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AMDOBELL

HEAVEN AND HELL: 37. "Enough Rope"
Saturday, June 26, 2004

"Unbeknownst to the Captain and Preacher they are being watched. Book wants to make up for the past but it is not that easy."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2420    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "ENOUGH ROPE" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: RIVER/MAL. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: New. SEQUEL to "THE PROMISE". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: AlisonMDobell@aol.com WEBSITE: http://carlajane.50megs.com/Ali00.html

SUMMARY: "Unbeknownst to the Captain and Preacher they are being watched. Book wants to make up for the past but it is not that easy." 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.

" ENOUGH ROPE"

A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

The monitor showed everything in perfect focus. Only the sound was inefficient. They watched in silence, the two as alike as the symetry of their sombre dress would allow. The first, Mr Brown, folded his hands demurely in front of him. The blue gloves as much a statement of who he was as a warning of what he was capable of. His partner, Mr Rogers, stood next to him. Not a flicker of emotion between them. They watched the drama slowly unfolding and made no comment until they arrived at the part where an escape was obviously about to be dared. The very audacity of it seemed inconceivable. "We should alert the guards."

Mr Brown disagreed and calmly disabled the internal alarm so that it would sound in no other room. Only the flicker of a console light showed it had been activated at all. His dispassionate voice could have been discussing the weather. "No."

"Our observer lied to us."

"Yes."

Silence. Thoughtful disparity passed between them as they vied for consensus on how to handle the deviation. "We should kill him."

"It would be theraputic for the others."

"A lesson given..."

"So that others can learn."

A pause. "But not yet."

Solemn slow consideration was being given to the opportunity facing them. "If we let him go..."

"They will not suspect."

"Perhaps not but..."

"The girl?"

"She is a Reader."

"Yet if he does not know we know neither will she."

Another longer pause this time. They watched in silence as the one they knew as Book attempted to probe deep into the prone man's mind. "What is he doing?"

"We should stop him, now."

"No."

"No?"

"Wait. See his frustration?"

Rogers leaned closer to the monitor screen. After a moment he straightened. "He did not get it."

"Reynolds does not have it."

"Then who? The girl?"

"She is the prime candidate." He paused, interested in the Preacher's motivations nonetheless. "I am curious as to why he would think the Captain would have such information."

"Did we miss something?"

A longer pause. "We will have to be our own eyes and ears."

The odd word of conversation was being picked up but with Book keeping his voice lowered and the Captain being so out it his words barely rose above a mumble or a whisper they missed more than they heard. In silence they watched Book assemble the medical equipment he wanted, along with the neogenesis material. Mr Brown spared a glance for his colleague. "He knows what is needed."

"Such expertise."

"If we let them go it could be a *cuowu*."

"Yes, but keeping them would end our knowledge."

They watched Book load up the supplies on a trolley then administer something to the Captain. The man quickly lost consciousness. "He is obviously preparing to move him, what shall we do?"

"Let them go."

"One or both?"

"Both."

"The Director will not approve."

"He will expect results. Let them go. Let them provide the information that will hang them all."

"To what purpose?"

"An example must be set. Let them lead us back to the girl."

"Then shall we retrieve her?"

"Not yet. Impatience is the mark of the inefficient mind. We need to let the experiment run its' course, *dong ma*?"

"Will it not seem strange when we fail to react?"

Mr Brown looked at his colleague, eyes flickering with a dark light. No warmth at all in his mind or soul. "Only if they know they have failed."

* * * * *

It was tricky but Wash managed to land on the north side platform without being challenged. Zoe leaned over his shoulder tense and alert, her husband's gifted hands cradling the ship's controls as if they were a part of him. River stood next to Zoe and stared out the forward window, not appearing to be focused on anything. Wash had long since become used to her creepifying ways. The oddness of the girl now an endearing quality but from time to time it still had the power to chill the blood in his veins. Zoe turned to look at River. The girl was trembling slightly. Zoe frowned. "Are you cold, River?"

She shook her head. "Can't control the muscles."

Her teeth were beginning to chatter. Alarmed, Zoe flicked the com switch. "Simon, think it best you come to the bridge, *mashang*."

The com was flicked off again before the doctor could reply. Within seconds Simon appeared at the door. "*Shenme shi*?"

Zoe pointed to River. Immediately Simon went to her. "*Mei mei*, what's wrong?"

Alarmed to see her shivering he began to rub his hands up and down her arms thinking she was cold. River shook her head. "No, not me."

