The DUPLICITY Series: 50. "Equilibrium"
Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"The Captain wakes, Simon stablises Badger and Mistress Barbette is not the only one making a confession. Elsewhere an influential figure is not happy."


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

SUMMARY: "The Captain wakes, Simon stabilises Badger and Mistress Barbette is not the only one making a confession. Elsewhere an influential figure is not happy." 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

* * * * *

He had to be dreaming. Really. Never had Inara looked at him like that in real life. Mal blinked slowly, only one eye operating on full automatic, the other a sluggish copy with blurry vision. Why was that? Oh. Yeah. He'd gotten beaten up. Again.

"*Ta xingle ma*?"

A blinding light hit the back of his eyes making him flinch so hard it hurt. The good eye and bad screwing shut a lot quicker than they had propped themselves open. A hand patted his shoulder but different kinds of pain were at war with his common sense. Never a good mix.

"Yes, he's awake, or rather - he was."

Inara shot Simon a look of frustration. "Was?"

The doctor shrugged. He had tried several times to caution her not to get her hopes up. It might be hours before the Captain woke again. "Between the drugs and his injuries I expect him to be surfacing for brief moments of consciousness but it's likely to be another couple of days before he'll be ready to sit up and have a conversation."

"Wo bu zhidao*, it's just..."

When the Companion trailed off and didn't continue Simon waited a moment before prompting her. "*Shenme*?"

"We nearly lost him, didn't we?"

Her voice, so soft, quiet and small, almost fading out even as she forced the words passed worried lips. Simon nodded, no sense in sugar coating the obvious. "*Qu*. We're lucky he's so stubborn."

"*Wei*," a voice slurred, interrupting them "ain't *wangu*."

The smile that blossomed on Inara Serra's face made all the years Simon had trained to be a doctor worthwhile. He couldn't remember a time she had looked more luminous - or - closer to tears. "Mal? Are you awake?"

He struggled and cracked his good eye open, then squinted and cautiously got the swollen one open a slit as well. "That really you 'Nara? 'Cause I have to tell you I've been havin' some powerful odd dreams."

Inara laughed and leaned in close. "It's me and if you ever do that again you won't have to worry about dying from your injuries."

Even though Simon wanted to check the Captain he knew now was not the time. Quietly he moved away and went to check on his other patient.

"You had me worried."

The Captain wracked his brain. What was she talking about? Inara? Worried? About *him*? "What I do?"

"I can't take my eyes off you for a moment without you getting into trouble, Malcolm Reynolds!"

Uh oh. That tone. Not so good. And he thought she had been worried about him. Huh. Just like a woman. When he didn't answer she lowered her voice, softened it too, only he wasn't falling for that 'bad cop, good cop' routine again.

"Mal? Speak to me."

"*Weishenme*? Way you're talkin' you're doin' fine on your own."

Her lips twisted, an angry retort bitten back just in time. Inara took a moment to compose herself and calm down. Relief that he was alive and presumably going to recover was no excuse for ranting and railing at him. She could do that with more verve when he was up to a good sparring match. Not that it would do him any good, she intended to win after all. "*Duibuqi*, I was worried Mal."

"Sounded like you was blamin' me."

Silence fell, neither wanting to get into an out and out argument and yet much of their relationship had been defined by heated words they hadn't really meant but couldn't and wouldn't take back. Well now. Seemed that they weren't too good at the plain sailing either. Inara cast her eye over him, pleased that Simon had rebandaged the Captain's badly burned hands. It hurt to look at him while he was being tended to but neither could she have looked away. He hadn't asked for any of this and yet here she was, the moment the poor man opened his eyes, getting all snappy and argumentative. "What happened at Burnt Cross, Mal?"

He didn't want to tell her. To talk about it but knew she would keep chipping away at him until the whole thing tumbled out of his mouth - or Simon's. "Wasn't my fault, just, so you know." He paused but she didn't jump in with any accusations, just waited for him to continue. "Once we found the cave system we met up with some of the folk there. Doc started to see what he could do for 'em an' things seemed shiny. Then I was warned that there was folks in the hideout that were Alliance. If I'd'a had my feet good under me I'd'a left then an' there but without a way off that rock an' too tired from the climb up there was no way we were goin' anywhere that night."

Inara stared at him, surprised he had said so much but not willing to say or do anything to stop him. Encouraged by her silence he told her the rest.

