DUPLICITY Series: 29. "Unseen Forces"
Friday, September 5, 2008

"Inara is shocked by what she finds on Serenity and decides to do all in her power to put things right. With the Alliance battle cruiser breathing down their necks the last thing they need is even more bad news."


TITLE: "UNSEEN FORCES" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Zoe/Wash. Kaylee/Simon. Mal/Inara. RATING: G. STATUS: Sequel to "RUNNING THE GAUNTLET". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at

SUMMARY: "Inara is shocked by what she finds on Serenity and decides to do all in her power to put things right. With the Alliance battle cruiser breathing down their necks the last thing they need is even more bad news." 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

* * * * *

He felt heavy. Sluggish. A big weight pulling him down, down, down, darkness an inky cloak that was suffocating. He should be out of oxygen by now but no. Gorramit. He was still breathing, had to be in order to be thinking such thoughts. As his mind struggled to find coherence a semblance of calm flowed through him. Huh. Did it just get a mite lighter? He couldn't feel his body but right now that was shiny as he couldn't feel any pain either. The thick viscous fog clinging to him like a membrane was thinning out now, bits of light sequing from the darkness like smoke clearing. Streaming tresses of light leaking into his brainpan as if it was trying to tell him something only he was too detached to make sense of it all. Too fancified and creepifying though there was no panic, no concern and no worry attached to such thoughts. Odd. Shouldn't he be dying about now?

"Why isn't he waking, Simon?"

The doctor gave her a look she couldn't read and didn't answer. Inara felt irritation rise up but kept her emotions in check. As worried as she was for the Captain and as panicky as her first sight of him had made her being a Companion had been good for more than just exercising her libedo and getting paid handsomely for the privilege.

"I told you, I'm not going to hurt him."

Again, silence. This time stonier. Inara was getting frustrated. While she had not been expecting to be welcomed with open arms this polite withdrawal from interaction with her was somehow ten times worse. Even Kaylee had kept her distance, the sorry in the little mechanic's eyes mixed with hurt and confusion. It struck Inara how much she had thrown away when she had allowed her anger to rule over reason and left Serenity. Yes, she had played on their emotions, their feelings and loyalty in order to hurt the Captain. Now she felt a deep sense of shame, sadness and sorrow. If she could take back every word, every angry gesture, she would do it in a heartbeat but she couldn't. For as gifted a Companion as she was, Inara realised the human frailties she was taught to master were a gift not a burden. Not something to be shoved out of sight and glossed over with the veneer of respectability but something to be cherished and celebrated like one of Kaylee's smiles, Wash's bad but still funny jokes, the Preacher's solemn deep voice that rolled with a rich unspoken laughter that twinkled in his kindly eyes and added warmth to his words. Simon's dedication to his sister and passion for medicine, even Jayne's cockeyed notion of loyalty mixed in with a belligerence that she now knew was largely feigned to hide the fact that wonder of wonders, he really did care. It was River that broke through her thoughts. River. The girl who had thrown Captain and crew into so many dilemnas that what was one more? One too many seemly.

"Sight, sound, feeling. Spins him around."

Simon seemed to snap out of whatever fuge state he had gone into. "*Mei mei* not now."

"Yes, now. There is only now, Simon."

Inara turned to look at the girl. Such a thin wisp of a child yet stronger than all of them. River shook her head.

"Not strong, just know."

The Companion watched her move from the chair in the corner of the infirmary, unwinding her lithe body to stand with effortless grace. "What do you know, River?"

"You hurt him. Hurt us all."

Inara flushed but kept her eyes glued on River. She didn't need to look at Simon to know he was staring at her. "*Qu*, and I'm sorry."

"Now not then." River paused and Inara held her breath. She wasn't sure why but in River's unpredictable insights sometimes salient truths appeared and right now Inara needed all the help she could get to put this right. "Not up to you."

"River, I..."

"Not 'about' you."

That stopped her. What was River trying to tell her? She watched the girl come right up to the infirmary bed and tilt her head to look at the unconscious Captain. So much emotion in that pale Elfin face. Such tenderness in those far seeing eyes. When she looked up at Inara the emotion was gone, replaced by something much more focused. A sharp intellect staring back at the Companion with a calculation that was almost unnerving.

