HANDFUL OF STARS: 13. "A Cunning Plan"
Monday, November 29, 2010

"River outlines her plan to a less than enthusiastic crew. Monty wonders what the hell is going on when Serenity leaves him stranded on Cheverell. The Sheriff goes to see Petrie and gets a shock."


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

SUMMARY: "River outlines her plan to a less than enthusiastic crew. Monty wonders what the hell is going on when Serenity leaves him stranded on Cheverell. The Sheriff goes to see Petrie and gets a shock." 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

* * * * *

As the mule sped Northwards Ritchie took a moment or two to watch the passing landscape, noting how the rich soil and habited areas fell away behind them, leaving increasingly barren land flying beneath them. This mule was a Connor 605 and big enough to have a forward cab separate from the loading platform behind them. It also had wrap around windshields for all four sides with a roll top roof. Ritchie had never been North before, never had reason to go there. Why would anyone go into the rocky foothills of what was basically a broken down mountain range where hardly anything would grow? He had also heard there were no streams, natural lakes or water sources either. It was almost as if heading North was like stepping onto a totally different planet. His curiosity piqued he turned to speak to the driver.

"I didn't think there was anything North of Cheverell?"

Posed as a question all he got back was a non committal grunt. Ritchie wanted to press the man but really his heart just wasn't in it. So. His employer liked solitude, isolation. While it was not for him he supposed he could see the attraction for a man like Petrie. Rumour was that Lincoln James Petrie was wealthy beyond imagining, a fact that was bound to make a man paranoid about having it stolen away from him. The mule leaned to the left breaking him out of his reverie. Ritchie held on to a small rail and tried to see the reason for the course correction but it all looked the same to him. Barren rock and uneven sterile ground. He twisted his head to look back and was alarmed to see that it was the same view in all directions. Huh. The mule must be much faster than he realised for the town to be already out of sight. He frowned then looked forward again as the vehicle began to slow.

They almost came to a standstill before a large outcropping of rock. Ritchie craned his neck, saw nothing, and wondered where in the sphincter of *diyu* they were. Just as he was about to demand just that the driver inched forward and did a sudden right turn slipping between rock masses and into the mouth of a cave. Stunned, Ritchie's mouth dropped open.

* * * * *

Kaylee was frustrated and more than a little worked up.

"We can't just leave! I promised I'd find a way to clear this stuff outta Monty's engine."

Zoe's expression was locked down tight, no give in it at all. "*Duibuqi*, Kaylee. We'll come back or send word once we get the Cap'n sorted out." The thrum of Serenity's engine vibrating up through the deck plates notched up Kaylee's alarm. "We're takin' off? Can't ya give me a couple'a hours to see if Simon can find out what this stuff is they stuck in the engine? Then we can be outta here lickity split."

Something in the first mate's eyes hardened. "Kaylee, ain't gonna argue about this. We need to put a lot of distance between us an' Cheverell, *dong ma*?"

Kaylee shook her head. "*Wo bu dong yiwusuoyou*. We in trouble?"

"We will be if we stay."

"This don't make sense."

Knowing the mechanic had missed most of the revelations about what had happened to the Captain, Zoe put a hand on Kaylee's shoulder. "Best come with me. River has an idea to help the Cap'n but says the timin' is crucial. We'll get but one chance at this Kaylee, if we mess it up we may lose him for good."

Her eyes went wide as saucers, worry and panic crowding in around the corners. "He ain't gonna die is he? Tell me the Cap'n ain't gonna die."

"Not if we can help it which is why we can't stay, *dong ma*?"

Numb, Kaylee nodded. All thought of helping Monty's mechanic fix his engine pushed to the back of her mind. It was as if all the happy was draining out of her.


The girl looked up, her expression a mite dazed.

"You with me?"

She nodded. "*Qu*. What can I do?"

"First come with me. River's gonna explain her plan an' when you understand what they did to the Cap'n you'll know why we can't wait a minute longer."

