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DUPLICITY Series: 7. "Adrift"
Saturday, May 17, 2008

"Zoe determines to get answers from Inara. Meanwhile Badger decides what to do with the Captain."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2077    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

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

SUMMARY: "Zoe determines to get answers from Inara. Meanwhile Badger decides on what to do with the Captain." 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.

"ADRIFT"

"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

The tension in the commons room was palpable. Heavy and brooding, thick with worry and a medly of competing emotions. Kaylee could not stop wringing her hands. "What're we gonna do? Port stabliser's been sheared off. Even if we can get power back up to the engine we ain't goin' nowhere but in circles."

Zoe was only partly listening to Serenity's mechanic. Accepting the grim news but not allowing it to deflect her from her main mission. Eyes fastened on Inara Serra she wanted answers not obfuscation or prevarication. The Captain had warned her about Inara but Zoe hadn't been fully convinced. Now she was inclined to think the Captain had been right. "Want to tell us what's really goin' on, Inara?"

The quietly spoken words had more effect that an outright accusation would have done. Inara inwardly flinched and tried to compose herself as best as she could. "I know as much as the rest of you."

"Let's not lie. Ain't got time to be siftin' through what you do an' don't wanna tell us an' unless I'm mistaken the Cap'n don't have the luxury of waitin' for you to come clean."

"It isn't what you think."

Everyone stared at the Companion. Inara looked a bit startled and unsettled at blurting the words out before they could be filtered through her brain. She took a deep breath, she needed to get herself under control and with the Alliance Cruiser waiting for her to get back to them there was not much time. When she paused as if uncertain whether to continue, Simon decided it was time to say something.

"I heard you and the Captain arguing."

Her eyes changed from uncertain and sorrowful to needle sharp lasers pinning him with her gaze, as if she could strip every thought from his head with just a glance. Simon found it unnerving but did not break eye contact. "We always quarrel."

The attempt at nonchalence did not have the desired effect. "I didn't mean to eavesdrop but the hatch was open. You admitted to being a spy."

Zoe's eyes snapped from Inara to Simon but before she could berate him for not telling her he continued, his voice calm and even as if he were talking about nothing more contentious that the weather forecast.

"You said you would not stop until every member of the crew vilified the Captain as much as you do."

"We were quarreling. People say a lot of things they don't mean when they quarrel."

"Yes," said Simon slowly "and they also let slip what they really think."

Kaylee turned wounded eyes on Simon. "That ain't fair, 'Nara wouldn't never do anythin' to hurt any one of us."

"Is that true, Inara?" Asked Simon softly.

When the Companion remained silent Zoe took a step closer, her eyes narrowed. "Best you answer the question."

Anger flashed in those beautiful chocolate brown eyes. "To what? The ravings of a mad man?"

"Simon ain't mad." Said Kaylee in confusion, her eyes flitting back and forth in search of clarification. "Are ya, Simon?"

He shook his head but didn't take his eyes off Inara. "I could have sworn you liked being on Serenity. That you were our friend."

A prick of pain pierced her flawless armour and for a moment the Companion looked vulnerable. "I am."

"As fascinatin' as this is, we got an Alliance Cruiser breathin' down our necks." Grumbled Jayne.

Zoe shot him an annoyed look then turned back to Inara. "What were you quarrelin' about?"

"It's private."

Without warning Zoe slammed the flat of her hand down on the kitchen table making the others jump. Inara looked visibly shaken by the sheer anger flashing in the first mate's eyes.

"*Gou le*, Inara! Any minute now that Cruiser is gonna be takin' you off this ship an' back to Sihnon, leavin' us adrift. I wanna know what is goin' on an' I wanna know now, *dong ma*?"

Feeling a little weak Inara sank into the nearest chair, her control wavering. Shepherd Book wanted to reassure her but wasn't sure that was the best thing. If he offered sympathy too soon she could just clam right up and they would be nowhere nearer finding out the truth.

Zoe placed her hands palms down on the table and leaned forward. "Now. What were you quarrelin' about with the Cap'n?"

To Zoe's surprise the Companion looked as if she was on the brink of tears. Inara licked her lips. "*Ni bu dong*."

"Might if you ever get around to explainin'."

