BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

AMDOBELL

THE PURSUIT SERIES: 7. "Perceptions"
Monday, September 11, 2006

"The Captain and crew have trouble getting back to the surface. Jayne returns to Serenity and gets more than a little spooked."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1974    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "PERCEPTIONS" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: No specific pairing. RATING: G. STATUS: SEQUEL to "A DEVIL LESS BENIGN" ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: AlisonMDobell@aol.com WEBSITE: http://unilelu.net/Alison/Ali00.html

SUMMARY: "The Captain and crew have trouble getting back to the surface. Jayne returns to Serenity and gets more than a little spooked." 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.

"PERCEPTIONS"

"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Jayne's head was aching by the time he was most of the way across the grassland and approaching the place where they had landed. Feeling weary but determined he plodded on, only realising there was no sign of the Alliance ship when Serenity herself came into view. Puzzled, Jayne stopped and stared at the Firefly. He had never understood the Captain or Kaylee's love for the scruffy transport ship until now. Seeing her sitting there all dusty and travel stained, familiar and solid, made him feel warm and happy inside. He no longer saw a *lese* scruffy vessel too ungainly to imagine in flight. Rather he saw the embodiment of Home. A place he had learned to love and respect, a ship he craved to carry him across the Black. Not that he would admit as much to anyone living.

Cautious and wary, the mercenary approached slowly. Just because the ship looked deserted didn't mean it was. Who knew what the gorram Alliance had done while they had been crawling all over her? For all he knew there could be a contingent of purplebellies - or worse still bloodsuckers - hiding and lying in wait for him to stick his fool head through the door. Or maybehaps they really had gone but left a parting gift, the ship rigged to blow up once anyone stepped inside her. Jayne wanted to be prepared because once he was sure the ship was safe he intended to find the others and get off this weird assed moon as quickly as possible.

* * * * *

Kaylee looked all manner of confused. "I thought we was goin' up, Cap'n?"

Trying to hide how jaded he felt the Captain nodded. "So did I, little Kaylee."

Zoe did not look happy. "Don't like this, sir."

"Me neither." The Captain sighed and leaned back against the corridor wall. "Not sure what in the nine hells we can do about it." He cast an eye around his crew as the big cat sat next to him. As relaxed as the beast appeared no one was fooled into thinking she was anything other than alert and poised. "Anyone got any ideas I'm listenin'."

"I don't understand how the floors can tilt like that." Admitted Wash. "I mean, one minute everythin's level then we're walkin' down a slope."

Simon looked thoughtful. "Maybe the floor hasn't tilted. Maybe it's an illusion."

"If you're talkin' of hallucinations then it's one we're all havin'." Said Zoe drily.

Kaylee looked at the Shepherd but he seemed content to listen rather than join in the conversation. She noticed with a sense of unease that the scorpion's tail was no longer curled above its' back, the curled stinger now in a poised arc above its' darkly glimmering body. "Is that, I mean, is *it* doin' anythin'?"

"Operating system." Said River in a detached voice.

The mechanic turned her head enough to look at her friend without taking her eyes off the scorpion. "*Shenme*?"

River blinked. "It's operating."

Wash looked discomfitted. "Operatin' what?"

"I had forgotten how utterly arrogant stupidity could be. Thank you for reminding me."

Everyone stared at Book, not just unsettled by what he had said but creeped out by the mild almost conversational way he had said it. Zoe's look hardened. "Want to explain that fun little comment, Shepherd?"

Book did not look at Zoe, to her consternation he was staring at the Captain with a look she could not fathom. "You have to find a man's limits before you can plumb his depths."

The Captain resisted the urge to shudder, suddenly feeling cold. "Let me guess, Shan Yu?"

A faint humour flickered on Book's face. "You always were smarter than you looked, Cap'n."

"Why are you doing this?"

"Told you they would come at you sideways. Should have listened." He felt a mite dizzy and more gorram tired than a body had a right to be. Didn't help with the Preacher hinting at things they had not yet discussed. "Ain't a crab, have to be more specific."

