HEAVEN AND HELL: 36. "The Promise"
Thursday, June 24, 2004

"The Shepherd finds out something unexpected. River discloses her plan to the others. Everything now rests on getting the timing right."



SUMMARY: "The Shepherd finds out something unexpected. River discloses her plan to the others. Everything now rests on getting the timing right." 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

* * * * *

"Why the good gorram should I trust you?"

Book gazed at him in silence for a moment or two, not breaking eye contact but seeming to consider his words with a degree of solemnity that stirred something in the Captain he could not identify. It was all kinds of confusing. Added to which the whole staying conscious thing was becoming more and more difficult. "You could not be healed on Serenity. You needed the facilities only a neogenesis unit like this one could provide."

The answer stunned Mal. Pushing up through the mushy fog where his mind seemed to drift in a permanent limbo he tried to grasp the import of what the man was saying. What he would not give for a moment's lucidity of thought right now. "Not sure I'm followin' you, Preacher."

"Captain," Said the Preacher lowering his voice carefully. They were alone in a small recovery room on the side of the theatre. There was only one bed in it but it had an impressive bank of monitoring equipment and so many lines into his body it was claustrophobic. The connecting door to the operating theatre was wide open. Another door opposite that one was firmly closed. He was guessing that was the way out. "You are not safe here."

He wanted to laugh but had neither the energy nor breath to accomplish such a feat. Simply forming words was a major achievement. He laboured to get enough breath in his lungs before responding. Was it his imagination or did the Preacher look concerned? "You bring me to a ruttin' Alliance medical research facility an' have the gorram nerve to say that?" He paused and shuddered at the effort, plunged momentarily into oxygen deficit, breath as rare as hen's teeth. Chest aching, lungs gasping on empty. Eyes closing against a bright flash of pain making him all kinds of dizzy and disorientated. He was unaware of Book taking his pulse and checking him over. Something was placed over his face. Expecting a suffocating death to greet him he was surprised when sweet pure oxygen flowed into his lungs. There were no words to describe his relief. Weary now he was on the verge of passing out but the Preacher gently roused him. Lips close to his ear, voice low and urgent.

"I cannot expect you to understand what is going on Captain, all I can tell you is that your death would achieve nothing."

His lips and tongue were numb, his throat uncommonly dry. He guessed that was from the drugs. It took him a couple of goes to form the words he wanted. "Don't think the ruttin' Alliance would agree with you on that one."

"It's not the Alliance you have to worry about." Came the ominous reply.

Mal would have liked to have called him on that one but he could not seem to concentrate. He blinked but everything was swimming in and out of focus. Made him feel sick. Dizzy. He shut his eyes and fought back a feeling of vertigo. Funny. Didn't know you could get vertigo lying flat on your gorram back. A firm shake made his eyes rattle and he struggled to focus again. A spear of pain shot through him. His whole body aching.

"Don't go to sleep, Captain. This is going to hurt but you mustn't cry out. If they suspect what we are going to do it will be the death of both of us."

For a moment neither spoke. The Captain tried to make sense of the words but they did not compute with what he thought he knew about the Shepherd. "Why you doin' this?"

"You need to conserve your energy."


The Preacher was fiddling with some kind of syringe. He wanted to knock it out of his gorram hand but his limbs would not obey him. "Because I need to get you stabilised for the journey."

Something penetrated, a cold icy tendril that could have been fear slid through. "Who the ruttin' *diyu* are you?"

"I am your only hope of getting out of here alive."

He was hovering on the verge of consciousness. Struggling to stay awake long enough to find an answer he could understand. "Why should I trust you?"

"For the same reason you let me return to the ship."

