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AMDOBELL

HEAVEN AND HELL: 41. "Deadly Game"
Sunday, July 11, 2004

"The tables turn yet again on the Captain when he is surprised by an unwelcome guest. Jayne discovers first hand exactly what the Alliance intelligence corps is up to."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2427    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

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

SUMMARY: "The tables turn yet again on the Captain when he is surprised by an unwelcome guest. Jayne discovers first hand exactly what the Alliance intelligence corps is up to." 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.

"DEADLY GAME"

A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

The mercenary could not quite wrap his head around the numbers. The Captain had told them something of what had gone down on Shadow and then the disastrous battle that followed when the Alliance closed the net. Hitting most of them as they were trying to take off then picking off those that had managed to do so and were trying to scatter before the choke-hold prevented even the illusion of escape. So how come so gorram many of them were on Hera? The way Pepper had pitched it to him he expected stragglers, a remnant, the ragged odds and sods of survivors making it by a wing and a prayer to the hell-hole of the bloodiest battle of the war-that-was. He blinked. Lost count at eight hundred. *Wode tianna*, more seemed to be massing behind those that filled his sight. What the good gorram was going on?

Pepper Rawlings enjoyed the stunned look on the mercenary's face. Puffed up with pride he had one more surprise for the big man. Should be enough to solidify his commitment to the cause. If not, well, a man could always use more meat in his protein bar. "I'd like ya to meet our quartermaster, Jayne."

The big man turned to give him a quizzical look. Quartermaster? Pepper jerked his head to his right and Jayne obediently looked in that direction. Wondering what in the nine hells was coming next. What he saw trapped the air in his lungs in an almost painful fashion. Men moving aside like the Preacher's account of the parting of the Red Sea as one man made his unhurried way through the crowd towards them. Part of him was not surprised to find himself looking into the smug disingenuous face of Tracey's older brother. Plastering a not-so-bright smile on his face Jayne easily slipped into character.

Something that had puzzled him before now made sense. Max with that big fancy warehouse in the middle of No and Where. Turned his stomach to think how he had fooled both Mal and Zoe. Then he thought of Tracey. The man's no-good brother who had fought in the war alongside the Captain and Zoe both, though looking back seemed they'd spent more time covering his ass and carrying him than he had fighting. Figured. Tracey had played them both using that whole 'death message' thing to set them up into taking him where he wanted to go. Using their loyalty and common past to blindside them to his real purpose, the stolen organs being smuggled passed his creditors right under the noses of the bloodhounds that had been dogging his trail. In Jayne's eyes the man was the worst kind of thief for using his friends with such callous disregard. Now here was his brother doing the same thing but on a grander scale and with much less risk. Instead of smuggling organs he was literally stealing from the dead. Of *both* sides. On her blackest day he could imagine Zoe saying it had a kind'a poetry to it but Jayne wasn't feeling very poetical right now.

* * * * *

Simon was concerned about River. Though she did not complain or mention pain of any kind he had found the tell tale blood on her bedding. Sought her out when she went into hiding to avoid his prying and his questions. Kaylee wanted to go with him, anxious for her friend, but Simon convinced her to wait. It was Yen Mah who told him where she was hiding, no clue on her round moon face as to what the girl was thinking. Not that Simon had time to ponder anything but the need to get to River.

The crawlspace was so small he was sure she would never have been able to cram into it if she had not been double jointed. He removed the grill with care and found himself looking into her ghostly white tear stained face. It broke his heart to see her like this. So afraid. So vulnerable. "River, it's okay *mei mei*, I'm here. I'm here."

She shook her head slowly, only half seeing him. "I won't let them take her."

"Ssshh, no one's taking anyone, *mei mei*."

Her eyes widened, fastened on his as if by will alone she could make him understand. "He knows."

"*Shei*? Who knows?"

He could reach her now but the way she was crammed in he could not extract her without her willing participation and for the moment River was not going anywhere. He would have to coax her out. Gently he dried the tears on her face with his sensitive hands, his body freezing with shock when she answered him. "About the baby."