Book dropped the mild, almost friendly banter. "Oh, I doubt that Cap'n." He said darkly. "I've been watchin' you. Peelin' back the layers."

That creeped the Captain out more than he wanted to admit. He sensed Zoe tensing and hoped she wouldn't do anything stupid. One stubborn crazy fool was enough but then Zoe did tend to make his shadow her own. It was one of the strengths that bound them. Mal hoped it would not prove a weakness now but keeping his mind sharp and focused was getting harder. Beads of perspiration were forming on his face and neck, his body going from cold to hot in a heartbeat. Gorramit, his pulse was racing like a flogged horse. What the *diyu* was happening to him and why the good gorram couldn't he get enough air into his rutting lungs?

He closed his eyes without realising he had done so, unaware he was drifting, his breathing laboured. Simon knelt beside the Captain slowly, watching warily as the big cat moved to give him room. It was odd how the animal had the instinct to know who wanted to help and who to keep at bay. It should have been reassuring but everything about this situation was alarming. Zoe watched Simon examining the Captain for a moment then turned her attention back to Book. "What's happenin' an' what have you done to him?"

"I haven't done anythin'."

"But ya know don't ya?" Said Kaylee, a sick feeling stirring in her gut. Book was supposed to be a friend, how could he do this to them?

"I could have warned you but you wouldn't have listened." He paused, watching their reactions.

"We're listenin' now." Said Wash. "Could say you have a captive audience."

The Shepherd chuckled softly, the sound causing the hackles to rise on the back of Zoe's neck along with her anger. "What game are you playin', Book?"

"I'm not playin' an' neither are they."

"Who's they?"

Simon gave a sharp hiss and everyone's attention shifted to him. Zoe looked worried. "*Shenme shi*?"

"There's something burrowed into the Captain's ear." Kaylee made a face, unable to hide her fear. River tilted her head thoughtfully. "Have to remove it, Simon. Still tracking."

"Trackin'?" Wash yelped but River was not listening. He turned to his wife to make sense of the mad house they found themselves in. Any moment now men in white coats would come to fit a jacket on him back to front. "What does that mean, trackin'?"

No one answered. The doctor spared a nod to acknowledge River's warning, carefully tilting the Captain's head so he could get a better view of the ear canal. The man's breathing was laboured now, his eyes fluttering closed, body sagging against the wall and non responsive. Simon was worried, knew he would have to work fast. Unless he was much mistaken whatever the device was it was doing more than just tracking the Captain, it was killing him. He cursed himself for not packing a more comprehensive medkit. The instruments included were basic but would have to do. Looking up he caught Zoe's eye. "I need you to hold him for me."

Zoe didn't like the sound of that especially as it meant she would not be able to concentrate her full attention on Book and the scorpion. Wash noticed and touched her arm. "It's alright, *bao bei*, I'll do it. "

She gave her *zhangfu* a quick nod of thanks and changed places with him. The big cat hardly glanced at the pilot, her attention flicking between Simon and Shepherd Book. Kaylee was afraid. Not only were they trapped below the surface of a moon that wasn't a moon with all manner of creatures so rare she'd never even seen pictures of half of them but now it looked like the Captain was dying. She wanted to rant and rail at Book, to push him into being the man she remembered, the friend she loved. But action was beyond her. Shock had set in and right now reality was turned on its' head and the whole gorram 'verse had gone straight to *diyu*.

* * * * *

Inara was frustrated. As sleek and efficient as the Reknown was the ship could not find any trace of Serenity on her long range sensors. Senator Lang had given her so much time to explore on her own that she was in danger of forgetting where she was or in whose company. That would never do. Didn't they have problems enough without sloppiness being added to the mix?

As she turned to make her way back to the observation deck where she had left her host, a quiet cultured voice broke into her reverie freezing her on the spot. "Your search would be so much more efficient, Miss Serra, if you were to tell me what you were looking for."

Turning, Inara tried to think of a reason she was at the navigator's station. Had snuck in when the man had gone to get some food and something to drink. Inara hoped her body would shield her hands as she moved away from the controls. But Senator Lang had sharp eyes and missed nothing. She saw it in his eyes and realised that she was humped.

