HELLBOUND SERIES: 30. "Mysterious Ways"
Tuesday, November 6, 2007

"Mal has a visitor. Shepherd Book puts the plan into action. As the tension mounts everybody hopes they can get to the Captain in time."


TITLE: "MYSTERIOUS WAYS" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Canon pairings RATING: G. STATUS: SEQUEL to "HANGING ON" ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: WEBSITE: None. All "Firefly" stories archived at

SUMMARY: "Mal has a visitor. Shepherd Book puts the plan into action. As the tension mounts everyone hopes they can get to the Captain in 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

* * * * *

When the meeting broke up Zoe and Wash went up to the bridge, the Shepherd and River falling into step behind them. Jayne watched them go, scowled then muttered "I'll be in my bunk."

Kaylee knew he would be getting his guns ready. She was about to follow Simon out of the room when she noticed how lost Inara looked. The expression was so out of place that Kaylee froze, torn between her desire to make sure Simon was alright before all hell broke lose and trying to find out what was wrong with Inara. In the end Kaylee's tender heart would not let her abandon a friend even one trying to live in denial of her feelings. And Simon being Simon would understand. "'Nara, you okay?"

The Companion was slower in pulling herself together than usual but still found a smile for her favourite mechanic. "Hey you, I was just thinking."

"Wanna think around a coffee mug?"

Inara smiled with false brightness, almost shuddered as she looked across the big oak table towards the little kitchen area and looked at her friend, pretending that seeing the Captain's empty chair hadn't shaken her. She missed him and it hurt. Not that she intended to tell anyone. After all, the Captain was like a bad penny. He always turned up. Closing her mind to further speculation Inara tried another tack. "Let's compromise. Come to my shuttle and I'll make some tea?"

"*Xie xie ni*, sounds great."

* * * * *

Zoe nodded to Wash and watched as her *zhangfu* increased speed. They couldn't catch the transport but they could close the gap. Only had to be close enough for a decent wave. Of course they could have waved them right now but Book wanted to narrow the distance before opening a channel to the other ship. Zoe wasn't sure why but it sent little prickles of apprehension down her spine. River sat in the co-pilot's chair and tucked her legs under her, head tilted and eyes drifting to some scene she could not share with the others. It was disconcerting to see her work, the lips moving so slightly that they seemed to tremble but as Zoe watched she could see they were actually forming unspoken words.

* * * * *

"When ya gonna tell him?"

Inara almost spilt the tea. Carefully she finished filling two china cups and set the pot down. All her movements were graceful, as if everything she did in life were choreographed beforehand. When she looked at Kaylee her mask was back in place, once more exuding calm and peace. "Tell who what, *mei mei*?"

"Tell the Cap'n how ya feel."

The Companion wanted to deny there was anything to tell. To change the subject, anything but fuel Kaylee's speculation but she saw the mechanic's eyes narrow slightly as if reading her thoughts. Kaylee let a little sunshine into the shuttle, her smile as bright and clean as a new day after the Spring rains.

"I ain't gonna tell nobody 'Nara n' it ain't as if the Cap'n don't have feelin's back."

Inara snorted then put a hand over her mouth and nose in horror. She couldn't believe she'd done that. Kaylee laughed and wriggled with excitement, her sparkling personality addictive and tempting the Companion to throw caution to the wind. After all, if Kaylee could see it what harm would it do? And she had said she wouldn't tell. But old habits die hard and Inara was used to deflection when cornered. "Are you saying the Captain has feelings for me?"

"Is the Black, black? 'Course he does, anyone with half an eye can see it."

Inara sipped her tea, using the action to help calm herself. "Kaylee, I'm beginning to wish Simon was an optician not a former trauma surgeon."

The girl frowned. "*Shenme*?"

"You obviously need your eyes testing."

* * * * *

It was hard staying awake but some imperative wouldn't let him drift off. Letting go would be like admitting defeat. Who the good gorram had said that? The silence in his mind held no answers. The question evaporating along with his ability to hold on to the thought. Everything was vaporous, insubstantial. He thought he heard a sound. Something heavy disturbing the air so that the stale metallic tang of it shifted around him. He felt the cool drift of it on his face. Would have turned to see who had come into the room but he had no energy left and no will to conjure more. Staying conscious took all the reserves he had.

