Tuesday, November 6, 2007

"Just when things could not get any worse for the Captain a deal is struck with the Devil's Accomplice. Meanwhile, Jayne is working on a way out of his confinement aware that both he and Mal are running out of time."



SUMMARY: "Just when things could not get any worse for the Captain a deal is struck with the Devil's Accomplice. Meanwhile, Jayne is working on a way out of his confinement aware that both he and Mal are running out of time." 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

* * * * *

Drifting. A sea of pain. The swells and troughs a sickening tide on his senses, the dark well of his soul highlighted with flashes of agony as bright as lightening strikes. Mortal flesh inwardly recoiling against mental intrusion. His body jerked. Cold, shivering and wracked with occasional well orchestrated spasms. The only good thing was that he was not tied down, not pinned or shackled. While part of his mind rejoiced in that limited freedom his body flailed and flung itself across the metal room in sickening recompense. No padding to protect him, no furnishings or fixtures to cling to, just the isolation of the damned while but a thin wall kept him from his tormentor.

That wall was not one of bricks and mortal, metal or stone. It was a wall in his mind, an oversight, something unlooked for and therefore passing his senses unremarked until it was willingly revealed. Through the observation window General Tobias Brak watched, curbing his impatience with difficulty. Beside him a tall lanky cadaver of a man stood with all the patience of the undead. Dressed like an undertaker at a wake he would always look out of place. Brak was not freaked out by the sinister man nor his partner currently occupying the very room prepared for Malcolm Reynolds. He thought the drainaway sinkhole in the centre of the room a nice touch but none of the detail aided his vanishing patience.

"This is taking too long." The man at his side turned his head a fraction, soul dead eyes staring at him as if focus was immaterial. Brak wondered that he could see anything at all. "It will take as long as is necessary."

"That's not good enough."

They were silent a moment or two. Both watching as the Captain's prone body shook and convulsed for several seconds in a particularly violent spasm. No doubt prolonged for effect by his unemotional visitor. Saliva bubbled out of the side of the Captain's mouth, saliva tinged a pinky red and darkening. Brak leaned forward a little and peered intently through the glass as the tall sallow faced man moved closer to the slowly writhing body at his feet. Malcolm Reynold's eyes were closed. Brak didn't even want to think about the mess that had been made of the man's brain. He didn't care if the Captain were torn limb from limb as long as his brain was left intact. Ruin that and his chances of getting what he wanted were worse than slim.

"You are not to kill him."

There was no sign that his instruction had been heard still less was being heeded. Brak hated turning over any kind of control to another but in his desperation he had called in the biggest baddest hounds he could think of to do his dirty work for him. There would be a price to pay of course. There always was. But what did some slip of a girl who had outwitted the might of the Alliance matter to him? Brak watched transfixed as the tall sallow man in the dark suit knelt beside the Captain's head. A blue gloved handed reaching out to hover inches from the trembling man's forehead. At first things looked better for the Captain. His body stilled, the convulsions abruptly stopped. Brak began to take a small breath of relief then blinked rapidly to clear the misting vision in his eyes. Through the glass he could now see that the sallow man was holding a thin cylindrical tube across the palm of his hand. As he watched, two thin silver rods sprung out of each end. Realisation was a cold contraction around the walls of his heart. He turned to the man beside him, anger only just held in check.

"No! You'll kill him and I don't have my answers yet."

The man beside him said nothing. Before Brak could take in what was going on he noticed the man take his hand out of his right pocket. The whole thing seemed surreal, events happening in slow motion. He was the boss here. This was his operation, his information that had brought the Blue Sun clean up crew to his aid. He was the one in charge not them. Then he saw the hand exit the pocket, the fist slowly turning palm up to show him the rod clasped within those blue gloved fingers. His eyes widened, transfixed. Two slim metal arms sprang out of the sides of the rod. Thinking became a muddle of thick heavy viscous liquid, like his mind was wading through oil only the oil was warm and sticky and leaking out of his eyes, nose and ears. He coughed, his hand now covered in blood, his vision swaying. Understanding hit him a split second before the floor collided with his face. As he fell his head turned and he glanced one last time through the observation window. What he saw chilled him more than his own imminent death.

