HANDFUL OF STARS: 21. "The Enemy Within"
Saturday, February 19, 2011

"Mal wakes to find some of his crew have not returned and plans a Big Damn Rescue. Meanwhile, Zoe hears something that makes her blood boil but is powerless to do anything about it."


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

SUMMARY: "Mal wakes to find some of his crew have not returned and plans a Big Damn Rescue. Meanwhile, Zoe hears something that makes her blood boil but is powerless to do anything about it." 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

* * * * *

There were voices. Hushed and kind'a talking on tip toe if he was any judge. Made him all manner of curious, so much so that he fought the lethargic drag against his senses like a deep sea diver trying to haul himself to the surface. At first nothing made sense, the words all warped and disconnected much like his brain pan, then slowly he found he could pick out bits of sentences. The little he could string together alarmed him so much he fought with everything he had to regain consciousness.

"It's been seven hours, Simon! I should've heard somethin' from Zoe."

Simon was having trouble thinking of anything to reassure Wash. His sister was with Zoe, Jayne and Shepherd Book. If something had gone wrong, if River was in danger, he would never forgive himself. Fortunately, Inara was still in the infirmary and it was her reassuring tone that caressed Mal's ear as he forced open eyes sticky from too much sleep.

"I'm sure everything is fine, Wash. Zoe would have contacted us otherwise."

"Comfortin' as that is supposed to be you do remember where they were goin'? I knew I should have stayed on Cheverell, stayed close at hand to get them outta there if things went bad."

"Wha...wha...what you sayin'?"

Three pairs of eyes turned and looked at the Captain. The only one not in the infirmary was Kaylee and that was because Wash had asked her to make sure Serenity would be ready if they needed her for a quick and daring rescue. Simon quickly checked on the Captain, oddly enough avoiding the man's eye as he did so. "*Fang xin*, Captain, I'm sure Zoe has everything in hand."

Those words and Simon's manner set off further alarm bells in the Captain's aching head. Fully awake now his eyes narrowed on the back of the doctor's dark head. "Zoe has what in hand an' why wasn't I told?"

Inara seemed to retreat into herself while not moving from the seat beside his bed. Wash didn't try to hide his worry, if anything relieved to find the Captain conscious. "They went to take out Petrie."

He never got another word out. As if shot from a gun, Malcolm Reynolds jerked upright, eyes wide in alarm. For a moment he looked a mite demented. Inara hoped it was the drugs, Simon feared it wasn't.

"Are you *dai ruo mu ji*? Who's *shenjingbing* idea what that? You saw what that *tamade hundan* did to me." The Captain paused to bite back a hiss of pain. Simon tried to calm him but it was like fly swatting an enraged tiger.

"We thought..."

"You thought?" Mal spat. "You didn't think, not any of you!" The Captain's eyes scoured the room then came to dart between Wash, Simon and Inara reading the guilty looks on their faces. "I wanna know exactly what's been goin' on, what gorram plan you cobbled together an' who in the sphincter of hell went along with it, *dong ma*?"

"Mal, it isn't any use blaming anyone..."

His eyes snapped to Inara's face, not in the mood to be placated or treated like a gorram child. "'Nara, this don't concern you 'less I conjure it does."

She flushed, about to lash out at him when the Captain swayed. The sudden move to stand upright almost taking his legs out from under him. Wash and Simon quickly grabbed Mal from either side and sat him on the infirmary bed with Simon hovering in case he keeled over. It took a moment for the dizzy spell to pass. Mal glared at the doctor. "You drugged me!"

Simon shook his head. "*Bu qu*, Captain."

"It was River." Wash chipped in. The pilot ignored the wounded look on Simon's face, after all it was true and trying to hide the fact wouldn't make the Captain any happier or help get his wife and the others out of whatever *shen goushi* they had gotten themselves into. As stubborn and pig headed as the Captain could be, Wash was pleased he was awake. At least now something would be done, decisions made rather than endlessly agonised over. Whatever else Malcolm Reynolds might be he was not indecisive.

The whole sorry tale spilled out, the Captain looking more and more pale and agitated as it unfolded. By the time Wash had brought him up to speed Kaylee was hurrying into the infirmary. For a moment the look on her face cleared and she beamed at the Captain, totally missing the pissed look in his eyes. "*Wei*, you're wake!"

"Not that it seems to have stopped my mutinous crew doin' somethin' insanely stupid."

