THE PURSUIT SERIES: 17. "Symmetry".
Thursday, December 7, 2006

"Small and seemingly random are the mysteries of the universe, the large showy spectacular events are merely seamless conglomerations of these little specks of brilliance. Radiant energy illuminating the heart of Man."



SUMMARY: "Small and seemingly random are the mysteries of the universe, the large showy spectacular events are merely seamless conglomerations of these little specks of brilliance. Radiant energy illuminating the heart of Man." 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

* * * * *

Special Envoy Stephen Clarkson was not at ease though he hid it well. Meetings came and went, government policy and trade issues going back and forth around him like some irritating buzz on the periphery of his consciousness yet part of his distracted mind paid attention. Shoving the boring minutae to the back of his fertile mind while worrying about the past made flesh. It irked him that he could not be more proactive, that he couldn't simply walk away from these mean spirited simpletons who ruled entire worlds with all the finesse of a sledgehammer and make sure that Inara Serra was alright. He trusted Sir Warwick Harrow but the 'verse was a fickle mistress and no one one born of human flesh and spirit had ever tamed her to their will. Least of all an aging government official who had more skeletons in his closet than most graveyards. Should not be such a shock to him that every now and then they would rattle and rise up in his mind like ghostly apparitions demanding their due. Compensation wrought in flesh and blood and an agony of twisted conscience. Food for the soul had nothing on righteous indignation.

At last the meeting closed, PDAs and slimline monitors snapped shut. No paper shuffling just the odd DNA activated flimsy scrolling through captures of those still evading Alliance attempts to bring them into custody. He did not even blink at the images of River and Simon Tam. Others less known to him hardly registering. Just relieved that the Companion was not one of the ones under the microscope requiring the attention of Parliament. In that moment he felt old. Used up. A relic of Earth-That-Was playing his part in a future he wished he had no part in but could not avoid. His position would not allow him to accept culpability any more than his DNA could alter on a whim. No. The past had come back to haunt him but this time he was not powerless. It just felt like it.

* * * * *

The tiny specks were growing larger, like rocks in a debris field. Closer, still indistinct and hard for the eye to distinguish but to the state of the art Alliance sensors each dot appearing on the screen became a ship and each ship a threat. The officer tried to hide his alarm. Having had no word from Commandant Bryant he assumed the clear up had simply hit a snag, some pathetic delay that would be resolved and ended with the kind of efficiency he had come to take for granted from their glorious elite dogs of war. Now his equilibrium, his assumption of superiority and rightful mastery was faltering. Not much, but the hairline crack was always the one that did the most damage. Creeping and spreading without detection until everything was lost.

Lt Travis Cole tried to raise his Commandant, a discreet message that would carry no further than one set of ears. Silence echoed back like an empty room unsettling him even more. He was seeking instruction but what he really wanted was reassurance. Having no order to the contrary he held position and readied the ship to face this oddest of threats. The size of the individual vessels was laughable, hardly more than one or two man ships. But it was the number that dwarfed his senses, made some instinct apprehend a deeper threat. So laser cannon and rail guns homed in on their diminutive targets. A small grim little smile of spite settled on Lt Cole's face. All concern dissipated now his decision was made.

"When you have locked on your targets fire at will!"

A volley of "yes sirs" greeted the eagerly anticipated orders. Bored young men finally getting to do something other than wait. Bursts of mechanised death spread a blanket of doom across the Black, mowing down the flotilla of tiny ships reduced to dust and vapor. Yet still they advanced, more coming behind as the frontrunners were destroyed. Small fragments of metal spinning from the force of impact to overcome inertia. By the time half of them had been destroyed the area had become cloudy with broken remains. Lt Cole did not think of them as people or human only as casualties of their own stupidity. As the slow thick cloud of broken vessels began to clear a thought suddenly struck his crowing elated mind, bringing an uneasy feeling to the fore that he had sensed at the outset but pushed to the back of his mind. By their energy signatures these were short range craft, shuttle sized, which meant somewhere out there the ships that had sent them were coming.

Lt Cole gripped the bridge rail, knuckles turning white though no emotion showed upon his face. The cloud of pulverised pieces had almost reached the Alliance vessel. Instinct told him he should move back but pride would not let him retreat in the face of his victory even though he worried about what might be following. He was Alliance and proud of it. No pile of moronic suicide pilots were going to steal that from him. He ordered his men to be ready to fire again, his shock almost outrunning his cognisance as the last few intact shuttles flared in the distance. The lieutenant blinked. Watched in mute horrified fascination as the plume of ignition lit the sea of remains like napalm, the flash burn of it rushing towards them and engulfing the Alliance vessel. Afterwards he could not have described what happened only that the ship seemed to arc and crackle as every metal surface became a conduit for raw power, electricity sizzling along connections and shorting out the sophisticated technology of which the Alliance was so proud. One of his men put a hand on the edge of a console then screamed as he was electrocuted, the skin of his palm seared and smoking like a second skin to the one of steel.

