HANDFUL OF STARS: 11. "Inbetween"
Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"Mal is found and brought back to Serenity. Ritchie is overwhelmed with the need to be reunited with his wife. Meanwhile Kaylee finds out what gummed up Monty's engine and Inara waits for the Captain to wake up."


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

SUMMARY: "Mal is found and brought back to Serenity. Ritchie is overwhelmed with the need to be reunited with his wife. Meanwhile Kaylee finds out what gummed up Monty's engine and Inara waits for the Captain to wake up." 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

* * * * *

To be honest Zoe had not expected to find the Captain so soon. The plan was to head for the relay station then see if Jayne could pick up any tracks. Halfway between the relay station and Serenity they found him. He lay in an ungainly heap, his clothing muddied and torn, the right arm soaked in blood, his clothing ripped. Zoe stopped so abruptly Simon almost tumbled out of the mule but he didn't complain, all his attention on their unconscious Captain. Instead of relaxing when they found him, River seemed to become more alert. Edgy even.

"Be ready."

Jayne scowled but lifted Vera into an easy firing position. His eyes scanning round them. "*Shenme*? What we lookin' for?"

River seemed unsettled, anxious for Simon to examine the Captain back on Serenity. He was taking too long. "We don't have time. Hurry, Simon!"

"River, I need to make sure it's safe to move him."

She shook her head, her eyes seeking Zoe's. Hoping her urgency would do what her words could not. "We have to go, *dong ma*?"

Without knowing what was spooking the girl Zoe nodded and motioned for Simon to help her lift the Captain.

"This isn't a good idea." He grumbled softly.

"Neither's gettin' caught out in the open by whatever took him down." Jayne growled.

Alarmed, Simon paused but an angry glare from Zoe reminded him that this was not the time to tarry. It took a couple of goes to get Mal in the mule, Jayne declining to help while danger was possibly stalking them. He had seen those slash marks, the rips and tears, the messy clumps of bood that no doubt had bits of flesh attached. Some animal had obviously attacked the Captain and it was still out there. Maybe it was alone but he wasn't going to risk the chance that there might be a whole pack of them.

Within a couple of minutes they were flying, Simon hanging on to the Captain as best he could but unable to do more without risking tumbling off the mule. Jayne stayed sharp, eyes narrowed and carefully sweeping from left to right. If he saw so much as a nose peek out of the underbrush or from behind a tree he was going to blast it to Kingdom Come.

* * * * *

Dispassionate eyes watched. Noted. Then turned away. The ruin of the face had been badly healed, the new skin tacked on with as little care as the old had been ripped off leaving thick seals where smooth skin should have been. Only he had been too far gone in the ninth circle of *diyu* to feel anything any more. This time round lost sensibilities made sporadic forays into the disjointed pathways of his mind. Pieces missing, others mangled almost beyond recognition, others displaced yet leaving him with enough remaining that he could fathom mathmetical constants and follow bizarre trails of logic to conclusions only dreamt of by others. It was the other skills that eluded him. Now a remote echo of compassion stirred but to him it had no name and vanished before he could try to contemplate what it meant. No matter. His long legs took him quickly away from his place of observation and without hurrying returned him to his master.

Vague words of revulsion scrolled through the broken landscape of his mind. Alien yet familiar to his tongue even though they remained unspoken. Petrie looked up from his desk and waited.

"They have retrieved him."

The cold hard face took on a look of satisfaction. "And the beasts?"


Petrie nodded. It would not do to leave the feral wolves at large, not when they were such useful tools for deflecting attention. Let the townsfolk be rallied to hunt them down, they would find nothing. That simple futile act would do more to engender fear than anything seen would do. The human mind was a wonderful magnifier of horrors both real and imagined, and given an ancient natural enemy to focus on no one would be looking for the very real one in their midst.

* * * * *

"It ain't right!" Kaylee murmured, her hands and face smudged with oil and dirt, her hair thrown back in a band to keep it out of her eyes while she worked.

Monty's mechanic Tommy Banks huffed in frustration. Fortunately the Kingfisher's engine was large enough for him and Kaylee to be almost side by side. "What in the sphincter of *diyu* is that?"