Her mouth opened and shut with nothing but air coming out. Kaylee glanced at the others and noticed everyone looked tense and unhappy. "Um Serenity's in tip top shape." She said with forced cheer, hoping to lift the mood. Kaylee hesitated, looked at Wash, her eyes pleading. "That is if anyone was wantin' to go anywhere?"

For a moment the silence was so profound you could have heard a pin drop then the Captain raised a hand to rub his head but stopped at the bandage. Simon seemed for once not to notice his patient's discomfort, his worry for River uppermost in his mind. "What are you going to do?"

Mal bit back a sigh, it was no good staying mad at them. He knew why they had come up with the foolhardy plan. *Diyu*, it was the sort of thing he would have done only with a lot more firepower and an exit plan. Yet he knew there was no such thing as a fool proof plan especially when dealing with fools. "We go an' get 'em back."

Wash started to make for the door when the Captain's next words stopped him in his tracks.

"First we need more manpower."

A fierce look came over the pilot's face, as if the Captain had somehow impugned his manhood. "I can fight, Mal."

"Not sayin' you can't, Wash." Mal felt so gorram weary. Huh, how much had Simon's sister drugged him? He was going to have to have words with her about 'no touching drugs'. Seemed that No list was getting longer and longer. "Ain't sure I can stay upright on account of folks druggin' me an' Simon ain't exactly a top marksman, Top Three Per Cent or not."

"We have to do somethin', Mal!"

"We will, Wash. Go see if you can raise, Monty, *dong ma*?"

As the pilot ran out of the door Kaylee turned anxious eyes on her Captain. "Their ship can't fly, Cap'n. Got stuff stuck in the engine, all messed up. Was hopin' to get a sample for Simon to look at, see if he could make somethin' to get rid of it."

Simon looked flumoxed. "Kaylee, I don't know anything about mechanics."

Her look was fond. "*Wo zhidao* but you could see what was in it, *dui*? Find out what chemicals an' such they used."

The doctor's face cleared with sudden understanding. "You mean create a compound to break down the structure and enable the engine to be cleaned?"

"As fascinatin' as this engine talk is that ain't what I'm thinkin'." Kaylee and Simon turned to stare at the Captain. Inara was torn between wanting to hit the man or cheer him on. "Far as I recall, Monty's got four crew, that makes five handy with weapons an' such. Firepower we're gonna need if we go up against Petrie."

Kaylee's face paled. "You really think he's got 'em?"

The Captain sighed and for a moment looked to be flagging but sheer stubborn orneriness forced steel into his spine and a renewed determination settled in his eyes. "I think first we gotta find out what happened. No sense gettin' in a panic 'til we know one way or another."

"And if Petrie does have them, what then Mal? Apparently he has some kind of rock fortress, it's supposed to be impenetrable."

He gave Inara a grim little smile that had not even a flicker of humour in it. Eyes flat, the deadly look that stared back at her chilled the Companion to the bone. "Then we find the gorram crack - any way we have to."

* * * * *

"Where're we goin'?"

Her smile was painfully bright and somehow all manner of wrong, not that he could figure out why. "To put things right."

"We are?"

"When the fog clears you'll understand."


His companion didn't bother to explain further knowing that the painful flashes of memory were slow steps forward in a balancing act between lucidity and madness. The more tiny fragments he could cling to, the further back he would be drawn from the brink. Petrie's former messenger needed a doctor, plenty of rest and the kind of intricate surgery that could not be rushed. Right now none of those options were available to them but she didn't tell him that. No. One crisis at a time would be all he could handle.

* * * * *

It was odd once the anticipation of torture was replaced by the reality how certain things became easier to bear. Not that it wasn't painful but it did free her mind not to be conjuring just what evil and twisted things her captor had in mind. Pain she was used to, could handle to a point, though every body no matter how well honed and fit had its' limits. Right now Lincoln James Petrie seemed to be trying to work out the parameters of her's.

"Hmmm, impressive."

"Can't say the same about you."

His chuckle was dark and menacing. "I like your spirit, Miss Washburn."

Zoe didn't correct him. Better Petrie didn't know about Wash. Serenity's first mate could hear the clatter of something metallic being rifled through on a trolley just out of her eyeline. Figured that was intentional but Zoe was glad she couldn't see what Petrie was looking for. Didn't want to add more fuel to the nightmares she was sure to have including one she seemingly could not wake up from and that would soon include open wounds and screaming. From the pinching feeling at the side of her neck she knew he had made an incision, seemed to be on the smallish side. Zoe tried not to think what that meant then felt something very thin and sharp wiggle it's way under her skin an inch or two below her right ear. It was creepy as *diyu* and kind'a terrifying.