"Seems word got out to others of like mind an' next thing we know some of their friends arrived. Tied us up an' dragged us onto their gorram ship."

She put her hand over her mouth. "Do you know who they were?"

Before the Captain could answer Simon rejoined them. Badger was sleeping comfortably now and no longer in danger. It would take some time for the last of the toxin to evacuate his system but at least he wasn't going to die on them any time soon. "We don't have to worry about them any more."

The Captain looked at Simon in surprise. "We don't?"

It was on the tip of his tongue to remind Mal that he had been there too. "*Bu qu*. That's when Natalie and Paul turned up though we didn't know who they were at the time. They brought money to buy me only neither of us realised that wasn't exactly the plan."

"It wasn't?"

Simon shook his head as if he still couldn't believe what had happened. "We were dragged aside just as it blew up in their faces. That's how we got away."

Stunned, Inara just stared at them and tried to imagine the scenario. "Wo bu dong*, why did they help you?"

"Must'a been Simon's pretty face."

They both looked at the Captain.

"*Wei*, I was busted up. Not gonna win no beauty contests for a while."

The doctor snorted. "As if you would have anyway."

"That ain't a polite thing to be sayin' to your Cap'n."

"No," said Simon thoughtfully "but they did explain."

The Captain looked confused. Inara had heard bits and pieces when they'd been talking in the commons room but hadn't been paying much attention, her mind on a certain irrascible Captain.

"You plannin' on tellin' me any time soon, doc?"

Simon's lips twitched. "Paul was part of the Underground." When the Captain frowned he explained. "The Underground were the group that helped me find out where the Alliance were holding River. They got me the plans and codes that enabled me to get into the facility and get her out."

"An' the girl?"

"Ah, she was a little more complicated I'm afraid. It seems Natalie was another student like River only she was a lot more messed up, psychologically."

"So, not a killin' machine?"

That got a brief glare. "She was so messed up that she couldn't tell friend from foe. While I was busy getting River as far away from there as possible the Underground stayed behind neutralising the guards and over riding entry systems to get the others out. As soon as Natalie was free she turned on them, killing everyone she could find. Guards and other students too."

"*Renci de Fozu*!" Inara exclaimed, a hand rising up to cover her mouth, her eyes wide. "She killed them?"

Simon looked sad but also protective. "It wasn't her fault." He paused, perhaps imagining it was River not Natalie in that predicament. "According to Paul it didn't end there."

Inara didn't know what to say. The Captain felt a mite woozy but something in Simon's tone made him want to hear the rest of it. "What else?"

"Natalie carried on her killing spree once she was free of the facility. Set it alight before she left and then began hunting down everyone she could remember ever having been there."

"*Meige ren*?"

He nodded unhappily. "Guards and students as well as any members of the Underground whose faces she had seen. It seems she has an eidetic memory."

"Once seen never forgotten." Mumbled the Captain, trying to fight against an increasing bout of weariness. His body aching and his mind turning to Jell-o.


The Companion looked thoughtful, her mind turning over everything she had heard. "*Wo bu dong*. They seem to be friends."

Simon nodded. "They are - now."

She was about to ask another question when a noise drew her attention back to the Captain, his mouth sagged open as he snored softly. Simon smiled but before they could enjoy the moment of peace a cranky voice sailed out to them from the bed on the other side of the infirmary, announcing that their other patient was unfortunately wide awake.

"*Wei*, what's a bloke gotta do to get any attention 'round 'ere?"

Simon rolled his eyes and grimaced. Inara leaned forward and patted his hand. "You go and see to Badger, I'll sit with the Captain."

It was on the tip of his tongue to ask if they could change places. But he was a doctor first and foremost and Badger was one of his patients. As much as the man irritated him he needed to check his medical progress before letting the greasy little king-pin's mother know that she could sit with her son. When that happened he knew that Zoe would insist one of them remain in the infirmary at all times, just in case the House Mistress had another fun little bombshell up her sleeves. Simon sighed softly to himself then walked across to see to Badger, wondering why in the 'verse he had ever missed being a top trauma surgeon on Osiris. Really. Who wouldn't give up the high life, the embarrassingly large sums of money to play nurse to a bunch of down and out thieves? Not to mention the running and hiding, the dodging of bullets and Alliance patrols. Really. It was no contest.

