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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
"Shepherd Book's explanation leave the others feeling more tense not less. Meanwhile things begin to unfold that none of them could have predicted.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1738 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
TITLE: "A DEVIL LESS BENIGN"
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
PAIRING: No specific pairing.
STATUS: SEQUEL to "INSTINCT"
ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where.
SUMMARY: "Shepherd Book's explanation leaves the others
feeling more tense not less. Meanwhile things begin to unfold
that none of them could have predicted."
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 DEVIL LESS BENIGN"
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
* * * * *
Jayne thought he was dead, should have been dead, only he didn't imagine it would hurt this much. No. Pain of this magnitude was surely reserved only for the living. That being the case... Carefully and with great effort the mercenary managed to partly open his eyes. It was just a slit but enough to blow his former thoughts into itty bitty fragments. What the good gorram was this? Everything was white. Not just - white - but dazzlingly, unrelieved, wall to wall, ceiling to floor WHITE. Even that slight movement drained him, his eyelids sliding closed again like metal shutters. Almost he imagined them locking in place. Inwardly stunned he lay on the verge of consciousness, memory betraying every feeling and sensation from that last battle. Battle? Was that what it was? The effort to remember tipped the scales and the unremitting white faded to black, his body shutting down along with his mind. All Jayne Cobb felt was an incredible sense of relief then even that vanished.
Everyone was staring at the object in Shepherd Book's palm. The Captain now on his feet but not looking particularly steady, the panther anxious and sticking close to his side. Simon stared at the scorpion then looked at Kaylee. "Do you have any idea how rare the Giant Panda is?"
Kaylee shook her head. Up until they had come to Savanna she had never seen one, even in pictures. Coming face to face with the real thing had been a rush and she had been overcome with the desire to hug the beast. Looked so gorram cute and cuddly. Fortunately Zoe had disabused her of that notion. Simon turned his attention back to Book.
"But I have a feeling you know."
His words amused the Preacher. Wash put a hand out to steady the Captain, managing to mostly ignore the way the panther's golden eyes bored holes into him. The Captain nodded his thanks but didn't say anything, waiting for Book to answer the doctor.
"Each of the animals we have seen are incredibly rare in the 'verse. Hundreds of years ago they roamed Earth-That-Was. Not in the same habitats naturally, each flourishing in their own areas and clime. When the Earth was used up we lost everything. The planet and all that was on it believed to have become no more than a revolving graveyard of past wonders. Everything of worth stripped from it by the unending avarice of man."
"Except the animals." Said Kaylee brightly. After all, that had to be good news, right?
No one smiled back. Simon took her hand. "Kaylee, nothing survived. Imagine a world-wide holocaust, Earth-That-Was a wasteland. The exodus of Mankind to seed the Black the only hope for the future of the human race."
Kaylee shook her head and frowned. "That don't make sense, Simon." The mechanic pointed at the panther beside Mal. "Ain't that real? How'd the Panda or whatever the gorram it is get here? An' what about them other things we seen? Ya tellin' me we're all imaginin' this?"
"I'd love to tell you that, Kaylee." Simon sighed and exchanged a rueful look with the others. "But it would be a lie."
"So what is this?" Kaylee asked in a small voice.
The Captain nodded. "I'd like to know that too, Shepherd."
Book raised his eyebrows. "You think I know the answer?"
He got no reply. Mal just looked at him and waited. In Book's hand the artificial scorpion sat like a sculpture. Shiny and metallic black, every bit of it gleamed with a dark intent that was more than unsettling however fanciful that seemed. Zoe didn't like it. Would have smashed it to bits with the but of her gun only the information that it was some kind of control mechanism for the moon held her at bay. Unlike Jayne who acted first and thought about it later, Zoe was like to think a problem to death. Wanted to understand what she was getting into before the gorram ground opened up beneath her and swallowed her up. That feeling was raising the hackles on the back of her neck, apprehension building. Wash put his arm around her waist but it couldn't stop the cold seeping in and sending trails of ice up her spine.
"I think you know too much to play dumb." The Captain said.
No one spoke, waiting for whatever Book might reveal. The odd tension in the air was subtle but the cat picked up on it as she setted at Mal's feet, relaxed but poised and alert to anything that might happen. From time to time the Captain would absent mindedly run his fingers through the animal's glosssy fur.
"First off," Said the Captain calmly. "I wanna know how you know what in the *diyu* that thing is. Then I wanna know all about this place. What it's doin' here an' such."
"You seem to place an awful lot of faith in my ability to give answers."
"That ain't one of 'em."
