THE RETRIBUTION SERIES: 9. "Sleight of Hand"
Thursday, March 15, 2007

"Monty manages to contact Serenity. The crew's rejoicing though is overshadowed by Niska's next move. With everyone plunged into shock a recovering Jayne is determined to do something."



SUMMARY: "Monty manages to contact Serenity. The crew's rejoicing though is overshadowed by Niska's next move. With everyone plunged into shock a recovering Jayne is determined to do something." 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 green and silvery grasses waved like pastel banners in the breeze. Birdsong interrupting the chirrup of crickets or similar insect life. Even the air buffeting his ears seemed to vibrate with new life. Monty tried to blink but only one sluggish eye obeyed him, the other remained sealed, swollen, bruised and bloody. Images flashed through his brainpan that amplified the pain stabbing behind his eyes knowing that he was just the first course for a man with an insatiable appetite for pain and torture. Slowly he got his heartbeat to settle some, his head lolliing to one side and sending a spike of pain up his neck. He ignored it as his good eye settled on the flask of water left within reach of his right hand.

Monty took a couple of painful breaths, trying not to breathe too deeply and start off a coughing fit. He didn't think his injured ribs could take it. Concentrating as hard as he could the big man moved his hand, happy to note he still had all his fingers and that they at least were functioning as God intended. Inch by inch he moved the hand across the grass and wrapped his fingers around the shiny chrome flask, the coldness seeping through his fingertips was welcome and made him ache with the anticipation of the cool water that promised to slake his thirst. Slowly he lifted the flask, got it to eye level and then had the torment of trying to undo the top. It was a simple screw thread but his fingers had limited dexterity as if they had forgotten the patterns of a lifetime and needed to be retrained.

Frustrated, he almost threw the gorram thing away but need held him to his course. Monty shut his eye a moment and forced himself to calm down. If he was going to survive he needed that water, needed to get his body into some kind of motion. Wouldn't do nobody no good if he just let himself die here. Had to find Serenity. Warn Mal. Get Wash and Jayne out of that stinking mausoleum come torture house. But first he had to get the top off. With a grunt he tried again, willing stiff fingers to co-operate until at last he felt the cap begin to turn, more effort and he unwound it off the thread, the cap falling away but retained on a thin wire. That drink was the finest liquid ever poured into his sore and swollen mouth. The coolness of it hurt and soothed him in equal measure, all manner of pain returning but ignored for the greater pleasure. Caution set in after his sixth swallow and clumsily Monty managed to resecure the cap. Couldn't afford to waste a drop.

The effort tired him and he drifted off, the canteen cradled on his chest. Hours passed before he stirred again, not knowing what had wakened him. At first he thought Niska's men had discovered him, the rapid hammer of his heart filling him with panic. Slowly, gradually, he became aware that the sounds he was hearing were not coming from the field in which he lay. Monty's good eye opened then squinted, all his attention now concentrated on placing what it was he was hearing. Static squawked in his ear making him jerk his head painfully away. "*Tian Yesu*, what the good gorram..." His voice trailed off as a thought occurred to him. He recognised the vocal fragments and the tinny sound reminded him of something else. Holding his breath Monty raised his left hand and tentatively touched his ear, a look of wonder lighting up the bruised and bloodied mess of his face with hope. If his mouth had been able to form the shape he would have smiled. Monty tapped the earwig to switch it on. "*Wei*, Serenity? Can anyone hear me?"

* * * * *

Wash was sore and every bit of skin on his body seemed to have been cut or bruised or just plain traumatised but it wasn't as bad as any of them had feared. The worst area was his back but Simon was pleased that the lacerations weren't infected. They would heal and Wash had never had trouble sleeping on his stomach. Jayne's face was a mess but again much of the damage was superficial, the cuts not deep just enough to draw blood. His wrists and ankles were ragged and bloody from thrashing against the manacles and restraints but his physical strength and fitness had prevented any bad permanent damage.

"You're both very lucky." Simon affirmed, giving them a dose of antibiotics.

Jayne frowned, puckering up the weaves across his face as he jumped off the infirmary table. Simon shook his head.

"You need to rest, another twenty four hours..."

"*Wode hao*. Had worse when I was a gorram kid."

"Um, I'm sure you did but..."