He froze. Half suspecting what she was going to say.

"Mal. He's cold, Simon. In pain. Drifting. Can't move, breathing painful. So dark, so dark - I'm afraid. We have to hurry!"

She was almost crying now. Quickly wrapping his arms around her Simon rocked her gently as he looked at Zoe. Mutely pleading for them to hurry. Zoe looked at Wash. "Any sign of the shuttle?"

For a moment there was a tense silence then Wash nodded. "I think so..." He fiddled with his controls straining to get a fix. Jayne's voice could be heard as the big man got ready to depart. Zoe gave Wash a kiss and squeezed his shoulder. "Keep an eye out for the shuttle but don't risk a transmission. As soon as we get back take off. We should be able to pick the shuttle up before we hit atmo."

He nodded. "*Xiaoxin, bao bei*."

"You too, *zhangfu*."

River looked up, face all wet with tears. Zoe paused to reassure her. "We'll get him back, River."

The girl nodded numbly but did not tell them that was not why she was crying. Heart aching she buried her face in Simon's shoulder and let him hold her. His familiar voice soothing her while she tried in vain to re-establish her link with the Captain. Contact had simply broken off. One minute she was feeling his pain and distress, the next - nothing. The emptiness that echoed back to her was more frightening than anything she had faced in captivity. Then she had known she was all alone in her extremis. She could not bear the thought that he was now all alone in his.

* * * * *

He was flying. Not in the conventional manner, oh no. This was more surreal. Was he dead? He could not be certain yet felt detached from the need to know. It was like dreaming while wide awake except there were no physical sensations beyond sight and sound. He had no sense of touch, neither could he taste or smell anything. A kind of morbid curiosity drove him to try to reach out but nothing could contain him. He was looking down watching the Preacher pushing a trolley. It took a moment or two to recognise the body laying on it was his own. Yet he had no concern for his own welfare just an aching sadness that he was leaving River. The pain of it penetrated the oddness of his situation.

He tried to get the Preacher's attention but Book was too focused on making a quick exit. Mal wondered what the good gorram he could do then had an idea. Moving at the speed of thought he found just wanting to move forward was enough to instantly find himself there. Walls, floors, ceilings, were no barrier. He deliberately did not dwell on why that should be the case. Any euphoria he might have felt by such freedom was cancelled out by concern. He knew the Preacher was worried about them getting caught and wanted to help him. Moving swiftly he went on ahead, scouting the route to make sure it was all clear. At first he was pleased, there appeared to be nothing to stop them making a clean get away. But as more and more empty corridors seemed to facilitate their unimpeded exit he became wary, unsettled and troubled. It was too *rongyi*. The Preacher though did not hesitate nor did he question his good fortune.

Mal hovered above him wondering why it felt so false. Contrived. They were approached the main exit now. Should be some guards or somesuch on patrol but to his surprise there was no one. Where the rutting *diyu* was everyone? Not like the Alliance to have half day closing. His suspicions heightened he decided to do a little experiment. Level by level he rose, his subtle body rising without effort. On each level he slipped swiftly through closed off sections, offices and rest rooms. Even peeked into a high security cell or two. Then he came to a junction and stopped in his tracks, staring at something so stunning in its' simplicity that it had not at first registered. It was a surveillance camera cunningly concealed so as not to be visible from the ground. He felt himself nine times a fool for not suspecting it. Gorrammit, that meant he and Book had been monitored the whole time they had been inside the complex. A horrible hollow feeling filled him with dread. They were being set up and the Preacher was walking right into it! Quickly he speeded up his search, looking for the surveillance room. He had almost given up on finding it when he passed through a small room at the end of a corridor. He recoiled at the sight of the two men sitting side by side viewing a monitor. They were identically dressed and so similar they could have been mistaken for clones. One sat with his blue gloved hands demurely folded in his lap, the other seemed more restive as if what they were watching unsettled him.

Had he breath to hold he would have held it. Turning to see what they were watching he was alarmed to see them following Book's progress as he laboured to push the trolley faster and faster towards the final exit and what he hoped was freedom. It moved the Captain to see that the man was actually trying his best to get them the *diyu* out of there. The urge to rush to him almost dragged Mal out of the room but his willpower over rode the instinct to try to warn his former friend. Better to find out first what the blue handed freaks were up to. No matter the currency the most valuable commodity on any world was information. Because even the lowest low-lifes knew that information was power.

