BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

AMDOBELL

The DUPLICITY Series: 53. "Hearts and Minds"
Wednesday, March 11, 2009

"Captain foster is informed of Commandant Shair's death. Mistress Barbette and Badger are finally dropped off on a suitable planet and the Captain is kind of brought up to date."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1638    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "HEARTS AND MINDS" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Zoe/Wash. Kaylee/Simon. Mal/Inara. RATING: G. STATUS: Sequel to "HONOUR, DUTY AND THE COMPANY OF FRIENDS". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: AlisonMDobell@aol.com WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at Fireflyfans.net

SUMMARY: "Captain Foster is informed of Commandant Shair's death. Mistress Barbette and Badger are finally dropped off on a suitable planet and the Captain is kind of brought up to date." 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.

"HEARTS AND MINDS"

"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Minister Jacob Rosenbaum nodded as Captain Foster was shown into his office, rising from his seat to offer his hand. Startled by the break with protocol, Foster shook his hand. He noted he was not asked to take a seat so remained standing.

"Captain Foster, good of you to come at such short notice."

"How may I help you, sir?"

The Minister shuffled through some papers as he took his seat taking a moment before looking up. "You have an impeccable record, Captain."

"*Duibuqi, shifu*."

"I note you have been with Commandant Shair for some time?"

"Yes, *shifu*. We served together in serveral campaigns during the War."

Rosenbaum clasped his hands in front of him. "I believe you were with him when he had cause to stop a Firefly?"

"Yes sir, an aught 3."

"What can you remember about that incident?"

Foster thought for a moment. Not knowing what the Minister was looking for he wanted to be as accurate as possible. The Minister pursed his lips as Captain Foster gave him a full report. "I'm sure Commandant Shair can assist with any further questions, *shifu*." "Unfortunately the Commandant is unable to assist."

The Captain looked surprised. "Sir?"

"Commandant Shair is dead."

The bald statement hit Foster hard. He had difficulty catching his breath, all the colour draining out of his face. He looked so stricken that Rosenbaum knew his reaction was one of genuine shock. The Minister leaned forward. "Captain, *wode duibuqi. Qing zuo ba*."

He sat as if in a daze, his mind frantically trying to make sense of what the Minister had just told him. "Sir." Foster had to pause to swallow, his throat too tight and mouth dry. "What happened?"

"It appears to have been a heart attack."

The young Captain's attention immediately caught on the word 'appears'. His eyes narrowed slightly but he did not comment on it, waiting instead for the Minister to furnish him with more information. The Minister sighed as if disclosing a burden that pained him.

"You knew him well, Captain. Did the Commandant have any medical issues?"

"No, sir. To my knowledge he was in robust health."

The Minister just stared at Foster for a moment or two, his mind racing. Obviously the Captain did not know anything. Prolonging the interview would yield nothing of value and there was no advantage to be gained by disposing of such a bright up and coming young officer. "I understand you are acquainted with Commandant Shair's family?" Foster gave a numb nod. "Then I would ask you, as a kindness to his next of kin and a personal favour to me, to notify his family. Please extend our deepest sympathies and condolences."

"You...you want me to inform them?"

"*Qu*. I think the news would be better coming from at least someone they have had contact with before, though nothing of course can make up for the loss."

Captain Foster rose to his feet and hoped that he did not look as shaky as he felt. "It would be my honour, *shifu*."

"Please ask Mrs Shair to inform us of the arrangements she wishes made for the funeral. We will of course pay all expenses and while I would like to honour her husband with a full military funeral I will understand if the family prefer a quiet or private ceremony."

The Captain nodded and straightened, waiting to be dismissed.

"One last thing, I have taken the liberty of preparing a room for you. It is late and you must be tired. Naturally, you will be given access to a cortex link to notify your wife that you will be unavoidably delayed for another day. My personal flyer will convey you to the Commandant's family home in the morning."

It was only after Foster had left the building and been taken to his accommodation, alone and sitting in the well appointed but sparsely furnished room, that he wished he had asked to see the body. While it might be deemed a little macabre he would have liked to have said a private goodbye to a man he had come to know and respect a great deal. He had no idea how long he sat on the bed staring into space before weariness reminded him that he needed to get some rest. Heavy of heart he put in a call home then lay awake staring up at the ceiling. It was a long time before he finally dropped off to sleep.

