HEAVEN AND HELL: 27. "Cannon Fodder"
Wednesday, June 2, 2004

"Zoe, Wash and Jayne discover the source of Max's treasure. The Alliance move to close the trap. River discovers something which terrifies her and Mal realises they have run out of time."



SUMMARY: "Zoe, Wash and Jayne discover the source of Max's treasure. The Alliance move to close the trap. River discovers something which terrifies her and Mal realises they have run out of time." 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

* * * * *

Wash stared at his beautiful psychotic wife. And he thought the Captain was nuts? Fortunately they were out of earshot of the others. Zoe took a moment, watching Jayne talk to Max. Wash leaned close so he could hiss in her ear. "You think this is what?"

"Look closer, *zhangfu*." She urged quietly. "These are the possessions of the dead."

Her husband paled somewhat, eyes widening in a sickening kind of horror. "So basically you're sayin' these old friends of yours and the Captain are grave robbers?"

Their voices must have risen because instead of Zoe answering his question Max did. "We're not grave robbers but you're right. Everything you see here belonged to the fallen. Comrades every one."

Her eyes narrowed as if to surpress the fury of what she was thinking. "*Wo bu dong*."

He sighed, the sorrow in his eyes not feigned. "Every browncoat that died leavin' no kith or kin is represented here. What little of worth they still had gathered an' stored where the Alliance *tamade hundan* couldn't get their hands on it."

Zoe was frowning, her gaze leaving Max's as she turned to look at all the little treasures of lives cut short by war. The warehouse was not small and was crammed from floor to ceiling. Everything neatly stacked and sorted. The only thing missing were price tags. "Weishenme*? What you plannin' on doin' with it?"

"He plans to get rich on the dead." Said Jayne as if the answer was obvious.

Max's face darkened. "We ain't thieves."

The mercenary snorted. "An' people think I only do what I do for money. Least I don't rob the bodies of my friends like I was doin' 'em some kind of favour."

In a move as quick as anything the big man had ever seen Max closed the gap between them and pressed his angry face close to Jayne's. Lips peeled back as he glared into the mercenary's face. "If you weren't on Mal's crew I'd drop you where you stand, you *goushi buru*."

"Yeah? You an' who's gorram army?"

The click was quiet but in the sudden hush it sounded praeternaturally loud. Jayne snapped his head up as they all looked towards the catwalk above them. Clem was holding a machine gun as steady as you please, a plug of tobacco in his mouth. The slow steady movement of his jaw reminding Zoe of a cow chewing its' cud. "One wrong move an' it won't matter a good gorram."

Wash looked from one face to another in alarm. "If we're all on the same side why are we fallin' out over this?"

"A good question, *zhangfu*." Said Zoe.

Clem did not put his weapon away but stood as if he could do this all day. Max straightened slowly. "Some of them as died had kin. Showed up months sometimes years later. Once we knew 'em for who they were we got their things back to 'em. Others lost everythin' 'cept what they stood up in. We gave 'em what they needed from those that left no heirs. Not a single coin or item you see stored here has gone to any other cause."

Zoe's look became a shuttered box. No telling what it hid inside. "I see Alliance treasures along with Independent. You plannin' to return them to family too?"

Max shook his head. His look uncompromising. "Nope an' ain't apologisin' neither. Alliance gear is for whoever moves in on the clean up. Weapons we use to rearm ourselves, the surplus is cleaned an' stored with what ammo we can find for it here."

"But why?" Said an exasperated Wash. "Why not just SELL it and use the coin to buy what you want?"

"Because floatin' this much stuff on the market would draw attention, *dong ma*? From them as would hurt us most."

"Still grave robbin'." Muttered Jayne.

If Zoe or Wash heard him neither showed it. Zoe felt sick to her stomach. Knew the Captain would be mad as *diyu* if he knew. She forced herself to speak calmly. "War's been over a long time which begs the question: what're you intendin' to do with all this wealth?"

