HELLBOUND SERIES: 28. "Hellbound"
Tuesday, November 6, 2007

"The crew put into action a hasty rescue plan but since when does anything ever go according to the gorram plan?"



SUMMARY: "The crew put into action a hasty rescue plan but since when does anything ever go according to the gorram plan?" 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

* * * * *

Inara caught the flurry of activity as she exited her shuttle. She had been scanning the cortex in vain for something, anything useful that could help. Frustration was etched into every line of her beautiful face. She stepped in front of Zoe causing the hurrying woman to come to an abrupt halt. "What's happening?"

"Shepherd got Casey to talk. We know where they got him."

The Companion's eyebrows rose, almost disappearing into the wave of her hairline. she would have bet anything that the disingenous little *pofu* wouldn't tell them anything useful. How had Book succeeded where the rest of them had failed? "Where?"

"They're not on the planet but they aren't far either."

"A ship?"

"*Qu*, but it won't be easy. It's Alliance."

"When is anything involving the Captain ever easy?"

The words cut no ice with Zoe. Dark humour or not she wasn't in the mood for any of Inara's cheap shots. Her Captain and friend was probably hanging on by a thread. River's words kept ringing like a bell of doom inside her head. She had to hurry, no time to lose, and the Companion was costing her time. Didn't matter if it was seconds or minutes it might be the difference between getting him back alive or rescuing a gorram corspe. "Don't have time for this Inara, best step aside before it's not a request."

Surprised, Inara stood aside quickly and watched with worried eyes as Zoe broke into a run. Wash raced in his wife's footsteps, both of them heading up to the bridge. Inara stared after them for a long moment, trying to pull together her fractured thoughts, her heart missing too many beats to deny how much the thought of losing the Captain hurt her. When she looked back she was surprised to see Simon looking at her, his expressive eyes compassionate. Inara swallowed, not sure she could take any sympathy right now. "Where are we going?"

"The dark side of the planet."

Inara blinked. Barclay had a dark side? "Zoe mentioned a ship, an Alliance ship."

The doctor nodded. "We think it might actually be one of General Brak's fleet."

That made her stop and think a moment. "He has a fleet?"

"Poor choice of words" He said slowly, obviously thinking through what he was going to say. It felt odd for Inara to think that at this point in time Simon Tam had more control that she did. "It's a prison transport Inara, much like the one that would have taken the Captain and Casey to Argent in the first place."

"Won't that be hard to infiltrate? After all Serenity isn't armed, it's not as if we can attack and get the Captain back by force."

Simon just stared at her for a moment and Inara had the odd notion that he was deciding just how much to tell her. It was not often that she felt like an outsider among the crew and she didn't like it.


"I... I have to go and check on River."

Then he was gone, back the way he had come as if he had been scalded. By what? By who? Since when had she become the enemy or was she reading too much into Simon's body language, imagining things unsaid with a sinsiter turn? Simon wasn't like that. He was just worried and naturally knowing they would be going up against the Alliance he had to be concerned for his safety as well as River's. Yes, that must be it. But even as Inara embraced that explanation it didn't satisfy her half as much as it should have.

* * * * *

He couldn't think, could barely breathe through the pain. Light and sound had been squeezed out of his senses as if fleeing the very epitomy of hell and damnation. Gorramit, River had been right. Hands of rutting blue. Right now the cold metal floor was formless, his sanity draining away down that gorram sink hole faster than the blood running from his eyes, ears and nose. For all he knew it was bleeding out of every other orifice too. If the agony of his moment to moment survival would have let him he would have been grateful not to have Simon Tam's knowledge of the human body etched inside his brain. Trouble was he had seen too many things in the war, lost too many people along with a faith he had once been expecting to carry with him until the day he died. Fading, he was fading. The walls of his life stretched thin and almost transparent. Huh. Strange how such a thin and fragile thing could hold organs, muscle, blood and bones together.

The sallow faced man paused, the decision of life and death just a hair's breadth away from finality. He had his orders, they all did, but for one glorious free moment he had almost let emotion rule him. Anger. Fury over the death of his colleague Mr Jones. They always worked in pairs, for a reason. If one began to falter in his control the other would be the counterbalance. Now he felt bereft, off centre, alone. He wanted to blame Malcolm Reynolds, the subject more obdurate and frustrating than he could have imagined. Only it wasn't his job to imagine any more than it was to judge. Just in time he pulled back from the brink, the point of no return. His eyes flattened into cold hard control, the little flash of emotion squashed and extinguished along with any pity he might have had from birth. The warmth of flesh did not animate him. The touch of emotions did not move him. Only his commitment drove him on. And now he had a partner to avenge before he was found another.

Mr Brown looked at the man slumped on the floor at his feet. So much trouble over one insignificant man. Yet he had evaded them for so long. Had hidden the Tams from justice, spat in the face of Parliament and mocked them as he darted away to fight again. Always one tiny slip from annihilation. He reached out a gloved hand and tilted the slack face of the now inert Captain so that the sightless orbs stared up, a milky haze like a film across the vacant eyes. It was said that the eyes were the windows to the soul. If that were the case then no one was home. Reynolds looked dead but Mr Brown knew the difference, slim as it was. He did not want to face Parliament empty handed.