The ghost of a smile almost settled on Book's lips. He always enjoyed verbally sparring with Serenity's Captain. The man had more subtle layers than an onion. Made him all manner of interesting but for now the focus was on this place. Would take some explaining though not as much as the Captain might like. Just enough information, no more. "I wasn't always a Shepherd, Mal."
The Captain nodded. Simon felt uneasy at the switch from title to first name though he could not have said why. Book turned his attention to the scorpion in his hand.
"For a time I specialised in a number of worldly skills, martial arts was one of them. It took me across the Black to many worlds, some Alliance, some not. The thirst for teachers of my calibre was unending. I could find work wherever I chose." Book paused. "It gave me unprecedented access to the kind of secrets that would constantly challenge my faith."
Mal frowned. "But you weren't a Preacher then?"
"I wasn't ordained." Book corrected. "I had always had a leaning towards faith. It is not who you follow but what you believe that matters."
"What did you believe?"
He did not answer the Captain right away. Simon noticed the two men seemed trapped in their own private dialogue as if the rest of them were not even there. It was... disconcerting but fascinating. Like being a fly on the wall but without having to turn into the insect first.
"Religion is not faith, Captain. Religion is for those who need an organised system of belief. Call it the politics of faith if you will."
The Captain shook his head. "You were gonna tell me about this place."
"For a time - and only for a time - I worked for the Alliance. It was long before the War with the Independents. It was that fuzzy period of time when so many excitin' things were bein' discovered and terraforming had turned a new corner in the perfection of advanced habitats."
Kaylee felt a stir of excitement. "Ya sayin' this is a habitat?"
Book and the Captain looked at the mechanic as if just noticing she was there. Simon squeezed her hand. No one else spoke. Zoe's eyes rivetted on the scorpion in the Shepherd's hand. It seemed inert and inactive but she wasn't taking any chances.
"*Qu*, but the surface was bein' divided into different co-existin' habitats. The animals we found were then goin' to occupy those areas an' flourish."
Simon wondered if Book meant what he thought he meant. "Are you saying they were intending to breed these animals?"
"*Qu*. That would no doubt have been one of the aims of this place."
The Captain rolled the thought around inside his head. "An' the other?"
"Well now," Said Shepherd Book slowly. "That's where it gets a mite interestin'."
This wasn't quite what Inara had in mind but it was a good step up from 'no'. Senator Lang came from old money, his parentage littered with Lords and Ladies and the kind of titles now bought and sold for a King's ransom. Yet he had inherited not a one or so Inara had thought. Seeing the sleek lines of his luxury yacht was a revelation . Inara had hoped for something less flambouyant and head turning. It was hard to be sneaky when the vessel you sailed in was like a sailor's wet dream.
Mistaking her look for stunned appreciation the Senator smiled. "I call her the Reknown. She's quite the beauty and has an impressive turn of speed."
"It's beautiful!" Inara praised, the word coming out almost breathlessly, her eyes widening as she spoke to add to the effect. His reaction was everything she wanted it to be.
"Come, let me give you a guided tour then you can tell me what is so fascinating that you couldn't wait to see it."
Inara took his arm graciously, her mind racing in an effort to find a way to track her friends without arousing undue suspicion.
The incisions were precise, accurate to a millionth of an inch. The metal arm rotated then withdrew, another arm coming into place behind it and closing the wound with neat micro stitches. The thread would dissolve as the peppered cuts and incisions healed.
Jayne Cobb was a patchwork of tiny wounds. Some had been inflicted by small metal shafts like crossbow bolts only thinner, the tips containing a variety of drugs to numb and incapacitate a target. One of the last such wounds was above Jayne's left eye. The first arm locked into place, a bracket holding the unconscious mercenary's head in place before a slim probe burrowed into the impact site and lasered the interior to burn out any infection. What chemicals were already in the bloodstream were being hunted down and disabled by a superior group of advanced antigens.
There was only the one bullet wound. The site in the mercenary's left shoulder, another metal arm moving soundlessly into place and holding the wound open while a long thin pair of surgical pliers burrowed into the opening like a heat seeking missile. Advanced technology enabling it to home in on the bullet. Extraction was quick and by the time the bullet had been dropped into a small tray for assessment the wound had been stitched closed and Jayne was being doused in an antispectic solution delivered in a fine vapor, warm air then flowing over him to dry his naked body. No dressings were applied, a clear thin film covering the site of each wound to keep them clean.
