HEAVEN AND HELL: 25. "Chameleon"
Saturday, May 22, 2004

"Zoe, Wash and Jayne find themselves faced with an unexpected decision. Mal is not happy to find out the details of his brother's plan. Kaylee wonders what else in the 'verse can possibly go wrong."



SUMMARY: "Zoe, Wash and Jayne find themselves faced with an unexpected decision. Mal is not happy to find out the details of his brother's plan. Kaylee wonders what else in the 'verse can possibly go wrong." 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

* * * * *

Zoe could not believe the evidence of her gorram eyes. Watching her, Max knew exactly what was going through her mind even before her words confirmed it. "This is all...yours?"

"Not mine, exactly."

He caught the little glint that flashed in her eyes, a measure of annoyance at his seeming deflection. Her look said so clearly that this was not an answer.

"It's ours."

Wash was slowly looking round, eyes wide, trying to take in the sheer scale of the treasure house.

"Ours?" Said Jayne, his eyes taking on a glittering calculating look. "As in yours an' mine?"

Max began to take more notice of Zoe's companions. "Who are you again?"

Zoe quickly reintroduced the mercenary not wanting Jayne to cause Max to clam up before he had told her everything she wanted to know. "His name is Jayne Cobb."

"An' you do what exactly?"

The mercenary was quickly beginning to not like Max. Man was asking questions he didn't want to answer. Plus he had all this wealth and all. It rankled. Like something had crawled in from some deep dark place and died in here. "I'm the one who takes out all the trash. What of it?"

Before Max could respond to the unmistakable challenge in his voice Zoe turned and glared at the big man. Thunder and lightening flashed a storm in her eyes. Her voice snapped, quiet and intense and so like the Captain's fury that the big man mentally recoiled. "*Bizui*, Cap'n gave us a job to do an' we're gonna do it, *dong ma*? That too difficult for your tiny brain then I suggest you find your own way back."

"*Diyu* Zoe, I didn't mean nothin'. Just gettin' me riled is all."

"And that's another thing I can't be dealin' with now, Jayne."

Jayne made himself take a breath then nodded. Couldn't quite bring himself to back down verbally but she saw the truce in his eyes and hoped it would hold. She turned back to find Max eying her cautiously.

"You were gonna tell us what this is all about."

He blinked. "If Mal didn't tell ya..."

Zoe was shaking her head, her lips compressed. "Don't have time for this, Max. You know he didn't tell us. Ain't nobody more tight lipped than the Cap'n when he has to be, you know that."

Max nodded, relaxing slightly. "Then you know I can't tell you except to say it ain't mine. Could call me a caretaker of sorts."

Jayne snorted but said nothing. Zoe resisted the urge to glower at him. They did not have time for this. She bit back a sigh of exasperation. Knowing that if Jayne had not been with them Max would most likely have told her. As Mal would say you had to know when to pick your battles. "So what can you tell me, Max?"

* * * * *

Her hands flew over the device. Co-ordinates locked in and sent. Numbers approximated from the scans and the assorted ships dotted about the place as if spreading them out could hide their heat signatures. They were so *yeyu aihaozhe*. No wonder the Independents had lost the gorram war. Smart was not their strong suit. But that wasn't the whole of it. Safely hidden from detection by her position in orbit Inara Serra began the more detailed scans that would reveal the nature of the weaponry and technology at the Independents disposal. The momentary flash of exhileration at a job well done left her feeling a mite empty. Perhaps because it had been too easy? Or perhaps. Just possibly. There was a tiny miniscule residue of regret. A vague sense of sadness that this was necessary in the first place. Not that she had formed attachments on Serenity. No. Never that. But Inara Serra was not just a gifted Companion. She knew the measure of every lie. Every type of confabulation. Every tall tale and disingenuous remark or gesture.

Plus she knew one other thing. There could be no hiding from the lie that bound her. However subtle it had shone its' face upon her to mirror and reflect every false thing she had done in the name of the cause. Only it was not really her cause now and that in itself was unsettling. What did it make of the long years of sacrifice and training if the edge of her sensibilities were beginning to erode? To be compromised? As yet there was no serious breach, no chance of her mind turning from one cause to the other but there was just enough to create a sense of unease where none had existed before. She bit her lip and frowned not liking the dichotomy. Hoping that she would be the one to end this little charade. That such an act would renew the unshakable faith in her own convictions. How dare he make her feel the first stirrings of doubt trouble her mind.

