HOPE SERIES: 20. "Sideways"
Thursday, December 17, 2009

"The Captain comes up with a plan that manages to surprise almost everyone."


TITLE: "SIDEWAYS" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Simon/Kaylee. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: Sequel to "THE BEST LIE". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at

SUMMARY: "The Captain comes up with a plan that manages to surprise almost everyone." 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

* * * * *

"What do you see, albatross?"

Her eyes were distant misty pools. The minutes lengthened and ticked by like empty promises. Mal glanced past River to where Zoe stood with her arms crossed and an unreadable look upon her face. Knew without the asking that she was unsettled and more than a mite upset about the whole song and dance routine Paul had spun. Probably wanted to kick his *pigu* for even listening to the stupid *hundan* but Zoe had Hope and that left a chink in her armour that held her tongue. It was the Captain's call. For now she would wait and see what he wanted to do.


Slowly the girl responded, her voice so soft it sounded as if it was reaching them from a distance far, far away. Perhaps it was. He had always thought there was something fey about the girl.

"Three. Scared but safe. They hate the dark, the things that scurry and scrabble just out of the lamp light. Shadows hiding monsters like in a nightmare but this one is real."

"Care to be a mite more specific?"

River frowned then focused for a moment on her Captain's face. "Twists and turns, dark then light then dark again. Voices whispering in the rock but they never see anyone. Only *her*."

"You sayin' Patience got 'em in that mine of hers?"

"Not where you went. An old tunnel. Used up. They keep supplies in it."

Zoe stirred. "You sayin' there's more than one mine on White Sands?"

The girl shook her head. "*Bu qu*. As the tunnels were picked clean they closed them up. Didn't want to waste time taking a wrong turn that would lead nowhere."

Her words alarmed Mal. "Them kids are sealed up?"

"No, just not in the main part of the mine. An off-shoot but still connected." River paused a moment. "Crying. Afraid."

"River, think you can pin point exactly what part of that gorram mine those children are?"

She concentrated a moment then shook her head. "Need to be closer."

The Captain straightened and stood up. "That I can do."

Zoe knew what was going through his mind but it still made her worry. "One thing Patience has, sir, is plenty of men. We're one down."

"I'm thinkin' of somethin' Book once told me about Operatives."

Zoe's eyebrows rose so high they almost vanished into her hairline. The Captain never spoke about the Operative, Miranda, Haven or Book and only on occasion did he mention Wash. Not since they had gotten the signal out and what it had cost them. Cost her.

"He said they'd come at me sideways."

"Sir, we're not dealin' with an Operative."

The grin he flashed her was almost disconcerting and sharp as knives. "No we ain't which is why Patience won't be expectin' it."

* * * * *

Chin was unsettled. A widower his only true wealth was his family. Sons and daughters, grandchildren too. There were fifteen of them in all but only eleven worked the mine, the other four too small even for Patience to press into service. But Chin knew their future was as bleak as his own. A life all but indentured to a pitiless madam whose only God was the coin she could get for every last gem worked out of the mine. The thought had not upset him this much in years. It was seeing those children, innocent and unsuspecting of the fate that awaited them, that touched his heart. The heavy piece of stone he carried inside him like a dead thing. Only now it was flickering to painful life, a cold stuttering beat at a time.

* * * * *

Jayne Cobb stared at the Captain as if he had never seen the man before in his gorram life. "You wanna what?"

Simon hovered just a touch away from fussing. Only Jayne's death glare keeping him from stepping in and insisting the Captain not upset his patient.

"Need to hire some mercenaries."

The big man swung his legs over the side of the bed and hopped to his feet, ignoring the flash of pain creasing his injured side even as his body sagged. Reaching out a hand, Mal steadied the big man then eased him into the chair next to the bed. Simon opened his mouth to protest, got two angry glares for his trouble and crossed his arms in a huff. Jayne turned his attention back to the Captain. "I'm gettin' stronger, Mal. Won't be more'n a couple of days 'til I'm good as new."

"*Wei, fang xin*. Ain't fixin' to replace you."

Jayne blinked. Confused. "You ain't?"

"*Bu qu*."

Jayne scowled. "Then why'd ya wanna know 'bout hirin' mercs?"

"Because we're goin' back to White Sands."

"I always knew you was *shenjingbing*. Should'a dumped Paul out'a the airlock an' that creepy *qizi* of his too."

The Captain sat on the end of the infirmary bed. "Jayne, whatever we think of their parents those little ones didn't ask for any of this to happen to 'em."

"Still don't see how it's any of our trouble."

"You know what'll happen if they stay with Patience. Slaves, Jayne. Is that what you want?"

"How'd this become about what I want? I would'a spaced 'em first chance we got."

"An' the children, Jayne? Would you space them too?"

Jayne blinked, a mite upset that Mal would think he was that heartless. His anger waning on a tide of frustration. "Ain't sayin' that."

