THE REFLECTION SERIES: 11. "Heart of the Matter"
Sunday, September 12, 2004

"A moment of honesty spearheads a concerted effort to find the Captain. Meanwhile River is trying to organise something a lot less subtle."



SUMMARY: "A moment of honesty spearheads a concerted effort to find the Captain. Meanwhile River is trying to organise something a lot less subtle." 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.


A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

"Are you saying Captain Reynolds was a rebel?"

There was no inflection so Inara was unable to tell whether Thomas was impressed or horrified or merely showing polite interest. She was tempted to correct him not to use the past tense but that was not for her to say. "*Qu*. Mal fought for the Independents."

Something flickered in Michael Tollan's eyes but he said nothing. You often learnt far more by remaining silent. Letting all your senses absorb the information, both verbal and non verbal.

"I am curious why a lady such as your good self should ally herself with a rebel Captain and his... shall we say... 'eclectic' crew?"

Inara smiled at Thomas. "I would say they are more colourful than eclectic. I came to Serenity out of need not desire." Tollan raised an eyebrow but said nothing. "I was looking for autonomy, a vessel of my own to come and go as I please between my clientel."

"Yet not so 'independent' as to fly under your own flag." Said Thomas astutely.

Only her years of training held back the tell tale flush. Tollan thought she maintained her air of detached calm remarkably well. Considering.

"Serenity is a base, no more."

"Yet you call the ship by name," Mused Tollan with a gentle knowing smile. "It sounds as if it has become more than a base Inara."

She laughed lightly. "*Qu*, it has. I can't explain it but the moment I set foot on the ship I felt at home. Strange how *zhengque* it felt then and still does."

Something hung unsaid at the end of her musing but neither Thomas nor Tollan pursued that line of enquiry. "You were telling us about the Captain." Prompted Thomas.

Her face closed up as if she had to sift through her thoughts before trusting herself to speak them out loud. "Malcolm Reynolds comes from a Rim world called Shadow, one of the planets that resisted Alliance rule then took up arms in the War. After the Independents were defeated he bought a ship - the Firefly transport Serenity - and along with his friend and fellow Independent Zoe went about hiring a crew. In the course of doing so I hired one of the shuttles and made it my own. The arrangement suited us both. I had my independence to come or go as I pleased but also had the umbrella of Serenity." Thomas gave her a quizzical look. "Umbrella?"

"An umbrella of protection. Security."

"Why would you need protecting?" Asked Tollan, puzzled. "You are a Companion."

Inara smiled. "The Captain likes to fly beneath Alliance radar. He makes no secret of the fact that though he was on the losing side in the war he does not consider it was the wrong side."

"So he is an embittered man?"

She stared at Thomas and did not blink. Yes, he was but it seemed wrong to say as much to anyone else. Her tone became cautious and more neutral. "No one who came out of the War emerged unscathed."

Thomas realised he was politely and deftly being shown a line he must not cross. That door was closed unless Inara or the Captain chose to open it. He found the subtle layers of the Companion both interesting and compelling. "What did you mean by protection?"

"The Captain is very protective of his ship and crew."

*And so are you* Thought Tollan. Thomas wanted more pertinent information.

"Where do you think Captain Reynolds would go?"

"We stopped at Minerva, a pleasure planet, but somehow I don't think he would have availed himself of the facilities." "Why not?"

A smile teased her lips before she could control it. "Mal has very old fashioned views about sex."

The two men looked at each other. Tollan watched her face intently. "Puritanical?"

The Companion looked amused. "That is one way to put it."

"And another?" Pressed Thomas.

Inara looked at him. "Suffice it to say Malcolm Reynolds is quite the chivalrous knight when the mood strikes him."

"You sound somewhat enamoured of him." Observed Thomas.

"He is the most infuriating, ill mannered, sarcastic and stubborn man it has been my misfortune to meet. Yet he can be charming, sensitive, brave and resourceful with a formidable will. We will need every ounce of that determination and resolve to rescue our friends which is why locating him is the key. I just hope we can do so in time."

For a moment no one spoke. "You put a lot of faith in a stubborn man." Said Thomas.

Now Inara's eyes sparkled with a dark humour neither man had seen in her before. It both intrigued and captivated them. "Do not underestimate the ability of stubborn independence to make fools of both common sense and intelligence. The man simply doesn't know how to give up."

*Neither do you* thought Tollan. Inara requested a view of the current star charts, Thomas quickly became as absorbed in studying them as she was while Tollan was content to look on. System by system, planet by planet, Inara Serra bent her own formidable will to the task of trying to guess where in the 'verse that most stubborn of men would head for.