"They don't trust you." When she paused Inara said nothing. A small smile ghosted over River's lips and she nodded with approval. "Have to start again, clean slate."

In a voice so small that Inara did not think it could possibly belong to her she found herself speaking. "I don't know if I can."

Sadness clouded the Reader's eyes. "Then all this will have been in vain."

Alarm struck at the core of her. No! This wasn't what she wanted. "*Qing*, I just want to make things right."

Simon moved quietly around the women, checking the Captain's vital signs and monitoring him closely. He did not say anything but was absorbing every word. He wanted to believe her but Inara turning up with Badger in tow had done nothing to endear her to the crew. Jayne was still demanding they put the three of them back in their ship and leave them behind in Serenity's wake. The only problem was there was an Alliance heavy cruiser blocking the way. A cruiser that did not seem to have found them by chance. So Simon kept his own counsel and said nothing to Inara though like the rest of the crew, he was now watching her like a hawk. Inwardly, Inara felt her heart falter. Simon was the one she had most in common with. The one who best understood her background and upbringing. The one whose sensibilities often ran in tandem if not sympathy with her own. Now that understanding was in tatters, the intellect they cherished now at odds the one with the other.

Inara stared down at the Captain. Remembered her initial shock and distress on first seeing him. Her horror that Badger had done this. Well. Hired thugs to do it for him but still. It was just the sort of back stabbing thing she would expect of him and yet it was also insanely stupid and short sighted. Badger did a lot of business with Captain Reynolds and Serenity and her crew had served the odious little king pin well.

"Inara!" She looked up.

"If you really are concerned about the Captain's recovery you will leave now."

A myriad of emotions chased each other across her face: surprise, irritation, worry and bafflement. "I won't get in the way, Simon. I just need to be here."


The simple question stopped her in her tracks. When she just stared at him Inara caught the merest glimpse of disappointment on the doctor's face. When he wanted, Simon had a surprisingly effective poker face.

"This isn't about you, Inara." He said quietly.

"*Wo zhidao*."

"Do you?"

Her look sharpened, annoyance hardening on her face at the suggestion that she could be so shallow or self obssessed. "I'm worried, Simon. I need to know Mal is going to be alright."

There. She had said it. So why didn't Simon's face soften? Why didn't he step back and let her sit next to the sleeping Captain and wait for him to regain consciousness? Was it so much to ask? Apparently it was. "If you really mean that you will leave now."

"I'm just going to sit here..."

He shook his head. "*Bu qu*. You can either leave gracefully or I will call Zoe and Jayne to remove you."

Inara could not hide the hurt in her eyes. "Why are you doing this?"

"Because you will not go otherwise. Remember the last time you just wanted to talk to the Captain? We nearly lost him, Inara. Do you really want that to be the outcome of your stubborn refusal to do what is best for him?"

She swallowed hard, looking as if he had just slapped her but Simon didn't flinch. Did not back down or break eye contact. Sometimes he thought it was that pig headed stubborn will that both the Captain and Inara had in spades that made them such a volatile combination when their wills clashed. It was by turns playful, sarcastic, feisty and often petty but at least in the past it had never been intentionally cruel. And while Inara seemed genuinely worried Simon could not take the chance that if the Captain regained consciousness whilst she was here she would not say or do something to undo in minutes what it was taking him weeks to accomplish medically. Not after last time.

"Go. *Qing*."

Inara opened her mouth then closed it without saying anything. She glanced down at the Captain and realised that Simon was right. She had to stop thinking about what she wanted and do what was best for Mal. If she could trust nothing else in this 'verse she could trust his crew to look after him. It hurt more than it should that she was no longer part of that equation. No longer part of the Firefly family. On the outside looking in left her feeling lonely and isolated even if it had been her choice. Her decision. In that moment of insight all the trappings of her calling meant nothing. Years of training and devotion to giving her clients what they wanted had left her hollow and unmoved whilst this brave but *wangu* ship's Captain had touched her more with his rough but honest grace than any of her monied clients ever could.

Pausing at the door Inara looked back at Simon. "*Xie xie ni*, Simon."

