DUPLICITY Series: 16. "Issues of Trust"
Friday, June 27, 2008

"Inara decides it is time to get some help. Simon makes an unwelcome decision. Meanwhile things get even worse for Badger".


TITLE: "ISSUES OF TRUST" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Zoe/Wash. Kaylee/Simon. RATING: G. STATUS: Sequel to "MIXED FORTUNES". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at

SUMMARY: "Inara decides it is time to get some help. Simon makes an unwelcome decision. Meanwhile things get even worse for Badger." 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

* * * * *

The silence in the room should have been uncomfortable but it wasn't. Rather it was a place of peace and tranquility, as restful as a leafy arbour. Inara Serra felt her anxieties become more muted concerns, the need for vengeance a more remote expression of what was driving her. Her face tilted up to where the House Mistress sat, not behind her desk but in a chair facing her troubled charge.

"Perhaps you should start from the beginning, Inara?"

She took a breath as if to inhale the atmosphere of the room and becalm her trembling soul. Outwardly she had settled as soon as she had stepped into the House Mistress's presence but inwardly all the worries and anxieties remained at war. Calling on her Companion training Inara brought them to a cease fire and found it easier to distance herself just a little from the emotional turmoil of the last few weeks. "It was while I was still on the ship Serenity, Mother. I received a wave from an old, and formerly dear friend."

The House Mother's eyebrows rose but no comment passed her lips. This was Inara's story not hers.

"She told me," Inara paused and stilled her hands which had started twisting together in her lap "she told me that my brother had not simply died in the War. That he had been callously murdered, executed, in Serenity Valley."

"Many atrocities happen during wartime, Inara." Said the House Mistress gently.

A flare of anger sparked in Inara's eyes, her calm a-flutter for a moment. "*Bushi*! This happened after the surrender at Serenity Valley. My brother was alleged to have been caught just prior by the Independents and when their high command ordered the surrender some were so incensed that they had lost and must lay down arms that they took it out on their few Alliance prisoners."

The House Mistress was watching her keenly. "I take it you were given a name?"

Inara nodded as her throat tightened with emotion. "*Qu*, the ship's Captain, Malcolm Reynolds."

Pieces were rapidly falling into place in the House Mistress's mind. "What did you do?"

For a moment Inara did not answer, her mind going back to those awful days when she had verbally lashed out all the bile and hate engendered by the carefully fashioned falsehood that she had swallowed hook, line and sinker. "I am ashamed to say that I threatened the Captain, told him that I meant to destroy him, that I would not be happy until every member of his crew reviled him as much as I did."

"Did you tell him why, child?"

It was said so softly, so gently, that Inara almost folded. Only the steel in her spine would not let her do so and she owed the Mother her answer. "*Bu qu*."

"*Weishenme bu*? You had until this wave been perfectly happy renting your shuttle from this Captain?"

Inara nodded.

"Then he would have no idea why your manner towards him had suddenly turned so poisonous?"

Inara shot her a surprised look at the use of such a word. "Poisonous? I was angry, yes."

The House Mistress nodded. "Yes, and the venom from your tongue was supplied by another."

Put that way gave the Companion pause. Inara reviewed the wave over again in her mind, but a lot slower this time, every word and every nuance reassessed for hidden meaning. "She showed me proof, Mother."

"Then how do you know it was a lie?"

Some fire returned to her look, her bearing less defeated and more in control though Inara was not aware of it. All her attention on the matter they were discussing. "I know because I have seen my brother. Alive and whole."

"If he did not die what was the proof you were shown?"

A single tear rolled down Inara's cheek. "I made a copy of the wave, Mother. By your grace perhaps I can show you?"

The House Mistress nodded. Although she was wary of trusting technology over her own senses it did have it's uses but only when it was the tool and not the master. It looked as if Inara Serra was learning that lesson the hard way.

* * * * *

He hated this place. Athens. A poor man's attempt at finery but falling short of every standard by which such dubious honours could be judged. Sure, there were finer parts. Clean and shiny even but they were reserved for the political elite, the monied classes who only came to trade and shore up business enterprises too shady to conduct on their own *lese* doorsteps. Badger should have felt right at home. The trouble was that he had the feeling he was being followed even here. Hunted. The ratty little room he had rented was his temporary bolt hole but even that didn't feel safe. Gorramit why did this have to happen to him?

Again he waited for darkness then carefully slipped outside. It was a risk but one he would sooner take than stay in that vermin infested pit. Instinct told him they were closing in on him once more and he didn't want to be trapped. The breath came hard and knotty in his chest, catching every now and again and causing him to pause to drive much needed air into a panicking chest that ached with the effort, not that he would admit as much. Was just a bit out of shape was all. He didn't go far. Could have run but that would just leave him winded and without any kind of shelter at all and just as clueless as he had been before. No. It was time to fill in that big empty gap with knowledge and there was only one surefire way he knew to do it. So Badger found himself a nice little doorway, deep and dark and far enough away across the street to allow him to slip away unseen should hostile eyes turn in that direction. It would give him the vantage point he needed for the information he craved.

