THE PURSUIT SERIES: 10. "Epicentre"
Tuesday, October 3, 2006

"Things get even curioser as they get closer to the centre. Senator Lang has a surprise for Inara. Chin Li prepares to do more than observe."



SUMMARY: "Things get even curioser as they get closer to the centre. Senator Lang has a surprise for Inara. Chin Li prepares to do more than just observe." 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.


"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

The corridor seemed to be an endless slow curve descending gently down into the bowels of the proto-moon. There was no point in looking for anything familiar because all the corridors looked the same but it didn't stop Kaylee from trying. River knew what this was, what was happening, but putting thoughts into words was like arming the enemy in advance. The Captain sensed it, perhaps through his connection to the panther, but the others didn't. Simon wanted to stop and insist on discussing the Captain's plan but Zoe forestalled him, Wash keeping a wary eye on the confusion that threatened to propel them all into a state of madness. Or perhaps they were already there? It would certainly make sense of the impossible things he was trying so hard to grasp.

Zoe stepped close to Simon, ignoring Kaylee's worried look. Her focus on the doctor, allowing nothing to distract her or him. "We keep goin'.

"But where exactly is that?"

Something in her demeanour hardened. "Just trust us to do the right thing, doctor."

Simon blinked. The sudden formality not that unusual but the way Zoe said it implied multiple meanings. He stared at her, trying to unravel the meaning behind words she wouldn't say. He glanced at the Captain but he was still striding ahead, the panther loping with sinuous grace beside him. "*Wo bu dong*. Do we even know what we're doing?"

A dark brow rose. "You have a better idea?" "I don't even know what this one is." Wash snorted with amusement then put a serious look on his face when Zoe gave him a less than happy glance. Kaylee tried to be peacemaker. "It'll be shiny Simon, Cap'n knows what he's doin'."

"Then why won't he tell us?"

"He already did."

Simon turned his head to look at his sister. "*Wo bu jide...*"

"You weren't listening."

He wanted to shake himself out of this dream, nightmare, or whatever the *diyu* it was and get back to the place in his mind where things made sense. Only they didn't. "River?"

"Just follow the leader." Then she was gone from his side and striding alongside the Captain. Mal didn't look at her but something inside him relaxed a fraction, recognising an ally. Smiling, River just looked straight ahead and kept pace. Behind them the others fell silent.

They seemed to be walking for hours when the faint sounds impinged upon their consciousness. The Captain glanced at the panther but didn't slow down, the beast coughing softly in the back of her throat. To Kaylee it almost looked like she was talking. The panther nudged the Captain and he stopped in his tracks, the others just stopping in time not to run into them. Simon gave a dramatic sigh. "What now?"

River cocked her head. "They know we're here." "Of course they do," said Wash. "We're bein' monitored."

That was not what River meant but she didn't have to explain. Caterwauls and assorted cries rose in a pitiful crescendo that made the hairs on the back of Kaylee's neck stand on end. She took a step back, eyes wide and fearful. Simon caught her hand but didn't reassure her. "What was that?"

"Journey's end." Said River softly.

The panther nudged the Captain's leg then took off. Without even thinking about it he ran after her, River breaking into a run to follow. Zoe sighed, shook her head at Wash and gave him a quick kiss then went after them. Wash hesitated, noticing how Kaylee was trying to go back the way they came, only Simon holding her hand kept her from completely freaking out and running away.

"I think we should follow." Wash urged, the fact that Zoe was out of sight making him all manner of nervous. "Come on, how bad can it be?" Kaylee's eyes widened still further, tears beginning to gather in her eyes. Wash felt like a heel.

"Um, that didn't come out the way I intended."

Simon put his arm around the mechanic, using his proximity to reassure her while jerking his head in Wash's direction. "I think you should go, we'll catch up."

"Yes. Go. I can do that." The pilot hesitated as if he was going to say something else when an unearthly wail rent the air. Alarm and panic siezed him. It didn't matter a good gorram that he was married to a warrior woman who could kill him with her little finger, he had to get to her, nothing else mattered.

What Wash found when he ran round the next couple of curves of the corridor brought him to a skidding halt, his eyes round as saucers, his heart pounding while he licked dry lips. There was no way they could have gone any further. The corridor ahead was filled with all manner of beasts. He recognised Kaylee's Giant Panda and something Shepherd Book had called a crocodile. Those snapping jaws did nothing to reassure him. Brightly coloured birds the length of his forearm screeched as they flew through the air in a rainbow of dizzying colours, their wings fluttering like flags, their beady eyes filled with a kind of intelligence that left him reeling. What the *guai* was this? "Cap'n?"