A nightmare. That was what it was. Surreal and terrifying. Numbly Lt Cole was aware distantly of screams, cries and calls for help. His eyes widened further, both hands stuck to the rail as his skin melted. The pain so intense he did not feel it through the shock. His eyes fixed on something else, something now visible as the cloud dissipated in the brief flash of heat and flame extinguished by the vacuum of space almost in the instant it had reached the ship. Ah, how small the fraction of time between life and death, victory and defeat, calm and mayhem. The vessels were rough, patched and held together more by stubborn necessity than skill. Lt Cole wanted to laugh but the burn of tears was hot on his unfeeling cheeks, his eyes not believing the evidence emerging and drawing closer. He could not believe he had been outwitted by this rabble. A sudden mad, crazy thought struck him and he laughed. Heads turned, glazed eyes stared, but he ignored them. So, this rabble had come to finish them off had they? Lt Cole finally turned his head and gave an order. The only one that mattered now. Gritting his teeth he said, "Wait until every ship is in range then hit the self destruct button!" Looks of disbelief stared back at him but Cole did not notice. Nothing else mattered but this: if he was going to die he was going to take his enemy with him.

* * * * *

The look on Senator Lang's face was one Inara would long savour. That superior smile freezing then turning from annoyance to stunned shock as he watched the monitor, hardly able to believe his eyes.

"*Shenme shi*, Senator?"

The Senator barely acknowledged the Companion's question. Alarmed he remote accessed every camera he could before coming back to the sight that was all manner of disturbing to him. Inara just managed to keep the gloating out of her voice, schooling her features carefully while inwardly cheering.

"Surely you were expecting this?"

"*Wo bu dong*, this should not be happening." For a moment the Senator blinked stupidly at the mayhem and chaos he was witnessing like some bad horror movie. Slowly he turned his head and stared at Inara, eyes narrowing. "What did you do?"

Now it was Inara's turn to be surprised. Shocked even. "How can you even think to blame me? This was your plan, *jide*?"

Senator Lang eyed Inara suspiciously for a moment then looked uncertain. This was the first time Inara had seen any flicker of doubt on his face. "You don't look surprised, my dear, and given the circumstances..." He let the unspoken accusation hang like a noose between them. Inara, however, had no intention of sticking her neck in it.

"I am as confused as you are Senator and also worried for my friends."

That penetrated. Senator Lang could see the truth of that statement revealed in the Companion's eyes and demeanour. It was enough to shake him out of the mood he was in. "*Duibuqi*, of course you had nothing to do with this." He muttered. "It is just that this has never happened before."

"What do you mean?"

"This facility has been in existence for many years. You must understand that first the proto-moon must be formed, the surface seeded with the ability to support life. That means soil, micro organisms, flora as well as fauna. A water supply, climate control. A great many things are needed to establish even the most basic of ecologies."

A thought occurred to the Companion as she averted her gaze from the sight of animals gone feral, ripping and taking chunks out of dozens of red elite Alliance troops. She felt sick but forced herself to ignore the screen. "Why are the animals attacking?" Inara did not ask the one question that made her heart quail, did not ask if those same creatures would now turn on her friends. The thought of sweet Kaylee or little River being rended limb from limb was too awful to contemplate. Not to mention the rest of her friends including a certain annoying and frustrating Captain who occupied far too many of her thoughts for comfort. A man who seemed to attract and repel her in equal measure.

The Senator stared at the screen in bewilderment. "*Wo bu zhidao*."

Inara frowned. "But you can stop this, *dui*?"

He turned to stare at her. "I am an observer, Miss Serra."

"*Shenme*? How can you say that? You brought me here to witness this spectacle."

"*Bu qu*." Senator Lang shook his head, a little of his composure returning though his face was as pale as parchment. "I brought you here to see your friends die."

She could not speak. Heart contracting at the casual cruelty of the remark. Inara used every bit of control she had to hide how much she was quaking inside. "They still might. You can stop that, you have to!"

For the first time since seeing the animals over run the facility and start attacking the Alliance troops, Senator Lang smiled. Inara's faltering composure propping up his own. "Why would I do that, my dear?" His look clearly added 'when I have everything I want'.

