THE PURSUIT SERIES: 15. "Inside Out"
Thursday, November 16, 2006

"The crew is left relying on the animals to help them out. Meanwhile the Alliance has sent another crack team of Red Division troops to eliminate the problem of their infiltration once and for all not knowing that some unlikely heroes are on their way."



SUMMARY: "The crew is left relying on the animals to help them get out. Meanwhile the Alliance has sent another crack team of Red Division troops to eliminate the problem of their infiltration once and for all not knowing that some unlikely heroes are on their way." 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 Special Envoy waited as the connection went through, watching in silent assessment as the familiar face appeared on his cortex screen. "It is done?"

Sir Warwick Harrow nodded. "Yes."

"You trust your contact - these people?"

The Lord's eyes narrowed, his look intent missing nothing. "They are loyal if that's your meaning though I am curious. You could have handled this matter yourself, Imran."

"*Bu qu*, old friend. I am watched too closely, my movements recorded with every step."

Sir Warwick raised his brows slowly, allowing his surprise to sink in.

"No, this way is better." Imran's voice softened. "Safer."

The rest of the conversation was little more than small talk, a smokescreen for the meat of the exchange. When the connection was severed and the screen darkened Sir Warwick's brows knitted in concerned contemplation. "What trouble have you brought down upon your head, Inara?" He murmured, his gaze staring off unseeing into space.

* * * * *

"Empathy?" Wash repeated, looking at River.

The girl nodded then shook her head as the pilot turned to stare hard at the panther pacing beside the Captain. "Not like that, you can't give orders."

Jayne was sick of the waiting, that dead time between panic and a plan. "Then what good are they?"

"Jayne." Warned Zoe calmly. "Remember what River said, the animals are empathic."

He stared sullenly at the snake draped around Zoe's neck and shoulders, the huge creature making him all manner of uneasy. "How does that help a gorram thing?"

"You have to think in pictures with emotions attached." River explained. Simon and Kaylee were sitting on the floor, weary and all out of ideas but reluctant to be alone. This place was confusing enough that the comfort of each other's presence was the only plus they had. Simon looked up at his sister. "Will that work?"

River nodded. "If you clear out the clutter and just project."

Jayne frowned. "So if'n I think of that snake wrappin' itself around the *huandan's* neck that made up this creepy assed place it'll go find an' kill him?"

River shook her head. "Right idea, wrong image." The Captain smiled but didn't say anything.

"Huh? How can it be wrong, ya said imaginin' an' stuff."

The girl cocked her head to one side. "I said projecting. Do you know who created this proto-moon, Jayne?"

"No." "Then how can you imagine the snake strangling him? Besides, it could be a her."

The mercenary frowned, this wasn't getting them anywhere. Without speaking to the others the Captain turned his head and looked the panther in the eye. The great beast stopped pacing, her attention completely on Mal. The back and forth of disjointed conversations flowing by were ignored. The panther's mouth hung open, quietly panting before her head lifted, a low deep coughing sound bringing silence from the others. Kaylee was about to get up and go see what was happening but Simon's arm was round her waist and drawing her closer to his side and it was more than a little distracting.

Before anyone could ask the Captain what was happening the panther bounded away from them. Stunned, Wash stared after her for a moment then looked at the Captain. "What the *diyu* did you say to her?"

Zoe patted her husband's arm. "*Zhenjing xialai, bao bei*. The Cap'n didn't say anythin'."

"No," Said Wash slowly, his eyes on the Captain. "He projected. Didn't you?"

"Wash, we gotta get outta here, *dong ma*? River said to trust the animals."

Jayne did not look impressed. "Yeah well that worked well, ran out on us."

River's smiling face made everyone that bit more alert. With a wave of her hand all but one of the cloud of butterflies scattered, each fragile canopy of wings beating in a different direction. The snake began to unwind itself from Zoe, Wash stepping back in alarm. River glanced at them all, her smile seeming incongruous in the face of their consternation. With a sense of unspeakable loss Zoe watched the snake slide away, the anaconda's ponderous girth no hinderance as she rubbed her side against a section of the wall until a panel opened and she disappeared through it. Zoe started to hurry after the snake only hesitating when the Captain spoke.