* * * * *

Bill Peary was mighty tired but neither man dared to stop. Peary sucked in a pained breath. "Must'a lost 'em by now."

His friend shook his head, eyes glinting with surety. "*Bushi*, I can fair feel 'em breathin' down my gorram neck."

Peary found his breath flagging, his limbs dragging on him with weariness. "We can't keep this up. They catch us it'll be the gorram rope!"

"Relax, ain't nobody gonna hang." Their eyes met. "'Ceptin' Browncoat scum ain't got sense enough to steer clear of Alliance worlds."

A grin greeted his words. "'Ceptin' all worlds are Alliance worlds now."

"Ya reckon he suffocated afore he burned?" Mused Brooks.

"If'n there's any God he did."

A loud click stopped both panting men in their tracks. "On'y God you're gonna see is the one in *diyu*."

Harper Brooks spun quickly, his body dipping as he did so to lower his body mass as a target but as fast as he moved justice moved faster. Shots rang out in a hollow cacophony of retorts that peppered the air where he had been standing with a backlash in stains of red. Bill Peary had his hand still on his weapon not yet having drawn it clear of his holster, for Brooks was lightening quick. That man's speed did naught now but aid him to the depths of the worst kind of *diyu*. Peary's hand froze where it was then very slowly he raised both hands, not even twitching unless he was given permission to do so.

He could not bear to turn his head and look at his friend's remains. Rough hands grabbed him and turned him round while he was divested of his firearm then patted down. Hal Larkin took no pleasure in killing but there was a world of satisfaction in catching up with the treacherous *wangba dans* who had planned the death of a man who had become one of them. Hurt more than he could put into words that the men responsible had once been part of that charmed circle. He didn't care about what had happened in the war. Past was past. Desert Pete's voice brought the foreman's thoughts back to the present.

"He's pretty much leaking in a dozen places *laoban* but he ain't dead."

Peary stared at them then slowly forced himself to look down, hardly daring to believe that his friend was still alive. But it was true. The splatter of entry wounds stitched ugly holes across his arms and shoulders, one or two catching him in the legs but all of them carefully missing his vital organs. He swallowed hard, watching Brooks murmur in pain and trying to hide the fear in his eyes as the dark edged closer to his fading sight. He could see that Brooks was convinced he was dying. The very life leaking out of him like water from a busted pipe.

"End it!" He gritted out. Didn't want no one gloating over his death but no one was smiling. Not laughing or joking either. They watched in silence and somehow that frightened Brooks more than if they had ranted and sworn at him. His blurring sight caught Peary's and he tried to force strong words out of weak lips. "Bill, do it. Don't want no slow death, *dong ma*?"

"What you want," Said Hal Larkin in a calm voice dipped in ice. "Don't matter a good gorram."

Confusion momentarily glossed over the pain. "*Wo bu dong*. Thought you was gonna kill me..."

"Oh you'll die," Said Hal in a flat emotionless voice. "You both will."

Peary's eyes sprung wide. "Ya can't kill us! Ya caught us, ain't that enough?"

The solemn stoney faces that stared back at him did not inspire confidence.

* * * * *

The tenor of the modulated voices rose and fell like some obscure opera that everyone had forgotten the words to. John Porter Clements was calm and reasonable for all of thirty seconds. "I want the girl! Find her or suffer the consequences."

Senna, his engineering supremo, scowled darkly at him. He was not used to the fetch and carry of menial tasks. "If the *qingwa cao de liumang* wants her so bad then let him look for her!"

Clements' eyes narrowed. Hard and mean. "Badger made a deal with us, with me specifically. Good money, low risk. The kind I like. This gets us paid twice, *dong ma*? How can one girl cause so much gorram trouble anyway?"

"She's some kind of genius." Muttered Styles into his beard.

Clements' head turned, his eyes pinning the man in place like a bear trap. "Genius?"

Styles shrugged. "Somethin' the boys overheard the little runt talkin' about. Reckon he thought no one could hear him, he was real upset and anxious too. Like he thought someone else was gonna come down and snatch her outta his dirty little hands before he could grab her for himself."

A thoughtful look came into Clements' eyes. "Now why d'you suppose that is?"

"He could be holdin' out on us *laoban*." Said Styles.

"Get some of the off-shift miners to take a look around. Girl can't have gone far."

No one dared raise objections this time. An angry Clements was more than a recipe for unpleasantness, it was an unmarked grave in the vacuum of space.

* * * * *

Zoe Warren was pleased the doctor was not badly hurt. His injuries were mostly superficial. Simon would have some nice showy bruises, a few cuts where the skin had been broken when he was beaten, but miraculously he had not actually broken any bones or suffered any serious damage. His hands were still swollen and painful but already she could see that the swelling was not as pronounced. His ribs ached but were still intact. She wished she had some ice to put on his hands but they had nothing. All she could do was echo the Preacher's reassurance. "Once the swelling goes down you'll be fine."