Minutes stretched and the two men just sat in silence. Simon wanted to get Jayne back in bed but knew he had no chance of doing so without the big man's co-operation and right now he couldn't count on the Captain's help either. The Captain didn't give Simon so much as a glance, all his attention fixed on Jayne as if he was the most important man in the room. Despite how tired Jayne was, having that intent gaze fixed on him seemed to buoy him up.

"So. Anyone halfway reliable you can recommend?"

"You're *yansu*?" Jayne paused just to be sure then nodded slowly. "Could maybe think of a couple'a men."

"Good shots?"

A feral grin stole across the big man's face. "Not as good as me but close. They won't come cheap though."

"Didn't think they would. Can you get 'em?"

"How we gonna pay 'em?"

"Oh, we ain't gonna pay 'em a single credit."

"We ain't?"

Mal was holding back a laugh now at the expression on Jayne's face. "Nope. Reckon Patience owes the 'verse enough to do that."

"That two-timin' back-stabbin' *pofu* won't pay, Mal, ya know that."

"Deal I'm thinkin' on they can take whatever they can carry. Once they help us free those kids."

For a moment Jayne just looked at Mal stunned. "What ain't ya tellin' me?"

"Patience has a mine, *jide*?"

"Yeah, but it ain't gold." "On some worlds opals are worth more than gold."

Jayne's eyes were glittering now. He hadn't known that. "How much?" "*Mei shi*, just so long as they'll take it in payment."

"Long as we get our share." The big man growled.

"Jayne, this ain't about the money."

The big man snorted. "*Diyu*, Mal, it's always about the money."

* * * * *

An-li smiled as she cradled the little one. The scowl on Thomas's face deepened, his grip on his sister's hand tightening. He couldn't pull her too far away without leaving Devlin and that he would not do.

"So young, so protective."

Thomas did not speak. Had not spoken since Patience had the children bundled into this disused section of the mine. Where the tunnels in use were well lit and ventilated. This section had but one feeble light hanging above their heads. Better that total darkness but that was all. It was cold and stuffy but at least it was dry. For now the children were safe but they did not know that.

"What is your name, *haizi*?"

Silence. Holding back a sigh, An-li tried to project calm. To let them know she was no threat to them.

"You hungry?"

Instead of waiting for a reply, An-li called back down the tunnel in rapid Chinese. Seconds later one of her sons appeared with a block of vitamin enriched chocolate. Not a whole bar but a couple of squares. It was thick and hard to break into chunks but would sustain them until something better could be found.

"Here. You take."

Thomas stared at her but did not move. Just when An-li was convinced she was wasting her time, Megan let go of her brother's hand, darted forward and took the offering. In a blink of the eye she had run back to her brother with the prize. His glare was muted by hunger, uncertainty and fear. His eyes flitted nervously back to An-li.

"Eat. I will feed the young one." She laughed.

As Thomas warily watched, An-l undid a few buttons on the front of her blouse and brought baby Devlin up to suckle at her breast. Eyes wide in shock, Thomas turned to stare at Megan only to see a chocolate covered face grinning back at him. He wanted to scold her but couldn't. Megan held out the half eaten piece of chocolate. With a small smile Thomas took it and began to eat, the chunk too big to fit in his mouth whole but soon disappearing.

* * * * *

"I want to come with you!"

Everyone was in the commons room. The discussion of the Captain's plan not raising as many objections as he had thought. Mayhap it was because it was Patience who had done this or more likely because children were involved. No one was particularly happy with Paul or Natalie. Not getting a response, Paul stood up and edged closer to the Captain.

"They're my children."

The Captain's voice was deceptively mild, his face giving away nothing of what he was thinking. "Nice of you to remember."

The man at least had the grace to flush. "You think I shouldn't have left White Sands with you?"

"I'm thinkin' this whole mess is because you weren't thinkin'."

Paul opened his mouth to argue but Mal raised a hand.

"Not up for discussion. You're stayin' on Serenity with your wife."

"The children will be frightened Cap'n, please let me go."

Some of the Captain's intense anger bled through onto his face, his features taut and eyes adamantine as he leant towards the shorter man. Everyone held their breath waiting for Mount Mal to blow. "Pity you never thought about your children before lettin' greed get the better o' you."

"But..." Paul broke off his protest at the look on Zoe's face. Jayne rested his right hand on his holstered gun as if just itching for an excuse to put a bullet in him. The man quickly changed tack. "Why are we goin' to Persephone?"

"Your ears really are ornamental, ain't they? What did I say? We need mercenaries, guns for hire."

"I know what mercenaries are!" Paul snapped then reddened when he realised who he was talking to.

"You look to your wife an' the little one she's carryin', *dong ma*? We're gonna go see Badger."

Dumbfounded, Paul stood rooted to the spot as the Captain spun on his heel and walked out, Zoe and River behind him while Jayne hobbled over to the stove to pour himself another mug of stewed coffee. Dark and bitter to match his mood. The others looked unhappy but Paul couldn't tell if that was with him, the Captain or both of them. Paul rubbed his forehead and closed his eyes, he had a gorram headache coming. Only when Natalie sidled close and leaned in to him did he feel some of the burden shift. Opening his eyes he was surprised to see only himself and Natalie in the commons room. His puzzled and confused expression made his wife smile before saddening.