She closed her eyes and stilled her hands a moment, her mind reaching for his, but he was closed off to her. His mind a steel vault of such forbidding strength she almost forgot how mad she was at him. Amazed at his strength. Her mind shifted to an easier target and reached again. This time the touch was fluid, an easy insinuation into thoughts so chaotic and emotional she almost drew back from the intimacy. Persisting she oozed calm and had the satisfaction of causing the mind to become less frenetic. Greeting hers with thirsty abandon. A tiny smile touched her cold lips as she read her unwitting host's thoughts with consumate ease. The brother unaware that a parasite had moved in. The mind already prepared for her would detect no intruder. Not knowing that the function of his thoughts was not his own. The illusion of autonomy would be maintained, indeed was crucial to her plans. Inara inwardly smiled and savoured the anticipation of taking the blinkers off. But not yet.

A winking light on her console drew her attention back to more pressing matters. Entering her acceptance code she raced through the information gleaned so far and felt a warm smile of satisfaction slide across her beautiful face. The fleet was on its' way. Not in one huge insect swarm but in waves that would come from all directions and converge upon this one point. This one moment in time. Orchestrated to appear in a co-ordinated hammer blow to remove for once and for all this blot on the landscape defying their absolute rule. They were pleased with her and that made her feel a measure of content she had not felt since Sihnon. Only with the sucessful outcome of this mission would she at last be able to return home. There was not even the faintest trace of doubt left now. Her mind was focused. Her people were coming and when they did the only mention of the ill-fated Browncoat Rebellion would be a few sorry lines of history. A footnote for the foolish.

* * * * *

Kaylee was beyond distraught. In her blurred vision she remembered seeing Simon being propelled backwards in his chair, the ungainly body now limp and void of the articulation of life tumbling into the bound man. Head snapped back from the rigid squat body while the blood and gore of his grey matter splattered from the back of his head along with the shattering of his skull. Incongruously, as the body came to rest in a bloody drape across Simon, the front of the head was largely intact. Enough to read the startled look upon the dead man's face and the neat round hole where the bullet had found its' mark right between his eyes.

It was the Shepherd swearing that brought Kaylee round. That and Simon's weak frantic struggles to get free of his impediment. "*Wode ma*! You really are the Devil's child!"

Kaylee ignored his words, was only vaguely aware of the Preacher laying down his forgotten burden upon the nearest infirmary bed. River danced passed him, the big gun dangling from impossibly small and delicate hands. Kaylee remembered the assault on the skyplex. *No power in the 'verse can stop me*. Her own happy mocking words thrown back at her with a new emphasis and a more deadly ring when spoken from River's lips. That truth now reinforced with all the grace of a natural born killer. River dropped the gun and tugged at Kaylee's trembling hands. "Simon. We have to help Simon."

She nodded, hearing and understanding the words but unable to process how to answer. Too shocked and numb to respond in kind. River tried to drag the heavy man off Simon. Kaylee took a deep breath then leant down to help her, rolling the man off and hurriedly looking for a way to undo the tight twine cutting into Simons hands and feet where he was bound. River gently peeled the tape off his mouth and was rewarded with a ragged breath. Simon blinked, pain in his eyes but also relief. He had intuited what Diamond Harry had in store for the others and though he was not an advocate of violence he could not bring himself to feel sorry for the monster that lay at their feet. Seeing them trying unsuccessfully to untie him, Simon jerked his head up towards a drawer. "Scalpel. Top drawer."

River nodded and leapt to her feet, within seconds she had the sharp instrument and deftly cut through his bonds as she descended back into a graceful crouch beside him. Kaylee stared at her then swallowed. Once again River had come to the rescue so why did that make her feel all kinds of uncomfortable? It was only when Simon spoke that she came out of her dark reverie.

"Kaylee? *Ni hao ma*?"

She blinked. "Me?" She sounded confused by the question, by the concern in his eyes. "*Hen hao*, I ain't hurt nor nothin'."

A hand fluttered in her direction. "You're covered in blood." Said Simon gently.

"Oh." Kaylee tried not to look down at what was left of Diamond Harry. "His not mine."

