DUPLICITY Series: 32. "Come What May"
Sunday, September 28, 2008

"Mistress Barbette and Zoe talk, the Captain continues to improve and Inara cannot wait any longer. Meanwhile other forces are gathering, not all of them benign."


TITLE: "COME WHAT MAY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Zoe/Wash. Kaylee/Simon. Mal/Inara. RATING: G. STATUS: Sequel to "DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at

SUMMARY: "Mistress Barbette and Zoe talk, the Captain continues to improve and Inara cannot wait any longer. Meanwhile other forces are gathering, not all of them benign." 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

* * * * *

Wash smiled up at his wife then glanced down at the sleeping Captain. Quietly Simon checked the monitors. Zoe didn't notice that Inara had followed them into the infirmary. Wash stood up as if to leave. Zoe's hand upon his shoulder startled a look of query upon his open face.

"*Tinglui*." Zoe looked across the bed at Simon. "Best wake the Cap'n."

A look of alarm flickered over Wash's face. "*Bao bei*, what's goin' on?"

"*Yiwusuoyou*, just need to speak to the Cap'n is all."

Inara wanted to say something but kept silent, knowing she was still on probation for her earlier actions and not wanting to do or say anything to draw their attention and be made to leave. Right now, being invisible was the best she could hope for.

Simon didn't use drugs to wake him, just a hand on his shoulder. Shaking gently but with insistence. It took a few shakes, each one a little harder than the last, before the Captain started to stir. With a soft moan his eyelids fluttered. Zoe leant over the bed and watched as he forced his eyes open and blinked blankly up at her. It took a moment or too for the sleepy drag on his mind and body to clear. "Zoe? That you?"

She smiled, a small rare touch of humour. "Yes, sir."

Slowly Mal turned his head. Noted the good doctor, Wash and his first mate. Almost took a double take when he spotted Inara trying to look inconspicuous in the far corner. Her tiny head shake made him all manner of curious but Zoe was talking and distracted he forgot all about the Companion.

"Sir, need to speak to you." "Then I'm guessin' you ain't here to look at my pretty face?"

"Not even close, sir."

He swallowed slowly, his mouth incredibly dry. A glass of water with a glass straw in it miraculously appeared in front of him. Raising an eyebrow the Captain tilted his head at Simon. "You readin' my gorram mind now, doc?"

Simon smiled. "Not even I am suicidal enough for that. You just looked thirsty."

"Huh, everyone's a gorram comedian."

They waited while he took a sip. Eyes closing as he savoured the cool liquid on his dry burning throat. Then the glass was gone and he swallowed down a sigh of loss before giving Zoe an intent look. Truth to tell she was glad to see him so cognisant. It would make this conversation go a mite easier. "Sir, we found out the doctor who performed surgery on you was workin' for the Alliance."

Wash could understand the Captain's confusion. It had initially baffled him too.

"He what?" Mal looked at Simon but the young man shook his head. Frowning, the Captain turned back to Zoe and waited for her to explain.

"Dr Foss, the specialist surgeon who rebuilt your knees."

"That don't make sense, Zoe. Could'a just left me a cripple."

"I know sir but it seems there was some good in him, I don't think he wanted to give us up to the Alliance."

"Then maybe he didn't."

"He did but he tried to make sure the operations you needed were completed first before callin' anyone."

"*Wo bu dong*."

Zoe sighed, this was going to take a little longer than she thought. Nodding to Wash to go back up to the bridge, she pulled a chair close and told him everything she knew about Dr Foss with Simon chipping in from time to time. As she finished he lay there for a minute thinking then frowned, looking at Simon. "Your folks...?"

"Got out in time."

The question in his eyes was answered by Zoe.

"Shepherd Book contacted some friends an' had Mr an' Mrs Tam moved to safety before the Alliance turned up but it was a close thing, sir."

"Where's Foss now?"

"We don't know, assume he got away."

The Captain nodded slowly. Zoe still had not told him that Badger and his mother were aboard Serenity though knew she couldn't keep that fun bit of information from him for much longer. She was dreading it knowing it would set him off. Wasn't happy about it her own self truth be told. And then there was Inara. As if just thinking about the woman had conjured her out of thin air, Inara Serra stepped into view. Zoe could feel her temper rising not least because she had told the woman to stay away. Wanted it to be the Captain's decision whether or not he wanted to see her. "Told you not to come."

