THE REFLECTION SERIES: 6. "A Question of Trust"
Wednesday, August 18, 2004

"While Mal and little Rose solidify their friendship the crew of Serenity almost destroy theirs. As tensions mount they learn why the Alliance turns a blind eye to the activities of their latest employer."



SUMMARY: "While Mal and little Rose solidify their friendship the crew of Serenity almost destroy theirs. As tensions mount they learn why the Alliance turns a blind eye to the activities of their latest employer." 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

* * * * *

Rose Connor had taken to watching Malcolm Reynolds from Day One. The way he listened with his eyes as well as his ears captivated her. She could say anything in finger-talk and he would like as not read her sign clear as a spoken word shouted out. He fascinated her and in double quick time that fascination became mutual. Nimble fingers flew into complex shapes between them that defined the air they breathed. He taught her so much as he shaped the silent world in which she had retreated so long ago. Gave her variations that cut down on the finger-talk, abbreviations that were like a kind of advanced shorthand - speaking whole sentences with just a shape or two. He also taught her the shadow-shapes, the close cupped variants that could only be picked up on direct line of sight. Rather like turning your face so that only the person you looked directly at could read your expression, he taught her how to do that with her hands and she loved the opportunity to learn a new skill, to learn his shorthand and augment the limits of her own. Her family were good and close, loved her beyond the breath in their bodies but none of them had ever considered exploring the tools she had. As long as they could talk to her and knew enough sign to understand her in return they were content thinking it was the best they could hope for but Malcolm Reynolds demanded and gave more. It was new, it was exciting, it was living a life rather than watching it unfold through the eyes of others.

Folks thought because she couldn't speak she was dumb but she wasn't. Fact was Mal thought she was smarter than the whole gorram lot of them and that amused the girl no end. But it was all done in a gentle teasing humour that translated like his hand signs, a gift only she could open. So it did not seem at all strange or incongruous for her to want to go up to the High Meadow with him. She saw no oddness to it. It was as if she had merely been waiting for someone who would understand her needs and be able to respond to them in a way she could accept. Someone on the same wavelength who would allow her to stand on her own two feet, take her own steps through life yet be close enough if she stumbled. More friend than support mechanism and she had craved so long to have a such a friend. Just hadn't known it till now.

The chance to witness the world through her eyes but his fingers was intoxicating. She watched his fine flyaway brown hair catch the slightest breeze as Storm took them first walking then in a slow canter across the wide open lands that were her birthright. Arms gripped round him, eyes wide as she took in the vibrant colours of a world no longer seen through glass. She could hear him talking, the reassuring rumble in his chest, words spoken soft and quiet even when his voice raised a little to carry the better for her. He chattered in places then fell silent in others, but there was a rhyme and rythym to it that was all kinds of comforting. Rose felt happy. Safe. As if any minute now she would be able to fly with nothing more than the joy in her heart to sustain her.

* * * * *

Jayne Cobb was grumbling. Not that it was anything new but this time every one of them shared his reservations. River's head tilted, her eyes still fixed on the orbiting platform as they drew nearer and nearer to Delios. "Come into my parlour said the spider to the fly."

Jayne's head jerked up. "What the gorram ya talkin' about, crazy girl?"

"*Rongyi* Jayne," Said Wash, trying to hide his own rising nervousness. He looked silently across at a very still and uncomunicative Zoe. Wondering what the good gorram was wrong and why she would not tell him. She had been so remote yet tense that it made his nerves jangle like an alarm going off in his nervous system. Made him all kinds of edgy. If they didn't need this job so bad he would have turned Serenity round and got them the *diyu* out of there. Even now, the advance coin that had enabled them to fuel the ship left a bitter taste on his tongue. Yet what was worse was the feeling that it was not the job that was upsetting her.

Kaylee tried to cheer everyone up, not liking or understanding the glum atmosphere. "All we gotta do is ship cargo, *dui*?"

"Yeah," Growled Jayne.

"Then we get the rest of the money an' we're flyin' free. So what's everybody so glum about?"

Simon was as much in the dark as Kaylee but he could feel the underlying current and was wary about saying anything that would make a tense situation even worse. "This contact, I've never heard of him before."

