HANDFUL OF STARS: 10. "Phase One"
Friday, November 19, 2010

"Shepherd Book helps Monty. The Captain meets an enemy up close and personal. Discovering that Mal is missing Zoe finds herself trusting River to help find him."


TITLE: "PHASE ONE" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: None. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: Sequel to "LAST STRAW". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at

SUMMARY: "Shepherd Book helps Monty. The Captain meets a new enemy up close and personal. Discovering that Mal is missing Zoe finds herself trusting in River to help find him." 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

* * * * *

It hurt, more than it should. For a few minutes the muzziness in his head seemed to hold his body in thrall as the pain came back. Sharp, insistent and tripping along his nervous system sparking off small muscle spasms and creepy sensations he could not control. It was as if his gorram body no longer belonged to him. What the *diyu*?

"Ah, you are waking. *Hen hao*."

Mal wanted to shake his head, loosen the unknown voice from his brainpan, sure that in his addled state he was imagining things. Somehow the thought never made it to action. How about that? Was he dreaming?

"Open your eyes."

He did not want to. For some odd reason he figured that if he kept them closed he would not have to acknowledge that this was real. Whatever *this* was.

"*Wangu chunrun*," the voice muttered softly but without rancour "but then I really expected no less."

Before Mal could process what he heard a fresh wave of pain rolled through his body sparking off spasm after spasm progressing from his feet all the way up to his head. When it lodged behind his eyes the scream was ripped from his throat before he could stop himself. Seconds only it lasted but each one felt like a lifetime. A world of hurt that vanished in the next heartbeat yet left his body trembling with a kind of prickling static all over his skin like an aftershock. Skin? A horrible notion occurred to him. Eyes snapping open he tried to angle his head to view his body. His body ignored the request but someone else didn't. As if being operated by remote control his head lifted and dipped down, enough that he could see himself laid flat out on some kind of operating table. His naked body glistened as if lightly oiled or maybehaps it was sweat yet oddly enough he could not smell any fear. Surely he was beyond terrified so why wasn't he hyperventilating or somesuch?

His head lowered back to the table and he found himself staring up at a shiny chrome ceiling. Mal wanted to blink but all he could do was stare. Huh. This was one weirdly creepy assed nightmare.

"I have waited a long time to meet you, Malcolm Reynolds."

A face he did not recognise loomed over him. As helpless as he felt, the Captain couldn't sum up the ability to worry about it. He saw a warped smile settle into one of smug satisfaction on the face before him, something odd about the skin though he could summon up no more interest than that tiny fragment of observation.

"You are not an easy man to find."

"I know you?"

His captor laughed, a soft sussuration that made the hairs on the back of Mals' neck stand on end. The sensation almost sparked a memory but it was like gorram mist, disappearing before he could grasp it.

"My name is unimportant, Captain, but yours is."

"When I get so famous?"

The face vanished from view. Seconds later he felt a vague pinprick but could not tell which part of his body was playing pincushion to this crazy man's tune. Then all thought disappeared as sharp agonising spikes of pain had his left leg trembling, the muscles jumping. More disturbing than the pain was the creepy feeling accompanying it. His limbs being manipulated by muscle stimulation and random gifts of agony. No way to tell where the sick *tamade hundan* would strike next and yet the moment would pass quickly, the pain vanishing while the aftershocks lingered, his body trembling and jumpy in a way his heart was not. Why the good gorram was he so passive about all this? Had his brain been disconnected from his rutting body? Nothing made sense. Not the torture, the creepy smiling man or his lack of reaction to it.

* * * * *

Jayne answered the com as Kaylee ran back to thank and hug Don Ellis. The old man's eyes were crinkled up around the corners, head dipping to whisper something into the young mechanic's ear before her peeling laughter threatened to block out the com message. Jayne scowled. "Huh? What was that?"

As Kaylee turned to get in the now laden mule, Jayne put the com away and started her up. "Change of plan, we gotta go back to Serenity."

"*Weishenme*? We got everythin', Jayne, even some extra bits for Serenity an' it hardly cost much at all. Even got change which'll make the Cap'n happy." She shook the cloth money bag but the mercenary glared at her to put it away. Flashing coin around was a sure way to get bushwhacked. Didn't she know nothing?

"Seems there's been some trouble."

Immediately her face shadowed with concern. "Alliance?"

"Nah, your fancy boy's safe an' sound or is at the moment."

All the happy turned to annoyance. "You got no call to talk that way about Simon an' what d'ya mean at the moment?"