A figure knelt beside him. A large hand rolled him on to his back. Mal gasped, blood gurgling in the back of his throat as if it would drown him. The man did not relent, did not ease him back into the position of his meagre comfort. Whoever it was wanted to see the Captain's face, perhaps seek for a reaction to the words he had come to say. "Are you religious, Captain Reynolds?"

He blinked. What in the nine hells did that have to do with anything? His sluggish mind took effort to use, as if access was limited and he was one on the fringes of getting that consent. "Am I dyin'?"

There was the briefest of pauses, as if the question had caught the man off guard. Mal was too out of it to notice. "Soon but not yet. Answer the question, *qing*. Are you a man of God?"

He wanted to laugh. Who would have guessed the Alliance had so many gorram jokers in the pack? No wonder he couldn't win, the cards were stacked against him. When he didn't reply the hand reached out again and this time shook his shoulder. Pain ripped through him, sparking sympathetic agony along his joints and every wounded part of his sorry body. A groan leaked out of his parched lips. No food or water had been given to him since being brought into this room. "You askin' if I'm a Preacher? 'Cause I have to say that ain't ever been my callin'."

"Then you don't believe in God?"

It felt surreal. Maybe because he thought his addled brain was playing tricks on him the Captain answered. The dialogue with the Devil was funny considering that he was living through Hell. Maybehaps the Alliance did have a sense of humour after all and this was a new form of torture? He wanted to laugh but the blood in his throat was making him cough, trying not to choke or drown. The man did not help him clear his airway and Mal didn't have the strength or leverage to turn back on to his side. He tried to spit the blood out but only succeeded in coating his lips crimson. It was however enough to allow him to speak. "Believed once."

The figure leaned slightly closer. "And now?"

Something about the conversation alerted the Captain's fading senses. "Why you so interested? I know you ain't St. Peter an' the Devil wouldn't care. You some kind'a middle man?"

Holding back his frustration the man took a deep breath before answering. "I am the ship's doctor. With General Brak being... indisposed... it has fallen to me to tell you that there is a Shepherd offering his services should you require it."

The mention of a Shepherd touched something in Mal's brain, something that stirred the beat of his heart. No. It couldn't be. They were going to kill him, finish him off, and now they wanted to assuage what they had left of their conscience by dragging up some holy man to give him last rites. Still. Maybehaps he could use this to his advantage. Any delaying tactic could give his crew time to get to him. That thought made him want to laugh only he knew if he tried the thickening trickle of blood would choke him and make the whole notion a moot point. "Guess that might be a goodly thing." He murmured then spluttered, a spray of blood touching the edge of the doctor's pristine jacket.

Man moved mighty quick when he was of a mind to. The lips quirked with distaste, a hand flicking out to try to catch up the crimson droplets with a handkerchief that Mal reckoned had never been used for its' original purpose. Huh. Called himself a doctor yet left a man bleeding in pain, almost choking on his own blood, just to see if he wanted to be prayed over as he lay dying. What kind'a God did he follow? Who's colours was he wearing? The man rose to his feet, a flash of purple cloth tinging the edge of his jacket. Might have known. Alliance colours. Malcolm Reynolds closed his eyes and tried to remember why he was supposed to stay awake. His eyes sprang open like a doll's as the edge of the doctor's boot caught his shoulder blade, just enough to rock him on to his side. The relief was profound. With a moan he spat out the blood before it could congeal then coughed, each expellation hurting worse than the last but once his airway was clear again the blessed flood of oxygen was enough to tell him it was worth it.

* * * * *

"I can't believe it worked!"

Shepherd Book looked grave not happy. Wash's words pretty much ignored as he thought about what he was going to have to do. The old worn bible had seen better days and he hoped God would forgive him for the prop it would become. Book looked at Zoe, gave a grave little nod to show he was ready. Simon fussed and hovered until Zoe told him to sit down. The man needed doctoring his own self but as Simon had assured them more than once, what he really needed was rest and that he would do once the latest crisis was over. So Zoe had tended his hurts, disinfected the cuts and made sure no bones were actually broken then let him be. But she made sure Simon didn't stay on his feet a moment longer than he needed to. He could wait just as easily sitting as standing. Her attention returned to the Shepherd, concern darkening her eyes.

"Still don't think you should go alone." She said, her voice terse. Bad enough to be trying to bail out the Captain without losing the Preacher.

Book smiled to ease her concern. "I'm not the one you should be worrying about."

As if prompted by his words River interrupted. "Hurry. Won't hold on much longer and they're getting impatient."

