The DUPLICITY Series: 38. "The Lull Before The Storm"
Friday, December 5, 2008

"Margueritte Santana comes across an unexpected obstacle. River has a disturbing episode. Simon finds himself inundated with calls for his expertise while the Captain comes face to face with a figure from his past."


TITLE: "THE LULL BEFORE THE STORM" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Zoe/Wash. Kaylee/Simon. Mal/Inara. RATING: G. STATUS: Sequel to "FAITH, HOPE AND GREED". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at

SUMMARY: "Margueritte Santana comes across an unexpected obstacle. River has a disturbing episode. Simon finds himself inundated with calls for his expertise while the Captain comes face to face with a figure from his past." 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

* * * * *

Annalise wasn't sure what to think. When they had last seen Margueritte Santana there had been conflicting opinions about whether or not they were sorry to see her go. The consensus had finally fallen on the overall level of relief once she had gone. Odd, as to her mind the Companion had never done anything actually wrong. She just seemed to always be on the edge of disturbing things. It left some of the girls unsettled and wary while the younger ones were more welcoming, probably keen to catch up on any gossip.

"Why so silent, Anna?"

Annalise hated the shortening of her name, mainly because it implied a familiarity that was not welcome yet she hid her reaction. "Why are you here, Margueritte?"

Margueritte opened her mouth to answer but Annalise hadn't finished speaking.

"The *real* reason, not the *goushi* you fed the others."

Eyes narrowing the Companion was glad they were having this conversation in the study, though it felt wrong to be here without the presence of the House Mistress. It was, however, the one room that was sound-proof from the hallway, "What makes you think there *is* another reason?"

"I know you. Nothing is ever straight forward or as it seems where you are concerned."

For a moment Margueritte stared at her unblinking then allowed a slow smile to fleetingly touch her lips. Annalise knew that even that casual reaction was calculated. "I wanted to speak to the House Mistress."


"That is between myself and Mistress Barbette."

"She is not here at the moment."

"Then I will wait. A little tea would not go amiss."

Something inside Annalise hardened, she could not have said why just that a sense of wrongness was growing. Stiffening slightly she sat a little straighter. "I have arranged for transport to pick you up and take you to the Sihon Commerce Hotel. It is by far the best and you will be given the premier suite of rooms - at our expense."

"*Shemne*?" Only her training stopped Margueritte from stuttering in shock. " I thought I would be staying here?"

Annalise. Kind, quiet, biddable Annalise smiled. The professional polish and poise revealing that while she rarely raised her head above the parapet wall she was no pushover. "I am sure the last thing you would want Margueritte would be to disrupt this House?"

"*Dang ran* but..."

Rising, Annalise did not let her say anything more. "I believe your transport has arrived."

Margueritte blinked at the shorter woman. Realising that whatever argument she came up with it would be countered in the most polite and reasonable terms and in a way that she would be unable to refuse. While Annalise was not in line to assume the post of House Mistress should anything happen to the current one her control of the situation was smooth and impressive not least because it was unexpected.

"We will, of course, contact you as soon as the House Mistress is in a position to talk to you."

She found herself in the hallway and walking towards the front door without realising she had moved. Some of the girls were waiting, eyes bright with curiosity and expectation but tongues momentarily stilled. Margueritte wondered what the older Companions had said to them and why she now felt like an Outsider not simply from this House but the Guild itself. Was that where this cultured cold shoulder treatment was coming from or had something happened? A nasty little thought surfaced just as the girls began lining up to say their quick goodbyes and wish her well. *Shangdi*. Had Inara said something? Trying not to let her unease show, Margueritte thanked Annalise for seeing her and hoped that she would be hearing from the House Mother soon. From every window of House Madrassa, faces peered. Most were not unfriendly just curious and now with her move to an Hotel, albeit the most prestigious one on Sihnon, there was open intrigue and wariness sharpening what had been harmless curiosity. Margueritte felt anger burning in her veins but was powerless to do anything about it. She had no position here and therefore no power. And quiet, diminutive Annalise had effortlessly outflanked her efforts to acquire it.

* * * * *

Burnt Cross was a bleak desolate place at first sight. While the planet appeared to be deserted Simon was sure that whoever hid on this partly mountainous and partly barren rock would have watched Serenity's shuttle land and drop them off. Simon had needed more reasurrance from Shepherd Book that they were doing the right thing before finally lugging the large case of medical supplies off the shuttle. Jayne watched the Shepherd half help and half hover by the Captain until sure he was not going to fall over.

"You're welcome to come up with us." Said Mal. "Just for a quick how-d'you-do."