She turned her head to see Wash poking at the now dried cut on his forehead. She batted his hand away with a light swipe making him look at her in surprise. "*Wei*!"

"Don't keeping touching it you'll start it bleedin' again."

"It hurts, *bao bei*."

"It's a scratch, Wash. You'll live."

He started to pull a face then saw that her expression had softened a touch and his bad mood was beaten by the smile that look automatically whisked out of No and Where. It was amazing what love could do. Kaylee was watching Simon, wanting to comfort him but knowing he was too distracted right now. Worried about River. She wished she could tell him everything was going to be fine, that River would continue to elude Clements and Badger and the rest of the unsavoury *tamade hundans* on this floating hell-hole. Somehow the words she wanted to say wouldn't leave her mouth. She was worried and no amount of false cheer would cover it up. She looked to the Preacher. "What're we gonna do?"

"We wait for our chance."

Simon's head jerked up. "Our chance? To do what? See which one of us can make it first to an early grave?"

Kaylee reached for him. "Simon..."

He ignored her. Zoe frowned at him from the comforting circle of Wash's arms.

"I'm just saying," Said the doctor angrily. "We have to face the fact that we're not getting out of here."

"Simon, we aren't givin' up. Things may look bad right now..."

He cut Zoe off, a flash of temper fraying his oh-so-calm voice. "No Zoe, thing's don't *look* bad they *are* bad, and they're not going to get any better."

"Unlike your attitude you mean?" Asked Wash.

Simon ignored him. The Shepherd shook his head. "Where's your faith, son?"

"Right now I don't have any. All I have's a sister who is so damaged I may never be able to heal her. So fragile that one false move could break what is left of her very gifted mind."

Jayne had pretty much tuned them out. Let them bicker and sulk like children he had better things to do. Like try to fathom out what the hell was scurrying all quiet-like through the roofing duct above his rutting head. It was the Preacher who noticed Jayne's distraction. When he went to question the big man Jayne held a hand up and all conversation stopped. Every eye was now him.

"What the *diyu* are you doin'?" Asked Wash.

The big man frowned and began to tilt his head when part of the ceiling caved in on top of them. Simon tried to push Kaylee back as bits fell in along with some scattered debris and bits of broken ceiling tile. The Shepherd wanted to move everybody back against the sides of the cell wall for safety but no one took any notice of his attempts to gain their attention. He looked up at the ragged hole above their heads. Confusion turning to wonder, relief, then an absurd kind of ragged hope like a prayer flag flapping in the wind. So faded that even the merciful Buddha could not read its' script.

The pale face hung upside down like a drunken moon. River Tam grinned then realised Simon was hurt and dropped down landing neatly beside him. She paused at their stunned expressions feeling some explanation was in order. "Always head for the one place they never look."

"*Shenme*, the nut house?" Quipped Jayne.

"No, the last place anyone would want to be."

"Yeah, like breakin' outta a gorram steel cell is hi-larious."

Zoe ignored Jayne and stared at River. How could the girl look and act so calm and how had she kept clear of Clements, Badger and all the twisted sons of bitches that populated this sick little fun house? "River, Badger is here an' my guess is he's made some kind'a deal with Clements. He's come for you."

She nodded, not seeming in the least bit worried about this piece of news. Simon was trying to check that she was alright but River eluded his attempts and systematically catalogued his own injuries while evading his persistent hands. "River will you stand still."

"No, *you* stand still. You're the one who was injured."

"*Fang xin mei mei*, I'm fine."

Her hands paused. "*Shuohuangzhe*! Your ribs ache, tender and sore, and you have badly bruised hands. A blind man could see the swelling."

"What about you? Are you hurt?"

She shook her head. "*Bu qu*." River paused abruptly, tilted her head at a sudden angle then began speaking quickly. *Mashang*! Coming back. We mustn't be found here."

The Shepherd looked up at the broken piece of ceiling above their heads. "I believe we can get out of here by helping one another climb up into the ceiling but we'll have to hurry."

"Only we won't be safe." Simon added.

River frowned at her brother. "Boob! Top three percent but no one's counting. Always think the glass is half empty but you won't die of thirst."


Zoe interrrupted. They did not have time for this. "Come on Simon, argue afterwards not now."

