HANDFUL OF STARS: 12. "Phase Two"
Saturday, November 27, 2010

"Kaylee has a plan to get Monty's ship back in the air. Ritchie goes to be reunited with his wife. Meanwhile River gives the crew something much creepier to worry about."


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

SUMMARY: "Kaylee has a plan to get Monty's ship back in the air. Ritchie goes to be reunited with his wife. Meanwhile River gives the crew something much creepier to worry about." 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 was late. Inara did not know how long she had been sitting beside the Captain's bed in the infirmary, her hands cradling his. Simon had yet to return and she had fallen asleep. With a jerk the Companion woke, assailed by a moment of confusion as if she did not recall where she was then everything flooded back to her. She gazed down at the Captain. Had he moved? Had Mal woken while she slept? It felt wrong to see him so still, the animation gone leaving this husk of a body. Startled by her own thoughts, Inara's eyes widened. Just then a voice spoke behind her.

"Not sleeping. Catatonic."

A shudder ripped through her body. Inara turned her head and stared at River, unable to hide how much the girl's words disturbed her. "River, he's just resting."

River shook her head and closed the distance between them, her bare feet making no sound, her thin dress flowing like a diaphanous shroud. "*Bushi*. Imprisoned in his own body he hears, feels, tastes, smells but can't communicate. Inside his skull he's yelling." River looked at the prone Captain then back to Inara, eyes locking on the Companion's. "Inside his head the air is blue."

Worried, Inara glanced around looking for Simon but there was no sign of him.

"Simon suspects but won't commit himself. Thinks the Captain must have been drugged but he's missing the point. It isn't a coma, medically induced or otherwise."

"Then what is it, *mei mei*?"

"Told you, told you all. He's watching, always watching. And when the eyes are closed to him he listens. All the while gloating."

"River, *wo bu dong*."

The girl didn't move for a moment as if waiting for Inara to say more. When it was obvious the Companion was waiting for more information the girl turned her attention to the Captain and stepped up to the infirmary bed, her eyes on the immobile face. The eyelids closed blocking out her view of the windows to his soul though in her mind she could see him. Hear him too. Yet like some virtual environment she could not touch. Knowing better than to speak her words out loud to him she projected her thoughts, inwardly flinching at the bruised landscape of his mind. *I know you can hear me. You aren't going mad, *dong ma*? You're on Serenity, Captain. The wolves are gone but the vulture is circling. There are always vultures.*

Just then Simon walked into the infirmary with Shepherd Book, Jayne, Zoe and Wash. Inara felt her heart skip a beat, sure that something awful had happened. The idea that something else had gone wrong filled her with dread. Why oh why had they come to this God foresaken place? Simon stopped in front of her, a pinched look on his face.

"Inara, can you wait outside, please?"

Alarm shot through her. "*Shenme shi*?"

"I need to check on the Captain and Kaylee is on her way back from Monty's ship. Can you keep her away from the infirmary until I come and get you?"

Inara let go of the Captain's hand, rose to her feet and crossed her arms. "First tell me what's going on, Simon. Why are you all in here?"

"Inara, trust me. I'll explain later."

The Companion opened her mouth to argue when Zoe spoke, a look on her face that stopped Inara in her tracks. "*Qing*, it's important."

"I'm not trying to be difficult, Zoe..."

Zoe cut her off. "Good. Wash, can you go with Inara? Gonna need you to warm Serenity up for take off soon as Kaylee gets back."

Wash wanted to stay, see what all the fuss was about but could see that if he did that Inara would never go. Holding back his curiosity and frustration he nodded. "Okay, *bao bei*. You know where I'll be if you need me."

"*Xie xie ni, zhangfu*."


The Companion hesitated. River stepped up close and stared right into her eyes. "Have to go now. Come back later."

Annoyed but not knowing what she was fighting, Inara reluctantly allowed Wash to usher her out. As they left Simon turned to his sister.

"*Mei mei*, you should go as well."

The girl shook her head. "*Buneng*. Needs me."

The Shepherd gave River a thoughtful look. "In what way does the Captain need you, River?"

"He's lost. Trapped between Here and There. Needs a compass. A way to find his way Home."

Simon wanted to know what she meant when Jayne huffed, the big man's patience dwindling to nothing. "Show us what you want. Ain't got all gorram day."

With a sigh Simon nodded then asked Book to lock the door and close the blinds. Once that was done he indicated for them to gather round the Captain's bed. "You have to understand my first priority was to stop the bleeding, debride the wounds and stitch them closed. I administered anitbiotics but something kept nagging at me, something I just wasn't seeing."