* * * * *

The Dreadnought's troop transporter was parked a hundred and fifty yards from Serenity yet the pilot and Sergeant on board made no attempt to check out the Firefly. They were drones, orders were given and they obeyed. Deviation was a suicide pact to be avoided at all cost. Being used to waiting the pilot checked his instrument panel while the Sergeant stared off into space then periodically opened the door and took a look outside. From his bored expression it was obvious he was not expecting to see anything. Inside the transport the air was stuffy. Sergeant Hatton puffed out his cheeks and left the door open, the much needed fresh air would help to dispell the stale odour of unwashed bodies crowded in too small a space. Turning his back on the open doorway the Sergeant stepped back inside and went to see if Arty Morris the pilot had anything to report.

Seconds ticked by slowly as the Sergeant's shadow preceded him. Only when the echo of his boots faded did something stir much closer to the ground. A blur of slithering bodies went from heat into shade, sliding silently into the dark corners of the transporter and out of sight. Sergeant Hatton peered over his pilot's shoulder, boredom eroding manners. "Any word?"

The pilot shook his head, flicked a few more switches and frowned. "*Bu qu*, not so much as a murmur, sir." The man's frown deepened. "Isn't natural."

Sgt Hatton chuckled. "What is natural about the life we live? We're not paid to solve the mysteries of the 'verse just tote it around an' keep our mouths shut, *dong ma*?"

Arty nodded. Just then the com came on only it wasn't Commandant Bryant or the ground troops, it was a voice stretched near to breaking point by panic and disbelief. Sgt Hatton reached out and flicked the switch to talk. "This is Sgt Hatton on the troop transporter, say again?"

There was quite a bit of crackling on the line now and much as Arty fiddled with various switches he could not get a visual on the screen. He shook his head at the Sergeant and mouthed 'audio only'. Sgt Hatton nodded.

"Please say again, I repeat. This is Sgt Hatton, your last transmission was broken."

For several seconds there was nothing but dead air then a quick breathless voice spoke, the tumble of words falling over each other in the rush to get their message across. "We're under attack, I repeat, under attack!"

Sgt Hatton looked dumbfounded but though he stared upwards the cloud cover made it hard to see more than the outline of the ship let alone any attackers. He also was unnerved that there was no sound of any battle. What in the nine hells was going on? "Sir, do you want the troops recalled?"

The disembodied voice over the com sounded close to breaking. "Yes but hurry, they're mad."

The pilot shrugged in confusion. "What the *diyu* do they mean by that? Mad as in crazy or real angry?"

"Don't know but for now that doesn't matter, you heard the man. Recall the ground troops."

Arty sent the signal burst that would activate the recall in every soldier's helmet. Silence echoed eerily back at them. Not one man checked in. Sgt Hatton had a bad feeling, his throat suddenly dry, heartbeat stuttering in his chest. It was stupid, what could possibly threaten them out here? Then he caught Arty's eyes as they widened on the border of terror. "You think it's Reavers?"

"They aren't real!" Sgt Hatton snapped. "Try to raise them again, maybe somethin' is interferring with the signal." They tried half a dozen times before the Sergeant realised they were getting nowhere. Reluctantly he opened a channel to the Dreadnought. Not a sound came back. No recognition. No explanation of what the good gorram was happening. Just as the two men were about to decide whether or not to wait for the ground troops or take off without them a horrified voice echoed over the com channel. "*Wode ma*, they're gonna ram us!"

Arty yelled back, "*Shei*? Who's gonna ram you?"

A string of colourful curses, sounds of weapons firing and shouts filled their ears then everything went quiet. The two men looked at each other. Before either could speak a loud concatanation cracked in their eardrums like an over enthusiastic firework display. Gasping, Arty stared upwards. Sgt Hatton leaned forward and looked up in time to see their great and glorious ship explode into millions of spinning fragments. "What the...?"

"What hit 'em, Sir?"

Sgt Hatton was craning his neck every which way, his face as pale as a ghost. "Damned if I know."

The pilot drew his eyes away from the painful sight and looked at the Sergeant. "What do we do now, sir?"

For endless seconds no one spoke, Sgt Hatton trying again and again to raise the ground troops - anybody - to no avail. Feeling sick he closed the hatch and sealed it tight. "Lift off."

"Where we goin'?"

The Sergeant rubbed a weary hand over his two day stubble. "It doesn't matter, just get us clear enough to send a tight beam wave."

"What do we tell 'em, sir?"

The lift off was smooth, text book. It seemed an odd counterpoint to the loss of the Dreadnought. "The truth."