"Best not follow, Zoe."

Her head snapped around. "Could be a way out, sir." "I don't doubt it." The Captain responded mildly.

Zoe looked back towards the panel in time to see it shut tight. In seconds the wall was as seamless as it had been before. Though Wash was happy to see the snake go he was irritated at the Captain because his wife was upset. "What happens now oh-wise-all-knowin'-Cap'n?"

His wife gave him a look of warning. Wash put his arm around her and drew her close, feeling better the instant he was able to touch her. It was River who answered, her gaze slightly unfocused. The one remaining butterfly perched upon the palm of her hand. "We wait."

"What the gorram for? 'Til we starve to ruttin' death?"

"Ain't nobody dyin', Jayne." Said the Captain. "Ain't nobody gettin' outta this fun-house either." Jayne groused darkly. "We wait for word." Said River.

"An' what if that word don't come?"

No one said anything to that. Simon was silent, not joining in the exchange which he saw as pointless. Getting in an argument with the Captain would just upset Kaylee and right now he was beginning to think that was a pain he was not willing to endure. The feel of her in his arms felt more right than anything had in a long time. Funny how the closer he came to danger the clearer he began to see the things that really mattered. He dropped a kiss on the top her head, causing Kaylee to look up. "What was that for?"

He smiled, his voice teasing. "Do I need a reason?"

Her eyes glittered brighter than the stars in the Black. Momentarily mesmerised and struck by the sudden desire to kiss her senseless it took a moment or two to realise that River was speaking. Her tone low and intense. "They're coming!"

* * * * *

Commandant Edgar Bryce was an uncompromising man. Career military from the hair on his head to the soles of his feet. Alliance bred through and through. The crisp creases of his special forces uniform lent a deadly air to his red strap-on armour. Chest plate firmly fastened he was strapping on arm and leg guards as he surveyed the very fine body of men massed in red ranks before him. The dozens of rank and file soldiers filling the hold of the dreadnought. Two hundred soldiers primed to his command, a force more deadly than anything their pathetic enemy could throw at them. He did not care if their response was overkill just so long as Malcolm Reynolds and his crew were crushed out of existence. Then they would take that *lese* aging Firefly apart a bolt and rivet at a time until she had given up all of her secrets. The Alliance were, after all, nothing if not thorough.

"Landing in five!" Called the pilot.

The Commandant gave a crisp nod and his adjutant snapped to attention, every soldier matching that action to the thunder of two hundred booted feet. The Commandant ran his eye down the front rank, the last soldier in that line placing his red helmet over his head. A smirk of proud satisfaction settled on Bryce's face as he glimpsed the features that mirrored his own like a gorram reflection. These were his men. Groomed to obey his every thought, every command. Their responses hard wired into the brain. Individually each elite soldier was impressive, together they were invincible. It was time to take his boys into battle. The surge of adrenaline hitting him like a drug high, anticipation so acute it was like an addiction.

The heavy but short lived shudder was the only indication that they had landed. Commandant Bryce grinned behind his helmet, blood lust rising as the doors opened and he left the ship on a tide of red, mimicking the blood that would be spilled before them. Before this day ended his men would dine upon a feast fit for Kings.

* * * * *

Shepherd Book had no idea where they were going. All he knew for sure was it was not in the direction in which Serenity lay. He would have asked his hosts but he didn't speak pachyderm. As the great beasts rocked and swayed across the concrete plain, he narrowed his eyes against the glare of two suns trying to make out details. Behind him the concrete buildings that had been the elephants' shelters shimmered in a band of heat, hazy and becoming more and more indistinct as the distance travelled grew.

