THE RETRIBUTION SERIES: 3. "Desperate Times"
Saturday, January 27, 2007

"The Captain tries to track down his missing crew. Zoe and Wash discover that you never get anything for free."



SUMMARY: "The Captain tries to track down his missing crew. Zoe and Wash discover that you never get anything for free." 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

* * * * *

So tired he could hardly talk, Wash had difficulty keeping his eyes open. With a smirk on her lips Zoe snuggled in close and was about to join him in sleep when the light came on. Although it was dimmed Zoe squinted, rolling off her side of the bed into a defensive crouch on the floor. Wash did not stir. The girl immediately made placating sounds and waved her hands downward, not wanting to alarm the guests. Zoe just glared as she recognised her, clearly unamused.

"What the good gorram you doin' sneakin' into our room in the dead of night?" The girl, Claudia, took a moment to find her voice. "*Duibuqi*, you will miss one of the things for which Raisa is famous."

Zoe wanted to shake the stupid out of the girl but something stayed her hand. Claudia's eyes were big, round and scared. Not simply by Zoe's reaction but by the fact that her clumsy handling of their guests could see her out on the street with no means of support. This was the best job she had ever had and she couldn't afford to mess it up. Trying not to twist her hands the girl's smile was almost a grimace, a plea, a beg for mercy and for Zoe to listen. Curiosity slowly stirred in the first mate's back brain. "What do you mean?"

Relaxing just a little the girl smiled. "*Qinq*, come and see."

"My husband's asleep..."

"I'm sure he wouldn't want to miss it and it won't take long." The girl coaxed.

With a sigh Zoe reached up and gave Wash a shake. "Wash! Wake up *zhangfu*, seems the day's not over."

He barely stirred. "Hnuh?"

"Wash!" A firmer shake this time.

Wash sat up with a jolt, eyes snapping open then shutting almost immediately. "W.. What happened?"

"Come on Wash, it seems they want to show us somethin'."

Blinking owlishly as his brain struggled to comprehend the explanation, Zoe hid a smile. Wash blinked at her in a daze, mind muddled and sluggish. "I thought we were sleepin'?"

His words brought a smile to her stern lips. "I was sleepin', you were snorin'."

"*Wei*, I don't snore!"

Zoe nudged him to stop him falling asleep. "It seems our host has somethin' to show us."

That was when the pilot realised they were no longer alone. Deciding the girl was no threat, Wash and Zoe put on the complimentary robes and followed the girl out of the room. Wash leaned in close to his wife. "We're headin' towards the baths."

"*Wo zhidao, zhangfu*."

"Why do you suppose that is?" Wash whispered, his mind imagining a hundred possible scenarios none of them ending well. At any moment he expected someone to jump out of the shadows and attack them.

"How should I know? I was woken up too."

Before Wash could launch into twenty questions they stepped into the bath house and froze, their host walking on a few paces before realising her audience was lagging behind. The main lights in the bath house were switched off, the only illumination was hundreds of tiny lights set into the painted ceiling, each light fitted where a star shone in the heavens. The effect was of a perfect night sky, Wash found himself reciting the constellations in his head as he tried to wrap his brain around what he was seeing. Zoe was stunned. The effect was magical.

"There must be hundreds of stars!"

"Thousands, *bao bei*, not to mention light bulbs. I'd hate to pay their electric bill."

With a smile the girl excused herself, returning moments later with a bottle of champagne and two glasses on a tray. Zoe raised her eyebrows and looked at Wash. "Did we order champagne?"

Wash shook his head, still dazzled by the stars that weren't stars. "Bu qu*."

"The compliments of the House." Claudia explained. "For alarming you."

With a smile, Wash hastened to put the girl at her ease. "It's okay, in fact it's more than okay." He waved a hand up at the copy of the night sky. "If you hadn't woken us we would have missed all this. Besides, sleepin' is over rated."

"Speak for yourself, husband." Zoe murmured around a yawn.