For the first time Zoe spoke. "Neither have I but his credentials check out. This orbital minin' operation is only one of several interests."

The doctor's eyebrows rose in surprise. Shepherd Book looked thoughtful. "Do we know what those other interests are?"

"Minin', terraformin', colony settlement. Anythin' you care to name involvin' new worlds whether for minin' or otherwise."

Book thought about that. "Alliance backed?"

She shot him a sharp look. "Independent operation."

The Shepherd raised his head slightly. "Ah."

Zoe's eyes narrowed. "If you've got somethin' to say Preacher, spit it out. We dock in under ten minutes."

"Just an observation not a criticism." He paused slightly as if the words were intended as a placating gesture and he was waiting for them to take effect. Zoe ignored them and waited with ill concealed impatience. Her reaction interested him almost as much as the station they were approaching. "A single operation would not raise much interest in Alliance circles perhaps providing it was small, but if this is but one of many I can't see the Alliance ignoring that, can you?"

Silence. Heavy and oppressive. Zoe took a long deep breath before answering. "The impression I get is that the operation is not strictly 'legal'. We survive by steerin' clear of Alliance territory and strongholds, flyin' under Alliance radar. These people bury another mile or two below that."

"Huh," Said Jayne, unimpressed. "Can't hide somethin' this big."

"You can if you have the coin to pay for it." Zoe added with quiet authority.

Another silence fell. Kaylee stepped back so she could rest her shoulder against Simon, both of them benefitting by the mutual comfort given by the proximity of the other. Simon gave a soft sigh, "I don't like this."

"What would ya like?" Sneered Jayne angrily. "Starvin' on the Rim ain't so shiny, doc, an' I don't see ya comin' up with no masterplan."

"*Bizui*, enough!"

All heads turned to Wash. He looked tense but had gone all steely eyed. It looked incongruous on his normally affable face but had the desired effect. They had not seen that look on his face since the Skyplex. Not looking directly at Zoe he told them what they would have known for themselves if they had not been arguing.

"Too late to back out now even if we wanted to. Besides, they're hailin' us."

* * * * *

"Some people stay far away from the door If there's a chance of it opening up They hear a voice in the hall outside And hope that it just passes by

Some people live with the fear of a touch And the anger of having been a fool They will not listen to anyone So nobody tells them a lie..."

- 'An Innocent Man' written & sung by Billy Joel

The High Pasture was beautiful, aided and abetted by wall to wall sunshine and the vanishing thin vaporous clouds skimming the deepening blue overhead. Hal Larkin dismounted then walked back to help Rose down from the back of Storm. Malcolm Reyolds shared a quick grin with him and swung down from the saddle. Rose watched as the men dismounted then gathered round the open back wagon to collect their tools. Mal smiled at her and she grinned back, her hands signing a rapid glut of questions like a barrage of weapons fire. He laughed, tempted to swing her up in his arms and spin her around for the sheer joy of it. His smile froze, an ache deepening in his heart. An open wound that still seeped pain like dripping blood. The years swept back in a young girl's smile. The echo of it trapped in his heart among the ruins of a life-that-was.

*What's wrong? Did I say something wrong?*

He tried to smile for her but it just made him look pained. *Not nothing you said or did*

*Then what?*

Mal grabbed a post holer and Rose followed him almost shoulder to hip to where the new fence ended. He dipped his head down a moment and measured out the placement for the next post hole before looking up at her. She waited, patient, eyes curious but anxious. Forgetting she had never been this far outside before but not afraid. Not all the while she had him to show her that hidden strength. She needed him strong not weak, he saw all that and more in the animated planes of her young face. In the distant he could hear the others talking. Blade about to chide Mal for not getting on with it and the quiet interjection from the Foreman telling him to give them some time, some space. He was only vaguely aware of the Foreman's largess knowing he owed little Rosie some kind of explanation. No way in *diyu* would he compliment her with a lie.

Rose watched him impale the post holer into the hard ground. Waited while he got the angle in true vertical then drove down, replacing the implement with a new post and firming it in position. Freeing his hands he signed in shadow-shapes, for her eyes only. Her little smile was meant to reassure him, a smile so like his Gracie he wanted to cry. Fortunately he did not have to force words through a tightening throat. *Had me a sister, Rosie. You remind me of her*.

