THE REFLECTION SERIES: 4. "Complications"
Thursday, August 12, 2004

"As the novelty of Minerva wears off the crew have a decision to make. Meanwhile Mal meets the rest of Rafe Connor's crew and for the first time in a long while feels a sense of peace."



SUMMARY: "As the novelty of Minerva wears off the crew have a decision to make. Meanwhile Mal meets the rest of Rafe Connor's crew and for the first time in a long while feels a sense of peace." 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.


A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

The smells from the kitchen were all kinds of tantalising but Zoe was sure she would not be able to eat a gorram thing. The Shepherd watched the worry on her face and knew what she was thinking. Knew she was also blaming herself which was about as much use as a snowball in *diyu*. Everybody had been talking all at once, some offering advice, others wanting to know what the good gorram they were going to do. Simon noticed that River seemed more focused than normal and was very quiet, her eyes following the speakers as if her ears didn't work. "River, are you okay?"

Even though he had whispered the back and forth of conversation hitched as if only her answer would kick start it back into motion. "River's fine." His sister said then turned and looked at his plate, the Preacher's culinary masterpiece hardly touched at all. "You should eat your greens."

Jayne gave a muffled chuckle. "I'll eat 'em for ya if ya ain't got room, doc."

Kaylee batted his hand away as he made to reach over the table but it was half hearted. Truth to tell they were all happy for even a little pathetic light relief about now. Shepherd Book served himself last then sat down, hesitating as to whether or not to pray out loud. Then he saw it was a moot point as the only ones not eating were him and Simon. River poked Simon in the ribs. "Eat!"

She spoke with her mouth full, face smiling. Simon laughed and did as he was told. Book smiled and looked round the table as he began to eat, his gaze coming to rest on Zoe's face. She was eating but he was as sure as he could be that she did not taste a thing. Jayne was eating so fast he was likely to wear a hole in his plate. Wash was making all kinds of encouraging noises as he ate. When he saw the look on Zoe's face he stopped mid-chew and stared anxiously at her.

"Eat first," Said Book before Wash could ask her what was wrong. "Worry later."

Zoe's eyes narrowed at him.

"Food's already paid for." Book responded mildly to her silent criticism. "Best not waste it, *dong ma*?"

She nodded, feeling more miserable by the minute but ate dutifully. Only when the plates were cleared away and Kaylee had made a good strong brew of tea did the conversation start up again. Everyone now seemed a mite subdued. It was Jayne who voiced what they were all thinking. "We need a job."

Nods and murmurs greeted his words. Simon looked at Jayne with interest. "What do you have in mind?"

The big man looked surprised. "Don't look at me, I'm just sayin' we need a job. Get us a job, we get paid. Can fill with fuel, parts an' such an' it'll be shiny again."

"As in it's not so shiny now?" Quipped Wash.

Jayne glared at him but Zoe nodded. "He's right, we need a job an' we need it now."

"Do we have anything lined up?"

Zoe looked at Simon as if he had fallen and hit his head. Hard. "*Bu qu*. This was meant to be a layover, rest an' recuperation. A few days to relax before we head out again."

The doctor nodded, "I know, I just..."

It was the Shepherd who intervened. "If we need a job we should put our heads together. There's no Abbey here on Minerva so I don't have any contacts to call on. How about the rest of you?"

When no one could come up with a single viable idea they lapsed into an awkward silence. Kaylee got up first. "I best check on the engine. Don't worry, Cap'll be back tomorrow an' he'll think of somethin'."

"What if he ain't?" Said the mercenary.

Simon frowned. "*Shenme*?"

"Just sayin', what if he ain't back tomorrow?"

"Why wouldn't he be?" Asked Simon puzzled.

River was staring off at nothing. "Took a vacation. A holiday." Her head turned and she stared at Book, blinked, suddenly cognisant. "Could call it a sabbatical."

"A sabata-what?" Asked Jayne.

"A sabbatical." Said Book in a solemn serious tone. "It means a leave of absence, it's from the Bible. Every seventh year the Israelites allowed their fields and vineyards to lie fallow. To rest so they could renew before the next crops would be planted and the cycle would continue. A sabbatical thus came to mean a prolonged rest from labour, a sabbatical year would be a year off whether for study, travel or some such."

Jayne looked alarmed then annoyed. "Ya sayin' the Cap's taken a ruttin' year off? What the *diyu* does he think he's doin', he's the Cap."

"Actually he's not." Said Simon quietly.

