BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

AMDOBELL

The DUPLICITY Series: 34. "Friends and Other Enemies"
Sunday, October 19, 2008

"River begins to worry Simon that she is becoming unstable. The Captain wants to go with Mistress Barbette's plan and Badger wants to find a way to turn his current predicament to his advantage."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1989    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "FRIENDS AND OTHER ENEMIES" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Zoe/Wash. Kaylee/Simon. Mal/Inara. RATING: R. For violence/adult situation. STATUS: Sequel to "REPERCUSSIONS". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: AlisonMDobell@aol.com WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at Fireflyfans.net

SUMMARY: "River begins to worry Simon that she is becoming unstable. The Captain wants to go with Mistress Barbette's plan while Badger wants to find a way to turn his current predicament to his advantage." 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.

"FRIENDS AND OTHER ENEMIES"

"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

With a guilty start Simon realised he hadn't been keeping an eye on his sister for days now. So much had happened and his worry over the Captain's condition had taken precedence. Now the soft wimpering sound caught his ear and tugged at his heartstrings in that all too familiar way that told him River was having a bad night. Quietly he slid back the door to her bunk and was not surprised to find her sitting in a miserable huddle in the corner, oblivious to the cold deck and her thin dress in the chill air of Serenity's artificial night.

"It's okay, *mei mei*, I'm here."

He moved slowly, arms outstretched, careful not to alarm her. A sob bubbled up in her throat as she looked up from her knees and stared at him through the overhang of dark tangled hair. "*Ni bu dong*."

Reaching out, Simon gently put his arms around her to draw her close. To protect and reassure her with his body. "What don't I understand?"

She watched him brush back the lank locks of hair obscuring her face from his worried scrutiny. "They're hurting him, Simon, and nobody knows!"

"*Shei*, River? Who are they hurting?"

River shook her head and stared over his shoulder but she wasn't seeing him or the ship, her mind journeying he knew not where. It made his stomach clench. River had been doing so well. "Name's not important. He can't escape and he can't give them what they want."

"Then they'll let him go, *dui*?" The words were meant to be reassuring.

"*Bu qu*. They won't stop until they kill him."

"Perhaps you should start at the beginning?"

"Too late now." Her voice was small, swallowed up by events unfolding that she could see and he could not imagine. Eyes widening, tears began to spill down her cheeks and her body trembled with grief, her body curling in on itself tighter and tighter. "We have to help him, Simon."

"First you need to tell me who you're talking about and why this person is in trouble. As much detail as you can, *dong ma*? I can't very well ask the Captain to turn the ship around without giving him a good reason."

River stopped trembling and raised her head to stare at him as if he had a screw loose. "Why would we go back?"

"You um, haven't said where this is happening River. I assumed that we had to be going in the wrong direction hence needing to turn around."

Her look said he was a boob. "Can't go back Simon, you know that. We can never go back."

He tried not to frown, to send any negative signals at all. If he wasn't careful River would sidetrack herself and he would never find out what she was trying to tell him. "Who is in trouble, River?" He asked softly.

"Someone who helped us only we never knew. Face hidden. Behind the scenes."

Simon frowned. Frustrated that he was not following, River uncurled and stood up, Simon rising from his crouched position with her.

"Time to repay a debt."

* * * * *

Natalie was smart. Not in the conventional way of linear thinking or academic excellence but in the more random leaps of logic that could not be explained by hard science but produced results too accurate to dismiss out of hand. She was not psychic in the paranormal sense, nor intelligent in the conventional one. She was what one of her early teachers referred to as 'a spanner in the works'. Even as one part of her mind understood the reference completely, another part took it too literally. One half of her fully compus mentis while the other half was not. It was like playing tug of war with her brain yet with no observer cognisant enough to keep score. Natalie liked it that way. No one to rein her in or complicate the simple arithmatic of think and do. Synapses fired by impulse not rational thought.

It had taken time to work out what she wanted to know. One had escaped but she would find him later. The building while empty and not yielding any information as to where her target had gone had yielded something unexpected and even more important. Her lips peeled back in a happy rictus grin, stretched over bones too lacking in flesh to be healthy. Such was her eratic nature that her body often sent messages like hunger, thirst and sleep along obscure and convoluted paths to her brain. It left her hyped up and tired but too wired to know that she was living on nerves and an excess of adrenaline. Her brain too tangled and dysfunctional to equate the hunger of the hunt with the need for sustenance for the body.