"Why're you doin' this? You obviously have some education."

Zoe could not see Petrie's now bloody hands or the thin wire being worked deeper and further under her skin. He did not pause as he answered, her meagre attempt at deflection having no affect but to amuse him. "I am widely travelled and as you say, have had a more than substantial education though not - I deem - in any place of learning you might recognise."

She flinched as the wire was adjusted until it began to burrow into muscle. This was going to be beyond painful. "You sayin' there's a torture school?"

That brought a small blessed pause, Petrie laughing unexpectedly. Zoe had managed to surprise him, no easy thing. "I learnt from a Master." Petrie resumed and Zoe bit down on her lower lip, closing her eyes for a moment to try and block out the sensation. "Are you familiar with the works of Shan Yu?"

"Didn't he escape from some government mental asylum?"

"He was a warrior, a scholar and gifted in the art of intelligence gathering."

The wire dug deeper, Zoe fancied her muscle jumped and trembled a mite. "You mean torture, just say it."

"I prefer to teach by example."

A feeling of dread sank into the pit of her stomach. "That ain't necessary."

Petrie straightened and moved into her line of sight. "Oh, but I insist. Your strength and physical fitness is important to you, *dui*? As Malcolm Reynolds' ability to think on his feet and use his wits is to him."

Zoe frowned, not liking where the conversation seemed to be heading.

Her tormentor walked round the table to her other side then out of sight behind her head. Again she heard instruments being moved but briefly, fingers then pressing experimentally on the other side of her neck, obviously looking to find the same spot as he had inserted the first wire. Even though she was ready for it this time it still made her hiss, a small involuntary sound which she cursed herself for making. Didn't want to give the twisted *heishoudang liumang* any more pleasure than he was already getting. As she felt the wire being worked deeper she imagined all the ways she was going to kill him, but slowly. A monster like Lincoln James Petrie did not deserve a quick death.

* * * * *

In the end it wasn't firepower that ended the seige at Old Man Ellis's place but gunpowder. Monty had been amazed then alarmed then horrified when Ellis rolled a small barrel into the main room and calmly set about making a number of explosive devices. Monty eyed the work warily, worried that Ellis would use too much of the black powder and blow them to Kingdom Come along with their enemies. That was not the kind of success he wanted any part of. At a nod from Ellis, Ritchie went to get a second barrel.

"*Fang xin*," said Ellis in a low amused rumble "used to work explosives for a minin' company. Not nothin' I come across I can't find a way to blow up."

"As long as that don't include us." Muttered Denny.

Ellis raised his eyebrows. "Then best not distract me, *dong ma*?"

Not knowing whether or not the old man was joking, Monty gave a curt nod and got back to taking pot shots. By his accounting two more men were down but it was impossible to tell whether they were dead or just wounded and he had no way of knowing how many *tamade hundan* were still out there.

* * * * *

The scientist was hesitant. It was always dangerous to interrupt the *laoban* when he was working but the captive had been so insistent. It had surprised Dr Fox mightily though he was careful to hide any sign of emotion. He could imagine no one in Heaven or Hell who would willingly want to speak to Petrie out of choice. For that reason alone his curiosity propelled him into his master's domain. At first Petrie seemed not to notice him, too busy preparing the woman, inserting the thin wires under her skin and carefully working them deeper until they hit muscle. Fox watched dispassionately, just grateful Petrie still found him useful enough to keep working for him. He was well paid but in return he not only gave his undivided effort towards whatever scientific or technological endeavour Petrie asked of him but sacrificed any notion of personal freedom. Petrie had said at the outset when one or the other of them grew out of the 'arrangement' his term of employment would end and he would be free of any commitment to him. Fox had discovered the true meaning of that caveat and determined not to become surplus to his master's requirements.

When the last wire was in place, Petrie looked up. "Is there a problem?"

"*Bu qu, shifu*. It's the Preacher, he's asking for you."

"Why would this interest me?"

"He says he has information that you will want to hear from him first hand."

Petrie straightened and for a moment forgot all about Zoe Washburn. His curiosity piqued. "What information?"

"He will only speak to you, *shifu*."

"You could try 'persuading' him, Fox."

"*Wo zhidao* but I have the feeling my attempts would be unsuccessful."

That surprised him. Dr Fox was one of his most efficient employees. Seeming to remember Zoe, Petrie gave her a cold dark smile that chilled the blood. "I will be back soon."

Zoe shuddered inwardly and tried to hide her relief at even a short reprieve.