A sharp jagged pain pierced his heart with fear. "Baby?"

River placed her open palms over her stomach. She looked three possibly four months pregnant though he could not be sure without doing a full exam. The blood loss said differently, more like six months.

"Seven months, four days and thirteen hours."

He blinked. "*Shenme*?"

"You don't know how far I am well it's seven months, four days and thirteen hours."

"*Mei mei*, how, why -" He broke off and tried again. "You're hardly showing at all." He accused.

"Undersized, the baby will be premature but only if we hurry."

He was all kinds of worried now. Heroically battling against a swift tide of panic. With an effort he forced himself to be calm, to concentrate on one detail at a time. He was no good to her if he fell apart now. "*Wo bu dong*. There's no reason why the baby should come early, River, not if we're careful."

The inference was clear. She should stop hiding. Come out, let him care for her, trust him. And she did but he was not the one she was afraid of. River Tam gazed on her much loved brother with something approaching frustration. As she looked at him, saw his worry and love for her, that frustration mutated into a kind of sorrowful acceptance. "You can't help me, Simon."

The quietly spoken words surprised tears. He bit his lip and tried not to give in to a feeling of dispair. His or hers he could not tell. "Shhhh, River, you mustn't say that. It'll be alright, you'll see."

She blinked, her voice growing softer and fainter and somehow more painful to his attuned ear. "Hurry Simon. Not much time."

* * * * *

"I'm not sure I'm understandin' you, Preacher. You say *you* did this to River?"

They now had the drifting hulk of the Dauntless on their sensors. A few more minutes and it would be in visual range. "Yes, Captain. You have to understand my studies were in the theoretical sciences..."

Anger flashed cold and hard in the Captain's eyes. Apart from anything else it helped to focus his attention away from the growing pain in his leg. The doc's painkillers were wearing off but he didn't want to take any more unless he had to. At least the pain kept him alert, awake. If he didn't go to sleep he couldn't fall prey to nightmares. The kind the Shepherd was making all too real for him right at this minute. "Theoretical? You call cuttin' into River's brain THEORETICAL?"

The Captain was shouting at him, pain and anger twin engines of destruction burning in eyes filled with the devastation of the Shepherd's revelation. "*Bu qu*, Captain, but I didn't cut into her brain."

"You did enough as made no never mind. You showed them HOW to do it, what pieces of her brain they could tinker with, *dong ma*? You drew the ruttin' BLUEPRINT gorrammit! Road map to hell. Don't try to tell me you didn't do it. More blood on your hands than them as nailed Christ to the gorram cross."

Shepherd Book went white. Mal was so crazy mad with him that he lost the words to articulate what was feeling, to put into words what he was thinking. A wave of dizziness gave him further pause and he closed his eyes. So sad, upset and tired. The lies and deceit, the artful manipulations. The playing with innocent lives and for what? To further some sick Alliance plan. A dream of creating the 'perfect' gorram solider. Perfect spy. Perfect assassin. *Diyu*. Soon they wouldn't be needing people any more. His thoughts trailed off and his eyes snapped open to find Book kneeling next to him, an anxious look on his normally placid face. How the good gorram did he get on the floor?

"Let me help you up."

He wanted to push those hands away. Murderer's hands. The hands of a cold blooded torturer not a friend. Only they weren't blue. Weakly he could do nothing but let himself be helped back to his seat, breathing ragged, every breath he took was pained. More with the injury to his heart than with any mortal wound but the Shepherd didn't need to know that and he was not about to tell him. Book fussed over him quietly, checking his pulse and making him a mite more comfortable. It took a moment or two before the Captain realised Book had rifled his pockets and located the medication Simon had given him. He wanted to fight him off, tell him to go to every one of the nine hells and not come back. But he had no breath for the words and no energy to expel it into sentences if he had. Closing his eyes he felt gentle fingers prise his mouth open and place a disolving tab on his tongue. Funny but he would have thought the doc would have packed pain relieving patches not tabs. Maybe it was some new fangled extra quick acting medicine? Whatever, he could feel his head clearing and the pain reduce to a dull background throb. The relief made him gasp. It was almost shameful how good it felt.