Simon nodded. He had suspected as much but needed to be sure. River touched her brother's face, her fingers light and gentle, her look making him catch his breath with emotion as he gazed at her. "You saved my life, *mei mei*."

"Just the beginning."

Simon's mouth opened, he hesitated then closed it. Blinked then tried again. "Yes, well, I don't think he'll be troubling us any more, *bao bei*."

She shook her head, a sleeping sorrow awakening in her eyes. The softness of her words belied by the content. An adult with the voice of a child. The mind of a genius with the innocence of the womb. "Not him."

Simon and Kaylee stared at her, nonplussed. The doctor rubbed his wrists, preparing to get up off the floor. Wanting to ask her who she was talking about. The look in River's eyes stopped him mid-crouch, his mouth open but robbed of words as he followed the turn of her head and found himself staring into the barrel of a gun. The sense of shock was nothing compared to the feeling of betrayal. Shepherd Book was expressionless, his voice flat and mild. Almost a detatched curiosity, like a scientist reviewing a butterfly pinned under glass.

"I wouldn't suggest you make any sudden moves, doctor."

"Once a turncoat always a turncoat is that it?"

The Shepherd gave him an amused look. The gun River had discarded seeming far too at home in his capable hands. "No. I was never that."

"First you betray the Captain now us. Must make you very proud."

"You have no idea." And they didn't. Book had no intention of enlightening them either.

Kaylee was fighting to hold back tears. "Why did you come back?"

He raised his eyebrows slowly, voice mild. Conversational almost. "My work wasn't over. Never was a man to leave a thing half done."

* * * * *

Malcolm Reynolds blinked back the tide of emotion sweeping over him. It was Davy's hand on his shoulder that steadied him. The last time he had seen so many of his comrades in arms had been in the Valley. The Battle of Serenity like some scene out of Dante's Inferno only this hell was of their own rutting making. Now, here on Shadow, they were about to make the same mistake again. While it was true they had done an amazing job rebuilding their numbers, these were older men. The flush of youth a fleeting thing among those steely eyed gazes. For the young had died before their time and now those that followed were the ones who had escaped death by being captured, interned in prison camps on far flung worlds. All exiled from their home worlds. Every one of them from the legions of the dispossessed. Younger men like Davy were few though it was not years that separated them so much as experience. The carbon dating of blood and impossible scenes engraved into their hearts and minds in a place where vengeance lived.

It was not a comforting thought but Mal understood it only too well. Could see how seductive such a show of solidarity could be. But it was not enough. A few hundred, thousand even, on one small benighted world was not going to do more than anger the thick rich hide of the Alliance *hundan*. And those *goushi buru* had powerful friends. Mal blinked. Not that he was a cowardly man because he wasn't but as Monty had attested to a time or two he was always thinking. Judging the angles, working out which scenario would work best for them. When to advance and at times when to retreat. A man who couldn't tell the gorram difference had no place in a position of command. Men looked for leadership not some judas goat leading them to slaughter. Now as his eye travelled slowly over the assembled throng he could not help but think of sheep though a part stirred deep inside that was all kinds of proud and drawn to them. Wanting to go with them and carve a path of glory that would shame every last rutting purplebelly until every sun in the 'verse had grown cold. Not gonna happen he knew, but the stirring of his blood had a familiar ring. He could almost taste it.

He glanced at Davy and knew his brother would stay and fight no matter what he did. Knew he could not leave him and now he could not leave them either. His pulse began to thunder in his ears. The blood rush mounting as he made his decision. They wanted a gorram war he would give them one. As foolish and doomed as it was they would hit the Alliance and hit them hard but not like this. Not like gorram lambs to the slaughter. They would be hunter not prey. Victors not vanquished. And if they died. If this became the last Hurrah of the Browncoats then he aimed to make sure it was something not easily forgotten. By the time they had finished with the Alliance they would wish it was Reavers that had faced them. He raised a hand to still the murmuring voices. The hush that followed was almost painful with the weight of their collective expectations.