She was outside, taken where her running feet had led her. Out beyond the cramped huddle of houses where people lived cheek by jowl in a mess of humanity that offended her. The occasional dwelling now scattered across open farmland. Despite the sharpness of the cold air, Natalie took deep breaths, her grin growing wider and more manic. She loved being outside. FREE. The darkness was her friend, hid her from unfriendly eyes and allowed her to move with stealth like another shadow. Passing undetected. It made her feel clever, special. Only when the ground beneath her feet softened and became uneven with the spring of grass and soil did the need to get out and away dissipate. The smell gave her pause. Natalie threw back her head and sniffed. What was it? That earthy odour, a warm sweaty smell that niggled at her brain pan.

Like a curious child she followed her nose and stopped in shock at the snuffling sounds and gait of something big and blocky moving around. Dark or not she squinted, crouched down and reached out, her hand touching wood. Rough and unpainted. The scent of old creosote not enough to mask that earthy smell, something bumping up against her hand from the other side. Startled she pulled her hand back but took a step forward, raising up on tip-toe to peer over the wooden fencing. The pale light of a quarter moon gave her just enough light to distinguish a bulky shadow lumbering on the other side of the fence, a heavy face lifting as its' owner snuffled then grunted up at the intruder.

Laughing with child-like glee, Natalie forgot that she was a hunter - an executioner - and reached out to scratch the pig's back. It leaned against the fence and she realised her touch was not rough enough to please the pig. Scrambing off the fence she scanned around for a stick then climbed back up and tried again, this time the grunt sounded happier and feeling elated with success Natalie rubbed the stick along the pig's back and listened in content.

Unaware of the passage of time Natalie's mood shifted just before dawn. The stick fell from a hand suddenly inured to it. Straddling the fence she reached inside her jacket as the pig shoved its' shoulder against her leg to demand more attention. Reaching down she slid her arms around the beast's neck, tightening momentarily as the blade slit its' throat. The pig squealed loud enough to wake the dead. Natalie clung to the thrashing animal and ignored the bruises and scrapes as she was rammed against the rough wood, no pain or discomfort registering only the thrill of taking a life as flecks of blood splattered up her arms and face. The animal's death throes exciting her, making her feel more alive. Her senses sharpened reminding her that she had an agenda. Tasks to perform. Natalie climbed back over the fence, the pig forgotten. Licking the blood off her knife she hummed as she sheathed it. Yes. Today was a good day for hunting.

* * * * *

Zoe's eyes narrowed. Not ready to trust Badger's mother and more than a mite puzzled that the Captain did. "Seems a mite risky, sir."

His smile seemed to acknowledge her reservations while trying to reassure her. "Need to trust, Zoe."

"*Weishenme*? You forgettin' who had you shot?"

For a moment his mood darkened, the smile gone like a heavy black cloud obscuring the sun. "Ain't forgot nothin' includin' the fact that we got folks after us."

"After Badger you mean."

His words hardened. "I know what I mean."

"Sir..."

Mal raised a hand and she stopped speaking.

"I get that you're unhappy." He said softly. "Gorramit, ain't willin' to dance a jig yet my own self, but you heard what she said. Every contact Badger had has been crushed. Not beaten up an' left bloody, not warned an' moved on, nor arrested an' locked up. Homes burnt out or left in rubble, people wiped out wholesale Zoe. Worse than any War to be takin' folks out in peace-time."

"Peace time?"

His look flattened, not going down that road. Not now, not ever. "We got no option but to help 'em, Zoe, if we wanna keep our own folk safe *dong ma*?"

"But, Badger?"

The Captain was nodding now. "We're on that list, Zoe." Her eyes clamped like limpets to his though he knew she would already have done the math just not chosen to accept what it meant. Not when the result meant trusting that back stabbing piece of *goushi buru*. She still wanted to shoot him between the eyes for crippling the Captain. After letting Jayne skin him nice and slowly with his favourite knife. Might not be full recompense but it would be a start. "For now we need to get somewhere safe. Regroup, assess where to go from here an' such. You with me?"

She hated having it all come down to this. Her trust in him. As if that was what was eating her raw inside like acid. Not even death would shake that trust and they both knew it, though at times it simply reinforced their bond to acknowledge it. A nod. A word. A look. Didn't take much because it didn't have to. "Always, sir."

He nodded back, satisfied. "*Xie xie, Zoe."

He watched her walk towards the infirmary door then pause to look sternly back at him. "Just hope you know what you're doin', sir."

Mal waited until the door shut behind her and closed his eyes a moment. "So do I."