* * * * *

New Dresden was one of those mid-Rim worlds that seemed permanently stuck in the past of Earth-that-was. It was technology poor but the soil was rich and well managed with an abundance of farms, a few ranches and numerous scattered settlements. The only sign of industry was in the North where an old coal mine lay used up and abandoned, the winding head gear going rusty. Everyone except the Captain, Simon and Inara were in the cargo bay as soon as Serenity had landed.

"It would be better if we could stay long enough to..."

Zoe cut Mistress Barbette off. "You're lucky this planet's got atmo."

"You wouldn't?"

Zoe put her hands on her hips and nodded to Jayne who opened the cargo bay doors. "Best you be goin' now."

Badger looked from his mother's barely contained fury to the calm stoney look on Zoe Washburne's face. To the crew's surprise he didn't say anything. Mistress Barbette seemed to rethink her strategy. "I should at least say goodbye to Malcolm."

"Send him a postcard." Jayne sneered.

The House Mistress ignored Jayne, her eyes fastened on Zoe. "I didn't intend for things to end this way, you have to know that."

"Don't know anythin' of the sort. You've brought nothin' but trouble to us an' I don't see you fallin' over yourself with gratitude."

"*Wode ganji* and I am sorry."

"*Bu*, I'm guessin' the only thing you're sorry about is not bein' able to manipulate the situation any longer."

"That was never my intention."

A voice floated clear and calm from the back of the cargo hold. "*Shuohuangzhe*!"

All heads turned as River walked towards them.

"You were running out of time and resources. Decided to play the mummy card and dig up old friends but you only get out what you put in and they were never important to you before."

She paled. Badger looked as if he wanted to back away from his mother but he was not welcome among Serenity's crew any more than she was. Whichever way he turned the little king-pin was screwed.

The sound of a gun cocking told the House Mistress that her time had run out. Zoe held her mare's leg steady and jerked her head towards the open door. "Go!"

Mistress Barbette tried to find Inara's face among the crew but there was no sign of her. With no other cards to play she gave a nod and turned to leave only stopping halfway down the ramp when she realised her son was not following. Her eyes narrowed with annoyance and impatience as she looked back over her shoulder. "Stephen!"

He shook his head and took a step back. "*Fang xin*, I'll get off at the next stop."

The first mate turned a glare in his direction. "You too."

"*Ni bu dong*, I can't go wiv her, see? She lied to you, how d'you think I feel? She's been lyin' to me all my bloody life!"

"Apple never falls far from the tree." Said River quietly.

Paul and Natalie watched in silence. While they didn't know exactly what had happened Natalie had picked up enough of the crew's thoughts to get an accurate picture. It did not help that the House Mistress was lying through her teeth right to the end. It didn't take long for Zoe to convince their unwanted to guests to go under their own steam before the crew did it for them. Reminding them they had no cause for any hard feelings being as the Captain and crew had saved their worthless lives not once but several times. As soon as they had cleared the ramp Jayne shut the cargo bay door. Zoe turned to Wash.

"Get us out of here, *zhangfu*."

He didn't ask for a destination but gave a nod and hurried up the metal stairs to the bridge. Zoe was tired but couldn't relax. Not yet. She looked at Paul and Natalie. Noticed that Jordan was not standing with them but to one side, leaning against a crate. River had moved to stand next to him, a point not lost on her though she wasn't certain what it meant. Shepherd Book was silent. Kaylee wanted things to get back to normal with the laughing and joking but the air was still tense and it was making her all manner of nervous. Catching her eye, the first mate gave Kaylee all her attention.

"Need you in the engine room, Kaylee."

The mechanic nodded gratefully, glad to have something to do. Zoe waited until Kaylee had gone before tackling a subject she in no way wanted to be within a million miles of. Trouble was with the Captain out of action it was up to her to pick up the slack, a task she had done seamlessly from the day she had met him. It didn't make her any happier having to do it under these circumstances.

"We can't go back for the device, you know that *dui*?"

Jordan straightened so that he was no longer leaning on the crate. As Zoe watched his movements she found it hard to believe he was an artificial intelligence. Boy was too close to real for comfort. "You aren't, I am."

Her brow raised. "A little hard to do without a ship."

For a moment they just stared at each other then River spoke up. "I'll take him."

