HANDFUL OF STARS: 14. "Possum"
Sunday, December 5, 2010

"The messenger finds Serenity gone. Monty discovers that his friend did not abandon him and Simon pulls out all the stops to undo what Petrie did to the Captain."


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

SUMMARY: "The messenger finds Serenity gone. Monty discovers that his friend did not abandon him and Simon pulls out all the stops to undo what Petrie did to the Captain." 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

* * * * *

"I have to stay."

Simon shook his head. "River, I need to stop the Captain's heart."

"His body will be asleep but his mind will be awake."

"The Captain may actually die, River. He won't be sleeping."

The girl nodded to show she understood what her brother was saying, her eyes wide round pools too deep to fathom. Did Simon actually not think she knew the risk? "Body, yes. Brain takes minutes to die. He'll panic, Simon. No one able to hear him, reach him, manage the fear. Instinct - ancient, primodial and desperate will take over."

He tried a different tack. "We still don't know if this will work, *mei mei*."

"Have to try or he'll be lost forever."

Simon nodded reluctantly, she was right. To take no action at all would leave the Captain locked in his own body and powerless to stop whatever evil machinations his tormenter had planned for him. If they did not act, Malcolm Reynolds might never regain consciousness again. "You should still wait outside."

"Needs me, Simon. I will be his compass."

He looked to his right where Zoe stood like some silent sentinel, her back ramrod straight. "If we're gonna do this best we make a start."

"Right, *dang ran*."

The doctor scrubbed up then checked his patient's vitals as Book wheeled the defibrilator into place. Simon paused to stare down at Malcolm Reynold's body, hardly able to believe that he would have to kill his Captain in order to save him. In this bizarre 'verse in which they lived it shouldn't have been such a shock to his system but he had taken an oath. To do no harm. Now he was choosing the lesser evil over the greater and as he reached for the equipment that would stop Malcolm Reynold's heart he tried to convince himself there really was a difference.

* * * * *

Old man Ellis stood, the better to keep an eye-line on the speeding mule. Wherever the Sheriff had gone he had not stayed long, Ellis still had half a pipeful of tobacco in his bowl. What was he up to? Though he could only see them from a distance, Ritchie appeared to be hunched over. It told him nothing but it did pique his interest even more.

* * * * *

He stood, astounded. Pretty much stunned. No matter which way he looked at it the truth was plain as the nose on his damaged face. Serenity was gone. Something deep inside him loosened just a fraction, a truncated but clean breath hissing through his much abused body. A tiny forgotten part of himself was glad. It was quickly squashed by the duty drilled into him by his master and the need to report this unexpected development. He turned his head and took a walk around, noted the battered old Kingfisher was still in situ. If he had walked right round it he would have discovered the ship was no longer sealed shut but he saw what he expected to see and did not investigate further. Wasn't even worth questioning the crew, them being unable to exit the ship to speak to him. No. Someone or something had spooked Serenity's crew or maybe the state of their Captain had sent them rushing off-world in search of some fancy medical facility? Whatever the reason it was not his job to speculate only report on what he found. It was time to return to the mountain.

* * * * *

Lincoln James Petrie was still smiling with smug satisfaction. Sheriff Ritchie Thomas's reaction to his little 'gift' made the loss of his trophy worth it. Turning to another monitor he flicked it on and caught the end of a conversation in Serenity's infirmary.

"He doesn't look good."

"Then fix him!"

"Zoe, it's his heart. All the trauma, it's just too much for him."

"What're you sayin'? Cap'n went through the War, the horrors of the valley an' all the *goushi* we been through since an' now he's givin' up?"

"I think being trapped inside his body is the straw that broke the camel's back."

"What the *diyu* does that mean?"

"*Duibuqi*, it's an old saying from Earth-that-was. It means it's the last of a long line of shocks and stresses."

"He ain't gonna die 'cause you're gonna save him, *dong ma*?"

Petrie listened in half fascinated silence. Despite the fact that they could not hear him Petrie held his breath. Simon's voice dropped to a whisper.

"Look at the heart monitor, Zoe. We're losing him."

The background beep he had also been hearing suddenly changed into a long drawn out single tone then everything went dead. Silent. Frustrated, Petrie fiddled with his controls. Nothing. The connection was dead. As dead, presumably, as Malcolm Reynolds. If Reynolds died the link would die with him. Angry beyond words, Petrie ranted and raved at the non responsive equipment, his voice rising until he was screaming obscenities at it. The door swung open and two of his guards rushed in, weapons raised, then stopped in confusion.


Petrie could not control his rage, without thinking he grabbed the nearest guard's weapon and turned it on the monitoring equipment. The spray of bullets shattering screens and ripping to pieces delicate listening devices and the equipment that supported them. Only when the shower of sparks and glass produced arcs of electricity snapping in the air and taking out the lights did he remove his finger off the trigger. Nervously the guard he had disarmed stepped forward, his shoes crunching on shattered glass and debris, and retrieved his weapon. Petrie did not look at him. Instead he turned and walked towards the door, pausing only to issue one last order before he left. "Get this mess cleaned up, *mashang*."