Inara ignored Zoe and stared at the Captain. "Mal, I need to see you. Aplogise for my actions. I was wrong, manipulated."

"Seems to me your the one been doin' the manipulation, 'Nara. Ain't that what folks pay their fancy rates for?"

"This has nothing to do with being a Companion."

His eyebrows rose. "Ain't what you told me before."

"I was angry and wasn't thinking clearly." She paused and rushed on before anyone could demand she leave. "I wasn't thinking at all in fact. I was sent a wave, a very convincing one which made it look as if you executed my brother after hostilities ended."

The Captain's nostrils flared. For him hostilities would never be over, just go a mite underground was all. Man had to tread carefully when his enemy ran everything from the government to trade posts and the like. Fingers in every pie even the ones they didn't gorram bake their own selves. "Didn't execute no one." He ground out.

Simon was about to intervene but a wave from the Captain stopped him.

"I know that now, Mal." It was odd, hearing the Companion being so contrite. Humble almost and wasn't that a shocker? "Please forgive me."

He frowned, a myriad of conflicting emotions churning up inside him wearying his soul. Simon noticed the man was tiring. "That's enough, the Captain needs to rest."

Inara wanted to protest. To sit by his bedside and hold Mal's hand only she couldn't. Not under the scrutiny of others and certainly not while this atmosphere of distrust still hung over her and yet, the Captain looked so vulnerable lying there hooked up to monitors and too weak for her liking. She was used to him being a strong vibrant presence on the ship, an indomitable will that held ship and crew together. Seeing him flat on his back fighting to stay conscious sent unwelcome spikes of panic through her, as if afraid he would close his eyes and not wake up again. Some of her worry must have shown on her face.

"Not gonna die." The Captain mumbled, eyelashes fluttering before they lay still upon his cheeks, his breath easing as sleep took him.

"Huh, all he does is gorram sleep. Why'd ya have to drug him?"

They looked up and saw Jayne Cobb come into the infirmary with a scowl on his face, behind him the rest of the crew were spilling in through the door.

Simon couldn't quite hide his irritation at the invasion of his infirmary. "I haven't sedated the Captain. You have to remember he's been through several operations one after another, lost a lot of blood and now has a long slow period of recovery ahead of him."

"Cap'n'll be alright though, won't he?"

Simon smiled at Kaylee. He hadn't seen much of her in the last couple of days except at meal times or passing in the corridor. "*Qu* but only if we let him get some rest."

Grumbling, Jayne and the others filed out. Zoe stared meaningfully at Inara who gave a nod and left with as much dignity as she could muster. When they had gone Zoe allowed her own worry to come to the fore. "Shouldn't the Cap'n be gettin' stronger, Simon?"

"He is but recovery doesn't happen overnight, Zoe."

"I know that it's just he's sleepin' an awful lot an'..."

"You shouldn't listen to Jayne."

Startled she looked at him, about to deny that she was doing just that, when the doctor smiled. "He's going to be fine, trust me."

His quiet certainty was all she needed to hear.

* * * * *

The ship was old and chunky but kept in perfect operational order by a determined and dedicated crew. Like some behemoth out of eons passed it moved with the slow deliberation of something able to weather anything the 'verse threw at it. Paul watched open mouthed as the huge vessel eased itself down to the planet's surface, a great swirl of dust and debris filling the air as it settled. He closed his eyes and tried to protect himself from the worst of it but had swallowed enough for the ragged chips of rock and arid dust to scour his throat and almost choke him. Taking several stumbling steps backwards he bent over and tried not to cough up both lungs. One he could live without but two would be fatal.

So noisy was the ship that Paul did not hear the hiss as the ramp descended. The air so thick with particulate matter that he could not see his hand in front of his face and only knew he was no longer alone when a large meaty hand landed on his shoulder. The shock made him gasp in alarm, dragging more of the foul gritty compound into his mouth. The stranger did not speak, just hauled him unceremoniously up the ramp and into a cargo bay as big as a storage hanger. The heavy pressurised thunk behind him told him that the ramp had been sealed after them. He blinked, sore eyed and amazed, hardly believing his eyes.

"Who in the nine hells are you?"