All eyes turned to him. It was River who spoke next, her face lit up with a smile so bright it actually hurt them with the wrongness of it. "We're ruled by committee now."

And as simply as that the dime dropped. A hushed silence fell that was so heavy it pained the ears. Simon felt his gut twist and realised part of him had been worrying that they would pay for their little act of improvised rebellion. He now knew why Zoe looked so gorram guilty. She had always stood foursquare beside her Captain, an immovable and loyal partner in every venture Mal undertook. Now his crew had decided they didn't need him to make decisions for them. It seemed the Captain had taken them at their word. Simon closed his eyes and felt regret hit him swift and hard. He thought of all the times he had openly questioned the man's morality, his integrity, his determination to do things in his own way, even his sanity gorrammit. Yet he had to admit that the Captain rarely steered them wrong it was just that this was an unforgiving 'verse and as the Captain had said on more than one occasion they already had enemies a-plenty. Many of them added to the Captain's burden by making a place for him and his sister aboard Serenity.

Now his crew had effectively told him they didn't need him any more. With a pang of sorrow Simon realised that they had hurt the one person they should not have hurt at all. The one they owed the most to and seemingly appreciated the least. The Captain had always been there for them. Strong, sometimes arrogant, harsh when he had to be, closed off and singular, but always there when his crew needed him. At times he could be insightful, gentle even and with the kind of wicked humour it was impossible to be inured to. Above all these qualities and faults was the fact that whatever he might say to the contrary Malcolm Reynolds cared about each and every one of them. It might not be something he would ever be comfortable articulating but he showed it in his actions, his fierce protectiveness towards both ship and crew. Simon realised that it was not so much loyalty or anything noble in the man but his being needed that kept him on Serenity. Now that glue had been disolved he wondered how long it would take everything else the man had built to slowly fall apart. When he looked up from his solemn introspection it was to see River looking back at him, her face hovering just inches from his own No one else in the commons area but the siblings.

"He isn't angry, Simon." She said gently, her eyes sympathetic and all-too knowing.

Simon swallowed hard. The Captain had called his sister a Reader, a notion he had vehemently denied to be true. Yet she knew things, had a way of seeing into each and every one of them that was downright creepifying even if she was the single most important thing in his life. "He isn't?" She shook her head gently. Such love for him in her solemn eyes. "No. Sad. Disappointed."

"We never meant to hurt him, River."

Her smile was very soft, a gift to make him feel better. Her small hand touched his and he clung to that reassurance. "He knows."

* * * * *

John Porter Clements was a large lanky man with features that looked like they had been scrambled from a dozen races from the old Earth-that-was and bolted on to his face without any finesse. In one light he looked a mix of Chinese and Peruvian, in another he looked more Mexican, and when he pulled his face just so he even looked liked he would be more at home on the Russian steppes from the fables of Earth-that-was. Right now he was busy making calculations, his ugly face masking a very bright and agile mind. Figures running through his head in complex calculations that would have left many men scratching their heads with the difficulty of the task. But numbers were his thing. His skill. They spoke to him, their mathematical edges were joyous and seductive to his mind. His eyes glittered when they multiplied in his hands, whether in coin or money's worth, he could judge mass and ratio with percentages and tell the weight of a grain of gold with the same accuracy as he could a grain of salt. Then he could tell you the price per gram. Not nothing that had a value escaped Clements eagle eye.

Now he was looking not at grain or precious metals, nor gems or glittering crystals. He was watching a line of men. They shuffled as they passed him, their linked chains a metaphor for the chain gangs of the distant past. Sorted in size he watched their muscles clench and flex, their shirts torn from their bodies to show off the merchandise while electric prods ensured the line kept moving and that the prisoners did not attempt anything so foolish as to make a break for it. Besides being linked one to another the guards were as vigilant of their charges as a stallion over a brood of mares. He watched the moving line and said not one solitary word. The foreman flicked an anxious look in his direction, knowing the main money would come from his quarter or not at all. Slavery was a risky business unless you were high up in the Alliance and had position and money to cushion your fall. People could disappear quicker than a colony of Reavers on the prowl. The right head turned here, palm greased there. Paperwork vanished and everybody got a touch of the forgetfuls that was downright catching. Them as felt their consciences twinge were often given graphic reasons to revisit their qualms. It was amazing how quickly those reservations were banished.