* * * * *

"What d'you mean you can't get no reply?"

Wash shrugged. "Do you want me to try again?"

The Captain tried to think straight passed the hammering inside his gorram skull.

"Cap'n? Mal? *Ni hao ma*?"

"*Hen hao*, Wash, don't fuss. Try again an' keep tryin' 'til someone answers, *dong ma*? In the meantime stay on course but don't land yet."

The pilot could feel a thread of anxiety thickening and twisting in his gut. "Zoe's down there, Mal..."

"*Wo zhidao* an' we're gonna find out what happened an' where our people are but won't do no one no good if'n we walk into a gorram trap."

Wash had to admit the Captain had a point but right now he wasn't wanting common sense or reason even, he was wanting non thinking rash and heroic action of the crazy and near terminal kind. The Captain rested a heavy hand on his shoulder for just a moment or two.

"*Fang xin*, Wash. I don't leave my people behind."

The words were quietly uttered but the pilot could feel the knot in his stomach relax just a mite. He nodded and tried to raise Monty again, biting back the urge to run off at the mouth with all the things that could have gone wrong and the kind of *goushi* his wife and the others may have gotten themselves into. The Captain was almost out of the door when Wash called him back. "Mal!"

The Captain hurried over to his pilot and as he leaned a hand against the console to peer into the cortex screen an image appeared of his long time burly friend. Mal was so surprised his mouth dropped open, eyes crinkiling at the corners as a laugh bubbled out from his lips along with disbelief. "Monty, what in the nine hells happened to you? You set light to that gorram soup catcher?"

Monty Reynolds glared back, not that it was obvious. From head to toe he was covered in what looked like soot, his hair sticking out and one hand appearing to have a dirty bandage wrapped around it. "Ain't funny, Mal. Ellis used gunpowder."

Mal and Wash exchanged a look then both doubled over, the laughter making their insides ache while tears threatened to leak from their eyes. The more they laughed the madder Monty got until with a huff he cut off the transmission. The Captain choked back his laughter as he took in the dark screen. "Did he just...?"

"Yeah, seems Monty lost his sense of humour in the explosion Cap'n."

"He blew himself up?"

Wash shrugged, truth to tell he had no idea. Monty had cut transmission before giving any explanation.

They exchanged smirks then Mal indicated for Wash to reconnect. Now they knew Monty was more or less still in one piece they needed to put their heads together and get down to the business of rescuing his crew.

* * * * *

Shepherd Book was surprised when Petrie didn't come down to the cells and see him. Instead he was shoved out of the door by two of Petrie's guards. Both were big and sour faced, as if they had been born angry and with a chip on both shoulders. They only spoke to hurry him along. The corridor was long and winding then branched off until they came to a large sterile room. Book felt his heartbeat speed up, the tools of a sick man's trade laid out with loving precision. As he was escorted further into the makeshift surgery Book recognised Zoe strapped to the operating table. His breath hitched painfully. *Wode ma*, he was not sure whether he could go through with this but what choice did he have? As if sensing his presence, Zoe turned her head and saw the Preacher being brought before Petrie. She frowned. Her look asked him what was going on but Book wouldn't meet her eyes.

"You have some information for me, brother?"

Book winced and gritted his teeth. He had asked Petrie not to call him that but he was hardly in a position to do anything about it. "*Qu*. Is there somewhere we can go?"

A flash of amusement flickered in the dark pitiless eyes. "You can talk here but do so quickly. I was about to start work."

The Shepherd steeled himself to do just that, hating the fact that Zoe would bear witness and hating himself for what he was about to do. "If you release us I will give you what you want."

"You cannot give what I already have but then math was never your strong point, was it?"

"*Ni bu dong*, you wanted Malcolm Reynolds. I can give him to you."

Zoe stiffened, unable to believe what she was hearing. Surely she had been drugged?

"You know where the body is?"

Book nodded. "Not only that I can confirm that he is not dead."

Lincoln James Petrie stared at Book, a stunned expression on his face before he began to laugh. A coarse grating sound, much like the man himself. "Do you take me for a backbirth? Reynolds is dead and you would trade a fiction for your life? I expected better of you."

"No, he is alive and I can prove it but first I must have your promise that you will let us go."

All humour left Petrie's face. "Explain!"

As Shepherd Book detailed how they had tricked him into thinking Serenity's Captain had died, Zoe listened more and more sickened and apalled. Book! What in the nine hells did he think he was doing? Never had pegged him for a coward but to sell out the Captain to save his own skin? She strained at her bonds, disbelief turning to anger and anger to bitterness and revenge. If Petrie didn't kill him she would end the Shepherd her own self. Man of the cloth or not, he would be meeting his maker a mite sooner than he intended.