* * * * *

Kaylee could not quite keep the sorrow and disappointment from her face. Every time she looked at the Preacher she could feel tears pricking at the corner of her eyes. Simon tried to reassure her but it made no difference. She had trusted the Shepherd. Had not been able to believe he would really betray them. It all had to be some terrible misunderstanding. Though that didn't explain Inara. Seeing Book come back had raised her hope that he was essentially the good God-fearing man he appeared to be. And if they could be wrong about him then maybe they had been wrong about Inara. Only now her deep and frantic hopes had been turned inside out leaving her feeling hollow inside. It wasn't simply that she had lost two precious friends, people she had trusted and come to love. Something had been cut out of her like a living piece of her heart and it hurt more than words could articulate. Eyes burning she had no way of expressing how devastated it made her feel.

Shepherd Book was seated on a chair Simon had fetched from the commons area. Securely tied to it the man stared mildly at his captors, seemingly unpeturbed by his sudden change in fortune. "What do you intend to do with me?"

Simon was standing by the infirmary bed on which Yen Mah lay, his sensitive face drawn in concern for her, his compassionate eyes hardening as his focus was diverted back to the Shepherd. He continued to dress Yen Mah's injuries as he replied. His tone quiet, clipped but hard. "First I'll settle for an explanation."

Book laughed quietly but there was no real humour in it. "Somehow I doubt my explanation will make bedtime reading."

"I don't want a story, just the truth."

The Shepherd blinked. No banter in him now, either real or fabricated. "I don't think you can handle the truth." He said quietly.

River was sitting in the corner furthest from the door, her legs folded against her chest, her hands wrapped around her knees. A faraway look on her pale face. Kaylee wanted to go to her, to make sure she was alright, but she also wanted to hear what the Preacher had to say, to keep her eyes glued to him for any little clue that the man she had once placed so much faith in still existed. Simon's sister ignored them all, her thoughts a world away but vaguely aware of them like some distant ghostly image on the periphery of her consciousness. Her breathing deep, calm and measured. A semi-waking trance. Blocking their spoken words in order to hear what was unsaid. She spanned more worlds than one where only crazy made sense. And every lie, while a distortion of truth, could be bent back to cast a true reflection if you knew the fashion of each deceit. Not everyone understood her but he did. And now he was in danger in ways he could not begin to fathom. The mirror was twisting in her mind. Resisting all efforts to uncover the body of the lie, clues breaking away like shards of glass as the mirror fractured. Touching his mind was heaven. Causing him pain was hell. But the focus it lent them was an opportunity she could not ignore. Within the warping framework the answers lay all twisted and corrupted. In bright disparate slithers they broke away and spun slowly in her mind's eye. As she recognised the pieces she named them. Love kept her close to him. The truth would set him free.

* * * * *

They were staring at him like he was mad.

"You want us to do what?" Asked Dan Walters. A big burley ex-Sergeant standing in the front row of dazed former soldiers.

"You heard. I want the ships we can't take into battle moved into plain sight, leech what fuel you can from them into the tanks of the good ships then move 'em under cover. Don't care if it's rock, wood or paper. Whatever. An' best we be quick about it."

Pepper Rawlings wondered whether they had picked the right brother after all. "*Shifu*, if you're right an' the Alliance *hundan* come callin' before we make our play they'll be able to tell in a heartbeat that them ships are no threat."

Mal nodded. "I'm countin' on it."

Pepper blinked. Davy felt like holding his head in his hands and yelling. "Mal, this don't make sense." "Not lookin' to make sense, *dong ma*?"

"Then what you lookin' to do?" Asked Turner Watts. He was one of Pepper's men and seldom spoke, preferring to stay in the background and exercise his ears while other folks made their mouths weary on his behalf. People tended to forget he was present and that suited him just fine. He learned a lot more things that way until now. Now he was just baffled.

Malcolm Reynolds cast an almost fond look at them. "If you're this confused just think how much we'll mess up them Alliance minds."

"You wanna confuse 'em to death?" Said Lenny Goss, fighting to hold back a guffaw of laughter.