With nothing to do but wait to find out where they were going, Book put his hand in his pocket and took out the remains of the scorpion. Something about it tickled at his back-brain. It was not a good feeling. Fleetingly he wondered if something in the construct was still capable of being active. Eyes narrowing, he wondered if holding on to the remains had been a good idea or a mistake. What if Kaylee could not make head nor tail of its' workings? That thought led him back to recent events, his memory assailing him with images and fleeting replays of things that had happened which confused and upset him in equal measure. He had betrayed his friends that much was certain even if he had been manipulated into doing so. Sorrowfully he gazed down at the robotic construct and wondered whether those friendships would be as easy to mend as this instrument of evil.

* * * * *

"Who's coming?"

River had that far off unfocused look on her face that Simon had come to hate. The Captain got to his feet but before he could move towards her she was back, her look sharp and alert. Her body tensing, humming with expectancy and ready for action. Wash looked at Zoe, his eyes begging for an explanation, but her attention was fixed on the girl.

"River, I need to know what the good gorram is happenin'." Said the Captain in a calm low voice.

"We have to get ready. They think they have us pinned, trapped. Helpless."

"Helpless?" Kaylee wondered, not quite hiding the slight tremor in her voice. She didn't like the sound of that. Simon hugged her a little tighter, the comfort craved and accepted.

"As the day we came cryin'." River confirmed, mimicking the Captain's accent.

Jayne Cobb still had Vera and made a quick check of his weapons and ammo.

"If we kill the leader chaos will ensue." She explained.

"River, not understandin' your meanin'. *dong ma*?"

The girl looked the Captain in the eye as if that alone would fill his head with the entirety of her meaning. With a tiny sigh she filled in the blanks with words as if the speaking of each one were an unnecessary draining of energy. "What happens when you cut off a chicken's head, Captain? It runs around in panic, nerve endings shot to *diyu*, impulses powering muscles and nerve activity. Doesn't mean what you think."

"Huh," Grumbled Jayne, his voice heavy with sarcasm. "That just makes everythin' a heap clearer."

"River, do you know who is coming?" Simon asked.

"*Qu*, one mind, one mission, but many voices." She paused then became serious again. "They know about the trap doors."

"*Ji miao*!. Let's *gen houzi bi diou shi*. That should go down as well as most of our plans!"

The Captain shot Wash a look of barely restrained irritation. "You ain't helpin' none, Wash."

"*Bao bei*," Zoe's voice began to calm the pilot as much as her hand on his shoulder. "We'll get out of this. Cap'n has a plan."

Wash stared from his wife to his crazy Captain, not sure that those magical words didn't make him feel worse. He was remembering some of the Captain's more spectacular failures, not that they had been his fault. It was just that the Captain's luck tended to come from the same pile of *goushi* that seemed to pursue them wherever they went in the 'verse. Just once he would like something to go smooth. Without the near dying and being in Alliance custody part.

"Have to go back inside." River announced calmly, her voice matter of fact.

The Captain had closed the few feet between himself and his youngest most gifted crew member. His voice took on the cadence and tone he always used for River when she was extra crazy or needed soothing and steering away from self destructing or turning her deadly and not so amusing charms on them. "Darlin', you know if we go back in the gorram twisted fishbowl we'll be trapped. Not no way out but this one."

She shook her head. Why couldn't he understand? She had done the math. "We can't out run them, no place to hide when the schematics are fed straight into their brains."

Everyone exchanged uncomfortable glances, even more puzzled now.

"We have one chance to sieze the iniative."

Jayne shook his head and growled, "I'd rather sieze..." "*Bizui*, Jayne, I order you not to finish that sentence!" Mal turned his attention back to River, her smile all manner of disconcerting and creepifying. What the good gorram she found to be amused at he didn't know and wasn't sure he wanted to find out. "You got a plan, little one, best spit it out."

With a nod River raised her hand and the butterly fluttered off. Frowning, the Captain watched the orange and brown wings propel the insect towards the domed room. To his amazement as the tiny creature fluttered against the smooth wall it soundlessly opened. Without waiting to see if the others would follow River darted into the room. Simon got up quickly and helped Kaylee to her feet. In silence everyone entered the room, Jayne throwing back a sour unhappy look as the door closed like the door to a tomb sealing them in.