A small frown crossed his face. "What for?"

She almost smiled. "For talking some sense into me. It's been a long time since I've listened."

He stared at her as she left, quietly closing the door behind her. It was his sister's voice that broke the trance. "She understands."

Still staring at the door Simon's response was barely a whisper. "Yes, but does she comprehend?"

* * * * *

"This is *bu keneng*!"

Zoe took no notice of the House Mother currently glaring over her shoulder. Wash stared at the huge hulk of Alliance aggression, the heavy cruiser black and shiny and a picture of menace as it blocked their path. He knew that no matter what they tried they could not out run either the ship or its' weaponry. They were humped.

"Why aren't they hailin' us, Wash?"

He shook his head. Baffled and disturbed. It wasn't exactly standard Alliance procedure to try to out-stare a ship rather than verbalise the threat of immiment doom over the com system. The playground bully was looking even more sinister than usual and that was unnerving on a whole ton of counts. "*Wo bu dong*. What do we do, *bao bei*?"

Badger had tried to follow his mother to the bridge but Jayne had stopped him, the big man making sure he stayed in the cargo bay. It sucked having to watch over the man but Jayne didn't trust him. None of them did. *Diyu*, he barely trusted himself not to shove the piece of *goushi* out of the airlock. He began to understand why Mal hated complications so much.

* * * * *

Shepherd Book was in his quarters. Once he was sure the others had everything under control regarding their three surprise visitors he had been alarmed by the sudden appearance of an Alliance Heavy Cruiser. That it had managed to block the path of the Firefly without setting off any alamrs had disturbed him greatly. It meant this wasn't a run of the mill warship but a battle cruiser. And not just any battle cruiser. Unless he was much mistaken it was the Duncan Fitzgerald model. The deadliest thing in the Alliance fleet.

As soon as he was in his room Book closed and locked the door. It would not do for anyone to walk in on him right now and he had neither the time nor the patience to explain. Reaching under his bed he pulled out a battered old suitcase and carefully opened it. Several things were wrapped in what looked like hessian sacking though that was appearance only. The material was non fibre, a man made mix to mimic the texture and feel of hessian. A respectful nod to Earth-that-was. The contents cradled as if precious to him which they were. Book ignored the items and felt around the edge of the suitcase until his fingers located the small oblong case. Extracting it with care so as not to disturb the other contents he rested back on his heels and opened the device. At the touch of his thumb the inbuilt scanner soundlessly checked his identity before allowing access. The Shepherd took his ID card out of his pocket and inserted it into the slot on the side. Immediately the menu opened up giving him access to pretty much anything he wanted in the known 'verse.

To his consternation the first person he tried to contact was not answering. Frowning, Book felt a tendril of worry settle deep in his gut. Where was he? Had something happened? Surely they were not compromised? Not now, not after so long? But the silence stretched then a logo flashed asking him if he wanted to enter another command. For years he had kept underneath the radar, emerging only when he could effectively mask his involvement in necessary actions or impel others to do so on his behalf, usually without knowing that was what they were doing. Now. He had to risk exposure. Discovery. But then, what use were his skills, his knowlege and expertise if he was afraid to dust them off when need arose? Mind made up he keyed in the wave address before he could change his mind.

* * * * *

"You should contact them, find out what they want." Suggested the House Mistress.

Zoe stared at her, eyes cold and every fibre of her being tense. A volcano ready to blow. "You don't give the orders on this ship."

"That wasn't what I was doing." Mistress Barbette said smoothly. "It was a suggestion only. We can't stay like this indefinitely."

The first mate crossed her arms. "At least there's no shootin'."

Mistress Barbette's eyes narrowed. "Yet."

For a long minute the two women's eyes locked in a silent battle. Wash tried not to worry, wishing they would just get past their differences and worry about the whole not being taken prisoners and dying part. He was all for the heroic escape. Preferrably without gunplay. The sudden hail coming loud and clear over the ship's speakers made him jump.

"Firefly transport ship Serenity, this is the Alliance Interdiction vessel Resolution. Prepare to be boarded!"

Wash glanced at Zoe and mouthed 'interdiction vessel?' But she didn't know what it meant either. "Um, this is the pilot speaking. Who did you say you were?"