A troubled look crossed the pilot's face and he could not help casting a look back towards the ground as they lifted off. "What about the others?"

"There are no others."

Arty blinked and stared at the Sergeant. "Sir?"

"If there were they'd be here."

Not sure what to say the pilot said nothing until they rose through the cloud layer and were buffeted by debris of all shapes and sizes. The pieces had but one thing in common. All were parts of the pride of the Alliance fleet. The silence was only broken by the vitriolic diatribe spilling from Arty Morris's lips and cursing those responsible to every one of the nine hells.

* * * * *

Simon Tam stared, the level of carnage an unbelievable sight even to his trauma surgeon's eyes. Kaylee was hugging the Captain, her face buried in his shirt, Simon rubbing her back in an attempt to reassure her. Even Jayne seemed a little stunned but it passed quickly, his look of consternation turning to a quick almost feral grin. "Any one ya walk away from!"

The Captain didn't speak, just nodded. River stood immobile as if listening or waiting for something. Wash assumed she was just as stunned as the rest of them, his hand reaching for Zoe and clasping firmly to his touchstone. Relieved more than words could say that they were all still standing. The worse for wear but alive. That was miracle enough for him.


Mal looked towards his first mate, gently turning Kaylee into the fold of Simon's waiting arms. "Yeah?"

"We goin' out this way?"

He sensed her distaste at the thought of extracting themselves from the carnage, of wading through blood and body parts, the metal floor slippery with Alliance blood. The animals who had fought so ferociously now absent leaving nothing but the bloody aftermath behind them. Mal and Zoe had fought in the War, seen death and destruction a-plenty but this wasn't it. This was a bloodbath, an execution by any other name. It kind of stuck in the craw like a bad taste, a bone caught in the throat, made the taking of a breath seem unclean even though the purplebellies had it coming to them. It was a terrifying way to die. The Captain shook his head though he had no idea of where the next exit was. Without turning her head or looking at anyone, River pointed behind her. "That way."

No one questioned the little genius and no one lingered. Subdued, Serenity's crew followed the young psychic, the silence allowing each of them to work through the horror they had witnessed. Wash wanted to be sick but he didn't want to let go of Zoe so manfully held it back. Covering his wife in vomit would not be the thing to do. He could hear the muffled sobs, knew Kaylee was crying. Simon now holding her and trying to soothe her with quiet words that he was sure never penetrated. They did not go far. Two maybe three hundred yards of curving winding corridor. It took a few moments before they realised something else. All of the hidden doors in the corridors were open now as if some master switching device had been pulled. River picked her way unerringly to one particular doorway then nodded to the Captain and dipped through into a short corridor ending in a ladder. The Captain put a light hand on her shoulder, could feel the girl trembling beneath his fingers and gave her shoulder a squeeze. "You did good, River." He said softly. The praise for her ears alone.

River just hung her head and said nothing, her hair forming a ragged curtain which shielded her from curious eyes. The Captain didn't pry, just stepped up onto the first rung and hauled his weary body up the ladder. The others followed, their silence eerie. Once out, Mal reached down to help the others then stood and looked around. Serenity stood where he had left her, a sight so beautiful to his eyes that it made him want to cry out in relief. But he didn't. He did not move or speak until Jayne came and stood by his left shoulder, so close he could smell his sweat. "We gonna go get Book?" The Captain turned his head to answer and froze, mouth parting slightly as if he wanted to speak but couldn't find the words. Alarmed by his reaction Jayne spun and dipped his body low to make a smaller target, Vera ready to blast to *diyu* whatever new threat had snuck up behind them. A dark throaty chuckle made his heart ache.

"Now Jayne, is that any way to greet a friend?"

Jayne was dumbstruck, unable to form a single word. Kaylee lifed her head and looked over Simon's shoulder. Amazement gradually giving some warmth back to her heart at the sight before her eyes. A smile of joy began to blaze its' way through the tears in her eyes as she stared up at the Shepherd sitting smug and all happy-like on his new perch. "Is that....?"

It was Zoe who answered for her, amusment tinging her sombre voice. A voice coloured with satisfaction. A voice that seemed to dare anyone to mock her for the indulgence. "Yes, Kaylee, it's an elephant."

Jayne shook his head as he finally found his voice, excitement oozing out of him faster than body fluids from a belly wound. "*Wei*, that ain't no elephant. That's Sara!"