"Captain? Mal? Can you hear me?"

He wanted to say no, to block the man out of his life both mentally and physically but he couldn't do it. Man had been a friend once and some ties though strained to the breaking point still held if only by a rutting thread. Had to wonder at the why of it. What was it about the *tamade hundan* that made him want to trust him? To go that extra mile on the road to Calvary? And if he did whose gorram cross would he be carrying? Somehow he did not think the answer would be any comfort to him. With the ghost of a sigh on his lips he opened his eyes. Surprised to see the concern on the Shepherd's face before he could mask it. Maybe there was some slight remnant of goodness left in the man. "I hear you." He slurred.

The Shepherd checked him over more thoroughly, competant hands knowing exactly what to do. Mal could feel himself drifting, one minute as focused and alert as anyone could be, the next all fuzzy and lost in clouds of thoughts that disolved the moment he tried to make sense of them. His mind was a foggy mist, his senses dull to the physical sensations of touch, sight, smell, taste and hearing. Book's hands hardly registered their pressure, not aware that he was not now being tended but searched. Probing hands and fingers slipping off his braces, undoing buttons and checking every inch of his body for God knew what. Whenever he almost slipped off that meandering road the Preacher would stop to tap his face and bring him back to a kind of yawing awareness that was all kinds of confusing. Friend or foe? The Captain did not know any more.

Shepherd Book moved quickly, capitalising on the Captain's condition. Switching the medication had been easy and the man had been unable to resist even had he wanted to. It took but seconds then his hands were flying, stripping the Captain down and chasing every cloth seam with fingers expert at finding the kind of secrets even the carrier was unaware of. The drug did include a powerful pain killer but it also interrupted the brain's ability to correctly interpret the information from the body's senses. Left a man in limbo. The only drawback was that it would only last a short while then the Captain would lose consciousness. Not for long, an hour at most. When he woke he would remember nothing. Book intended to use every second as if his life depended on it. In this case, not just his life but the Captain's. He had no time to explain to the man and was not feeling up to justifying what he was doing. Time enough for that later. If there was a later.

He could have just put the good Captain out and taken his time but he needed him conscious, or at least semi-conscious. If he found what he was looking for he would need to get some kind of reaction and he couldn't do that if Mal was unconscious. When he finished he looked down at the now naked man and eyed the leg brace. An elaborate and elegant construction that Simon had afixed to the damaged limb with all the care of a man performing open heart surgery. Surely not? Would he hide it there? And how could Simon be involved? The boy had more at stake than the lot of them put together. Plus his sister was deeply involved with the Captain. Or was that the point? Certainly the boy had not been best pleased when that little revelation had been revealed to him. Yet he had seemed to accept it. Even seemed a mite fond of Mal in his own reserved way. Or maybe that was just gratitude? The Captain had after all taken no small risk in allowing the two fugitives sanctuary aboard his ship. Not to mention the times he had personally intervened to save the siblings from a fate literally worse than death. No. He could not see Simon Tam turning on the Captain but that didn't mean someone else wouldn't. But who?

With some reluctance he carefully removed the brace, pleased to see that the knee was knitting together and healing well. There was heavy bruising and some new damage most likely caused by the Captain's overuse of the device meant to take some of the pressure off the wound. He turned the contraption over in his hands and carefully checked every lightweight piece of it, the spiderlike construction making a surprising agile frame which compromised nothing to its' strength. But he was disappointed again. Nothing. Staring at the Captain he noted he was beginning to rouse. Quickly he reattached the brace then began to dress him. Putting everything back on except the gunbelt. Book stared at it. Of course. The ideal hiding place. With hands that shook a little he removed the Captain's gun from its' holster and carefully extracted the bullets one by one from the chamber. Each piece of munition was identical to the one before it except for the very last round. He had almost overlooked it. Good gorram. His eyes rose to look at the Captain's face as a low groan leaked out of slack lips. He palmed the bullet easily and filled the empty chamber with a spare from the Captain's gunbelt then eased the Captain out of his slumped postion so that he was half sitting and half leaning forward on the Shepherd's shoulder. Once the gunbelt was back in place he tied off the leg strap and eased the Captain into a more comfortable position.