He didn't dare to wave anyone. His men were scattered and if they had any sense were in hiding too. Badger crouched down in the doorway and allowed the dark shadows to swallow him up, determined to take no chances. If anyone shone a light across the gorram road his low huddled form would likely be below the beam, any folks looking would be looking at man height. And if the edge of the beam happened to flick over his hunched form his dark clothing would make it look like it was no more than a bundle of rags left out for refuse collection. Nothing to draw the eye or rouse suspicion. So he settled down, wrapped his coat around him and ducked down, eyes narrowed while his mind was a-whirl. The hours passed, slow and torturous as if mocking him but Badger didn't move. Resolute and determined he waited out what remained of the night until it seemed that his instincts had betrayed him. Then. There. What was that? Even though it was still dark he was convinced there had been movement.

It took all of Badger's willpower to remain still and not react. The figures coalesced out of the shadows, like nightmare images. He squinted, making out at least a dozen men in black well fitting clothing, their almost soundless movements making the hair on the back of Badger's head stand on end. They moved swiftly, with a precision that was deadly. Alliance black ops. Ordinary purplebellies were more direct, they would go storming in and kick the doors and windows to pieces as they went in. Nothing so subtle as this.

It was kind of fascinating to watch them at work, flowing over the landscape yet leaving no trace of themselves in passing. It was morbidly creepifying but also a thing of beauty, to be admired even though right now fear was winning the day. Yet still Badger stayed where he was. He knew that even when the eyes couldn't make out the detail of a person in hiding it would automatically track the slightest movement and the last thing he needed was to draw their attention. But what could they possibly want with him? Why had they trashed his manor? And by all accounts someone had completely wiped out the Blue Ridge complex that sprawled around Dyton Colony. Killed hundreds of his countrymen yet, if the rumours be true, left not a mark on any of them. Badger had lost cousins by the bucketload not to mention old friends that went back generations. It didn't make no sense. If someone was looking for him why wipe out whole towns, communities? What in the nine hells were they looking for?

The answer hit him just before the search party exited the building opposite. Badger went cold. They were sending him a message. No other thing it could be. And the message was old as the gorram hills. He could run but he couldn't hide. Cold sweat began to roll down his back and neck, he felt a clammy hand close around his heart. Then things got eerily much worse. As he watched he saw the troops pour silently out of the building, the two bringing up the rear moving at a more leisurely pace. Unlike the other soldiers they did not make any attempt to follow but paused outside the front of the building, no obvious sign of conversation between them. The silence stretched and Badger held his breath. Slowly their heads turned as if they were scanning the buildings and streets around them but it was still pretty dark and Badger was confident he could not be seen. Then one of the men froze, his body tensing, face looking directly at the doorway in which Badger was hiding. *Wode ma* the *tamade hundan* knew he was there! Panic seized him. The other soldiers had not left but were fanning out, cutting off any chance of escape. If he still believed in a God he would gorram pray but right now Badger didn't think even the *guai* could help him.

* * * * *

After all the excitement Simon was happy to be able to confirm that the Captain was no worse for the wear. Kaylee hovered in the doorway watching the doctor work, noting how sure and skilled his hands were, the total absorbtion on that sensitive face. To Kaylee watching Simon was like watching poetry in motion. Only once he had finished did she step into the infirmary, her eyes flicking anxiously to the suppine unconscious Captain then back to Serenity's doctor. Simon smiled.

"He's going to be alright, Kaylee. What I mean is..."

She grinned. "Don't have to explain."

"Yes, I think I do."

Kaylee gave a little frown and Simon immediately cursed his clumsiness.

"Nothing's *cuode*, it's just that I wanted to be sure that the Captain had just passed out and not lost consciousness for any other reason than being tired."

"That's good ain't it?"

"Yes, Kaylee it is but the Captain still needs help if he is going to recover fully."

"That's what I was wantin' to talk to you about."

Simon and Kaylee turned to see Zoe walking towards them. It was kind of unnerving how she could move around without making a sound when she wanted to. It reminded Simon of a big powerful panther. Both Jayne and the Captain had that ability although the Captain only employed stealth mode when it was necessary, the rest of the time he seemed to enjoy stomping around Serenity as if to constantly remind his crew who was in charge. Each footfall marking out his territory anew. It was amusing and a little infantile but given everything else Malcolm Reynolds had lost Simon could forgive him this one obssession, even if it did at times set him at odds with the man.