"Nothing to say, Inara?" The Senator's quiet voice made Inara feel even more alarmed. He wasn't hurt, indignant. Not even disappointed. Lang stopped just inches from her. "I had hoped you would confide your quest in me but it seems you prefer to manipulate with your lies rather than speak an honest truth." Inara opened her mouth but the Senator raised a hand and she closed it again.

"I would prefer it if you did not speak unless to confess your true purpose. I admit I was flattered by your attention but Inara, compared to you I am an old man and I am not stupid. Despite all your skills as a Companion I rely on the one thing you tend to overlook: common sense."

A flash of indignation lit through her before she could quash it. Lang noticed.

"Your request intrigued me and given that you did not disclose your real reason for making it I decided to indulge you in the hopes that the beautiful facade that you court in place of wisdom held an integrity that would not disappoint." He paused and sighed so softly only the movement of his lips gave it away. "Inara," He paused slightly, drawing the word out as if it was etched upon his last breath. It only added to her feeling of guilt and dishonesty. "Rather a worthy enemy than a faithless friend". He quoted. "I wanted so deperately to trust you."

"Senator, I did not know whether or not I could disclose my concerns to you."

His eyebrows rose a little but his regard of her did not falter. Inara realised he did not believe her. The explanation sounded like an excuse and came too late. "Did I not treat you with courtesy and honour, Inara Serra?" He said softly. "Did I not show you the nature of my regard in trusting you?"

Inara swallowed, feeling wretched. "*Duibuqi*..."

"*Bu qu*, Inara, it is I who am sorry. Sorry for being an old fool. For trusting you to speak truly. I gave you the chance at the outset to confide in me and you did not accept that offer. Now I find you sneaking around my ship, tampering with the navigation system. What are you looking for?"

For the first time in a long time Inara did not know what to say then Leylani's words echoed in her mind and she knew. To Senator Lang's surprise the Companion drew herself up to her full height, eyes meeting his with a poise that had momentarily been lacking. "Is there somewhere private we can speak?"

The Senator gave an exaggerated look around the navigation room, emphasising the fact that it was empty. Inara stood firm.

"Your navigator will be back soon and I have no intention of speaking freely before anyone but you, Senator."

"Do you not think you have forfeited that consideration?"

"Perhaps, but the matter is of enough delicacy that I will not endanger my friends to save my face."

A spark of something flickered in Lang's eyes. He hated subterfuge but the woman had courage at least. Plus he was still intrigued, wanted to know what could tempt this beautiful courtesan to risk her place within the Guild along with her reputation by pulling such an ignoble act on a valued and long time supporter. He gave a slow nod. "Very well, in memory of times past but know this. If the next thing I hear coming out of your mouth is a lie this matter will be brought before the Companion's Guild and a formal complaint made in the Registery. I am a powerful man, Inara, and with a few well chosen words I can destroy you, *dong ma*?"

Inara nodded, her face pale. "*Wo dong*, your warning is more than fair."

That amused him though he did not let it show. First he needed to know what she thought she was doing then he had a decision to make.

* * * * *

As Simon, Kaylee, Zoe and Wash leaned over the object removed from the Captain a low soft moan alerted them to the fact that their patient was beginning to come round. Shepherd Book did not draw closer, he seemed content to watch and wait and for the time being no one seemed to be noticing except River. Kaylee took one of the Captain's hands in hers and gave it a comforting squeeze. They all waited with baited breath for the man to open his eyes. As Mal did so the hazy crazy paving that was his sight began to coalesce into a semblance of focus. It was still a little fuzzy around the edges but his head was starting to clear fast and he was more grateful for that piece of normalacy than he wanted to admit. Even his pounding headache was fading as if the percussion part of the orchestra inside his head was falling asleep.

"Cap'n, ya okay?"

He swallowed with a dry throat and risked a nod to reassure his mechanic. "Shiny, little Kaylee. What the good gorram happened?"