Kaylee didn't answer right away, too busy using a stick to reach into the workings and free the mess gumming up the engine. As she pulled some free it elongated into a viscous sticky mass. Like gelatinous glue - with hairs on. "*Wo bu zhidao* but this is what ails her."

"How're we gonna get it all out?"

Serenity's mechanic was careful not to touch the gooey gunge, using a cloth to wrap around the end of the stick to preserve it.

"What're ya doin'?"

"Takin' a sample. When Simon gets back he can take a look at it for us. Find out what the good gorram it's made of."

"Kaylee, we gotta get it outta the engine, *mashang*!"

She looked at Tommy's earnest face. "*Wo zhidao* but it's in the workin's, see? Can't dig it all out, not without dismantlin' the whole engine an' we ain't got the equipment to do that not without a proper workshop with all the right liftin' gear. Trust me, once Simon gets the break down of what this is we'll come up with somethin'."

Tommy didn't mean to be sceptical but he worried that whoever had grounded them might be coming back. He didn't like the notion of being stuck on Cheverell like an insect in gorram amber. Felt a mite too vulnerable and he still didn't know what they wanted. Whoever 'they' were. "What good will that do?"

The sudden mega watt smile that broke out on Kaylee's face almost blinded him. "This ain't natural, Tommy. Somebody made it up then blasted it into the engine. If it's man made as I'm suspectin' then it can be neutralised. Just have to know what chemicals an' what not we're gonna need to break the bond."

He stared at her, wondering when the girl had suddenly begun speaking a language he could not comprehend. Seeing his look she chuckled.

"We're gonna go see what we need to get this unstuck, *dong ma*?"

His expression cleared, relief a welcome visitor to the worry eating him up over the safety of his ship and crew. Monty was a good boss and a fair if eccentric Captain. While all of them had enemies of one sort or another, Monty had fewer than most and none that he was aware of on this backwater lump of rock. That people actually lived here and called it home was a mystery he did not think he would ever fathom. Didn't matter how much they prettied the place up, it gave him the creeps.

"Hope you're right." He grumbled good naturedly.

Kaylee's sweet smile turned a notch down, her look reassuring. "We'll fix her up good as new, *fang xin*. Might take a little while but ain't nothin' with workin's I can't fix. Just gotta have a little faith."

* * * * *

Arriving back at Serenity, Zoe keyed her com for Book to open the door while a few yards from the ship. As the ramp lowered she slowed down but didn't stop, not doing so until they were safely inside the belly of Serenity. As Zoe hopped down River followed and stared back down the ramp, her eyes going distant. The Shepherd moved forward to help lift the Captain, Zoe nodding her thanks as Jayne helped. Simon fussing and hovering, anxious to get the injured man to the infirmary. Zoe glanced at their retreating backs then made her way to the open cargo bay door and gave River a look, while keeping a sharp eye for anyone that might have followed them.

"See anythin', little one?"

River shook her head slowly but didn't take her eyes off the distance. They were not parked right in the town but on the southern edge. Close enough for all the amenities yet not right on top of folk. As the Captain had said, they didn't want to go ruffling up feathers they didn't have to. Might want to return to this planet some day. Zoe would be happy when they brushed the dust of this world off them and happier still if they never laid eyes on Cheverell again. River turned her head to look at the first mate.

"Not a bad place."

"Only takes one rotten apple, River."

"*Qu*. So we find it, take it out."

Surprised, Zoe glanced at her. "You know who's doin' this?"

"No names, no faces either, but he's watching. Always watching."

Zoe resisted the urge to shudder. "What does he want?"

The girl's voice dropped to a whisper, her eyes now fixed outward again. Sadness dusting every word and falling like crystals of ice in Zoe's heart. "Already has it."

"We got the Cap'n back."

"That's what we're supposed to think."

Annoyed, Zoe stepped back and slammed her hand on the big red button closing the cargo bay door. Her eyes like lasers on River Tam's face. "Best you explain."

"It's muddled, unclear."