There was a brief silence before the other ship responded. "Introductions will be made face to face unless you would rather make your complaints in person to the cold vacuum of space?"

A chill shivered down Wash's spine. The blood draining from his face he flicked a glance at Zoe and at her reluctant nod agreed that being exposed to cold vacuum was a bad thing. "Understood Resolution. You are clear to dock."

Zoe unhooked the com hand unit and flicked it on. "We are about to be boarded by the Alliance. Everyone to your posts, *mashang*!"

* * * * *

Inara had been crossing the catwalk when the annoucement came over the com and quickly ran back to the infirmary. "Simon, River, you have to hide - *xianzai*!"

Simon shook his head. "I can't, the Captain..."

"Will be worse off if they find you and your sister on this ship, *dong ma*?"

He stared at her for a moment, torn between the need to keep his sister safe and tend the injured Captain. Inara placed a hand gently on his arm, her eyes pleading with him to trust her. Just this once.

"Simon, *qing*. I'll stay with the Captain and as soon as the soldiers are gone I'll come and get you."

Before he could reply Shepherd Book stepped quickly through the door. "Listen to her, Simon, we don't have much time. I'll stay with the Captain. Inara, you should go and join the House Mistress."

She opened her mouth to object but River was staring at her. Daring the Companion to argue and waste time they didn't have. Nodding reluctantly she turned and left. Simon looked at the Preacher with relief. "*Xie xie ni*."

"Thank me afterwards, son. Is there anything I should be aware of before you go?"

Quickly Simon gave him a rushed overview then left. River brushed a gentle hand down the sleeping Captain's leg, her look gentle. When she looked up at Book there was an unspoken plea there and Book nodded. Only when the infirmary door quietly shut behind them did it occur to him to wonder if River was rubbing off on him. With a little shudder he certainly hoped not. Moving efficiently aound the room Book placed his bible on a work surface near the hospital bed and went to check on their patient. The Captain's vital signs were weak but holding, blood pressure improved but not yet out of the woods. It did not take him long to realise the communication from the other ship had interrupted Simon redressing the Captain's wounds. Book wondered whether he ought to complete the task then realised that if he did then when the soldiers poured onto Serenity it would give credence to the lie that he was the one caring for their injured Captain.

Necessity removing all doubt, Book went to the sink and scrubbed his hands and under his fingernails, drying them on a paper roll which he tore off and threw into the bin and putting on a disposable gown and mask. Checking the supplies Simon had laid out ready, Book then turned his attention to the delicate task of unwrapping the Captain's wounds. He would need to look for any signs of infection then clean and redress the wounds with the greatest care.

* * * * *

Commandant Niyan Shair was not a man to be triffled with. A tall stocky man with short greying hair, his physical fitness belied his age. Sixty if he was a day, Commandant Shair looked as if he could take on anyone and come out of it without a scratch upon him or a single hair out of place. Zoe summed him up in one intent gaze. She had been grateful for the Shepherd's quick thinking and wondered how she was going to explain why a House Mistress, a registered Companion and a back stabbing weasle of a petty crime lord like Badger was on Serenity. As the man stepped crisply aboard his men fanned out behind him. Shair's eyes scanned the ship with critical intent.

"Is this all the crew?"

Zoe shook her head. "*Bu qu*. The pilot is on the bridge, our mechanic is in the engine room and our Captain is in the infirmary."

His eyebrows rose, a slow almost graceful action. All measured control. "You have a doctor onboard?" It could have been an innocent question but Zoe had learnt long ago that nothing the Alliance did was innocent. "A preacher actually but he does have some medical expertise." That caused a flicker of surprise which quickly vanished as the Commandant snapped out an order. "They will report here immediately, *dong ma*? No exceptions."

Inara wanted to speak up, to tell the imperious Commandant that the Captain was too badly injured to be moved but Jayne beat them all to it. His face twisting into an ugly sneer he spoke before anyone could stop him. "If'n ya wanna kill the Cap go ahead. It's not like the ruttin' Alliance care what happens to folk anyway."

Zoe glared at him but the big man was unrepentent and though he was affecting an air of unconcern she knew he was as worried as the rest of them.