"Think we need to talk."

The doctor started to open his mouth but Zoe shook her head, her voice softening a touch as she lowered the volume.

"I'm thinkin' the commons area would be best. Kaylee, how about you make some tea for everyone?"

Kaylee hesitated, as if reluctant to leave the Captain alone. As if divining her thoughts, Simon gave her shoulder a little squeeze. "He's asleep Kaylee and the monitors will alert me if the Captain wakes up or shows any signs of distress, *dong ma*?"

Still not totally happy she nodded back. Simon was the doctor after all.

* * * * *

Captain Afram tried hard not to pull a face but his clear dissatisfaction came through in his voice. "Why Verbena? He only has one contact there. We could just extract him. A surgical strike."

Mr Morgan shook his head slightly. "*Ni bu dong*. What use is a message if you water it down?"

"I don't like that piece of vermin Badger any more than anyone else but..." Afram paused. It was not that he was squeamish or cared over much about any of these people but there were families here. Alliance supporting families who had never done anything to upset the regime he had spent his whole life supporting. Wiping out the good along with the bad simply left him feeling soiled. It was a sensation he could well live without. "There are many good people here, that is all that I am saying."

The man did not blink. Not a flicker of emotion showed on that impassive gaunt face. "Who is to say that his contact does not have contacts here?"

"We could make discreet enquiries..."

"*Bi zui*!" Mr Morgan's equally cadaverous counterpart Mr Evans spoke, his voice a sharp rap of command. He spoke so rarely that it had an immediate impact, silencing the military man instantly. "The only way to be sure is to be thorough." Mr Evans paused, his voice going deceptively mild as he homed in on the Captain. "You do know how to be thorough, Captain?"

Not trusting himself to speak Afram nodded. This job was becoming less and less to his liking but he was too sensible of his own precarious position within the chain of command to challenge it. He was Alliance through and through and his was not to reason why. His was to do that others might die.

* * * * *

"The image is very grainy."

Inara sucked in a quiet breath, needing to steel herself to keep watching even though she now knew the footage she was seeing was false. "*Wo zhidao*."

Mistress Barbette pinned Inara with a steely but not unkind gaze. Her demeanour was utterly and totally serious. "Look closely Inara."

"What am I looking for?"

The House Mistress pointed a well manicured finger at different places in the footage. Inara frowned. "Use your eyes, child, not your emotions and look again."

Inara bit back a surge of irritation knowing that the House Mistress's words had not been personal. She peered and they watched the footage a second and a third time before something caught her eye. "Is that...?"

"*Qu*. This footage has been pieced together. See, here? This I take it is a close up of your brother?"

"Yes, that is Sendhil."

"But see, you only get that facial glimpse in close up. When the camera zooms out again you lose the detail, only the fact that they wear the same uniforms and have similar builds lead you to conclude it is of the same man."


The House Mistress held up a hand and Inara fell silent. "Look again, this I am taking it is an image of your Captain?" Inara did not correct her and tell her that Mal was not her anything. She nodded and waited. "Again, you only see his face clearly in close up when no one else is in the frame. When the camera pans out you see what appears to be someone in a brown coat execute an Alliance soldier but the detail is insufficient for identification."

"Then, this was deliberate?"

"Inara, it was not just deliberate. It was calculated to cause the most impact on you, to lead you into taking an action from which you could not draw back. To destroy a man who's only crime in this instant is to be an obstacle to someone."

Inara gave Mistress Barbette a sharp look. "*Shei*?"

"Let us not get ahead of ourselves, child. Whoever fashioned this *evidence* was careful to create a trap door."

"What do you mean?"

The House Mistress resisted the urge to shake her charge, knowing that it was more a delayed kind of shock than idiocy making Inara more dense than usual. "The footage is grainy for two reasons. First, to hide the fact that it has been tampered with, manipulated to show what they want you to see not what is actually on the film. Second, to allow the perpetrator to deny culpability if it should backfire. They can reasonably argue that they were as misled as you thus wiping their hands of any wrong doing. Who was your source?"

"Someone I thought a dear friend."

"And does this *dear friend* have a name?"

Inara flushed realising that even now she was trying to protect her friend from censure. It was foolish but an automatic response born of years of friendship. She could not look to that friendship now. "Her name is Margueritte Santana."

The name surprised the House Mistress but she covered it quickly and made no comment on the fallen Companion from Inara's childhood. She was more surprised that the two had kept in touch all these years against the strict guidlines of the Guild. However, it mattered not at this time. It was a detail that would be examined with a fine toothcomb later.

Inara's voice was small, as if the full weight of what they had uncovered was only now dawning on her. "What does this mean?"