Clements loved money. Not just for what it was but for what it could do. He never bothered to spend any of his fortune prettying himself up. He could afford to buy any whore to treat him as the most handsome man in the 'verse. And them as couldn't paint a happy face on the lie were soon left with far worst things to worry about. Like how in the nine hells they would take another breath with their faces ripped off and shoved down their disapproving Core-bred throats. Yes. Life was shiny if you were a mind to bend it to your will. And Clements was more than powerful and ugly, he had a will of gorram iron. Not nothing in the 'verse he set his sights on that he didn't get.

* * * * *

It was a very eclectic crew by any standards. Malcolm Reynolds kept a poker face and watched carefully, committing each face to memory as Rafe Connor introduced him to his men. The Foreman or Ramrod was a man named Hal Larkin, a short stringy fellow with a deeply weathered face and eyes that shone like fragmenting diamonds. Man was all kinds of subtle which Mal liked. His eyes were quick, intelligent and sharp. For all his size he had a feeling the man had not been born that could rise early enough to catch him napping. A quality Mal could appreciate and respect. His top hand, Todd Richards, had a big easy smile that flashed so often that it appeared a mite disingenuous. Or it could be the man was just plain nervous meeting a stranger who seemed to have his feet further under the boss's table than he had managed in half a lifetime. Or so it seemed. He did not miss the quick calculating look Todd had given Molly over Mal's shoulder nor the way his smile slipped a mite when his eyes met Mal's. Interesting. Paul Cotton was a dour faced fellow but there was good nature in his face, a kind of laid back sardonic humour lurking in the deep wells of his soulful eyes. Made Mal want to laugh and buy him a beer all in the same instant.

Blade was a middle sized black fellow, skin as dark as midnight but with no shine to it. Head as bald as a gorram marble and beautifully sculpted, not a single dent or bump on it. He wore a narrow moustache that weeped down the sides of his mouth and joined the very neat and close cropped goatie beard. The facial hair trimmed so close to his face it could have been painted on. Perhaps it had, he mused. Blade was completely featureless until he smiled then the flash of white was blinding, the face suddenly an animated canvas with so much going on at once you couldn't take it all in with one glance. After Blade came Jaimie Sparks, a man with the kind of curly head of hair you expect on a gorram baby not a grown man. His face was always laughing and reminded Mal of Wash in ways that were a little too painful for comfort. Yet he found it impossible to dislike the man, he just oozed placid contentment.

"I take it you're married, Jaimie?"

The affable fellow laughed, a spurt of humour that made the others smile tolerantly. He was a big man for whom good humour was as natural to him as breathing was to others. "*Bu qu*. Why do you think I'm so gorram happy?"

Everybody laughed. Rafe turned to smile at Mal. "Best not call him Jaimie, Mal."

He raised a brow. "Oh?"

"We call him Ten Lives, or *Shi* for short."


Jaimie chuckled. "On account of I have more lives than a gorram cat."

Mal laughed, liking the big man instantly. In fact everyone he met he liked more or less on the spot. One or two of the others were more of a solemn bunch but that was shiny too. Wall to wall smiles just made a man's face ache after a while. He nodded, shook hands, exchanged polite words and so on until he had met everyone including the rutting cook. Mal looked most impressed by the Chinese cook, a twinge of sorrow cutting deep as the man's features morphed into the familiar nut brown face of his mother's old Foreman, Cheng. A man as close as a father to him as his own had been. Solemn and rarely smiling, one word of praise from Cheng would leave him grinning like a loon for a whole gorram week. A smile was like touching every star in the sky and finding your name painted on it. It took him a moment to move on passed Chung-li. An odd memory stirriing in his back brain at the mention of the man's name. Chung-li, the chief of the Eight Immortals in Taoism. Mal blinked. Surprised to remember a fool thing like that after all these long years. It brought back poignant memories of Cheng teaching him his Mandarin, how to write in Pinyin and understand things as diverse to his young childhood senses as the Tao, Chinese medicine and philosophy. And no one. Not no one before or since could ever fight like Cheng.

Apart from being Chinese, Chung-li was as different to Cheng as fire was to water. Cheng had been as thin and wirey as Hal Larkin but Chung-li was the other extreme, as round as butter with a face like a smiling moon or a happy Buddha. But his eyes were calm and wise. Perhaps he was an immortal reborn? Mal mentally shook his head as if the bits in it were more than a mite loose. Since when did he get so gorram fanciful? With the introductions over Rafe told the men what he was wanting from them, how he wanted them to show Mal the ropes and find out what skills he could add to the pool. That raised a few thoughtful looks and half smiles. Mal wondered what kind of rutting rights of passage would be foisted upon him. Not that it mattered a good gorram. A man had to start somewhere and so far as he could tell it looked like he had landed not only on his feet but in fertile soil. A place where a man could grow. Set down roots and find himself all kinds of happy. A place where just maybe his soul could heal.