With a sigh Inara seemed to deflate somewhat, her eyes dropping to fix onto the wood surface of the old table before rising slowly to look Zoe in the eye. Quietly the others took their seats around the table, only Wash remaining standing, ready to run up to the bridge if need be. Simon reached out for Kaylee's hand and gave it a squeeze. She gave him a grateful look, sniffed quiety then looked at Inara. Her expectent face now almost reluctant to hear what her friend had to say.

"I had a brother." Her words were quiet, hushed, and the crew fell completely silent as if knowing any interruption would stop her continuing. "He was four years older than me." A small sad smile flitted across her lips with some distant memory now tinged with pain. "When I first rented the shuttle I told the Captain that I had supported Unification and that's the truth. You must understand I was brought up on an Alliance world, allied with the Guild almost as soon as I could walk and talk. My parents had wealth and position and supported the Alliance. We believed what we were told and the lives we led cushioned our consciences against the raw facts of the wider 'verse. In the War of Independence my brother fought for the Alliance. Father was so proud. I feared for him but he was so excited, so brave. He wanted to help make a better world and we all supported him in that desire."

When she fell silent it was Shepherd Book who tentatively nudged her into continuing. "Many people supported Unification just as many supported the Independents. It's nothing to be ashamed of, Inara."

She gave him a look he could not read. "You would think that, wouldn't you?" Inara paused as if to steel herself in laying an old heavy burden to rest. "For many years I never knew what happened to him. Father assumed, as did we, that Sendhil was killed in one of the many engagements of the war. So many died. So much senseless death and destruction and for what? Officially he was declared Missing In Action but we all knew it for the euphimism it was. That is, until recently."

Zoe gave her a puzzled look. "What happened?"

"I got a wave. Information, proof, that my brother didn't die in battle."

A look of relief momentarily lit up Kaylee's face. "He's alive?"

Wash didn't smile, he was watching Inara's face closely and knew more bad news was surely coming.

"*Bu qu*, he died. Rather, was killed. Murdered." Her gaze fastened on Zoe with an anger so deep and cold that it burned more than hot coals. "He was executed."

The Shepherd wanted to remind her that many atrocities on both sides had happened during the war but something in the Companion's face cautioned him to keep his peace. Zoe looked unsettled as if an inkling of Inara's meaning was filtering into her brainpan. "What are you sayin'?"

"Malcolm Reynolds killed my brother!"

"Wasn't they at war?" Said Jayne.

"*Bu qu*, the War was over Jayne. My brother was captured and being taken to one of the Independent prison camps when he was stopped and brought before Mal. There was not even a trial or any charges levied against him just a crazy Browncoat Sergeant incensed with losing the War to the better side. A man who took great pleasure in exacting a mean spiteful revenge on an unarmed man."

"That isn't true! I was with the Cap'n all through the war, if such a thing had happened I would'a known it. You lie."

Inara shook her head. "No, I don't, though your reaction is no more than I would expect. Blinded by your loyalty you see only what you want to see."

"An' you have no loyalty at all! Just because someone made up some tale doesn't mean it's true Inara."

The Companion nodded, her whole demeanour one of weary resignation. "That was my initial reaction until I saw the proof." Lifting her head she stiffened her spine. "Which is why I was intent on exacting my own revenge."

Wash felt as if he had been sucker punched. This was Inara Serra. Their beautiful and gracious friend. A Companion. A woman who spent her life serving others. "Are you sayin' you arranged for this to happen?"

She shook her head. "No, this isn't any of my doin'. I admit I wanted to bring Mal down, show the rest of you what kind of man you've been following."

"And the Alliance Cruiser?" Asked the Shepherd tentatively.

A small smile that had nothing to do with humour dusted the ruby curve of her lips. "I'm afraid that was the Guild's response to my call for assistance. I had intended help for us all but it seems the Commandant was only instructed to extend that aid to me. I will speak with him."

Simon looked uncomfortable. "What are you going to say?"

Realising he was worried about him and his sister being arrested she hastened to allay his fear. "*Fang xin*, I'll ask for aid in bringing Serenity to a suitable port for repair." Shepherd Book was not the only one who noticed what she wasn't saying. "And the Captain? You will tell them about the pirates attacking the ship then taking the Captain and cargo I presume."

It was strange watching that unusually vulnerable and open face close off, emotions compartmentalised and locked away where they could not betray her. Inara's eyes hardened and her lips flattened into a thin unforgiving line. "As far as I'm concerned they can put him in irons and lock him away until the end of his natural life!"

