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AMDOBELL

DUPLICITY Series: 5. "Left And Right Hands"
Friday, May 9, 2008

"Things begin to get a whole lot more complicated while the tension on board Serenity gets close to breaking point."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2058    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "LEFT AND RIGHT HANDS" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Zoe/Wash, Kaylee/Simon. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: Sequel to "INHERIT THE WIND". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: AlisonMDobell@aol.com WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at Fireflyfans.net

SUMMARY: "Things begin to get a whole lot more complicated while the tension on board Serenity gets close to breaking point." 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.

"LEFT AND RIGHT HANDS"

"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Privately, Inara had to admit to being impressed by the Captain's resolve even as crew relations became ever more fragmented the nearer they got to Sihnon. It seemed everyone was either angry, disappointed or frustrated with Malcolm Reynolds. But the sense of smug satisfaction she had expected to feel was disturbingly absent. Only Zoe remained unreadable, outwardly as strongly supportive of her Captain and friend as ever while showing moments of uncertainty when she looked at Inara.

Kaylee kept finding excuses to seek her out and while Inara had anticipated the mechanic's reaction it was unsettling as well. Once it had flattered her to have that attention, the constant adoration as if she was a deserving object of veneration. Now she felt the weight of that artifice, wanted to shake the girl and tell her she was no better or worse than anyone else. Her fine clothes and position in society did not make her more worthy than Kaylee, but she knew the mechanic would not see it that way. Just as Kaylee had been so easy to convince that being a Companion was a laudable profession and in no way comparable to the life of a simple whore. Who was she kidding? The only thing separating the two was the societal gap. That perceived status dividing the haves from the have nots.

Inara was not fool enough to think that the men who contracted to spend the night with her thought any more highly of her for all her cultured ways and flawless beauty. It was a game they played, taking their parts willingly for the advantage of a matchless beauty upon their arm who would enhance their social status by her education and mannered perfection and later doing the same behind closed doors. Atherton Wing had been a case in point. What had surprised Inara was how easily the Captain had seen through the artifice. The willing subterfuge in which they all participated for their own respective gains. Even as his insight had secretly impressed her it had also left her feeling vulnerable and she had turned that weakness into anger. Accusing him of not understanding the social conventions. The bickering had been familiar and oddly comforting, a known quantity that in no way was indicative of how they regarded each other. Such was not the case now. The gloves were finally off and not for any reason either could have predicted when she had first decided to rent the shuttle off Malcolm Reynolds.

"It ain't fair!"

With a start Inara realised she had not been listening to Kaylee nor had she made any attempt to finish packing. She sat at the dressing table in her shuttle and reached out a hand, catching Kaylee's and drawing the girl close. There were tears in the mechanic's eyes.

"I can't even talk to him, the *wangu wangba dan*. Why won't he listen?"

Inara smiled gently. "He's a man, you mustn't expect too much."

Kaylee blinked. "How can ya be so calm? I'd be crazy mad an' spittin' feathers."

The Companion laughed, Kaylee's words painting an all too exact picture in her head. "I doubt that losing my temper would make much impression on the Captain."

"*Wo bu dong*, 'Nara, I was sure there was somethin' *tween you an' the Cap'n."

"I'm afraid that's just wishful thinking on your part, Kaylee."

"But..."

"No buts. We'll be on Sihnon in another day. I don't want to spend the time we have left together talking about Malcolm Reynolds, *dong ma*?"

Kaylee nodded unhappily dislodging a tear and quickly wiped her face. Determined to be as brave as her friend. She couldn't believe that soon she would be saying goodbye to her for the last time. "*Duibuqi*."

"Now," Inara brushed a lock of hair behind Kaylee's ear so she could see her face "how is everything going between you and Simon?"

* * * * *

Wash didn't turn his head at the clatter of boots on the catwalk, his eyes fixed to the scanner. Zoe straightened as the Captain joined them, Shepherd Book and Jayne crowding in behind him. The Shepherd still had a towel round his neck where he had come straight from working out with Jayne. Mal stared at the blinking proximity light as Wash fiddled with the scanner and leaned on the co-pilot's console while Zoe stood behind her husband. "What've we got, Wash?"

"At a guess I'd say a pirate ship."

Jayne edged around Book to get a gander at the screen. "Pirates?"

The Captain ignored Jayne. He needed as much information as possible and sooner rather than later. Right now Wash was the most important person on his boat. "They wave us?"

The pilot shook his head. "No, Mal, an' it's not like they're tryin' to hide the fact that they're followin' us."