With a little bow the girl left them. Wash looked at the bottle of champagne. "Guess we should toast our good fortune, *bao bei*. It would be rude to let good champagne go to waste."

* * * * *

Back on Serenity the Captain was close to panic. He couldn't raise a single one of his crew on the com. Trying to calm himself down he paced the bridge then tried Zoe again. Of all the people failing to answer she was the one who worried him most. His loyal right arm, the friend who had never failed him. The lack of response was like a death knell in his soul, all kinds of imagined horrors painting the inside of mind with grotesque images of torture. No, it couldn't end like this. It WOULDN'T end like this! Mal leant on the console, head down, trying to force air into lungs too heavy with grief, his heart aching, his mind fogging. He sucked in a deep breath, pushed it passed the fear threatening to incapacitate him and then pushed another deeper breath down. Slowly the terrible fear loosened its' grip, anger taking over and giving him something to cling to. A focus for the maelstrom of emotions threatening to unman him.

Okay, so his crew weren't answering. That didn't mean something had happened to them. Knowing Kaylee she had probably forgotten to switch hers on. Book might have his turned off while inside that shiny Buddhist temple. With a stiff smile he imagined Zoe and Wash were too busy rutting for their ears to work. A lot calmer now, the Captain went to get himself a strong cup of coffee. He needed to clear his head and think.

* * * * *

It was late but there were still people about. Simon was laden down with bags while Kaylee and River walked arm in arm chattering nine to the dozen. He didn't care. They were happy, his sister was safe, and for once they had coin in their pockets. Who knew when their escape from the horrors of protein cubes would end? Kaylee's voice brought him out of his reverie.

"This ain't the way back to Serenity."

He paused and turned, his smile making her heart hitch. "I thought we'd go find a restaurant. Treat ourselves to a meal before heading back."

Kaylee's eyes were shining. River looked pleased then her own smile vanished. She was a gooseberry and that wasn't right. "I should go back."

"No, no, *mei mei*. We'll all go back together. After we've eaten."

She gave her brother a look, her head tilted as if reading his thoughts off from the inside of his head. "You want to be alone with Kaylee. Tell her how you feel."

"River, it's not polite to read people's minds without their permission."

"Can't stop, your thoughts are too loud."

Kaylee squeeze the girl's arm. "River, it's okay, we want you to join us."

River looked from one to the other then suddenly smiled. "I want the window seat!"

Then before they could react River darted off to the restaurant Simon had been heading for. Kaylee laughed and helped Simon with a couple of the packages, content to follow at a slower pace. Simon grinned when they got to the restaurant and saw that River had taken the last window seat and already had her head buried in a menu. "Come on, let's go inside before River orders everything off the menu."

Laughing happily, Kaylee got the door. The bright cheer of the restaurant, the lighted candles and soft music making her bones melt. It was so romantic. What in the 'verse could be a better end to the evening than this?

* * * * *

Zoe smiled as Wash filled two glasses then they were toasting each other. The toasts getting sillier as the level in the bottle went down. Before the bottle was empty Wash slumped, overcome by the powerful need to curl up on the floor. Zoe tried to reach out and grab him, suggest now would be the best time to go back to bed but she could not stop yawning and found her co-ordination rapidly deserting her. A distant part of her brain was trying to tell her this was all manner of wrong but the rest of her wasn't listening. Feeling warm and sluggish, Zoe slid to her knees besides Wash and tried to remember why laying down beside him on the cold marble was such a bad idea.

* * * * *

It was a shock to the Shepherd to step outside and find the world had grown dark without his knowing it. Had it really been that long? With a little shake of his head he decided to head back to the ship. He could have stayed somewhere on the planet but oddly enough the Firefly felt like home. Despite the turbulence of the lives they led he had become drawn into those daily dramas, sucked in by the people and the sense of family that grew stronger with every day he remained. His decision to walk in the world had not led him very far in one sense but in another it had given him the 'verse. Who would have expected to find such rich soil in which to work? Rocks and stones were littered there a-plenty but it was worth the effort of sifting them out and patiently planting his seeds. Watching his charges slowly grow then trying as unobtrusively as possible to guide them when he could. It was a challenge, certainly.