The two men straightened. "Yes, *shifu*!"

Petrie didn't look to make sure his order was carried out, his steps lengthening amid a burning need for fresh unrecycled air. After so long plotting and planning for this moment, he needed to recover his equillibrium but knew that even if it took him months or years, he would be unlikely to ever find such a perfect subject again. It kept his cooling rage burning, simmering like hot wires beneath his skin. An emptiness in his gut at being cheated in what should have been his moment of triumph.

* * * * *

As River had said, timing was everything. To be extra careful Zoe instructed Wash to take Serenity behind an iron rich moon called Pathos. Somehow the name of the place seemed fitting. Wash tried to hide his worry without success.

"Do you think this is gonna work, *bao bei*?"

"Simon's the best there is, Wash."

"Don't get me wrong, I agree, it's just the whole cuttin' into the brain thing."

"Doc knows what he's doin', *zhangfu*."

He wasn't sure but Wash thought she sounded less certain the second time around. It did little to settle his nerves but that wasn't his only worry. "Zoe?"

Wash almost heard the sigh she bit back. "Just fly, *dong ma*?"

"Um, we're pretty much in place. I just, I know you don't wanna talk about it, *bao bei*, but what if the Cap'n ain't the same afterwards?"

Her eyes flashed, hard as flints but the anger was not directed at him. It was more as if he had poked at a deep seated worry of her own, one she had been trying to pretend she didn't have. "Right now I'm more concerned about him wakin' up."

The pilot fell silent and tried not to think how the Captain's life hung in the balance as well as his sanity. Not that he had much of the latter to begin with, but still. They needed Malcolm Reynolds back. The crotchety, sarcastic, quick witted and quick on the draw *shishengzi* who held their little band of battered heroes together. They might bitch and complain under his command but all of them knew there was no one better suited to the role of Captain, and no one who was more stubborn and intractable in changing the odds when everything in the 'verse was against them. Time and again that man had brought them through situations that should have meant the death of every one of them yet Malcolm Reynolds didn't know how to quit and by force of will alone succeeded where common sense said they should have failed. Now he was hoping, praying even, that the same implaccable will would bring him safely through the brain surgery.

* * * * *

Baffled, Monty stared at the note. Rolly had tried several times to interrupt his *laoban's* angry tirade, eventually waiting until his Captain ran out of steam and needed to take a breath.

"Why didn't ya tell me ya had a message?"

"Was tryin', *laoban*."

Monty activated the flimsy, words scrolling across the thin transparent material and making his eyes widen as he read. "*Wode tiana*!"

His crew gathered round, trying to read over his shoulder.

"Serenity didn't abandon us."

Tommy looked surprised. "They didn't? Then where in the nine hells did they go?"

In silence, Monty read through the note a second then a third time before deactivating it. Rolling up the flimsy he huffed in frustation, his anger replaced by worry. "Seems some *tamade hundan* got hold of Mal, did things to him."

Rolly frowned, not understanding. "What things?"

"Torture an' the like."

The men stared at their boss. Monty ran his fingers through his bushy whiskers, wishing there was something he could do and getting mad all over again.

"That's why our engine was killed, Tommy. Someone wanted to make sure we couldn't go an' help Mal."

"But we was about to leave, *laoban*."

"Maybe they didn't know that?" Rolly offered.

"Or maybe," said Monty darkly "they just wanted to make sure."

* * * * *

The messenger didn't mind the walk. In fact it was one of the few times he felt anything even remotely resembling peace settle over him. He knew Petrie would be livid at the news, probably take it out on him. Again. Now that the woman was dead he would be the likely target for the man's wrath. It never occurred to him to walk away, to just not go back. Independent thought was difficult for him and not just because of the damage done to his mental faculties. Hard wired into his brain were the command pathways that ruled his days and nights, the impulses that dictated his comings and goings. Petrie still liked to give some commands in person, relishing the detail of his instructions while focusing on his unwitting messenger. As if he wanted to see if the man would flinch. But he did not, never had, never would. He had been beneath the man's knife many times. Had his heart stopped, his skull cracked open and every part of his anatomy tampered with and experimented on. Petrie didn't just want total obedience, he wanted entertainment. Which was why the *chusheng xia-jiao de xiang huo* had laughed when he had ripped the skin from his face.

Yet every now and again something sparked. A connection perhaps touching too close to another or a synapse firing when it should no longer be able to. Whatever the cause or the reason at those times he felt something almost like emotion. A sense, a taste of what had been lost. A fragment of humanity too fleeting for him even to grasp it enough to treasure.

In those rare moments when memory cast its' all too fitful shadow he wished for death. Anything that would stop a life that was no kind of living at all.

