, sleep while you can sir."

"I know what you meant and there's no need to sir me, *dong ma*?"

The man just looked at him as if he was speaking a gorram foreign language and Mal could tell the suggestion had not even made a dent in the man's resolve. He resisted the urge to sigh knowing he would be saddled with the illusion of rank whether he wanted it or not. This whole thing was beyond foolhardy yet here he was giving his tacit agreement by his simple presence among them. And what the good gorram were they doing thinking of using him like some rallying call? Didn't make sense but that wouldn't stop folk throwing themselves into a battle they could never win. It would be the war all over again except this time they were so few in number only their next of kin would notice the loss. It made his heart ache with the sheer folly of it.

"You were in the valley?"

Lenny nodded slowly, his face a tight mask locking all the emotion behind wary eyes. "Yes, sir."

"Who's unit?"

"Patterson, sir."

This time Mal did sigh. "Call me Mal."

"Sorry sir, wouldn't be right."

"War's over 'sides I wasn't no officer just a gorram Sergeant."

"Makes no difference. Men followed you."

"How you know that? You were in Patterson's unit not mine."

"Man hears things."

"What things?"

"We lost a lot'a men in that valley, sir." He said quietly. "Units shot to pieces, a few men here an' there stumblin' an' strugglin' for leadership. Them as made it out joined your unit."

He wanted to cry. Was that it? The reason he was suddenly revered? "Best put you straight, Lenny. I wasn't no gorram hero then, ain't one now. I was as scared as everybody else, *diyu* probably more so."

"Not the way I heard it, sir."

"Then you heard wrong. I survived 'cause we had to surrender not because I was better than anyone else, *dong ma*? Statistics are only numbers on a board, they don't breathe life into the truth."

"What was the truth?"

"*Zhen de*? We fought until we couldn't fight no more. Nothin' to do with courage. More anger than tactics. More desperation than skill."

Lenny Goss frowned. "You rallied your men, made decisions, turned a weaker force into a stronger one. Heard tell that when officers were givin' up or just plain beyond knowin' which way to turn you were the voice that rose among the shambles. Thanks to you some of my friends made it through."

"Yeah, an' look what it bought them." Said Mal in a bleak voice. His eyes looked haunted. "A stay in an Alliance *jianyu* an' torture. Not my best day ever so don't you go puttin' me on no gorram pedestal, *dong ma*?"

The man looked Mal in the eye with a strange intensity. "I speak as I find an' you stood your ground. Didn't turn tail an' run an' didn't leave no one behind."

He realised he was not going to change the soldier's mind. Time to draw a line under the conversation so they could both move on. "War's over." He repeated softly, his words like a flag of truce. Willing the other man to take it.

"Not won yet."

"Might never be on the winnin' side Lenny no matter how many battles we fight, you ever think on that?"

"Don't matter, right is right sir. Lost too many people to give up now. If we lose it won't be because we were afraid to fight."

Mal thought about that. Even agreed with him on one level but he also knew that if this didn't work out they would be able to paper Persephone with the honoured dead from two wars, one desperate the other futile. How he longed to be able to balance the books and wipe the rutting Alliance off the face of the 'verse but that was as like to happen as Inara becoming a nun. Inara. Gorrammit, what in *diyu* was that *fubai pofu* up to? It chilled his blood to think of the glimpse he had witnessed of her skills. His head still rang with the pain of her intrusion and from what he could see he had got off lightly compared to Davy. He didn't want to think what would have happened to the others if she had kept the upper hand. That thought lead him to the Preacher. He hoped he had not made a mistake letting the man back on board his boat. Even with Jayne keeping an eye on him Book was something of a wild card now. He prayed everyone would keep their rutting eyes open.

Sky was lightening up some. Lenny had fallen silent, quietly building the fire back up while leaving Mal alone with his thoughts. Not his fault that all of those thoughts were dark. Brooding images that haunted both his sleep and his waking. By the time Lenny had heated a pot of coffee the others were stirring. Soon they would resume their journey. By full light they would reach the transport that would take them on to the meet. Rattlers stirred in Mal's gut, the sense that events were unfolding which he would be powerless to prevent. When Pepper rustled up something for them to eat Mal declined and poured himself another mug of inky black and bitter coffee. It was the only thing he felt confident he could keep down.

* * * * *

Kaylee could not help smiling. There were times when Simon Tam was the funniest rutting man in the 'verse. 'Course what made it even more hi-larious was the fact that he didn't realise it. Shepherd Book watched her tease the doctor for a few more minutes then went to help Jayne with the last load. Zoe was getting tense again and it put him on notice that this was no pleasure trip. He knew she was worried about the Captain. Well understood how nervous the crew were around him. People he had once been able to call friends. He wondered if he would ever earn that right again. If they would allow him to keep drawing breath once they knew the truth.

The Shepherd hurried as Jayne's voice echoed back to him from the cargo bay. Kaylee's smile withered away as sadness pricked her eyes. She was up on the catwalk, her eyes following the Preacher's back as he practically jogged down the stairs to join Jayne, Wash and Zoe. Simon noticed the change and tried to cheer her up. "It won't be long now and then we can take off again."

She turned her head slowly to look at him. "An' go where?"

He shrugged feeling suddenly awkward. "I don't know, where do you want to go?"

"I want us all to be together again." She said firmly. "Ain't right not havin' the Cap'n with us."

"He's with his brother." Said Simon gently.

Kaylee nodded. "Yeah, an' that's another thing that's wrong."