"Simon says those wounds are from some kind'a animal, a dog or somesuch."

River nodded. "Wolves - canis lupus - largest wild member of the dog family. Can weigh up to 45 kg but these are bigger. Meaner too."

"You mean there's more than one?"

For a moment the young genius did not speak. When she did her words were measured as if every one had been hand picked. "Hunt in packs but not always."

"Is that yes there's more than one or no?"

The girl's eyes widened momentarily. "There's always more than one but they aren't free. Even when they feed it's controlled."

Zoe didn't know what to make of that. Was River saying what she thought she was saying? "Thought the wolves were wild?"

"Were. Are. Not tame but contained. Used, abused. Just tools now." Her expression was sad. "He said someone let the bloodhounds out but they didn't. Have to keep them fed but still hungry and they like their meat still warm."

* * * * *

Cheverell wasn't the shiniest of planets in the 'verse but it had a goodly population with a fair mix of skills scattered among them. The town itself was mostly industry with freshly grown produce brought in from Fairdale to the West, a rich swathe of countryside turned to the plough. Ranches dotted the land to the East but nothing and no one ventured North. It was said North lay barren lands where little would grow and only the hardiest of small creatures lived. Not so much a mountain chain as endless foothills with not even the strength to form decent peaks.

Ritchie stared into the cortex screen and tried not to flinch. The image staring back at him was as empty of emotion as if the body had been drained and he was facing a cadaver. He tried not to think along those line, not sure if his mind could be read through the screen. He would not put anything past Lincoln James Petrie. As if the man weren't scary enough via the cortex link he was terrifying in person. Ritchie tried not to quail before him, taking time to moisten lips gone dry and a throat closing up with trepidation. Reminding himself over and over again why he was making this call.

"I need to see her. *Qing*. It's been three weeks, *shifu*."

"Are you saying you do not trust me?"

His heart dropped, palms sweating, heart thumping painfully in his chest. *Shangdi*, this was a mistake but he was committed now. "*Bushi, shifu*. I just need to know she's alright. Miss her so much."

For a moment Petrie just stared at him then gave a slow thoughtful nod. "Then you should come up. Sooner rather than later, but come alone *dong ma*?"

Relieved, Ritchie nodded vigorously as if his head was on a string. "*Wo dong, xie xie ni*."

"Don't thank me yet. You should know Sheriff that your wife isn't doing well. In fact she is not expected to last more than a few hours at best."

He could hardly breathe, the shock sending his senses into freefall. "You said you could cure her."

A flash of anger sparked like a lightening bolt and stilled Ritchie's tongue. There was a reason why this man scared the living *goushi* out of him. "She was badly injured, you know that?"

"Yes, yes, the fall."

"I will send someone to collect you."

Before Ritchie could say anything else the screen went black. He stared at it for a minute of two then shook himself. Quick, he needed to go, to see her. They had been married less than two years but Audrey was the love of his life, simple as that. Folks might say he married her because her father was rich and powerful but that wasn't true. Soon as he'd looked into those beautiful eyes and seen her smiling back at him something in his heart melted. From that moment on he was her's. Twenty months later and a stupid quarrel had them yelling at each other on the stairs, him ready to stomp off and leave her to it and her determined to make him hear her out. She wanted to move, leave Cheverell and settle nearer to her daddy. Ritchie hated the idea, didn't want anyone leaning over his shoulder telling him what to do and when to do it. The Sheriff's job had been his chance to carve a life for himself and his bride without interference. As he'd started to move away from the bottom of the staircase to the front door, he heard her plead with him not to leave angry. That was when it happened. He'd stopped and turned, his anger draining away as it always did when she looked at him like that. The sorry on his lips froze as Audrey rushed from the top landing, her heel catching in the stair carpet sending her tumbling end over end.