Shepherd Book shook his head, a look of regret in his eyes. "It would be better for you to make your own way there. You have the transmitter?"

The Captain nodded, not willing to tug it out of his pocket to show the Preacher in case he lost his balance. Even with the shiny new crutches the whole walking and not falling over thing was still new and that was just on the flat. How he would get up the side of a gorram mountain he didn't know. To his mind this was looking more and more like a bad idea but they were committed now and like it or not he didn't want to be a liability to his crew and that is what he would have been had he stayed. At least. That's what River had said. While it hurt to even think that, the fact that Zoe had agreed had been the clincher.

Simon sat on his box of supplies while the dust from the shuttle settled as it took off. The Captain took a couple of deep breaths and a slow glance around, trying not to make any quick move that could be misinterpreted from afar. He saw no movement, no sign that anyone else was there let alone watching them but that pricking of the senses and the feeling of being watched told him otherwise. "So, how're we gonna do this?"

The doctor looked up at him. "Honestly? *Wo bu zhidao*."

A look of irritation settled on the Captain's face. "Not instillin' confidence here, Simon."

Simon got to his feet. "*Duibuqi*, I didn't realise you needed me to lie to you, Captain."


He got a stare back.

"Best not Cap'n me, not on this rock."

"Oh, right, *dang ran*."

When it became obvious that Simon wouldn't move until pushed the Captain rocked forward carefully and got his hips in motion swinging first one leg then the other towards the foot of the rocky range. Startled, Simon put his hands on his hips. "What do you think you're doing?"

"Appreciate this ain't exactly skippin' along but it's the nearest thing to walkin' I got."

"Captain... I mean Mal, I'm not sure how well you're going to be able to climb."

"That's the point, doc. On'y one way to find out is to do it an' I'd rather make the attempt while there's still daylight, *dong ma*?"

Simon nodded and walked over to the Captain when he began to rock forward again. "*Deng*, I have given this some thought no matter what you may think."

"Yeah, well stoppin' an' startin' ain't easy, Simon." Mal huffed. "Like to lose my rythym."

Instead of steering the Captain back to the medical box, Simon stepped back and pulled the box closer quickly unclipping the side catches and flicking up the lid. Mal wished he could sit down, just for a moment, but knew if he did he wouldn't want to get up again. Leaning on his crutches he resisted the urge to swear. He hated feeling so helpless as well as tired all the rutting time. Then he caught a glint of something silvery and metallic before Simon snapped the lid shut. "What the *diyu* is that?"

Simon grinned. That alone made Mal wary. "This is going to help you keep your footing as we climb."

The Captain frowned. "What, that little thing?"

"Sit, Mal."

The Captain glanced from the device in Simon's hand to the box and back again. "You want me up that gorram mountain or sittin' at the bottom of it? Make up your mind."

"For now just sit. I need to fix these to the soles of your boots and clip the ends to the bottom of the braces. It will keep them in place and stop them shifting when you're walking. Also, I don't want them to rub. You're going to be sore enough by the time we finish."


With a little manouevring Simon got the Captain seated then carefully turned the metal grips over so Mal could see what he meant. Startled by the doctor's foresight the Captain suddenly grinned. "Mayhap we really will climb that gorram mountain."

"Not without a lot more help."

If the Captain hadn't been sitting he would have lost his balance, as it was he and Simon looked up and froze, alarmed to find themselves surrounded with several guns pointing in their direction.

* * * * *

Zoe wasn't happy and that meant that Wash wasn't happy either, though his mood was neither as dark nor as murderous as his wife's. She did not say anything but if the look in her eyes could kill Mistress Barbette would already be a smouldering pile of ash right next to that useless pile of *goushi buru* she called a son. Wash felt a sick feeling stir in the pit of his stomach. Why couldn't anything ever go smooth?

"You said your contact was Alliance, didn't say anything about it being a Minister."

The House Mother just looked at Zoe and Wash wondered whether she had any intention of answering. The sound of heavy footfalls announced Jayne and Shepherd Book joining them after shuttle two had docked with Serenity. The Shepherd immediately picked up on the atmosphere. Behind him Inara, Kaylee and River came in and glanced from face to face. Inara didn't like the tension. "*Shenme shi*?"

Zoe's response was frosty, though she was not looking at Inara when she answered. "Suppose you ask your 'friend'."

The Companion took a few steps further into the common room and looked intently at the House Mistress. "What's going on?"

"*Yiwusuoyou*. Just a misunderstanding."

"Seems she 'forgot' to tell anyone that this Alliance contact of hers is actually a Minister of Parliament."