"Would if I could but no, that ain't it. Just wanna confuse 'em enough to give 'em pause. While they scratch their heads an' think on it we'll have a few extra minutes."

"To do what?" Said an exasperated Davy.

"To get our good birds in the air. Scattered flock stand more chance of escapin' the net."

"I'm gettin' damn sick of this. If you know somethin', tell us. If not let's get to plannin' our next move *shifu*. We're all with you, you know that, but this fixation you got with the Alliance comin' after us don't hold water an'..."

Before Pepper could finish his frustrated diatribe an alarm sounded. It was quickly taken up and repeated all around the camp. In his head, River's voice sang. Mal closed his eyes a brief moment, embraced her with an ache in his heart. *Too late, they're here*

*We ain't ready, xin gan*

*You have minutes, ai ren. The Alliance like to attack in synchrony*

*Meanin' what?*

*Meanin' they're movin' into position*

*They wanna tie a noose around our necks?*

*Qu. Mashang, Mal!*

Mal began barking orders, his body a study in perpetual motion. All thought of questioning his orders driven from the men's minds by the need for action. The swifter the better. Men ran in all directions but with purpose. Fortunately most of the ships had already been topped up with fuel from the ships that were no longer spaceworthy enough for battle. Quickly the units divided into their crews and Mal yelled at the radio operators to instruct them to make for the rendezvous point. Everyone knew it was to be Hera and the looks on their pale faces matched as if the words reduced them to an army of the dead. In a way they were. Vengeance could do that to a man. To a country. To a world. To a people. Dispossessed became obssessed. Mal knew, none better. Flying hands now matched flying feet as not a one of them fell idle, the teamwork a flowing match of organised frenzy that made him proud as *diyu*. If he had to die his own self he could ask no better than to die in the company of men such as these.

He turned his head and looked for his brother. Davy gave a tight grin back and Mal felt his heart constrict. He would do anythin' in the gorram 'verse to keep his brother safe. River's voice caressed the sharp angles of his thoughts, adding detail to the plan he was already forming in his own mind. They worked together as if they had been born to do this. As if fate had fashioned them from the same piece of the cloth of creation. That notion comforted him, almost as much as a love that had no equal yet ruled him heart and soul.

It was Danny Paul Brown from ordnance who diverted Mal's intention to reach the lead ship. He frowned at the tense but excited face as the man ran up to him, his whole body a-buzz with barely contained excitement. Mal knew he was powered by pure adrenaline, same as the rest of them. "Ground ships are ready, *shifu*, just like you asked."

Pepper turned his head back and frowned at Mal. "Ground ships?"

Mal ignored Pepper, nodded at Danny. "*Hao*, don't want 'em hidden now, *dong ma*? Need to roll 'em out in plain sight. Think you can do that?"

"*Qu*. We can rig a quick remote then position 'em wherever the gorram you want, *shifu*."

*'An filled like I said?"

"To the letter, *shifu*."

Mal gave a huge grin then told him to get to his unit. Time for them as could fly to spread their gorram wings. No more time for fussing or tweaking, they had to get gone or they would never leave. The planet had been a graveyard once, didn't plan on it happening again any time soon.

"What the good gorram was that about?"

Mal broke into a run again, Pepper and Davy pacing him as they closed in on the waiting ship. "Just leavin' the purple bellies a *liwu*. Ships as can't fly can still join in the fight."

They still had yet to agree on a rank for Mal and he had not offered one. Field commands made him feel uneasy. Dead men's shoes. So they called him sir and acted as if he were their commander-in-chief instead of some pirate-as-was taking on a role as far above his station as the stars were to them on the ground. Yet it fitted him well and they folded like a cloak around him in a constellation of their own. One that would be incomplete without him. "What *liwu*?"

"We got 70 ships, Pepper. 50 goin' into battle. All 70 carryin' guns an' armaments. Many have guns mounted an' such like. We can't strip 'em all for them as can fly. I was thinkin' a quick bit of riggin' would leave a nice little package ready to explode in the damn *liumang's* faces when they come a-callin'. Could say it'll be a *liwu* that goes on givin' as each explosion sets off the next, *dong ma?*."

