BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

AMDOBELL

The DUPLICITY Series: 41. "The Other Shoe"
Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"Serenity and her crew find themselves faced with a quandry. Simon finds out why the Captain is so anxious to leave Burnt Cross. Paul and Natalie come to an understanding."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1737    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "THE OTHER SHOE" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Zoe/Wash. Kaylee/Simon. Mal/Inara. RATING: G. STATUS: Sequel to "INSIDIOUS". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: AlisonMDobell@aol.com WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at Fireflyfans.net

SUMMARY: "Serenity and her crew find themselves faced with a quandry. Simon finds out just why the Captain is so anxious to leave Burnt Cross. Paul and Natalie come to an understanding." 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.

"THE OTHER SHOE"

"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

The boy was unremarkable in so many ways. The long lanky limbs, all awkward elbows and knees, the blind growth of puberty now governed by a mind built virtually synapse by synapse like some obscene mechano set. Yet he looked so normal. Quiet and biddable. The finished product as it *should* have been only the Operative was used to looking beneath the surface. Listening for the sounds that were just short of being completely in tune. The little mannerisms and actions that to a trained eye like his spoke volumes. And still he did not know what was wrong or even if anything really was. Yet the boy, as seemingly innocent of all but the most foul knowledge, set some deep instinct ticking inside him.

At that moment the boy, Jordan Parker, turned his head and stared straight at the Operative. Unlike regular folk the man did not flinch or look away, not even a trace of discomfort marring his features. The Operative didn't question him because there was no point. Besides, if the boy was as good as his handlers at Blue Sun had claimed he could read what he was thinking anyway, all but the very deepest and darkest thoughts and those were buried where not even the most gifted of Blue Sun's technicians could find it. He was partly their creation, partly the product of Alliance paranoia, but the boy was something else. A creation so totally under their control that it should have been scary. Either that or the most comforting thing he had yet been in contact with. The boy was neither and *that* was the tiny little part of the symphony that struck a dischordant note in his mind. Fast as he was, as able to shield the part of his thoughts he wanted to, he was not as fast as the boy.

Before them sat their prey. The blocky flying brick that was a Firefly was almost within touching distance, the ship and crew only now becoming aware that another vessel had drawn right up to them. They would be alarmed no doubt. Running around trying to come up with a plan. Something doomed to a failure so spectacular that all their other petty misdemeanours would amount to nothing. They came from nothing and when he had plucked from their hands the trinket they had stolen they would be even less than nothing. First their lives would be extinguished then they would be completely destroyed. Simple death would not be for them. No. Their bodies would be unmade. Bones crushed, arteries disintegrated and blood exsanguinated then left to drift like finely powdered rust until even that was gone. Nothing left to carry even the echo of their DNA.

* * * * *

Simon wasn't sure how to take the Captain's words. Even though the man had then spoken of being in pain and his training had taken over, part of the doctor's agile mind still lingered on what Mal had said first. They weren't safe. The alarm bells that should have been ringing were silent, muffled by the need to work it through in complete and utter silence without any distractions. So he checked the Captain over, adminstered enough pain relief to bring him ease without making the man so woozy that he got even crankier. Malcolm Reynolds could be difficult to deal with on a good day but that was always tempered by the man's dark humour and random flashes of humanity. The latter interspersed so hap-hazzardly that Simon wondered whether it was some throwback to a time when his family tree was populated with normal, caring people. The Captain did care of course, it was just a complicated maze sifting through all the *goushi* to find it. And sometimes, the man just came right out and said or did the one thing that told him without question that he was seeing the real man. Now, though, Simon knew the barriers were back up. The bland *everything is just shiny* face was back in place but the eyes. You could not look a man in the eyes without a glimmer of his essence shining through. No wonder they were called the windows to the soul.

"Like what you see?"

Simon blinked and unwound the pressure cuff. "You're blood pressure's high."

"Not what I asked."

"But it was what I was doing."

The Captain sighed softly, suddenly weary. Simon's eyes narrowed. "Would you care to explain that last comment?"