"*Bizui*!" The curt order surprised Simon into silence. It wasn't that Jayne wasn't grateful to the doctor it was just the man was so gorram fussy and he didn't have patience for it. The mercenary looked at Wash. "*Hai hao ma*?"


Simon looked alarmed when Wash slid off the other bed and the two men started towards the infirmary door. "*Ni qu nar*? What part of 'you need to stay in the infirmary another 24 hours' do you not understand?"

"Simon, we're grateful, you know we are but we've had worse an' Mal is still out there."

"*Wo zhidao* but we don't know where and you're hardly in a condition to go looking for him right now."

The sneer on Jayne's face was ruined by the little wince of pain as he pulled a couple of stiched. "Ain't stopped us before."

"You I expect to ignore good advice but Wash..."

"Jayne's right, we can't sit around an' do nothin'."

"You're not doing nothing, you're healing."

"Yeah," agreed Jayne "an' we can heal an' be up an' around just as well."

Nodding, Simon gave in with good grace. After all he had done all he was able, the rest was up to the two of them. Just then Zoe's voice came over the com. "Need everyone on the bridge *mashang*!"

The men exchanged worried looks. What the *diyu* had happened now? Before Wash could ask what was going on, Zoe clarified, her voice tight with a myriad of emotions - none of them good.

"Niska sent a wave."

When Simon, Jayne and Wash got to the bridge they hurried to peer over Zoe's shoulder at the cortex screen. River sat curled up in the co-pilot's chair, arms wrapped around her knees, hair hanging down and framing a pale face. Kaylee looked shocked and upset, Inara was twisting her hands and trying not to break down. Jayne scowled but couldn't see what had them all so upset. Sure, Niska's ugly mug was up on the screen but... The image widened and panned out, showing him what the others had already seen.

"Woah, *wode ma*!" Wash murmured, his tone horrified and upset. Zoe clasped his hand so tightly he couldn't feel his fingers but it didn't matter. All that mattered was what he was seeing, the sick images burning into his brainpan like acid.

"I wanted five days - minimum." Said Niska with false regret. As the camera moved off Niska the crew could see their Captain, Malcolm Reynolds, hanging from a meat hook. Weals and cuts criss crossed his bare chest, wires hanging off him that none of them wanted to imagine the purpose of. The Captain was obviously unconscious, only the shallow movement of his chest telling them he wasn't dead. "I don't think I will get my five days." Niska stated mournfully.

Shepherd Book could feel the bile rising, his hands gripped into fists at his side. Anger and revulsion burning colder than permafrost. "You will pay for what you have done, Niska. This isn't over."

The crime lord smiled, the light glinting off his glasses as he shifted his gaze to meet the Preacher's. "Ah, you wonder why I contact you, yes?"

"Ya gonna let him go?" Kaylee blurted, her tear strewn face filled with hope.

Niska shook his head. "You misunderstand. I show you, yes?"

Inara wanted to stop him, some awful premonition stealing across her heart with dread. "No!"

With a nod to someone off camera, more wires were attached to the Captain's chest. Kaylee put a hand over her mouth, her eyes widening as she realised what Niska intended to do. Simon felt sick. He moved to Kaylee's side and tried to pull her away, so she wouldn't have to see what was happening but the mechanic couldn't tear her eyes away. Dreading but finding it hard to believe that Niska would do what he was getting ready to do. It couldn't be happening, it really couldn't.

Grinning, Niska leaned in towards the hanging man and spoke loud enough so his whispered words could be heard by Serenity's crew over the link. "Mr Reynolds, time for you to die. Time for people to forget the name Malcolm Reynolds and remember what it is to cross Niska. After this, my reputation it will be solid, yes?"

River put her hands over her face and wouldn't look up. The others couldn't look away. Richter moved into camera frame and slapped the Captain's face a couple of times until the man roused. He seemed drunk, struggling to grasp what was happening. Then Niska nodded and Richter threw the switch. Zoe swore, Inara screamed, Kaylee cried, the Preacher watched too numb to pray as the Captain's body shook and jerked violently as the current shot through him. Seconds, it was only seconds, but they passed like long agonising hours before the body was still. Niska waved a hand and the current was switched off. Richter checked for a pulse then shook his head at his boss. Niska turned back to the camera and gave a smug little smile.

"He is dead, is over. I think now you understand what it is to cross Niska."

Zoe's eyes were hard as granite. "This isn't over."