* * * * *

The monastery of Joseph of Aramathea was a tranquil and soothing place, no doubt about it, but the longer they stayed in relative comfort and safety the more it irked Gabriel Tam. Seeing his wife so calm and content had stayed his hand from doing something stupid but it was getting harder and harder to practice restraint. To pretend that their safety might be at the cost of their children's. It was later, well after Matins, that he finally crept into the room they had been given. With a little sigh he undressed in the near dark, letting the faint light from the corridor aid his efforts to do so as quietly as possible. As he slipped into bed his wife turned to face him.

"Gabriel, *zenme hui shi*?"

"*Yiwusouyou, xin gan*. Just wasn't tired."

She was not fooled. Gabriel wouldn't have married her if she had been so easy to hoodwink, though right at this moment he lamented his short sightedness and bit back a sigh as she turned on the bedside light. The room was large and sparse but had everything they might need. A large double bed, side tables that looked to have been hand made from crates or some such, a wardrobe from the same stable and a small sink in the corner. The bathroom was a communal one down the hall but otherwise they were good.

"Gabriel, I'll ask one more time: what is it?"

He knew better than to prevaricate. "*Wo bu an*. We should have heard something."

Her hand on his arm shouldn't have been as comforting as it was but he wasn't about to mention that. Right now he had the unsettling feeling that he was failing in his duty as a father, not that it was duty that was keeping him awake nights. Guilt etched away at his conscience, picking away at his peace of mind. "Shepherd Book promised to keep us informed."

"*Wo zhidao* but it's been days, Regan."

"Do you want me to say something?"

Why her not him? The thought died the second it was born. Regan always did have more diplomatic skills that he did. The last thing he wanted to do was insult the monks. He nodded, trying not to feel like a three year old being comforted when she patted his hand.

"Then sleep now, *ai ren*. I'll make enquiries in the morning. Perhaps we can get word to them aboard their ship?"

He wasn't sure whether that was a good idea or not but had a feeling that Brother James would know what was best. Snuggling up with his wife, Gabriel lay awake in the dark as the light went out. Listening at first to his wife talking quietly to him, trying to ease his concern and coax him to drift off. He felt the moment sleep caught her in its' gentle arms but could not join her. As he lay there Gabriel Tam revisited every decision he had made concerning his children, always coming back to the day they let their gifted daughter go to that *zaole* academy. An hour before dawn exhaustion accomplished what nothing else could and a fitful sleep gifted him with a brief respite.

* * * * *

He woke slowly, his mind a slow clearing fog that baffled the senses. Most of the drugs were out of his system but not all. They left a lingering mallaise. Niyan Shair lay on his back on the narrow hard built in bench that was laughingly referred to as his bed. The cell was small, the only amenity a toilet in the corner. It had no handle to flush it, the prisoner being required to press a button on the wall to alert the guard on duty to do so on the other side of the wall. What did they think he was going to do with the handle? As it was the inner workings of the cistern were on the other side of the wall too, only the toilet seat actually inside the cell.

Carefully he sat up and took a moment or two to wait for his balance to settle. He did not fancy falling flat on his face before he could evacuate his bowels thank you very much. Shair was so tired, worn out in a way that rest could find no compensation for. What had they done to him? Obviously he had been drugged but then what? He rubbed his wrists and paused, his eyes gazing down at the skin where it was rubbed raw in places by the manacles. Swallowing heavily he realised he had been in chains but why? Did they think a man reduced to a dribbling idiot by drugs was a threat to them? He almost laughed out loud but stopped himself in time. No doubt he was being watched even now. *Especially* now.

It took just a minute or two for him to see to his ablutions and much as he would have liked to have ignored the need to press that rutting button on the wall he didn't fancy sitting with the stench if he left the bowl unflushed. That done he walked back to the bed and sat down. It was not as if there was a chair to sit on or even a sink to wash his hands. It made him feel grubby but not the worst privation he could think of. No. That was the way they were trying to use his mind against him. Trick or trap him into revealing something they could use against him or worse still, his friends. Friends. Did he have those any more?