* * * * *

Jayne was cursing under his breath, Zoe hissing for him to keep silent. A glare was her reward but at least the angry muttering ceased. The team was kept small. No sense putting more people at risk than was absolutely necessary. It felt wrong leaving Pepper Rawlings and his men on the ship but she was comforted knowing the Sheriff and most of his men had remained behind ostensibly to help in any defence of Serenity. To her surprise Tyrone Garvin had insisted on coming with them as had Peter Bailey. Ty told her he had handled explosive devices before and Zoe thought it prudent not to press him for too many details. The fact that he was a Browncoat and knew both Mal and the Sheriff reassured her. Peter Bailey was an unknown quantity but seemed both steady and eager to help. She recalled Jayne's response hissed in a low undertone that only Zoe had heard. *Beggars can't be ruttin' choosers*. His words had not reassured her.

Now they were circling their way towards the complex from the north side. Wash had already established where the main power source was and they made their way unerringly towards it. Zoe wondered what River had put in the globes but decided she might sleep better not knowing. That the girl had found all the materials she needed to make the bombs on Serenity was more than a little disturbing. One day she would have to have a serious talk with that girl.

* * * * *

Mal listened to every word that passed between those *tamade hundan*. Had he blood to boil it would have all evaporated in heat by now. He could not believe the set up. Wished he could find out more about the so called experiment they were running. Sounded far too much as if they had a hand in ensuring not only that River had 'escaped' from their custody but also had been keeping tabs on her ever since. They knew far too much for his comfort. How the rutting hell had they kept track of her? He sailed as near as damn it under Alliance radar. Often so far in the Black even Jayne had complained a time or two that they would never find work. Of course Book and Inara being spies answered that question except even he didn't know where he was going to go until the last minute. He had found the handheld cortex link of Dobson's after throwing the *goushi buru* fed off his boat. A low market priced piece of tech it naturally did not work all the time, proximity being the key to sufficient transmission strength. Inara on the other hand had use of shuttle one's cortex link and no doubt some of her own equipment. What the Preacher had he did not know but the more he thought about it the more anxious he became.

The Captain turned his attention back to the screen, saw Book exit the main building and immediately willed himself there. In the blink of an eye he was hovering over the man's shoulder. Book looked as close to nervous as Mal had ever seen him. Made the man seem more human somehow. Picking up the pace the Shepherd hurried off the permacrete apron around the front of the complex and headed off the beaten track. Steadily making his way to where they had left shuttle two. The Captain kept a lookout, drifting backwards and forwards to be sure they were not being followed. That no one was lying in wait. But there was nothing. He did not like it. When they finally got to the shuttle he did not even feel a twinge of relief. Too wired to relax he watched the winded Preacher take a few deep breaths to steady and reinflate flagging lungs then he opened the shuttle door and awkwardly manhandled the trolley and its' burden inside. Securing the trolley Book was about to jump in the pilot's chair and start the take off sequence when he noticed his patient was no longer breathing.

*No, no! Get the gorram out of here, Preacher! Worry about me when you're safe, gorrammit!*

But of course the Preacher could not hear him. Book paled as he felt for the carotid pulse only to find nothing. Cursing he hunted under the trolley where he had stashed the medical supplies on the undershelf for a defibrillator. Naturally there wasn't one. Mal yelled at him to get the *diyu* in the air and leave anything else till later. Book looked suddenly worn and weary, his face greying with concern and bordering on defeat. Then a look of grim determination stole over his face and squeezing his right hand into a fist he raised it above his head and asked God to help him. With all the strength he could muster he brought his fist down hard on the Captain's chest. Mal shuddered in the air above him.

"Breathe, gorrammit!" Cursed the Preacher.

Again the fist rose, again it fell. Then he put a couple of fingers in the Captain's mouth, tipping the head back and making sure the airway was clear. He took several deep breaths before covering Mal's mouth and nose with his own to form a seal then breathing for him. A deep strong exhalation to inflate lungs that had ground to a halt. He paused, counting seconds off in his head, then did the same again. After several breaths he switched to chest compressions, the fingers of both hands linked one above the other. It was halfway through the second set that Mal found his vision blurring, pain like he had never felt before radiating throughout his body from his chest. Before he could cry out something began dragging him down. An inexorable power pulling him at a dizzying speed. Then his whole 'verse went black and he knew no more.