"I ain't gonna pretend this is gonna be *rongyi*. Nothin' worth fightin' for ever is. Ain't gonna tell you I'm the right man to lead you 'cause I'm no different than any of you. I was a Sergeant in the war that was an' better men than me walked out of that Valley just as better men than all of us standin' here were left behind. Ain't no accountin' for who would live an' who would die so if you're thinkin' of makin' me somethin' I ain't then think again. Ain't no hero but I am a man an' I'm a Browncoat proud an' free. Just like you I've been forced to eat the ashes of other men's fire. For more'n six long years now. Ashes that burn with that defeat. But ain't bowed. Not a one of us. An' that ain't nothin'."

"You'll lead us then?" Yelled a soldier four rows from the front.

Mal nodded slowly knowing this was the crux of the matter. Sensing his brother ease at his side as he did so. "If'n it's what you all want."

Heads nodded, a groundswell of approval rippled through solemn rows of determined men. Mal blinked. Maybe they would have a better chance than he first thought. These were not bits of kids. Not untrained innocents, canon fodder to the vainglory of war. These were battle hardened soldiers. Men who knew what they would be facing and would stand firm, giving no quarter and expecting none in return. Maybe they could turn this to their advantage. Maybe. First he needed to do some more of that thinking. No way was he going to just throw his people to the wolves.

* * * * *

Simon stared with stunned surprise, wishing he could think of something to say or do to diffuse the situation but truth to tell he was too shocked by the turn of events. Too disappointed in Book to voice what needed to be put into words. Kaylee looked upset but River seemed detached from it all. She cocked her head and seemed to be listening to something the rest of them could not hear, though from the angle of her head she could still see the Shepherd.

"I truly had not intended for it to end like this." Said Book disingenuously.

"Then why do it? We are no threat to you."

He blinked at Simon. "I had no choice."

"People always say they have no choice when they've already made up their minds but don't want to take responsibility for the decision, at least that's what the Cap'n says." Said Kaylee.

"What the Captain thinks is hardly any concern of mine."

"How did you intend it to end?"

He looked at Kaylee and blinked for a moment, the effect making him look a little dazed. "Pardon?"

"You said you hadn't intended it to end like this so how *did* you expect it to end?"

The Shepherd took a moment before answering. "Harry was an unexpected complication."

Simon frowned. "I thought you and Harry were on the same side?"

"Why would you think that?"

"Oh, you know - birds of a feather. Thick as thieves. Dirt gravitating towards dirt."

"You are not giving me a compelling reason not to kill you, doctor."

"Oh, I don't think you need any reason. After all, it's my sister you want isn't it?"

The Shepherd blinked. That slight distraction was all River needed. With a sudden flick of her body she leapt gracefully and twisted in mid-air, her right foot shooting out and catching Book under the chin even as she kicked out with her left foot and rolled above his head to land neatly on her feet behind him. Startled, Book squeezed the trigger a second before he dropped but the hammer struck on empty, a hard metallic click that echoed and was music to their ears. Book crumpled in a dazed heap, fighting to stay conscious. Simon turned to stare at his sister with sudden realisation. "You knew the gun was empty."

It was a statement, a realisation, not a question. River smiled, her eyes fixed on the Shepherd who had a hand cradled in disbelief over his broken nose, blood leaking out between his fingers as he fought to hold back the wave of nausea. He was having trouble focusing though his ears still worked. "Mal warned me."

Simon was sure he must have misheard. "The Captain? *Tianna* River, how could the Captain warn you?"

"Before he left. He said the Shepherd couldn't be trusted."

Kaylee shook her head. "If that's true then why let him come back?"

River's eyes were shining. She looked oddly happy and content. It was somewhat creepifying given the circumstances. "Said if we gave the Devil enough rope he would hang himself."

"The Devil?" Echoed Simon.

"Even the Devil can quote scripture." She paused, her tone taking on a thoughtful air. "He studies darkness instead of light. Attracted to it like a moth to a flame. Feasting on the emptiness in other men's souls not seeing the abyss he has become."

"Yes, but..."

"Mal hoped he had changed," Said his sister sadly, her eyes focusing on the Preacher. As if he had wasted something very precious that could not be replaced.

"But how did you guess there was only one bullet in the gun?"

River grinned at Kaylee. "I didn't."


River laughed and flung back her head, her hair flying outward in an unruly halo. "Mal said one bullet would be enough then I would know. Warned me to be careful. Timing would be everything."