* * * * *

He could hardly breathe but at least the shaking tremors had stopped for now. Still naked he was at least mostly dry, the cold metal surface of the deck beneath him slick with blood. Having satisfied themselves that he had nothing hidden upon his person or in any orifice, Paul wished they had completed the job and killed him. Anything was better than whatever twisted notion they came up with next. Eyes closed, breathing ragged, he tried to calm his racing heart but hurt so bad that he could find no part of his body free from cuts or bruises to give him ease. The throb in his left hand still made him cry out if he tried to move it, the broken fingers at odd angles. The broken wrist unable to hold the hand without help. So he lay, in an untidy heap and cared not whether he lived or died.

Up in the Captain's cabin, Captain Franks was privately impressed. The young man had shown a degree of stubborn defiance that elicited something akin to a grudging respect. Slowly he turned the device over and over in his hands and wondered where the other part was. It had to be hidden. If not on the stranger then where? Franks didn't know what the device was for only that it was half of something so important that powerful men were willing to kill for it and even die for its' possesssion. He had been lucky to find this half but knew his fortune would not be assured until he could locate the other half. It was tantalising and frustrating as *diyu* but half of something was better than nothing. Staring at it thoughtfully he couldn't help but muse. Tobin had not given so much as a hint as to where he had come from or where he was going. Or even how he expected to get off Astra. That was a puzzle. Franks frowned and put the object on his desk. Why would a seemingly educated man like Tobin come to Astra? A dead world with a climate to match and nothing to sustain a man past the air in his lungs. It didn't make sense. Unless. Franks stiffened and swore under his breath. How could he have been so stupid? That was it. Someone was coming for Tobin. Someone so powerful and scary that Tobin would risk torture and death rather than give him up. Or them. But who was coming and what would it mean for him and his crew?

Not so confident now, Franks stared at the device and tried not to shudder. This was getting out of hand fast and while he didn't mind taking risks he only did so when he knew all the facts. He didn't like the pile of unknowns clinging to their silent friend. No. He didn't like it at all. And yet he knew that threatening the man was useless. Physical pain had no impact beyond breaking bones and battering a body already weakened by lack of food and water. Tobin's body might be weak but his mind was a force to be reckoned with and Franks didn't have the time or inclination to work it out. He was no coward but didn't see the profit in hanging around until Tobin's people turned up. What if they had the command half of the device with them? It would be a short swift and very painful end for him and his crew. No. Tobin wasn't worth it but he would keep the device. Even if he never managed to find the command half he could at least prevent anyone else from having the whole thing. And who knows, in time it might become the ultimate bargaining chip.

Decision made, Franks yelled over his com and had Tobin dragged into the cargo bay. He ignored the slick slide of blood left by the drag of a body that could not stand let alone walk. Hunkering down, the Captain pushed his face so close to Tobin's that the man could not focus. Not that he wanted to see Franks clearly anyway. "Last chance to tell me where the other half of the device is."

Tobin was having a hard time staying conscious but managed to shake his head. The Captain stood up. "Throw him out! I don't want this *chusheng xai-jiao de xiang huo* on my ship a moment longer."

Tasker's ugly face twisted in disappointment. "Can I kill him first?"

The Captain shook his head, a nasty smile contorting features that would never win a beauty contest even if all the judges were blind. "*Bu qu*. He's not doin' so good anyway an' I'm not wastin' supplies keepin' the *hundan* either. He don't deserve a quick death."

Tasker grunted as the notion took hold and turned to open the cargo bay door. Rough hands reached down and grabbed the naked man, deaf to his broken cries of pain, then without any ceremony he was tossed out onto the hard packed earth. The explosion of pain having one benefit they would have denied him had they known. He passed out. Long after the ship had left and the downthrusting jets had stirred up enough dust to cover him in a thick dirty layer, something slowly stirred. The winds howled, the air thickened with the threat of an approaching storm but whatever rains might have fallen on other worlds no touch of moisture would bless Astra. Electricity crackled through the air but Paul Rinkman was oblivious not knowing that when Captain Franks had last handled the device he had inadvertently armed it. He would later be disappointed to know he had missed the biggest brightest explosion Astra had seen since the planet had been formed. Some might even have called it pretty.

* * * * *

"Where's Simon?"

Jayne grunted and put his weights away. "Don't ask me, I ain't his keeper."

Kaylee scowled at him. "No need to be like that. Cap'n wants us all in the commons room."

"How's he gonna get there when he can't gorram walk?"