"I'm going."

Zoe tapped her earwig to check that his hidden com was working.

"It's working just fine." The Preacher assured. Kaylee nodded in agreement though she understood Zoe's need to be sure. Everybody was so uptight. Sidling alongside Simon, the mechanic took his hand and gave it a squeeze.

"Best I could do on short notice."

"As long as it works." Zoe muttered.

"Yeah," said Wash, his expression and voice serious as he looked at Book "no offence but Amen to that. Just bring our wayward Cap'n home."

They docked with the Alliance transport seconds later. Jayne wanted to go with Book but Zoe shook her head. Simon and River had orders to stay out of sight just to be on the safe side and Kaylee tried not to wring her hands as the seal completed and the door opened. A tall broad shouldered man stepped on board, a row of six purplebellies flanking him. Zoe had insisted no one wear any obvious weaponry. Didn't want to spook the enemy before they got their plan in action. If they slipped up now the Captain would pay the price. Shepherd Book stepped forward before the Alliance officer could speak.

"I am Shepherd Book from the Southdown Abbey." Book extended his card. The Alliance official did not take it but nodded to one of the soldiers who took out a reader and put the card in it.

"My name is Captain Marchant." The Alliance Captain said stiffly then flicked a glance at the screen, raised an eyebrow, but otherwise betrayed no reaction. The card was handed back to Book.

"Is the man still conscious, Captain?"

Marchant blinked at the Preacher. "Does it make any difference?"

Zoe tried not to stiffen, her fingers itching to find her gun and riddle the *wangba dan* with bullets.

"Not for the serving of last rites but he may want to make a last confession."

Something malicious glinted in the officer's eyes. "You may come aboard now."

Book nodded and followed Marchant on to the Alliance prison transport, the purplebellies closing in behind them. The door sealed behind them with a clang and Kaylee shot Zoe a look of misery and trepidation. "What if we don't get 'im back? What if they kill Book as well?"

"That won't happen, Kaylee. Need you to go to the engine room *mashang*, make sure Serenity is ready to give us everything she can. When Book gets back we'll need to make use of every bit of speed we can squeeze outta her to put as much space between us and that ship, *dong ma*?"

Kaylee nodded, gave Simon a little smile as she squeezed his hand, then hurried to do just that. Simon got up stiffly and excused himself, he needed to make sure everything in the infirmary was ready. Jayne waited until Kaylee and Simon were gone before speaking his mind. "This is a gorram mistake."

"No, this is the plan. It worked before, it can work again." Zoe thinned her lips and watched the mercenary's face close up, the skin around his eyes tightening. As the big man stomped off River turned her soulful eyes on the First Mate.

"He's worried."

Zoe sighed. "We all are little one."

Wash took one hand off the ship's control to hold the hand gripping his shoulder like a vice. Wordlessly they took comfort from each other.

* * * * *

The prison transport was huge. Not as big as some of the Alliance troop transporters but big enough to swallow Serenity whole and not even hiccough. As oxidised as the metal was on the outside it was bright and shiny inside. Every surface gleamed and every sharp edge of her cut an image in Book's brain as cold and unlovely as the mindset he was up against.

In silence, Captain Marchant walked briskly to what passed as a cell come torture chamber. He felt himself stiffen inside and had to work to appear relaxed, unphased. Along the way they picked up the Alliance doctor, a big boned man in a sombre but expensively cut suit. The jacket was edged in Alliance purple and the medical emblem of the Alliance Corps of Surgeons was embroidered in real gold thread above the man's left breast yet he looked like no doctor Book had ever seen. As they approached the interrogation cell Book flicked an eye towards the large observation window but saw nothing. When the heavy metal door was opened for them he understood why, his stomach turning in a sickening dry heave at the sight of so much blood.

The shiny chrome floor was covered in it and so was the bundle of flesh and bone barely covered by blood soaked rags on the floor. Book resisted the need to curse, to unleash unholy vengeance on those who had done this. He did not have to fake the compassion on his face. So deep was his concern for the Captain that he barely reacted when he glimpsed the sallow faced man standing in the far corner of the room watching. Eyes as cold and empty of feeling as a block of ice. The man stood perfectly still, his dark charcoal suit and white shirt making him look like an undertaker. A caregiver of the dead. Only this man had no spark of mercy in him. Book noted the thin blue latex gloves on the man's hands, folded neatly in front of his stomach with all the polite patience of a Grim Reaper.