"*Mei shi* or rather it does but this ain't the place."

Simon had picked up the trick of using his peripheral vision without turning his head. Making sure no one else was close enough to overhear them and making sure to continue a more thorough examination of the Captain than he needed to. To the casual observer he was simply being a good doctor, they didn't have to know that the words he spoke had nothing at all to do with medicine. "We don't get to pick and choose, Mal."

For a moment the Captain just looked at him, *really* looked, then something shifted. "*Duibuqi*, just gettin' a mite jumpy is all."

He blinked. If the Captain was worried enough to be admitting it then things were worse than he thought. Simon carefully removed the callipers and watched a look close to bliss wash over Mal's face. "You said, you know."

"Simon, we got a conundrum to solve. Need a place safer than this, *dong ma*? Just don't think we're gonna find it on this rock. An' if we did? You can bet your shiny *pigu* those we don't want to mix with know about it already."

Simon gently stretched the right leg causing the Captain to lean back, close his eyes and groan. Carefully he removed the dressing, his sensitive fingers prodding the soft healing tissue and producing a painful hitch in the Captain's breathing. Without looking up from what he was doing Simon's touch became lighter but no less efficient. "You need therapy."

A rusty little chuckle surprised the doctor into looking up. Oddly relieved to see a wry smile tugging at the Captain's lips. "Ain't got no use for head shrinks, Simon."

"I didn't mean that kind of therapy. We need to get you up and walking for real and that means using the new leg muscles without rupturing the reattached blood vessels and healing tissue."

"Ain't afraid of pain."

Something in Simon's face gave him pause. As if that thought hurt the doctor more than him. How *shenjingbing* was that? Mayhap he needed more medication not less.

"It's going to be a long, slow process Mal."

The Captain blinked back. Huh. Did the boy think he didn't know that? Then he saw something in Simon's face that made him realise this was Simon's idea of *small talk*. Funny how it didn't seem any different from the real thing but then this was Simon. If the boy ever truly relaxed he would probably be comatose. Or too close to dead for it to make a difference.

"So."

Mal shook his wandering thoughts back into the Here and Now. "You gonna finish that sentence?"

"It was a word, Mal." The Captain raised a hand and Simon was so surprised he stopped talking. Amused the Captain filed away that little snippet of information. "Ain't safe in here an' it ain't safe out there. We need to find a niche, make a place for ourselves that don't identify us as enemy or such-like."

"These people are hiding. Why would they have any interest in us?"

"Self-preservation. Paranoia." The Captain paused a beat. "Money."

Simon blinked. Money. A frission of fear made him feel suddenly cold inside. "You think someone is going to betray us?"

The look the Captain shot him made Simon lower his voice even more than the current whisper. "No one's watching us, Mal."

"Don't need to look to listen, *dong ma*? How'd you ever live this long without any instinct for self preservation?"

Annoyed with himself Simon moved on to the next leg, his hands a little rougher than he intended. The Captain hissed, Simon and his hipocratic oath ignored him. "Astonishingly enough I didn't need to carry a gun in MedAcad."

The Captain leaned right back, letting the rough heather filled sack that was his bed take the full weight of him. Sitting up had been tiring, lying back and raising his head more so. "*Bu qu*, just needed that sarcasm an' attitude. Must'a been pretty gorram impregnable."

Simon stared at the Captain. The man looked worn out, lines of pain etched into his face that hadn't been there when they were back on Serenity. His hands paused as he finished redressing the knee. Both legs were healing well and soon the real fun would begin. If Mal thought he was tired now it would be as nothing compared to what Simon would be putting him through to get the fitness and strength back into that battered body so that Captain and crew could be whole and shiny again. For what he knew beyond any doubt was that the crew needed to have their Captain back not only in one piece but fully functioning. They were like separate parts to one cohesive whole. None working half so well apart as they did together. And where once Simon had seen the differences between each and every one of them as fault lines, flaws in the loyalty that bound them to one another, now he saw how wrong he had been. It was in that diversity their true strength lay. Common purpose held them firm, the skills of one complimenting the lack of another.