The operating table slid out from under the array of instruments and locked into place in the recovery room opposite, doors closing soundlessly behind it. Another gleaming white space where everything simply slid and folded out of sight into the walls, ceiling and floor when not in use. The only thing in the room right now was Jayne Cobb and the bed he was lying on. Warm air kept his body temperature even. As Jayne slept something small and spikey skittered across the floor and up the leg of his bed. The thing ran along his right leg, up his abdomen and stopped at the neck. There it paused as if thinking or receiving further instructions. In his sleep Jayne stirred, mumbling something incoherent. Little sharp legs pricked his skin as the object climbed up his neck and along the jawline not stopping until it reached his left ear. Seconds ticked by in an uncaring 'verse before it moved again. Waiting between slow sleep induced exhalations, timing its' entrance before the subject of its' scrutiny woke.
"Did it work?"
"None must suspect."
"Errors are for amateurs, *shifu*."
"There was, however, an 'unexpected' development."
"The merchandise appears to show signs of bonding."
"How is that possible?"
Chin Li shrugged. "What can I say, *laoban*? They are animals."
A thoughtful pause followed. "No matter, it is not significant. This one will lead us to the others. Let him think he has won."
"What of the fallen? They served us well."
"Let them continue to serve."
The mask shifted but did not reveal a true face. "The merchandise needs nourishment. Consider it an efficient use of our 'resources'."
Chin Li bowed and left. It was not for him to question but to obey. The only thing that mattered was the project. It could not be permitted to fail. If it did that would mean his sons had died for nothing.
It was good to see the Captain back on his feet. Zoe's world was all out of kilter when Mal was off his game. Seeing the spark come back into her friend's eyes was all the reassurance she needed. The panther though, that was like to take longer for her to accept. Wash stayed close to his wife sensing her disquiet but content for now to be able to reach out and touch. Zoe focused on the Captain. "What's the plan, sir?"
"We do as River said. Up not down."
Zoe's eyebrows rose in query. That was an awfully thin plan even for him. "An' the rest of it, sir?"
The Captain's expression had closed up some, perhaps thinking to battles ahead waiting to be fought. Zoe couldn't blame him. She watched his lips thin with determination. "We find Jayne."
A few yards away River seemed to be in her own little world. Simon dropped to his haunches in front of where she sat staring off into space. "River? You've been very quiet, *mei mei. Shenme shi*?"
"It watches. Listens. Can't say too much."
Simon's heart missed a beat. "*Shenme*? What watches and listens?"
River looked at him, her focus back but still subdued. Her words low, quiet. A warning not an answer. "Can't speak, mustn't ask."
Her brother was starting to get alarmed. "River, if something is wrong you have to tell me, *dong ma*?"
"Everything's wrong plus you're not asking the right questions."
Gently Simon reached for his sister's hand. It was ice cold. He wrapped his own around it and drew the other hand in as well. "You're so cold." When River did not respond he went back to their conversation, all the while gently rubbing warmth and life back into her hands. "Tell me, *mei mei*, what questions should I be asking?"
There was a pause. The voices of the others had faded into background noise whittling away at the little silences marooned between words. He blocked them out. River looked sad, her pale face tilting to one side, eyes locked on his. "What happened to the people, Simon?"
"People?" Simon blinked, wondering if he had missed an entire conversation somewhere but then this was River. The conversation had probably already played out inside her head. It would be no less real to her even if it left him baffled. As he tried to catch up a thought occurred to him. "Are you saying there were people on this moon?"
River nodded. "Not builders, caretakers. Different kind of soldiers. Protectors. More fodder than cannon now."
He did not like the sound of that. Simon became aware that the silence when she stopped talking was more profound. The background hum of others' conversations had ceased. The doctor turned his head and found the rest of the crew staring at them. Kaylee looked uneasy, wanting to comfort and reassure her friend but not sure that was possible now. When River was like this she beat her normal level of creepiness hands down.
Jayne woke with a start and squinted upwards. He was lying on his gorram back on the grass at the edge of the concrete flats. He had his clothes on but was all manner of confused and disorientated. The mercenary blinked then had to squint, strong sunlight scorching clear through to his eyeballs or so it seemed. He groaned and rolled on to his side then remembered the battle. Gorramit, he should be dead shouldn't he? Jayne cautiously patted himself to check for damage, winced a little as the movement pulled at stitches now invisible to the naked eye but considering what had happened he was in remarkably good shape. His confusion deepened as he struggled to fill in the blanks, the effort making his head spin. Getting to his feet Jayne gazed around him and got his bearings. This place had been soaked in blood. The flats before him a red glossy patchwork of other men's blood. So what had happened to it and where in the nine hells were the bodies?