River looked from one face to the other, taking in their worried and anxious expressions. Knowing this next part would be hard for them all. "You can't help."

"What d'ya mean, River?" Kaylee said, her mind confused.

River didn't answer her friend but looked directly at Simon. His stomach fluttered with an unsettling sense of doom. He knew that look. "*Mei mei*?"

"I have to do this, Simon. There's no other way, that was why we were brought here."

Not comprehending the Captain eased between the two siblings, his voice pitched with a hint of urgency. "What d'you mean no other way? Talk to me, River."

The girl waved a hand at the mess that was all that was left of the last occupant of the transparent cradle that had housed the dying brain within the dome. "My turn now."

Horror reflected on all their faces.

"No!" Simon screamed, his body moving forward on automatic as he pushed the Captain out of the way. His hands reaching to grab for his sister before it was too late.

The Captain stepped around him and wrapped his arms around River, her trembling body all the confirmation he needed that the girl - gifted as she was - was not ready to play scrambled brains for keeps. "Woah there, little one. We can fight 'em off. Don't gotta go sacrificin' yourself for us, *dong ma*?" He pulled his face back far enough to catch her doom laded look, forcing a smile on his tight lips and willing her to relax. "Don't you know crazy suicidal sacrifices are what your Cap'n's for? It's written in the contract."

"You don't have a contract."

"Well, then, my captain-y duties. Either way, it's my say not yours."

Simon swallowed, relieved that the Captain seemed to have calmed River for now but anxious that it wouldn't last. They had to get out of here. Take his sister out of the reach of temptation no matter how well intentioned. He simply could not lose her now. The doctor turned slowly, his eyes frantically seeking another way out. Wash knew the walls would not open for them so while Simon and Zoe checked the walls he looked up. That was when they all felt it. The deep steady thrum of something pounding distantly above their heads. Everyone looked up, Zoe gravitatiing back to Wash's side, gun in hand. Jayne pointed Vera at the ceiling. "What in *diyu* was that?"

"Feet. Boots. Sea of red descending."

"Huh, well they're gonna descend into an arc of fire they come through the ruttin' ceilin'. Be the shortest attack they ever made."

River shook her head. "Don't need to, they know the codes."

Something tickled in Simon's back-brain. "Codes? What codes?"

"Everything has a code, Simon. Mechanical, chemical, biological. Every response has a precursor, some element that prompts action even if that action is only the thought to act."

"Yeah," Sneered Jayne. "That made absolutely - no - sense."

Before anyone could respond the sealed wall opened a crack allowing a cloud of colour to flutter inside. River's face bloomed into a radiant smile, the butterflies flitting and courtesying on the wing before dancing around her head. River laughed, a bright happy sound that seemed incongruous in their present dire circumstances. "Sense," River paused and looked at Jayne, dipping her head but keeping eye contact with the mercenary as she said the next few words, "or no sense, there is another way after all."

Wash was watching the little colourful display, well aware of his wife and the Captain's tight lipped expressions. He hated to be the one to bring River's up moment to an end. "We can't exactly flutter away on butterfly wings, not that I would be complainin' if we could."

"Don't have to. Cavalry's comin'."

For a moment no one spoke, each trying to wrap their minds around what their little psychic was telling them. It was the Captain who put their confusion into words. "We have an army now?"

The crazy girl's smile was more than unsettling. It was beautific. "*Do not despise the snake for having no horns for who is to say that in time it will not become a dragon? In the same way may one just man become an army*."

They stared at her. Mal recognised the quote from the Outlaws of the Marsh. Cheng had quoted it to him many times as a gangling youth growing up on his mama's ranch but what did she mean? Jayne had his own quite literal interpretation. "Ya sayin' Zoe's gorram snake is gonna rescue us?"

