The DUPLICITY Series: 45. "Joining the Dots"
Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"New friends and old find themselves drawn together. Badger finds himself dancing on a knife edge and enjoying the view. Blue Sun and the Alliance try to discover who has upset their plans."


TITLE: "JOINING THE DOTS" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Zoe/Wash. Kaylee/Simon. Mal/Inara. RATING: G. STATUS: Sequel to "A CONFUSION OF LOYALTIES". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at

SUMMARY: "New friends and old find themselves drawn together. Badger finds himself dancing on a knife edge but enjoying the view. Blue Sun and the Alliance try to discover who has upset their plans." 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

* * * * *

If the Captain had not been in so much pain he would have laughed, as it was anything that energetic would likely make him pass out. Again. The boy's face was a picture, so stunned that a fleet of Alliance dropships could land and he wouldn't gorram notice. The man at Mal's elbow gently eased him to the ground. The woman hovering but not helping, her attention divided between protecting the Captain and Simon and the people in the warehouse. Odd, as fuzzy-headed as he was, the Captain had assumed the new people must have arranged this.

Simon stared and stared and stared. His mouth flapping open and shut but nothing coming out but air. A flurry of movement and a rush of colours as a figure closed the distance between them and nearly knocked the doctor off his feet.

"Simon! I *knew* you'd come!"

The very real and solid apparition filling his arms brought him to his senses. "River! What the *guai* are you doing here?"

She was laughing, hugging him then pulling back to grin at his shocked expression. "The world is changing, Simon, and we're the prime movers." Her words shifted a sliver of ice in his veins. River noticed him stiffen and calmed down, her smile softening into a gentle more lucid arc.

"Not what you think."

"River, what happened? Why are you here?"

Her smile vanished though her eyes were still hanging on the happiness of finding him. "They thought they could snatch away my freedom, Simon. Take me away, to THAT place." Her face screwed up and for a moment Simon was afraid she was going to cry. "But they were wrong. We turned the tables on them."

Simon turned his head, looking for the rest of the crew but the only other person he could see was a boy about River's age. In fact, now that he was looking there was something a little strange - creepy even - about the youth staring back at him. "Who are you?"

The boy didn't speak. His face was expressionless, a blank canvas too wary to be written on. River stepped away from Simon and reached for Jordan's arm. Her eyes pleading with him not to bolt. "This is Simon, my brother, *dong ma*?" Jordan flicked a wary glance from River to Simon then back again. "Family?"

River smiled, happy, relieved and bursting to share her joy. "*Qu*. Soon be home now."

Then she noticed that Simon was not alone. Her gaze flicked quickly over the man and woman and a gasp caught like a chicken bone in her throat. "Captain daddy!"

Everyone stared as River ran over to the Captain, dropping to her knees beside him, sobs bubbling up in her throat as his pain flooded her mind. His attempts to hold it back too weak to shelter her. Her hands were butterfly wings, her touch little fleeting points of contact afraid to land and add to his body's distress. She wanted to hug him, tell him it would be alright now. Could see that the same words were forming in his mind but he was too battered, too weary, too blood stained and faltering for them to pass his lips. Simon knelt beside them, concerned for both Mal and his sister.

"I think we need some introductions." Said Jordan.

Mal had his eyes closed, River resting her forehead against his, not trusting any other contact to do anything but hurt him. She pulled back and looked over her shoulder to Jordan. The boy stood looking a little annoyed. Normally she would not be able to read his expression but since touching his mind through the control device she found he could hide nothing from her. She glanced from the flagging Captain to her brother.

"Simon, this is Jordan. Like me but not. We have a plan."

The doctor blinked and took a long hard look at the boy. Slowly he stood up and walked over to him. "I suppose I have you to thank for bringing my sister to me?"

Jordan shook his head. "River makes her own decisions."

His words brought a smile to Simon's lips. Before he could say anything else Jordan jerked his head behind the doctor.

"Who are they?"

Flushing slightly Simon remembered his manners. "*Duibuqi*. I was so happy to see River I wasn't thinking." He turned to look at the couple. "I um I've just realised I don't know your names."

The man smiled first and took a few steps towards them, the woman hanging back but following as if reluctant to get too drawn into their lives which was odd considering the couple had saved Simon and Mal from fates worse than death. "My name is Paul Rinkman and this is Natalie Mary Bell."

River stepped passed her brother, gave Paul a nod then stopped in front of Natalie. "Hunter turned prey."

Instead of answering River, Natalie looked at Paul. "Told you. One who is and one who is not."

He frowned back. "I thought you meant..."

She shook her head. "*Bu qu*. Reynolds wasn't part of the equation."