"Maybe they ain't pirates then?" Said Jayne hopefully. "Could be just folks goin' the same way."

The Captain stared at Jayne. Sometimes the mercenary left him lost for words and not in a good way. "Jayne, we ain't on a trade route."

"So?"

Book decided to clue the man in figuring it would save time later. "What the Captain means is the only reason for anyone to be following this route would be if they are following *us*."

"Why in *diyu* would anyone wanna follow us?"

"It's an old Cumberland." Said Wash. "Looks retrofitted, Mal."

The ship on the scanner did not look familiar to the Captain but he trusted Wash to know what he was talking about. "Anythin' else?"

"Yeah, it's armed."

They exchanged anxious looks. Zoe hissed through her teeth. "You sure, baby?"

Wash nodded. "Pretty much. Look at the heat signature an' the weight distribution *bao bei*. It's a dead give away."

"Maybe to you, not to me." Muttered Jayne.

"That's why I'm the pilot an' you're the..." Wash broke off, frowned at Jayne then looked at the Captain. "What is he again, Cap'n?"

Unamused the Captain didn't add to the banter but let his voice drop to a light warning. "Wash, just fly."

Jayne leaned in towards the pilot. "I can hurt you little man."

"An' I can end you in ways too painful to mention, *dong ma*?"

The mercenary eased back, a frustrated look on his face at Zoe's intervention. Not that he would really hurt the pilot - at least nothing permanent - but it rankled that she always stepped in to defend him. A real man didn't hide behind his woman's skirt. Not that Wash was hiding exactly but still. Shepherd Book pursed his lips for a moment before voicing what the others were thinking. "What are we going to do, Captain?"

As if in reply Serenity suddenly pitched and shuddered, the hull ringing like a bell. The Captain looked startled then angry. "Gorramit, they're firin' at us!"

"Hang on!" Yelled Wash.

As the ship dipped and wove through the air Mal used one hand to hang on and grabbed the com with the other. "This is the Cap'n speakin' you might all wanna hang on to somethin'. Seems we're under attack an' like to crash an' die. Kaylee?"

The mechanic's voice came through immediately, all anger at the Captain momentarily forgotten. "Here, Cap'n. You want I should pull a crazy Ivan?"

The Captain flicked a glance at Wash who shook his head, his arms braced as he fought to keep Serenity going through enough turns and twists to make sure the other ship couldn't get a clear lock to fire another salvo. It was no fun being in a battle when you had nothing to shoot back with. Ducks and sitting came immediately to mind. This was definitely one time when he wished he was juggling geese.

* * * * *

Mountjoy couldn't keep the grin off his face. Tristan was finding it difficult to stay in the Firefly's slipstream. Whoever was piloting that bucket of rust was one hell of a pilot. "You wanna hail 'em, Cap'n?"

He shook his head. "Nah, let's help 'em with some ventilation first. Don't want this to be too easy now do we?"

Tristan wisely kept his opinion to himself and had to work hard just to keep up. Sitting in the co-pilot's seat Mountjoy brought the rail gun on line. Tristan felt an uneasiness settle in him, wondering if his *laoban* meant to destroy the ship and pick the carcass clean once the crew had been blown into atmo. Not that it mattered a good gorram to him but Badger had said he wanted Reynolds alive. Crippled yes, dead no. Plus if they damaged the Firefly too severely there might be nothing to salvage either in bodies or cargo. It was on the tip of his tongue to say as much but one look at the maniacal look on Mountjoy's face was enough to remind himself that there was a good reason that discretion was the better part of valor.

* * * * *

The look on the woman's face was priceless. A plethora of emotions flickering in such rapid succession that Inara had to remind herself of what she had seen. "Who is firing on you?"

Inara shook her head. "*Wo bu dong*, I thought..."

The woman's expression hardened. "We have nothing to do with this, Inara. Shame on you for even thinking any such thing. While we have no love for the ship or crew we would never do anything to harm one of our own."

Her words should have reassured Inara but they had the opposite effect. This ship and crew had become precious to her, it was only the Captain she had any quarrel with. The House Mistress's words caused an unsettling feeling at the back of her mind that she could not quite allay. It was as if she was trying to grasp something forgotten yet the more she tried to remember the harder it was to recall.

"Where are you, child?"

Inara managed to hide her irritation at the desultory form of address. She had never been a favourite of the current House Mistress and it was many years since she had last been a child. The term managed to imply some kind of vague disapproval but nothing overt enough to be challenged without making herself look the fool. "I'm in my shuttle, Mother."