* * * * *

Badger was doing some deep thinking. Had to handle this right if he wanted to keep his hands lily white and seemingly clean. Let others take the risk. After all, that was what they were paid to do. Anxiously he paced, his mind racing and reviewing the chain of events over and over again. With an annoyed sigh of frustration Badger paused. "Should'a let the *wangba dan* die." But even though he had crossed verbal swords with Malcolm Reynolds many a time he knew the Captain did not deserve to die. He had over reacted, assumed he was being cheated when he wasn't, though what in the nine hells the *feng le fafeng* Captain was doing delaying delivery of his cargo to go ferrying his painted whore to and fro was a mystery to him. Especially as she didn't seem to harbour similar feelings back. Or maybe he was the one missing something here?

He would have liked to just call Mountjoy and let the man take care of it for him but Badger knew that it was one thing to beat Malcolm Reynolds to within an inch of his life, say sorry and let him go and quite another to end his life without just cause. Not that he would mind if the man didn't have an insanely loyal crew. Not for the first time he wondered what it was about Reynolds that bound folk to him. If he could find a way to bottle and sell such loyalty he would be a very rich man. And then there was the stab of guilt plaguing him. Not a thing he was accustomed to feeling but Reynolds was one of his more reliable transport Captains. Also had a sense of stubborn honour which he regularly insulted and mocked yet secretly admired. Not that he would ever tell the *yuchun* man what he really thought. Plus, once word got out - and it eventually would - of what he had done to Reynolds he would be lucky to get anyone to middle man for him. Badger huffed out an expansive breath, knowing what he needed to do but hating the implication that he was somehow backing down.

When Mountjoy's face came on the screen Badger ignored the glint of anticipation in the man's eyes. "Is he still alive?"

Mountjoy didn't need to ask who he was talking about. "For now, *weishenme*?"

"Looked like he lost a lot a blood, *dui*?"

"Yeah, like to bleed out an' die."

Badger nodded. "But he ain't dead yet?"

The other man's eyes narrowed slightly. "*Bu qu*."

"Want you to put 'im in his shuttle an' cut it lose."

"Don't think that's a good idea..."

Straightening to his full height Badger sneered nastily at him. "You ain't paid to think, *dong ma*? Just don't want Reynolds bein' traced to your ship or my cargo. Let someone else find him driftin'. Probably bleed to death before he's found anyway."

"Then why don't I make certain? Dead men tell no tales."

"Nah, changed my mind. See, I thought he was cheatin' me, over reacted a bit. Not that teachin' him a little lesson wasn't fun. So cut him lose then finish the job."

Mountjoy was frowning. Badger didn't like the fact that he did not just agree but appeared to be thinking about it.

"You got a problem with followin' orders, Mountjoy?"

Something in the little King-pin's stance warned the mercenary not to cross Badger on this. He gave a reluctant nod. "No. If that's what you want?"

Badger nodded and leaned forward to switch off the monitor, pausing just before he hit the switch. "Ta ta for now an' I expect you back 'ere with my money within three days."

* * * * *

Commandant Boden was irritated. He did not like his ship and crew being used to ferry whores but his hands were tied. The Companion Inara Serra was well connected and the Alliance had too many lucrative ties to the Guild to afford to upset them over such a innocuous request. Biting back his distaste he managed to affect an air of polite welcome. If he lacked the words and grace that Inara was used to she made no mention of it.

"*Xie xie ni*, Commandant. I hope you have not been taken too far out of your way?"

The man inwardly bristled at her temerity but hid it well. "*Mei shi*."

Before he could make a polite withdrawal Inara took a step towards him and continued speaking. "I appreciate your assistance as does the Guild. May I be assured that the pirate ship that attacked us will be apprehended?"

"We are instructed to take you immediately to Sihnon."

Inara smiled. "I am sure you have other ships in the area that can be alerted? I would also appreciate any aid that could be extended to the ship Serenity."

Gritting his teeth Commandant Boden gave a curt nod. "*Dang ran*, Miss Serra. We will of course alert the authorities at Sihnon and have assistance despatched."

Inara wanted to press him and ask him to request that assistance himself but the man had already turned and walked briskly away before she could get the words out. Pressing her lips together she was forced to follow at a more leisurely pace, realising all too quickly that she was in no position to order an Alliance Commandant to do anything at all. Biting her tongue she realised her friends on Serenity would have to wait for help to arrive.