Jordan settled beside River. Confused, Simon glanced from face to face. "River? What is going on?"

His sister sighed. "You worry too much, Simon, but we can't stay here. The safety margin is getting thin and we have to be gone before they arrive."


Irritated River glared at him. "We're wasting time. Go now, ask questions later."

He wanted to argue but Natalie whispered quickly in Paul's ear and he interrupted. "Simon, your sister's right. Come on, I'll help you with the Captain."

"But..." Simon swung his head around. Apart from themselves the huge warehouse was empty.

River put a hand on his arm. "Don't trust your eyes, Simon. They can deceive you."

Frowning he followed Paul's urging and between them they got the Captain upright. Trust his sister to get more cryptic just when he needed her to be lucid. River turned her attention back to Natalie and stuck out her hand. "May not be friends but we don't have to be enemies, *dui*?"

"You were there. I saw you. *Jide*?"

River Tam nodded and the two shook hands slowly, as if not really wanting to touch but unwilling to let go once they did. "They twisted your brain, made the layers ripple instead of lying flat. You couldn't see what went where so everyone became the enemy. No distinctions."

"No distinctions."

River's voice dropped to a soft whisper, her eyes widening into luminous pools holding Natalie in thrall. "You aren't blind, deaf or dumb any more."

"You're like me."


Natalie frowned, no longer mesmerised, and River tilted her head pulling a face to show just how screwed up things were. "They messed you up Natalie but I was broken." She waved a hand over her head. "Cut, slit, dig, twist. Over and over and over again. Brain went to mush."

"Seem alright now."

The smile that prompted was blinding. "I had Simon."

They were following Paul and Simon as they half carried and half dragged Serenity's Captain to the other side of the warehouse. A few feet ahead of them was Jordan, his confident stride strangely reassuring. Natalie thought about what River had said and began to wonder what Captain Reynolds was to her when River filled in the gaps.

"Captain daddy took us in. Protected us. Made us crew."

Little pieces started to fall into place. "Family."

Beaming, River nodded at her then reached out and took Natalie's hand. "Always room for one more." She said softly.

Natalie didn't speak, the words trapped and holding back tears that had not been shed in a lifetime. Family. It was the one thing she had never had that she most longed for. A dream of normalacy so far out of reach as to be a fairy tale. Now. This slip of a girl she had intended to hunt down and kill was opening the circle once closed to her and drawing her in. There were no words to express how much it meant. No treasure of silver or gold that could buy the feeling slowly warming the cold centre of her heart. Slowly. Trickle by trickle, beat by beat, the warmth began the thaw. Feelings began to seep through, emotion thickening the flow of blood in her veins and blurring her eyes. River pretended not to notice. It didn't matter, she had Natalie's hand and for now she would lead and Natalie would follow.

From somewhere buried deep in her memory, words surfaced and formed a tapestry in her mind. Natalie could not remember where she had heard the verse or who the poet was but instinctively knew it was a remnant from Earth-that-was which seemed to have been penned with her in mind:

"They drew a circle that shut him out Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout But Love and I had the wit to win We drew a circle and took him in."

* * * * *

It was hard to tell from whence the idea had come but once it entered his brain pan Badger felt himself relax. Not enough to put himself at a disadvantage but enough to let the slide of panic shift to something he could manage. He could do this. His father might be the biggest, slimiest *tamade hundan* in the 'verse but he also shared that lineage and clever as Minister Tirrel might be he had never met anyone with the ability to shift loyalties as expertly as his son. This would be dangerous, yes. Interesting, without a doubt. But the rewards, if only in entertainment value, would be beyond price.

"Now," said Badger as he made himself comfortable "why do you suppose we were hidden from each other for so ruttin' long?"

The Minister stared. Half horrified and half oddly impressed. Most people would be quaking with fear by now, waiting for whatever bloody end he had in mind for them but this creature. This bottom feeder from the universal gene pool of life seemed unphased. He knew Stephen had to be smart, the fact that he was still alive after months of the Alliance pulling out all the stops to find and destroy him, spoke to that fact. Most people, having seen all their friends and contacts systematically wiped off the face of the 'verse would be terrified but this man was not. That was when Howard Tirrel realised something the two of them had in common. Both lived in the rarified atmosphere of their own well being. Fully absorbed in their never ending schemes and desires little importance was placed on other people. They could be useful, yes, but only in so much as they advanced their own personal agenda. Others were never allowed close enough to impinge upon that prime directive. The ulterior motive that kept the blood pumping and the greedy light of ambitious avarice alive and well. And ever grasping.

"You have a nerve, Stephen."

The slow oily grin spreading across Badger's face was familiar enough to make the Minister blink but not baulk. He had seen its' like in the mirror too many times. "An' where do you suppose I get it from, *fuqin*?"