Kaylee could feel her throat closing up with panic. What the good gorram had gone wrong now? Last she heard some animal had attacked the Captain but he was safe on Serenity, wasn't he? Thinking about that and the attack on Monty's ship she was getting a bad feeling in her gut. Her daddy always said that when everything else went to *diyu* you had to hang on and follow your gut. Even if the why of it made no gorram sense.

* * * * *

He blinked, totally stunned by what he saw. Ritchie Thomas had only had one face to face talk with Petrie and that had been at a ranch a day's ride from Cheverell. Every other time contact had been made via wave. Now he realised why Petrie had sent his man to come and get him. Even with a gorram map he never would have found this place and nothing in the 'verse would have prepared him for what was inside this broken down mountain range.

As Ritchie tilted his head back to gaze at the steel clad ceiling he could hardly grasp that he was in a cave system. Not only the ceiling but the walls and even the rutting floor were metal. *Weishenme*? The driver who had collected him gave him a nudge and Ritchie realised he was being told to follow him. Nodding he hurried to keep up, hardly noticing when a man with a ruined face walked passed him going in the other direction. It was all too unbelievable for him to wrap his mind round. As they walked the air got warmer, he began to see evidence of machinery. Mostly computers of some type. People came in and out of a room off to one side but he never got a clear look inside, a big thick metal door closing soundlessly behind them. It was creepy but fascinating.

When the driver finally came to a stop Ritchie found himself facing an open door. Curiosity propelled him forward before his guide could do so. It was a odd room, oblong in shape and again lined with shiny metal. One side of the room held a bank of computer monitors, the other side an assortment of equipment that would not have looked out of place in a scientific lab. Petrie rose from a large leather padded chair and walked towards him, hand outstretched.

"Thank you for coming, Sheriff."

"You said you had news about my wife, *shifu*?"

Petrie nodded gravely and gestured for him to take a seat. Although he would much rather get on with it, Ritchie was not about to insult the one man who could help him. Once he was settled, Petrie gave a heavy sigh, a look of sad regret upon his face. Ritchie felt the palms of his hands go damp, his throat as dry as dust. No, no, no, it could not be bad news. It just couldn't. Instead of retaking his seat, Petrie propped a hip against the edge of the desk nearest Ritchie.

"As I said, your wife was very sick."

"*Wo zhidao*, but..." Ritchie glanced around at all the shiny equipment, swallowed hard and forced himself to look at Petrie. "You can save her, I know you can!"

"*Wode duibuqi*, Sheriff. We did everything we could but she just wasn't strong enough."

He stared, eyes wide and terrified before the grief struck him. Disbelief and shock robbing him of the ability to speak.

"The desease completely ravaged her system. One by one her organs failed. We kept her alive as long as possible but in the end we could do nothing more for her." Petrie paused. "She lost consciousness on the last day."

Ritchie whet his lips and took several tries before he could form words. "Did, did she suffer?"

"*Bu qu*." Said Petrie softly. "It was a peaceful passing."

As if his strings had been cut, Ritchie dropped his head and hunched forward, tears streaming down his face. Petrie continued speaking but he did not hear a word, numb to everything around him. Only one thing penetrated his stunned mind: his wife was dead. His beautiful, witty, adorable wife Audrey had lost her battle with cancer. A hideous desease that was not discovered until it was too late. For what could have been minutes or hours, he sat immobile. Then hands were on him, guiding him back to his feet and Petrie was looking him right in the eye. Ritchie blinked. What had he said?

"Sheriff? Due to the pathology of the cancer your wife's body will need to be cremated."


"Naturally, once that is done you will be given the casket to dispose of as you wish. Perhaps there is some family cemetery you wish to use?"

They were going to burn her body?

"I will have Rauld take you back to town, Sheriff, and once again you have my sincerest condolences for your loss."

Then Rauld was there, the driver showing no sign of emotion. His face a blank mask. As Ritchie rose unsteadily to his feet, Petrie raised a hand.

