The DUPLICITY Series: 36. "Striking Back"
Monday, November 10, 2008

"Simon tries to persuade River to stay with him and the Captain. The crew are not the only ones who discover what Badger has been hiding."


TITLE: "STRIKING BACK" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Zoe/Wash. Kaylee/Simon. Mal/Inara. RATING: R. For violence/adult situation. STATUS: Sequel to "STRANGE BEDFELLOWS". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at

SUMMARY: "Simon tries to persuade River to stay with him and the Captain. The crew are not the only ones who discover what Badger has been hiding." 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

* * * * *

Simon knew the practicalities, even agreed with the reasoning, but being away from his sister was never part of any equation he could embrace readily. Mistress Barbette had explained, Zoe had been more forthright and Shepherd Book had been reassuring. In the end the stark facts still boiled down to letting his sister go with the rest of the crew into danger while he and the Captain were safely in hiding. It felt wrong on so many counts he was frustrated that the others couldn't see it.

"You aren't seeing the whole picture, Simon."

River's eyes were large and round like an Owl's, her long dark hair freshly combed and for once tangle free. Was it insane that her calm pragmatic air just made him feel worse? "Then tell me what I'm missing, *mei mei*."

Her look gentled. "Not all of us will be in danger and those who are won't be alone."

Simon blinked. Well. That was as clear as mud. River dazzled him with a beautific smile.

"You always expect the worst. Time to see that the glass is half full."

"What if I want a full glass?"

She tilted her head and studied him for a moment. "Plans can change."

A flicker of hope shone in his eyes but she shook her head.

"Not that kind of change, Simon."

"*Weishenme bu*? Why can't you stay with me at Burnt Cross?"

"They need me. Don't know it yet but they will and someone needs to watch Badger."

His concern turned to alarm. "*Ni zhide shi shenme*, River?"

"He won't hurt the Captain again but he's still Badger. Looking to make a deal of his own."

"Have you told anyone this?"

She shook her head. They were in the infirmary, the Captain sleeping after Simon had checked and tended his wounds then dressed them. The pain medication had helped to quiet the restless man.

"River, you should tell someone." He was about to mention the House Mistress.

"*Bu qu*."

"She's his mother, *mei mei*."

"They're still building bridges. One wrong move and it falls down."

"Okay, how about Zoe?"

River thought for a moment then nodded. He felt relieved that at least someone would be on the alert. Their luck had not been the greatest of late and having a spiteful little turncoat like Badger in the mix couldn't be a good thing. River did not tell him what Zoe's response would be. A small knowing little smirk settled across her face and for one tiny split second she reminded him of the Captain. A shudder rippled through the good doctor but then his sister was simply smiling at him and he couldn't help but smile back, his heart oddly lightened.

"Have to go now."


"It's alright. Kaylee's waiting."

At the mention of Serenity's mechanic Simon's thoughts derailed. River padded over to the Captain and leant down to whisper something in the sleeping man's ear. Then she dropped a kiss on his cheek, grinned at her brother and left before Simon could think of anything else to say. It was the tenative scuff of a boot scraping on the floor that drew his attention to the now open door. Kaylee gave him a tentative smile then closed the door behind her. "Wash says we'll be touchin' down in a couple'a hours."

The doctor nodded.

"We'll be back before ya know it."

He opened his mouth to repudiate that overly simplified expression of confidence then snapped it shut again. Who was he to dampen Kaylee's spirits just because he was depressed at the idea of being parted from his sister? It didn't matter to him whether it was for days or possibly weeks, even a day apart in this 'verse was twenty four hours too many. Who knew what could happen? And he wouldn't be there to keep her safe. It didn't matter that she would have a ship load of people with her or that Zoe and Jayne were two of the fiercest and best fighters he had ever seen. Danger was danger and he didn't want his beautiful, gifted sister in the middle of it. Come to that, he didn't want Kaylee there either. "I can't help worrying, Kaylee."

Her smile widened, the sadness in her eyes brightening as his meaning went straight to her heart. "Ain't gotta worry 'bout me. 'Sides Serenity's in tip top condition an' we already got fueled up."

Simon prayed she wouldn't add 'what could go wrong'. Not that he was superstitious but being on Serenity had taught him not to tempt fate even in jest. "Just... be careful , *bao bei*."

"D'you call me *bao bei*?"

"Um, yes. *Weishenme*? Is that alright? Because..."

Kaylee moved close and put her hand up to his lips. "Ssssh, now don't ya go spoilin' the moment, Simon Tam."

His eyes widened. Wondering how he could say what he wanted to without putting his foot in his mouth. As if from a vast distance he thought he heard someone clearing their throat.

"Don't think, kiss her you gorram *baichi*."