That was when the truth hit him. Hard and unexpected but so logical he should have realised it from the beginning. They didn't need to be here at Burnt Cross hiding out like bank robbers trying to dodge a posse. They needed to be with the rest of the crew. Come what may, good or bad, they needed to face it together. Like this, parted from their friends and surrounded by strangers, they were vulnerable. Simon wanted to hit himself. Hard. This had been a mistake. A stupid, avoidable moment of madness that he should have had the sense to intuit before it was too late.

The click of a gun being cocked close to his head, sent Simon's thoughts into frantic free fall. A voice, deep and surly with menace weeping from the words like an open sore made him freeze. "An' what have we here, my pretty?"

The Captain stirred out of the pull of sleep, his eyes opening sluggishly then staring wide at what he saw. Before he could sit up a big meaty hand pressed down on his chest, the other hand clamping over his mouth. A dirty heavyset man grinned down at him through teeth so rotted they should have decayed right out of the foul mouth. As the man leaned closer the Captain almost choked on the putrid breath. "Now don't you be worryin' 'bout your *nan pengyou*. Got a buyer all lined up an' we ain't gonna forget 'bout you either. Got somethin' *shen tebie* in mind for you."

Simon wanted to say something, to make the men back off. Worried not just for himself but also for Serenity's Captain. The man was injured and in his care yet Simon didn't even carry a gun for his own protection let alone to keep his patient safe. Shepherd Book said Burnt Cross was the best place to go to ground. That the Captain could rest and recover from the surgery, slowly rebuilding his strength towards the day he would be able to walk again unaided. Yet here they were, once again having the tables turned on them only this time there would be no thrilling heroics. No last minute rescue by the rest of the crew arriving just in the nick of time. The doctor tried not to let his panic show, instinct telling him that any sign of weakness would simply add spite to the greed that drove these men. While Simon hated the leer on the face of the man now holding a gun to his head, the look on the other thug's face did not bode well for Mal. With a powerful sinking feeling in his gut, Simon realised they would probably never see Serenity or any of their friends again.

* * * * *

"What're we gonna do, *bao bei*?"

Zoe stared at the black sleek ship filling their view screen, her mind scrambling for an outcome that would not end in a messy death for all of them. "Looks like we won't be lookin' for the nearest sun after all."

Her husband blinked. "You think they're after..." He didn't say it. Couldn't form the words. Zoe nodded.

"Makes sense. Badger activated it, somethin' or someone had to answer."

"If we can't get rid of it..."

"An' we can't hide it."

Wash stared at her. She didn't even blink.

"Wash, that thing brought them here. Do you really think we can hide it on this ship?"

He shook his head, numb and defeated. His beautiful deadly wife leaned close and lowered her voice. "That doesn't mean we're just gonna hand it over."

"It doesn't?"

To Wash's consternation Zoe gave him a grim smile. "Need to talk to River."

Alarmed, Wash could not let her just go. Leave him hanging with that brooding ship staring back at him through the window. "*Deng*, what do I say when they hail us?"

"You'll think of somethin', *zhangfu*. Just have to delay them a few minutes."

Wash watched her go and felt all his hope vanish with her. What did she think River could do that the rest of them hadn't thought of? Too late now to jettison the unwelcome little package through the airlock and maybe, just maybe, the fact that the ship staring back at him hadn't opened fire was because they still had it. Well. That was good, wasn't it? Wash tried to ignore the way his palms were sweating and his heartrate was galloping through blood vessels seemingly contracting with fright. He could do this. He had to. Because the lives of everyone on Serenity were depending on him.

* * * * *

He stared at the scarred and ugly hulk passing as a transporter. Natalie had no such reservations. She gave Paul a sharp dig in the ribs and hissed in his ear. "Pay him."