*I do?*

*Oh yeah. About the same age too*.

*So why are you so sad?*

*She died*. Seeing her eyes widen in horror he was quick to explain. *Not the war. She died of the fever before the War even came along*.

*What was her name, Mal?*.

It made his heart hitch even to sign it to her but he owed her the truth. *Gracie*. He paused to master his emotions, not wanting his pain to hurt her. *She was seven years old*.

Rose Connor looked at him in shock. Rapidly putting two and two together and making not five but four. Mal had said she was the brightest of the bunch, could count too. *I remind you of her?*

He nodded. *She was the sweetest soul in the gorram 'verse, Rosie. If I was a man as still believed in God I'd say you brought her smile back to me*

Sad beyond words and hurting for him, Rose wrapped her arms around him. Mal closed his eyes briefly and hugged her back, ignoring the concerned looks passing among the Foreman and hands. Gently he eased away from her, looked deep into her eyes then spoke and did not sign. Not wanting to take his hands away until the last moment, needing to impress on her that life moved on. Just as hers would. "Day's gettin' old, Rosie. Thought you wanted to learn all about the noble art of fencin'?"

His eyes were still sad but tinged with humour, a plea shining out for her to go along with his words. To not ask questions he was in no way ready to answer. To just let it be. She nodded and he let go but long after the heat of their touch had faded their eyes held the knowledge and it was enough.

* * * * *

The docking went without a hitch. Zoe, Jayne and the Shepherd checked each other's EVA suits, a look back from Zoe impressing on Wash and the others to keep their eyes and ears peeled. Wash was as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof, even if that roof was a Firefly. Kaylee frowned. "Why are they goin' in suits? I thought the platform had sealed containment?"

"It does," Said Wash patiently, his eyes fixed to the three cumbersome figures meeting the platform overseer himself. John Porter Clements. Not that they could make out any of the man's features through that face plate but they had remembered he was all kinds of ugly from the vid feed. "They won't be working in containment."

Simon's eyes widened, liking this deal less and less the more details he heard. "Are you saying they're going down to the asteroid?"

"Bingo!" The pilot exclaimed, but it was a dull not joyful sound.

"*Wo bu dong*," Said Kaylee. "If we're just movin' cargo why do they have to go down to the rock? Shouldn't the ore or whatever it is be already waitin' for transport? Why have an orbitin' platform if ya don't use it to bring up the ore?"

"Why haul it yourself when you can hire fools like us?" Simon said bitterly.

They went quiet. River said nothing at all, her eyes glued to the scene outside. Sifting through the lies and half-truths, the picture they were seeing from the one on the box. Didn't match. When she did speak her voice was eerie and flat-toned like a machine delivering a death message. "Anyone can go in but they can't come out."

Alarmed Wash shot her an anxious look but she was still gazing out at the platform. "Are you sayin' they won't be comin' back?"

Simon reached for River but she seemed not to react to him. His arms wrapped gently round her too fragile body. The need to protect her and keep her safe overwhelming him. "She doesn't know what she's saying..."

She jerked in his arms, her attention breaking off from the view outside to correct him. Mild irritation on her face as she gazed up at him. "Do too. You never listen, try to quiet the voices that would make you wise. Because you don't understand the message you drug the messenger but still comes out the same only like eggs in a blender, everything scrambled."

Wash sidled closer to her, his anxious face hovering only inches from hers now. "River, what did you mean? Why won't they be comin' back?"

"They need capable hands and strong backs." Her eyes drifted away from Wash's face to glance at Kaylee. She shook her head at her friend. "Not you." She looked at Simon. "Have to hide. Wait for the cavalry."

"River, how can we hide? If this is a trap we need to warn the others, get them back then lift off."

River shook her head, voice detached but sad. "Too late."

Simon was about to argue when they heard a choked sound from Wash. Three pairs of eyes turned and locked on the helpless look of horror on the pilot's ashen face. "She's right, we're not goin' anywhere." He flicked unresponsive switches then slumped a little in his chair.

Kaylee was really frightened now. "Wash? What's goin' on?"