* * * * *

Jayne was calm. Calmer than he had been in a good long while. He did his best work when he was detached from emotion, when all that was in his head was a job or a target or just putting one gorram foot in front of the other. He had no idea exactly where he was but that didn't matter. He was still on the planet and that meant he should be able to get to Serenity, or rather, get word to those on board. All he had to do was find a way out of the oubliette. Then he needed to find out where they had taken the Captain. Gorram *shenjingbing chunren* was always getting up to his ass in alligators even when they weren't up to their rutting necks in a swamp. He'd read about such places, even fantasised about what they would look like, though he had never seen a predator with that proliferation of teeth sliding across the ground as if its' legs didn't work too good. Hoped to *diyu* he wouldn't be coming face to face with one now.

Sucking in a steadying breath Jayne looked at the round earthen wall, the twenty odd feet of soil packed up around him towards the patch of sky above his head, leaving him stranded at the bottom of something vaguely reminiscent of an ancient buriel mound. Only he wasn't dead and didn't figure on dying any time soon. He might not be as quick with the mental arithmatic as some but he had his own kind of smarts. More cunning than academic. Long as it worked he didn't care. Them as messed up ended up dead, didn't need a Core education to do that bit of math. Jayne considered the wall of earth. The diameter of the hole was too wide for him to brace himself against the sides and edge himself up that way and he had already determined it was like to crumble and fall on top of him the moment he tried to make handholds in the earth to climb out. But still. It was a matter of degree. He tried to work out how much soil would become dislodged and thus unsettle the lode above it. How much and how fast it would fall. This was where the width of the oubliette was to his advantage. With an almost feral growl, Jayne started to dig his fingers into the hard impacted soil of his prison, choosing to work away at loosening a piece of rock embedded in it first, that gave him a tool to dig in earnest.

Carefully watching and calculating as the side he was working on began to tumble downwards. Jayne stepped back, let it settle, then painstakingly stomped on the fallen soil, hammering it until it was hard beneath his feet, spreading the excess and tamping that down too. Okay, so it wasn't much more than an inch but it was an inch nearer the gorram surface. Do this right and he would be able to walk right out of that stinking hole and flatten whatever piece of *goushi buru* had been left to keep guard. Somewhere deep in Jayne's gut he knew there wasn't anyone waiting above. He was alone. Meant to waste away and die with no food, no water, and no way out. A long slow death. The piece of open sky above his head the final insult, mocking him with a glimpse of something he could not have. But then their enemy did not know Jayne Cobb. If he did he would have put a bullet in his gorram brainpan. With a dull humourless chuckle the mercenary got back to work, more grateful than he had words for that there were folks ten times more stupid than he was out there.

* * * * *

Inara was as furious with Casey as it was possible to be without instantaneously combusting. Ire ran through her veins like wildfire and looking into that woman's smug eyes would be lighting the blue touch-paper. Yet she wanted to talk to her, try to find out just what was going on and what had happened to the Captain. It irked her that of all people, Shepherd Book stood in her way. "You would do more harm than good."

Her eyes blazed at him. "She has the answers I know it. Just let me talk to her."

They were standing just outside the infirmary. Through the glass Inara could see River sitting in a chair next to the infirmary bed where Casey lay, Zoe standing next to her as she talked to Simon. The woman had yet to regain consciousness after the doctor had sedated her. Kaylee took the baby to the commons area once Simon had shown her how to use the breast pump to extract enough mother's milk to feed the infant until some decisions could be made. Inara nodded to Kaylee as the girl went passed but did not trust herself to speak. Inara knew Kaylee was upset but hoped that the girl wouldn't become so attached to the child that she wouldn't want to give him up when the time came. The only comfort was that Zoe was every bit as angry and unhappy as she was, the woman was just better at controlling it. Where Inara's fury blazed hot enough to sear flesh, Zoe's was colder than permafrost. The kind of cold that cracked and split rock without even trying.