* * * * *

Sluggish. Like thick black treacle or molasses. Senses a slowly widening messy blur, a congealing mass of conflicting information that never quite sharpened into clarity. The pieces too small and fragmentary. Nothing made sense. Everything he wanted, needed, was out of reach. Thinking was painful and he did not know why. Had he hit his gorram head? Yet it didn't feel like a concussion. Knew what that was like. This was more widespread and intense. Frightening too. Like the sensory deprivation was inside his head not in his body. Huh. Must be what going mad feels like. Would have to ask Simon. With all his fancy learning the boy should know.

*You're not going mad*

That was weird. Was this his thought or hers? That was when the pain hit him. Mind wrenching and ripping at his thoughts, robbing him of coherence and direction. The agony a frission of untold horrors each worse than the one preceding it. How did he rutting know that? He wanted to scream but he couldn't complete the thought, the instruction to his flaming mind, the heat like wires burning, burning, burning. Mentally gagging, nowhere to run. Freedom just a gorram word without meaning and yet it left an echo inside him as if someone had struck a mighty blow on the stretched skin of a drum. Skin. Huh. Why did that send threads of terror through him? Or maybehaps it was the drum?

*Stay with me*

*Shei*? *Shenme*?

*Captain daddy, you have to hold on*

To what? To whom?

*It's River*

He was in a gorram river? What the *diyu* was he doing in a river?

*It's my name*

Part of his consciousness thought the voice sounded upset but that couldn't be right. How could there be voices in his gorram head? Had to be himself thinking. Maybehaps out loud. Was that right?

*Hold on!*

He wanted to ask why when an indescribable agony tore through him, wrenching the voice that was not a voice away from him until all that reverberated through the pain was a thin anguished wail. Was that him? Sparks seemed to crackle behind his eyes, everything was fragile but upside down. Images and broken thoughts mixed up and nonsensical. He felt sick, ill, distraught and drowning. Must be the river. Should'a stayed on the gorram bank. His mama would tan his hide from noon to nightfall. Would deserve it too. Getting his Sunday Best soaked was a crime against the Good Lord. Or so she would say. Only he didn't believe in that *goushi*, did he? Was that why he was being punished?

A narrow focused pain slithered like a flexible knife undulating through his senses, cutting off his disjointed and haphazzard thoughts but letting the voice filter through. Drip, drip, drip, like he was full of holes.

**Bu yao zou*! Captain daddy, you have to hang on*

The infirmary was silent but for the sound of Simon changing instruments and the thin barely uttered sound of River's distress. Simon wanted to comfort her, tell her to go outside but he did not dare take his attention away from his patient. The Captain's vitals were shaky, his heart had stopped twice already and he wasn't sure how many times he could shock it back to life. The disconnection had gone well but he had not wanted to risk leaving it a moment longer before bringing him back. The defibrilator did its' job, the Captain's heart jump started into resuming but it was uneven. Tachycardial and arythmic. After a staggered pulse it stopped, abrupt and brutal shocking the doctor more than the paitent. Only his training kept the panic at bay so he could do it all over again. This time he got a better sinus rythym, heartbeat thready but slowly recovering. Hardly daring to hope the worst was over, Simon carefully began removing the wires and state of the art nanotech that Perie had used on the Captain. It made his blood boil that such a sick *tamade hundan* could take pleasure in putting another human being though something like this.

Even at his most maddening Serenity's Captain did not deserve this. No one did. Simon felt drained of emotion now that the shock of what had been done to Mal had passed but even as he carefully put the Captain back together again, a deep but slow burning fire built up inside him. If he ever got his hands on the *heishoudang liumang* responsible, hypocratic oath or not, he would end him. And that was one promise he would gladly keep.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*mei mei* = little sister *dang ran* = of course *goushi* = crap/dog shit *shifu* = sir *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *bao bei* = precious/treasure *zhangfu* = husband *dong ma* = understand? *shishengzi* = bastard (not as an insult) *laoban* = boss *diyu* = hell *wode tiana* = my God *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *shei* = who? *shenme* = what? *chusheng xia-jiao de xiang huo* = animal fucking bastard *bu yao zou* = don't go! *heishoudang liumang* = gangster asshole/bastard *duibuqi* = sorry


Sunday, December 5, 2010 1:38 PM


Girl... what are you doing to me? This is soooo good. I love the gut wrenching drama between River and Mal... him trying to remember who she is and River getting flustered. I also love the way you have Simon... extremely dedicated. As for Monty, he's quite an interesting character. :) MORE PLEASE!

Monday, December 6, 2010 3:36 AM


Wonderful. Simon's intensity, Mal's pain and River's distress ... brilliantly written. And I can't wait to see if the messenger finally does for Petrie!

Monday, December 6, 2010 8:47 AM


Good stuff, liked Wash's thoughts on how they rely on Mal to Captain.

Glad Simon was able to relieve Mal from his suffering, intense scene, by the way, with River reading his anguish and Mal thinking he was in river water, back on Shadow.

Thursday, December 16, 2010 7:02 AM


Kept me at the edge of my seat! Whew! Thanks, Simon, for getting the Captain through that! *grin* And River too, of course!


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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.