He seemed amused. "You want that I should do this to the rest of the crew, yes? Perhaps the one who cries so much? Or the doctor, who shall be next?" "No one's gonna be next 'less it's you!"

Niska threw back his head and laughed as if Zoe had made a very funny joke then his smile vanished. "Go, forget your meaningless wish for revenge. It will not bring your Captain back. I have no further quarrel with you unless," Niska paused to peer at them through the link "you make nuisance of yourselves then," he waved a hand in the air "I come back for the rest of you, yes?"

Before anyone could say anything else the screen went black. Furious, Zoe glared at Wash. "Get it back, I haven't finished with that *heishoudang liumang*!"

"*Bao bei*, he disconnected. We don't have the cortex address to reconnect."

Zoe was pacing now, anger and emotions coming off her in waves so strong yet shared by the rest of the grieving crew. She stopped abruptly, her eyes showing a glimmer of tears that she would not let fall. He was her Captain and her oldest friend, she would not let this tear her apart. Not with the crew now relying on her and one last service yet to be done. "We need to find out where they're holdin' him."

The Preacher felt uncomfortable, his thoughts disturbed by the notion of a first mate unwilling to believe the evidence of her eyes. "The Captain's dead, Zoe." He said gently.

Her anger flashed at him. "*Wo zhidao* Preacher, don't think I'll forget those images any time soon."

"It would be folly to go after Niska now." "Not askin' your opinion but that's not what I'm doin'. We're gonna go get the body. Bury him decent."

"An' tear that piece of *houzi outo* to pieces!" Growled Jayne.

Zoe's eyes glittered hard and unforgiving, the darkness she had once left behind after the battle of Serenity Valley coalescing into something so dark and dispassionate that it froze the blood. "Limb from limb."

In his arms Kaylee was crying so hard that it brought a lump to Simon's throat. He was upset himself but for Kaylee it was much harder, like losing a brother, a family member. Hugging her close he rocked her, his lips close to her ear trying in his own limited way to offer comfort. To tell her she was not alone in her pain and loss. In the co-pilot's chair River said nothing. Knew it would not make any difference. They couldn't reach him now and they couldn't bring him home. She could tell them but they wouldn't listen.

Wash put his arm around Zoe but his wife barely felt it, her mind like a bear trap looking for a victim. "We need to..."

Her words cut off as the sound of static cut the talking in the room dead. Wash wormed his way passed Zoe and flicked a few switches to clean up the transmission. The voice that came through was the last one they expected to hear in this lifetime.

"*Wei*, Serenity? Can anyone hear me?"

* * * * *

Once the transmission was cut Niska looked at Richter. "Take him down."

In silence Malcolm Reynolds was unshackled and dumped on the ground. Niska gazed at the unmoving form. "I wanted five days - minimum." Niska did not speak again for a moment or two, peering down through his wire rim glasses at the man who had caused him so much trouble. "This is twice you die on me, Mr Reynolds. I can't hurt you any more when you die."

The body did not move. No breath stirred in the lungs, no blood pumped from the silent heart. Niska's words fell on deaf ears but the crime lord knew one thing that his victim did not. He *always* got what he wanted.

* * * * *

It took hours to work out from the limited information Monty was able to give before they found him. Simon was surprised that his sister had said nothing. Her silence was beginning to disturb him but Kaylee begged him to let her be. "She's just grievin' like the rest of us, Simon."

He knew his sister was very fond of the Captain, a fact that baffled him on several levels not that it mattered now. And then there was Monty, a patient in need of his help in every way. Kaylee tried to give him a smile but it was watery and didn't reach her eyes. Simon brushed the hair back from her face. "*Wo zhidao*, it's just she's so quiet. It isn't like her."

Kaylee nodded then the moment was broken as Zoe and Book came to hurry him along. "We've got Monty in the infirmary but he don't look good. Breathin's not right neither."

Simon nodded, squeezed Kaylee's hand then hurried after his friends. Unable to bear to watch Simon operate on another much loved friend, Kaylee went in search of Inara. At last finding the Companion standing in the middle of her shuttle. The woman looked lost. "'Nara? You alright?"

"No, *mei mei*, I'm not." That was when Inara turned her head and Kaylee saw the tears on her face and more brimming ready to fall from her eyes. "This can't be real."

Kaylee knew what she meant but her throat constricted and words were beyond her. Instead she went to Inara and clung to her friend, the words they couldn't say passing silently between them.