"They've got us in some kind of net. My guess is they want people to work the minin' of the ore."

River Tam shook her head. "*Bu qu*. They have their own people for that. Not just muscle but engineers. Specialists. Only the best for the pride of the Core."

Her brother did not want to ask, not sure he wanted to hear the answer but not knowing was worse. The knowing or the not knowing. "If they don't want to use us to mine the asteroid what do they want with us?"

The genius gave him a blinding smile as if the news she were about to impart were the best in the 'verse rather than its' exact opposite. "Slaves."

"Slaves?" Squeaked Kaylee. "But that's illegal."

"Only if you get caught." Said River.

A long long silence followed then a face appeared on the screen. They all recognised instantly the incredible ugliness of their captor. The grin on the face of John Porter Clements just adding insult to injury.

* * * * *

Rafe Connor had that feeling. The one that settles between a man's shoulder blades and tells him trouble is brewing. He narrowed his eyes and swept the valley slowly, his men working the cattle. Cutting out the unbranded and roping them for the heating iron. He had noticed Bill Peary and Harper Brooks seemed to be sticking close to each other, often deep in conversation then breaking off the moment they felt eyes on them. Suspicions began to multiply in the rancher's head but he did not let on. They were plotting something, he knew it. Had a notion who their target might be but he could be wrong. Experience had taught him many lessons but the one that stood head and shoulders above all the rest was to never ever ignore that itch.

* * * * *

It was a pretty impressive facility Zoe had to admit. The orbital platform was really something and a hell of a lot bigger than it had first looked. They had seen it first from above so had not realised the depth of the structure. Like an iceberg she was all aware how much had been hidden from the angle of descent and was now being revealed, like the deep underbelly of some monstrous creation. Jayne naturally put it in the vernacular.

"I'll be a *meiyou muqin de xiao gou*!"

Zoe ignored the mercenary, turned her head and looked at Clements. "This is some operation you have here."

He sounded smug even through the filtration unit of his suit. "Biggest, best an' shiniest gorram operation in the 'verse."

"How'd the Alliance feel about that?" Cut in Jayne.

Zoe would have liked to have cut off his air supply - permanently. When would the rutting *dai ruo mu ji* learn to keep his *chunren* mouth shut? Fortunately their host seemed more amused than offended. "Let's just say we have a healthy respect for each other."

Respect? That sounded all manner of wrong to Zoe. Judging by the look on Book's face he did not like it either. Could Clements and the Alliance be working hand in hand? As the thought occurred to her a cold sensation formed in the pit of her stomach. *Diyu*. What she wouldn't give right now to have the Captain standing right beside her. Hot on the heels of that thought was the ice cold pain of knowing she was gazing into the past. She could not be dealing with those emotions now if ever. "You said you had goods to transport?"

Her meaning was clear. Where the rutting *diyu* was the cargo and when could they get to the loading and leaving part of the plan? Clements smile disingenuously then led them away from the viewing platform to what looked like a mini control tower. Shepherd Book frowned but kept silent, he glanced at Jayne until the big man caught his eye and gave him a silent warning. Jayne started to open his mouth in query but the tiny shake of the Preacher's head kept the mercenary's mouth shut tight. They followed Zoe and Clements into the tower, through two sets of doors into a dirty room where they were subject to decontamination. Here they stripped off their suits and passed through another set of doors into a clean room. Zoe was all kinds of confused now. What in the nine hells were they doing divesting themselves of their suits before they picked up the rutting cargo? But the Shepherd was quicker on the uptake. As they were led into a steel lined office the Preacher looked John Porter Clements in the eye.

"There never was a cargo to haul was there?" He asked quietly.

In the deadly silence that fell around them, the only thing they could hear was the cold racking sound of Clements' laughter ringing off walls of steel.