He had no idea how many hours later it was when a tray was shoved through the gap at the bottom of his cell door. Oh, how kind. It was feeding time at the zoo. Niyan didn't stir. For several minutes he just stared at the congealing mess though the paper cup of water did tempt him if only to wash out the staleness from his mouth. He resisted, not knowing how they might administer more drugs. As he sat there fragments of his dreams or nightmares came back to him. They were strange and disparate yet oddly compelling images. Book seemed to feature heavily in them. At first he wanted to block them out but then realised they might be the only clue to what had happened to him. Little by little he regained those memories but they didn't make sense. He knew Shepherd Book had not been here and yet in his mind he recalled speaking to him and then, and then... His heart racing, Niyan recalled the blow, falling and being caught in his friend's arms but how could that be so? If Derrial had killed him he wouldn't be here now let alone remember it, or had those sick *tamade hundan* revived him?

No. The Alliance were not known for their mercy. The whole thing had been a carefully orchestrated fabrication meant to break him. To elicit information that he would not willingly give up. Had he talked? No. If he had done so there would be no waking up. They would have no more need to keep him alive and that dull thought gave him a glimmer of hope. Niyan Shair tilted his head and glanced up at the covert camera but said nothing. He knew they were watching. Waiting. Deciding when and how they would proceed until they got what they wanted. He almost wanted to laugh at their expectation that he would somehow be broken. No. He knew this game and he had no intention of playing by their rules. Niyan looked down and considered his only remaining option. Without looking up again he resettled his jaw so that the rear molar on his left lower jaw was now proud enough to catch on the cusp of the upper one then bit down as hard as he could. The false tooth cracked allowing the poison to seep out. It was bitter but mercifully quick acting. More importantly, by the time his captors realised what he had done it would be too late. Niyan laid down and turned to face the wall, pretending he was going back to sleep.

Freedom awaited and it was enough to leave the ghost of a smile upon his face as the beat of his heart stuttered and stopped.

* * * * *

"I think it's time you told us the truth."

Mistress Barbette stared at her hands, not meeting the stone cold look in the first mate's eyes. She was not afraid of Zoe Washburne or any of Serenity's crew but she was beholden to them. Simon had announced that her son Stephen was out of danger. Even though they did not know which poison had been administered Simon had been able to discover it was a synthetic compound not a naturally occuring one. The good news was that they wouldn't have to hunt down some rare species of snake or spider, or find a rain forrest with some exotic plant exuding a killer pus. No jellyfish sting or stab from a scorpion nor any of a thousand other possibilities crafted by nature. No. This abomination had been wrought by man.

"I want to see my son."

Zoe moved to stand in front of where the House Mistress was sitting and folded her arms. "You'll see him once we get some answers, *dong ma*?"

That was enough for Cyan to lift her head and glare at Zoe, but it had no effect. Zoe was neither intimidated nor impressed. In fact she hadn't much liked the House Mistress before this mess and friend of the Captain's or not, she would gladly jettison her out of Serenity's airlock if the woman so much as breathed funny. Wash looked concerned, not for their unwanted guests but for his wife. He knew she would not hesitate to do whatever she had to and he would back her to the hilt, but it was what would come afterwards that worried him. If she did end the woman's life Zoe would have to deal with the Captain and the guilt and such. If that could be avoided Wash would be happy. Until that time he would be standing by with the worrying.

"*Ni bu dong*."

"Try me."

Mistress Barbette was tempted to spin a line but the effort of lying didn't seem to be worth any of the dubious awards it might bring. She knew Zoe wasn't stupid but the woman didn't know her as well as Mal and that gave her an edge of sorts. Yet part of her didn't want the subterfuge any more. She was old enough to be the Shepherd's mother even though modern cosmetics and a little judicious plastic surgery held back the years better than King Canute had managed the tide back in the myths of Earth-that-was. What was wrong with her, allowing her mind to go wandering off in fanciful directions as if she didn't have the grip to keep her sanity in check? Cyan was trying to put off the inevitable and it wouldn't do. It was time to face her demons but that didn't mean Serenity's crew had to meet all of them.

"Very well though I guarantee you will not like what you hear."

"I'm pretty sure it'll match what I'm seein'."

The House Mother didn't bristle at the insult, too busy thinking about where to start and how much of her murky and mucky past she needed to rake through to satisfy the crew. Not that it mattered any more, after this she was ruined anyway. Minister Tirell would see to that. Shepherd Book and Jayne walked into the commons room and sensing the tension stopped talking, their eyes full of questions. Simon had gone back to the infirmary after giving them an update on the Captain and Badger. Kaylee had been pleased to see Inara making a fuss of the Captain but this friction with the House Mother was making her nervous. River was the only one not paying attention, her focus on Natalie. If the girl noticed she gave no sign of it. Paul got them a cup of tea and sat back down beside her, neither of them saying a word. Just waiting to hear whatever the House Mother had to impart.