He put his hand in his pocket and took out the com, surprised to find it was turned off. He mentally chastised himself and switched it on. "Captain, this is Book. Anything I can pick you up on my way back?"

For a minute nothing happened, no one answered. The Shepherd was about to repeat his transmission when the Captain came on the line. "Book, that you? Where in the nine hells have you been?"

The Shepherd frowned, annoyed at the Captain's tone but also puzzled. When they landed everyone had been so happy. "You know where I was, has something happened?"

There was a hiss like pain before the Captain replied, his voice more subdued but so tense it was a marvel the man didn't snap. "Jayne's been snatched. You seen the others?"

Book's mind was in a whirl. "Jayne? Why would anyone want Jayne?"

"Shepherd!" Yelled the Captain. "Where are the others?"

"*Wo bu zhiado*, we went in different directions."

"I can't raise them on the com. Need you to see if you can find them *mashang*."

"I'm on it and Captain, do we know who took him?"

There was the briefest of pauses before the Captain answered. "Niska, it was Niska."

A terrible dread came over the Shepherd. "*Wode ma*, you don't think...?"

Mal cut him off. They didn't have time for ifs and ands. "All I know is I gave everyone coms and you're the only one who answered."

Feeling a mite embarrassed Book had to confess. "I only just switched it on Captain, I didn't realise it was off."

For a long moment they shared the silence. "Let's hope that's all it is, meanwhile I'm missin' my crew an' the longer we go without findin' them the worse this is likely to get, *dong ma*?"

"*Wo dong*, Captain. I'll head towards the market area - I seem to remember Kaylee and Simon talking about fresh fruit."

"An' they had River with them. Not sure where Zoe an' Wash went so I'll just take a look around an'..."


"Yeah? You found somethin'?"

"No, it's just that I don't think it would be a good idea for you to leave the ship as well."

"I can't just sit on my *pigu* an' do nothin', Preacher."

"Not suggesting you do Captain but if it is Niska..."

"It is."

"Well then we need a plan. Also be good if any of the others call in if there's someone on the ship to answer them."

He couldn't make out the Captain's answer, the barely intelligible sound enough to tell him that though the man was unhappy he understood. What he didn't tell Malcolm Reynolds was his fear that once the Captain set foot off Serenity Niska would grab him too. Once that happened, that evil old crime lord would have no need to keep Jayne or anyone else he had taken alive.

* * * * *

Everything had gone like clockwork. The girl not for a moment suspecting that the bottle had been tampered with. In the shadows hooded eyes watched and waited. Ten, maybe fifteen minutes passing before he made a move on soft padded feet. The staff were nowhere in sight, the girl obviously keen to make sure the couple were not disturbed again after almost getting her head blown off by waking them. Her actions suited his purpose. The result an excellent ending to a most profitable day.

* * * * *

Kaylee couldn't remember the last time she had enjoyed a meal so much. It was not just being waited on or fed the finest meats with real vegetables and fresh fruit but even the coffee was from genuine ground beans not the freeze dried packaged stuff that they only got when they were flush with coin and near a semi-Core planet. This was the best of the best, and even better than being fed so well was having Simon looking at her like she was the only girl in the gorram 'verse. Watching his aristocratic features in the candlelight made her heart go pitter-pat especially when he smiled at her.

They were on their desert and the raspberry moon pie was doing delicious things to her taste buds. Kaylee longed to lean into Simon and share the flavour in a deep kiss but the waiting staff were so attentive and she had the feeling showing too much affection in a place like this would embarrass Simon.

"Mustn't fall asleep. Hard landings, wake up cold."

Kaylee's thoughts scattered. Simon looked at his sister with little worry lines gathering on his forehead, heart sinking. She had been doing so well. "River?"

River bit into her pie and grinned at him, her lips raspberry, her mood changing from the flash of sombre to happy content. "Tastes as good as it looks."