The first mate frowned, her worry growing. "Think you'd best explain."

"I checked the Captain for other injuries looking for cuts, lacerations, even bullet holes. I found nothing."

Jayne looked confused. "That's good ain't it?"

"Yes, Jayne, it's *hen hao* except... I was so relieved I only concentrated on the wounds I could see."

"Are you saying there are internal injuries?" Asked Book, his deep voice filling with concern.

"*Wo bu zhidao* but that's not what I meant. It's just when I stripped him down I never noticed that he was clean."

Zoe blinked. "*Gangjin*?"


Simon started to remove the clinical scrubs he had put the Captain in, Book quietly moving to the other side of the bed to help him. Still there was no movement from the Captain. Nothing at all. If Book had not been touching him and felt the warmth of his flesh he would have worried that the man had passed away.

They stared at the Captains' naked body, Simon gently turning him onto his side with Book's help so they could see the back then easing him flat again. Simon waved towards the body, his expression tight and unhappy. "The Captain isn't just clean, he's clinically clean."

They stared at him for a moment, not comprehending the distinction. River sidled round to the head of the infirmary bed. "They washed him. Didn't want any of the gel left for you to find."

Simon looked at River, his eyes fastened like limpets on his sister. "Gel?"

She nodded, a hand inching forward until she could brush back the Captains' fringe, her touch fleeting but gentle. Even relaxed and suppine River could sense the Captain's distress and that made her sad, knowing he was screaming inside and no one but her could hear him. "They used it before inserting the wires. Said it would make a better connection."

Zoe had to sit down, she felt sick. Jayne swore, anger suffusing his face, hands bunching into fists at his sides as if he wanted to pummel something.

River looked at their shocked expressions and pointed out the many tiny pinpricks that were dotted all over the Captain's body but were barely visible unless you knew where to look. Simon noticed they formed a pattern and had to swallow to keep back the bile. "*Wode ma*, he was tortured!"

"You were supposed to think he had just been attacked by a wild animal."

The Shepherd had been praying under his breath, now he looked at River with a library of questions in his eyes. "How did you know, River?"

"I can hear him screaming, touch his pain and share the flashbacks. Dark pitiless eyes staring back, enjoying every minute. Making notes, adjusting the voltage." She paused as if her own eerie pronouncements were hard to utter. "He is very cold, scientific, wants to make it last not days, not weeks, but years."

Zoe stared in horror. "Are you saying this is Niska?"

"*Bu qu*. Another follower of Shan Yu."

Shepherd Book paled. "Oh *Shangdi*, this is not good."

The mercenary frowned at him. "Ya think? Thought one twisted *tamade hundan* was bad enough. How we gonna track down this one?"

"What I don't get," said Simon slowly "is why all this? The elaborate subterfuge makes no sense."

"It does." Said River moving away from the Captain's bed. She stopped in front of the door. "We should speak outside."

Zoe didn't want to leave the Captain but she needed to know what River knew. "*Weishenme*, little one?"

River watched Simon and Book put the scrubs back on the Captain and cover him with a blanket.

"He's always watching." She whispered. The look in her eyes pleading for Zoe to understand. "Listening too."

"Mei mei*, you already said the Captain was awake." Said Simon. "I should have listened."

She shook her head. "Not the Captain." River paused then instead of speaking out loud mouthed the word 'HIM'.

They stared at her as if she had taken leave of all her senses but River was already unlocking the door and striding out of it before anyone could ask her any more questions. Simon checked the Captain's vitals and gave Zoe a helpless look before following his sister. As they trailed out after him Book paused and put a hand on the Captain's shoulder. "*Fang xin*, Simon will figure out what to do, Captain."

As the door shut behind them the Captain mentally gritted his teeth. Beneath the closed lids of his eyes a solitary tear trailed down his cheek.

* * * * *

Old man Ellis was sitting out on his front porch, the cherrywood pipe gripped between his teeth while he puffed away in high content. He really liked that little mechanic. Reminded him of his younger sister way back when. He sighed and rocked for a minute or two as he remembered happier times when his family had still been complete. But you couldn't go back. *Diyu*, sometimes you couldn't go forward neither. His place was on the edge of town, the junkyard a rambling collection of bits and pieces that only someone who knew the yard intimately could navigate. Nothing was written down, everything stored inside his head. Many folks had complained about not being able to find things and that suited him just fine. Meant he was kind'a irreplaceable.