The look she gave him made him feel a mite ashamed, not that he would ever admit it. Wasn't like he was mad at Kaylee after all but having that *tamade hundan* Badger on Serenity was winding him up tighter that an overwound spring. Then there was all that *goushi* with the House Mistress being the slimey weasle's mother and it all felt wrong to Jayne. Why they were ferrying folks like that around he couldn't figure. Would be best to vent them into atmo and have done with it. But for some reason the Captain let them stay, them and that confusing woman Inara. He liked Inara fine far as her sex was concerned, it was the devious back and forth that went on behind those cunning eyes that made him kind'a wary. Wasn't sure that the turn around he had seen in her was for real, not after all that ranting and raving about destroying the Captain last time she was on Serenity. What the *guai* was that about anyway? And now they had two Companions and a treacherous rat on the ship and he didn't like it. Not one gorram bit.

"Come on, Jayne."

He blinked. Couldn't never be mad at Kaylee. With a huff he slung his towel over his shoulder. "S'pose you want me to carry him?"

"With a little help from me." Jayne turned at the sound of the Preacher's voice. "You know what's goin' on?"

"I know as much as you do, Jayne."

Somehow Jayne doubted that but he wasn't about to call his friend on it. Instead the mercenary broke into a brisk pace, Book matching him stride for stride as naturally as if the two had been friends forever. Was kind'a comforting. Maybe this palaver would clear the air, tell them what in the nine hells was going on and when they could rid themselves of unwelcome folk. Jayne wanted to get back to work, earn coin and leave the dust of troubled worlds in their wake but something told him he would have to wait a little longer for that to happen.

* * * * *

Mr Morgan was rarely surprised but the news had caught him unawares. Sitting back slowly he caught his counterpart'e eyes. Mr Brown's face was emotionless as he stood just inside the door. They did not speak again until the door reopened and another figure joined them. Only when the door was shut and locked behind him did anyone speak.

"It has been confirmed?"

The Operative nodded. Excusing himself from the Parliamentary Oversight Committee meeting had been easy. No one questioned when he came or went, his absence no doubt welcomed like the loss of a hangman's noose. Not that he cared one way or another but this news had been unexpected.

"What about the control section?"

The Operative shook his head, his manner calm, his voice smooth and unruffled as if they were doing no more than discussing the weather. "It has not yet been located. Can you track it?"

The two men exchanged a look. Mr Morgan rose to his feet and the Operative had to stop himself from glancing down at the thin blue gloves on his hands. He had no fear that they would turn on him. He was, after all, part of the regime they served. Another cog in corporate machinery more invasive and widespread than anything the Alliance itself could dream of.

"No, but we know where the first half was activated."

The Operative did not speak but waited calmly. He knew they would tell him in their own time. One beat became two, three, before the silence was broken.

"We know," said Mr Brown "because its' detonation took out a moon and destablised a nearby planet."

"This planet, does it have a name?"

Mr Morgan did not even blink. "Yes."

* * * * *

He didn't want to do this, he really didn't.

"Stephen, we have discussed this!"

He spun as he stopped pacing, his face contorted with anger and not a little worry. Knew it was a mistake to follow his gorram mother's lead. Woman was complicated and all kinds of deadly. Mattered not that she was his kith and kin, sometimes he thought that was the worst of it. Didn't have enough relatives left to strangle the last one no matter how much he wanted to. "No, we ain't - see? You decided, didn't tell me your great ruttin' plan nor discussed it with me neither. But you told that *baichi* Captain Reynolds! Why is that? What's so gorram fasinatin' about that *hundan* that you talk to him an' leave your own flesh an' blood in the dark, *wei*?"

She could feel a headache coming on but the others would be gathering in Serenity's commons room, she didn't want to be late. It would be hard enough selling the idea to Reynolds' crew without having to do the same with her own obstructive son. "Stephen, we can't do this on our own."

His look sharpened. "Do what?"

Cyan had not wanted to tell him like this, knew that if her son decided to really dig his heels in the whole plan would unravel along with any chances of the crew or themselves surviving the fallout. Facts were facts and sometimes they sucked. Moving closer she forced him to sit on a crate then lowered her voice. They were the only ones in the cargo hold but the big cavernous space carried voices only too well so she kept the whisper low, her eyes glued to his, willing him to understand that she was doing this for him as much for the Captain and crew of Serentiy. He heard her out in stunned silence.

"They'll never fall for it."

Her voice was mild as she straightened up. "It isn't a trick."

He thought about that, watched her carefully, noting how serious she was. The tired lines around her eyes and the weary sag of her mouth reinforcing the fact that she was serious. "An' if I don't go along with this?" He asked quietly.

Mistress Barbette seemed to deflate a little, looking somehow smaller and older than he could ever remember. It made him want to kick himself for being the cause not that he would ever let her know. Cyan spread her hands in a slow almost helpless gesture. "Then I will have failed."