The bright laughter that spilled from River Tam's mouth didn't exactly reassure anyone but it brought a smile to Kaylee's lips as she snagged Simon's hand, relieved to feel him relax into her touch even as his body remained alert. River shook her head, her merry laughter tinkling like silver bells as the butterflies were gently dislodged, all but a couple of them fluttering back to the wall they had come in through. The crew watched as the wall parted a crack and they disappeared, the wall sealing shut behind them. Jayne frowned, annoyed. "We could'a got out that way."

River shook her head. "Not thin enough."

"River," Said Simon slowly. "What are you playing at?"

"Not playing. Every general needs intelligence."

It took a masterful effort for Simon to keep from glancing meaningfully at his Captain. Jayne was restless, bored with River's enigmatic comments. He wanted to kill someone, tear the enemy to gorram pieces with his bare hands, only they were all kinds of illusive and he already knew they would be hard to kill.

"So," Said Wash, trying to hide how unsettled he felt. "What do we do until the big rescue?"

"Wait for the spies to return."

Zoe's eyes widened. She looked at Mal, both of them sharing the same chilling thought. "Spies?"

* * * * *

It was almost as empty a place as Shepherd Book had ever seen. Not enough soil beneath the pachyderm's feet to be able to cup in the palm of his hand. As the matriach lowered him to the ground, the heels of his boots caused the ground beneath him to echo on contact. Like striking a drum. Hmmm. He straightened just to stretch the kinks out of his body then knelt and began to brush the thin fine layer of soil away to reveal a metal hatch. The fine soil clung to the pores of his skin like dust, stuck to his sweat. Book sat back on his heels and looked up at the elephant, the other pachyderms leaving a space around them.

"You want to tell me why I'm here?"

The elephant swung her great head, rolling her trunk up her forehead. Wise bright black eyes pinned his with intent, her head nodding towards the hatch as if that explained everything.

Book would have loved to have the time to explore this further but it seemed the matriach wanted him to go down into the bowels of the proto-moon. Why, he could not fathom. He judged he must be way across the other side of the moon by now though distance was confusing with the curve of the man made structure and the heat haze making the edge of his vision indistinct not to mention that he was not yet fully recovered from his earlier ordeal. It was all very confusing. "Very well, I hope you know what you're doin'."

The elephants were silent. With a grunt Book eased the heavy hatch up, it did not move smoothly like the first one and that gave him hope that it was little used and his entrance might go undetected. It was not until he peered down into it that he got his first shock. There was no ladder. Before he could consider what to do about that, a trunk reached down and picked him up. Book had a fleeting moment of presentiment but before he could tell the elephant not to he was swung over the opening and lowered down. Then the Shepherd felt his heart quail as the trunk unwound leaving him in freefall. Of all the ways he could possibly imagine his life ending, he could honestly say that this was not one of them.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *hundan* = bastard *diyu* = hell *dong ma* = understand? *zhenjing xialai* = calm down *bao bei* = precious/treasure *lese* = crappy *qu* = yes (lit. go) *ji miao* = wonderful *goushi* = crap/dog shit *gen houzi bi diou shi* = engage in a faeces hurling contest with a monkey *bizui* = shut up/be quiet *mei mei* = little sister


Friday, November 17, 2006 8:53 PM


Wow...that was just nuts! And I mean nuts...cuz Crazy!River was on fine form in this part of the story, and I surprised that Jayne was the only one getting completely peeved at their situation and River's cryptic comments. Guess this is part of the issue with River in large doses: her unstable/cryptic periods make for a harder time when trying to enjoy a story because of all the information she's giving out in less than coherent ways:()

Still...can't wait for the next chapter, if only to see how the BDHs start prepping for their defence against hundreds of SpecOps troopers;)


Saturday, November 18, 2006 11:57 AM


BEB, I just want to thank you for consistently posting feedback to this story. It encourages me to keep writing and is appreciated. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, November 20, 2006 4:22 AM


This story is really great and crazy fun. I can't wait to see what happens next.


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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.