Malcolm Reynolds had been as alarmed as Wash at first but the panther had reassured him, led him into the midst of the animals as she had released them one by one from their confinement. Now the beasts were mingling while Serenity's shocked crew tried not to become the latest item on the menu. One fabulously vibrant bird landed on Wash's shoulder. He jumped but River's crooning reassurance seemed to calm both bird and man. River stroked the bright red feathers and cocked her head. "She likes you."

"She does?"

River smiled. "Recognises a kindred soul." "*Wei*, I don't have claws and a beak that could cut through my finger or feathers."

"No, but you fly."

He didn't have an answer to that, and now that he thought about it Wash was kind of flattered that the exotic bird had chosen him. Cautiously he stroked a hand over her feathers, smiling when the bird tilted her head from side to side to get a better look at him. No one noticed Kaylee and Simon had joined them until a shriek from Kaylee drew every eye - human and animal - in her direction. The Captain wanted to laugh, River did. Zoe was too interested in the creature weaving around her feet but spared a little smile as she listened to Wash's happy chatter to the parrakeet. Simon wanted to peel the animals off Kaylee but they seemed to have prehensile tails and minds of their own. He paused, hand hovering in the air with uncertainty as a pair of bright brown eyes locked on to his. An almost human expression in the simian's eyes as if offended at the doctor's attempt to separate him from the mechanic.

It was the Captain's laughter getting closer that broke the staring match. Simon's mouth opened and closed without a word coming out as Kaylee's shriek of alarm turned to squeals of excitement and pleasure. Mal stopped alongside them, the panther for once not at his side and put his hands on his hips.

"I see you found those terrifyin' space monkeys, Kaylee?" "Ain't they sweet, Cap'n? See how nimble they are, those fingers are real clever. Quick too."

He smiled and turned slowly so he could watch his crew's interaction with the animals that once had been confined and were now roaming free. Simon gulped at a huge bird that was eying him in a most alarming fashion. It looked like... but no, it couldn't be. "Is that... a Dodo?"

Wash chuckled. "I think it's an Emu, so that would be a NoNo."

Simon didn't reply, he was trying to keep a little distance between him and the huge bird but it did not seem off put by his reticence, just approaching more cautiously. For all the world the Emu acted as if it did not want to frighten the doctor. Mal thought that was hilarious then turned his head at a sharp cry from Wash. "*Shenme shi*, Wash, that parrot bite you?" "It's a parrakeet." River corrected, her attention split between the rest of the animals and the oversized butterflies curtseying on the palm of her hand. Her face was alight with joy and fascination. The panther was moving slowly through the throng, weaving her way and seeming to have some contact with each animal as if to make sure they were all there and that every creature behaved.

Mal had to ease around the flight of monkeys crawling and dancing around and over Kaylee's giggling and laughing form. Kindred spirits if ever he'd seen any. When he got to Wash his mouth dropped open. He wasn't looking at the huge colourful parrakeet nipping its' beak through the pilot's hair, he was staring at Zoe. Zoe was kneeling on the floor, a huge snake half draped and sliding up and around her open arms. As if feeling eyes on her, Zoe looked up. Her smile was ecstatic, seemingly oblivious to the panic on her *zhangfu's* face. "Isn't she beautiful?"

The men had no words. Wash was pretty much choking and the Captain was stunned. It took a few tries before he could get his brain into gear enough to allow words to form. "Is that poisonous?"

She shrugged. "Don't know, don't care sir." Mal blinked. That didn't sound like his stern and cautious friend. "Why is that?"

"She's not gonna hurt me, sir."

"An' you know that how?" Zoe seemed amused, her eyes flicking down to the Captain's side where the panther had rejoined him, her big blunt head nudging Mal's hand until he began to fuss her. So automatic now that he didn't realise he was doing it until Zoe pointed it out. "Same way you know the panther isn't gonna kill you, sir."

"Am I the only one not happy with this?" Squeaked Wash nervously.

Moving closer to her husband, Zoe was trying hard not to laugh as he tried to step out of her way. Not liking the snake wrapped casually around her. "*Fengmi*, you have a parrakeet on your shoulder. Kaylee's covered in space monkeys, the doc is trying to out stare an emu, the Cap'n's bonded with a panther and River is communin' with butterflies."

He would have nodded his head but that might have dislodged the bird. Wash knew a no win situation when he was up to his ass in one. "Okay, but what the *diyu* are they doin' here an' how are we gonna get passed them?"

"We're not."

Wash stared at the Captain. "Did you hit your head again or is this is a delayed concussion from earlier because I'm pretty sure you're not thinkin' straight, Cap'n." "It's not a concussion." Said Simon, finally deciding the Emu wasn't going to attack him after all. He was still nervous around the animal though. The bird didn't seem to mind his reaction at all. Zoe thought the Emu looked amused, she knew she was. "I examined the Captain before we left."