Failed? What the good gorram did she mean by that?

"Also, if we are to get out of this situation you will have to apologise to Captain Reynolds."

His eyes widened. Oh, this was getting better and better! Next she'd have him lick his gorram boots. Seeing his expression her look hardened and Badger fought the childish urge to squirm. "Already apologised."

She shook her head. "That wasn't an apology and you know it. This time you will look him in the eye and mean it."

For a long moment he just started at her, more confused than angry. "What's he mean to you anyway? Never seen you so pally with no one before. It's makin' my skin crawl if you must know, us havin' a history."

Her smile startled him. "If I tell you will you do as I ask?"

Ask not demand. He liked that, was intrigued that she would bargain with him even though he knew he would agree in the end anyway. She didn't know that yet and that gave him a fleeting illusion of power. In the end curiosity was his downfall. Just as she knew it would be.

* * * * *

The winds were harsh, flying grit and dust clouding the air with a mix that would scour any lungs breathing it in. Paul Rinkman lay where he had landed, his arms and legs a painful tangle, the drying blood now pitted with grit and grime. Only the tiny rise and fall of his chest assured that the heart was still beating, however faint.

Gentle hands gathered him up and carried him. In his dreams sounds stretched and yawed as if elastic, everything distorted and confusing. He had the impression of rock the colour of terracotta, rough hewn stone forming a cavern above him, flickering light chasing shadows that he could never catch. The sleep of the body's exhaustion dragged him away, his mind sinking into oblivion while unknown hands cradled him and tended his hurts. The water was warm and had an odd smell, an odour of chemicals that somehow acted like a disinfectant on his many wounds. Cuts were cleaned, the larger ones sewn shut, the wounds closed and bound. Broken limbs straightened and set. His body not dressed but wrapped in warm soft cloth that would not chafe against his abused body nor reopen painful wounds.

A long time he slept. Between night and day his wounds were redressed, ointments used to ward against infection and speed the healing process. Everything low tech but with the efficiency of practices long in use before the first scanner had been invented or the first x-ray understood. By the third day his body recognised the hands of healing and were content to let them do what they would do, his natural instinct to tense or retreat a world away. Yet his consciousness could not keep up with his body, sleep the only nurse that mattered. Thoughts a-whirl in the sluggish sea of his mind. Touch a sensation he was sure he had invented in the trauma of nightmare scenarios that he could not possibly survive.

As his mind wandered something distant but gentle nudged at him. Almost playful but tender too. Intrigued, his consciousness reached for the connection and a wash of emotion seeped through him that made him want to cry with the beauty of it. Not sure if the voice was heard or imagined, Paul listened in awe. His senses stretched and laid bare in a way that only the dream state seemed capable of achieving. *You are safe now*

*Am I?*

*Yes*

*Who are you?*

*Someone too far away to help*

His thoughts stumbled. What did she mean by that? *Do I know you?*

*Not yet*

Was that laughter he heard? How could a thought tease him if it were not his own or was he going mad?

*Not crazy*

*What about you?*

More laughter now, this time filling him and crowding out the panic of impending insanity. *Fang xin*, coming for you*

*Weishenme*?*

The voice echoing in his head became unbearably soft, so tender that in his sleep he wept. *Because you have suffered enough*

It took minutes before he could form the question he longed to ask but feared the answer to. *Are you an angel?*

Her light tinkling laughter faded gently, like a slow outgoing shimmering tide of silver taking his hope with it. If he survived, he hoped that voice would be his deliverance.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*mei mei* = little sister *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *shei* = who? *dong ma* = understand? *weishenme* = why? *xie xie* = thanks *goushi buru* = lower than dogshit/lowest of the low *diyu* = hell *chusheng xai-jiao de xiang huo* = animal fucking bastard *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *hundan* = bastard *goushi* = crap/dog shit *tamade hundan* - fucking bastard *baichi* = idiot *wei* = hey! *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *guai* = ghost/devil *dui* = correct

COMMENTS

Sunday, October 19, 2008 2:55 PM

SLUMMING


Excellent chapter. I'm still quite intrigued as to Mal's connection with Badger's mother. Can't wait for more! :D

Sunday, October 19, 2008 4:25 PM

KATESFRIEND


I agree with slumming, I want to know what that connectio is too. Glad Paul got some help finally. Waiting for that apology - that should be good!

Monday, October 20, 2008 9:36 PM

JANE0904


Natalie is someone I really hope doesn't get involved with our crew! And who is this mysterious person who's helping Paul? And what is the connection ... okay, so many questions, so few answers. Write faster!


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