Barbette considering brushing the query aside but Inara had come to her. Had asked for help and guidance and it was not within her heart or her training as House Mistress to deny it. "We must move carefully, Inara. Whatever game is being played is deadly."

"I am sure Margueritte can know nothing about it, Mother. She would never do anything intentionally to hurt me."

The House Mistress's eyes were sharp and bright with intelligence, her voice mild but not unsympathetic. "She has not done anything to hurt you though, has she Inara?"

For a moment she was confused. "*Shenme*?"

"This footage has one purpose and one purpose only. To alienate you from the Captain of that ship."


"Whoever is behind this does not want you onboard Serenity."

A hideous thought crept into her mind. One from which nightmares were born.

* * * * *

The commons room was full, the crew seated around the big oak table as Kaylee and Book handed around mugs of tea. Even Jayne was quiet and subdued. Kaylee took her seat next to Simon and felt some comfort as his hand slid in hers and gave it a reassuring squeeze. River looked from face to face but did not say anything. Wash had them deep enough in the Black for safety and had set the proximity alarm before joining them. Zoe gave him a nod before looking towards the doctor.

"I'm assumin' the equipment you need for the Cap'n will only be found on an Alliance world?"

Simon tried not to wince at what he was about to say. He could feel River's eyes boring into him from across the table but ignored her, all his attention on the first mate. "*Qu*, Osiris."

Pandemonion erupted around the table. Kaylee vocally vociferous in going anywhere so dangerous for Simon and River. Not only was it heavily Alliance it was also the Tams' home world. No way could Simon sneak into a hospital on Osiris and not be recognised. Similar outcries raised the noise level until Simon couldn't stand it a moment longer. He had known the crew would object but hadn't expected it to be quite so vehement.

"I do not make this decision lightly."

"Shouldn't be makin' such a *lese* decision at all!" Growled Jayne darkly. Just when he was thinking the doc was smarter than the rest of them he had to pull a dumb stunt like this. Boy didn't have a lick of sense or self preservation.

"Not true." River turned her head and stared straight at the mercenary. "Simon just did the math."

"Huh, what good'll that do him in a gorram prison cell?"

"I don't plan on going to prison." Simon cut in.

All eyes turned back to the doctor. Shepherd Book was intrigued. "How do you intend to avoid that? You must know that the warrants on yourself and River are still active and with Osiris being your home world the Alliance will be on a heightened alert for any sign of either of you returning."

A tight little smile etched itself onto Simon's face making him look more in pain than amused. "I'm counting on it."

Zoe wanted to shake her head, sure that her ears could not be working properly. "Want to run that by me again?"

River spoke before Simon could launch into a convoluted explanation, knowing that if she left it to her brother none of them would be any the wiser afterwards. "Has an ace up his sleeve. Soiled and not perfect but undeniable. A bond only death can break."

"Death?" The alarm on Kaylee's face was mirrored around the table.

"No, River didn't mean it that way."

"Then what way did she mean it, Simon? 'Cause I ain't seein' anything like a good plan comin' out of this."

Simon opened his mouth and closed it again. Book felt sorry for him, the boy was out of his depth more times than in it since coming onboard and now he was in the deep end trying to swim against a number of currents he had no control over. "Perhaps you should just explain your plan?" The Shepherd suggested, his voice a low calming presence in the heated room.

"Okay, though you aren't going to like it." When no one said anything Simon took a steadying breath and outlined his plan. Shocked looks stared back at him but it was Zoe who said what the rest of them were thinking.

"Thought you said your father wouldn't come for you?"

"He won't. Which is why I have to go to him."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin_

*bushi* = not so *qu* = yes (lit. go) *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *lese* = crappy *weishenme bu* = why not? *wode ma* = mother of God *guai* = devil/ghost *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *cuode* = wrong *dong ma* = understand? *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *bi zui* = be quiet/shut up *shei* = who *wo zhidao* = I know *shenme* = what *weishenme* = why?


Friday, June 27, 2008 6:41 AM


LOVED this!!:) from Inara's restful moemnts on Sihnon (with all the hidden complexities) to Badger's fortitude - the locations, hell - the whole chapter was just QUALITY!:)

Friday, June 27, 2008 8:26 AM


Totally agree with Wytch. You are on fire, Girl. Hot hot hot!!

Saturday, June 28, 2008 2:25 AM


Excellent work, once again! I'll be eager to see your take on the elder Tam.

Sunday, June 29, 2008 9:38 PM


Inara should never have taken the images as gospel without checking first. Surely she cares enough for the Captain not to necessarily believe it at first hand? As for heading to Osiris ... it will be fascinating to see your thoughts on Gabriel Tam. I've seen him written as an out-and-out villain, a dupe, and everything in between. What will yours be?


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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.