"River, I don't think..."

"Spare shuttle. Keep Serenity high up in the atmo. No one needs to know."

Before Zoe could put her objections into alphabetical order Jordan cut in. "Someone always knows."

His voice was soft, gentle almost, as if trying not to hurt her. That was wrong on so many levels it gave Zoe the creeps. Natalie looked upset. "Let us help you, Jordan."

"*Bu*. Enough people have died just in my creation." He laughed. It was a hard almost rusty sound that grated on more than nerves. "You have no idea the uses to which my existence will be put. I would be the first of many. Any good I might wish to do subverted to the vagaries of those without a conscience. The result would be terrifying."

River's voice was small. "Armageddon."

"Oh no," Jordan said softly. Eyes unblinking but somehow going cloudy as if his thoughts were far far away. "Much worse."

"*Shouwan*?" Asked Paul, his hand tightening on Natalie's.

The AI shook his head. "Better you don't know."

Whatever Jordan had decided Zoe made no attempt to talk him out of it. "You want me to get Wash to land again, let you off on New Dresden?"

"No, but if you could get Serenity to go back to the warehouse I'll do the rest. At least, the crater where the warehouse used to be." Seeing her look of alarm he hurried to reassure her. "There will be no need for the ship to land, *dong ma*? The watchers are on the ground not in the air."

The Shepherd frowned. "How do you know that?"

He got no reply. Jordan was waiting for Zoe's response.

Paul's eyes widened. "What are you gonna do, jump? Flap your arms an' fly?"

A spark of something that might have been humour flashed in those perfectly crafted eyes. Jordan did not take his eyes off Zoe. "It's the only safe way."

For several moments no one spoke, the air charged with a new kind of tension mixed with a fair amount of disbelief. Zoe's voice was quiet, almost as if she were talking to herself. "You really have a death wish, don't you?"

"*Bushi*, but I won't be significantly damaged."

Zoe didn't know how to respond to that.

"I have one small favour to ask."

"*Shenme*?"

"Once I am released from the air lock, don't look back. Leave as fast as your ship can go."

"*Weishenme*?" Paul asked before Zoe say anything.

"Because you can be sure the Alliance are watching. Waiting."

Zoe frowned. "Thought you said the watchers would be on the ground?"

"They will. They don't know where else to look. Once I get there everything will change. You need to get this ship and everyone on it as far away as possible before they can react, *dong ma*?"

"Why are you doin' this?"

"Let's just say I don't want to build a Better World. It's better when people get the chance to choose and make their own opportunities." His voice dropped, quieter and somehow more truthsome. "I never had a choice before, Zoe. I'm making one now."

Zoe found it disconcerting how much his sacrifice bothered her. He wasn't human, just a machine, yet he talked and acted like a real person. It was hard to find that ethical dividing line that would convince her she wasn't sending a good man to his death. Jordan smiled briefly then turned his head to look River in the eye. As his vanishing smile spread to her face Jordan looked at Natalie. It took a little longer for her to catch on and a smirk to tug at the corners of her mouth. Zoe felt a headache coming on but Jordan had made his decision and she had a ship load of people to look out for. With a curt nod she spun round and hurried up the stairs. Best give Wash the bad news in person. She had a feeling that even if it all went to plan this was far from over.

* * * * *

Captain John Foster stared at the oak stained door for a full minute before plucking up the courage to knock. His knuckles had barely touched the wood when the door opened, his surprise for once keeping his trepidation at bay. The woman that faced him was plain of face but it was a good face with an honest countenance. The eyes were sharp and bright but not yet suspicious. Curiosity crouched in their depths while she swept a quick look of appraisal over him. When Foster did not speak the look in her eyes hardened just enough to have him curse his hesitation.

"Mrs Shair?"

"I know you, Captain." Her hand waved vaguely at his crisply pressed uniform. "Why so formal, son?"

He swallowed hard. "I have some news, ma'am."

Her eyebrows rose then another look settled on her face. Worry crowding out the curiosity. Wordlessly she opened the door and stepped to one side. Awkwardly, Foster entered the house and waited for the click of the door as she closed it behind him. The stilted conversation that followed was every bit as bad as the Captain had feared, his palms sweating, his whole demeanour uncomfortable, his heart a leaden weight of sadness and helplessness. When he finished he was surprised to find himself sitting in a neat and well appointed sitting room, the large over stuffed couch the only thing keeping him upright. Mrs Shair sat in the armchair facing him, her face almost devoid of colour. Her green eyes glittering with the unmistakable shine of unshed tears,

"When did Niyan die?"