"One moment, I have something for you. A momento if you will. I was going to keep it but your need is greater than mine." Petrie paused and gifted him with a smile. It looked strange upon his face but Ritchie had trouble processing much beyond his deep sense of loss.

Petrie opened a drawer and removed a small box. It was a 3 inch cube with ornate gold marquetry in a dark glossy wood that could have been mahogany. Not that there were such trees any more but it was known that men of substance had bought up the last trinkets made of the precious material from Earth-that-Was. Petrie handed it to Ritchie.

"I only ask that you do not open this until you get home."

The Sheriff nodded and allowed Rauld to guide him out of the door. He didn't remember walking back to the mule or the ride back to town. In silence he felt as if all the joy in the 'verse had been squeezed out leaving him and his world empty.

* * * * *

Tommy ran into the tiny ship's galley where Monty was eating. Rolly and Morgan had already cleared their plates and were playing cards. Monty looked up just as he was wiping up the last of the protein gravy with soda bread.

"*Shenme shi*? Ya look like the hounds of *diyu* are chasin' ya."

"*Laoban*, Serenity just took off."

The bread never made it to Monty's mouth. "What did Kaylee say?"

"Said she was gonna ask that fancified doc if he could figure out what the stuff was made of that was gummin' up the engine. Said he could like as not find somethin' to clear it out for us, never said nothin' about leavin'."

Monty Reynolds frowned, his look thoughtful. Slowly he finished his bread and got to his feet. "Did we receive a wave?"

His mechanic shook his head. "No, Cap'n."

Monty's frown deepened. That wasn't like Mal or his crew and especially little Kaylee. Something was wrong. "Morgan, you and Rolly get your guns and go outside. Find some place to hide up with a good view of the ship, set yourselves up for a crossfire."

"What's goin' on, *laoban*?"

"*Wo bu zhidao* but I aim to find out. Meanwhile we can't be caught nappin'. Anybody wants to mess with my ship they'll find us ready an' waitin'."

Morgan and Rolly gave him a nod and hurried off while Monty stomped off to the bridge.

* * * * *

Everyone except Wash and the Captain were in the commons room. Zoe's eyes were wide with disbelief.

"You want to stuff the Cap'n's ears with cotton wool?"

Even Simon had to admit it was beyond bizarre. Shepherd Book had been hoping for something more helpful, after all the girl had said she had a plan. Then he reminded himself, this *was* River. "What do you expect to achieve?"

River smiled. "Can't let him hear. Need sensory deprivation before we operate."

Alarmed, Simon could not believe he was hearing what he thought he was hearing. "River, what do you mean operate?"

"Need to remove the wires. Disconnect the bomb before it goes off."

The only word that Jayne heard was bomb. He jumped to his feet. "If Cap's gonna blow up we gotta get him to the airlock, *mashang*!"

Zoe turned a cold stare on the mercenary. "Sit down, Jayne."

"I ain't goin' bang for no one!"

"No one is going to explode, Jayne." Soothed Book. "Isn't that right, River?"

"Before we start we need to feed false information so that when the cotton wool goes in he isn't immediately suspicious."

Inara Serra could not believe they were actually listening to this *goushi*. What Mal needed wasn't some crazy half baked plan but a fully equipped medical facility. River turned her head and stared straight at the Companion as if she had spoken her thought out loud.

"Not half baked, considered the variables. Risk factors are high but if we get the timing right we confuse the enemy and Captain daddy will wake."

Kaylee couldn't help worrying. After Zoe had brought her up to speed River began outlining her plan but to Kaylee it sounded doomed from the start. "If there was wires an' such in the Cap'n's head Simon would'a found 'em when he patched him up."

"I did a full medical exam this time. I almost missed it but there is an incision at the back of the Captain's head, hidden by his hair. It has been sutured so neatly it is barely visible but once I knew to look I felt carefully and was also able to locate some localised swelling."