* * * * *

Simon stared. Really. It was the least he could do. "You... you saved this for me?"

Kaylee Frye beamed at him. With everything that had happened she had clean forgotten about the stick with the goo from the engine that she had wrapped in a cloth. "All ya gotta do is figure out what it's made of an', ya know."

He turned his head to stare at her. "And do what?"

The bright flare of hope on her face darkened, her eyes narrowing at him. "You're Top Three Per Cent not me."

"But Kaylee I don't have the equipment to..."

"Sure ya do. Must have somethin' that will tell you what they done." She paused and watched the doctor's tired face, her anger and frustration melting away. "Ain't sayin' it's gonna be easy just, there ain't no one else Simon an' Monty ain't goin' nowhere 'less he can get that gunk outta his engine."

"I'll see what I can do but I can't promise anything."

"That's all I'm askin'." Kaylee beamed. "After all, Monty's family."

Simon blinked as he watched her walk away and tried not to dwell on that too much. With a sigh he carefully picked up the stick and reluctantly took it to his nice, clean, sterile infirmary. He would have to scrub the place from top to bottom afterwards but that was where his equipment was.

* * * * *

"It hurts."

"But you remember, I know you do."

He gave her a look as if trying to decide whether he knew her but the fractures in his head left too many gaps. He did, however, trust her. Her small hopeful smile warmed his heart. Carefully he gave a nod and quickly wound his way through the rocks, as sure footed now as he had been hesitatant and uncertain before. They didn't go to the hidden front entrance but a long way beyond it before taking a convoluted arc. Back door. The hum of her approval was all he needed before he placed the palm of his hand over a sensor. What should have surprised him at the time was that once they were inside, she was the one giving directions. Without a thought he obeyed. Only much later would it occur to him to wonder how in *diyu* she knew the layout of a place she had never been.

* * * * *

Ritchie Thomas had been silent so long that Monty was almost shocked when the man spoke. "It won't be easy."

"Glad you're here to tell me. Never would have thought of that."

"All I'm sayin' Monty is..."

"Yeah, yeah, *fang xin*. Soon as Mal gets here we'll get started."

Ritchie stared at the Kingfisher's Captain. Monty looked a sight, in fact they all did. Even stripping off and showering long and hard hadn't shifted all the dirt and soot that clung to them. Monty had mournfully taken scissors to parts of his hair and trimmed his whiskers until the burnt frazzled ends were all but gone. He looked like a patchwork but at least by the end of it all he was clean. The crew had followed suit, Ritchie reluctantly getting as much muck off him as possible. Old Man Ellis had come out cleanest of all which considering it was his gorram explosives that had left them in this mess seemed all manner of unfair.

This time when Serenity hailed them, Monty kept his temper and didn't cut the transmission.

Feeling much happier now he had Monty and his men agreeing to help, Serenity's Captain could feel the familiar thrill of a plan coming together.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *dai ruo mu ji* = dumb as a wooden chicken *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *dong ma* = understand? *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *wei* = hey! *shen goushi* = deep crap *shenjingbing* = crazy *diyu* = hell *wo zhidao* = I know *dui* = correct *heishoudang liumang* = gangster/asshole/bastard *wu* = fog *shifu* = sir *ni hao ma* = how are you? *hen hao* = very good *goushi* = crap/dog shit *wode ma* = mother of God *qu* = yes (lit. go) *ni bu dong* = you don't understand


Monday, February 21, 2011 3:51 AM


Great story. I bet the crew carries the scars from this mess for a long time.

Monday, February 21, 2011 4:54 AM


Why does that last line remind me of the A-Team? Everything *is* coming together, and Petrie's days are number in the very low figures. And I love Mal thinking about River's 'no' list and how it's getting a lot longer. That needs a fic all to itself!

Monday, February 21, 2011 12:31 PM


Yes, Colt99, the crew will carry these scars for a long while to come. I did chuckle at you likening the last line to the A-Team, Jane0904. Could say it has a kind of poetry to it. Thanks for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, February 27, 2011 4:30 AM


Last line was great. I still loved the whole chapter again. As for Zoe and Book... guess I best read the next chapter to see just what they have discovered...

Sunday, February 27, 2011 11:56 AM


Glad you loved it, Angellemarcs. Thanks for the shiny feedback, appreciated as always! 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.