* * * * *

It was hard to believe. Wash stared in a mix of horror, frustration and anguish. He didn't need to see his wife's face to know how deeply his emotional turmoil mirrored her own. "*Wode ma*, we're too late *bao bei*, they're leavin'."

"Follow them."

Something inside Wash developed a hairline crack. He didn't want to be the one to tell her, to bring the doom of her displeasure down upon his head where not even his heart could cushion the blow. To his surprise River spoke before he could frame a response. "Can't. Too fast and they'd see us. More dangerous than you think."

Zoe turned to glare at the girl, ignoring signs of River's own distress. "They haven't seen true danger yet." Her eyes flashed.

"*Ni bu dong*. Better to track than follow." The girl countered, her voice quiet now but echoing oddly in the space between words. There were times when River Tam was downright creepifying.

The first mate blinked. Not sure what River was saying, especially as the subject of their disagreement was widening the distance between them making every second they lost in debate tighten her control to breaking point. Before Zoe could berate the girl for not being more helpful Shepherd Book interjected. His voice calm but with something deep, dark and deadly stirring in his eyes that was more than a mite unsettling. It was like looking into the face of a gorram stranger. Something dark and alien awakening but wearing the face of a friend. "Listen to her."

Anger flashed across the synapses of Zoe's brain. "We aren't leavin' the Cap'n behind. Don't care how hard the trail may be, we follow, *dong ma*?"

The Shepherd nodded slowly, his deep grave voice a calming descant to her rising fear. Still angry Zoe could not help but listen anyway, as if his words held her in a spell she could not break. "I managed to attach a tracking device. Let them go for now, think we can't keep up. That they have got away with what they wanted. We *will* follow but we will be discreet."

"No offence Shepherd but I don't see discretion savin' anybody leastways the Cap'n."

He almost smiled but Shepherd Book knew what still lay ahead and what it would cost them. "Nor will it but discretion will give us the opportunity to launch a proper rescue." He paused for effect. "One guaranteed to succeed."

Zoe's expression was bleak and it was obvious she didn't believe him. It hurt Wash to see the gathering shadows of defeat taking the light and joy out of her eyes. "Don't think we have that much time."

No one else spoke. They did not know what to say. Half in and half out of the doorway Inara froze, her lips pressed so tightly together that they appeared momentarily bloodless. Book's next words jump started her sagging heart, whipping away the creeping depression threatening to immobilize her. Even if it meant her numb brain was left grasping at straws.

"Time is all we have."

Everyone stared at Book, waiting for him to explain. For the odd little smile sliding over his lips to stop the sudden shudder rippling through each and every one of them as if their bodies had been touched with a tuning fork. Zoe blinked. Kaylee gasped and hugged the baby to her as if the child's innocence could protect them both. Simon grabbed for River's hand. Inara was tempted to turn and run to her shuttle, lock herself inside, and never open the door again. Wash felt his mouth go dry. Then a second winked out and another one was born before any of them noticed the two had been exchanged and Book was just their Shepherd and friend once more. River's eyes shone with a quiet intensity, an inward fire, not fooled for a moment though she would never tell. A bargain was a bargain. And for now his secret was safe with her.

* * * * *

Casey couldn't believe her luck. In all the panic over the loss of the Captain the crew had finally left her alone. True, Simon had reluctantly put her in restraints, but after testing them a smile quirked up one side of her mouth. They were not tight, the doctor being more worried about hurting her than keeping her restrained. Really, old fashioned chivalry came in many forms and each of them could be subverted to her cause. She willed herself to relax and close her eyes, then began to wiggle carefully and ease her wrists free.

* * * * *

The screen blinked into life, a figure appeared. Zoomed in on a face. He was not smiling. "You have him?"

Mr Brown nodded.

"Any trouble?"

"General Brak had a slight disagreement with us."

A dark brow lifted. The big heavy face was clean shaven, his thoughts were not. "We agreed, no complications."

A slim fascimile of a smile settled on the gaunt man's lips. "He is no longer a 'complication'."

The man's eyes narrowed, a warning unspoken. When nothing else was said, the man nodded once. Sharply, as if patience were a foreign commodity he had no wish to trade in. "You are sure this will work?"

The curve of Mr Brown's lips was not pleasant. He folded his blue gloved hands in front of him, projecting a calm aura of complete confidence. Eyes that had no flicker of animation in them looked out at the cortex screen like empty rooms. "The future is already in motion."

* * * * *

Zoe wanted to know so many things. Wished she had time to drag each and every one out of the Preacher but right now time was of the essence. She turned to Kaylee, surprised to see that Inara had made herself scarce. There were times when she couldn't quite fathom the woman. "Kaylee, need you in the engine room, *dong ma*? Find Inara and ask her to look after the baby."

Kaylee opened her mouth to protest when to her surprise Simon offered to take the baby. "You go on, I'll take the baby to Inara."