An impatient wave of the hand matched the sour turn of her lips. "Do not be dense, Inara." She snapped. "Where in space?"

"Oh, we are just under a day from Sihnon."

The House Mistress nodded slowly. "Which is the nearest planet?"

"Unfortunately we past it and with this attack we have no way of turning back. Serenity has no weapons."

"Very well." The House Mistress heaved an elaborate sigh. "We will have to settle this little problem for you."

"What are you going to do?"

Something glinted in the woman's eyes but was quickly schooled, her face once more betraying no emotion. The effortless mask projecting nothing but calm. "*Fang xin*. Whatever happens be surprised. This conversation never happened."

Before Inara could ask her what she meant the transmission was cut leaving her staring at a blank screen. For the first time since the news had reached her, Inara began to wonder about the source. Was she really hearing the truth or was she being manipulated? She could not be sure that the House Mistress was lying to her but something was not right and it was giving rise to a growing sense of unease. Rising from her seat Inara crossed to her dressing table and removed the laquered box from a drawer. Sitting slowly at her dressing table she opened the hidden compartment and stared at the faded photograph, her eyes glistening with tears as she renewed the last vow that mattered, only now her wish for vengeance was tinged with confusion. Her index finger brushed across the well loved and much missed face, the features burned into her memory as if etched into her DNA. She would find out the truth one way or another. Nothing else mattered.

* * * * *

Serenity rocked again as the pursuing Cumberland got in a lucky hit. The ship lurching and shaking under Wash's hands no one was in any doubt that this was serious. "They aim to take us down, Mal."

"I can see that." The Captain was frowning, anger and confusion on his face. "Just don't know why the good gorram that would be."

"Means you pissed someone off." Put in Jayne helpfully then paused a beat. "Again."

The Captain glared at him. "Be that as it may it don't answer the question of who. Ain't Alliance an' Patience ain't into spaceships - likes her two timin' feet firmly on the ground."

"What about Badger?"

Mal snorted. "We got his cargo, no matter how mad he might get at us he ain't a one to put profit in jeopardy."

"I'm not sure that is a pirate ship, Captain." Said Book thoughtfully.

"I'm thinkin' you're right. Pirates disable then board. Ship ain't no use to 'em in pieces, can't salvage destroyed cargo."

Zoe squeezed Wash's shoulder before voicing a concern of her own. "Could it be Niska?"

Even as his pilot tensed the Captain was already shaking his head. "*Bu qu*. Niska's mean and all manner of slick, this ain't his style. 'Sides, he would be wantin' to capture us not blast us outta the Black."

"We're gettin' a wave, Mal."

The Captain leaned forward and braced himself on the console then nodded grimly. "Put it through."

The face on the screen meant nothing to Malcolm Reynolds. The long deep truncated scar trailing visciously from the corner of the man's left eye, across his cheek then in towards his chin in a rough triangle seemed to match the black painted tattoo on the other side of his face. "Need to speak to a Malcolm Reynolds."

"I'm Cap'n Reynolds. Best you be explainin' why you're firin' on my ship and who in *diyu* are you?"

The man tilted his head just enough to spit something out of his mouth so it wouldn't land in his lap. Wash made a face but no one else reacted.

"Still waitin'."

A slow nasty smile slid like a oil slick across Mountjoy's face. "That's what I like, a man as gets right to the point."

The Captain crossed his arms. "A point you in no way seem to be gettin' to I might add."

The man spat another dark mucky mess out of the side of his mouth. "Don't answer to you."

"No, you don't which brings me to my next question. Who do you work for because I'm thinkin' this shiny plan can't be all your own work."

A frown settled hard on the man's face while he figured out whether or not he had just been insulted. Jayne wanted to laugh. A silence fell in which the two Captains just glared at each other across the cortex link then Mountjoy stiffened just a mite as he straightened, as if coming to a decision of some kind. "Just wanted to get a look at you."

Just as Mountjoy looked to be about to cut off the link Mal put some urgency in his voice. Not enough to be panic but hopefully enough to earn a few more seconds. "*Deng*! One question. If you're wantin' just me no need to harm the rest of my crew, *dong ma*?"

For a moment the pirate Captain just stared at him. "You an' the cargo. I'm guessin' your crew won't give up either without a fight."

"*Dang ran*." Muttered Jayne, his hand itching to fire a salvo of his own right into that ugly scarred face.

"Jayne, you ain't helpin'."

The big man didn't turn his head to glower at Mal, just glared at the other Captain before moving back before he said something else. Mal glanced around him. "Need the bridge clear, *mashang*."