Breathing heavily Book meditated lightly to bring himself back into control. The Captain's eyes were still closed but the brief interlude of sleep was already wearing off. Book had finished just in time. It was with a sense of profound shock that he saw the Captain's eyes suddenly spring open, the eyes clear and in focus. Voice mild, every word sent shivers down the Preacher's spine. "What d'you think you're doin' Preacher? Ain't been manhandled like that my whole gorram life an' don't tell me you turned on your vows to explore your manly lusts 'cause I ain't believin' it."

Book watched in stunned surprise as the Captain sat up, no sign of sleepiness or aftereffects from the drug evident on his emotionless face. To the Preacher's horror, the Captain raised his right hand and opened it with a small flourish revealing the tab hidden in the crease of his palm. As the colour completely drained from Book's face, the Captain leaned forward on his good leg, his eyes boring holes through the Shepherd with an icy calm that spoke of a level of control beyond chilling.

"Now, what the good gorram were you lookin' for an' why in the nine hells did you remove that bullet from my gun?"

* * * * *

The meal was the finest he had eaten in a long while and there seemed no lack so Jayne felt it only right and proper to cram himself senseless. Besides, it would help to solidify the view they had of him. The mercenary playing true to type while behind the familiar mask an agile mind worked the permutations and slowly began to put together the pieces. He was in no hurry. Only fools rushed something as complex as this and though he was many things Jayne Cobb was no fool. Not the picture others saw but that was the point. You let them see what you wanted them to see. Only let them get so close no further. Except Serenity and her crew had got closer than any folks in a long long time and it burned him to see how these rutting Alliance stools had played them.

For the hundredth time in as many minutes Jayne thanked his lucky stars that he had not fought in the war. Helped keep things simple in his head even when the detail was proving crazier than anything his rutting brain could dream up. Afterwards the plates were taken away and jugs of beer passed around the table. A grin of honest appreciation slid across Jayne's face. If it wasn't for what he had found out this would have been a shiny outfit to sign up to. Even now it was all kinds of tempting but he was not here for fun. Not even for profit though if he could find a way to make it worth his while as well he would hardly say no. As the second beer slid down his throat without touching the sides he sensed Max hovering by his shoulder. Both he and Lenny Goss turned to face him. Max looked happy in that super slimey way that made Jayne think of con men. On the alert he masked his suspicious nature with a wide grin, letting some of the beer ooze out of the side of his mouth as he grinned at Max. "This is some mighty fine outfit."

Max nodded and pulled up a chair. "Knew you'd like it."

Jayne nodded at him. "Now I know what all that ruttin' stuff was for."

The man froze, his eyes suddenly wary but Jayne was laughing now. Helping himself to another glass of beer, letting it slop and slosh over the jug as if overeager to fill it. Pepper put a steadying hand over Jayne's and helped get more beer in the glass than on the table. Jayne gave him a sloppy grin. "Thanks."

"*Bu xie*, you're one of us now."

The mercenary nodded and took a deep gulp of beer, making it look like he was drinking more down than he was. His gorram vest so soaked with beer a little more would hardly notice. He noticed Max relaxing. "Pity Mal didn't feel the same way."

He was fishing Jayne could tell but that was good. Meant he didn't know as much as he thought he did. Well, two could bait that line. He gave a nonchalent shrug. "Mal's Mal, *wangu chunren*."

"Thought he was your Captain?"

"A boss is a boss. I do my job get paid." He shrugged. "You got more money on the table can't say I ain't interested. Just so long as I get paid, ain't fussy what bag the coin comes from."