Before Simon could turn his head and tell the now wide awake Captain to shut up, Kaylee closed the distance and kissed him first. The moment their lips touched Simon froze then it was as if a dam had burst. Lying flat out on the infirmary bed the Captain gave a little sigh and closed eyes too heavy to remain open for long. Seemed nothing got done right on his boat unless he was there to see to the doing of it. By the time the two came up for air the last thing on Kaylee or Simon's mind was the Captain of Serenity.

* * * * *

Inara Serra had a number of reservations but didn't voice them. Her footing with Zoe was still in the early stages of repair. Even though the Captain had forgiven her it seemed the crew had to make up their minds individually. Shepherd Book, Kaylee and the Tams had done so without giving the matter a second thought. She couldn't tell what Jayne was thinking and was grateful she wasn't a Reader like River. The kind of things that passed through that man's mind should stay in the gutter even though from time to time the mercenary managed to surprise her with a flash of insight or intelligence that made her re-evaluate what she thought she knew about Jayne Cobb. Wash looked like he wanted to forgive and forget but tempered his response to stand solidly with his wife which she had expected though Inara was surprised how much it hurt.

Straightening in her chair she forced herself to listen as Mistress Barbette and Zoe discussed the fine detail of the plan at the kitchen table. It was not very complicated and that should have reassured her but knowing that the plan hinged on an Alliance contact of the House Mistress's set off every alarm in Inara's head. She still could not get over Zoe going along with it. Badger accepted a cup of tea from Shepherd Book and settled down a few seats away from his mother, a wary eye cast in Jayne's direction as the big man continued to sharpen his favourite knife at the table. Wash informed them over the com that they would be landing on Mercy in just under an hour. Jayne put his knife away and leaned on the table.

"This is a stupid plan. I say we keep goin' as we are an' give the Alliance a wide gorram berth. Why borrow trouble?"

The Shepherd took a seat opposite Mistress Barbette. "We could do that but we need to know why Badger is being sought so aggressively."

"Ain't our problem."

"Temptin' as that may sound," the Shepherd continued in a calm voice tinged with regret "it is our problem, Jayne."

"*Wei*, don't see why we're totin' that lyin', back-stabbin' *tamade hundan* around in the first place. I say we dump him outta the airlock."

Mistress Barbette's eyes narrowed. "He is *my* son."

The mercenary turned an irritated glare on the House Mistress. "An' that's another thing that don't make sense, lettin' you stay on board."

"Jayne, we've already been over this." Said a tight lipped Zoe.

He shook his head. "*Bu qu*, you been over this, not me." He pointed at Badger. "Always said we couldn't trust him an' it ain't like the first time he's double crossed us an' now we got his ma here too. Double the trouble ya ask me."

"No one's askin' you, Jayne. Cap'n's made his decision."

Jayne grumbled under his breath then raised his voice, not quite ready to let go. "When this all turns to *goushi* an' we're all sharin' an Alliance cell don't forget 'I told ya so*."

Zoe sighed. "If everybody does their jobs it won't come to that."

"Yeah," growled the big man "an' I'm the King of Londinium."

"You know," said the Shepherd slowly as he sipped his tea "I'm still not sure what you hope to find."

The House Mistress hid a sigh. "My son has not simply upset someone in the Alliance but is caught up in some kind of firestorm."


Mistress Barbette looked at her son, noticing how he was staring down into his mug and not meeting anyone's eyes. Feeling her attention on him he looked up then scowled. "*Shenme*? Ain't my fault. *Tamade hundan* wiped out everybody I knew in Dayton Colony. All me contacts, friends..." Jayne snorted but Badger ignored him. "Don't know what in the nine hells is goin' on."

"It means," said Jayne with an angry glare "that you upset the wrong people. Now why is that our problem?"

Zoe could feel a headache coming on. They would be landing soon and she didn't want to still be arguing about this as they put the plan in action. "You know why, Jayne. Every contact of Badger's has been hunted down an' killed. Whether you like it or not we have to be pretty high up on that list."

The mercenary's face darkened. "What the good gorram did you do?"

Badger shrank back at the sheer ire on Jayne's face. It was River who interrupted. No one had really noticed her joining them and for days she had been so quiet that they kept forgetting she was even there. "Took something that wasn't his. Information is power and joining up the dots had to be avoided at all costs."

Everyone exchanged a look. Inara was sitting next to River and despite her vow not to say anything couldn't let that pass. "River, what are you talking about?"

"He didn't know what it was. Put it in the safe along with the bonds and cashy money. Forgotten until he had to run."

Now all eyes were on Badger but it was his mother's voice that turned the air to a keen frost. "Where is it?"

He gulped. Gorramit, what was the *shenjingbing* girl trying to do to him? "Don't know what she's talkin' about..."