"Don't get angry with the Cap'n, Paul. He's right an' we both know it."

Paul huffed while hugging as much of her as he could with one arm. "*Wo zhidao* an' it burns, *xin gan*."

Her chuckle was soft and almost inappropriate given the gravity of the situation. "That's called shame, *fengmi*, an' it's been a long time comin'."

Startled he pulled back to get a good look at her face, stung and hurt. Yet he saw no condemnation in her eyes just understanding. "*Wo bu dong*, what do you mean?"

"Oh, Paul." Her eyes softened and she raised a hand to cradle his cheek. "You're a good man, it's what drew me to you back in those mad old days. The money we would've made on that mine isn't worth a single hair on our babies' heads."

He stared for a minute then lowered his head until his forehead rested against hers. "When did you get so wise, woman?"

"Always was, you weren't listenin' before."

"That a fact?"

"Uh huh."

He dropped a weary kiss to her lips and sighed before straigtening up again. "Best I listen from now on."

Natalie's smile was radiant and for one precious second eclipsed the worry for their missing children.

* * * * *

Persephone was a permanent bustle of activity. The mix of people going about their and other people's business made for a lot of comings and goings. Mal strode passed a group of Tongs parading their hard tattooed faces like some badge of honour, ignored the street sellers cooking dubious meats over home made stoves made out of metal barrels. Zoe kept a wary eye out and River was unusually silent. She had barely said a word since informing the Captain that the children were alive but frightened and in the dark. He had no idea what was going on in that crazy but gifted brain pan but knew every single one of them needed to be on their toes if this was going to work. Always supposing he could get Badger to go for the plan.

When they got closer to Badger's bolt hole some of his armed thugs moved in on them, guns drawn in what was obviously supposed to be an intimidating manner. Mal wondered whether they practised in front of mirrors. The little king-pin snapped at an image on his cortex screen then turned away from it in disgust, the screen now dark, his eyes narrowing as they entered his scruffy but well guarded domain. Rising to his feet Badger strutted around his desk towards the trio. If he was curious about Jayne's absence he made no mention of it.

"Could'a saved you a trip. Got nothin' for you."

Mal hooked his thumbs in his gunbelt and glanced meaningfully at the men still pointing their weapons at him and his crew. Badger waved a hand and the guns were lowered but not holstered, his bully boys moving back but staying in sight. "Not lookin' for a job." Badger's eyebrows rose in blatant disbelief. "Doin' some hirin' my ownself."

Watching the expression on Badger's face was pure joy. The little man's lips twisted into an irritated pout.

"An' you're tellin' me this why? Expectin' a gorram pat on the back?"

The Captain's smile did not reach his eyes. "Said I'm hirin'. You in?"

The little weasle's eyes widened then he stared for a moment as if to check the Captain was serious. Badger pointed a finger at himself. "*Shenme*? You sayin' you wanna hire ME?"

Without turning away from Badger, Mal waved a hand at the little man's bully boys. "Actually, your men."

Badger took a breath to steady himself and rewind the conversation over in his mind. "*Wei*, I'm in gorram shock. You walk in here bold as brass an' wanna take over my business?"

Mal shook his head. "*Bu qu*. Got a job for 'em with a hefty cut for you if you're interested."

"What're you up to, Reynolds? An' where'd you suddenly get the coin to try hirin' my men out from under me?"

"Not out from under you, with you. There's a difference. Plenty for everyone. No need to be greedy."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*pigu* = bottom *hundan* = bastard *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *wei* = hey! *shenjingbing* = crazy *qizi* = wife *yansu* = serious *pofu* = *jide* = remember *mei shi* = it doesn't matter *diyu* = hell *haizi* = child *dong ma* = understand? *fengmi* = honey *wo zhidao* = I know *xin gan* = sweetheart *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *shenme* = what


Thursday, December 17, 2009 5:01 AM


Sorry for the delays between posting chapters. I went into hospital for surgery on both eyes before the last chapter (The Best Lie) so slowly getting back to normal. Hope you enjoy, Ali D :|)
You can't take the sky from me!

Thursday, December 17, 2009 7:28 AM


Eek! Not the eyes! Well, hope you're doing better and glad to see you've posted.

Thursday, December 17, 2009 8:43 AM


So glad you are back and able to see again. What a chapter. As always, good ole Badger is causing trouble. As for An-Li, she seems to be good so here's hoping she is. Nice as always!!

Thursday, December 17, 2009 5:07 PM


Looks like you spent your convalescence thinking up a great storyline. Great reading!

Friday, December 18, 2009 8:23 PM


I really liked this one.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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Without warning something came through the opening and rolled with a metallic clang across the ground before exploding.

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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.