Her brother's look of surprise quickly turned to something darker. Anger growing as he thought of how much danger that *wangba dan* of a Captain had put his sister in. She shook her head at him.

"*Ni bu dong*. I was never in any danger."

"You can't know that for sure, *mei mei*. You could have been killed."

"No. I chose the gun from Jayne's bunk. Made sure it only had one bullet."

Simon sighed at her child-like logic. "That is not comforting, River."

"We must tie him up."

Simon looked at the Preacher. He was still sitting on the floor. The man looked groggy and disorientated. The doctor wondered if he could even stand. "I don't think he's going to be any trouble, *mei mei*."


Kaylee and Simon glanced at one another then looked to River for an explanation. "What insurance?"

"You can't kill everybody with only one bullet."

Unable to think of a suitable response to that they said nothing. Moments later Simon was tying Book's hands behind his back. Then, at River's insistence he began to check the man's pockets. He gave a little sigh and shot his sister a look of mild exasperation. "What am I looking for again?"

"Something that should not be there."

Kaylee bit her lip then noticed that River was now crouching over the dead body of the assassin. Her small delicate hands patting him down until she found what she was looking for. Her hand paused, a slow smile turning to one of quiet triumph. "*Shenme*?" Said Kaylee. "What'cha smilin' at?"

She stood in one fluid movement and held out her hand. Resting in the palm was a box just big enough to cover her whole hand and no more than two inches thick. Simon had finished searching Book and not found anything. The doctor in him had wanted to see to his injury but for the moment he was distracted. "What is that, River?"


At their horrified reactions River's smile became an amused grin then the humour vanished from her face. "Not all poison kills." She carefully opened the box. They peered inside with her and looked at the little row of small glass bottles, their rubber stoppers sealing the deadly contents. Along the side of the row of bottles was an ornate silver hypodermic needle. Elegant but completely functional. Alongside the needle was a cunning applicator disguised as a ring only Kaylee did not recognise it as such. The ring was a silver coiled snake, the head partly raised with the forked tongue just showing between its' fangs as if in silent warning. Small red rubies were its' eyes. Simon quickly reached over and took the ring gently from River before she could accidentally hurt herself. River frowned at him.

"*Xiaoxin, bao bei*. You'll activate the trigger."

Kaylee frowned. "What trigger? It's just a ring."

"No, Kaylee, it's not. See how the snake's head is slightly raised?" Kaylee nodded. "The head is a pressure switch, miniaturised so you only need press down on the head for a tiny needle to flick out and pierce the skin delivering a tiny but deadly amount of poison into the intended victim. And look," He showed her how the ring could be turned. "One little twist and your secret weapon becomes an efficient means of suicide."

The mechanic pulled a face, her disapproval of such a device only too evident but River was shaking her head. "*Bushi*."

"*Qu*, yes it is."

"No Simon, that's what the ring was made for."

*Wo bu dong*."

"This ring is not filled with poison."

Now he was more intrigued than surprised. "It's not?"

She shook her head and spoke with absolute certainty. "No. This is the antidote."

Three pairs of eyes stared down into the silent but malevolent gift in the box. Kaylee's voice shook slightly putting into words what they were all thinking. "Yeah, but the antidote to which poison?"

* * * * *

GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*bizui* = be quiet/shut up *dong ma* = understand *diyu* = hell *yeyu aihaozhe* = amateur *wode ma* = mother of God *ni hao ma* = how are you? *hen hao* = very good *mei mei* = little sister *bao bei* = precious/treasure *hundan*/*wangba dan* = bastard *goushi buru* = lower than dogshit *rongyi* = easy *tianna* = oh God! *shenme* = what *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *xiaoxin* = careful *bushi* = not so *qu* = yes (lit.go) *wo bu dong* = I don't understand


Monday, May 24, 2004 10:29 AM


Such lovely twists and turns. Irresistable as always, Alison. Too bad about Book, though. I was really hoping he'd come around. And I love how Jayne is growing.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004 7:03 AM


Eeks! Here we go again. For a horrible moment at the start I really thought you'd killed Simon.

Interesting about the rings. Snake rings, phoenix rings, map necklaces. What is it with you and jewellery, Ali?

Felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when Mal accepted leadership of the rebels. Beautifully done, absolutely in character.

Another great read. Thanks.


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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.