"This isn't getting us anywhere. She won't tell us anything."

Book gave her a deceptively benign look, his low melodious voice pitched to calm. To reassure. "Let me try."

Zoe stepped out of the infirmary in time to hear Book's words. "No offence Shepherd but I don't think threatenin' hell an' damnation will have any effect."

"Oh, I have a wider repertoire than that. You should hear my quotations from Lamentations and nobody does a better Gideon than I do."

The first mate's eyes narrowed slightly. She had taken in Inara's tense form, been surprised by how much emotion the woman was failing to hide. At any other time she would have found that interesting, amusing even. Right now it just served to bind them tighter together. Shared outrage a stronger tie than sympathy. "River's tryin' to see into her mind."

Inara gave Zoe a swift look then glanced through the glass into the infirmary, noting the way River's face was tilted, her attention on the woman. Simon hovered but did not fuss. How much that control must be costing him Inara could not fathom but she could sypathise. "Is it working?"

Zoe hesitated then sucked in an irritated breath. "*Bu qu*."

"Nor will it." Said the Preacher smoothly. Both women looked at him. "Let me try. At best I may find a chink in her armour, at worst it will give River a rest."

For a moment it looked as if Zoe would refuse him but with so few options open to them she was ready to listen to anything. With a nod Zoe took him into the room, Smon looking up in the faint hope they had some news. One look at their faces dashed that hope. He put a hand on his sister's shoulder. "*Mei mei*."

"She's hiding in dark shadows. Makes herself one of them. So many secrets." River turned her head and gave Book a nod. "Your turn now. Leave the bible at home, neither threats nor promises or the soul's redemption will make any impact. Too corrupted to listen. Too self obssessed to care."

Simon frowned, wondering what she meant but Book seemed to understand. He nodded and gave River a tolerant smile. River left without being asked. Simon was surprised when Zoe stood before him. "Simon, think now would be a good time to take a break, *dong ma*?"

His eyes flicked from Zoe's to Inara standing at the door of the infirmary then to Book. The Preacher gave a reassuring nod. "Go, get some rest, have something to eat and drink. This may take a while."

"But what if she..."

"If she wakes I'll call you."

"She may be violent."

Book nodded. "I am sure that I can handle a woman who has just given birth."

With a weary shrug Simon followed Zoe out and shut the door. Inara turned and made her way to the commons room but Zoe didn't follow. "Go on Simon, I need to speak to Wash."

"*Duibuqi*, I wish I could have done more."

"You did plenty, not your fault the woman lied to us. But we know better now, won't be caught with our guard down again."

The doctor nodded and the two parted, Zoe quickening her steps needing to see Wash, to touch him, to hold him, to reassure herself that one part of her life was still stable. For as much as Wash was her heart, Mal was her soul. A piece of her that had come out of the Valley of the Shadow of Death with her. The rock she leaned on through thick and thin. She loved Wash with the last breath in her body but she needed Mal. She would not rest again until they got him back and God help the *tamade hundan* who had taken him. It was time to stop thinking in terms of what they couldn't do to what they could.

Barclay was not a large or prosperous planet. It was a dusty lump of rock with nothing to commend it to anyone. The folk that lived there and eeked out a pitiable existence from rare passing trade were as hard bitten and unyielding as the place itself. Pretty much their whole economy was based on making bricks and blocks out of stone and rock quarried in what looked like semi-desert. The meagre excuse for a town boasted little more than a couple of bars, a dry goods store and a few craft shops. No fresh produce was bought or sold on Barclay and no one lived on the rock permanently. Most of the quarrymen lived on Lilac, a four hour hard burn from Barclay. Yet Zoe knew that all manner of unpleasant things tended to crawl and hide under a rock and Barclay was nothing if not littered with them. She would turn over every gorram one of them if she had to until she either found the Captain and Jayne or a clue as to where they had been taken. Instinct told her that Casey knew. Had set this up. That woman better pray Book got the information out of her because if this all went to *diyu* Zoe was not going to be responsible for what happened to that scheming, lying *pofu*.