"When will this awful day end, Kaylee?" Inara murmured through her tears.

The mechanic didn't speak. Couldn't. Because the truth was, this day would never end. No amount of wishing could turn back the hands of time and unmake all the bad that had happened.

* * * * *

Once the surgery was over Monty slept the sleep of the totally exhausted. Simon rubbed a weary hand over his face, the rest of the crew crowding round to hear the verdict.

"He'll live, fortunately we got to him in time. When we get the chance we should go to Persephone."

Zoe frowned. "*Weishenme*? That's two days full burn."

"Yes, *wo zhidao*, but Niska had every one of his teeth pulled. Unless Monty wants to spend the rest of his life eating through a straw it's the nearest place with a good orthodontist."

Jayne scowled. "A what?"

"A dentist, or rather dental technician. The technicians make up replacement teeth in a variety of materials depending on the resources of the client."


Zoe glanced at Jayne. "He means you an' me get surgical plastic, them with money get a range of polymer an' ceramics. Real rich folk get gold."

The mercenary's eyes glittered. "They get GOLD teeth?"

"Some prefer silver but gold is a good investment." Simon explained.

Shepherd Book was more interested in Monty's medical status. "What are his injuries?"

Simon looked thoughtfully at his sleeping patient. Monty was unlikely to surface for another twelve hours, maybe longer. "Good. He has a few cracked ribs but fortunately none of them are broken, there's no point in binding them as it doesn't actually help and may do more harm than good. The cuts and bruises will heal by themselves and once we get him new teeth he'll feel more like his old self."

"Apart from the nightmares."

Every head turned to see River standing in the doorway. Simon started to move towards her, worry and concern etched on to his face. "River, you shouldn't be here."

She shook her tangle of hair. "Have to be somewhere." River looked at Zoe. "Better to go to Lilac, they make teeth out of bone. He won't like the others and we can't afford to waste coin."

They blinked. Simon didn't ask how she knew what they had been discussing or how she knew so much about Monty's preferences. With River bizarre had become the norm and perversely Simon worried most when she sounded sane. It made him think he was the one who was screwed up not her. Zoe gave a little sigh then started to walk out of the infirmary. "Best tell my man to get us off this world. On the way to Lilac we can maybe figure out where Niska has the Captain."

River moved so quickly it startled Zoe to find her way blocked. "River? I need to get to the bridge."

She shook her head. "Can't leave."

Simon stepped forward, ready to reach out for her if the situation deteriorated any further. "Why not?"

"Have to be here or he'll miss the boat."

Shepherd Book gave her a mystified look. "*Shei*?"

"You aren't ready yet but you will be."

On that cryptic note River left. Zoe glanced at Simon, the doctor shrugging back. "Don't look at me, I'm just her brother. I don't understand River when she's sane."

* * * * *

It was hours later. The whole crew was tired but no one much wanted to sleep. Simon looked in on Monty for the fifth time before Kaylee came and dragged him away. "You need to sleep, Simon. You won't be any good to anyone if you collapse."

"I'm not going to collapse, Kaylee, it's just..." He trailed off, not sure how to express what he wanted to say.

Kaylee nodded. "I know, we all feel the same."

That surprised him. "We do?"

The mechanic gave him a sweet smile and Simon hardly noticed the way she was leading him to her bunk. "*Qu*, everyone's too upset an' too wired to sleep."

For a moment her smile slipped and Simon felt his heart lurch. "Kaylee, maybe we shouldn't..."

"Simon, I'm upset not broken."

"I know."

"Then come on, we both need comfort."

"I need to be close in case Monty wakes."

"*Fang xin*, Zoe'll call ya. 'Sides, ain't doctors supposed to make folk feel better?"

Confused he nodded. "*Dang ran*."

Kaylee immediately brightened, for real this time. "Then comin' with me'll make me a whole let better."

He couldn't help it, Kaylee made him laugh. So much goodness and sunshine crammed into that delectible package that the man who was immune to her charms had yet to be born. Luckily all that attention was aimed in his direction. Once they got into Kaylee's bunk Simon sobered, his mind a whirl of the events of the last twenty four hours. "I can't believe Niska killed him." He said without thinking.

The sniff brought him back to the present, his arms wrapping around Kaylee as she started crying again. "Oh *bao bei*, I'm so sorry. I'm a boob, I wasn't thinking."