It was on the tip of his tongue to say 'with what' but Natalie was surreptitiously pushing a small drawstring pouch into his other hand, the one hidden from view of the surly transport Captain. The weight of it was his answer. Trying not to show his shock that she had money, Paul counted out the coin and handed it over, careful not to let the Captain see how much was left in the little purse. The man gave a curt nod and waved at the ship.

"Best get aboard. We lift off in five."

Paul stared after the man as he walked away. Five. Five what? Days, hours, minutes? A shove from behind made him stumble forward. He shot Natalie an annoyed look. "What was that for?"

She peeled her lips back, and though she had cleaned up and not a speck of blood was left on either her or the stolen clothing, he got a flash back to how they had first met and felt his throat go tight. The grin became less feral and more humour, her mind picking his clean with all the ease of a pickpocket in a crowd of tourists. "Seconds."

"You know you can be creepy when you do that, *dui*?"

The grin morphed into a happy smile and Paul wanted to kick himself for unknowingly encouraging her but seeing that look on her face he didn't have the heart to be sorry. With the kind of life she had known this was probably the closest she had come to normality. As soon as they were aboard the ship shuddered and Paul instinctively looked for something solid to hang on to. The girl was grinning at him, not attempting to hide how much he amused her. As the cargo bay door sealed shut and the behemoth of a ship shook itself off solid ground Paul closed his eyes and could not help but hope that it would stay in one piece just long enough to bring them to their destination. When he opened them again Natalie was standing only inches away from him, an oddly calm look upon her face.

"Sometimes prayers are answered."

The sudden sanity staring back at him shook Paul. Before he could think of a response the madness crowded back into the girl's eyes and he resisted the urge to shudder. *No, no, no, please God, don't let her lose control now*.

Natalie closed the last couple of inches, her breath hot on his face. Paul did not dare to blink. "I'm *shenjingbing* not stupid."

And really. Paul had no answer to that.

* * * * *

Jayne wanted to hand Badger over with the device. Mistress Barbette wanted to talk to whoever was on the other ship, maybe reason with them. Shepherd Book knew they couldn't run and that they had nothing to bargain with but held his peace. Kaylee came running from the engine room, all worry and barely contained panic, her hopeful face looking to one of them for a sudden burst of inspiration. The unhappy looks on their faces were not encouraging. Inara thought about putting the device in a shuttle but that would simply delay the inevitable by microseconds and probably annoy their pursuers into doing something rash, painful and probably terminal.

When Zoe stepped into the commons room all eyes turned to her.

"What's goin' on?"

Zoe didn't react to the fearful tremble in Kaylee's voice. Best way to shore up the girl's confidence was not to appear to notice how badly it was crumbling. "Looks like Alliance black ops or maybe some new stealth vessel."

"Hands of Blue."

The first mate ignored everyone else and hunkered down in front of River. The girl was sitting cross legged on the deck. "River, the device. You said we needed to get rid of it."

"In my head."

Inara's face paled. "*Renci de Fozu*!"

"River!" Zoe waited for the girl to focus again on her face. Eye to eye contact was necessary to stop River's mind from wandering.

"*Zhongyao*."

"Yes, little one, this is important. You said you could feel it creepin' inside your head. Affectin' you." River nodded. "Can you still feel it?"

River frowned slightly, her attention turning inwards. Zoe tried not to hurry her though she knew every second was precious and could not be bought back even for a King's Ransom. Rushing River might cause whatever connection she had to the device to be clouded, any hope of exerting even a glimmer of control slipping away and sealing their doom. Bad enough to be up to their necks in *shen goushi* without making matters worse. After seconds that seemed like hours River nodded.

"*Hao*. Do you think you can affect the device, River?"

The others began to argue, voices raising with all manner of reasons why interacting with the control device was a Bad Idea. Zoe looked up and glared at them and every voice of dissension stilled. Looking back into River's pale face the first mate's demeanour softened. She remembered how panicked the girl had been, her hold on sanity fragmenting before their eyes. If things were not so dire she would not be asking her to do this. River's eyes searched her own then she gave a nod. "I think so."