Simon held the tiny device up to the light with a pair of surgical tweezers. "I took this out of your ear canal, Captain." The Captain was too stunned for Simon's words to actually make sense. "You did?"

"Apparently it's a tracking device."

Everyone stared at it for a moment. The Captain wasn't sure being awake was as shiny as he had first thought. Something bumped softly against his left side, putting out a hand he found the heavy blunt head of the panther nudging him. Without thinking he rubbed behind her ears, the big cat turning its' head to get the fussing just where she needed it most. Kaylee was grinning at the big cat, Zoe frowned but Wash thought it was cute in a bite-your-hand-off-if-you-annoy-me kind of way.

"What in the sphincter of hell was I doin' with a trackin' device in my gorram head an' what *tamade hundan* put it there?"

Shepherd Book took a step forward, the scorpion still in the palm of his right hand. He was careful not to come too close, the big cat watching him like a hawk. "I believe I can help you with the first part of your question, Cap'n."

Mal stared at Book and tried to hide how this whole thing was creeping him out. "Best you spit it out."

"The object in my hand may look like a livin' an' breathin' scorpion from Earth-That-Was but it's actually a lot more complicated than that. This is a highly advanced technological device."

"A wha.. who?"

"It's the operatin' device for this facility, Cap'n."

The Captain looked at Zoe. "Did I hit my head, Zoe?"

A shadow of humour stirred in her dark eyes. "Yes, sir."

"Then this ain't really happenin', *dui*?" "Oh, I'm afraid it's really happenin', Cap'n." Said Book, his deep dark voice rumbling with humour.

"Explain to me what that piece of *goushi* Simon took outta my ear has to do with that thing. 'Specially as I thought Zoe said it was a gorram trackin' device."

"It is that an' more. Remember I told you I wasn't always a Shepherd?" Everyone nodded, the Captain keeping his eyes glued to the Preacher. "A long time ago, long before the War between the Independents an' the Alliance I was a practioner of the martial arts. I also studied all the classics, the great heroes from Earth-That-Was, even the great villains."

"Like Shan Yu? Seem to recall you havin' a penchant for quotin' that evil sumbitch."

"Yes, Cap'n. In the pursuit of knowledge you can't ignore the unpleasant parts of history if you want to understand, to learn, to glean wisdom but I digress. In my travels I saw many horrors an' many wonders, witnessed many things the like of which would not be believed possible today. Your nightmares do not hold a candle to the full gamut of evil that is out there."

Everyone felt a chill go through them. River wrapped her arms around herself.

"What is this place then? Some kind'a torture facility or a gorram zoo?"

Book chuckled, sounding for a minute more like his old self. "*Bu qu*, Cap'n, this is no zoo. This is an experimental research station."

"What they researchin'?" Asked Kaylee, her look turning worried as she glanced at the panther. Didn't like to think about that cute Giant Panda she had seen earlier getting all cut up and researched on not to mention all the other animals they had but glimpsed in passing.

"This scorpion keeps the station running in the absence of human monitors. It is able to adjust climate control, physical an' physiological barriers an' stimulii. It can record an' influence any of the animals within its' boundaries." He paused. "It can also alert the Alliance when that perimeter is breached without authority." "Huh." The Captain blinked. "That little thing called the Alliance down on us?"

The Preacher shook his head, his voice going quieter. No trace of humour in it now. "No, Cap'n. I did."

* * * * *

Senator William Lang looked at Inara for a minute, complete silence cocooning the two of them in the privacy of his private quarters aboard the Reknown. Inara called upon all her training to remain as calm and poised as possible. The Senator sat with his elbows on the table, hands steepled together, a thoughtful look upon his face. It was a good face, lean and weathered more by character than age. The silver sprinkling of hair gave him a distinguished look. He wore his seventy years with grace. Would that the 'verse would treat her so kindly should she live that long.

"That is quite a tale, my dear."

Inara did not speak. The ball was now in the Senator's court. Quietly he mulled over everything the Companion had said. He had to admit to being more intrigued than he was before. Of course he should punish her. It was not to be born to have one of Inara's standing subvert him in the way she had done and yet part of him admired the fact that she would go so far - for friendship.