He stared up at the man hovering over him. Dumbfounded. The bite of the needle made no impression on him. The clear liquid injected straight into a vein did all the hard work now. He opened his mouth, silence forming in the shape where words should have been. His eyes darkening as the world around him swayed and began to recede from him but paradoxically would not let him go. The Preacher's voice was quiet, soft, gentle almost. A touch on his cheek went unfelt, only the moving shadow had substance. Quickly Book linked up the trolley of equipment to the head of the Captain's bed and wheeled both back into the theatre. With calm efficiency he located everything he would need then checked his patient one last time. The trick was to keep him hovering on the edge of consciousness without allowing him to slip over the edge. The Captain was almost ready now. Time was of the essence. If they caught him in here doing this he would not have to worry about any kind of retribution from Serenity's crew. His own would do it for him.

* * * * *

Jeb Tanner hated this. Had been frantic for news but the little bits that had made it back looked worse than bad. Then it had come and the pain and sorrow was so deep, so all consuming and mind numbing he wished he had remained oblivious. He hung his head and cursed himself for letting Davy go on that rutting fools errand. The man hadn't been right for a while. Not since coming back a year after everyone thought he was lost forever. So he had clung on to him. Frantic almost in his need to keep him safe not that Davy took a blind bit of notice. It was odd but for a long time the relief had blinded him to everything else. Now he gazed with moist eyes at the wave on the cortex. He blinked. Hands shaking as shock set in. No. No. NO! They were dead. ALL of them. The Phoenix crushed before it could open its gorram wings and fly. Thousands of Browncoats annihilated. That meant not only Davy but probably Malcolm too. All his friends from the 75th already lost to Serenity Valley. Now the survivors too would join that number.

Tears rolled down his face. Heart aching he felt all his hope vanish. Caught up in the wail of grief loosed from his trembling lips.

* * * * *

It was madness. An absurb circus of competing views, everything voiced at the top of lungs so loud it drowned out all sense. River put her hands over her ears. Simon tried to quiet everybody down but no one took any notice of him. Pepper Rawlings was standing nose to nose with the Sheriff and yelling into his face. Deputy Crawford and Tyrone Garvin trying to keep the two men apart. Lenny Goss was one of the few silent ones, letting Charlie play Devil's Advocate with Zoe Warren while Peter Bailey tried to coax Jayne into agreeing with their position. Kaylee took several steps back, apalled by the seeming erruption of chaos. She saw Simon and River retreat from the commons area and followed them out into the relative sanity of the infirmary. They could still hear the shouting but it was muted. River shut the door and leant on it, her face very pale, her eyes looking haunted. Kaylee was about to say something but Simon was not looking at her, his whole attention on his sister.

"*Mei mei*, it's alright." He soothed inching towards her.

He gathered her into his arms as if afraid a simple touch would break her. Kaylee was confused and alarmed. "What's happenin', Simon?"

The doctor cradled River close and looked over her shoulder at Kaylee's worried face. "Pepper and his men want to storm the Dome."

Kaylee nodded. "I heard but it don't make sense. Cap'n's down there."

Simon nodded, not sure how much to say to the mechanic.

"If they do that we could lose the Cap'n."

*We could have lost him anyway* thought Simon, but he had learnt to think before speaking. Too often a careless comment from his unthinking mouth would make matters worse. And it was not as if he knew for sure. He felt River steady in his arms, was about to say something reassuring to Kaylee when River pushed him back. He loosened his hold and waited. She looked a lot calmer now but that haunted look persisted in her eyes.

"No guns."

He blinked. Kaylee and Simon shared a look of joint concern. Before they could respond she turned and opened the door. Simon caught her arm and turned her so he could see her face. "Where are you going?"

She blinded him with a smile, her face clearing of worry and beaming happily back at him. On some level he was sure it was meant to reassure him. Could he help it if it had the opposite effect? "Explosives."

Kaylee felt her heart quail. "What....what do you want them for?"

River looked at Kaylee. "Bigger, brighter, more destructive."

Fully alarmed now, Simon tried to pull her back into his arms. River's smile vanished, she stepped back and dodged his grasp. "*Ni bu dong*. Time is of the essence."