The whole gorram place looked clean and empty, not a spot of blood and gore in any direction. Squinting Jayne looked back across the flats towards the shimmering blocks where he had found the elephants. Not nothing moving on the eerie assed landscape but his own self. Gave him the rutting creeps. What the *diyu* was this place? Had the battle happened or was it all a twisted figment of his imagination? Had the elephants been real? The more Jayne thought on it the more convinced he became that this was all some warped dream. Mayhap he had been drugged? Whatever the reality was Jayne didn't want to play any more. Turning away from the concrete flats, the mercenary began to walk back across the grassland. Back to where he had last seen Serenity. Didn't matter that the Alliance were also in that direction. Right now seeing a face, any face, was preferrable to the images taunting his mind. The need for something real, something solid he could touch, becoming his new imperative. As he walked he drew out his gun and noted the chamber was empty. Solemnly he reloaded, checked the action was smooth, then reholstered his weapon. Carrying an unloaded weapon in this place would have been like walking naked through all nine hells.
Going up proved more than a little problematic. What should have been a mere retracing of their original steps proved to be an exercise in detours. It got so bad that the Captain called a halt. Zoe frowned, not liking how pale he looked. Simon wanted to check the Captain over but Mal waved him off. Weary enough to drop but too stubborn to pander to his body's needs. If the situation they were in had not been so dire Simon would have been tempted to sedate the man and force him to rest. Always supposing he could get passed the panther.
"This ain't gettin' us no-gorram-where."
Kaylee was getting more and more anxious. She didn't like being below ground not when it looked like all the ways back to the surface had been blocked. River's words did nothing to reassure her.
"They're herding us."
Wash looked over his shoulder. "*Shei*?"
"River," Said Zoe carefully, not wanting to upset the girl. "Who are the Watchers an' where are they?"
River was glancing all around, her eyes roaming over walls, floor, ceiling. It was disconcerting to watch how jumpy she was becoming. "Eyes everywhere."
"People?" Asked Simon.
She gave him a look which accused him of not paying attention. "Eyes."
Something clicked in Kaylee's mind. "She ain't sayin' people, Simon." Kaylee turned her attention to River. "D'ya mean eyes like in cameras, sweetie?"
"*Tianna*," Wash gasped, turning and craning his head as if to see in every direction. "Do you mean this place is bugged?"
"Quite literally I'm thinkin'." Said the Captain.
Everyone turned to look at him but the Captain was staring at the scorpion. Shepherd Book seemed the only one unpeturbed by the disquieting turn the conversation was taking. "Are you saying you think the scorpion is a listening device, Captain?"
"Don't know what the good gorram it is." Huffed the Captain. He sounded a mite pained and breathless. Zoe frowned but said nothing. "Ain't seen it do nothin' yet, not sure I wanna. On'y got the Shepherd's word it ain't gonna blow up in our gorram faces or somesuch."
"Can it do that?" Kaylee asked in a hushed fearful voice.
Book hid his amusement though traces of it coloured the rich cadence of his voice. What had always been so comforting about the man now seemed unsettling to the rest of them. "That isn't going to happen, Captain."
Mal nodded and carefully sat down on the floor, his back against the corridor wall. The cat did not sit but stood a few inches from him, alert and watchful. The Captain took a steadying breath, Simon inching closer to him and trying not to make his concern obvious. There was no reason why the Captain should be having this much difficulty walking and talking. It alarmed the doctor more than he wanted to admit even to himself. The Captain should be showing more signs of recovery not less. "Suppose you level with us, Book. Tell us exactly what *is* gonna happen."
For a split second Mal thought Book would refuse or take the conversation in another direction but instead he gave a slow nod. "I suppose it is time, Captain."
Everyone held their breath. Then Book did something unexpected and touched the scorpion. A light featherweight dance of fingertips almost stroking the back of the metal creature. Kaylee opened her mouth to ask a question when the scorpion stirred into life with a light whir of finely tuned mechanics. The black proto-skin glistened like oil on the surface of a pond as if muscles had just flexed beneath it. But that wasn't possible, right? It was just a gorram machine. Kaylee jerked back. Wash looked frozen between awe and horror. The Captain raised his eyes from the now poised scorpion to Shepherd Book's face. Zoe watched the mechanical creature, gun in hand and ready to blast the thing to itty bitty pieces if it so much as twitched in a threatening manner. Operating system or not she wasn't about to risk a single warm blooded life for a digital one.
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*diyu* = hell *qu* = yes (lit. go) *shifu* = sir
*laoban* = boss *mei mei* = little sister *shenme shi* = what's the matter?
*shenme* = what *dong ma* = understand? *shei* = who?
*tianna* = oh God/oh Sky!
Friday, September 8, 2006 3:28 PM
Monday, September 11, 2006 7:50 PM
Thursday, September 21, 2006 5:08 PM
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