Jayne growled. He'd never liked the little man and couldn't understand why the Captain even dealt with him. If the choice had been his he would have slit Badger's throat the minute they'd met. In fact, he still wanted to. "*Shuohuangzhe*!"

The little King pin was openly squirming now. His mother settled her beady eyes on him and he tried to ignore the sweat beading on his face, neck and palms. Heart beating too gorram loud and fast, almost drowning out the panicky thoughts trying to find a place to hide in his head.

"Stephen, what did you do with the contents of the safe?"

He blinked at her. How could she ask him now, in front of everyone?

"Hidden in plain sight." He turned and glared at River. "You stay out of my gorram head, *dong ma*?"

"You sayin' he's got it on him, little one?" River nodded at Zoe then turned back to Badger, her voice as calm and conversational as if she was giving a weather forecast. "Sewn into the lining of his jacket."

Now full blown panic took over and Badger wasn't sure he could breathe. How the *diyu* had she known that? He hadn't even been thinking of it or had he? Jayne jumped to his feet, ready to rip the man's clothes off his back there and then, body parts along with the rags on his back. Shepherd Book rose slowly to his feet to intervene, his deep voice calmly seeking to lower the heat from the volatile atmosphere. "I'm sure that Badger will be only too willing to show us."

Badger looked wildly from face to face. He felt trapped, no way out. Seeing no one offering to help him he turned to his mother. "Ain't you gonna do somethin'?"

"*Qu*." Calmly his mother got up and reached across the table. Not knowing what she intended Badger didn't move in time, the sudden tug on his jacket dragging him unceremoniously across the table and inches from the face of the woman who had birthed him. "You can either remove it yourself, Stephen, or I will rip your clothes to shreds until we find it."

His face paled, eyes large as saucers, a wounded look in his eyes. "Why you turnin' on me?" He wailed.

Her voice dropped. Low, soft and more effective in her condemnation than angry words or reams of vitriol would have been. "Because Stephen, enough people have died due to your selfishness."

* * * * *

Paul's head ached but he was determined to stay conscious. No longer confident that he had not jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire. What had looked like a timely rescue now appeared to be anything but. Who they were and what they wanted sent shivers of apprehension rippling through his pain wracked body. The woman tending him locked eyes with him and for a moment he could not move. Something in her eyes touched him, as if she understood. Sympathised even. Though he could not actually say as much because the look was fleeting. He blinked and stared at her but the moment of connection had vanished leaving him feeling oddly bereft.

As the woman finished changing his dressings she stepped back, eyes downcast. Before he could think of anything to say the man stepped into view and drew a chair near his bed. Paul could tell nothing by the expression on his face. The man stared at him for several seconds then brushed his right hand down over his bushy moustache, a thoughtful look settling on his face. "You already know we know who you are, Paul. More importantly, *what* you are *dong ma*?"

Not knowing the best reaction to give Paul stayed silent and waited. The man's teeth flashed in a smile that looked more predatory than friendly. He leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees. His large heavy face only a foot from his own.

"A lot of very interesting people are looking for you."

"They are?"

The man raised equally bushy eyebrows. His brown hair so dark it was almost black even though he was not a young man. Stout in build but not fat, with a short stocky frame and bright beady eyes. He was spotlessly clean, the scent of fresh soap seeming a startling detail for one who appeared to be harbouring dark designs. Or maybe Paul had misunderstood? Seen danger where there was none? "You've got the Parliament itself tied into knots looking for you. *Unofficially*, of course."

Paul frowned. What the *guai* did he mean by that? The man chuckled at his reaction.

"Oh, we are gonna have fun breakin' you if you decide not to talk. Not fun for you though but," the man shrugged but did not look apologetic "we all have our parts to play."

"What's yours?"

"Talkative little thing now aren't you?"

Paul clamped his mouth closed. Why in the nine hells had he said anything?

"You have somethin' that doesn't belong to you. If you're smart an' tell me where it is we'll finish fixin' you up an' you can be on your merry."

"And if I don't know what you're talkin' about?"

The man straighted in his chair and shook his head slowly, a look of mock sadness on his face. "You think we haven't done our gorram homework, Paul?" Not waiting for an answer the man pursed his lips and whistled.

Seconds later a woman half ran and half scurried into the cavern. There was a wild hunted look in her eyes and her clothes were ragged and torn as if she had been dragged through several hedges backwards and each one had foot long thorns. The man nodded to her and she turned her head, her eyes widening in recognition as she saw Paul. Her lips peeled back as she took short running steps up to the side of his cot then stopped a couple of feet from him. It was so abrupt she could have been tethered. "It's him. Last one standin'."

Baffled and alarmed, Paul looked from the crazy woman to the man.