Pepper paused to laugh, one foot on the ramp. Though he did not say so he was mightily impressed by Mal's unorthodox but original thinking. Plus he would pay good coin to see the *wangba dans* faces when they got their gifts. Mal grabbed Davy and shoved him up the ramp ahead of him. Pepper's eyes were shining with clear amusement despite the seriousness of the situation they found themselves facing. "Thought you were askin' us about maskin' them ships on the ground, how come you didn't mention this little plan?"

"No time. 'Sides if you'd been right we wouldn't be needin' it. Just wanted to have a bit of flexibility an' there was no time to run it through a committee. Couldn't risk everyone arguing like we had all the time in the 'verse."

They paused on the ramp, Pepper yelling to Charlie Watson and Gary Wright about hurrying it up so they could take off. The big man turned his head back to give Mal a level look. "You assumed a hell of lot that we'd agree with you."

Mal grinned and clapped a hand on his shoulder. "Not sayin' it'll work or do much good but any advantage I'll take an' be welcome of, *dong ma?*"

Pepper grinned back, pleased as it was possible to be that they had Malcolm Reynolds on their side. "*Wo dong*, Mal."

At the mildly raised eyebrow Pepper's grin relaxed into a smile. The look shining in his eyes one of total capitulation. He would follow this man anywhere. "Whatever you want, *shifu*."

Charlie and Gary hit the ramp running. Calls floated back and forth, the men armed, primed and ready to launch themselves at anything the Alliance could throw at them. Davy half ran back down the ramp to grab Mal and manhandle him further up the ramp so they could close the doors. Just in time before the heavy metal ramp clanged shut and the idling engines fired to lift them hurriedly into atmo. Above them a thousand stars broke formation and the thunder and shatter of Alliance guns concussed the air where two and a half thousand men had once stood. Proud but not yet free, gorrammit. Adrenaline pumping, Mal directed his people. The starburst of ships breaking away in a sudden fanning explosion of speed startled the approaching Alliance ships, so many targets to focus on they could not hit them all.

* * * * *

"Why don't you just tell me then we'll both know?"

Something spasmed across Book's face at the doctor's words. The harsh lighting of the infirmary giving him no place to hide but in plain sight. Too fleeting for Simon to name the brief flicker of emotion but then he would never be sure if it was real or another lie. He glanced from the Shepherd to the empty gun on the work surface next to the bed where Yen Mah lay. She was still unconscious and he was glad. The young girl had grown a lot in the year since they had last seen her. Now twelve but almost River's height, her lanky limbs and too thin body had filled out taking on a healthy aspect as a result of regular meals and a shortage of death defying trauma. Then this had to happen. He wondered how she had come to get caught up in this, what had brought her into the orbit of a man like Diamond Harry. Book remained silent.

"You're not going to tell me, are you?"

"Don't you have nightmares enough?"

Simon finished binding Yen Mah's wound. The stitches a neat cradle to hold her together long enough to heal. "I'd have less if you just told me the truth."

The Shepherd looked across the room to where River sat folded in on herself, as if trying hard to make herself invisible. But he knew she wasn't hiding. A hunger in him when he looked at her. A desire to see into that complex head of hers and watch the prize unfold to measured form. Simon frowned at him, not liking the expression on his face. Automatically angling his body to block the Preacher's view.

"I don't understand you. You watch my sister like a hawk, betray us yet return to betray us again. I know it's River you want yet you make no attempt to take her. Where are the missing pieces to this puzzle?"

"You have all the pieces, Simon, you just don't know how they fit together."

Simon looked upset. "What did River ever do to you?"

"You miss the point. I don't care if she's innocent or guilty of any crime. It is irrelevant."

Simon leaned forward on his hands, using the edge of the bed to bring his face closer to Book's. "What is relevant, tell me that?"

"We all have our breaking points. Our various gifts whether at rest or under stress. Your sister is special, doctor. So are you but to a lesser degree. You have no idea what you have in your midst."

"Then why don't you tell me?"