The big beefy man who had manhandled him on board made a short throaty sound and looked at a figure approaching from the far side of the cargo bay. The man was also big, but taller and fair haired and fair skinned. His hair was shoulder length with a wave in it, his face clean shaven. Piercing blue eyes regarded him solemnly. The beefy man pushed Paul forward. "Found 'im waitin'."

"An' who might you be?"

It was on the tip of Paul's tongue to say he had asked first but out of the corner of his eye he saw shadows move, peeling away from the distant sides of the cargo bay and resolving into what no doubt was the crew of this ship. "My name is Tobin."

"I'm Jedidiah Franks, Cap'n of this ship. This is my first mate, Duncan Randall."

The Captain did not introduce any of the others. Paul wiped the tears out of his eyes and brushed the dust and grit from his face at the same time."*Xie xie ni* for pickin' me up."

The Captain had a slow thoughtful look on his face. "What would you be doin' on the ass end of a dead world?"

"I'd been workin' my passage, not havin' money for the fare, an' this is where they dropped me off."

For a moment Paul thought they did not believe him. "An' why would they do that?"

He shrugged. "*Wo bu zhidao*. I worked hard, any job I was given an' I didn't eat much."

A woman stepped into the light. A short stocky soul with sharp bright eyes and a comfortable round face that looked more used to laughing than scowling. "Looks like you ain't eat at all."

"Skin an' bones." The first mate murmured in agreement, his voice dark but smooth as mollasses.

The Captain turned to Randall. "No one else a-waitin'?"

Randall shook his head. "No, Cap'n."

"Tobin, you see anyone else on this dustball?"

He shook his head. "No, sir."

"Don't take this the wrong way but we don't know you an' I ain't sure we wanna but I wouldn't leave my enemy's cat on Astra 'less it had fleas."

Randall peered down at him. "You got fleas, boy?"

Before he could think of a reply the woman pushed the big man out of the way. "Leave him be you oaf, can't you see the man's half starved?"

"I'm takin' it you want off this place?"

Paul nodded at the Captain.

"Then you live by my rule, *dong ma*? No matter how odd the order I yell, you jump. On'y question I wanna hear is how high."

"Yes, sir."

"First though, gotta make sure you ain't no purplebelly spy."

Paul opened his mouth to issue a reassurance but was whisked off his feet by Randall and another man so fast his feet hardly touched the deck. As he was hurried away he could hear the woman protesting about the rough handling, the Captain chuckling in a deep dark voice that spoke of a gallows humour richly earned. His last thought before he was frog marched into a room on the first deck was to wonder what the *diyu* was going to happen to him. The steam hit him moments after the heavy hatch closed behind them. Blinking, it took a moment to realise he was not in a boiler room. Randall grinned, a row of broken uneven teeth flashing like bleached headstones.

"Okay boy, strip!"

* * * * *

Mistress Barbette was getting frustrated. It had been days since she had first mooted her plan yet there was no sign that anyone was taking any notice of her offer. After another poorly scraped together meal laughingly called breakfast, she waited to get the first mate alone. Zoe wasn't stupid. Knew the House Mistress was wanting to speak to her and deliberately hung back when the others started to drift away. Badger looked reluctant to go but a look from his mother sent him scurrying. Wash frowned, met his wife's eyes and simply nodded once then went up to the bridge.

"Have you thought any more about my plan?"

"Still thinkin'."

The House Mistress wanted to shake her but didn't dare. Instead she tried another tack. "Perhaps we should discuss this with Captain Reynolds?" To her surprise a stony smile carved itself across Zoe's fullsome lips. "*Wo tongyi*."

When Zoe made no move to head towards the infirmary the House Mistress's eyes narrowed slightly. "Zoe, I know you neither like nor trust me but we don't have time to delay."

"You don't give the orders on this boat."

"*Wo zhidao*, which is why we should go to the Captain."

Zoe stared at her. A cold implacable look coming into her eyes and seemingly filtering to every cell in the woman's body. "We'll go when Simon says the Cap'n's up for visitors, *dong ma*?"

"We may not have time..."

She moved so swiftly, her body a fluid extension of her grace, that Mistress Barbette realised that the saying that the female was deadlier than the male was never more true that in this instance. Whatever Malcolm Reynold's first mate was, she wasn't weak. "What part of 'not yet' don't you understand?"