He had stared, horrified, frozen to the spot for a split second as time slowed then it snapped back into normal and he was rushing, reaching the bottom of the stairs as her head bounced off the last step. Dropping to his knees he held her as the light in her eyes glazed over, a cloud that robbed him of her vibrancy and left him in a panic. The local doctor hadn't been able to do anything and Audrey slipped into a coma. It was expected she wouldn't last the week. That was when he had heard about Petrie. The man didn't advertise his presence but one or two people knew of him. Not first hand mind but through the grapevine of gossip handed down in hushed whispers. All Ritchie had known was that the man was richer than God and twice as powerful. What that meant had never been elaborated on but he was some kind of genius recluse with facilities the like of which even the Core worlds would be envious. So in desperation Ritchie had tried to find him but came up empty time and again. No one it seems knew where he lived or how to contact him. It was like trying to capture the wind. Meanwhile his wife sank deeper and deeper into that nether world where he could not follow. Then hours before the machines keeping her alive were due to be switched off he had received a message. Contact from the man himself. After that it had been easy for Petrie to extract his price. Such a small insignificant one but Ritchie was in no position to question his benefactor and siezed on the lifeline being offered to him.

With a shake he brought himself out of his reverie, hands shaking as he grabbed his jacket and ran out of the house to wait. With luck, Petrie would be mistaken and Audrey would recover but Ritchie felt a heaviness settle in his heart like a stone, a foreboding he wanted to ignore but could not. As he waited he prayed while the sands of hope sifted through his helpless fingers.

* * * * *

There was a wierdness to the strange no-man's land between waking and sleep. Couldn't blame it all on the drugs neither, his hearing as sharp as ever even if the mumbled words were somewhat a puzzle to him. His body felt detached and foreign to him. Huh. How about that? Was he dead? Is this what dying felt like? No. Was pretty sure that would hurt more, not to mention the weeping and wailing. Plus there would be angels, loved ones to take him through the pearly gate always supposing he wasn't met by gorram demons and taken the other way. The thought darkened his mood for a second then vanished, nothing touching him other than in a fleeting barely-there way. It was like his thoughts were teflon coated, not nothing would stick.

Simon moved quietly around the infirmary. Having checked the Captain's forearm it had been an easy matter to clean and stitch the deep rips made by sharp unclean claws. He pumped antibiotics into his patient's system using the fact that the man was still unconscious to his advantage while he checked to make sure there were not other wounds hidden on his body. He found none. Privately Simon was concerned. Not with the Captain's injuries, for those were easily treated, but with the fact that he had yet to regain consciousness.

"Simon, how is he?"

"The lacerations have been treated, he should wake soon."

Inara nodded, her eyes on Mal. "Can I sit with him?"

"*Qu* and you might try talking to him."


"He should be waking soon. It would be good if the Captain knows he's waking in a safe place."

The Companion put a hand to her throat before she could stop herself. Simon peeled off his surgical gloves and dropped them in the bin.

"I'm going to check on River or do you want me to stay?"

"*Bu qu*, I'll be fine."

Settling into the chair beside his bed Inara watched the Captain sleep. With a small sigh she reached for his uninjured hand and cradled it between her own.

"You never do things the easy way do you, Mal?"

Trapped within his body the Captain could not move, scream, or rant and rave. His body would not obey him and although he had access to his senses he could only use them passively, like an eavesdropper on his own gorram life. What in the nine hells was going in and why was his last memory one of a man with no face?

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*shenme* = what *dong ma* = understand? *diyu* = hell *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *wo zhidao* = I know *qu* = yes (lit. go) *qing* = please *shifu* = sir *Shangdi* = God *bushi* = not so *wo dong* = I understand *xie xie ni* = thank you *goushi* = crap/dog shit *weishenme* = why *bu qu* = no (lit. no go)


Wednesday, November 24, 2010 11:55 AM


Loved this metaphor: "As he waited he prayed while the sands of hope sifted through his helpless fingers." Thanks for adding more! I was chewing fingernails! *grin*

Thursday, November 25, 2010 4:22 AM


Woman, I have been a bad influence on you. Cliffhangers... for shame. :) Anyway, wow, what a chapter... they have no grade higher than a 10 so just imagine a ++ next to it. I loved LOVED the last few lines, the way you described Mal in his body. Such a flow with word, but will he ever figure out who tried to kill him... waiting patiently on my hands... as to not chew off my fingernails.


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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.