Jayne shifted gears and piled on the speed. Kaylee hung on as the vehicle leapt forward. "*Wo bu zhidao* but it don't sound good. Seems someone been tamperin' with Monty's ship, Shepherd's gone to help him an' Wash thinks Serenity might be next."

* * * * *

His mouth was dry and his eyes didn't seem to focus quite right. Everything was blurry apart from the pain. He felt achy and sore as the last bout died away and the slow reverberating aftershocks trembled through his now ice cold body.

"This where you kill me?" Mal mumbled, his mouth not quite working as efficiently as it ought.

"If I wanted you dead, Malcolm, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

The Captain almost choked. "Conversation? That what you callin' this little torture session?"

"Don't be *yige yinger*. I know you can stand much more than this and it's not as if you're feeling the full extent of the pain. Plus, you still have all your body parts, be grateful."

Huh. That was funny. Hi-larious even given how much his body had been jumping around. All them electric shocks fair lighting him up from the inside out not to mention the other things that had been done to him. And what did he mean about body parts? Mal tried to swallow but the dryness of his throat was hampering him.

"If you ain't gonna kill me why'm I here?"

Oddly enough his captor's voice had taken on a companionable almost soothing tone. The incongruity of it struck Mal harder than the pain of the electrodes.

"Call it research."

Mal blinked slowly, his vision swimming a mite. Had he been drugged? And yet he could think quite clearly, just not along helpful lines. It was as if part of his brain wouldn't function at his own say so which made no sense at all. And the man was right, the pain as such was nothing compared to what he had endured in the past. Almost as if he was numb to the worst of it yet there were enough spikes of agony to send his body into spasms and all manner of creepifying sensations he was powerless to control while leaving his brain kind of detached. His initial relief at not being tied down seemed of no consequence now, he had no more ability to move on his own than fly. How the good gorram did the warped and twisted sumbitch do that? "Research?"

The man seemed pleased as if he thought he might have lost the Captain's attention. Despite how tired Mal was he was somehow wide awake. Would have to ask Simon how in the nine hells he was able to do that.

"You will die eventually." The tone was mild, conversational. "First I need to map all your responses, the pain of course is just to get a baseline. I don't need you to feel the full force of it just yet, enough to get the reactions I want. Where to feed the wires, how much current to use and so on. It is quite a skillful process."

"Can't believe you're makin' a virtue outta torture."

"We all have our gifts, Captain."

"An' what's mine?"

The face loomed over him again, holding off on the next round in order to answer him. "You were born to suffer, Malcolm."

"Don't think my mama had that in mind."

As the face vanished again a new agony seared through him, this time lighting up his nerve endings. Maybehaps he cried out, he couldn't be sure, but it seemed to last longer than the last session. As it ended he vaguely registered a hand on his shoulder, the warmth seeping through his chilled flesh. "Time to turn you over."

Mal blinked but now could see nothing. His eyes blurring so badly it was as if his sight had been taken. Sound began to stretch and yaw and time had no meaning. As the operating surface was flipped upside down he realised that somewhere along the line he had been strapped securely to the table. Huh. When did that happen and why couldn't he remember things from one gorram moment to the next? There was a spike of fearsome pain at the back of his head then it faded as if numbed. He longed to black out but it seemed his tormenter would not even give him that much relief. Just as he was about to ask what in the nine hells he was doing a bright flash of pain illuminated the inside of his head then everything went blessedly dark and he knew no more.

* * * * *

He didn't know what to do. Things were spiralling out of control with him in the epicentre. Now Zoe was suspicious and Ritchie didn't know how long he could hold it together. He had to keep his silence now more than ever. With trembling hands he put in a call on the cortex link provided for him. Ritchie knew he was supposed to wait but he couldn't sit on his hands any longer. He had to know.

* * * * *

The Kingfisher looked a little worse for wear but at least they had freed the door and there appeared to be no structural damage. Monty growled his thanks to Book, a puzzled expression on his baffled but angry face.

"Why in the nine hells would anyone wanna lock me in my own boat?"

Book had heard all about the ship's engine not firing up and putting two and two together could only come to one conclusion. "To keep you grounded."

"*Weishenme*? I ain't carryin' no cargo, already made the drop."

The Shepherd frowned. "When Kaylee gets back I'm sure she'll have a look round with your mechanic, maybe she can figure out why the engine won't start."

"You thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?"

"I think someone likely tampered with it. What we don't know is who or why."

* * * * *

When Zoe got back to the ship the cargo bay door was wide open and most of the crew seemed to be standing on the ramp. With a sense of foreboding she automatically looked for the Captain but could not see him. Wash hurried forward, his anxious eyes filling with relief at the sight of her.