No one moved.

"In case you're feelin' slow that was a gorram order."

Zoe straightened and crossed her arms over her chest. "Not goin' anywhere, sir."

"An' I need to fly the ship." Added Wash as innocently as he could muster.

The Captain turned to the Shepherd. "An' your excuse for bein' here, Shepherd?"

The Preacher hid his amusement not wanting to annoy the man any more than was necessary. "Oh, I think I'll stay." "Ain't gonna want you to pray over me just yet."

"Like I'm gonna hold my breath on that one." Mumbled Jayne.

"What was that, Jayne?"

"Hell Mal, none of us is goin' anywhere 'til we know what's what. Might be crew but we got a stake in what happens too."

For a moment it looked like Serenity's Captain was going to argue when a rough chuckle turned his attention back to the cortex screen. Mountjoy's ugly mug looked amused. A fleeting aberation before his normally sour expression settled back into place. "I'm waitin', Reynolds."

"That's Captain Reynolds to you."

"Not any more if your crew's response to orders is anythin' to go by."

"You didn't give your name."

"Nope, don't mean to either not unless we get face to face." Mal pointed from himself to Mountjoy but the man shook his head and leaned in closer to the screen, a predatory look in his eyes.

"That ain't what I meant. Now spit out what you were gonna say or hang tight while we finish takin' this *lese* piece of *goushi* you call a ship to pieces."

"You tell me who wants to speak to me an' I might consider comin' on over but you gotta promise to leave my ship an' crew outta this." Mountjoy actually laughed. "You think I was born yesterday? You are in no position to cut a deal an' I'm in no mood to humour you."

"By that I'm guessin' your *laoban* must want us dead then." A flicker crossed Mountjoy's face so quickly Mal almost missed it but he wasn't sharp eyed for nothing and if he had missed it Zoe surely wouldn't have.

"Oh, so the *laoban* wants us in one piece but you don't, *dui*? How's that gonna affect your pay day huh?"

"*Bizui*! I just tell him you tried to run an' I had to fire to stop you. Not my fault if that bucket of bolts an' screws falls from the sky. Not like it would be any loss."

The Captain sighed, his voice lowering like a white flag looking for a breeze. "Loss or not I got good folk on this boat. Not sure what quarrel your boss has with me but I'm sure we can work this out. Just tell me your terms."

Zoe shot him an angry glare but the Captain wasn't looking at her. He was thinking of eight people who would be facing certain death if he didn't think of something right quick. It was obvious that he couldn't bargain with this man but maybe if he got what he wanted he could mitigate the cost to the rest of his crew. Not that any one of them would be happy himself included but it was the best he could do. With luck they could get away clean and come back and rescue him later. Or maybehaps come up with a better plan.

"I want you an' the cargo an' no tricks."

"An' you'll let my ship an' crew go?"

Declan Mountjoy considered his options. Much as he enjoyed a life of violent crime he stood to gain more by doing what Badger wanted than giving in to his own tempation to indulge himself. Time enough for that once he had Serenity's Captain in his hands. He nodded slowly, watching Malcolm Reynolds like a hawk. Any sign that this was a set up and he would default to killing the gorram lot of them Badger be damned. "*Qu*. We dock with your ship an..."

The Captain raised a hand. "Not thinkin' that's such a good idea."

A furious frown crossed Mountjoy's face but Mal continued before the man could get the wrong idea.

"Think it's best I come over in the spare shuttle, bring the cargo with me. How does that sound?"

Silence fell so heavy it was as if the 'verse itself was holding its' gorram breath. Realising that Malcolm Reynolds was serious Mountjoy nodded. "Just you an' the cargo, 'dong ma*? I find any surprises, Reynolds, an' I mean right down to flea size an' the deal's off. Everybody dies."

Mal nodded. "Got it. We all die. Fiery ball of death an' destruction."

A fleeting smile tinged the pirate Captain's lips. Before cutting the link Mountjoy flicked his gaze towards Shepherd Book. "Best you keep that Preacher handy, you might be needin' him you mess this up."

As soon as Mountjoy's image was gone all hell broke lose, everyone having an opinion and not a single one agreeing with the Captain's hair brained plan.

"Gorramit, Mal!" Growled Jayne. "Know ya ain't the smartest but ya got a death wish?"

"Sir, Jayne's right. You can't do this."

"What's to stop them blowin' Serenity out of the sky once they have you an' the cargo?" Wash yelled.

