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AMDOBELL

FRIENDS AND ENEMIES: 3. "Unravelling"
Monday, March 3, 2008

"Saffron has a plan. Zoe, Wash and Book find out more about Sentosa than they ever wanted to know."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1863    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "UNRAVELLING" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Mal. Jayne. Crew. RATING: G. STATUS: Sequel to "TANGLED" ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: AlisonMDobell@aol.com WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at Fireflyfans.net

SUMMARY: "Saffron has a plan. Zoe, Wash and Book find out more about Sentosa than they ever wanted to know." 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.

"UNRAVELLING"

"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

The erratic pulse of anarchy sang through his veins, a poison for the masses. An anthem for the dead, opium for the dispossessed. Hypnotic. Addictive. And deadly. Or so it seemed. Odd how the random firing of his sluggish brain seemed to be in sync with the fading responses of his body, lethargy creeping over him with all the stealth of the most sly and devious of enemies. It took most of his remaining energy to form words. "You drug me?"

Saffron rolled her eyes. "*Qing*, give me some credit Mal. If I was that desperate I'd have taken you when you were unconscious."

She must have seen the pain underlying the confusion in his eyes, the way his body was sagging despite her efforts to keep the *wangu* man upright. Why was she doing this again? Oh yes, the job.

"No goin' to sleep, *dong ma*?"

Mal really wished it were that simple. He felt worst than terrible. Could feel his body failing him even as he struggled to stay conscious. As much as he wanted nothing to do with the lying little *pofu* he was glad she was there. Gorramit things were beyond screwed if he was relying on Saffron to take pity on him. Mayhap he really was dead and this was hell? It should have pissed him off but that would take energy he simply didn't have. The violent shake jolted his eyes open, unaware that he had been drifting off again. Pain stabbing through the top of his right thigh but welcome all the same. It was the first time in hours that he could recall feeling anything. "What... where the *diyu* are we?"

"In a flooded mine shaft."

He blinked at her, more cognisant than she had seen him. It gave her a small flicker of hope then she watched his eyes narrow with suspicion and felt that small flicker begin to go out.

"What the good gorram are you doin' here an' how in the nine hells did I end up in this stinkin' hole?"

"I was gettin' round to tellin' you when you tried to drown yourself an' as for why you're here? Well that's because I pushed you down the shaft."

* * * * *

Simon stared mouth agog, eyes wide, momentarily stunned into silence. All too soon the little spell broke. River rather lamented its' inevitable passing. "You want to WHAT?"

"We have to go to them."

"River, Zoe has taken the spare shuttle. She has Book and Wash with her, we need to stay here and wait for their return."

She shook her head. "No time. Besides, they're looking in the wrong place." A wary ray of hope shot through Simon. "Are you saying you know where the Captain and Jayne are?"

"Within a 95% probability, yes. But they aren't together now. Fortunately the rat doesn't know all the tunnels as well as the mice."

"River..."

She gave her brother a blinding smile. "*Fang xin*. People always underestimate the mice, Simon."

* * * * *

It was beyond frustrating. First there was the weather causing even more delay and now she couldn't get a signal through to Serenity to save her life. Resisting the urge to stamp her foot Inara kept her emotions rigidly in check. Even though she was not at House Madrassa the companions she was staying with were every bit as sharp eyed as her old House Mistress. Instead she turned from the cortex screen and inclined her head graciously to her host. "I seem to have trouble connecting."

Roberta Goss made a suitably sympathetic face but Inara knew it was barely skin deep. Her troubles did not scratch the surface of theirs. Idly she thought about what it must be like to be in a satelitte house of the Guild way out in the back of beyond like this. Roberta changed places with Inara and checked the system through, her placid polite frustration becoming the real thing as every effort to get a signal through failed. With a sigh she looked at Inara. "*Wo bu dong*, the cortex was working earlier."

Inara bit her lip, determined not to insult her host by sniping back that it was hardly her fault. What she could get away with on Serenity was very different from the behaviour expected from her sisters. "Perhaps something is interferring with the signal?"

"Let me try contacting our sister house on Lorraine."

For several minutes neither spoke, Roberta's perfectly manicured hands flying over the keyboard with the expertise of familiarity. This time she huffed with unfettered annoyance. "I cannot get through."

Before Inara could respond there came a polite knock on the door and one of the girls put her head around the door jamb. "*Duibuqi*. One of the gentlemen from Port Harry has taken the trouble to come over to inform us that there is a terrible weather storm. Nothing can get in or out of Sentosa and it is so bad it is affecting the cortex. Until the storm abates the only contact anyone will have is face to face."

"Lily, does the gentleman have anyone with technical skills? Perhaps if they could look at our link..."

The girl shook her head apologetically. "He could not stay, Mistress, but was on his way to pass the word around. No one knows how long the storm will last."

The House Mistress waved the girl away and waited until the door closed behind her. "Inara, I am sorry. It looks as if you will be staying with us at least until the weather clears enough for you to make contact with your friends." Her worried look faded into a smile. "But come," she patted Inara's hand as if she were speaking to a child "this will give us time to get better acquainted, *dui*?" When Inara nodded dutifully back Roberta beamed. "So you see, my dear, every cloud really does have a silver lining."