Another blink. Slower than the first. A more measured and thoughtful response flashing like a lightening strike to the brain. As the beginnings of a smile touched those frosty lips, Howard Tirell threw back his head and laughed.

* * * * *

It was dark when she woke. Her mouth dry as a desert, her head numb and detached as if it didn't belong to the rest of her body. Lethargy clung as a legacy of false sleep, the body unrested though the mind had been in fugue. Confused and dazed she blinked, her eyelids heavy and languid and taking an impossible amount of time to finish the slow arc from open to closed. Repeating the gesture was a marathon event leaving her exhausted but too out of it to care. Thoughts were obstacles to overcome, puzzles to solve, word games that had no rule of thumb to guide her, clues too obscure and out of reach. It was easy to let the sluggish darkness creep back into her brain like a thick and heavy oil seeping into all the nooks and crannies where self-preservation lay inert and muffled. To let her eyelids stay closed, Inara's body unable and unwilling to follow any other command but the one of least resistence.

* * * * *

Shepherd Book watched, listened and kept his own counsel. He was not sure how much of Mistress Barbette's story was a fabrication to allay their suspicions and how much was bounded in truth. Clearly, Zoe suspected the former and was discounting the latter. The first mate's eyes dark and dangerous, her expression stony and unforgiving. While none of them cared too much about Badger there was something particularly repulsive about a mother who would casually put her own son in harm's way. What did it mean and what game was she playing?

Without turning her head Zoe spoke to Wash. The others were silent witnesses but none of them knew what Zoe would decide to do until she made her mind known. All of them hung on her every word, even Jayne silent and uncomplaining as he cradled Vera in his arms. "*Zhangfu*, set course for Helena. We're gonna pick Inara up."

The House Mistress kept her face expressionless. "I wouldn't do that if I were you."

Although her voice was mild it was obvious that Mistress Barbette expected to be listened to if not obeyed. Zoe closed the last few inches between them, noting Jayne out of the corner of her eye turn from listening to expectant, Vera raised in the ready to act position. It was the thing she liked most about the mercenary and that preparedness had saved them more than a time or two. "I don't take orders from you." As Mistress Barbette opened her mouth to speak Zoe raised a hand to silence her. "Don't take kindly to your suggestions either. Cap'n may trust you from way back when but that was then, this is now an' I ain't him. Got no reason to believe we can trust you, not gonna start now *dong ma*?"

* * * * *

Simon wished his sister would stop grinning like a lunatic. If her warning was to be believed they were in *shen goushi* and with nowhere to go. The warehouse might be huge but it was empty, no place to hide and no way out that wouldn't leave them exposed and in the open.

Her smile turned wry. "You just have to have faith."

River gave Jordan a nod and he did something with his hand, a dark shining shadow solidifying out of thin air before them. Simon gasped.

"*Wode ma*!" Paul whispered. Beside him Natalie was grinning from ear to ear as if all her Christmases had come at once.

"Is that..." Simon trailed off, mouth dry, then tried again. Wishing he wasn't holding up the Captain so he could reach out and touch to see if it was real. "Where did you get an Alliance ship, *mei mei*?"

"They came to take me..."

His head snapped round, eyes fastening on hers like a rapier to a heat source. "*Shenme*?"

"It's *hao ba*, Simon. I knew they were coming. Knew who was with them."

Confused he wanted to fire a whole slew of questions at her but they didn't have time. Already the sound of something big and powerful roared in the sky above. None of them had any doubts that it was coming for them. River tugged Simon's sleeve and without being asked Jordan moved close to help Paul and Simon carry the now unconscious Captain aboard.

Paul's eyes locked with River's as the Captain was manhandled as quickly as possible aboard the sleek ship. River's lips quirked at the query in his eyes. "Ask no questions, tell no lies."

Beside her Natalie was feeling more than a little fey. The smile on her face sliding all over the place as if she was so unused to being happy her face did not know how to express it. In the end it hung on her face like a crooked picture but seeing her so happy made Paul's world weary heart sing. Impossibly glad to have lived long enough to see it happen.

"Come on, *mashang*!" River urged.

As soon as they were all aboard Jordan darted out again and ran to the middle of the warehouse. Simon wasn't watching, all his attention now focused on the Captain. He did not like what he was seeing but knew he couldn't do much until they got back to Serenity or found a secure medical facility that wouldn't end up with them all of them incarcerated in an Alliance *jianyu* for crimes against the government. Didn't matter that it was corrupt, it was powerful and in the minds of every dictator that had ever lived might was always right. River closed the door as Jordan ran back inside, noting that his hands were empty. Their eyes met and twin smiles of satisfaction added a happy glow as the door sealed shut and the cloak was engaged.