* * * * *

He knew they would do nothing on or around the ranch. Too risky. Too many ways the finger would point back to them. But the longer Rafe Connor watched the two men's body language the more convinced he was that they were simply waiting for the right opportunity. That would probably be when the stock was taken to market. The central town of commerce on Glory was up at Jackson's Flats, a kind of crossroads of sorts from the four corners of the habitable world. The backside of Glory was not settled, never turning its' face towards the sun it was too cold, bleak and dark to entertain a thriving population. Everyone settled on the half that bathed in glory's sun. There was no sea, no ocean, no inland waterways to speak of but they had streams and small lakes a-plenty dotted between rolling landscapes and sweet rich meadows. The dry slopes farmed for crops, the deep lush grasses cropped short by cattle. On the lowerlands by the northside of the Flats there was even some marshland. Another place folk avoided especially with livestock to feed, fatten then sell. Didn't raise no coin if your herd got sucked down in that soggy corner of No and Where.

Rafe watched, lent a hand as and when one was needed then nudged his horse into step as they made their way back to the ranch. Another hour or so and there would be no light to see by, Glory having no moon and only fitful stars to light a man's way. Mark glanced at his father, noticed he seemed a mite distracted by something but held his tongue. If his pa had something on his mind he would tell them soon enough. Harper was cracking some kind of funny with Bill Peary but he wasn't close enough to catch the joke. Harry Simmons was and laughed at the ribald humour, nudging forwards to pass on the joke. Rafe gave a little grin but his eyes weren't smiling. Mark's eyes narrowed a touch and made note of it. Ben caught his eye but Mark spoke instead of the inconsequentials that passed for small talk.

The ride back was easy and mostly companiable but the itch between Rafe's shoulder blades had grown.

* * * * *

"What we gonna do?" Hissed Kaylee anxiously.

Simon looked at a loss. "I don't know what we can do."

"If we stay here we're as trapped as they are." Said Wash slowly. "That doesn't mean I wanna leave them here, or that I would if I could, just thinkin' out loud."

"Is there any way we can break out of that net or whatever it is?" Asked the doctor in a low voice.

Kaylee gave him a curious look. "Why ya whisperin'?"

River leaned in close to Kaylee's ear. "He thinks they can hear us."

The mechanic's eyes went wide with alarm. "Can they? Can they do that?"

Simon flapped his hands to calm her down and probably himself too. "No, no, I didn't mean that, at least I hope I didn't mean that..."

"They can't eavesdrop on what we say on Serenity if that's what you're thinkin'," Said Wash. "But we do have to think of somethin'. I can't see our 'employer' leavin' us alone for too long."

"Unless he thinks we don't know anything is wrong." Said Simon.

Wash blinked. "An' not bein' able to take off wouldn't register as somethin' bein' wrong?"

"I didn't mean that, I meant they might not have expected us to check that we *could* take off. After all, so far as they're aware we think this is a legitimate job, *dui*?" The Pilot nodded, not sure where Simon was going with this but thinking was always better than not thinking when you were in a tight spot. Or so he hoped. "You got a plan?"

"Um no, not exactly."

Wash sighed, beginning to feel exasperated.

"I think we should send a wave to Inara." He said quietly.

"You want to drag Inara into this *goushi*? I'm sure the Captain would like that."

"Wash, I don't want to drag anyone into this but Inara is free. Clements doesn't know anything about her, she isn't linked to us in this. That means she's free to maybe make some contacts." Simon shrugged. "*Duibuqi*, it's all I can think of for now."

The pilot watched him closely, realised Simon was just as off balance as the rest of them but at least he was trying to think beyond the box. "O-kay, say I wave her we can't just ask her to come on over. Just give that *liumang* one more slave to take to market."

Kaylee gasped, River clutched her hand and gave it a comforting squeeze.

"Inara knows a lot of people," Said Simon, trying to reassure Kaylee as well as find a way out of their predicament. "She may be able to get help."

"Perhaps she can find the Cap'n? He'll know what to do." Said Kaylee hopefully.

"Except we don't know where the Captain is," Simon pointed out gently.

"So? Do we send the wave or not?" Asked Wash.

They looked at each other. River sat up straight and spoke for them all. "The Committee says yes."