"So," said Wash as the level of noise began to die down. The crew settling along with the animals that seemed to have adopted them. "What do we do now?"

* * * * *

Chin Li was laughing so hard he had tears in his eyes, he couldn't help it. And to think they had been afraid of this crew of misfits? Oh this was too precious, too priceless.

"Do not underestimate them."

"*Laoban*, they are no threat. See?"

The soft sibilant voice seemed oddly sharp in his mind, a warning wrapped in velvet. "*Bushi*. They released our subjects." It took a moment for Chin Li to realise the import of what was being said. "I thought that was an accident, *shifu*?"

"You are getting sloppy, watch the panther. Ignore the rest."

He watched as instructed, eyes widening as the recording was started again. Saw what at first he had missed, the big black cat rubbing her side along the embedded cage controls. The contact with her body unlocking the mechanism that turned their experiemental subjects free of their containment. "How is this even possible?"

"I told you, the animal bonded with the Captain. That was not meant to happen."

Chin Li blinked. "I didn't know it could."

"It happened with the mercenary."

"We took care of that, *laoban*. His connection was severed, he is ours now."

For several minutes silence fell as the images continued to interact on the screen.

"I think," said Chin Li softly. "our mercenary is going to need a little help."

* * * * *

Inara Serra stared at Senator Lang as if he were a backbirth. "I don't believe you!"

"You don't have to. Soon you will have all the proof you need that I am telling you the truth."

"But a... fight to the death?"

He shrugged as if bored. "In olden times on Earth-That-Was there were gladiators. Warriors armed with swords and shields or spears. They pit their skills against a range of wild animals. Those that survived lived to fight another day."

Distaste twisted her face for an instant. "Those animals are extinct, Senator."

The Senator smiled, enjoying every little moment of triumph. He would miss this. "Not any longer."

Inara stared at him. Convinced that the man was quite mad.

* * * * *

Jayne listened intently to everything the Shepherd said. Once he had accepted Book's story all he wanted to do was find the Captain and the others and take them down. Then he and Book would board Serenity and get the *diyu* off Savanna. As Book finished speaking Jayne got to his feet, anxious to get started. He paused and looked back with a frown on his face. Shepherd Book had not moved. "Ya comin'?"

The Shepherd shook his head. "*Bu qu*. One of us needs to stay with Serenity. The ship is our only way off this place, we can't afford to let it to fall into enemy hands."

Enemy hands. A scowl darkened Jayne's face. "Good thinkin', might be an idea to make sure they ain't done nothin' to the ship while you're at it. Wouldn't put anythin' past that *tamade hundan* of a Cap'n."

Book nodded then Jayne went to the hatchway and dropped down. After a moment or two Book got up and peered down the hatch. He could hear Jayne moving off down the corridor and waited only long enough to ensure the man was going the right way. Book lowered the hatch back in place then waited for the scorpion to rejoin him. There was the little matter of some pachyderms to sort out. Disobedience was not something the *laoban* viewed lightly.

* * * * *

"So this is your great plan, Captain?"

Malcolm Reynolds was not affronted by the heavy sarcasm in Simon's voice. Truth to tell he had trouble believing his senses his own self but it was what it was. "Still gotta get to the centre, doc."

Simon's eyebrows rose in disbelief. He turned his head and watched the quietly milling animals, the crew now pretty much at ease with them though he couldn't shake off his own disquiet especially whenever the Emu looked at him. It was disconcerting. "How?"

The Captain blinked and followed Simon's gaze, a smile tugging at his lips when he saw that the corridor was blocked with impossible shapes - animals in fur, scales and feathers dominating the view and blocking their way forward. "Well now," Mal paused to stroke the panther's head, the great beast's golden eyes fastened on him like she could read his gorram mind. Didn't seem at all unlikely given what was happening. "Best get this show on the road, *dong ma*?"

Simon's mouth dropped opened. Startled when a sweaty palm shut it for him. Kaylee grinned brightly up at him. "Told ya the Cap'n had a plan."

"He's *shenjingbing*, psychotic."

As a monkey climbed from Kaylee's shoulder to sit on top of her head another one took it's place on her shoulder, the tail wrapping carefully round her neck like a scarf. Kaylee's smile widened, her eyes happy and glittering in a mirrored dance that captivated the doctor. "He's the Cap'n." The mechanic said as if that explained everything.

In the distance Simon could hear Wash babbling away to Zoe, the first mate's calm responses hardly registering. This was hell, he was sure of it.

The Captain began to walk through the press of beasts, the panther coughing softly, animals and people parting to let them through as naturally as you please. "It's time, people."