* * * * *

"I don't like it!"

Zoe was frustrated with Wash. "Well what would you like? Do I need to explain the whole starvin' to death thing?"

"I'm not sayin' we don't need to find work, *bao bei*, but Badger?"

"We've taken work from him before." Chimed in Book calmly.

"I know," Wash hedged. "It's just that 'look' he gave us. I don't like it."

They were all on the bridge. Zoe had sent a wave to Badger and when it came through the crew had gravitated to the bridge and looked in to see if he had any work for them. Apart from the Captain the only one not on board was Inara and she was not due to return until that evening. "It's just fetch an' carry, Wash."

"That's what worries me." Mumbled Wash.

"Why should that worry you?" Asked Simon, the curiosity evident in his voice. Next to him Kaylee squeezed his hand, gratified when the doctor squeezed back. They thought they were being discreet but the Shepherd had seen their little touches, the secretive smiles they shared when they thought no one was looking. Didn't take a gorram genius to see they were one step away from being in love. *Diyu* maybe they had already taken that step? The only wonder of it was that River had not opened her mouth and given the game away. But then looking at her face the clues were pretty much in plain sight. Only Jayne hadn't seemed to notice but then he was worrying about the distinct lack of coin in his pocket so could be forgiven for being a mite distracted.

"The money, we've never been paid so much to do so little." Explained Wash.

"*Diyu*, ya can give me your share I ain't fussy." Said Jayne with a happy grin.

Zoe sighed and tried to forget the headache starting to form behind her eyes. "Badger says it's honest but heavy work so I guess we're gonna earn it. The good thing is it's a job an' it pays half up front."

Book raised his eyebrows. "Why so generous?"

She did not like to remind him how Badger's face had lit up when he realised the Captain and crew seemed to have parted company. Perhaps he thought he could move in and buy their loyalty? Whatever the reason Zoe knew it was not through goodwill. Badger didn't have a generous bone in his body and the only thing he seemed to like more than chiseling the Captain out of his hard earned coin was putting Mal in mortal danger then stepping back to watch the fun. Part of her brain was warning her to be on her guard and she was but that didn't mean they could afford to ignore this offer.

"How hard can it be?" She said, unintentionally echoing Serenity's missing Captain. "We go in, do the job, get paid, keep flyin'."

"Where is this place again?"

"Planet called Delios."

"Never heard of it." Grunted Jayne.

The Shepherd frowned. "Sounds kind of familiar but I can't place it. Where is it?"

"It's not a planet as such, Preacher, it's a large meteor fragment."

"Asteroid." Corrected River.

Zoe turned her head. "*Shenme*?"

"Asteroid, not a meteor. Was a planet but not now, too many collisions splitting the atoms."

Simon looked puzzled. "How come it's got a name if it's an asteroid?"

River answered. "Because Delios was the original planet. The smaller fragments are only numbers, Delios is the most important. Mostly stable now and very valuable."

Jayne's eyes glittered. "Valuable?"

Zoe tried not to look at Wash. That look on his face saying 'I told you so'. "It has a lot of valuable ores and minerals imbedded in it. The orbiting mining colony are excavating a particularly rich seam hence needing someone to transport the materials."

"What kind'a materials? We talkin' gold?"

The look on the first mate's face hardened. "The reason for the large payoff Jayne is do the job an' not ask questions, *dong ma*?"

He frowned at her. "Don't hurt to ask."

"Except when we're being paid not to." Said Simon quietly.

Kaylee bit her bottom lip. As if sensing her discomfort Simon gently squeezed her hand and she began to feel better.

"Just one thing." Zoe added as the crew were about to go. "We lose half the money if we wait until tomorrow."

"But 'Nara won't be back 'til late, we gotta wait for 'Nara!" Cried Kaylee.

"How long is this job going to take?" Asked Book.

"Not long, two days at the outside. If we leave in the next hour or so we can be back late tomorrow. I can send Inara a wave an' let her know about the delay if we're all agreed but we have to decide within the next hour. Client's waitin'."

"Now ya sound like a ruttin' Companion." Grumbled the mercenary.