Cyan Barbette steeled herself to hold her ground without appearing to threaten the status quo. Forcing herself to remain calm she tried again. "*Wo dong* but there is something that you do not."

The two women stared at each other. Mistress Barbette had not intended Zoe to find out this way but at least it was just the two of them in the commons room and for that she was thankful,

"The people who are after my son are very high up in the Alliance structure."

Zoe shrugged. "Don't see what that has to do with us."

Mistress Barbette took a slow step towards Zoe. "Everyone Stephen has had dealings with, from friends and contacts to business partners, have found themselves taken out of the equation."

The first mate frowned. "What are you sayin'?"

"My son was raised in an area of Dyton Colony. Raised there, no more. But he had friends from his childhood and so on. When the Alliance decided to come after my son they sent troops to 'sterilise' the area. None of those friends survived."

A cold sliver of dread slid down Zoe's spine. Not since the war had she heard such a sanitised term for the wholesale murder of civilians. Dyton Colony was dirt poor, the people turning what skills and cunning they had to petty theft and all kinds of illegal activities to raise coin and feed and clothe themselves. It was a sewer of the dregs of humanity and the Alliance had made it so. "How many...?"

"Over two thousands souls."

Zoe closed her eyes briefly. "An' the buildin's?"

Cyan frowned. Why would she want to know about mere brick and stone? Tent or town house they could be rebuilt but the dead could not be resurrected. "Raised to the ground, *weishenme*?"

She had to sit down. Mistress Barbette watched with concern as the first mate dropped into a chair, no grace about it. It was almost as if Zoe was in shock. Zoe took a moment before speaking. "Best sit down, Cyan. Then I want you to tell me everythin' that happened to Badger."

"We don't..."

"If you say one more time that we don't have time for any of this *goushi* then you an' your double dealin' back stabbin' *hundan* of a son can go out the airlock, *dong ma*? An' don't think for one moment I'm jokin'."

Mistress Barbette stared at her and realised she was serious. Taking a seat Cyan told Zoe everything her son had confided as well as what she had been able to discover for herself. By the time the tale was told both women were more subdued. The House Mistress was however curious about one thing. "Why did you ask if the buildings were destroyed?"

Zoe didn't want to say but it seemed churlish not to do so now. After all, the sins of the son were not his mother's even if the same tainted DNA ran through two bloodstreams. She had a notion the House Mistress had done worse things than Badger and didn't that just set off a whole host of other alarm bells? "In an' of itself it don't mean much but such total destruction? People an' shelter? That points to an Operative."

"Then I was right."

Zoe blinked. "*Shenme*?"

"We have no more time to lose. If the Captain can be woken we need to speak to him, *mashang*."

"Your son deliberately sent hired killers after us for no other reason than over a delay in deliverin' goods. Not to kill the Cap'n but to deliberately cripple him. Didn't care if they had to take out any of the crew to achieve their objective neither."

"Believe me I understand how angry you are, how bitter, and there is nothing you can tell me about my son. I know I have brought a miserable excuse for a human being into this 'verse but make no mistake, he is my son and I will not willingly allow harm to come to him while I live and breathe."

"Then you must know this crew feels the same way about the Cap'n."

To Zoe's baffled surprise, a slow smile spread across the House Mother's face until her face fair shone with it. "Oh, I have no intention of allowing *anyone* to harm a hair on that man's head. My own idiot son included."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*tinglui* = stay *bao bei* = precious/treasure *yiwusuoyou* = nothing *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *qu* = yes (lit. go) *xie xie ni* = thank you *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *dong ma* = understand? *diyu* = hell *wo tongyi* = I agree *wo zhidao* = I know *wo dong* = I understand *weishenme* = why? *goushi* = crap/dog shit *hundan* = bastard *shenme* = what *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately


Sunday, September 28, 2008 2:50 PM


So there are a few answers appearing slowly for Zoe. Loved the Mistress's last line. Now the crew knows where they stand.

Sunday, September 28, 2008 9:52 PM


I'm glad to see Mal is slowly regaining some strength, but it's going to be a long haul, and I'm not sure there's time.

Monday, September 29, 2008 4:39 PM


I am really hoping Mal gets better, even though we know the crew will take good care of him. Superb as always!!!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008 2:28 PM


Wonderfully done, as usual. Zoe was in perfect form. A real treat to read!


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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.