An awkward little silence fell. Mal looked from worried face to worried face, not really angry with them just frustrated that he could see no other way out of this. "Thought of that. When I set out in the spare shuttle I'll fly 'tween them an' Serenity. They try to shoot the ship an' they risk takin' out the shuttle which means they lose me an' the gorram cargo."

"Mal, that's a suicidal plan."

The Captain turned in surprise at the sound of Inara's voice. "Where the *guai* did you come from?"

"I could hear the shouting and yelling from my shuttle."

Peering round behind Inara was Kaylee. The Captain mentally groaned. All he needed was for the doc and River to show up and his day of misery would be complete. "Cap'n ya can't do it."

"Not like I got much choice, little Kaylee." If there was any sunny side to this predicament it was that his mechanic appeared to be talking to him again. Albeit if only to say good-gorram-bye. Well wasn't that shiny? He pulled his thoughts away from such doom and gloom and straightened up. Time to be Captain. "Need everybody sharp an' ready. Kaylee, you go to the engine an' see if you can get Serenity ready for a hard burn when Wash gives the order."

Her downcast eyes brightened. "Ya got a plan?"

His smile did not reach his eyes. "Ain't I always?" As Kaylee ran out to do as she was told he turned to the others. "Jayne, need you to go to the armoury. Sort out and get ready every bit of hardware we got just in case that *tamade hundan* tries to send his men over. Want the crew ready an' waitin' to make 'em pay. Shepherd you might wanna go with him. Zoe?"

"Yes, sir?"

"I know this is a hard thing to ask but I need you to trust me on this. If there was another way I'd take it."

"Not gonna let you hand yourself over to them, sir."

"Ain't no other way outta this but think long term not short."

She frowned. "*Shenme*?"

"Minute ago we were gonna be blown outta the sky, *jide*? This way we gotta chance, ain't much of once I'll give you that but it ain't over 'til it's over."

"Still think it's a bad plan, sir."

"Noted an' you can say 'I told you so' as many times as you like when this is over, right now I need to know I can count on you. Can I count on you, Zoe?"

For a moment the first mate looked torn, her duty at war with the notion of giving up her friend into the hands of an unknown enemy with no guarantee that she would ever see him again. It hurt, more than a body should have to suffer yet the steel that bound them made it hard to turn him down. He was still her Captain and if she had anything to do with it that would continue to be the case after this fool plan had run it's course. With a solemn nod she gave her word.

"*Hen hao*, need a hand to load up the shuttle *mashang* before those folks get twitchy."

"I'm on it, sir."

Once Zoe left the bridge the Captain hung back until he was alone with Wash. He had one more piece of wisdom to impart and this time he didn't want any witnesses.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*wangu* = stubborn *wangba dan*/*tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *dong ma* = understand? *duibuqi* = sorry *diyu* = hell *bao bei* = precious/treasure *laoban* = boss *deng* = wait *qu* = yes (lit. go) *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *dang ran* = of course *mashang* = on the double/at once/immediately *lese* = crappy *goushi* = crap/dog shit *dui* = correct *bizui* = shut up/be quiet *guai* = devil/ghost *shenme* = what? *jide* = remember *hen hao* = very good *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart)

COMMENTS

Friday, May 9, 2008 6:46 AM

HOPERULES


You do have a way of making a person sit on the edge of their seat waiting for the next chapter.

Friday, May 9, 2008 10:12 AM

ANGELLEMARCS


Hey now! I'm the cliffhanger queen. No fair making me what....Hee hee.

Love it, my friend! Looking forward to lots more.

Friday, May 9, 2008 10:12 AM

ANGELLEMARCS


what is actually suppose to be wait....I hate typos.

Friday, May 9, 2008 11:14 PM

WYTCHCROFT


i love the character's inner lives in this chapter:)

Saturday, May 10, 2008 5:15 AM

JANE0904


Good stuff. I can't wait to see what the truth is, but surely even Inara in this incarnation can't want to hurt the people she's been so close to, even if it's to get back at Mal.

Saturday, May 10, 2008 4:42 PM

JONDESU


I should tell you that I've very nearly posted some very angry comments about your portrayal of Inara, but I'm beginning to hope that you'll turn her around some now. Regardless, you are a fabulous writer, even if I don't always agree with your storyline choices. Can't wait to see how this works out!

Oh, and what's Mal going to tell Wash?

Monday, May 12, 2008 12:51 AM

WYTCHCROFT


just re-read this - gorram, this is a mighty slice of your verse:) Not only do your characters live - and stay consistent IN THEMSELVES (and the way YOU write them) but the cinematic cutting across the action works great:)


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