"I should report this to the Alliance."

It took effort not to react. The Senator's decision could go either way. When it became obvious that the Companion would not speak nor seek to sway him, Senator Lang allowed a small smile to hover over his lips.

"Even with my help," He said softly. "You may not find them."

Inara's heart leapt at the hope that he might be softening his position in her favour. "Any chance, Senator, is better than none."

"And if the Alliance already have them?"

"Then I will at least know their fate."

A longer pause followed. "These people are very dear to you?"

She nodded. "*Qu*."

"Yet they bring chaos and mayhem in their wake?"

Despite the bind she was in Inara smiled. Senator Lang raised a curious brow and watched as the woman brought herself back under control. "They do have that distinction."

"Distinction?" There was no missing the amusment in his tone.

"Yes, Senator, but they are good people."

"I have heard of your Captain Reynolds and if memory serves he is quite the rogue. A thief and a smuggler. Why would you attach yourself to folk such as this? You belong here in the Core with us not running around the Rim worlds dodging Alliance retribution." That surprised her. "Senator, I have done nothing wrong."

The Senator leaned forward. "If you run with the pack Inara do not be surprised when the net that catches them falls on you."

Silence began once more to stretch between them, an infinity of possibilities being born and dying as no choice was made. At last Inara could stand it no longer. The more time they spent in this cat and mouse sparring the less time her friends had. Leylani had been non specific as to what the Alliance would do to Serenity and her crew but past experience had taught her that it would not be pleasant. Simon and River were still fugitives and she had no doubt that the Captain would be treated harshly for harbouring them. "If I may ask Senator, what do you intend to do? I apologise for seeming in haste but I am worried about my friends."

He sighed. "Inara, Inara, how you test me." Lang paused. "Very well. A man of my age should be allowed to stumble now and again in the pursuit of heroic ideals." He watched for her reaction, was pleased when Inara did not interrupt or try to tell him what he should do. "I will be your Knight in shining armour, my dear, but it will cost you in return."

Relief flowed so swiftly through her veins that Inara was almost dizzy with the sweetness of it.

"Are you not going to ask me what I will ask in return?"

Inara shook her head. "No, Senator. It is enough that you will help and more than I could have dared ask for. *Xie xie ni*."

Senator Lang nodded and hoped that at the very least he would get to meet face to face the crew for whom a Companion of Inara's standing would risk so much. Oh yes, that would be a meeting to be savoured through the long cold evenings when Winter came to his home world of Liann Jun. He stood and stepped around the table, holding his arm out to her. Inara smiled and placed her hand upon his arm, the perfect accompaniment for a gentleman.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*lese* = crappy *shenme* = what *diyu* = hell *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *bao bei* = precious/treasure *zhangfu* = husband *duibuqi* = sorry *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *dong ma* = understand? *wo dong = I understand *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *dui* = correct *goushi* = crap/dog shit *qu* = yes (lit. go) *xie xie ni* = thank you

COMMENTS

Monday, September 11, 2006 12:36 PM

LEIASKY


I feel a really overwhelming desire to hit Book at the moment. I love Inara's conversation with the Senator as well. Whatever will he demand as payment for his aid. . . it can't be so simple as to meet Inara's 'renegades'.

Friday, September 15, 2006 8:10 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


I get the feeling that Inara might...regret that comment she just made about not caring what Lang's price will be. While I doubt he's as slimy and foul as Atherton Wing...I do think he's not quite a pleasant old man with a position of power:(

BEB

Thursday, September 21, 2006 5:22 PM

SPACEFULLOFOBJECTS


Your continued character building of Book is very exciting. His former connection to the Alliance is making this story even better to read.

Inara's interactions to go after her crew are also very good. I like that you placed her in a position where she is forced to reveal her intentions to the senator and I am very intriqued as to what his payment is going to be.

Also, leaving us with his desire to meet the crew makes me feel as if he's lived his life rather...free of good true adventure.


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