Simon smiled and took a bite himself, his eyelids fluttering closed as he savoured the riot of flavour exploding on his tongue. Kaylee couldn't breathe, her eyes glued to his face, enraptured by the beauty of him, all her thoughts lust laden. River's laugh made them both look at her and Kaylee flushed. Simon squeezed Kaylee's hand and realised it was getting late. "I think we should head back to ship afterwards."

"Cap'n gave us two days, Simon."

He nodded. "*Wo zhidao* and tomorrow you need to get those parts, *dui*?"

In her excitement Kaylee had forgotten about Serenity. A look of horror crossed her face making Simon laugh. "*Xie xie*, I can't believe I forgot!"

They finished their desert and coffee in companionable silence, River quiet again, her face hanging over her half empty plate. Face obscured by the dark curtain of her hair River's sombre mood returned. Looking down at the last bite of raspberry moon pie, she had suddenly lost her appetite. Funny how the shiny bright raspberry sauce could look so much like blood.

* * * * *

Light made jagged stabs through the inky darkness, not so much illuminating as accentuating the deep shadow of his own personal hell. Jayne didn't blink, his attention focused on the man standing not two feet away from where he hung. The room was no more than ten feet square, a hook in the ceiling taking the weight of the chain between his manacled wrists. A pulley system enabled Niska's henchman to raise him up off his toes or lower him so he could rest. Since being snatched Jayne had not once been given a moment's rest. That didn't surprise him, the lack of debilitating torture did. At first he had assumed the six lashes were a warm up act, the scroll work on his face and chest with that gorram gutting knife just a prelude to something much darker and nastier. It was therefore a big surprise when Niska didn't take it any further.

Now the twisted piece of *goushi* was talking calm as you please about all manner of nonsense. What in the nine hells was he up to and why was he asking about the Captain's gorram past? If he wanted a blow by blow account of the rutting war he should have snatched Zoe, only he didn't say that. In fact not speaking at all was the only form of insolence he could employ. Niska nodded to a big burly brute of a man with a face only a mother with poor eyesight could love.

"Julius, I think he is getting too comfortable, yes?"

The mammoth of a man nodded and flexed thick muscular arms as he took up the strain of the rope and pulled Jayne up off his toes. The effect was all manner of painful and uncomfortable but nothing the mercenary couldn't handle - for now. With a disingenuous smile Niska peered into Jayne's face like some kindly old man. But Jayne wasn't fooled. He knew the pleasure on the old *hundan's* face was because he loved hurting people. Made it into some kind of sick hobby. "You will not die yet, Mr Cobb." Niska waved a hand in the direction of the implements of torture laid out on a nearby table. "You must live a long time, yes? Then we will see how Malcolm Reynolds enjoys watching you die."

"*Ri ni*! He ain't comin' for me, how many times I gotta tell ya?"

Niska chuckled lightly. "I'm thinkin' you do not know Malcolm Reynolds as well as you think you do."

Jayne spat at the taunting face, the spittle hitting the lens of Niska's glasses. For just a moment the smile on the death's head faltered and Jayne felt a spark of satisfaction. It didn't last long, the big henchman slamming him in the side of his head with a fist almost as big as Jayne's head. Blood filled his mouth as he bit his tongue, his lip splitting and his left cheekbone cracking. Niska raised a hand and Julius stepped back with a scowl on his face. "*Zugou*! Let him rest while he can. Tomorrow, I think, he will have company."

But Jayne Cobb didn't hear any more, his mind going blank as the darkness claimed him.

* * * * *

It was gone midnight and the Shepherd was getting increasingly worried. Where were they? The market had long since been cleared and even the late night shops were closed, only the bar rooms and places of ill repute sporting their lurid signs. Hestitating, Book turned slowly and wondered which direction to go. He had no intention of returning to Serenity empty handed.