Zoe nodded and made sure her snake was secure around her shoulders as she fell in behind Mal, Wash talking excitedly about the mechanics of flight to a seemingly fascinated parrakeet, Kaylee dragging Simon with her as he tried to hold her hand and avoid touching any of the monkeys, the Emu sticking close but not intruding. Simon's attempts to stay just out of reach of the bird amused her. River had butterflies in her hair and was twirling alongside them turning one hand over and over and watching in delight as a 4" wing tipped coloured specimen walked up and over her fingers like some circus act. Simon wanted to pinch himself, to wake up, but wasn't that the thing about hell? You couldn't.

* * * * *

Jayne Cobb was sweating something fierce. He thought it had been hot on the surface but gorramit what was it with this place? He was burning up and instead of getting in out of the heat he felt like he was approaching the seat of it. This was not his best day ever. Wiping the back of a hand across his sweat soaked face he almost stumbled. He had to focus on the mission. Jayne blinked. Focus. Mission. What was that? Oh yeah, find the others. Kill the Captain. He paused in his thinking, a tendril of confusion clouding his mind, twisting his memories into convoluted shapes that for a moment meant nothing to him. Kill the Captain? Why was he doing that? Wasn't the Captain his friend, or boss at least? And the others, what about them? In the whirl of conflicting thoughts Book's calm steady words came back to him. Order came from chaos. His heartbeat began to slow again as if remembering its' proper rythym. This was right. He had no choice.

Unbeknownst to him every step was monitored. His progress being followed, his actions constantly appraised. Chin Li was thoughtful. It would take days for another contingent of the Red Division to get here or to even meet them half way. No. This was their problem, their conundrum, which meant using the resources they already had. But what was left? Serenity's crew seemed to have bonded with the experimental subjects in an uncanny way, so quickly that he had not been able to do anything but watch in wide eyed wonder. The *laoban* said the mercenary might need some help but to whom did he refer? With his men gone and the station pretty much working on automatic he was left with only one other source.

Chin Li raised a hand to his left ear. The implant so perfectly meshed now with his human anatomy that removal would result in death, the neural pathways too corrupted, the mental agility of the human brain no more than a computer terminal for a larger database. He was what he had been created to be. Top of the food chain. Jayne would need help and he was going to give it to him. Literally.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*wo bu dong* = I don't understand *wo bu jide* = I don't remember *diyu* = hell *guai* = devil/ghost *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *zhangfu* = husband *fengmi* = honey *laoban* = boss *bushi* = not so *shifu* = sir *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *wei* = hey *dong ma* = understand? *shenjingbing* = crazy


Tuesday, October 3, 2006 3:31 PM


Oh...I gots me a really bad feeling about what possible Chin Li could be calling on:(

Still...entranced and addicted to your as always, Alison:D


Tuesday, October 3, 2006 6:32 PM


OK, I gotta ask.

Most the animals I get - they bond with a human that shares their general spirit.

But an emu?

Tuesday, October 3, 2006 11:23 PM


ManicGiraffe, don't worry River explains it to Simon later. Not that he is thrilled with the knowledge. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, October 4, 2006 5:13 AM


I loved Simon's reactions to all the animals, as well as the rest of the crews. Well done.

I'm looking forward to the explanation of Simon's Emu as well.

Nicely done and very original. Looking forward to the next chapter.

Friday, October 6, 2006 4:08 PM


You have gotta love the animal kingdom, and you have their actions and demeanors down very well.

It didn't matter a good gorram that he was married to a warrior woman who could kill him with her little finger, he had to get to her, nothing else mattered. *Good Wash here, setting aside personal fears to find the love of his life.

It looked like... but no, it couldn't be. "Is that... a Dodo?" *LOL

Wash chuckled. "I think it's an Emu, so that would be a NoNo."*EVEN HEARTIER LOL, I am going to get a particular fireflier I know who love's Emu's to read this part.

"Am I the only one not happy with this?" Squeaked Wash nervously. *Perfect Wash voice here.

Kill the Captain? Why was he doing that? Wasn't the Captain his friend, or boss at least? And the others, what about them? In the whirl of conflicting thoughts Book's calm steady words came back to him. Order came from chaos. His heartbeat began to slow again as if remembering its' proper rythym. This was right. He had no choice. *I really like the conflict in Jayne, deep down he knows Book's story is tainted.

Chin Li raised a hand to his left ear. The implant so perfectly meshed now with his human anatomy that removal would result in death, the neural pathways too corrupted, the mental agility of the human brain no more than a computer terminal for a larger database. He was what he had been created to be. Top of the food chain. Jayne would need help and he was going to give it to him. Literally.*exciting, very exciting.

You're doing wonders here, character voices are right on and I love the interactions of the BDH's and the animals.


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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.