* * * * *

Inara spent several minutes cleaning herself up after her impromptu reaction aboard the Dauntless. Her face now pale she did not want to go back to Davy to remove the *lese* ring. Shuddering with revulsion she felt a deep cold seep through her body and knew she was in shock. All she had ever known was the 'verse the Alliance had shown her. Believing every lie that fell from their disingenuous lips. The Alliance represented order and rightness. The Browncoats - anarchy. Death and destruction they left in their wake while the clensing fires of the Alliance were necessary to combat desease and give the living a chance to rebuild. That those fires were fueled by both the living and the dead was not known to her at the time. Later even that would be explained until she could consider such things without the slightest draw on her sympathy. The Browncoats were the enemy. Vermin. More ruthless than Reavers. Seemed only right to smoke them out then let them die in the fires of *diyu*, only this hell was created in the Here and Now. The quicker to send them to their just reward.

To the young and impressionable Inara Serra the Alliance were heroes. Had extricated her from a fate worse than anything she could possibly imagine. Worse than death were the horrors that would have awaited her. They had saved her, clothed her and given her a home. To them she owed her loyalty, the House Mistress at Sihnon seeming all-wise and a study in perfection. Inara could not remember her parents or her former life. A babe in arms she was a pliable mind and absorbed all she was taught with the firm child-like faith instilled in her. To Inara it was a war she was fighting with herself on the side of the angels. The Browncoats were the enemy. A reckless, faithless conglomeration of untutored beasts. Poor and pathetic. Rabid and dangerous. It would be a kindness to put them down. She wanted nothing more than to prove her worth by rising in the ranks of the House of Sihnon until she too could reach the status of a Registered Companion. Succeeding in that goal had given her a fearsome focus and she had become adept in many subtle arts.

Her first inkling that all was not as it had been painted niggled at the base of her mind when she had hired the shuttle from Serenity's Captain. Some instinct alerting her, telling her that things were not as they seemed. She had thought the deceit was the Captain's and had resented it, purposely keeping him at arm's length though there were moments when her guard would slip and almost she would allow a wary affection to take root. Dangerous. Like a weed she must dig it out. She could not, must not, think of him as other men. React to the hollow purchase of his eyes when pain or sorrow touched him deep and inadvertently moved her. He was a Browncoat. An enemy. So she had played her part and helped to plot his downfall. How hollow now that victory seemed. Looking down at his brother's remains she was sickened not only by what she was doing but by what she had become. For the second time since boarding the Dauntless, Inara Serra turned her beautiful head to one side and was violently sick.

* * * * *

Sheriff Bowman could not stop pacing. Or rather limping to and fro across the cockpit that doubled as Serenity's bridge. It was driving Wash *shenjingbing* but one look at the man's taut face and he bit his lip and kept his mouth clamped shut. He had not seen much of River since Zoe and the others had gone to plant their makeshift bombs. The girl had promptly had some kind of relapse throwing the doctor into a tailspin that, had their situation not been so precarious, would have been hilarious to watch. Now he was just concerned. Hated it that the crew were not together. To paraphrase the Captain this here was a recipe for disaster. Wash was relieved and jumpy at the presence of Pepper Rawlings and his men. Not that they had given him any reason to distrust them but at times he would spot them whispering to each other only to stop the moment he looked up or turned his head. He did not like it and fervently wished the others would return sooner rather than later. He told himself it was just nerves but instinct made him extra watchful and as edgy as a cat on hot bricks.

The Sheriff stopped abruptly, staring out the window but not looking at anything. Wash frowned. Opened his mouth to say something when the Sheriff turned his head and looked at him, not trying to disguise his worry. "How long did they say they'd be?"

Wash shrugged. "As long as it takes, River said..."

Before he could complete his sentence the sound of a loud explosion made him sit straight in his chair.

"Speakin' of which, that sounds like them now."

The next second Zoe's voice came loud and strong over the com. "Wash, get the ramp down and be ready to take off. Ask Kaylee to coax as much out of the engine as she can handle, *dong ma*? I want us in the air as soon as we're aboard."

"One quick and dramatic exit comin' up!"

When he turned to grin at the Sheriff he found himself looking at empty space. Sheriff Bowman hurried as best he could to the catwalk. Noticed Pepper and his men dotted around the cargo bay below and frowned. He did not like that. Catching Andy Crowther's eye the Deputy sidled up to him and the Sheriff murmured for him to pass the word to have his deputies pick a man and shadow him. Nothing too obvious, just close enough to cover any unexpected play. Might be nothing but God hadn't given him gut instinct just so he could gorram ignore it. A tiny nod and Deputy Crowther left to drift among the other deputies and casually make sure the Sheriff's word was made law. Couldn't be too careful.