Zoe scowled at Jayne. "*Xiaoxin* Jayne, even if I was willin' - an' I'm not - you can't afford my rates."

* * * * *

It was a beautiful day. Late afternoon and the sky turning all kinds of colours the like of which did crazy things to Mal's cynical old heart. He was with some of the boys and Jaimie Sparks renewing a whole mess of fencing. His breath caught slightly when he had first seen the post holer, memories of River and Simon about to be burnt by crazy hill folk that actually made his resident demented genius seem sane. Now that was a creepifying thought. The memory burned even as it warmed him but decisions had been made and he was not a man to turn his back on what had been decided. Made no never mind that the timescale for doing so had been accelerated by the actions of his crew. His crew. As if they were his now. Nope. They were Independent of him, standing on their own two feet and making their own way in the 'verse. It made him all kinds of nervous thinking of the dangers out in the Black that they would face. Fortunately he trusted Zoe like his own self and the Preacher was mighty handy with more than just a hammer and nails.

Then there was Jayne. Equal parts reassuring muscle and weak link in the chain. Zoe and Book should be more than a match for his rebellious side. Just hoped the traitor that lurked within had learnt his lesson. Regrets did not bear visiting. What was done was done and maybe, just maybe, when he got the blues out of his system and steadied the dull painful ache in his heart he would look them up. Make sure they were doing okay. Not that he would interfere or rant and rail at them. Until recently he would have torn them into so many strips for even thinking of doing what they had proposed but of late his resolve had grown weaker. His grip relaxed by familiarity and the content that his crew would never fail him. That faith had been shattered in the most casual of ways. Had reminded him only too well that he had stayed too long. Got *shufu*. Begun to rely on them too much. Made a man all kinds of weak and not nobody could survive the 'verse if he was weak.

He lifted his head, the sweat plastering his wet hair to his scalp. Perspiration running down his face in the heat of the day and from his exertions. *Shi* stepped up to the fencing and gave it a tug, the posts were sound and the fencing taut and firm. He gave Mal a long slow grin.

"What do you know, boys? The *xin nanhair* knows his stuff."

They clapped him on the shoulder and fell into the shared banter of acceptance. Weary and sweaty, Mal felt a deep content steal through him body and soul. These were good honest hard working folk. He liked and respected them and that was something no amount of coin could buy. The ride back settled him just like the land called to him and the warming rays of a dying sun promised to rise and shine on him all over again the next day. Life was good. The last sound ringing in his ears as he bunked down with the other hands was the teasing tones and chuckles of good natured laughter. As his head hit the pillow he immediately drifted off to a sound sleep. Something he had not been able to do with ease in a good long while.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*diyu* = hell *dong ma* = understand *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *shenme* = what *shi* = ten *bao bei* = precious/treasure *xiaoxin* = careful *xin nanhair* = new boy *shufu* = comfortable


Thursday, August 12, 2004 1:37 PM


Keep going, keep going!! Couldn't wait to get back from vacation to see the newest chapter!! Love your writing!

Thursday, August 12, 2004 9:45 PM


Zoe, Zoe... tsk, tsk, tsk... about to screw up big time, I'm thinking.

Really enjoying this tale--was happy to see a new chapter up! I'm finding the easy pacing particularly enjoyable--nice to see a relaxed (if totally self-deluded) Mal in the contrast to the now-tense and anxious Zoe. Works well.

I neglected to mention before how tickled I was that you did give them the naked beach holidy at the end of your last series, then promptly turned around in this one and had a naked beach holiday turn bad on them. Very fine.

Thursday, August 12, 2004 11:02 PM


How do you do it? Where do these fabulous characters come from? Anyway, wonderful story. Wonder if Zoe knows her cargo is radioactive, or as good as. And River... All very shiny.

Friday, August 13, 2004 7:46 PM


You did it again, great story! I love how we can "see" the shift in dynamics between the characters without their beloved captain. Just one thing... needs more SIMON! :) Can't wait to read the next parts.

Saturday, August 14, 2004 7:21 AM


Am I just plain weird? Because I'm finding happy, relaxed Sabbatical!Mal heart-breaking? I'm more worried about him in this story than I've been in any of your other stuff, Ali. Because all this content now can mean only one thing ....

Great. Love it. When's the next chapter?

Sunday, October 16, 2011 5:54 PM


Kaylee bit her bottom lip. As if sensing her discomfort Simon gently squeezed her hand and she began to feel better.



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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.