* * * * *

The Shepherd waited until he was quite alone with their troublesome patient. He sat in the chair River had vacated and watched the woman for a moment or two before speaking. "You can open your eyes now."

When nothing happened Book carried on as if the woman were wide awake and listening intently to his every word.

"You are going to a very Special Hell. One reserved for the worst of betrayers. Not just of trust but innocence." He paused, his voice softening. "The child does not deserve that."

Her eyes opened, a hard gaze levelled at the Shepherd. Book did not react. Showed no surprise and appeared as comfortable and relaxed as if he was talking to a long lost but foolish friend. Casey looked ready to rip his throat out. With her teeth. "You don't know what you're talkin' about. You're nothin' but God's Fool."

"Why didn't you tell them?"

Casey's eyes widened in disbelief. "My business is my own, Preacher. Best keep your nose out before I chop it off."

Moving so quickly the motion was a blur, Book had one hand fastened around the woman's throat and the other holding down the hand that she had been slipping under the cover. Applying pressure expertly her hand sprung open with a little cry of surprise and pain falling from her bitter lips. Calmly Book retrieved the scalpel. Later Simon would have missed it but between then and now the woman would have been able to do all manner of harm. "I won't let you hurt these people."

"Why do you care?"

"For the same reason you don't."

For a long moment neither spoke. Casey staring into Book's eyes as if the answers to the universe lay in those unfathomable depths. "You ain't a Shepherd."

"So it's been said but opinion is not the same as fact."

Casey blinked. *Shenme*?" "It means your opinion of me doesn't make it fact. Now I want the truth from you. It might be best to start at the beginning."

She stared at him as if Book had taken leave of his senses. Laughing, the sound came out almost rusty. The bitterness like an acid corroding and corrupting what should have been a pleasant sound. "Why in the nine hells would I do a fool thing like that?"

Book's voice was mild, pitched low but clear enough that she could hear every single word. It made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. "There are only two types of people I know who use DNA coding to carry information." He paused. Casey held her breath. "One group are top end smugglers, the kind without names and more money than God. The second group are Alliance spies. The ones with connections to Blue Sun so deep that the two might be one."

"Maybe I'm just someone caught in the middle."

The Shepherd smiled at that but the humour did not reach his eyes. A darkness lurked there that Casey found unsettling. She wanted off this ship of idiots. Quick before she got contaminated by their lunacy. Book wasn't finished with her though. "You will tell us what we need to know." He then leant a little closer and murmured something low in Latin.

The effect on Casey was electric. Her whole body stiffened and fear shimmered in her eyes. If she could have backed away from Book and made a run for it she would have done, but she couldn't move. Immobile and going insane with terror inside her head she was helpless to do anything but listen. Quailing inside she could not resist the summons. The urge to tell him whatever he wanted to know. Anything just to be released, set free, able to run, hide and pretend with every fibre of her being that she had never met Malcolm Reynolds or his rutting crew. She did not pray but shuddered when she saw Book pick up his bible. When had he put it on the table beside her bed? She was sure he hadn't been carrying it when he came into the infirmary. Or had he? Was she so out of it that details were now escaping her? Danger. This was going into depths where she could not tread water. Deep, dark and menacing. Her whole body trembled as she stared at Book. Unable to look away. Unable to stop the slide of muted vowels tumbling over the constonants in her rush to tell him what he wanted to know. Anything to break the connection he had formed between them like an ever tightening noose. All with that psuedo benign smile hiding the sharp iron teeth of a shark.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*shenjingbing* = crazy *chunren* = fool/jerk *diyu* = hell *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *goushi buru* = lower than dogshit/lowest of the low *mei mei* = little sister *dong ma* = understand? *duibuqi* = sorry *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *pofu* = bitch *shenme* = what



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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.