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The DUPLICITY Series: 44. "A Confusion of Loyalties"
Friday, January 23, 2009

"Mistress Barbette has to face the crew with a not so happy revelation. Simon and Mal find the 'verse is even more screwed up than they thought. River and Jordan come to an understanding."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1886    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

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

SUMMARY: "Mistress Barbette has to face the crew with a not so happy revelation. Simon and Mal find the 'verse is even more screwed up than they thought. River and Jordan 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.

"A CONFUSION OF LOYALTIES"

"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Patience was not her forte when members of her crew, her family, were in danger and right now Mistress Barbette's cryptic comments were not helping. Zoe physically forced herself to take a few long deep breaths, her temper seething behind her teeth. Wash worried what would happen when she snapped but the House Mother seemed oblivious to the growing storm.

"He knows something."

The air in Zoe's lungs expelled with a force not born of nature. "*Shenme*?"

"I have known the Minister for many years." She said simply, her words as casual as if she were discussing nothing more innocuous than the weather. "He hides his thoughts well but not well enough."

Shepherd Book had purposely not involved himself in their plans, preferring to watch from the sidelines and pick up the undercurrents the rest of the crew were missing. Now he felt the shifting sands were getting too dangerous to leave to fickle fate. "Are you saying he *knows* where River is?"

The House Mistress shook her head. After the initial contact by cortex with Minister Tirrel once she had reached House Kermos on Helena, an invitation had been extended for them to meet face to face. For old time's sake. Cyan had left Inara at the companion house and taken her son with her. Why Badger was even part of the equation baffled everyone but if it got him off Serenity no one was going to complain. After that meeting she had returned briefly to Helena to return the companion vessel she had borrowed and then used the shuttle to return to Serenity. But where were Inara and Badger?

"*Bu qu* but he knows she was taken."

Jayne hissed between his teeth. "Then why ain't we takin' him apart to find out where she is?"

Wash raised his eyebrows, his expression mild but eyes sharp. "I thought you didn't like River?"

The big man gave the barest of shrugs. "She's on my crew." He mumbled.

Amused, Wash just couldn't resist a dig. "Your crew? Since when did you become Cap'n?"

"I can hurt you little man." The mercenary growled back.

"*Bi zui*!" Zoe snapped.

Wringing her hands in silent misery, Kaylee could keep her emotions under control no longer. "Where's 'Nara?"

A small profound silence fell like a guillotine. All eyes fastened on Cyan Nicole Barbette. "She is at House Kermos. She is safe."

Zoe had to ask, if only to satisfy the curiosity crawling through her gut. "An' Badger, he at House Kermos too?"

The House Mistress's lips became paper thin. "He is with the Minister."

For a moment no one spoke. Shock slowly working its' way through their stunned minds. Shepherd Book was first to recover. "Are you saying your son is a hostage?"

The House Mother barked a short bitter laugh that grated on the ears. "He is hardly a hostage."

When she did not continue, Zoe took a step closer. Her eyes narrowed to suspicious slits. "What do you mean?"

"He is with his father."

That was the last thing any of them had been expecting her to say. Kaylee looked from face to face, not sure what it meant. "If Badger's with his pa..." she faltered at the look in Mistress Barbette's eyes but steeled herself to continue "then why's 'Nara still on Helena?"

The House Mother said nothing. Book got a very bad feeling about this. Jayne wasn't sure what the *diyu* was going on but wished that Cyan had gone with her sneaky back stabbing son and not come back. He didn't care one way or another about Inara but the others did and they were crew.

Wash noticed his wife's eyes go cold and dark, a pitiless soul eating chasm that chilled his soul. There was not-happy and then there was suicidal anger. This was something beyond that. Zoe closed the last of the distance between herself and the House Mother.

"What. Did. You. Do?"

* * * * *

"You are like them and yet..." River tilted her head as she looked at him "..not like them."

"*Ni bu dong*."

"*Wo dong*. You are what I was meant to become."

A flicker of something so fast River would have missed it had she blinked died before becoming a full blown flinch. Ah. "Why did you kill them?" She asked softly.

"They wanted a better world."

Although there was no inflection River tasted the bitterness in his mind, the sourness on his tongue at the taste of the words. Maybe they were not so different after all. His eyes darkened as they met hers.

"I gave it to them."

"I was meant to be like you but I had a brother. Family. He got me out. Risked everything to save me, found me broken."

"Family?"

"*Qu*. Mother. Father. Brother."

He shook his head. "I have no one. I was made not created."