"He says he doesn't know anything."

Her laugh was rusty and cruel, her eyes glinting as if to relish what was to come. "He knows. Knows them all. Had a list."

The man now turned his head to look at her. "An' the device?"

"Two halves made a whole but the first half broke."

For the first time since Paul had set eyes on him the man looked surprised. A little shocked even. "Broken?"

She nodded, put her hands together as if cradling something then drew her hands apart. "Boom!"

Paul felt fear trickle through the walls of his heart. How had she known that? Who was she? As if picking up his thoughts her head snapped round and her eyes drilled into his.

"Like to know, wouldn't you? Saved the others but not me. Trapped, tortured, left to die. Haunted by knives an' drugs an' needles in the brain. Until everythin' fell apart. But I remember." She edged closer and Paul wished he could move away. "Photographic memory. You're the last."

Her words shook him. "I didn't touch you."

She was nodding now. "You were there. All the King's Horses an' All the King's men."

Paul looked at the man but he offered no explanation, just sat watching the interplay.

"You took their toy."

His heart all but stop. She couldn't know. Could she? A triumphant look flashed in her dark eyes.

"*Ni jide*!" She spun to face the man in the chair. "Ask him where he hid it."

The man gave a tiny nod. "Where is it, Rinkman? Where did you hide the device?"

He shook his head, lips clamped shut, but Paul had not taken into account the little witch watching him like a hawk. A large grin swallowed up her face in the biggest smuggest smirk he had ever seen. "Took one half with him, hid the other. The half he had pirates stole on'y they switched it on."

"I know about that half." The man snapped impatiently.

"Patience." The woman said, enjoying her moment of fame. "He was going to hide it then realised that if anythin' happened to him it would be found. Needed someone not connected but curious enough to keep it safe."

"A name, Natalie. I need a name." The man growled softly.

Her look was measured as if savouring the moment. Her eyes flicked from Paul's face to the man in the chair. "Not his real name but the on'y one that matters. Calls himself Badger."

A look of pleasure swept over the man's face. Rising from his chair he beamed at the woman. "You did well, Natalie." He then turned to Paul. "Seems we don't need you any more."

Natalie stepped in front of the bed and bared her teeth. "MINE now!"

For a long moment the two stared at each other then the man relaxed, his smile generous as he waved a hand in Paul's direction. "*Dang ran*. A deal is a deal an' you held up your part. He's all yours."

Paul opened his mouth to protest but the man was already walking briskly out of the cavern. Natalie watched him closely once they were alone. "You don't remember me."

It wasn't a question and Paul was confused by the note of disappointment in her voice. "*Bu qu*."

Wide eyed he watched her pull a wicked looking knife out of a sheath strapped halfway up her right leg. "Saw you."

"Look - Natalie, is it? - I was there, with others, but we didn't run the facility. We went in to get everyone out, *ni dongle ma*?"

She blinked then tilted her head to one side and studied him a moment. "I remember all the faces." She said softly.

"*Duibuqi*, we couldn't save them all. Believe me, we tried."

Natalie fingered the blade of her knife. "You're the last."

Paul felt a deadly chill go through him. He now was alone with the mad woman. The mute nurses were nowhere in sight and he was the only patient. Although he was dreading the answer he had to ask. "What did you do?"

Her lips peeled back and Paul noticed her teeth were tinged in red. "Splick, splat, they all fell down."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*mei mei* = little sister *weishenme bu* = why not? *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *ni zhide shi shenme* = what do you mean? *bao bei* = precious/treasure *weishenme* = why? *baichi* = idiot *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *wei* = hey! *goushi* = crap/dog shit *shenme* = what *diyu* = hell *shenjingbing* = crazy *shuohuangzhe* = liar *dong ma* = understand? *qu* = yes (lit. go) *guai* = devil/ghost *ni jide* = you remember *dang ran* = of course *ni dongle ma* = do you understand? *duibuqi* = sorry


Monday, November 17, 2008 5:13 PM


Wow, that Natalie is a VERY scary one indeed! Beautifully crafted, as always. Sorry I was late getting to this one!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008 1:32 AM


Thanks for the welcome comment slumming, have to admit I was getting a bit depressed that despite people reading the story no one had left a single comment. And yes, Natalia is very scary. It is not just how violent she is but the fact that there is no demarcation in her mind between right and wrong, good and bad, friend and foe. - Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Tuesday, December 16, 2008 4:35 PM


That could have been River...

Hi, just been reading your stories, remembered seeing you around. I like the twistiness in this one! Characters gone from one end of the spectrum to another, often in unexpected ways, but all of them have been in character the entire time.

And wow, nice tie-together there, although I still don't know why people are after the House Mistress, or what the deal is with that faked execution capture.


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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.