A chill went through him then she was gone, a flying wisp of a girl dancing just out of reach. Simon and Kaylee raced after her. Back into the commons area they ran, the girl nimbly dodging between the arguing voices. As she got to the middle of the room she put two fingers in her mouth and gave a loud whistle. Instant silence fell, everyone turning to face the unexpected sound. Pleased to have their attention she smiled benignly at them and leapt up onto the dining table. It was not just good to see but to be seen. "Pepper Rawlings is right, we have to get the Captain out of the Dome."

Pepper smirked, his men beginning to grin and murmur about the rightness of their cause but River was still speaking. She was nodding now to the Sheriff.

"Sheriff's right too, we need to be cautious that's why there can be no guns."

Pepper opened his mouth to protest then closed it again. What the gorram was the crazy girl going on about? Zoe took a step towards River drawing the girl's eye to her.

"We have to go now," Said River calmly. "If we miss our window there'll be no big bang."

"River," Said Zoe carefully. "You said the Captain needed to go down to the Dome. Are you sayin' somethin's happened?"

She shook her head. "*Bu qu* but the clock's ticking. Had to go down, get the right supplies. Specialist equipment we don't have on Serenity. Can't do this without help."

Simon was as baffled as everybody else but something in Zoe's expression made him do a double take. Zoe ignored the doctor and focused on the girl. Crazy or not she knew River would never do anything to put the Captain in jeopardy. Couldn't say she had the same confidence in Pepper and his men. They were a mite too quick to act before their brains kicked into gear. And then there was the Sheriff. She turned to fix a steady eye on him. "You want to go down too, why?"

"Not sure I trust the Preacher."

The Sheriff did not elaborate. Zoe raised an eyebrow in surprise. After all, the last contact Sheriff Bowman had with Shepherd Book was when they had rescued some children. Did he know something about the Preacher the rest of them didn't? And why say nothing about it until now? Before she could quiz him River turned all thoughts back to New Earth. "Window's coming, we have to go."

Jayne looked puzzled. "Go where?"

"To the Dome."

The big man frowned. "Ain't goin' nowhere without Vera." Pepper and his men echoed Jayne.

River crouched down on the table so she that was more or less eye level with them. "Then ya ain't goin' nowhere, *dong ma*?" She mimicked back in a fair immitation of the mercenary's accent.

"You said 'big bang'," Said Zoe quickly not wanting her to get sidetracked. "What do you mean?"

River straightened, an innocent smile pouring over her face as if butter wouldn't melt in her sweet mouth. "We need explosives. A chemical reaction to spark a chain of events that will open the window. Wide enough to let Mal and Book out again."

Interestingly River was including the Shepherd in the retrieval plan. "Why we bringin' the Preacher back?" Said Jayne, taking the words out of Zoe's mouth.

"Because he asked."

They just stared at her. River jumped down off the table and walked up to Zoe, Simon and Kaylee following in her wake. "Not much time. They won't be expecting us and he's ready now."

Zoe frowned, not sure if she meant the Captain or the Preacher. "You sure about this?"

The girl nodded. Could feel all the seconds lining up to fashion neat little minutes on the clock face ticking down inside her head. "Now is not the time to lose our faith."

"Then you trust Book?" Asked Simon quietly.

"This has nothing to do with trust Simon. This is mathematics."

Simon looked at Zoe. Just then the Sheriff pushed through to speak to them. Limping awkwardly but fueled by a determination that would not be held in check. "Girl's right, we have to move 'now'."

"An' you would know this because?" Asked Zoe in a cool clipped voice. Hands on hips.

"My gut tells me so."

She had no answer to that. A moment only of hesitation then she activated the com. "Wash, we're goin' back to New Earth. *Mashang*."

The delay over the com was a mere fraction of a second. "We are?"

"*Qu*. Cap'n needs us."

River smiled happily then closed her eyes. Following the figures and making calculations. Opening her eyes again she found Pepper Rawlings staring at her as if she were a witch. The grin she gave him was all kinds of creepifying. "No guns." She whispered. He closed his eyes and inwardly shuddered. When he opened them again she was gone.