The look on Inara's face showed shock then something harder, less forgiving. Zoe got a certain amount of satisfaction from seeing that Inara was as unimpressed as she was. "You said this would be safe."

"Inara, everyone is over reacting."

"I ain't over reactin'," said Jayne pushing forward "always said they was trouble. Should've ditched her an' Badger not the Cap an' doc. Least they was crew."

"Who is the contact?"

The House Mistress stared at Inara as if she should know better than to ask but Inara was not backing down. She might have momentarily lost her senses and turned her back on ship and crew but she had no intention of doing it again. Or letting anyone else lead them down some unsavoury path to a point of no return. Badger had already turned on the Captain, who was to say that his mother was not cut from the same back stabbing cloth?

"Wash? Need you to stop Serenity." Said Zoe. "Not goin' anywhere 'til we get some answers."

The pilot hurried to do just that. Mistress Barbette's eyes narrowed but Zoe didn't care. Badger wished he could cut and run but without any transport it would be a mighty short journey with a very painful end. Every face he looked at was either annoyed, angry or both except... He froze, finding the crazy girl staring straight back at him. Big round eyes not blinking, ratty hair hanging down uncombed and probably unwashed too. His mother chose that moment to speak up.

"Very well. His name is Arthur Redman Carter. We have met many times over the years and... he owes me a favour or two."

Inara blinked. A favour? To a Companion? The House Mother knew what she was thinking though the others would not know how unusual or unprecedented such a thing was.

"How do we know he won't turn on us?" Asked Zoe.

"Because I won't let him."

The hard edge to the House Mother's voice took them by surprise. She had a glint in her eye that was all steel. Kaylee wasn't sure what was going on or why everyone seemed so mad. Weren't they all supposed to be on the same side? For a minute or two no one spoke or moved then Zoe glanced around the others and moved towards the table.

"Before we go any further I wanna know all about this Minister an' just what it is he does in Parliament an' why the good gorram we should trust him."

The House Mother closed the distance between herself and Serenity's First Mate. "I'm not asking you to trust him. In fact, it would be better if you didn't."

Zoe's eyes narrowed dangerously. "*Shenme*? What game're you playin'?"

"The one that gets us what we want without getting anyone killed."

* * * * *

There was a moment when everything seemed too surreal. The Captain wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. The stunned look of horror on Simon's face, the ring of armed men, the very notion that anyone could think him a danger when standing upright for longer than a few minutes was an olympic event worthy of legend at least. Honest. There should be songs sung about it. Lucky he was sitting then, one specially designed crampon fitted to the bottom of his right boot, the other cutting mean little circles into Simon's palm where he was gripping it so tight.

"Who are you an' what're ya doin' lookin' for Burnt Cross?"

It wasn't what the man said but the way he said it that impinged on Simon's consciousness. Enough to prick the bubble of tension holding him a prisoner to reason. Now the initial panic burst, his agile mind homing in on the incongruity of the question. "Looking for Burnt Cross?"

A thin whip-like body stepped through the ring of armed men. Tall and wiry with a long but oddly youthful looking face with a body a generation older and eyes straight out of the Old Testament of the Bible from Earth-That-Was. Not that he was a Preacher but still. Man with a look like that in his eyes gave a body pause, even a Core bred icon of culture like Simon. "You were talkin' of goin' up the mountain."

That voice. Clipped, curt, not out of intentional rudeness but as if words were precious commodities and he had to conserve them. Short, sharp, to the point. No detours even in syntax. The Captain stiffened, every cell in his body alert, senses straining to confirm or discard what his gut was telling him. "Curtis? That you?"

The man snapped his attention away from the doctor and stared down at Mal. Those sharp eyes pinning the Captain to a stunned silence. His voice was gravel when he spoke, a slow cautious sifting of words. Each one a trap to catch the slightest error. "Malcolm Reynolds?"

The Captain made no attempt to stand. "That'd be me. Never thought to see hide nor hair of your skinny ass after the Valley."

Curtis Morgan stared at the Captain, his eyes taking in every feature and noting more than Mal would have liked but he held his tongue. Curtis obviously held sway with these people. *Diyu*, probably led them. It seemed to take forever before the tension finally broke. Not with a word or a sign but as if by some unspoken common consent. Curtis holstered his gun and hunched down in front of the Captain. "What the *guai* happened to you?"

"Was transportin' cargo that was takin' a mite longer than my client wanted. Sent his bully boys to teach me a lesson."

Bushy eyebrows rose in surprise. "He still alive?"

The Captain laughed then tried to hide a wince as the movement set up a sharp spike of pain in his left knee. Had to learn to keep the legs straight more until the healing was more advanced. "For now."