"No need. The answer is now redundant."

The doctor blinked, stunned by the illogic. "*Shenme*?"

"The future, doctor, is fluid not fixed. The lines of probability form and only coaslesce when their moment in time has come. Until then everything is possible or nothing is."

He looked confused then began to become angry. Kaylee dipped her head and stared at Yen Mah's pale still face. Only the thready beat of the pulse in her wrist reassuring the mechanic that the girl was not dead. She felt like crying but held back her tears. Gently she stroked Yen Mah's hand and hoped and prayed the girl would recover. That all the crew would survive this and that the nightmare that had somehow engulfed them all would quickly end. So engrossed in her thoughts was Kaylee that she did not notice River raise her head and look up. Simon was about to get really angry with the Shepherd when he noticed and froze. All the ire bled out of him, pushed out by his simple all-encompassing concern for his sister. Book watched, fascinated, as the doctor went to her. Kneeling slowly by her side, his face tilted towards her, his eyes worried and trying to calm her, his hands fluttering gently to hold and cradle the girl in his arms.

"Sssh, River, it's alright. I'm here, I'm here."

River blinked, said nothing. Her pale face looking over Simon's shoulder straight into the Preacher's eyes. He looked so calm, so sure, so confident that soon he would have what he wanted. River shuddered. A cold hand touching her heart and filling her with a nameless dread. Her breath soaked in sorrow. Her heart weeping tears of blood in veins choked with emotion. Book neither moved nor said a word. Trapping her with his all-too knowing eyes. She knew now and beyond any question exactly what it was the Shepherd wanted. The reason he had been so patient, waiting. Biding his time. Watching her. Even prepared to protect her and those she cherished the most. For a time at least he had been her protector. Now the gloves were off. His masters no doubt waiting for him to reveal the prize. Tears bedimmed her eyes with realisation. How long had he known? The knowing of it broke her heart. The passion of the grave opening a wide chasm filled with the souls already sacrificed to the obscene altar of a despotic faith.

Kaylee looked worried. She didn't understand what was going on and was all kinds of frightened and upset. She wished the Captain was with them. That Zoe, Wash and Jayne had not gone to drop off the cargo and get paid. It felt wrong. Like a system out of synch they were in danger of falling apart at the gorram seams. Her world made no sense when those she had fashioned her life around were not in it. And then there was the Shepherd speaking words in a voice as mild as butter melting on the tongue yet more deadly for all the quiet talk, all the calm rhetoric that filled her so with alarm. Her skin crawling with dread, she clutched Yen Mah's limp hand tightly and prayed the others would return soon. Squeezing her eyes shut she tried to block out the litany of words tumbling like a pronouncement of doom from the Preacher's mouth.

"...and hold him over the volcano's edge. And on that day you will finally meet the man."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*zhangfu* = husband *wo bu dong* - I don't understand *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *weishenme* = why *goushi buru* = lower than dogshit *dong ma* = understand *diyu* = hell *shifu* = sir *hundan* = bastard *xin gan*/ai ren* = sweetheart *qu* = yes (lit. go) *mashang* = on the double/quickly/right away *hao* = good *liwu* = gift *liumang* = bastard/asshole/criminal/gangster *wangba dan* = bastard *shenme* = what *wo dong* = I understand


Wednesday, June 2, 2004 9:22 PM


"Wash stared at his beautiful psychotic wife"... love that line, though it came in a close second to "You wanna confuse 'em to death?" ;-)

Totally dug this chapter--adored seeing the captain in action. And the Shepherd turning way creepifying!

Many thanks for the read.

Wednesday, June 2, 2004 11:19 PM


I'm really empathizing with Kaylee here. Sad, worried and more'n a mite confused!!

I really like this idea:
"The future, doctor, is fluid not fixed. The lines of probability form and only coaslesce when their moment in time has come. Until then everything is possible or nothing is."
and the way you expressed it. I think that's a good insight into River's supernatural abilities - the way she can see all the probabilities.

Eager to find out what Baddie Book will do next.


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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.