River realised what it was that was troubling Jason. "You had a mother and a father. The sperm from the father was used to fertilise your mother, create the embryo that would become you. They took you from them, told them she had miscarried but could try again."

He blinked. Wanted to ask why but knew the answer before the question had even formed in his mind.

"I was allowed to stay with my parents and brother. To have what I thought was a normal life." Her eyes took on a far away gaze, not seeing him any longer. Seeing nothing but a past that slid into place more clearly than ever before. "When I was deemed ready they called for me, but not with a true voice. With lies and temptation, knowing my weakness was the thirst for knowledge they drew me in. The academy wasn't what I thought it was going to be it was a research center, secret, hidden and full of lamentations and woe. There they broke me, layer by layer. Cut into my brain, fed me nightmares more real than anything the subconscious could construct from everyday fears."

"You don't have to tell me."

"Yes. I do."

His eyes widened a little as if he needed more light on his retinas to see her clearly. As if hers was a truth that had been hidden from him for too long. "*Weishenme*?"

River's voice was soft, gentle. Her look impossibly compassionate and tender. It cut through him as nothing else he had experienced had ever done. All emotion, all feeling exsanguinated from him from the first cry of his newly formed lungs to the young man standing before her now. A young man more powerful and deadly than any she had ever known and yet. In this moment. In this revelation. He was the one trembling. Half fearing, half aching, for her truth. Without it he was no more than a hollow man.

* * * * *

Simon was bruised, aching. They lifted him up, tilted his head so the leader of their flea infested pack could look him in the eye. "Still *piaoliang*."

The thug drew fingers caked with ingrown dirt down the side of Simon's face. He would have flinched away but was held fast. The thug looked happy at the doctor's reaction then got up and indicated for his men to drag Simon to his feet. After the first dizzy rush it wasn't so bad, he just had to breathe in shallow breaths and make no sudden moods. Maybe his ribs were cracked and not broken after all.

"Bring him!"

They went down not up. Deeper into the bowels of the smelly ship until they came to what might have been a boiler room in another life. It was dim and even filthier than the rest of the ship which Simon had not thought possible. His heart rate sped up when he noticed a bundle of rags up against the pipes, the smell of burning flesh turning to horror as the bundle moved. The motion a more eloquent expression of pain than any cry would have been. His mouth fell open, revulsion heavy and sickening in his stomach. The leader of the thugs kicked the bundle then grabbed the top of it and pulled up a head. Malcolm Reyolds was in a sorry state. His face bruised and battered so much that what Simon had first assumed to be dirt slowly registered as heavy bruising, the flesh swollen and half closing his eyes. It hurt Simon to look at him, his mind scrolling through all the things that had probably been done to the man.

"Carlson..." The Captain slurred. Despite sounding drunk and semi-coherent, Simon was relieved to hear his voice. "Might'a known you were behind this."

The man grinned and jerked his head towards one of his men who slid a wicked looking knife out of a sheath on his thigh. Simon wanted to call out, beg them not to hurt Mal any more than they already had but the thug cut through the rope lashing the Captain to the hot water pipes before he could utter a word. A hiss of pain was the only sound Mal made as his body sagged. Then Simon saw his hands. They were red and blistered, swollen and blackened in places.

"Time for you to say goodbye to your *nan pengyou*."

"Let him go, he ain't nothin' to you."

Carlson threw back his head and laughed, his men joining in until the thug stopped. Hunkering down he prodded the Captain in the chest with every word he spoke, each touch making Mal wince with pain until it was all he could do not to pass out. Wouldn't give the *tamade hundan* the satisfaction.

"That's where you're wrong, Reynolds. He's a nice fat pay day but you..." the poking got harder, more viscious "you ain't payin' your way, *dong ma*?"

Mal knew what that meant and found his eyes closing without any help from his own self. Like his body was already closing down. Expected to hear the cock of a gun any minute now but it didn't come. Not even a blow to the head to add to the litany of bruises and other injuries too numerous to mention. Got a bit monotonous after a while. He opened eyes that could only squint, wondering why everything had suddenly gone a mite quiet-like. From his angle on the floor he couldn't see Simon properly but if they had a seller for him he figured Carlson and his bully boys wouldn't have roughed him up too much. Couldn't risk that big pay day.