"*Xie xie Shangdi, bao bei*."

"Where's the Cap'n?"

"I thought he was with you?"

She shook her head, a heavy weight settling uneasily inside her. Felt a lot like guilt, after all she had changed their arrangement to meet up at the relay station. Had something happened? If so, she would never forgive herself. Grabbing her com Zoe pressed the button. "Sir, this is Zoe. Where are you?"

There was no reply. The worry returned to Wash's face, even Simon looked unsettled. Wash had already tried to reach the Captain with no success. Further back up the ramp River leant against the side of the ship, her eyes distant, lips moving but making no sound. Kaylee and Jayne had gone to see if they could help Monty and Shepherd Book was coming back down the ramp after putting the welding equpment away. He took one look at Zoe's face and knew their troubles were only just beginning.

"*Fasheng shenme shi le*?"

"After Kaylee and Jayne left for the junk yard me an' the Cap'n split up." Simon raised an eyebrow but said nothing. He always thought of the Captain and Zoe as pretty much joined at the hip. "Cap'n went to meet Ritchie at the relay station while I took a look around the rest of the town."

"What were you looking for?"

She gave Simon a look he could not quite interpret. "Anythin' that shouldn't be."

"Such as?"

"*Wo bu zhidao*, nothin' about this job has seemed right. Ritchie told us the loss of power was just one of the things that had gone wrong in the town, thought I'd see what else was goin' on."

Shepherd Book felt a sense of deep unease. "What did you find?"

"Think we should take this inside."

Looks of alarm flashed on their faces but before anyone could react River came running down the ramp, her eyes wide as saucers, hair flying back from her face. "He's hurt!"

Zoe caught the girl's arm, hoping to ground her as well as get answers. "*Shei*?"

"The Captain. Needles of pain, they piece him a mouthful at a time." She broke off to look round at Zoe. "We have to hurry."

Zoe clicked on her com. "Jayne, need you here *mashang*. Let Kaylee stay an' help if she can but when she's done tell her to wait for us to return before coming back, *dong ma*?"

"What the...?"

"Jayne!" The sharp tone of command silenced the mercenary.

"Need to get the mule unloaded."

Book was already hurrying back up the ramp before she finished speaking. "I'm on it."

Zoe looked to the doctor. "Simon..."

He nodded. "I'll get my kit."


"I'll get Serenity ready in case we need to take off in a hurry. An' *fengmi*?" He waited until he had her attention. "This isn't your fault, you know that right?"

"Should never have left him."

"You couldn't know anythin' would happen."

The sound of the mule coming down the ramp focused everyone's attention just as Jayne jogged up to the ship, gun in hand. Zoe gave Book a nod.

"Would appreciate it if you stay with the ship, Shepherd. Jayne, go get Vera."

For once the big man asked no questions but ran up the ramp. Inara had listened and watched all the activity in silence, more unnerved than she would admit by what was happening. River started climbing into the mule but Zoe stopped her.

"Not you, little one."

"You need me to show you where he is."

"Just need directions, *dong ma*?"

"You won't find him."

Frustrated, Zoe wanted to insist but they didn't have time for this. That Captain didn't have time so with a curt nod she let the girl climb aboard. Simon came running down the ramp with his medical case, Jayne just a step behind him. Zoe blinked. The man looked dressed for War but she didn't say anything. If harm had come to the Captain that was exactly what those responsible would get. Zoe climbed into the driver's seat as Book jumped down. Inara moved close to the driver's side, her eyes holding concern both for the missing Captain and for those going to look for him. "Be *xiaoxin* and bring him home."

Zoe nodded then shot forward, the mule kicking up dust as it sped off.

* * * * *

*diyu* = hell *hen hao* = very good *wangu chunrun* = stubborn idiot *weishenme* = why? *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *yige yinger* = a baby *xie xie* = thanks *Shangdi* = God *bao bei* = precious/treasure *fasheng shenme shi le* = what happened? *shei* = who? *mashang* = on the double/at once/immediately *dong ma* = understand? *fengmi* = honey *xiaoxin* = careful


Monday, November 22, 2010 11:55 AM


Okay, this was very suspenseful and exciting, but you can't stop here. How long till we get the rest?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010 3:58 AM


You are a web spinner of great stories, though i must say this... no killing of the Captain. It seems we hurt him a lot but no killing. :)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010 6:35 AM


Thanks for the shiny comments, lots more to come. And no, not planning to kill our Captain though he might not think that a kindness for a while. I will make it up to him, promise! 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.