* * * * *

Pain. His constant companion. How feckless was he to not appreciate her constancy? Vaguely he felt the lull and pitch of movement as if he sailed on troubled waters. The metallic tang in his mouth only added to the queasy feeling swirling around in his belly, the agony in his legs making him feel weak and nauseous. Consciousness seemed a distant shore he was not like to reach any time soon, nightmare images jumbled fact with fiction in a bizarre tableau that confused and disorientated him. He tried to remember what had happened. Where he was. Then darkness would rob him of sentience and he would be lost and unknowing until next he drifted nearer towards waking.

Declan Mountjoy was in a foul mood. Tristan said nothing but concentrated all his attention on flying the ship. With a scowl Mountjoy leaned over the pilot's shoulder and checked their heading as if he could not trust the man to do his job unaided. Then with a grunt and a huff he spun round and stomped off the bridge. Tristan Ward closed his eyes and took a couple of deep steadying breaths. Why the good gorram was he on this crew? Then he remembered. Having been naive enough to sign up with Mountjoy three months ago he had discovered too late the nature of the man and by the time he realised his mistake there was no way to leave without making the Captain angry with the kind of unreasoned ire that ended men's lives in a heartbeat. The man was mad, deranged in ways that unsettled the pilot and kept him silent and wary.

As the Captain made his way down to the cargo bay he bellowed for Styl. The man met him as he entered the cargo bay and gave him a questioning look. Mountjoy pointed at the slumped figure of Serenity's Captain, lying where they had left him in a widening pool of blood.

"Put him on that *lese* shuttle an' cut it lose."

Styl just nodded and grabbed Mal under the arms easily lifting his shoulders off the ground and dragging him towards the shuttle. As soon as the shuttle hatch was sealed Styl shut and sealed the docking hatch.

"When you've done that," Mountjoy growled "clean up that mess."

Styl nodded and detached the shuttle then went to get a bucket and some water.

* * * * *

Everyone was more than a little stunned when Inara left. Wash watched the Alliance Cruiser until it was no more than a speck in his viewscreen. Stunned he turned to stare at his wife. "They didn't even offer to help us!"

Zoe patted his shoulder as if to console him, her look suitably grim. "They're Alliance, *bao bei*."

Shepherd Book looked worried. "I'm more concerned about whether or not they go after the pirate ship. That Commandant didn't look too happy to be helping Inara."

"Yeah, he did kind'a look like the Guild had a gun to his head." Said Wash.

"Gun or no gun we have to get the Cap'n back."

Wash looked at his wife for a moment. "Um, you know we aren't goin' anywhere, *dui*?"

"Kaylee'll fix Serenity."

"Not without a dry dock. The port stabliser's shot to pieces."

She frowned. "What are you sayin', *zhangfu*?"

"We need to fix the ship before we can go anywhere."

"Do we have power?"

Wash nodded. "Yeah but it won't do us any good until we find a way to fly in a straight line."

Zoe glared into the Black and cursed every purplebelly that had ever lived. Shepherd Book interrupted her less than happy thoughts. "I think I may be able to help."

"You got a spare stabiliser in your pocket we don't know about, Shepherd?"

Book laughed, a deep warm rumble that Zoe realised had been missing for too long. "No, but we are less than a day from Sihnon and my order has a monastery there."

Now she looked genuinely amused, her heart somewhat lightened at the notion that they might be able to get some help after all. "They got a ship repair yard too?"

The slow warm smile on the Preacher's face was like a feast in a time of famine. "Everybody was something else before taking orders, Zoe. I wouldn't be surprised to find quite a pool of talent at our disposal." "Can't say I'd say no to some divine intervention."

"Then I'll get on it right away."

Wash noticed that as soon as Book had gone the worry settled back on his wife's face. He hated to see her like this. "*Fang xin, bao bei*, we'll get him back."

She did not say anything but let her husband draw her into the warm and welcome circle of his embrace. For a few moments at least she could allow herself the luxury of believing that was true.

* * * * *

Hours passed. Silence stretched from star to star across the Black and ignored the small vessel. Inside the temperature was dropping. With the engine off there was no power for heating though life support was endlessly cycling there was no sign of life. Malcolm Reynolds lay in an ungainly heap where Styl had thrown him, blood smeared along the deck of the shuttle where he had been dragged. No attempt had been made to bind his wounds.