They gazed at her with blank expressions for a second then chimed in with their agreements. Wash logged on the cortex and wondered how best to frame their little cry for help. As he hesitated over just what to say his eye caught River gazing back at him, her expression open and confident. Was it bad that he was putting his trust in a crazy girl now? He punched the code and pushed all doubt aside. What did it matter anyway? They were all crazy now.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*rongyi* = easy *diyu* = hell *dui* = correct *bizui* = be quiet/shut up *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *goushi* = crap/dog shit *meiyou muqin de xiao gou* = motherless fucker *dai ruo mu ji* = dumb as a wooden chicken *duibuqi* = sorry *liumang* = bastard/asshole/criminal/gangster *chunren* = stupid

* * * * *


Wednesday, August 18, 2004 2:58 AM


Ah, normal service resumed! Pain, heartache, danger - all the hallmarks of a good read.

Feeling very anxious for Zoe and Jayne. And Mal. Looks like he's digging his own grave from where I'm sitting.

This bit - " He laughed, tempted to swing her up in his arms and spin her around for the sheer joy of it. His smile froze, an ache deepening in his heart. An open wound that still seeped pain like dripping blood. The years swept back in a young girl's smile. The echo of it trapped in his heart among the ruins of a life-that-was" - I found achingly beautiful. The abruptness of going from job to pain. And I like the way you followed it up with the practicalities of fence-building. Was the contrast between physical barrier making and emotional barrier dismantling intentional?

Wednesday, August 18, 2004 2:59 AM


OK, I meant joy not job. Damn my typing.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004 7:27 AM


Another great installment Ali, and as usual I'm desperate for more!

Write faster!

Wednesday, August 18, 2004 8:27 AM


Among other things I love how you're letting Simon out a bit.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004 10:15 PM


Yikes! I knew Zoe was screwing up, but this one's big time.

The bit with Mal and the kid was lovely. I liked the signing, and shadow signing thing--is that a real Chinese form of signing you're using? Or an ASL or British signing? Or something else?

Liked that the girl was understanding and comforting of Mal, and that he just presented his hard reality to her instead of glossing it over.

Thursday, August 19, 2004 12:06 AM


Guildsister, in the main Mal and Rose are using a form of ASL. I am trained in BSL and some cued speech but I see signing as a living language not a rigid format and if you get two kids together signing they quickly adapt and modify their hand shapes into their own little shorthand, much like we as kids probably had our own mix of spoken jargon unique to ourselves. Then there is the deaf-blind alphabet and so on. Lots of material to work with and then take an intuitive leap into how that might adapt in the Firefly 'verse 500 years from now. There would certainly be a Chinese influence, a cultural mix, and the shadow-shape idea comes more from cued-speech than BSL or ASL. The Chinese do use sign when they are counting. So happy you are enjoying the story. As for the emotional and physical barriers Kispexi2 I did want to subtly allude to that but was surprise you picked up on it so quickly. Also very gratified you were paying such close attention. Thanks to everyone for the feedback, that is so shiny. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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His head still ached from the rutting probe but after the men had satisfied themselves that his story was true a thousand questions peppered the air like machine gun fire.

The vessel was shiny, sleek and black with nowhere near the bulk of an Alliance ship. Something about the way it moved through the Black was more than a little creepifying.

Personally she didn't care if Serenity was towed off to a junk yard and stripped into spare parts. She had promised the ship to Jer and his crew as a bonus but it looked like scavengers had beaten them to it.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: 2. "Counting Chickens"
The fact that her eyes were hard and sharp with intelligence kind of chilled him. Smart women always made him uneasy, it just weren't natural.

What in the nine hells were they so afraid of? Then he remembered Tracy. The body mailed to them by their old war buddy and all the trouble that had brought down on them.

If it was too gorram wet to hunt for rabbits what in the nine hells was his son really hunting? And was it something on four legs or two?

The man was in a terrible condition, his pulse weak, and for some reason he was soaking wet which did nothing to staunch the blood soaking through his clothing and seeping from the poorly tended wound where he had been shot.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 9. "All The King's Men"
The man sighed like the weight of the of the 'Verse was on his shoulders but unlike anyone else he looked like he could carry the weight.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 8. "All The King's Horses"
Without warning something came through the opening and rolled with a metallic clang across the ground before exploding.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 7. "Friend or Foe"
Then he found himself falling, the whole world silent as in slow motion the hordes of *diyu* came to swallow him up and everything disintegrated in fire, blood and pain.