"What is wrong with him?" Shair snapped.

"Perhaps I should take you so you can see for yourself, Commandant?"

A suspicious look pinned her but when Zoe didn't drop her eyes or step back the Commandant gave a cautious nod and turned to speak to his men. "Captain Foster, secure this area and everyone in it. I will go with you to the infirmary to check on your Captain though I must insist before I do that your pilot and mechanic produce themselves."

Gritting her teeth Zoe nodded and relayed the instruction to Wash and Kaylee. Within seconds both of them appeared, Kaylee covered in smears of grease and Wash looking as worried as she felt. The Commandant turned to Zoe. "Name?"

Only when they had all given their details did Shair give Zoe a nod and follow her to the infirmary, a couple of purplebellies following in their wake with weapons ready should it be a trick. As they stepped into the infirmary Book looked up, the white mask obscuring the lower half of his face, gauze and pads in his hands. Commandant Shair stepped up to the bed and flicked his eyes from the Shepherd to the man lying unconscious on the infirmary bed. Book had one knee uncovered, the bloody pads and bandages peeled back to reveal the black and blue bruised mess where Dr Foss had spent hours with the Captain in surgery rebuilding a replacement knee. The flesh was swollen but not infected. Ugly black stitches looked as if they had been burned into the flesh but Book knew they would eventually disolve as the healing process continued.

Before the Commandant could say anything Book's deep calm voice broke into his thoughts. "*Qing*, allow me to finish dressing his wounds Commandant. I can assure you this patient is going nowhere."

Shair stared at the Preacher. That voice. Where had he heard it before? But there could be no denying that the patient was in a bad way and watching the Preacher work he had to admit that the man was steady and efficient, the wound dressed and bloodied bandages and pads disposed of in the bin. Book moved on to the other knee without waiting to see if the Commandant would allow this and completed the procedure on the other knee. Once he was done, Book tore off his paper mask and gown and disposed of those too. Commandant Niyan Shair had known exactly what he wanted to say to the Shepherd, the information he would demand from him and his 'zero tolerance' approach when dealing with enemies of the Alliance. Yet everything fled from his mind as he looked in stunned silence at a man he had spent the best part of thirty years trying to emulate.

The two soldiers who had followed their Commandant into the infirmary did not dare to exchange looks. Without turning his head the Commandant snapped out an order. "Leave us!"

Without a murmur the two men left the infirmary and closed the door behind them. They took up position either side of the door and looked at each other. "What in the nine hells do you suppose that was about?"

The other soldier, a man named Corey Marsh, shrugged. "Search me. Maybe he wasn't expecting to find a Shepherd doing surgery?"

Martin Hines' eyes narrowed for a moment in thought. "No, I don't think that was it but damned if I know."

Corey decided he didn't want to speculate. Careers could be oh so casually destroyed as a result of the wrong words leaving an unguarded mouth at the wrong time. "Don't know an' don't wanna." He paused and risked another glance at his colleague. "Take my advice an' do the same. The Commandant is short on praise an' long on punishment, *dong ma*? Seen more'n a few good men whipped to the brink of an early grave an' they were on OUR side."

Silence fell between them. Heavy but absolute. Inside the infirmary the Commandant of the Resolution had to take several deep breaths before he could trust himself to speak. In a low almost pained voice the words were squeezed out of him as if someone had sat on his lungs. "Derrial, *tian Yesu*, what in the fiery pit of hell are you doing here?"

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*mei mei* = little sister *qu* = yes (lit. go) *qing* = please *weishenme* = why? *wo zhidao* = I know *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *xie xie ni* = thank you *bu keneng* = impossible *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *diyu* = hell *bao bei* = precious/treasure *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *xianzai* = now *dong ma* = understand? *tian Yesu* = sweet Jesus *wangu* = stubborn *goushi* = crap


Friday, September 5, 2008 8:53 AM


This just keeps getting better. I am loving where you are going with this.

Friday, September 5, 2008 11:47 AM


Once again, the plot thickens. Lovely work, as always!

Saturday, September 6, 2008 1:25 AM


So another new angle enters the story - hopefuly it will be a friendly one.


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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.