Jayne saw the last tendrils of suspicion disappear from Max's eyes. He never trusted an honest man but a greedy one made him feel *shufu*. And he had coin to buy all the loyalty he could want. His shiny lucrative life was about to get a whole lot shinier. As Jayne grinned back at the double dealing *ben dan* he was more than happy that Max could not read his mind. He was going to enjoy ripping that smile off his face and shoving it down his gorram throat. But not now. He would save that pleasure for desert. That was when Jayne noticed something odd. For all the food that had been on the table none had eaten as heartily as he had. The same happened with the beer. Oh, the jugs got passed around, but it was like sipping with some Mother's Union. The hairs on the back of his neck were stirring making him all kinds of unsettled. He hid it and pushed a glass towards Max, fixing a mock growl on his face. "*Wei*! Ya ain't drinkin', come on Max. Ya one of us or one of 'em?"

The man raised his eyebrows at the challenge and seemed to flick a questioning glance Pepper's way. Jayne pretended not to notice the tiny nod he got back. With a smile that was purely cosmetic Max picked up the glass and began to drink. Jayne matched him swallow for swallow. He was going to enjoy taking him down.

* * * * *

Shepherd Book knew it was time to come clean. With everything else he had told the Captain this should not have been hard but it was. He knew the emotional centre of this man, was beginning to understand something of his depth and range. He really did not want to hurt him if it could be avoided. He put his hand in his pocket and showed Mal the bullet. When the Captain frowned he held it out to him. "Go on, take it."

The Captain looked suspicious but also a mite intrigued. He held the ammo between thumb and forefinger as if simply touching it would take off his hand. "This what you took out of that chamber?"

"It is."

"Huh." He turned it slowly, carefully. "Ain't what I put in it."

"*Wo zhidao*."

He shot the Preacher a hard look. "I said I wanted explanations not more lies."

"Not lyin'. You didn't swap the round someone else did."

"This someone got a name?"

The Shepherd answered him with another question. "You ever seen a round like that before, Mal?"

"Looks like one of them explodin' shells."

Book nodded. "That's exactly what it is only this one has been doctored."

"*Shenme*? Doctored? *Zenme*?"

"Look closely. See that tiny group of striations?"

"Uh huh." The Captain paused, his mind doing handstands to make sense of it all. "What they do that for?"

The Preacher gave him as solemn a look as he had ever seen on his face. "You were supposed to die, Captain."

"That so?"

"*Qu*. I'm guessin' the placin' of the round in the last chamber of the gun meant you were intended to die in battle. That or a gunfight of some kind. That way suspicion would be levelled at whoever you were fighting. It would not seem unnatural for you to die say in a crossfire."

Mal blinked. Thinking hard. Memories crowding in like unwelcome guests at a party, turning the celebrations into something closer to a wake. "Seems a lot of gorram trouble for one former Browncoat."

"Oh, I don't think this has anything to do with the war, Captain."

His eyes narrowed. "Why not? What other fun secrets you been hidin'?"

Instead of answering Book half turned and flicked a switch. The Captain looked at the image now filling the screen. It was the Dauntless. The place where his brother had died. Gorrammit, the thought of his body rotting on that piece of *fei hua* hurt so much he forgot all about quizzing the Shepherd. That could wait. He had one last painful duty to perform. Oddly enough he was glad the Preacher was there though he could not for the life of him have said why. He was about to suggest they dock when he noticed something that should not have been there. Thought he was seeing things. He leaned closer to the screen. "What the *diyu* is that?"

Book felt his mouth go dry. "It appears to be a ship, Captain."

Mal glared at him. "I can gorram see that!" He snapped. "What I meant is what in the nine hells is it doing alongside the Dauntless?"

"It's a small vessel, Captain, not a transport."

"Don't wanna know what it is just what it's doin' here, *dong ma*?"

The Preacher paused. He had not only recognised the ship he knew who it belonged to. "Perhaps we should just go, return to Serenity?"

"What is it you're not tellin' me?"

"We have no weapons Captain and no idea what will be waiting for us aboard that ship. Discretion would demand we not borrow any trouble we don't have to."

"You know what it means, don't you? Whose ship is it?"

"Captain, the only way we are going to know that is if we board the Dauntless and I don't recommend we do that."