As he sat in the fading light of day he noticed a dust trail going out from the town. Huh. That was odd. He squinted and stopped rocking, the better to judge what he was seeing. It was a high powered mule, quite a fancy rig if he was any judge but able to fetch and carry a goodly payload only it wasn't hauling cargo as such. Looked to be just two men, the driver and one passenger. His frame stiffened with recognition as the passenger turned his head. It was that gorram *baichi* of a Sheriff. Man knew as much about law enforcement and maintaining the rutting peace as he knew about drilling for oil. However, that wasn't what piqued his interest. The mule wasn't heading towards any of the ranches hereabouts or out to any of the farms. It was headed North. North where not nothing but sorrow and emptiness lay. Now why in the nine hells would Ritchie Thomas be going North and who was taking him there? Nose twitching with interest Ellis noted the time. Maybehaps he wouldn't be going inside just yet. Was looking to be a fine enough night and he had curiosity a-plenty to satisfy.

* * * * *

Petrie stared at his screen. It was totally black but the inbuilt speakers were picking up voices. Captain Reynolds might not be able to speak or move but not so his crew and right now Petrie was enjoying their frustration and building concern.

"You inspire quite remarkable loyalty, Malcolm." He murmured softly, his head tilting as some of the voices were so faint he could hardly hear them let alone discern what was being said. Then a light, young female voice spoke loud and clear. It was almost as if the speaker was talking directly to him which of course was impossible. No one could know still less imagine what he had done, the microscopic monitoring devices inserted into the Captain's skull. The tiny sensors were extremely fragile and very sensitive. Fortunately no one would think to go poking around in his victim's head so the chance of detection was zero. Petrie could garner a lot of information but with the Captain's eyes closed it left him blind too. That was something he would have to find a way around next time. Apart from the sensors there was one other device he was most proud of, it's needle like extensions worming their way into the receptors of the brain. How he loved wireless technology, it made it possible to continue experimenting on the Captain from afar. Not only able to monitor the affect on Malcolm Reynolds but also his crew.

Standing patiently by the door, the messenger was silent. To all intents and purposes the man had no interest or reaction to his *laoban's* actions. Yet somewhere deep in his psyche remnants of memory sparked along disjointed and damaged pathways. Made no sense to what was left of his intellect yet the mathematical probabilities threw up similarities that would have been disturbing had he the means to access long detached emotions. In his head phantoms hummed where his brain had been rewired. Not completely. Not enough to give any semblance or normality to his existence. After all, Petrie could not allow him to think for himself, to form decisions separate from the cold dispassionate commands that ruled his days and nights. And yet. Even in the ruin of his own mentality something broken stirred. It could not connect with anything or evaluate what sense was being touched within him but for one startling thing: this resonance had never happened before.

* * * * *

River Tam didn't stop until she reached the cargo bay. As the others followed Inara hurried in their wake, not willing to be excluded any longer. This time no one said anything about Inara being present. Zoe put her hands on her hips, her lips flattened into a thin line.

"Okay, River, what is it an' why couldn't you tell us in the infirmary?"

"It isn't safe."

"What ya talkin' about, moonbrain?"

Simon wanted to snap at Jayne not to call his sister that but the look in her eyes caught his attention. Whatever it was, this was serious. "River?"

"He isn't in a coma, Simon, and he isn't safe."

"What do you mean, he ain't safe?" Said Zoe. "Cap'n's back on Serenity, little one. If anyone wants to hurt the Cap'n they're gonna have to come through us."

"*Bushi*. They did things to him."

"Yeah, gathered as much from the pinpricks."

"*Ni bu dong*. You think he let him go. Were supposed to see the marks of the wolf and look no further but he's sly, devious and very, very dangerous."

It took all of Inara's control not to reach out and shake the girl. The dribble of information was almost more than she could bear. "River, what happened to Mal?"

"They set the wolf on him. Distraction for the tranquiliser."

When River paused you could have heard a pin drop. In the silence the sound of the cargo bay door being opened was jarring. Kaylee clattered in carrying her prize wrapped in an old bit of oil cloth. Hurrying over to them the smile on her face faltered. "*Shenme shi*? Y'all look like ya seen a ghost."

Book walked passed Kaylee without a word and shut the cargo bay door then locked it. Kaylee found herself getting nervous.

"*Zenme hui shir*?"

Without looking at her River continued as if there had been no pause and no interruption. "There are wires in his brain, tiny receptors and transmitters to pass information back and forth."

Zoe went cold, this was getting worse and worse. "What kind'a things?"

"Told you. He can hear everything."

The first mate nodded. "*Wo zhidao*, you said the Cap'n was catatonic not in a coma."

"Not just the Captain. He's watching, listening to every word we say."

Several people gasped. Shepherd Book looked more than worried now. "Are you saying whoever took the Captain and tortured him is monitoring him now?"