* * * * *

Hovering. Senses all a tumble and at sea. The weirdness of it all was just another bit of crazy in his already out of kilter world. On some level he knew exactly where he was but not what was going on. It was as if he was living through a surreal kind of nightmare where angels dressed as demons and all the hordes of hell sang the sweetest song. Sound kept yawing at him, pulling and stretching in impossible directions. He was lying on the rutting operating table that much was clear. Had seen it from above, though how the good gorram that was possible was beyond him right now. One minute his vision would be clear the next every thought was cloudy, every sensation struggling to make it through a bewildering fog where touch and sound immitated each other in levels of pain and discomfort that bled through to him in an erratic and truncated fashion. He felt as if his consciousness was full of holes and he was slipping and sliding in and out of them.

Mal could hear the Preacher. Not sure if the words were spoken or not. They were needle sharp and intrusive. Mentally he flinched but the soothing tone was like a clamp holding back his automatic response to shut the man out. The words swayed and danced in his mind on ribbons of fire that wormed their way into his consciousness. "I am sorry I have to do it this way, Captain."

His tongue felt thick, numb and clumsy. "Do what?" Even to his own ears the words sounded slurred.

"Your resistance could kill you and I have promised you will not come to harm."

Sluggishly he tried to wrap his mind around that notion but nothing made sense. The clinical white and chrome of the theatre was almost overpowering. He was distantly aware of the Preacher's hands working on his shattered knee while thoughts carefully probed his mind. He tried to concentrate on the former in a bid to block out the latter. Everything such a gorram effort. *Shenme*, you a doctor now?"

He sensed more than heard the humour in the Shepherd's voice. "Not so much but I am *ke xue jia*."

The Captain thought about that. Scientist huh? Why did that spark something in his back brain he could not quite grasp? Damn rutting drugs, he couldn't think straight. He felt the subtle prod deep in his mind and tried to pull away but there was nowhere to go. The Preacher was leaning over him, so very intent and focused. Mal wanted to close his eyes but he couldn't. Not sure about the why of it. It was almost as if the Preacher had him mesmerised or some such. A flutter of fear sent his breathing into a rapid tap dance of panic. Then the Shepherd was talking again, all soothing tones and mild reassurances. Calming his racing heartbeat. Wished he could see what the man was doing but he was too close and the Captain couldn't focus any more. A sudden mental jab made him jerk hard, a stumbled cry of shock choked in his throat.

"*Duibuqi*, Captain. I didn't mean to hurt you."

Mal did not answer. Couldn't. Instinct marshalling his depeleted strength and will for one purpose. To keep him out. His body trembled, the perspiration pooling on his now pale cheeks. Hair damp with sweat. Eyes unfocused with the build up of tears he could not cry.

"I suppose I owe you some kind of explanation." Said the Preacher softly as he worked. Hands expertly introducing the bridging structure to build up the lost mass in his knee. Clamps in place it was delicate work. He allowed his consciousness to lap quietly at the Captain's mind while trying to distract him with words.

The Captain wanted to shout at him. To emphasise each word with a blow or better yet the cold impersonal punctuation of words made of lead. Nothing quite stopped a man in his tracks like a bullet. Carried, signed, sealed and delivered. Was the Preacher carrying one for him? Right now it seemed that way. So why all the pantomime? Why not just do it? It took a great effort to form another sentence. "Why you doin' this?"

He sensed the Preacher's surprise. Well good, that was good wasn't it? "It is not my intent to harm you, Captain, though I can see how you might find that hard to believe right now. But you carry information I need and I know you will not surrender it willingly."

What in *diyu* was he talking about? What gorram information?

"We don't have much time," Murmured the Preacher probing steadily deeper. "I apologise now for what I am about to do."