The voice was not one that Simon recognised. It was cultured but not overly so. The men pushed him off the loading ramp of the ship, Carlson dragging Mal to the lip as if wanting to rub it in his face the moment Simon was taken away. But the Captain was flagging, not sure he could hang on to consciousness one shiny moment longer. Carlson nodded to one of his henchman, a huge brute of a man nick-named 'the sleeper'. Mal knew what that meant and it had nothing to do with anything good. He heard Carlson stomp away from him then darkness claimed him.

Carlson straightened but made no attempt to tidy his rough clothes. Wasn't much caring whether the fancy folk buying his merchandise liked him or not. Long as the money flowed he didn't care and he had already been paid. Not in hard cash but Alliance credits. The only reason he hadn't reneged on the deal was his dislike of all things Alliance. Wouldn't deal with their credit system, wanted cashy money. So the buyers had agreed to exchange the credits for cash on the safe handover of the merchandise. One Simon Tam. Alive and unmolested.

"Got my money?" The man facing him had a lean build. Nice snazzy suit with a shirt so white it dazzled the eyes. No tie though. Figured the sun of this world was making the city guy sweat, well too rutting bad for him! Carlson watched as the man held a hand out to the woman standing half a step behind and to the right of him. The thug cast a hungry look over the unmarked face. Not a beauty but not pig-ugly either. Wasn't like you needed a pretty face to ease a man's needs and she looked healthy enough to service them all a time or two. The man's look hardened and Carlson took his eyes reluctantly off the lady. No sense ruining the deal now.

The cash box was about eight by four inches. Dull heavy metal with a lock in it. Carlson cast a greedy eye on it, itching to reach out and grab it from those lily livered hands. The man shook the box, a heavy satisfying rattle of coins had Carlson licking his lips. "Hand me back the credits and you can have the cash."

His eyes narrowed, suddenly suspicious. "It all there?"

The man raised an eyebrow. Just behind him the woman stiffened so slightly Carlson didn't notice but Simon did. Something about this whole set up seemed odd but what did he know? Contrary to what the Captain thought he really wasn't a criminal mastermind. Well. Not *all* the time.

"It is." The man gave a thin little smile. "Got a bonus in there."

Carlson's eyes glittered with greed. His men had been standing wary and ready to shoot if things didn't turn out the way they should but now they relaxed some, smiles piling on the ugly with the incongruity of it all. Faces never intended to be fair but set into years of scowling and spitting didn't turn easily to being happy. Yet greed and anticipation added a thick unwholesome lustre. Carlson took a step forward, hands reaching out. "Hand over the box."

The man didn't move. "The credits?"

Irritated, Carlson snapped at one of his men. "Bryson, give him the bag."

Bryson handed over a small heavy sack, the woman moving a little closer to Simon. The man handed Carlson the money box and began to walk away, the woman coaxing Simon to step back with them. Carlson tugged at the lid but it was shut fast. Angrily he lifted his head to glare at the buyer when the man paused and threw him the key. Simon watched, fascinated as it turned slowly over and over in the air until Carlson and his men made a grab for it. In that moment the thugs were not training their guns on the buyers. With more speed that Simon would have given them credit for the man and woman grabbed him and pulled him away from the thugs. Simon was about to ask them what the hurry was when Carlson finally got the key in the lock. As the lid opened his men crowded round. The blinding flash of the explosion errupted a split second before the sound deafened Simon's eardrums and he was thrown clear by the blast, his eyes wide with shock as coins sprayed the air and embedded their shiny selves in the thugs. Simon didn't know what explosive was used but it had a concussive effect and literally threw the men several feet, their arms windmilling uselessly in the air.

While the dust was still billowing out Simon resisted the hands trying to drag him away. "No, the Captain, he's still in there."

The man wanted to argue but then the woman met his eyes. "One who is, one who is not."

Before Simon could question what she meant, the man nodded and darted through the dust and smoke re-emerging as the air began to clear with the Captain slumped against him, obviously unconscious. Without a word Simon shrugged off the woman's hand and got on the other side of Mal. Worry for the Captain outweighing his caution concerning their unexpected saviours. It was too early to tell whether they had been freed from a fate worst than death only to find themselves in an equally dire situation. Quickly and efficiently they left the scene, wanting to be long gone before any of the thugs regained consciousness. Not relaxing or slowing down until they made it to the back of a warehouse. Place looked old and near derelict but it had something inside that brought the first genuine smile to Simon Tam's face since this whole mess had begun.