For a moment he thought she would protest. Zoe's lips pressed into a thin line of not happy, not liking how attached the mechanic was becoming to Casey's child. Kaylee sighed then handed him over, her eyes lingering before she looked up, nodded then hurried off to the engine room. Simon left and Zoe fixed her gaze on the Shepherd. "You an' me need to talk."

Before Book could answer Wash flicked a blinking switch and half turned to face them. "We're gettin' a wave."

Zoe blinked, surprised. Shepherd Book frowned slightly and took a step closer. Zoe looked at her *zhangfu* then the blinking light before giving a curt nod. "See who it is."

It was audio only. All manner of scratchy and staticky but there was no mistaking the pissed off voice echoing over the airwaves.

"Jayne, what the good gorram happened an' where in the nine hells are you?"

The voice was strained but growing stronger. "They took him Zoe, stuck me in a gorram hole in the ground." Book looked a little stunned. "They *buried* you?"

"Nah, just shoved me in this deep gorram pit. Took me forever to work out how to get out. I've found where they stashed the vehicles but Mal is long gone but that ain't all."

About to kill the connection and order Wash to land as close to Jayne as possible, Zoe paused. "What d'you mean?"

"Think I found out what that gorram code was all about."

Before Jayne could say any more the connection was broken and nothing but static squelched back at them. Wash fiddled with the controls to try to clean up the com but nothing came back. He looked at Zoe and gave her an apologetic shrug. "*Duibuqi, bao bei*, it just went dead."

"Bring us down as close to Jayne's location as you can."

Wash began to do just that. Zoe turned to the Preacher.

"Think we best get down to the cargo bay. We can talk on the way."

The Shepherd just nodded and fell into step beside her. Curled up and forgotten in the co-pilot's chair River watched them go then looked at Wash. "Hurry. Too many delays."

Wash felt his heart miss a beat. "Won't take more'n a few minutes, River."

It kind of alarmed him when her eyes went blank, her look distant and vacant. Her voice coming as if dragged from far away and only just managing to span the distance. "It's not what you think." Before Wash could ask what she meant her look cleared and she jumped to her feet looking alarmed and guilty. "Distracted."

Wash entered the landing sequence, one wary eye on River as they began to descend. "What does that mean?"

She blinked, forced her thoughts to slow down to offer him some approximation of an answer even as she quailed inside. River sounded unhappy, apologetic. "We took our eyes off the ball."

* * * * *

Simon couldn't find Inara. The kitchen and commons area were empty as was the rest area just off it. He thought of trying her shuttle then realised he hadn't checked on Casey in a while. It might be wise to just make sure everything was okay. Changing direction he made his way towards the infirmary, his attention divided between where he was going and the baby who had chosen that moment to wake. Smiling down as the chubby arms waved and the infant blew bubbles at him the doctor didn't see his danger until it was too late. Casey was just about to emerge from the infirmary when her eyes widened, then a smile split her face in two. Oh, this was just too easy. Literally. Taking candy off a gorram baby and she didn't mean her child.

The blow caught him under the chin. Simon's hands involuntarily let go of the baby, instinctively trying to protect himself as he was flung violently backward. Casey caught the child and spun in a round house kick that tumbled Simon over the catwalk railing. Cursing her stupidity, Casey backtracked. The racket would bring everyone running. Think, she had to think and be quick about it. She stepped away from the infirmary and remembered there were two shuttles. The first one was the Companion's. If she could just get to the spare before the crew came running she might still pull this off.

Down in the cargo bay Zoe and Book jerked their heads up. The sound of a scream renting the air as Simon Tam came windmilling down to the metal deck below. Book broke into a run, Zoe looking for something, anything to break the doctor's fall. They were a second or two too late. The loud sickening crunch was followed by a low pitiful whimper but to Zoe it was the sweetest sound she had heard in a long while. Simon lay at an awkward angle, his limbs all askew, a trickle of blood running from the corner of his mouth where a large bruise was forming but that whimper meant he was alive. The Shepherd felt for Simon's pulse, neither of them looking up at the clatter on the metal staircase as Wash came running down to see what had happened. Neither Zoe nor Book having noticed the ship had landed.

Wash looked in horror at the state of Simon's battered body and hoped the boy hadn't broken his back. It looked bad. Hopefully they could get Simon up to the infirmary before Kaylee found out what had happened. It took several minutes before he realised River had not followed him. A high keening wail made them all look up in trepidation. River's soul anguished voice was laced with pain and frustration and what sounded like outrage. It brought Inara hurrying out of her shuttle just as a tell tale shudder told them the spare shuttle had just detached and taken off. As the import of that sank in a thundering racket at the cargo bay door had the crew wondering what the good gorram could possibly go wrong next.

"*Wei*!" Jayne yelled, annoyed as *diyu* when the door didn't immediately open and the ramp go down. "Is anybody on this *lese* boat gonna let me in?"

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*pofu* = bitch *qu* = yes (lit. go) *wode ma* = mother of God *diyu* = hell *bao bei* = precious/treasure *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *wei* = hey! *dong ma* = understand? *zhangfu* = husband *duibuqi* = sorry *lese* = crappy



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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.