River nodded. "And us."

"What the ruttin' *diyu* would he do that for? Thought ya said Mal was tortured?"

"Was. Is."

"*Deng*." Simon paused. "Are you saying the Captain is still being tortured?"

The silence that fell was so heavy it was almost painful. Nodding sadly, River forced herself to untangle her thoughts. Make sure they understood every word. "*Qu*. He's not just a torturer, he's a voyeur. Likes to inflict pain but also watch."

"*Wode ma*, why is he doin' this to the Cap'n?"


"River." River turned her head to look at the Shepherd, waiting for him to continue. She knew what he wanted to say but the others needed to hear it too. "Who is this man?"

"*Wo bu zhidao* but he's twisted in ways that make Reavers look sane and he won't stop until someone kills him."

"Tell me where he is an' I'll send him to *diyu*."

"We have to be *xiaoxin*, Jayne. Can't talk in front of the Captain."

Zoe could feel a headache coming on. "It's a bit late for that, little one."

Simon could only see one way out. "I'll prepare the Captain for surgery, maybe I can..."


River's alarmed shout stilled them all. Simon stared at her.

"River, I need to try to find out what they did to him and undo it."

She shook her head, on the verge of tears. Inara took a step towards the girl. "If you do that he'll know we know."

"Huh, don't see the problem." Said Jayne taking his gun out of its' holster and checking the chamber even though he knew full well it was fully loaded. Holding a weapon in his hand always had a calming effect on him, made him feel less helpless. "If he knows we're onto him he'll realise he has to get outta town."

"He won't."

All Zoe wanted to do was find out where this evil twisted piece of *goushi buru* was and rip him into tiny little pieces. "What're you so afraid of, River?"

Tears welled up in the girl's eyes, Inara closed the distance between them and put an arm around the girl. "He'll hurt him, worse than before."

"Then I have to operate." Said Simon firmly, his mind made up.

"No, no, Simon! *Ting*. If he thinks we know everthing he did the Captain will pay the price. He can strip his mind, make him experience nightmares he has never had, don't you understand? And he will enjoy every second of it."

For a couple of minutes no one spoke then Zoe did something that went against the grain. "Okay, River, so what do we do?"

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*bushi* = not so *mei mei* = little sister *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *qing* = please *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *bao bei* = precious/treasure *zhangfu* = husband *xie xie ni* = thank you *dong ma* = understand? *buneng* = cannot *hen hao* = very good *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *gangjin* = clean *qu* = yes (lit. go) *wode ma* = mother of God *Shangdi* = God *weishenme* = why? *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *baichi* = idiot *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *zenme hui shir* = what's happening? *wo zhidao* = I know *diyu* = hell *deng* = wait *xiaoxin* = careful *bu* = no *goushi buru* = lower than dogshit/lowest of the low *ting* = listen *laoban* = boss tamade hundan/wangba dan = fucking bastard


Saturday, November 27, 2010 1:10 PM


So cool! Way to go, River! I can't wait to find out what bizarre plan she has in mind! *grin*

Saturday, November 27, 2010 3:39 PM


Think Zoe might have lost her mind. She's asking for River's game plan... of course, Zoe is also the one who lets Mal lead her everywhere. :) As for the Captain, I am starting to get worried. Are you sure you aren't gonna kill him?! ;)

Saturday, November 27, 2010 9:05 PM


Whelp. Things sure just got all creepy up ins. You can have the biggest government, and they'll have creepy brain cutting scientists, and you can have almost no government, and you can have torture fetish sadists who like brain implants. There is just no way to keep a brain safe in this world.

I propose trepanning. They'll leave you alone if they think someone else got to you already! '__,

Why are you looking at me like that?

Sunday, November 28, 2010 10:06 AM


Neesierie, River isn't a genius for nothing! As for Zoe losing her mind Angellemarcs, she has always been a follower not a leader. Her job is usually to protect the Captain from himself not to come up with the cunning plans. As for things getting creepy, Bytemite, the slow not-much-happening early chapters were to counterpoint what is to come and it ain't over yet! Thanks for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, November 28, 2010 10:30 AM


Compelling chapter, wasn't expecting a such a diversion from your others, but then again that’s the hallmark of good writing.

Agree with you on Zoe, more of a follower than a leader and I like your portrayal of Inara in this fic, very true to character, the worrisome, wanna be included, non crewmember.

She and Mal do seem to get a long best when one of them is either unconscious or comatose.

Sunday, November 28, 2010 10:33 AM


I loved your last line, Platonist. Made me laugh out loud and I almost spilt my coffee. Good call, 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.