* * * * *

The ragged cheer was as enthusiastic as it was heartfelt. Hiro Tanaka could not remember the last time he had enjoyed himself this much. It even helped to lessen the bitter aftertaste of losing the war. They kept their com chatter to a minumum, not trusting that the Alliance Dreadnought was the only vessel of note in the area. The odd assortment of transport ships, scavengers and short haulers retreated to the backside of Savanna to regroup. Renshaw did not want to land but the need to keep the airwaves clear made it a moot point. Once dirtside backs were slapped, congratulations and animated debates flowed back and forth until a big bluff man cleared his throat and blew out his whiskers to remind them all that the job was far from over. Charlie nudged his friend JJ, hardly able to wipe the smirk of satisfaction off his face. When the Walrus spoke folk had a tendancy to listen. If they didn't he wasn't above knocking their heads together.

"Okay people we got that gorram Alliance bug swatted now it's time to get to the Companion an' whoever is stuck on this gorram hell-pit."

Tanaka raised a hand. "I don't mind rescuin' the little lady."

That raised a ribald laugh. Everyone knew Tanaka fancied himself with the ladies. The big man nodded and hooked his hands in his belt, not too bothered who did the duty just so long as it got done. "Take Charlie an' JJ seein' as how it was their wave that started this whole crazy business." He turned to nod to an older battle scarred man called Herb Waters, though everyone knew him by his nickname Pie Crust. "Pie, I want ya to go with 'em, your ship got an external gun port. Don't want no surprises, *dong ma*?"

Pie Crust grinned then spat a plug of tobacco out of the side of his face. The burnt folds of skin almost crackled when he smiled. "What're you gonna do?"

He got a serious look back, not a hint of laughter now on the big man's face. "I'm gonna go retrieve whatever folks got their sorry asses trapped this far up the sphincter of hell."

* * * * *

Jayne was annoyed, the Captain huffing in frustration as he ran a slightly shaky hand through his hair. His wound was paining him, probably had a slight infection or somesuch. Arguing with his mercenary did not help. "For the last time Jayne we are not puttin' a gorram elephant on my boat!"

"But we can't leave her behind, Cap!"

The others watched with varying degrees of amusement. Jayne looked torn between the urge to cry and the need to pummel the Captain into a greasy red smear. The look on Zoe's face said that if he tried it he would be the smear. Mal cleared his throat, needed to be calm no matter how crazy things were getting. "Jayne, this is her home. 'Sides we ain't got feed for an animal the size of a barn."

"Yeah but Mal, she saved my life!"

The Captain blinked. Kaylee's mouth dropped open in a perfect circle, her eyes wide and impressed. When she looked at the Captain her eyes glowed. "Cap'n?"

Mal shook his head. His crew could holler and shout at him until the Devil died of old age and he would not give in. This was not happening. Not on his boat. "Don't."

The look on the mercenary's face was as close to pleading as the Captain had ever seen. It was as he stared at him that he noticed Jayne was bleeding.

"Best let Simon see what he can do, Jayne. Don't want you leakin' blood all over the gorram place."

Simon took that as his cue and gave Kaylee a quick kiss before walking towards the big man. Jayne ignored the doctor's efforts to check his injury, stepping back when raising his hands did not deter the doc. "*Wei*, don't want ya patchin' me up just so ya can throw me outta the airlock."

The stern mask slipped as dark humour tugged at the corners of the Captain's mouth. "We're not on Serenity. 'Sides, boat ain't flyin'. Have to fix it first."

Jayne twisted round until he was looking at the Firefly, eyes big and round. Ship looked in one gorram piece to him. "It ain't?"

"We crashed."

Wash had been content to enjoy the impromptu entertainment but no way could he let the Captain get away with that comment. "We didn't crash! We were shot down Mal, remember? The ship firin' on us an' the fallin'?"

The Captain raised his hands in seeming defeat. All he wanted was to get on his boat, have Kaylee do her talented magic and get back in the Black. Keep flying. "Fine. We were shot down, *then* we crashed."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*wei* = hey! *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *jide* = remember *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *duibuqi* = sorry *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *dui* = correct *shenme* = what *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *diyu* = hell *dong ma* = understand? *wode ma* = mother of God *shei* = who


Friday, December 22, 2006 9:16 PM


Okay, I've spent all evening reading this story--had to spend time searching for it too--and I conjure I've read almost all of it now, but did I somehow miss chapter 17 somewhere? It just jumped from 16 to 18!

Saturday, December 23, 2006 12:53 AM


Avalonsmummy, I can't believe I did that! No, you have not missed a chapter, I have just jumped a number. Thank you for pointing it out, I will go and do an edit to correct this. Also many thanks for the feedback to you and epm0001. It is appreciated. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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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.