"So ya take a look inside?"

Simon shook his head. "No, Jayne. The last thing we need to do is rush and make a mistake."

"Yeah well if we don't we may all end up chewin' vacuum."

Zoe could feel her headache returning. "River, start at the beginning and explain your plan. Once we know all of it we can decide whether or not it's viable."

River could have pointed out that there was no other plan that would work but knew it was something they did not wish to hear. By the time she was done every face showed varying levels of shock. Simon's mouth flapped a couple of times. "I um, I can't go along with this."

"Have to. The longer we leave it the more he will suffer."

"But how's killin' him gonna save him?"

The smile on River's face made all of them wince with the wrongness of it. "Have to break the connection to free him."

Zoe wanted to refuse, to tell the girl she was beyond insane but the truth was they were getting desparate and she didn't have an alternative plan. In fact she had nothing. "You'd better be right about this, little one."

"I am."

In the face of River's utter confidence the others fell silent. Zoe looked at Simon, noting how pale he was and somehow comforted that this was as hard for him as the rest of them. "Can you do it, Simon?"

"Technically, yes, though as to whether it will work..." He shrugged.

"Best guess?"


The others exchanged worried glances. River waited until she had their attention again. "Better than no odds at all."

Not nobody could argue with that.

* * * * *

Ritchie Thomas said nothing as Rauld dropped him off at the house. He didn't look up or turn to watch the mule speed off. Heart heavy and all cried out he stumbled up the steps to the front door and let himself in. For a moment he stood in the hallway then went into the kitchen. He placed the box on the kitchen table and wandered around the house in a daze. Nothing seemed rutting real. Eventually he gravitated back towards the kitchen and put the kettle on. He would have to contact Audrey's parents, tell them what had happened. Her father would come over on the next ship, probably bring the rest of the family with him, and what could he tell them? They would demand to know why he hadn't disclosed the details of Audreys' cancer sooner. Knew they would blame him for not letting them get her the medical help she needed but he had been distraught, not thinking clearly, and Petrie had seemed to be the answer to their prayers.

Petrie. Thinking of his employer and supposed benefactor, Ritchie remembered the box. He looked at it sitting innocuously upon the kitchen table. What was it and why had Petrie given it to him? He was tempted to throw it in the waste bin but curiosity stayed his hand. He was about to reach for it when he remembered it was locked and rumaged through his pockets until he found the key. It was small, ornate and made of silver. Ritchie put the key in the lock and undid it. Slowly he lifted the box off the table and opened the lid. He stared aghast, his face losing all colour, his legs going weak as the full horror hit him. Staring back at him on a bed of finest silk was a human eye.

* * * * *

Lincoln James Petrie was glued to the screen, consumed with ill concealed glee as he watched Ritchie's reaction. Ah yes, putting the camera inside Audrey Thomas's eyeball had been a stroke of pure genius.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*diyu* = hell *duibuqi* = sorry *dong ma* = understand? *qu* = yes (lit. go) *weishenme* = why? *shifu* = sir *wo zhidao* = I know *wode duibuqi* = I'm sorry *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *shenme* = what *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *laoban* = boss *goushi* = crap/dog shit *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately


Tuesday, November 30, 2010 4:33 AM


Um.... Ali, I think I was specific about no killin the Captain. We might have to talk that over again... huh? ;) I will trust you. It makes sense and here's hoping all goes well. Just... remember... I happen to like the captain. ;)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010 9:13 AM


So do I, Angellemarcs, but as they say -*goushi* happens and all kinds of stuff is coming up which hopefully will put a happy smile back on your face! Hugs, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Wednesday, December 1, 2010 7:57 PM


Love the crew’s reaction to River's "plan" very in character for all.

Didn't expect an eyeball in a box, either:) with a camera in it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010 6:51 AM


Yuck! There's just something so creepy about an eyeball, isn't there? I like River's plan though! Crazy enough to maybe even work! *grin*


You must log in to post comments.



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.