"S'alright," she sniffed into his shirt, "can't believe it my own self. Ain't nothin' gonna be the same."

For several minutes they rocked together, the silence helping to absorb all the unhappy and let them find solace in each other. Simon eased back to see how Kaylee was doing, her eyes bright with tears but heart warmed by the concern on his face. It was meant to be a light kiss but the moment their lips touched need flowed strong and full of passion between them. Within seconds the confines of clothing were gone, Kaylee's warm hands doing things to Simon that he had only dreamt of. His groan made her busy fingers even more insistent, her lips on his swallowing the cry that was bubbling up his throat as she brought him close to coming not once but over and over again.

"Kaylee," he huffed in frustration, "I'm dying here."

Chuckling she sucked his bottom lip and adjusted her grip on him, the change in tempo making him gulp as his need tapered off.

"Don't want ya comin' without me."

Then Kaylee was guiding his hand and as his fingers sank in the wet core of her he began to put those sensitive digits to good use. The moaning and groaning telling him she was catching up, her hips rocking herself against his hand while Simon manipulated the bundle of nerves sending waves of pleasure through her body until she was ready to ram herself on the first solid object she could find, batteries be damned. Fortunately Simon was ready, his intended slow entrance spoilt by Kaylee's impatience. Forgoing finesse for satisfaction, Kaylee hooked her legs around his waist then rammed him in tight and fast. Simon groaned, Kaylee sighed with relief then the tempo began to build again until neither one could stop, the pace getting faster and more manic.

"K...Kaylee, I'm close..."

Kaylee wasn't there yet and put her hand down to speed things up but Simon batted the hand away. Kaylee turned her sweat soaked face up to his, breathing laboured with effort. He smiled for her and replaced her hand with his own. "Oh."

Then she was too busy for words, and Simon was so close to exploding that nothing else mattered. Twisting his hips he matched the rythym of his thrusts with that of his fingers until with a shout Kaylee spilled over his hand tipping Simon over the edge as well. For several minutes they lay in happy exhaustion, the heat and sweat and feel of him inside her making Kaylee happier and more content than she had ever been. Kaylee moaned softly at the loss as she felt him shrink inside her, wishing she could hang on to that erection and use it again and again. Gently she leaned in and kissed the sweat on Simon's face, her tongue flicking out to lick him between kisses. Simon too blissed out to react at first. After a moment or two Kaylee paused, looked at his closed eyes and sloppy smile and nudged him in the ribs. *Wei*!"

He blinked sleepily. "*Shenme*? What was that for?"

"Thought ya wanted to stay awake in case Monty needed ya?"

Simon gave her a big beautiful smile and kissed her. "Zoe'll call me."

She watched his eyes close again and knew he was seconds from sleep. "An' if I need ya?"

One sleepy eye opened, a mischievous look in his eye she did not often get to see let alone put there. "Then I'm sure you'll think of a suitable way to wake me, *bao bei*."

Simon drifted off to sleep with Kaylee's throaty laughter ringing in his ears.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*tian Yesu* = sweet Jesus *wei* = hey! *wode hao* = I'm good *hao* = good *bizui* = be quiet/shut up *hai hao ma* = are you okay? *wo zhidao* = I know *ni qu nar* = where are you going? *diyu* = hell *wode ma* = mother of God *mashang* = at once/quickly/on the double/immediately *houzi outo* = monkey vomit *bao bei* = precious/treasure *heishoudang liumang* = gangster asshole/bastard *mei mei* = little sister *weishenme* = why *shei* = who? *qu* = yes (lit. go) *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *dang ran* = of course *shenme* = what


Thursday, March 15, 2007 8:17 AM


Oh you have Niska's voice down so well. I couldn't even begin to write him well! And - you killed Mal?! I don't believe it! Niska always gets what he wants. . . and he wants his 5 days. . .

And the S/K action . . . so nice and hot! Right down to the end which made me giggle like a little girl. Nicely done all the way around!

Thursday, March 15, 2007 6:07 PM


Wha...nooo! You can't kill Mal! Especially since I know you're gonna have Niska resurrect him - again! - to keep torturing him:( utterly beautiful but angst-filled chapter, AMDOBELL:)



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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Without warning something came through the opening and rolled with a metallic clang across the ground before exploding.

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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.