Shepherd Book spoke softly, not to distract either of them but wanting more information. "What are you doing?"

"Trying to find a way out that don't involve a painful messy death, Shepherd. Might wanna consider prayin'."

River did not take her eyes off Zoe. "What do you want me to do?"

* * * * *

He could not believe this was happening. Simon watched the silent faces of the people in the cavern. People he had been helping and tending only an hour or so before. Some looked shame faced others detached as if Simon and Mal's predicament was nothing to do with them. A few looked as shifty as the men now binding them. The hard tug on the rope binding his wrists behind him drew the doctor's attention back to their captors.

"If you let us go we'll pay you."

The thug threw back his head and laughed. "Ya think we're that dumb? Searched ya both before tyin' ya up. All ya got is a mouth full of smart words,"

"We don't have the money on us - naturally."

The thug's eyes narrowed. "Ain't got no use for coin I can't see an' touch, *dong ma*?"

Simon shrugged as if it made no difference to him. "Suit yourself. Just thought you would rather die rich than poor."

The man jerked Simon up on his toes and pushed his face close. "Ain't gonna die at all an' one more try at bargainin' for your life an' we start cuttin' on your friend."

"*Wo dong*."

Straightening, the thug nodded to the one who had been tying up the Captain. Simon had tried to explain that Mal was not going anywhere but no one listened. Glad that he had at least refitted the callipers before they had been captured Simon dreaded to think what was in store for them. No doubt the men he was being sold to were Alliance. That price on his head had never been recinded. But what would happen to Mal? As far as Simon knew he did not have a price on his head though how that was possible was a minor miracle in itself. He watched as the Captain was pulled to his feet, the spasm of pain on the man's face quickly brought under that tight, implacable control that Simon had once hated so much. Now he could only hope that the man's quick wits and cunning mind came up with a way to get them out of this predicament before they reached whatever destination the men had in mind. Then Simon caught the Captain's eye and realised something. Mal didn't expect to survive this turn of events. Everything in that stubborn hard-assed look, told the doctor that the man was not scheming to get himself free but to use any edge he could find to somehow save Simon.

* * * * *

"Don't need to tell you this is gonna be dangerous."

River's eyes were wide like an owl's, her pale face almost luminous or so it seemed. "*Wo zhidao*. I can do this."

Zoe was about to ask her how when River shook her head.

"No time, no more distractions."

At that moment Wash's voice came over the com. "Zoe, they're gonna board us..."

He never got a chance to finish. The ship shuddered and tilted with a loud harsh metallic clang. Jayne's face darkened with anger. "Gorramit they're gonna cut their way in!"

Zoe was already on her feet and running for the bridge. "Not if I can help it. Wash! Tell them we'll let them dock, just don't let them cut on Serenity."

As screwed as they would be if they let the purplebellies board it would be as nothing compared to letting them cut their way into the ship. If they lost Serenity they lost any chance of getting out of this. As Zoe reached the bridge the clanging stopped, a low grinding sound popping then hissing as the two vessels docked. Placing a hand on her husband's shoulder she gave a tight squeeze. "You know I love you, *bao bei*?"

He covered her hand with his. It was the only way he could stop it from shaking. "Me too, *qizi*, just wish there was a way to prevent any of this from happenin'."

Her eyes held the glitter of something but she didn't share. Instead Zoe dipped her head and dropped a soft almost chaste kiss on his lips then straightened. "Best go see what they want."

Wash snorted. As if there was any doubt what the *tamade hundan* wanted.

The crew gravitated to the cargo bay, Zoe not reacting when she saw that Jayne had dragged Badger along. Seemed only fitting that the man who had brought this doom down upon them should share it. But it was River who held her spellbound, even as the seal on the door hissed and opened. She stood, waiting patiently, the control device cupped like an offering in her hands. Zoe felt a frission of disquiet. Had she misjudged? Was this a massive mistake on top of all the other ones that had been made? River didn't glance her way, her body appearing to be relaxed as if this was just another day only it wasn't.