* * * * *

House Kermos, while not as grand and well patronised as House Madrassa, clung to its' wealth and privilege like a beggar to his rags. Fourteen girls lived on the premises, the House Mother a beautiful and gracious oriental lady called Sophie Ling. Inara managed to school her features to hide the anxiety running through her, not relaxing properly even after Mistress Barbette had left in one of the Guild's flyers. Sophie had food and wine brought to the private dining room she used for her more illustrious guests. Inara should have appreciated the gesture but knew it was not an attempt to make her feel more comfortable. Call it instinct, self preservation or her highly tuned Companion radar but she knew better than to ignore it.

"You are from the honourable House Madrassa."

It was not a question but Inara answered as if it was. She watched the very graceful and elegant House Mistress complete the tea ceremony with flawless precision. "*Qu*."

"I regret we cannot entertain you as richly as you deserve."

Was that a faint insult couched in false humility? "Your House is worthy in its' own right, Mother, and I am grateful for your kindness and hospitality."

Sophie Ling finished pouring the tea into ornate handleless cups and presented her tea to Inara. "What is one without the other?"

Inara took the tea and inclined her head graciously. "You have a beautiful home."

The next hour was spent in meaningless but oh so polite small talk. Inara knew the other woman was watching her with an astute eye while adhering to the rules of hospitality with exquisite charm. It made Inara's teeth ache with the need to smile and engage in the meaningless babble that passed for conversation. When at last she could excuse herself to retire to her room, she felt as if a huge oppressive weight had been lifted from her shoulders. With a sigh Inara sat at the lacquered dressing table and stared at her reflection. Even with the carefully applied make up she looked too pale. What was she doing here? While it had seemed a good idea at the time Inara had not anticipated how awkward she would feel remaining at House Kermos while Mistress Barbette left to meet with the Minister.

Inara's reasons for volunteering were not altruistic, she simply did not trust Mistress Barbette. The woman was hiding something. Inara had been surprised when the House Mother brought her son with her but managed to hold her tongue. Badger had been sullen and in a foul mood both during the shuttle ride to Helena and through the short discussion between his mother and Mistress Ling. In fact Inara could not ever remember the untrustworthy weasle of a man being so quiet and withdrawn. It troubled her. Now the two had gone, taking one of House Kermos's flyers to keep an appointment with an Alliance Minister. It made her every instinct want to scream at the wrongness of it. And yet, the House Mistress had done nothing to indicate that this was any kind of set up so why was she so on edge? Had Malcolm Reynolds' pathological distrust and hatred of all things Alliance warped her own judgement? But no. Inara had sensed the crew's dislike of this plan yet no one had been able to come up with a viable alternative. At least by being here on Helena she would be able to pass messages between Mistress Barbette and Serenity. And. If her suspicions were correct, hoped to be able to alert the others.

It never occurred to the Companion that nothing would go wrong. Or, that danger would come from any other direction. Her rooms were on the far side of House Kermos and she was unaware of the companion vessel returning late that evening or the swift conversation between the two House Mothers before Mistress Barbette took Serenity's shuttle and lifted off again. No one came to notify her and feeling inexplicably tired Inara put her distraction down to stress. Thinking only to rest her eyes a moment, she lay on the bed without changing into her night attire. Moments later a deep dreamless sleep stole over her.

* * * * *

Minister Tirrel admitted to a certain sense of curiosity but not enough to temper his reaction to Cyan's news. A son. Issue of a union so brief yet intense that he had not for a moment thought of the risk of pregnancy. Companions were trained professionals. Didn't they take measures to prevent this kind of thing? Yet blood tests had been taken and the results could not be argued with. He had been present the whole time and seen the truth for himself. Now he stared at the scruffy mess of a man sitting hunched and unhappy in the leather chair across from his desk. He barely recalled the words exchanged with Cyan before the woman had left this problem in his lap and departed. Had he not been so shaken he would have prevented her leaving and demanded she take her mistake with her. Mistake. Hers. Not his.

Howard Tirrel sucked in a breath and stared at his son. Stephen. Named after his father. He wanted to rant and rail that the pathetic creature looked nothing like his side of the family yet there were tell tale similarities which he would only admit to himself in Cyan's absence. The woman was far too perceptive at times.

"You have made a complete mess of your life, do you know that?"

Badger didn't want to look up. Hated knowing this sharp tongued and mealy mouthed man was his father. He had seen the look of horror on Tirrel's face when the blood test confirmed that he was indeed the man's son. The twist of disapproval and dislike burning a hole through him that nothing would fill. He hated this. Hated HIM. And HER. The *pofu* of a mother who had set this up. Embarrassed and exposed him to not only a man who would revile and disown him but was also powerful enough in the gorram Alliance to ensure that those hunting him down got exactly what they wanted. It was not a happy thought. Was that what she had wanted? Was that why his mother had left?