Apologise? What for? Then he was hit by a level of pain that went beyond anything he had ever felt even at the hands of that perverted *tamade hundan* Niska. Didn't matter that it was not a physical pain. Mind, body and soul collapsing into a world of agony yet unable to lose consciousness. In that split second the Preacher found it. Shock stung him in a painful backwash. It was not what he had expected. Stunned he withdrew, words and actions tempered to soothe and create as little trauma to the Captain as possible. The man had suffered enough. Book blinked back tears and braced his arms against the side of the table, eyes closed, head bowed. Prayers he had only given lip service to before now employed in earnest. God forgive him, how could he have been so wrong? He knew the Captain was hiding something from him. Something kept behind a wall of steel, shutters blocking off a part of him that was too private for sharing. When Inara had failed to pierce the veil it had given the Preacher hope. But what he found was the last thing he had expected. He hung his head in penance and did the only thing he could do. He adjusted the Captain's medication so that he could pass into sweet oblivion.

Book did not know how long he stood there absorbing the unexpected turn in events but gradually he realised how perilous any further delay would be. He had to finish what he started. Now, more than ever, he must keep his promise to River. Quickly and efficiently he set about stabilising the Captain and making ready everything they would need for the journey back. He had lost his faith a long time ago. How ironic to have it returned to him in such a poignant fashion.

* * * * *

Inara stared at the ugly monstrosity. The battered and drifting hulk of the Dauntless had surprised her. Most of the remnants of the Independents' fleet were little more than bits of debris. This ship was pretty much in one piece, probably because it was an Alliance ship and had reinforced bulkheads. What the *diyu* was a prison transport doing out here? Her methodical search had brought her round to the far side of Shadow and that was where she found the ship. She scanned it for a third time and got the same result. No life signs. Inara swallowed slowly, a creeping reluctance to take the next logical step seeping into her bones. This was foolish. It was just an empty ship. But she knew better. It was in a war zone. Didn't matter that the battle was over. She knew there would likely be bodies on board. Her job now was to go among them and identify the dead. Once that was done she would begin the painstaking job of searching each and every one of them.

It took a moment or two for Inara to steel herself then she docked with the ship. Luckily the hull integrity had not been compromised. What she found when she entered the other vessel rooted her to the spot. There was only one body but lots of blood. It was not so much the amount of blood but the tell tale splatter of crimson littered with bits of brain matter that told its' own mute and gory tale. She gagged, put a hand over her nose and mouth and looked away, stopping short in stunned horror as an object rolled across the deck where she had caught it with her left foot. She automatically looked down to see what it was. With a cry of alarm she stepped back, turned her head and was violently sick. Haunted by the bloody eye staring up at her. Repulsed by the knowledge that she had found the last mortal remains of Davy Reynolds.

* * * * *

"This is a mistake."

Everyone ignored Simon's words. Not because they did or did not agree with him but because they had to focus. No distractions. River was calm and watched their preparations intently. Pepper Rawlings had protested until he was blue in the face but Serenity's crew had sided with River. Odd as it was it had felt right. No one would take any weapons only the carefully filled glass globes River had fashioned in the infirmary. Jayne was staring warily at them having reluctantly agreed to leave Vera behind. "What ya say is in 'em?"

"You don't need to know just don't drop any. Each sphere is subdivided, see?" He leaned closer and looked where she pointed. The sphere had a chemical substance suspended in fluid in one half and a fine white powder in the other. "When the glass is broken the chemical elements mix and - BOOM!"

He did not want to take them from her but the look in her eyes was an odd mix of willpower and pleading. He acted gruff and surly but took them anyway. Each glass sphere carefully placed in a box she had sectioned into makeshift pockets. Didn't want them jostled and exploding prematurely. Not that seeing Jayne go up in a puff of smoke and fire wouldn't be hi-larious but it wouldn't get the job done and that was what was important now. No time left for hesitation. Zoe, the Sheriff and Deputy Crowther already had their spheres carefully packed ready. Simon wanted to go with them but River had refused. She knew what he was thinking but he was wrong. He couldn't help the Captain in the Dome, they wouldn't have time anyway. Besides, the Captain was coming to him.