He frowned, about to ask what she meant when they heard a pounding on the cargo bay doors. Jayne, Zoe and Wash had left not five minutes ago with the last of the cargo on the mule. Kaylee could not see the Preacher. Her first reaction was that the others had forgotten something but that didn't seem right. Why knock on a door they knew the combo for? That meant it was someone else. Kaylee frowned and was about to go down to see who it was when River appeared from the direction of the commons area. She lithely stepped up onto the handrail in her bare feet and began walking along the top of it. Simon almost had a heart attack as he tried to grab her and bring her back to safety. Terrified she would fall. Kaylee helped him and between them they coaxed River to stand on the catwalk. She fixed them with a baleful stare. "It's all in the balance. The knife edge is only sharp if you fall."

"River," Kaylee scolded gently, heart thudding like a freight train and taking its' time to slow back down again. "You could have fallen an' hurt yourself, sweetie."

"Some already have," She said gravely. "Too many to count but they still want more and more and more and more. An endless hunger that can never be sated."

"It's alright River." Soothed Simon.

"No, no it's not. You look but you don't see. I speak but the words come out all wrong. Like the pictures in my head someone else is colouring them in but it's all black and white."

Simon opened his mouth then closed it again without saying anything. When River was like this he was at a loss. It pained him to think of her brilliant intellect trapped behind the damaged debris of her brain. Just then the pounding on the door resumed. River looked down and stared at the door, her expression blank. Her eyes taking on a far away look.

"The painters come with their coloured sticks but it's all illusion. Don't be fooled by the colours."

"River, I have no idea what you're talking about." Said Simon.

Kaylee patted her friend's arm but was looking at Simon. "I'll go see who it is, what they want."

A flash of alarm flickered across his eyes then was gone. "*Xiaoxin*, Kaylee."

She smiled sweetly at him then ran down the stairs to the cargo bay door. River had been standing next to Simon, her brother's arm around her thin shoulders to comfort and protect her from harm. As Kaylee reached the door River's eyes flew wide. Panic intensifying the jumble of words that would not come out right. The warning lost in the translation. Before Simon could make sense of any of it Kaylee had flung the door open and run outside. Frowning he peered over the railing and tried to hear what was going on outside. Seconds later he heard Kaylee's voice. Rough and ragged, calling his name. She sounded distressed. Giving no further thought to his sister's increasingly frantic ramblings he leapt down the stairs two and three at a time. "Kaylee!"

White faced and sorrowful River peered over the railings. For once she was too tongue tied with emotion to speak. She closed pain filled eyes, tasted the apple pips coming back up and gagged. Her eyes flew open and she knew what she had to do. With all the speed and grace of a dancer she glided then broke into a run and headed for Jayne's bunk. Meanwhile outside Kaylee was kneeling in a widening pool of blood. A young girl lying only yards from the foot of Serenity's ramp. Eyes closed, her round moon face distorted by pain and paler than the moon's glow as slowly her life's blood oozed and ebbed out of her. The crimson flood welling up through Kaylee's frantic fingers and staining the walls of her gentle heart before she could stem the flow. The distraught mechanic cradled the young Chinese girl in her arms and cried out for Simon. By the time he reached her there was only the faintest tremor of a pulse threading its' way through Yen Mah's veins.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*diyu* = hell *dui* = correct *qu* = yes (lit. go) *rongyi* = easy *shenme* = what *dong ma* = understand *duo yidianr* = more *weishenme* = why *cuode* = wrong *qing* = please *shifu* = sir *chunren* = fool/jerk *lese* = crap *zhen de* = really *fei hua* = garbage/nonsense *jianyu* = prison *fubai* = corrupt *pofu* = bitch *xiaoxin* = careful


Wednesday, May 12, 2004 11:41 PM


Eeks! Splendid. Gorram splendid. More!!

Sunday, May 16, 2004 8:14 AM


Oh dear god ! This series just keeps on leaving me flabbergasted...Thank you, Ali...more, more, more


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His head still ached from the rutting probe but after the men had satisfied themselves that his story was true a thousand questions peppered the air like machine gun fire.

The vessel was shiny, sleek and black with nowhere near the bulk of an Alliance ship. Something about the way it moved through the Black was more than a little creepifying.

Personally she didn't care if Serenity was towed off to a junk yard and stripped into spare parts. She had promised the ship to Jer and his crew as a bonus but it looked like scavengers had beaten them to it.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: 2. "Counting Chickens"
The fact that her eyes were hard and sharp with intelligence kind of chilled him. Smart women always made him uneasy, it just weren't natural.

What in the nine hells were they so afraid of? Then he remembered Tracy. The body mailed to them by their old war buddy and all the trouble that had brought down on them.

If it was too gorram wet to hunt for rabbits what in the nine hells was his son really hunting? And was it something on four legs or two?

The man was in a terrible condition, his pulse weak, and for some reason he was soaking wet which did nothing to staunch the blood soaking through his clothing and seeping from the poorly tended wound where he had been shot.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 9. "All The King's Men"
The man sighed like the weight of the of the 'Verse was on his shoulders but unlike anyone else he looked like he could carry the weight.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 8. "All The King's Horses"
Without warning something came through the opening and rolled with a metallic clang across the ground before exploding.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 7. "Friend or Foe"
Then he found himself falling, the whole world silent as in slow motion the hordes of *diyu* came to swallow him up and everything disintegrated in fire, blood and pain.