He thought about the Preacher's words and stared at the two ships. One a huge drifting armoured hulk of a prison transport, the other a sleek vessel built for speed and easy on the eye. Didn't take a genius to know it bespoke money. Money meant the Core. The Core meant Alliance, probably feds. So what the good gorram would they be doing on the Dauntless? In the next moment he answered his own question. Of course. The Dauntless was an Alliance prison transport. Must have had some kind of tracking device fitted so when it didn't show up at its' destination the authorities had tracked it down. The sense of it actually calmed him. He told the Preacher and was reassured to see him nod as if in agreement. "Think they'll mind company?"

"Perhaps we should announce our presence first, Captain? Don't want them to think we're after illegal salvage."

Mal grinned but there was no humour in it. If they had been playing poker Book would have said the Captain was simply upping the stakes. "Now where would be the fun in that?"

* * * * *

Jayne was surprised to find no one asleep when he woke up. He groaned and closed his eyes against the pain. Rutting *diyu* he would have to go and wake with a gorram hangover. As if that wasn't bad enough none of the others seemed to be suffering any. That sobered him up and no mistake, brought a tumble of other thoughts cascading into his head. Reminding him he was very much in an enemy camp.

Some of the men gave him little nods of recognition, not feeling up to nodding back he just raised a hand and kept his eyes narrowed as close to closed as he could without tripping over his fool feet. Gorrammit, he hadn't meant to get drunk. In fact, hadn't thought he'd drunk that much. The thought made him go over the events of last night, trying to work out exactly how much alcohol he had taken in. He should have been comfortably tipsy not falling down drunk. Judging by where he ended up the latter had been the case. As he stumbled about looking for somewhere to relieve himself he noticed a low concrete block off to one side and started to make his way towards it. Dizzy Doyle came up alongside him. "Where ya goin'?"

"Need the can, gotta take a piss."

"Wrong way." Dizzy pointed him in the exact opposite direction and pointed. Mumbling his thanks Jayne half staggered off to ease his bladder. Filing away the high security block in the back of his mind for later.

* * * * *

They got no answer to their hails and Book was all for turning the shuttle round but something nagged at the Captain. He couldn't just come all this way then leave. Davy was on that transport ship. Least he could do was plant the gorram explosives and give him a good rutting send off. Would be kind'a shiny to take a few Alliance *hundan* with him.

"We should go, Captain."

"I didn't come all this way to leave without finishin' what I came to do." He paused. "Why do you suppose they didn't answer us?"

"My guess would be they are on the Dauntless. If so there would be no one on the ship to pick up the communication."

"Dauntless got coms too, don't forget."

"I'm not forgetting, Captain, but there's no one alive on that ship. No one to turn on and monitor coms."

"Except whoever got off that shiny Alliance ship."

Book could not argue with the Captain's logic.

"Take us in, Preacher. Time to get up close an' personal an' knock on the damn door."

They docked in silence. Book thought they should don EVAs not because the integrity of the ship was damaged but because of the anticipated smell. That body had been left to rot for over three weeks in a closed atmosphere. It had to be pretty ripe now. The Captain would not hear of it. He wanted to have the freedom to pull his gun if something or someone warranted it. Book fell silent and grabbed one of the bags of explosives, the Captain having the other. He watched him move stiffly, the injured leg held straight and immobile by the brace. Mal winced once or twice as he accidentally jarred his leg but as they advanced to the airlock it was as if he completely forgot everything but the Dauntless. Book could understand. Clutched his bible close to him and prayed that what he was fearing most would not come to pass.

The Captain cracked the seal with care, opening the door slowly. Nothing deadly came flying at him so he stepped inside, Book right behind him. He had gone no more than a dozen paces when he saw him. Davy's body lying in a congealed mess of blood and gore, the head blown more off than on, bits of flesh and bone sticking to the walls and furniture in proximity to the body. The smell hit him and went straight to his stomach, he put a hand over his mouth and tried not to heave as the Preacher moved alongside him. Book was not looking at Davy. He was curious and wary, turning his head slowly to scan the area. The Captain put down the bag of explosives and just stared at his brother's mortal remains.