The Minister pushed himself abruptly to his feet. "Answer me, you ignorant sack of *goushi*!"

The little king-pin felt something inside himself snap. Raising his head, his eyes narrowed, his chin lifted with a beligerent air. "What was that? You talkin' high an' mighty to me?"

Anger sparked in Minister Tirrel's eyes, face reddening. "Do you have any idea how powerful I am?"

Badger stood up slowly, determined not to look like he was simply copying the other man's stance or outrage. "Might be an Alliance big-wig but that don't impress me, see? From where I'm standin' you're the one owes me an explanation, *dong ma*?"

Tirrel stared at him. For once robbed of words. How dare he? How dare this jumped up piece of excrement come into his life and expect anything but a quick and painful death both of which he would be only too happy to provide. *Diyu*, he wouldn't even charge Cyan for the privilege. Cyan. Some of the anger stalled, his mind replaying her words in more sober clarity than when he had first heard them. Must have been shock that had made him so insensible to the repercussions. Now though he was remembering, recalling every syllable, every nuance of the conversation. Finally acknowledging that she was the one person in the whole 'verse he was actually afraid of. That, and the nasty little toys that had a way of ending a man prematurely while in the midst of the most mind blowing and exquisitely tortuous orgasm. He would say this for the crafty witch, she certainly knew her business and more importantly, knew him.

The Minister sat and just stared at Badger. Watching with a kind of moribund fascination as the cocky little man seemed to regain his equilibrium, strutting around the office and looking around, peering with affected disinterest at objects of art worth more than he could make in a dozen lifetimes. After a minute or two Badger turned and walked back towards the desk. "So. What happens now?"

Tirrel leaned his elbows on the desk and tapped his fingertips together. "You do know I can have you killed, Stephen?"

"Don't call me that!"

Surprised by the outburst the Minister eyed Badger more closely. "I understand it's your name."

"Yeah, well, weren't like I was consulted."

"On the warrants I note you go by the verminous name of Badger."

Badger shrugged. Didn't see any reason to elaborate more than that. Wasn't like he owed the man anything. Besides, Badgers weren't vermin. They were smart, clever and more inventive than the animal kingdom gave them credit for. In fact, they were a lot like him.

"Do you know what those warrants say?"

Badger's eyes narrowed. "What is this, twenty bloody questions? I'm a business man, see? Ain't got time for all this *fei hua* so you got somethin' to say, spit it out."

Oddly enough the little tirade mildly amused Tirrel. He leaned back in his chair and looked at Badger, wondering what he was going to do with him. If he had him killed Cyan would find a very painful and public way of emasculating then killing him. While part of the process was enticingly tempting given his own warped and twisted predilections he didn't like the thought of the sudden stop at the end. He liked living too much and had his fingers in so many pies that the thought of dying prematurely was something he intended to avoid for as long as possible. Sadly that meant that the man before him would have to live.

"For some reason," he said with a sigh of exasperation in his voice "your mother is unreasonably attached to you."

Badger flashed a grin. Maybe this wouldn't turn out so bad after all? "Must be my winnin' personality."

"It certainly isn't your sense of hygiene."

"*Wei*! Think I'm insulted."

Tirrel's expression hardened. "As I was saying, your mother is hopelessly invested in ensuring you stay alive. I, on the other hand," he paused and allowed a feral grin to slowly spread across his face "am not."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*shenme* = what? *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *bi zui* = be quiet/shut up *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *wo dong* = I understand *diyu* = hell *qu* = yes (lit. go) *weishenme* = why? *piaoliang* = pretty/beautiful *nan pengyou* = boyfriend *dong ma* = understand? *pofu* = bitch *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *goushi* = crap/dog shit *wei* = hey! *fei hua* = garbage talk/rubbish

COMMENTS

Friday, January 23, 2009 3:30 AM

JANE0904


So, the plot thickens even more. Has River the ability to turn Jason to her side? Will Simon and Mal finally be somewhere safe? And how come Inara was so stupid as to drink or eat something subtly poisoned in some way? I'm not even going to mention Badger ... but thanks to your description I can almost smell him!

Friday, January 23, 2009 5:28 AM

ANGELLEMARCS


Ooooo...Badger just reeks of trouble. Sometimes it would be nice if Mal just shot him or Jayne, or even River, believe me, I ain't picky. As for the rest of the crew, let's get them all safe and sound soon. Your plot just keeps getting better.


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