* * * * *

The squall was virulent and here on the rocky edge a fitful sea lashed the low cliffs with a brutal force that made the very air vibrant. Sentosa had no mountain ranges but it did have two thirds of its' planet surface covered in water. Here, the cliffs were about thirty feet at their highest. Further along those rocky outcroppings dropped still further until the rock gave way to crumbled stone then pockets of water left by the rain and surges of unseasonal tides. Only from the sea would anyone know that some of the tunnels connecting the mine shafts further West came out at the cliff face. Seven or eight gaping maws gave the appearance of missing teeth in a craggy face not even a mother could love. At one such opening a form shifted, the spray from the water not discomfitting him one iota. The man only paused to seek clarification, for errors were not tolerated by the man he served.

"Way the weather's whipping up the water it's like to take the body to the bottom before it can catch on a rock."

The thin wizzened face crinkled into a smile. Standing just far back enough from the tunnel's opening in the cliff face to be out of the range of the spray Adelei Niska gave a little shrug indicating that it was of no further interest to him. "Is dead. Let the waters take him. Is best, yes?"

The man gave a grave nod. "Yes, Mr Niska." Hands the size of meat plates reached down to pick up the shapeless bundle at his feet. The body did not twitch or stir. Blood slicked hands nevertheless found purchase in the rags that were all the man had left of his clothes.

Niska watched, tilting his head between shadow and light to follow the body's descent before it sank unceremoniously beneath the surging waters. The muscle bound man was even taller and bigger in girth than Jayne Cobb. Watching to see if the mercenary's head would bob back to the surface he gave a little satisfied grunt when it did not. A hump of clothing was churned and tossed then carried away on the undertow. Niska nodded. "Is good, Bran. Now is time to speak to Mr Reynolds. No one takes from Niska."

His henchman gave a little grunt and retreated back down the tunnel, following his boss and wondering idly if this was the day the Browncoat would finally die. He looked forward to working on him some more, to finding out just how thick the man's skin really was and how many layers he could peel off before the begging drowned out his cries of pain. Oh yes. There were benefits to working for Mr Niska and absolutely none in opposing him.

* * * * *

It was oddly calming and theraputic. Despite her misgivings Inara was enjoying the familiar tranquility of life in a training house, even one as far from the Core as this one. The girls were young, biddable and in awe. Never in all the stories of the Houses had they heard of a Companion leading the kind of life Inara Serra called her own. It both tempted and cowed them, for within the arms of the Guild every need was catered for, every want fulfilled. They were sheltered, protected, groomed for service in a way that would bring both wealth and privilege to their door. For a Companion to willingly give up such a life of ease and comfort to traipse across the 'verse among the common and the uncouth was considered monumentally stupid and... heroic. Exciting. Thrilling. Oh what tales she must have!

Inara was aware of the speculation shining in eyes even as young as these. Her smile was genuine, tolerant, but her lips were sealed to all but her duties to the Guild.

"Marsha, again. *Jide*, a Companion is always calm, poised. You must project an air of tranquility and compassion."

Marsha dipped her head to hide a blush and began the tea ceremony again. Twenty pairs of eyes watching. The silk of the girl's kimono barely a whisper of sound as she moved, her limbs flowing as she had been taught to move so that every effort appeared effortless, a study in grace. "Yes, Miss Serra."

At the back of the room the House Mistress smiled to herself. And while the fitful winds of the storm raged unabated outside she prayed they would not end soon. If Inara could be persuaded, by circumstances if not words, to remain and teach the rise in her House's fortunes would be considerable and the worth of her noviates beyond measure. But she must tread carefully, Inara was no fool and would not suffer having her will manipulated however benign the intent. Roberta Goss made a smooth silent exit. A silver lining indeed.

* * * * *

"Move!"

The grunt was low and pained. Her patience failing fast but not her determination. She paused and braced her weight against his, everything was wet. Her clothes, her hair, her skin drenched to her bones or so it seemed. And him. A heavy millstone around her neck and yet. She could leave him. Walk away. Let the *guai* take him but something made her stay. Try again while there was still time. He was barely conscious and that would never do.

"Malcolm Reynolds! Don't you dare give up, do you hear me you *wangu wangba dan*?" His voice came low and pained but she inwardly celebrated the effort he made to stay conscious. If he gave up they were both as good as dead. "Ain't givin' up..."

"Then move your ruttin' *pigu, dong ma*?"

His voice pitched high with effort. "You always this bossy?"

For answer she slapped his shoulder but there was no weight behind it, the act more symbollic to get a move on than a wish to hurt him. With a grunt he pushed himself on, half stumbling and half dragging his reluctant body through the murky water. Saffron leaned and pushed from behind, her presence giving him enough traction to make slow but definite progress. They did not waste their breath or strength on talking. Whenever he faltered a hand would shake him, her weight press more urgently against his back until moving became the automatic default for them both. Shuffling, shambling, staggering through the filth and muck, not realising that the water level was going down until the gradual incline of the tunnel made harder work of pressing forward.