Book turned to Captain Marchant, schooling his features into one of sorrowful calm. "If I could have a moment of privacy? I would like to take his last confession."

"I doubt he will be in any condition to... speak, Shepherd."

"Nonetheless," said Book calmly, his tone polite but quietly firm "I do not think he has long in this 'verse."

Marchant studied Book's face for a long moment then nodded. What harm could it do? The doctor paused as if reluctant but dutifully left the room as did the blue gloved man. Book could not be sure but he thought he caught a glimpse of something cold and deadly in the man's eyes. It was just a flash then nothing. He resisted the urge to shudder and waited until the door closed behind him. He half expected to hear the click of the door locking but it didn't come. And then he realised why. They would be watching from the observation window. Anger swept through him swift and violent. Book was glad his back was to the window and sank to his knees. The Captain looked awful, more dead than alive. His eyes were closed but there was breath. Book began to pray out loud, a low murmuring cadence, his eyes taking in the injuries of the man lying before him. He reached out a hand and made the sign of the cross, not daring to say anything that would give away his purpose. The room was no doubt bugged, audio and visual records being something the Alliance were particularly fond of. As he finished the sign of the cross Book managed to brush the fingers of his right hand against the Captain's wrist. The heartbeat was a weak flutter, barely there. The Shepherd bowed his head.

"My son, do you wish to make a last confession?"

There was no answer. Book strained to hear, anything, but the only sound echoing in his own ears was his blood pounding and his own breath on the verge of faltering. He took a moment to calm himself then rose to his feet and turned to the door. After a moment Captain Marchant and the Alliance doctor walked back into the cell. Book was relieved that the blue gloved man was not with them then wondered why that fact troubled him. Shaking off the sense that something wasn't right he concentrated on what was before him.

"You are finished?"

Book inclined his head. "Almost. I thought you might like to be present for the Last Rites."

Marchant exchanged a brief but telling look with his doctor. The man's broad shoulders affected a tiny shrug. So. That was where the power lay on this ship? Interesting. Being given the decision, Marchant nodded. It made no difference to him. The door behind them was still ajar, before either man thought of closing it Book began, his deep resonant voice drawing them in as he opened his battered bible. A sleight of hand worthy of Houdini allowed the little vial to be sequestered into the palm of Book's hand. He turned back towards the fallen Captain, eyes downcast but aware of where the other two men were standing. The dead tongue made the ancient plea to God for mercy and forgiveness, the Latin rolling off the inert man without any seeming affect. Book raised his hand to make the sign of the cross. To finish this. As he did so the vial slipped from his hand and broke upon the metal floor finding one of the few patches of floor not covered in blood.

The Alliance doctor's eyes narrowed, immediately suspicious. Automatically he took a step forward to see what Book was doing. It was his last mistake. When Book dropped the vial he swiftly put his hand in his breast pocket, took out two small condensed rebreathers and clipped one on his nose and another on the downed Captain's. The fumes were invisible, their effect immediate. Marchant staggered back but could not stop himself falling. The doctor just slumped to the ground where he stood, his eyes staring upwards as he lost consciousness. Book moved quickly, Marchant falling towards the door. If his body mass hit the back of the door it would swing shut and all Book's efforts would have been in vain. His hands latched on the door handle in time to catch it, his shoulder shoving the Alliance Captain aside. The man fell without a word passing his lips.

Book kept moving. In his pockets little glass pearls held more of the liquid. The Preacher pushed the door wide open and called for help turning back towards the room as men left their posts to come to his aid. The quickness of their response was their undoing. As each man ran into the room they fell, their weapons slipping from nerveless fingers, eyes growing quickly vacant. Shepherd Book murmured the code word for his friends on Serenity to pick up and gathered the Captain's limp form in his arms. Some small part of the Shepherd had hoped the Captain was play acting, that he was somehow conscious but it was no act. The thin thread of an errant heartbeat made Book more brusque than he would otherwise have been. There was no time for the niceties, no chance to arrange the man to cause no further hurt, all he had were minutes and the hourglass that held them was rapidly running dry.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*xie xie ni* = thank you *zhangfu* = husband *mei mei* = little sister *shenme* = what *qing* = please *wangba dan* = fucking bastard *mashang* = immediately/at once/on the double/quickly *dong ma* = understand?


Saturday, February 26, 2011 7:12 PM


always the best, Ali D


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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.

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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.