In the air above the warehouse the huge Alliance destroyer, the Osiris Star, hung like a vulture waiting to feed. The Operative turned his head and looked at Commandant Herbert Trenchard Ross. "You are sure the ship is inside?"

"*Qu, shifu*. All Alliance stealth vessels have a unique signature. It cannot be hidden or blocked." The Commandant's lips twisted in a warped smile. "They have nowhere to hide."

Mr Morgan and Mr Brown stood either side of the Operative but said nothing. The situation was beyond the retrieval or containment stage. The Operative knew what that meant. He gave the Commandant a nod and watched as the full payload of the destroyer was dropped on the warehouse below. As if in slow motion he saw the roof collapse inwards under the weight of the ordnance, the destroyer being taken up high and fast to escape the blast wave as everything beneath them exploded outward in a shower of fire, sparks and concentric plumes of dark smoke. As the explosion did its' work, unbeknownst to anyone aboard the Osiris Star, a small round orb placed on the floor in the middle of the warehouse blinked and responded. The concatanation made the ground and air shudder and quake anew, the Alliance destroyer unable to get sufficient height and distance to outpace the path of destruction. Horror flashed like a livid scar across the Operative's face. The Commandant opened his mouth to ask what the *diyu* had happened a second before his face melted, the ship engulfed, the screaming sound of tearing metal drowning out the cries of the dying.

Far, far, below the stricken vessel the earth was scorched and barren. The crater where the warehouse had stood filled with ash and winds rushing and grabbing the last specters of metal, wood, glass and stone. The plume huge and growing above, outpacing the mushroom cloud of an atom bomb, more powerful than a nuclear warhead. It did not simply destroy everything in its' radius, it extinguished it. Like a light going out in the world yet leaving the 'verse a little cleaner with its' passing.

* * * * *

The Blue Sun Corporation did not get where it was by being blindingly obvious. The executives liked to work in the shadows, manipulate from behind the scenes. Do without being seen to do. All smoke and mirrors but no cigar. Losing contact with an Alliance destroyer which just so happened to have two of their agents and a highly skilled Operative on board was not the kind of mishap that was acceptable. Especially given their task.

The head of the Corporation had used all his skill and every advantage and trick he knew to climb his way to the top of this particular high tech heap and mistakes like this were not going to ruin their long term plans. When the confirmation came that the destroyer had been taken out by what could only be the activation of the control device, shock waves reverberated through the hidden corridors of power. He could imagine a great many powerful people not so much ducking for cover as disappearing back into their hidey holes until the dust settled, however many millenia that was likely to take. He was not going to scuttle away like some low life. They still had to find a way to retrieve River Tam. The loss of the device made that an even more crucial priority. Damage limitation didn't come into the equation when everything they had sacrificed so much to put into operation was at risk. No. Either Jordan Parker had turned rogue or River Tam had proven even more deadly and resourceful than they could have imagined.

Despite the chaos he found himself truly excited for the first time since the project to develop the Pax had begun. Allowing a cold secretive smile to touch his lips, the head of Blue Sun made a decision. "The primary subject is to be retrieved at all costs. Elimination is no longer a viable option."

In front of him a bank of screens winked back, each one with a different face sharing the secured on-line conference. No objections were raised. Naturally. Message passed and understood the screens faded to black and his smile slowly grew. River Tam had once again eluded them but he was not angry. Nor even disappointed. The more he considered the information available the happier he became. The girl was proving to have even more potential than they had realised. Interesting. Now. All they needed to do was find the right incentive to flush her out of hiding.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (mandarin - pinyin)

*guai* = devil/ghost *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *shei* = who *dui* = correct *jide* = remember *bushi* = not so *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *dong ma* = understand? *shen goushi* = deep shit (lit. deep crap/dog shit) *fuqin* = father *zhangfu* = husband *wode ma* = mother of God *shenme* = what *mei mei* = little sister *hao ba* = all right/fine *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *jianyu* = prison *shifu* = sir *qu* = yes (lit. go) *diyu* = hell


Tuesday, January 27, 2009 3:55 AM


At least Simon and Mal seem to be safe, for a while anyway. I don't trust Mistress Barbette any more than Zoe does, but I love the touch of Badger and his father realising they have more than just blood in common. And my curiousity is itching over just who were on the screens working for Blue Sun. Someone we know, perhaps?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009 6:34 AM


Gla to see at least a few bad guys bite the dust.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009 6:44 AM


As always, I love it. My fav part had to be when River greeted Mal, not wanting to hurt him anymore and just touching foreheads. Nicely done!!


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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.