A world of questions stared back at the Captain but Curtis didn't ask him to explain. Mal knew he would be wanting more details later. That was, *if* there was a later.

"You figurin' on endin' what that *tamade hundan* begun?" He asked softly.

The stony expression on Curtis Morgan's face shifted, a mix of emotions playing over that normally unreadable face. Immediately Mal knew what that meant. His friend was telling him that not everyone on Burnt Rock could be trusted. He gave the tiniest of nods: message received and understood. Curtis turned to Simon. "How bad is it?"

"Both knee caps were shot out."

The look in Curtis's eyes hardened and Simon wasn't sure whether he had made matters worse. "Not to call you a *shuohuangzhe* but a man wouldn't be able to stand let alone walk, brace or no brace, if his kneecaps were gone."

It was the longest sentence Mal had ever heard the man speak. Kind of impressive come to think on it. Simon was nodding slowly back. "*Dui*, which is why we had to rebuild bone mass and sinew and help the body repair itself. It's going to be a long time before he will be able to walk unaided."

Curtis looked at Mal. "An' you let the *zang goushi buru* live?"

The Captain gave a little shrug. "Was too busy bleedin' out an' dyin'."

He took that in before asking his next question. The one that counted. "Okay Mal, how'd'ya know about Burnt Cross?"

"Didn't." Even Simon could feel the spike of tension returning until the Captain explained. "Friend of ours said it was a 'safe place'. I'm gonna be outta the rough an' tumble for quite a while, least 'til I get my legs back to workin'. Needed a place to do that without Alliance interferin', *dong ma*?"

"An' who's he?"

"Him? That's Simon, my doc."

Again the bushy brows rose, almost disappearing into a greying but full head of scruffy hair. "You got your own doctor now?"

Mal gave him a little smug smile, but the eyes were carrying on a different conversation. One which excluded both Curtis's men and the subject of their discourse. Simon didn't know how he knew except that he had come to read the Captain. Not always and not nearly as well as he would have liked but enough for it to help when it mattered. "None better."

The men, who had been silent until now, were beginning to get edgy. Wanting to be on the move. One of them was now eying Simon with an eagerness barely suppressed. "You really a doc?"

Simon nodded. "Yes, I am."

"Don't he talk all nice n' fancy?" Said another man.

"It's called bein' polite." Curtis said. He tilted his head a little as he looked at Mal. "Now, who told ya about this place? An' don't think for a minute to lie to me."

"Ain't gotta lie. He's a friend of mine, travellin' companion you could say. A Preacher."

"This paragon of virtue got a name?"

"Book, Shepherd Book."

Something sparked deep but quick in Curtis's eye but Mal knew approval when he saw it and felt something in him relax. "I got your word ya won't make trouble?"

The Captain wanted to laugh. Really. There could even be tears. "*Bu qu*, no trouble. Not that I ain't dreamin' of fightin' an' mayham."

Curtis gave a nod and that sealed the deal. The men stepping forward to introduce themselves and shake the hand of a man whose name had become a rallying cry to many of them towards the end of the War. A stocky whiskered man took the time to speak to Simon, his portly body more a robust and hefty frame than tub of lard. Hardly an ounce of that bulk was fat. Simon was staring at a lifetime of hard worked muscle even if the man was now in his fifties. "So you're some fancy doc?" Simon nodded but didn't say anything. The man watched him a moment before sticking out his hand. "Name's Jed. Jed Hutchins. We got a pile of poorly folk, Simon. You set 'em up an' help put their bodies to rights an' we'll be friends for life, *dong ma*?"

"And if some don't make it?" He asked cautiously.

The smile on Jed's face cooled a mite. "Well now, providin' it weren't helped along by a surgeon's scalpel wouldn't be nothin' to do but release him back to the Lord."

Simon blinked. The Lord? The polite smile spread into a slow warmth across the man's face as he watched the dime drop. "You're, you're..."

The smile was merry now. "Was, Simon. Was. Followed the faith my whole life through, that was where I met Der... Book. Shared many a fine meal between masses. Him, me an' the Good Lord."

The snap of Curtis Morgan's voice broke the moment into a bustle of activity. Two of Curtis's men lifting the Captain between them to carry him up the mountain side to their hideout halfway up. Simon could hear the Captain trying to protest and the quiet dry humour spilling from Curtis's lips as he admonished Mal not to be more than the burden he was at birth. Some of the men chuckled as they grabbed the crutches, others fell into point duty. Jed Hutchins waved towards the medical supply box. "Want a hand with that, son?"