* * * * *

Marty Carlson had many aliases. A man with his unique talents could not afford to become too well known to too many people. Anonymity was the blank chequebook of the 'verse and one that had benefitted his fortunes too many times to count. It had enabled him to control much of the black market electronics, get an insight into Blue Sun's very secretive Research and Development Division without them being any the wiser and keep most of the Alliance brass hanging on his hook to deliver more and better systems. Everything from weapons platforms to communications though the latter was his forte.

Now, here he was, once again retiring from the market place. Or rather, Marty Carlson was. This particular outing had been illuminating but stiffling and he had itched to be able to get out of the contract with his life intact. He had what he wanted and that information would add to his own incredible store of technological know how and expertise. Little did the Alliance and Blue Sun Corporation know that their paranoia would be paying for his new system. It would be bigger and better than the last, able to dip into all their security communications at a whim and leave no tell tale trace of his having been there. They would blame one another for any leaks and he would be free once again to use the information he gleaned for his own purposes. Contrary to what people might think it was not about amassing a fortune. He already had that. Didn't need to work for anyone ever again but it was information he wanted not coin, knowledge he sought not a pension.

Smiling, he riffled through the aliases he had not used before. Each one carefully stitched into the system and ready to activate as living, breathing members of the Unified Planets at a moment's notice. Between each switch he would go to his secure base and reinvent himself. Change of hairstyle and colour, new adopted mannerisms, sometimes a change of accent to go with the new clothes or in some cases old weathered outfits. Anything to entice the mark to buy into the image he wanted to project. He was a master of the counterfeit. After all, you couldn't very well peddle a lie unless you knew the truth. He paused and changed his mind. No. He would break the cycle, take a rest and concentrate on tweaking his system. Give himself a furlough as a reward for a job well done and indulge himself in watching and monitoring the fallout from the safety of his own domain. Yes. That was much the best thing to do.

* * * * *

Jed wasn't sure he liked it but he hated the notion of doing nothing even less. Curtis had been quietly adamant, an intensity to him that Jed knew better than to challenge.

"We need to clean house." Curtis explained calmly.

The two of them were outside, checking the perimeter and making sure they had no new visitors. Only away from the cave system at Burnt Cross could they even have this conversation. "How many do you suppose there are?"

"Three we know about an' a couple more possibles."

Jed sucked his bottom lip. That was more than he had expected but Curtis was right. "*Diyu*! How ya wanna handle this?"

Curtis Morgan spat out the plug of tobacco he had been chewing and stretched his lean frame. "Think it's about time we had an outbreak o' somethin'."

A slow evil grin spread about Jed Hutchins face. "Have to make sure those shiny medic supplies the doc left can't cure what ails 'em."

He got a nod and a twisted little smile back. Curtis's eyes were twinkling with rare humour. It had been a long time since the 'bad boy' had come out to play. "My thoughts exactly."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*ta xingle ma* = is he awake? *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *qu* = yes (lit. go) *wei* = hey! *wangu* = stubborn *weishenme* = why *duibuqi* = sorry *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *meige ren* = everyone *Renci de Fozu* = merciful Buddha *duijuli* = exactly *yiwusouyou* = nothing *zenme hui shi* = what's the matter? *xing gan*/ai ren* - sweetheart *wo bu an* = I'm worried *zaole* = damn *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *diyu* = hell *shenme* = what


Wednesday, February 25, 2009 8:14 AM


I'm beginning to wonder if Cyan Barbette knows the truth any longer, since she's told so many lies. And as pleased as I am that Mal is waking up, I can't help feeling there is so much more to come.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009 9:43 AM


You could well be right about Cyan, Jane0904. I was wondering whether you had stopped reading the story as you had no comment to the last chapter so glad to see you are still hanging in there. And yes, there is more to come but not necessarily what you will be expecting. Thanks for the feedback, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, February 25, 2009 10:50 AM


I love Mal in this, especially as he wakes up and cusses in Chinese. So typical! Inara with her caring was a very nice touch, too. As for Cyan, she is just really no good. :)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009 11:00 AM


Hi Angellemarcs, yep that Cyan is one very dangerous and convoluted package. And Badger thought his father was scary... Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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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.