Just as he was beginning to think he should toss a coin, a shape coalesced out of a side alley. Book tensed and shifted his weight ready to defend himself if need be but careful not to make it too obvious. Usually when folk saw the dog collar they instinctively dismissed him as a threat. The man who stepped out into the lamp light was like a figure out of the mists of time. Stopping a few feet from the Shepherd the samurai bowed. "Your pardon, honorable Shepherd. I think you are looking for me."

Shepherd Book blinked then shook his head. "No, no, you are mistaken. I'm just looking for some friends."

The man gave a little nod. "Just so."

Something made the Shepherd eye him more closely. "Do you know who I am?"

"*Hai*! You are Shepherd Book."

Suspicion stirred deep. "How do you know that?"

"Eyes see, ears listen, feet may follow. Do not be alarmed, I can help."

"I'm not sure that you can."

The man's mood changed, a subtle shifting of tides that put Book on notice that nothing was quite what it seemed. "You are one man and you are looking in the wrong place."

"I think before we do anything else you should identify yourself."

"I am Akira Hanimoto."

"How do you know who I am?"

"I know many things. You travel on a ship with Captain Reynolds. Trouble stirs and we must act quickly."

"What trouble and how do I know I can trust you?"

For a moment the Japanese warrior just stared at Book, his expression inscrutable. "My son Teshi fought in the Battle of Serenity Valley. Every day he wrote though only a handful of letters came to his family." The man paused. "He died from his wounds three days after the surrender."

Book closed his eyes on a silent prayer, opening them to offer what solace he could but Hanimoto forestalled him.

"Later we can talk or better listen to one another. Now is the time to be cautious, move with care."

"What makes you think I'm going anywhere with you?"

"You are looking for the lost ones?"

The Shepherd couldn't speak, didn't want to give the man information that might play into their enemies' hands. Not everyone who came as a friend was a friend and not all enemies lived a life of lies.

"A man and a woman, very much in love."

Wash and Zoe, it had to be. Book felt his mouth go dry. "Where are they?"

Hanimoto raised his eyebrows. It was the most emotion Book had yet seen on his face. "Come, we must get to them before they wake."

Confused, Book had a library of questions but the samurai did not wait, turning and stepping briskly back into the alley. Book had no choice but to follow him. He itched to call the Captain but what could he tell him? If Hanimoto was leading him into a trap it would not do to bring the Captain along for the ride. No. If he was going to do something foolish he would be the only one paying the price. Lengthening his stride Book sought to keep pace with the energetic but smooth movements of the grave little man.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*duibuqi* = sorry *qing* = please *zhangfu* = husband *wei* = hey! *wo zhidao* = I know *bao bei* = precious/treasure *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *mei mei* = little sister *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *wo dong* = I understand *mashang* = on the double/quickly/at once *wode ma* = mother of God *dong ma* = understand? *pigu* = bottom *dui* = correct *xie xie* = thanks *goushi* = crap/dog shit *hundan* = bastard *ri ni* = screw you! *zugou* = enough


*hai* = yes


Saturday, January 27, 2007 3:49 PM


Iiiinteresting story, Amdobell. Will the preacher have to fall back on his older profession to extricate Jayne, Zoe and Wash?
And, for better or worse, Jayne is also "on the crew," so Mal won't let him get left.

Saturday, January 27, 2007 9:01 PM


Oh...things are starting to get really interesting in the "Oh God, oh God!" way. And the guardians against the proposed outcome are unconscious for one reason or another:(

Still...great work here, AMDOBELL :D


Saturday, January 27, 2007 10:58 PM


Hen hao, hen hao! Nice use of the Chinese. Interspersed well semantically. The english is right shiny as well. Very professional.

Monday, January 29, 2007 8:16 AM


Yay! I'm really enjoying this story. I only enjoy the Reavers more than Niska, so this is a real treat. Your writing, the settings and dialogue are very true to form. Just waiting patiently for the next chapter (and Akira Hanimoto is really quite intriguing).

Monday, January 29, 2007 8:24 AM


Oh, nicely done. River being somber and cryptic and happy and downright creepifying all at once. Liked it a lot! You've got Wash and Zoe down pretty good too. Looking forward to reading 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.