The clang of the ramp hitting the ground was followed by four sets of running feet, the last one in hitting the red button to close the door and seal it. Zoe yelled into the com. "Wash, let's make like a magician and vanish."

"Neat trick if ya can pull it off." Murmured Jayne with dark humour.

Then they were lifting off, Jayne allowing his steps to slow so he lagged behind the others. He noticed the way Pepper was watching their return. Something felt off. Zoe took the steps two at a time on her way to the bridge. Peter Bailey met the Sheriff as he walked from the steps towards them. Tyrone Garvin watched Jayne then sat on a crate as if he had intended to do so all along. Jayne could not put his finger on the subtle feel of rising tension. Stepping close to Pepper he stood beside him and let his eyes take in the scene. "What the gorram's goin' on?" He asked quietly.

"Don't know what you're talkin' about, Jayne."

"Cut the *goushi*. There's enough tension to cut with a knife. Spit it out, ya spoilin' for a gorram fight?"

Pepper paused a second. "Would ya oppose me if I was?"

"Depends on who you're aimin' to fight an' why. We ain't given ya no call to cause trouble."

"Not fixin' on givin' ya no trouble, *dong ma*? Just wanna be ready in case ya brought any gorram feds down on us. It's my experience ya stir up a whole mess of vipers when ya try to blow the nest."

Jayne looked at him. Though he never said so he didn't believe that was the whole of it. Man had been too ready to give his reason which made it sound rehearsed but that didn't mean it wasn't true. By putting his reservations into words he had put the former Browncoat on notice. He was watching and if he or his men took a step out of line they would not live long enough to take another one. Jayne could see by the glitter in the seasoned soldier's eyes that the message had been received and understood.

"Thought we had us an understandin'?"

"That was then, this is now. Not gonna let ya do anythin' to hurt this crew."

Pepper Rawlings raised an eyebrow. "Was that concern? Ya weren't too concerned when it came to steppin' back from helpin' the Cap'n."

"Never said I'd betray him or be happy to see him come to harm either."

Pepper blinked, doing a slow but thorough reappraisal of the mercenary. Watching how relaxed but alert the big man was. "Then why'd ya back my play?"

"Didn't."

"Didn't oppose it neither."

Jayne shrugged and affected nonchalance. Both knew he was poised for the conversation to go either way. "Just thought I'd see what ya were intendin' on doin'."

Pepper realised it would be a mistake to underestimate the loyalty of this crew. "So ya were plannin' to back the winner, *dui*?"

The mercenary suddenly flashed him a feral grin. "Just as happy I didn't have to shoot ya though."

After a long minute Pepper gave him a nod. "We weren't gonna hurt nobody."

"Yeah well just got your word for that an' things have been a mite too tense to wanna go down a road without knowing where it might lead. No offence."

Another nod, this time a smile sailed the solemn lips and both men relaxed somewhat. Their natural wariness now radiating outwards rather than towards each other. They lapsed into an almost amiable silence. Each understanding the others' position. Kind of cleared the air some leaving behind a mutual respect. Tyrone Garvin, noting that the tension had eased began to relax. The deputies now evident among Pepper's men. Ty got up and went over to the Sheriff then both of them went up the stairs leaving Andy Crowther to watch their backs. The Sheriff eager to stop by the infirmary on the way to the bridge. He wanted to see how River was doing then find out exactly what was happening with the Captain. His palms were itching to hit atmo but only when every one of them was safe and sound.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*cuowu* = mistake *dong ma* = understand *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *diyu* = hell *mashang* = on the double/quickly/right away/immediately *mei mei* = little sister *shenjingbing* = crazy *xiaoxin* = careful *bao bei* = precious/treasure *zhangfu* = husband *rongyi* = easy *goushi buru* = lower than dogshit *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *lese* = crappy *goushi* = crap/dogshit *dui* = correct

COMMENTS

Sunday, June 27, 2004 3:20 AM

ARTSHIPS


All the intricate plots and subtle motivations! And the promise of a reunion. So shiny, Alison, how your making this go. HaH has been your most intense story, and most heart-wrenching. Thanks!

Tuesday, June 29, 2004 6:14 AM

GUILDSISTER


Purely creepifying! And engrossing. Thanks!

Monday, July 5, 2004 10:48 PM

KISPEXI2


Plot whirling along as usual. So glad Book knows CPR. Must hurry to catch up with the rest. Keep writing!


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