The movement took seconds to register in Mal's brain. Dull and slow he realised the intruder was not any Alliance brass nor any purplebellies come to see what the *diyu* had happened to their transport. To his surprise it was the Companion, Inara Serra. Just as the shock registered on his face she raised a hand as if in greeting. Her opening words lost in a blur of motion as the Shepherd stepped forward and put a hand in front of the Captain's face. A small startled cry then Book lowered his hand and stared at the small razor sharp knife buried in the centre of his palm. A knife that had been meant for the Captain. Inara looked shocked and a little distressed that not only had she missed her intended target but had injured one of her own. Mal drew his gun and covered Inara then looked at Book. "You gonna be alright, Preacher?"

The Shepherd was finding it hard to form words. Knowing without needing to interrupt the look of horror on Inara's face that the tip of the blade had been treated. He tried to respond to the Captain but was already losing consciousness. Alarmed, Mal automatically went to catch him as the Shepherd's legs buckled beneath him and his world went dark. In that split second Inara acted. Moving quickly alongside the Captain and affecting concern for Book. The Captain was confused and his hands were full, he was just gently placing the man on the deck, careful to ease his bad leg out of the way when he was startled by Inara reaching out to clasp his hand. He looked at her, eyes dark with query. She gave him the ghost of a smile and squeezed his hand. The slight prick hardly registered until the dizziness hit him. "What the *diyu* did you do to me?"

"You shouldn't have come back, Mal."

As he crumpled to the deck, Inara knelt beside him and carefully removed the Phoenix ring from his finger. The last of the poison now inching its' way through the Captains' body to his heart. All its' poison discharged the ring was as benign as any inanimate object could be. She stared for a moment at the silver Phoenix, the green jade triggering memories. Green jade for protection. For compassion. The mark of a field commander. The trinket that now sealed a Captain's fate.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*wode tianna* = my God in Heaven *mei mei* = little sister *shei* = who *shenme* = what *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *dong ma* = understand *diyu* = hell *bu xie* = you're welcome *wangu chunren* = stubborn fool/jerk *wei = hey *shufu* = comfortable *ben dan* = moron *wo zhidao* = I know *zenme* = how *qu* = yes (lit. go) *fei hua* = garbage/nonsense *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *hundan* = bastard

COMMENTS

Sunday, July 11, 2004 7:49 AM

BRITCHICK


Oh No! Just when I thought it was all tying up nicely!

Please hurry along with the next installment Alison....

Sunday, July 11, 2004 8:39 AM

GUILDSISTER


Damn! Just... _damn_. Totally engrossing, this chapter and the last. Please, write fast!!

Sunday, July 11, 2004 9:18 AM

RELFEXIVE


Wode tìan!

Sunday, July 11, 2004 11:38 PM

KISPEXI2


There's so much more that needs resolving after this chapter that my head is spinning. I need answers and I need them now! I'm almost sure no-one's going to die ... but then again ...

When will the next part be ready?

Sunday, July 11, 2004 11:42 PM

KISPEXI2


Hey! Wait a minute! Seven months, four days and thirteen hours? According to my calculations....

Monday, July 12, 2004 6:18 AM

ARTSHIPS


So, whose kid is it? And pity that the ring didn't affect the hand-squeezer this time as it did with the Sheriff. Don't mind me, though, I'm just trying to cope with my disappoinment with Inara. This is all getting worse, not better!

Shiny, Alison.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004 2:07 AM

AMDOBELL


Kispexi2 and artships the timing from River is absolutely accurate but remember, it is River. Remember every word she said and hold that thought. To say more would be too much. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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UNFINISHED BUSINESS: 4. "MEANS TO AN END"
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.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: 3 "Hell Hath No Fury"
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.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: 1. "Gift Horse"
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.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 11. "Inside Out"
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 DICHOTOMY SERIES: 10. "Masks"
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.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 6. "Friends You Choose"
It was a sound he recognised from the War, didn't forget the sound of a man drowning on his own blood.