They got him to his feet then River climbed up the little human pyramid and reached down for Simon as he was handed up to her. One by one they scrambled up out of their shiny steel prison until only Jayne was left. Shepherd Book lay flat in the ceiling space and Zoe copied him. Reaching down they caught Jayne's hands as he jumped to reach them then with an effort pulled him up through the hole. Jayne frowned and glanced back into the now empty cell, his expression a mix of worry and relief. "Can't hide how we got out." He looked at River. "Hope you got a back up plan."

She smiled brightly at him. "Don't need a back up plan if the one you got works."

Before anyone could question her River began to crawl confidently across the metal struts and joists that supported the ceiling, the others falling in behind her trusting the little genius to know what she was doing. Simon looked happier but still anxious. Kaylee gave him a smile and nudged his shoulder with her own. Behind them the Shepherd hid his worry but Wash said what they were all privately thinking.

"What can't things ever go smooth?"

* * * * *


Molly watched her father's face closely. "*Qu, fuqin*."

They were standing in the back kitchen. Molly had left Todd and her brothers in the main room with their unexpected guests. Chung-li eased Mal into a chair by placing one of his over-sized hands on his shoulder although he had no trouble standing, the Chinaman keeping a watchful eye over him as if his personal well being had been entrusted to him by the fates themselves. It made Rose smile fleetingly before curiosity took over and she looked at her sister. "Who are they?"

There was an awkward little pause. More a hesitation. "Man named Cyrus White."

Mal blinked. "*Shei*?"

Though the name meant nothing to Malcolm Reynolds he could see that it had an impact on the others especially Rafe Connor. The man practically blanched. "Cyrus White pretty much owns most of Glory."

Mal frowned. "What the good gorram does he want?"

"Nothing good." Muttered Chung-li so quietly only Mal heard him.

He saw Rose turn her hands into little shadow shapes and his concentration sharpened. Without making it obvious he read her discreet sign and felt his heart miss a beat. *He's the most powerful man in this part of the 'verse. Ba ba owns this ranch but Cyrus White owns every bit of land it sits upon*

Mal did not know what to say but he had a powerful bad feeling about this. Molly was watching her father's face closely. "What do you want to do, papa?"

Like a man bracing himself to lift a heavy weight Rafe Connor composed himself. "Best see what the man wants."

When he made to walk towards the door to the main room Mal started to get up. Rafe paused and shook his head.

"My boys are with him Mal don't need nobody else for now, *dong ma*?"

"Rafe," Mal's voice scratched as he whispered out the words wishing he could put power behind them but grateful to be able to speak at all. "Why you so afraid?"

For a moment he did not think the rancher was going to reply. "Man like Cyrus can ask whatever the ruttin' *diyu* he wants an' I got no call to refuse him."

"You think he wants to take the ranch off you?"

There was a sharp collective intake of breath. Mal ignored them, eyes fastened on Rafe Connor. Anything that threatened this man earned itself a place in his list of bad. "*Wo bu dong* Mal an' I ain't gonna lie to ya an' say his comin' means anythin' good. Maybe he wants materials or coin, whatever. Ain't exactly in a position to refuse him."

"How you get so deep under his heel?"

Rafe's eyes hardened a little, not liking that Mal was prying just a little too deep. "Everybody stay put, *dong ma*? We'll know soon enough the why of it."

Then without another word he turned and walked to the door to the main room, opening and closing it quietly but firmly behind him. Mal turned his head to look at the others. Even all gathered together and squeezed like a gorram lemon he doubted he would be able to get a single smile out of any of them.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*qu* = yes (lit. go) *zhengque* = right *bushi* = not so *diyu* = hell *laoban* = boss *wangba dan*/*tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *wei* = hey *dong ma* = understand *qingwa cao de liumang* = frog humping sumbitch *bao bei* = precious/treasure *shenme* = what *mei mei* = little sister *fang xin* don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *shuohuangzhe* = liar *shei* = who *mashang* = on the double/quickly/right away/immediately *fuqin* = father *wo bu dong* = I don't know


Sunday, September 12, 2004 4:38 AM


Can't wait to see what happens. Each segment of the story is riveting---inara being interrogated but refusing to reveal too much of her feelings or so she thinks, Mal learning of the plights of his saviors, and River managing the impossible.


Sunday, September 12, 2004 10:20 PM


I really liked Inara's trying to tell things without telling them. And Mal... what can one say? Just not the best at picking vacation spots! ;-)

Tuesday, September 14, 2004 10:02 PM


Nice change of tone to a bit more optimism in this chapter. Hopefully. ;-)

Liked the parallels you drew between Inara and Mal, particularly the 'stubborn independence'.

As always, your Jayne is such a dependable, instinctive friend. Even with all his coarse ways.

"The pale face hung upside down like a drunken moon." Lovely image. Brilliant River. I like how she's light and twinkly in this story, rather than tortured.


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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.