"*Duibuqi, wo bu zhidao*."

His words surprised her. "You weren't with him?"

Foster felt the query like an accusation cutting right through him. "No, ma'am. I was on leave."

Martha Shair frowned. "When were you notified of my husband's death, Johnny?"

"I was woken at 4am and required to attend Minister Rosenbaum's office. A transport was sent for me."

There was a look in her eyes that Foster could not quite interpret but then he was still in shock himself. It was so hard to grasp that a man as ebullient and vibrant as Niyan Shair was really dead.

"Are you saying that the Minister was the one who informed you of my husband's death?"

Her change in tone confused him. "*Qu*, ma'am."

"Not the military?"

Foster just stared at her then realised it was kind of odd now that he came to think of it. Mrs Shair chewed her bottom lip a moment. "You saw the body?"

He shook his head. "No, ma'am. I was instructed to get some sleep then fly out to see you as soon as possible. The Minister wanted to offer his condolences and asked to be informed of your wishes with respect to any funeral arrangements."

The twist of her lips turned bitter. "In other words you were sent to do their dirty work."

"Ma'am?"

"My husband has been missing for DAYS, Captain."

"*Wo bu dong*. I was only notified yesterday."

Martha Shair nodded slowly to herself. No sign of tears now. If there had been any they were now solidified and hard as granite. "Niyan always spoke well of you, Captain. He said your honesty was a breath of fresh air. Perhaps they thought I would not be suspicious if you delivered the news."

He did not know what to say. The whole conversation taking a turn he could not have anticipated in his wildest dreams. It was not lost on him either that the temperature between them had cooled and he was reduced to Captain once again.

"I have only one question for you, Captain, and I would like an honest answer."

He nodded and waited. Non plussed but eager to afford whatever assistant Mrs Shair might need if it were within his power to do so.

"Just tell me this then you can go: who killed my husband?"

* * * * *

It was quiet in the infirmary. Simon pottered around checking the monitor and making sure all was well. Inara had been dozing in the chair beside the Captain's bed when they felt the ship land. Inara's eyes opened like a china doll's when rocked. Simon cast her a smile and got a tray ready to change the Captain's dressings. At that moment Mal stirred and Inara reached out to take his hand, mindful of how sore it still was. The bandage was smaller with less padding and Simon was pleased with how the burns were healing. The Captain blinked as if bringing the 'verse into focus would make it easier to think clearly as well.

"We just land?"

Simon began to undo the dressings around his knees and spoke without looking up. His attention wholly on what he was doing. "You're doing much better, Captain. This is healing nicely. No pulled stitches and the bruising and swelling is beginning to fade."

Mal looked at Inara. She was happy that his face looked much better, the swollen eye now almost normal again. Just a little bloodshot. The only thing marring his recovery was his curiosity. His incessant need to know what was going on with everything connected to his ship and crew. Inara nodded. "Yes, Mal."

His eyebrows rose half in surprise, half in hope. "We got a job?"

"No." The Companion hesitated. "Just dropping someone off."

"You gonna tell me or I gotta go through the whole gorram crew one by one?"

Simon moved on to the other knee and began peeling off the old dressing with care. "Actually Badger and his mother are getting off."

The Captain's eyes narrowed slightly. "When were you gonna tell me?"

The doctor finished putting on the new dressing and looked up. "We just did."

"An' if I hadn't asked?"

Inara pinned him with a look. "Mal, they need to get on with their lives."

"You sayin' they wanted to go?"

"It was time." She said gently.

He frowned as if not sure if that was a yes or a no. "Anyone else get off? Just so I know if I still got a crew."

Inara smiled, not put off by the sarcasm or rising crankiness. After all, this was Mal. She watched Simon wrap the pressure cuff around the Captain's bicep and begin pumping in air. All the doctor's attention on the readings but his next words showed he was listening. "You still have a doctor."

"And I'm still here, Mal." Added Inara.

Simon put the pressure cuff away, the ship lurching very slightly as Serenity took off again. "And I assume you still have a pilot." He deadpanned.