"Explain to me again why I have to stay here?"

She smiled at him, not in humour but for reassurance. Sometimes she made him feel six years old. Her voice was calm and patient, only the fever in her eyes told him how much she was holding her emotions in check. "We have to go, create a diversion *dong ma*? Then Mal and Book can come back."

"Why don't you come back with them?"

She shook her head. Emphatic and certain now. "No, Simon. The diversion will enable them to get away, then we have to cover their tracks."

"*Wo bu dong*, we don't have a shuttle *mei mei*. Inara took one and the Shepherd took the other."

"That's why Serenity is taking us down."

His eyes widened. Pepper looked uncomfortable. He still thought the plan was mad but was feeling bad about standing against them. He cleared his thought awkwardly. "I wanna help. Got any more of those bombs?"

She shook her head. "No. You have to stay on the ship with the others. If anything goes wrong we'll need you to defend Serenity."

He gave her a long hard look, trying to see into that twisted and witchy brain of hers. Just then Wash's voice came over the com, he sounded excited. Happy even. "We just got a wave from Book. He's got the Captain and they're on their way back."

River smiled and gave Zoe a nod. It was time. Zoe took a breath. "Okay Wash, take us down. River says the best place to dock is the north side." The opposite site to where the shuttle had landed.

"*Jide*," Said River seriously. "Pick military and defensive targets. They have to believe someone is trying to break in, to attack the complex."

"An' while they're all runnin' round like ruttin' headless *ji* we get back to the ship and get the good gorram out of here!"

Everyone agreed with Jayne's sentiment but Simon still did not look happy. "Why are we goin' down to the Dome if the Captain and the Preacher have just taken off in the shuttle? Surely it would be better to wait for them to get here then leave?"

"Too late." Said River in a calm flat voice.

Everybody stared at her. Simon was sure his heartbeat had stalled.

"Preacher doesn't know it," She said with quiet calm conviction. "but he set off the alarm."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*weishenme* = why *diyu* = hell *mei mei* = little sister *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *dong ma* = understand *qu* = yes (lit. go) *jide* = remember *mashang* = on the double/quickly/right away/immediately *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *ji* = chicken *shenme* = what *ke xue jia* = scientist


Thursday, June 24, 2004 7:50 AM


Still don't know what Book's about, but this is all starting to come together nicely. Well, except for the alarm.

When I read that Anonymous thought this wasn't Firefly, I remembered Bruce Lee. His martial arts students broke into two factions. One adhered to Bruce's philosphy. The other, noting that Bruce was constantly changing, followed the path they thought Bruce would have gone. Alison, your Firefly could easily have been where Joss would have taken it after several years. And you do it so very well. Thank you.

Thursday, June 24, 2004 8:32 AM


Hi artships, you will find out what Book is all about (after a fashion)as well as a few other things that may or may not make you polish your glasses and read this again. I did smile at your kind comments. This is fanfiction and I just love the opportunity to expand the envelope of what we have and what we can add to a 'verse that is so rutting shiny it dazzles me with joy. All this and we have the BDM to look forward to on 22nd April 2005! Oh yes, there IS a God... Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Thursday, June 24, 2004 9:01 AM


Whew! Seems like a light appearing at the end of the scary tunnel. Shepherd growing every more complex as a character--so loved the religious moment turning genuine for him.

Friday, June 25, 2004 1:34 AM


You are slipperier than a greased weasel, woman! Just when I think it's all becoming clear, off we go again on another wild rollercoaster ride. Very exciting. And am feeling much more optimistic. And also very annoyed I will be away next week when we get - maybe? - to the climax.

Echoing artiships' kind thoughts. It's people like you who are keeping the Firefly fires burining whilst we wait for the BDM. Write bold, write free, you shiny little weasel, you!


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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.