The sound of many booted feet hitting the deck made her stiffen, her right hand itching to pull her mare's leg. Behind her she knew Jayne was itching to start shooting, she just hoped Shepherd Book would be able to stop the mercenary from doing anything stupid. Mistress Barbette had moved to stand next to her son, Inara ignoring the look she sent her way to stand next to Kaylee, the mechanic's hand reaching for hers.

To Zoe's surprise the first person she saw was not an Alliance Commandant or any other member of the Alliance military, not even a government official, but a boy. Barely more than a child yet the youth had a bearing about him that made her rapidly reassess him. A step behind him came the Operative. A man without a name only a function. His calm but deadly presence like the pall of death over a battlefield but not as sweet. He was just a couple of inches shorter than Jayne, with a strong compact build. Dressed immaculately in dark sculpted armour across his chest she noted the handle of his katana over one shoulder where he had the weapon in a scabbard across his back. He was white not oriental but that hardly mattered. The Alliance recruited their Operatives from all nationalities and creeds, homogenising their thinking along with any qualms they might have about the ends justifying the means. After all, they were building a Better World. Just not one any of them would live in.

Behind the boy and the Operative soldiers fanned out, armed and alert, weapons pointed at Serenity's crew and passengers. River remained still, her hands still outstretched, the device not blinking, not ticking, not doing anything. It was as if girl and device were waiting. The boy flicked a glance from River to the object in her hands. If he was surprised to find himself face to face with a former subject from the Academy he gave no sign. He did not speak. The Operative played mouthpiece to the trained assassin.

"We will take the device."

No one moved. The Operative raised an eyebrow at the boy. Jordan Parker was watching River, reading her no doubt. Whatever he saw or did not see must have satisfied him. He gave a nod and the Operative clicked his fingers at a guard. The soldier stepped forward and carefully took the device. Another soldier produced a small black heavy box and raised the lid. Very cautiously the device was placed inside and the box locked. The box was handed to the Operative then the two soldiers rejoined their colleagues, taking up a wary stance with weapons at the ready. At last the boy spoke.

"You are River Tam."

She did not nod. "And you are Jordan."

The boy gave no reaction to being identified. "You are coming with us."

Kaylee wanted to rush forward and drag her friend back but Inara gently tightened her grip on her arm. Kaylee couldn't understand why no one was doing anything. They were going to take River! Put her friend back in that awful Academy and continue cutting her brain or worse! Why wasn't anyone doing anything? As Kaylee stood there, helpless and impotent against impossible odds all she could think about was how spectacularly everything was going to *diyu*. She didn't even have the comfort of Simon's arms around her or the Captain's reassuring and defiant presence. It felt as if everything she loved and believed in was being dismantled. Broken up and taken into the hands of the enemy and there was not a gorram thing she could do about it.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*goushi* = crap/dog shit *mei shi* = it doesn't matter *duibuqi* = sorry *dong ma* = understand? *pigu* = bottom *shenjingbing* = crazy *diyu* - hell *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *nan pengyou* = boyfriend *shen tebie* = very special *bao bei* = precious/treasure *deng* = wait *zhangfu* = husband *hao* = good *dui* = correct *Renci de Fozu* = merciful Buddha! *zhongyao* = important *wo dong* = I understand *wo zhidao* = I understand *qizi* = wife *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *shen goushi* = deep crap

COMMENTS

Tuesday, December 30, 2008 9:10 AM

ANGELLEMARCS


no No NO!!! They can't have River!!!

WOW!! Great suspense here and a wonderful cliffhanger ending!! I hope they realize that Mal ain't goinna be too happy they take his albatros....

Keep writin'!!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008 11:47 AM

KATESFRIEND


You always have me wondering how they are going to get out of such hopeless situations.

Thursday, January 1, 2009 1:17 AM

JANE0904


Finally Simon gets that they're a family, and families should stick together! And of course Mal would tend to sacrifice himself to get the young doctor out of trouble ... just so long as he doesn't actually have to do it!


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