It was on the tip of Simon's tongue to say he wasn't his son but then he saw the little twinkle in Jed's eye and realised the man was expecting just such a reaction. Instead he nodded and bent to pick up one end of it. *Duibuqi*."

Jed raised his end and smirked. "Make the most of this trudge up the mountain, son. By the time we get to the cave you'll forget what sleep an' takin' your ease was like."

A couple of the men had fallen back as Simon and Jed carried the box between them, the two men taking up the rear to keep a sharp lookout and watching their backs. Oddly enough it had been a long time since Simon Tam had ever felt so safe.

* * * * *

The piercing scream was as terrifying as it was unexpected. Kaylee was in the engine room and dropped her wrench, feet pounding a familiar tattoo at the sound of her friend's voice. As she ran she could hear shouting and wondered what the good gorram had happened.

Zoe and Jayne skidded to a halt from opposite ends of the ship with their guns in hand. Inara, being closer to River when it happened was now crouching beside the distraught girl trying to calm her down. Kaylee felt her heart sink. River had been doing so well, trust this to happen when they didn't have Simon to help. Sure, he had left some smoothers ready in the infirmary should they be needed but none of them had expected it to happen so soon. A warm hand on her shoulder broke her concentration for a moment.

"*Fang xin*. We'll look after her."

Kaylee wanted to take the Shepherd's comfort but knew the only one who really helped River was Simon and sometimes the Captain. With both of them gone she wasn't sure they could be much help.

Inara took off her shawl and wrapped it around River's shoulders, the thin dress she liked to wear gave no warmth and with her bare feet on the metal catwalk the girl had to be frozen. Haunted eyes looked from face to well known face then frantically did the circuit again. A frown cutting through the panic. Zoe caught on and did a head count. Everyone was there. That is, everyone except Badger. As Zoe turned to look at River the girl raised her head, suddenly calm and fully cognisant. Whatever madness had pushed her over the edge ruthlessly back in check for this one moment of lucidity. "We weren't watching."

"Who wasn't watching, child?" Asked Mistress Barbette.

River ignored her, her focus on Zoe. The sorry in her eyes sending little trickles of apprehension down the First Mate's back. "Where is he?"


Jayne's face twisted into an ugly scowl. "I'll find him!"

She was shaking her head. Sad now. "Won't do any good."

Inara gently brushed River's hair back from her face, her voice soothing and calm. "Why is that?"

"He took it. Couldn't resist. Greed overcame common sense."

Immediately they all knew what she was talking about. The control device. Zoe had hidden it but it seemed that Badger must have found the hiding place. "*Wode ma*! We'll get it back..."

"Won't do any good."

They were all staring at River now. Wash edged closer to his wife and clasped her hand. River's expression said it all even before the meaning of her words hit home.

"Had to meddle. Thought he was better than."

"River," said Book, his voice quiet and gentle to hide how much her words disturbed him "what did Badger do?"

"He switched it on."

Looks of horror came over their faces, then everyone began talking at once. River ducked her head down and put her hands over her ears trying to block out all the anger and emotion flooding her over sensitised brain. It hurt but not half as much as it was going to. She didn't tell them yet because she didn't have the words. One disaster at a time. That was all they could cope with.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*goushi* = crap/dog shit *weishenme* = why *shenme* = what *diyu* = hell *dang ran* = of course *Shangdi* = God *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *duibuqi* = sorry *dong ma* = understand? *deng* = wait *guai* = devil/ghost *goushi buru* = lowest of the low (lit. lower than dogshit) *shuohuangzhe* = liar *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *yiwusuoyou* = nothing *dui* = correct *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *zang* = dirty *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *wode ma* = mother of God


Friday, December 5, 2008 6:11 AM


Lots of excitement here - glad Mal and Simon ran into friends. Badger is as Badger does, of course he had to meddle.

Friday, December 5, 2008 11:36 AM


You never disappoint. I am liking the fact you have Mal and Simon together through part of this. Always thought they would be an intersting pair if left to themselves. Nicely done as always.!!!

Sunday, December 7, 2008 10:48 PM


>The Captain wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. The stunned look of horror on Simon's face, the ring of armed men, the very notion that anyone could think him a danger when standing upright for longer than a few minutes was an olympic event worthy of legend at least. Honest. There should be songs sung about it.

I love this! And it is so perfectly in Mal's voice. Burnt Cross should be an interesting place, and I don't see Simon getting much rest there. Intriguing that Curtis warned Mal his people weren't necessarily to be trusted. But then again, neither is Badger, the little sha gua chun zi ...

Sunday, December 21, 2008 6:05 PM


Oh, Badger, Badger, will he ever learn? *sigh*


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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.