In the back of the shuttle, hidden in shadow, eyes watched and waited. Patient and confident. No rush.

He was dreaming or mayhap it was another nightmare. Did it matter when he couldn't wake up? Or maybe he was awake just refusing to accept it? The jumble of disjointed memories were sorting themselves out, the sequence of events jostling for place in an order that would make sense. Images from the past intercut with those of the present. Faces long forgotten made cameo appearances in the snapshot story of his life. The dead and the dying having more life in them than he did right then. Not that he knew that or could have brought himself to care if he had. Slowly consciousness tugged at him, pulling at the veil of darkness binding him in shadow. A sluggish sense of urgency teased him yet made no sense. The pain filtering in again like an unwelcome guest, dragging him down down down where the light could not reach and warmth would never touch him again.

Touch. Movement. A cacophony of blurred sound. Noise stretched and pulled out of shape making no sense to his ears. As if all his body parts were detached and even his mind was no longer his own. Thoughts came in random streams that trickled out leading nowhere. He hurt, the pain an almost overwhelming pressure stealing the air from his lungs and the will from his mind. It was so much easier to just let go only something was tethering him, holding him back, keeping his consciousness linked to the pain. He wanted to shake it off, leave those shackles behind but something nagged at him. A memory? A sound? No. A voice. A touch even. Confused he began to drift again then his world tilted, the images in his head tumbling over each other in fragments of light and colour. A low dismal elongation of sound reached his ears baffling his befuddled brain. It took forever for it to occur to him that the sound was a voice, his. Not words but pain, ground out of him as if it had been squeezed from his body under pressure. Distorted and raw.

Drifting off again he felt a sense of movement. Stabs of pain shot through his body causing him to cry out. Consciousness swept back to him like some sick tide tossing and turning him on each unfeeling wave. His eyes rocked open and shut, open and shut, like a toy doll in a child's hands. Hush baby, don't you cry. He could not hush and tears were the salt ocean that held him captive. No. Wait. Sound. A snuffle. He felt more than heard it and thought that odd. Then it came again only it seemed to bypass his ears and echo inside his head.

*You have to wake. Qing*

His eyelids fluttered but wouldn't stay open. "I do?"

*Qu. Can't do this alone*

Again with the voice in his head and the not talking. Or mayhap he was talking to himself?

*You aren't dreaming Captain but you need to wake up.*

It took him a moment or two to place that voice. "River?"

Happiness seeped through words now spoken. He felt small hands cradle him, a head leaning over him as he tried to focus. Her smile of joy was tear stained. "Going home."

He blinked. Dazed but in a good way. "We are?"

"Simon'll fix you."

"Am I broke?"

River choked back a sob, not wanting to upset him because she was crying. Vaguely he was aware of the moisture on his face and for the longest time thought the tears were his own.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*gou le* = enough! *dong ma* = understand? *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *wangba dan*/*tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *yuchan* = stupid/ignorant *feng le* = crazy *fafeng* = mad *weishenme* = why *dui* = correct *xie xie ni* = thank you *mei shi* = it doesn't matter *dang ran* = of course *bao bei* = precious/treasure *zhangfu* = husband *qing* = please *qu* = yes (lit. go)

COMMENTS

Saturday, May 17, 2008 3:03 PM

ANGELLEMARCS


Wow. Love the twist with Inara's brother. I am really worried about Mal. You are such a great writer. This is a great story!!

Saturday, May 17, 2008 3:36 PM

SLUMMING


Oh, you know how I love it when River comes to Mal's aid! Beautifully done!

Saturday, May 17, 2008 8:54 PM

CBSTEVE


Good stuff, nice twist with Inara's brother, but like Zoe said she was with the Captain through the war and he never executed anyone. So who's telling the truth? I think Kaylee's finally realized that Simon was anyway. Looking forward to more.

Sunday, May 18, 2008 12:30 PM

JANE0904


Thank heavens the crew know now, but will Zoe be able to prove to Inara that whatever she believes, didn't happen? And someone needs to get to Mal mah shong. He's going to be bleeding out, even if River is there. He needs Simon.

Sunday, May 18, 2008 11:02 PM

WYTCHCROFT


the terrifying side of Zoe really had me gripped from the opening confrontation to the last moments with Simon and River - boy, did i need THAT release!.
a tough full chapter - with real purpose:)


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