Saffron wasn't sure that it meant what she wanted it to so said nothing but the spark of hope gave her a renewed burst of energy which she used to shove the Captain a bit harder. His voice was sluggish, words slurring a little bit, but he was cognisant and that was something.

"What you doin', woman? Goin' as fast as I can."

She patted his shoulder and tried to lean a bit closer so she wouldn't have to raise her voice. "Ground's risin, Mal. You know what that means?"

"Why you whisperin'?"

"Risin' ground means we're headin' for the surface. How'd a man as dumb as you get to be Cap'n?"

"Must be my winnin' looks an' charm." He slurred.

"Uh uh, ain't that."

"So why we whisperin'?"

"We don't know where Niska an' his men might be an' the nearer the surface we get the closer to findin' out we'll be."

* * * * *

The Winding Head Gear looked less stable from the ground than it did from the air. Wash was glad the shuttle was not any closer. In this storm if the structure fell it would smash the shuttle to bits and where would they be then? A tap on his arm made him turn his head, Zoe yelling at him and waving in the other direction. He couldn't hear a thing she said, the wind whipping the words from her like a thief, but he could easily read her lips and nodded.

Shepherd Book led the way, his body bent into the wind. They found the first shaft quickly but one look told them they would not be getting down that way. The shaft had caved in, probably a long time ago, and rain had turned the soil around it to mud which had pretty much filled the shaft. Book didn't like what that indicated for the chance of any tunnels being fit to navigate. He could feel his heart sinking but had to keep faith. The Captain and Jayne were out here somewhere and it was up to them to find them.

Wash wanted to speak to Zoe, ask her what she thought their chances were but there was no opportunity and one look at her strained face told him better than words that the same thoughts had crossed her mind. For once Wash envied her the browncoat, the long leather coat wrapped around her body and keeping the worst of the weather out. It made Wash's flight jacket look pathetic in comparrison but it was better than the Preacher. Book had no coat at all. And still the wind whistled around them, tugging with unseen hands and icy fingers at their faces and clothing, chilling them as the rain lashed down. Book stopped. Another shaft. They peered down, three faces growing grimmer by the minute.

The Shepherd shook his head and moved on. Wash and Zoe exhanged a look then followed. The more they learned about Sentosa the less they liked the place.

* * * * *

"River, you can't."

River was sitting in the pilot's seat on the bridge flicking switches, only part of her attention on her brother. "Have to. Our time to be Big Damn Heroes, Simon."

"We should contact them first, let Zoe know what we're doing..."

She shook her head. "Won't get through."

"You don't know that."

"Yes, I do. The storm is blocking communications, Simon."

"But if they come back and find Serenity gone..."

River paused, turned and gave her brother her full attention. "They won't be going anywhere Simon."

His heart skipped a beat as he tried to hold back a nameless fear. "What do you mean?"

"The storms getting worse not better." She waved a hand behind her without taking her eyes from his. "They'll have to wait for it to die down before they can take off again. We can't afford to wait Simon and Serenity will have a better chance of making it through the storm than a shuttle. You have to trust me Simon, we can do this." "Do what?"

The siblings turned and looked at Kaylee. Neither had heard her come on to the bridge. Simon bit back a sigh of frustration. "River says we have to take Serenity to find the Captain and Jayne."

The mechanic's face brightened. "Zoe found 'em?" She clapped her hands together. "That's shiny!"

"*Bu qu*, they didn't find them Kaylee."

Kaylee looked confused. "But you said..."

River interrupted. They didn't have time for this. "They're looking in the wrong place."

"They are?"

River nodded. Kaylee began joining up the dots.

"An' we can't tell 'em so unless we go..."

River nodded. None of them wanting to finish that sentence. "Need to go now."

"Okay, I'll go an' see what Serenity can do."

As soon as Kaylee had gone Simon gave his sister a level look, ignoring the way the ship trembled a little as his sister steered them into the storm. "You know this will be like looking for a needle in a haystack?"

"Two needles, one haystack."

Simon frowned. River turned her head enough to catch his eye and gave a crooked smile. "Odds are in our favour."

Simon didn't have the heart to tell her how screwed they were. From mice to haystacks things were not looking good.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*qing* = please *dong ma* = understand? *pofu* = bitch *diyu* = hell *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *dui* = correct *jide* = remember *guai* = devil/spirit *pigu* = bottom *wangu* = stubborn *wangba dan* = fucking bastard *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *duibuqi* = sorry

COMMENTS

Monday, March 3, 2008 3:00 AM

AMDOBELL


Sorry for taking so long to post this part but Real Life has been so hectic I have whiplash! Thanks to everyone who has been reading this story. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, March 3, 2008 3:44 AM

STORMWOLFDAWN


oh no I hope Jayne aint dead! Poor Jayne, I love Jayneangst but not too much into Jaynedeath. Can't wait to read more and find out!

Monday, March 3, 2008 5:15 AM

WYTCHCROFT


"How'd a man as dumb as you get to be Cap'n?"

"Must be my winnin' looks an' charm." He slurred.

what's not to love about this story?!:)

Monday, March 3, 2008 5:51 AM

SLUMMING


Lovely work as always. When you write like this, it is well worth the wait! :D


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