The Captain lay back and glared at them. *Zhen you yisi*. What I do to deserve such a disrespectful crew?"

Inara gave a fond smile and kissed his cheek. The Captain frowned at her as if insulted.

"How you miss this close up?"

"I was aiming for your cheek, Mal."

"Huh. For a moment thought you was my mama."

"If I was your mother I wouldn't be kissing you at all, Malcolm Reynolds."

The Captain raised his eyebrows but decided discretion was the better part of valor and kept his mouth shut. Simon hid a smile and for a several moments no one spoke, the doctor finishing his last round of checks and making sure his patient was comfortable. Inara watched Mal closely, his eyelids growing heavy as sleep pulled at him. He was fighting it, he always did, but Simon had quietly injected a little sedative into his iv line when he was looking at Inara. It wasn't really necesary but neither was letting his patient get distressed over Mistress Barbette's departure. To his mind it was good riddance but the Captain still held fond memories of the woman from his past. Just before succumbing, the Captain's eyes fluttered open again. Stubborn man. "Just thought she would have said goodbye." He murmured.

Inara brushed the hair from his face. "You were asleep Mal, she didn't want to wake you."

His eyes fluttered closed again. This time they stayed shut, his breath evening out as sleep claimed him. Simon waited until he was sure the Captain was asleep before speaking, his voice barely a whisper but loud enough to carry to Inara's ears. "We're going to have to tell him eventually."

The Companion's smile was gentle belying the determination in her eyes. "*Wo zhidao* but not now."

"No," the doctor conceded softly "Not now."

* * * * *

Far far away someone was reviewing his life choices. Smiling to himself, the man hummed as he entered his own personal domain. It was not as slick an operation as the Alliance set up had been but it was even more high tech. More screens and feeds, better shielding and more complex encoding. What he had learnt from the Alliance post he added to his own considerable store of knowledge. Plus he now had enough to tap into those systems that had previously eluded him.

The name Marty was gone - dead. Past tense. It had served its' purpose just like half a dozen aliases before it. Sighing with happy content he sat in his swivel chair and booted up the systems. The smile on his face almost erotic as screen after screen lit up at his touch. This was his hideaway, his place of power, his secret listening post. His own world. His rules. A playground he could manipulate to his heart's content. It had taken less than an hour to wash the dye out of his hair and clean himself up. The hair drying back into its' natural curls, the old clothes incinerated along with anything that could connect him to his last job. Only the information stayed, integrated into his own labyrinthine powerbase. Leaning back, he flicked the last few switches and watched the rest of the screens come to life.

Mr Universe was back. Bolder. Better. And open for business.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*duibuqi* = sorry *shifu* = sir *wode duibuqi* = I'm sorry *qu* = yes (lit. go) *qing zuo ba* = please sit down *wode ganji* = I'm grateful *bu* = no *shouhuangzhe* = liar *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *zhangfu* = husband *dui* = correct *shouwan* = worse *dong ma* = understand? *bushi* = not so *shenme* = what *weishenme* = why? *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *shen you yisi* = very funny *wo zhidao* = I know

COMMENTS

Wednesday, March 11, 2009 8:08 AM

JANE0904


Mr Universe? That is something I would never have seen coming in a million years. Well, maybe in a nine hundred and ninety nine ...

As for Jordan, just what is the nature of humanity? I don't happen to believe it has to be a person that's born ... not if they're compassionate and caring. Good stuff.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009 8:16 AM

AMDOBELL


Nice to have surprised you Jane0904. I wanted to give Mr Universe a bit of backstory showing how he could have acquired some of his expertise and information. As for humanity the very word implies human but this isn't an exposition of what constitutes life. The Devil as they say is in the detail. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Thursday, March 12, 2009 7:01 AM

ANGELLEMARCS


I'm as shocked as you are, Jane. Ali, you have got us on the edge of our seats yet again, holding on by our fingernails....

Okay, so what's next, girl? I'm kind of afraid to ask. ;)

Thursday, March 12, 2009 12:28 PM

AMDOBELL


If I told you what was next Angellemarcs it would spoil the surprise! Once again, thanks to you both for the feedback. It is much appreciated. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, March 16, 2009 3:15 PM

SLUMMING


Mr. Universe...now there's an interesting twist. I'm still mightily intrigued!


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