HANDFUL OF STARS: 23. "Collateral Damage
Saturday, March 5, 2011

"Hardy and Davy have a painful decision to make. Meanwhile Lincoln James Petrie finds the tables turned on himself."


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

SUMMARY: "Hardy and Davy have a painful decision to make. Meanwhile Lincoln James Petrie finds the tables turned on himself." 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

* * * * *

He was getting weaker. Much as he tried to hide it, he was slowing them down. Hardy tried to gulp down more air than his flagging lungs could hold. It set off a bout of coughing that made his friend Davy pause. "We should rest."

Hardy shook his head, he could already feel shock setting in. "No, we need to split up."

Davy's eyes widened in alarm. "If you think I'm leavin' you, you're *cuode*."

"Davy." Hardy paused as his air ran out. Why were his lungs so gorram painful? "You stay with me you're gonna get caught, *dong ma*? Best we split up, double the chances one of us'll escape."

There were tears in Davy's eyes. "You can't ask me to do that."

"I can an' will. It ain't what either of us want but it's the only choice we got. Now go! I saw a cave off to the left a half mile back, you carry on an' find somewhere to hide up but make it good. Cover your tracks, *dong ma*?"


"Go! The more you argue the less chance we'll have. Just find somewhere to hole up, I'll do the same. Stay hidden a day, maybe too. We'll wait 'em out."

Davy gave a slow sorrowful nod, knowing he was not so much agreeing with his friend as saying goodbye. "You got enough shells?"

"Yeah, you?"

His friend nodded then without any further words the two men parted, both with heavy hearts but full of determination and the thought that if one of them did get caught it might give the other a chance.

* * * * *

For a moment Jayne Cobb stared in shock. Not so much at the sudden appearance of Petrie but at the man's utter and total stupidity in grabbing Zoe. She might have been momentarily weakened from spending hours strapped to that gorram operating table but Serenity's first mate was made of the kind of steel that didn't know how to bend. A look passed between them and Jayne resisted the urge to bare his teeth in a grin. Thinking everyone was frozen in shock and fear, Petrie angled himself and his captive to the right of the doorway so he could keep an eye on everyone in the room. Jayne noticed that even the Moonbrain wasn't making a move, a look on her face he couldn't quite fathom. Holding his breath the mercenary waited for the inevitable to happen and wished he'd brought popcorn.

If Petrie was surprised to see the messenger he didn't show it, no doubt thinking the man's presence gave him an extra advantage. "Everyone move over to that side of the room, *xianzai*!"

"I don't think so you *chusheng xai-jiao de xiang huo*!"

Petrie instantly recognised the voice behind him and was so startled that for a split second his hold on Zoe loosened a fraction. It was all she needed, not waiting to hear the Captain yell for her to drop. As she did so, Zoe raised her right hand and gripped Petrie hard between the legs. The man howled in rage not pain. Then Malcolm Reynolds was in the room, one arm around Petrie's neck while the other wrestled for the gorram gun. Behind him, Monty was frustrated. He knew why Mal hadn't opened fired immediately, not wanting to hit Zoe or any of the others crammed into that hellish room but still. With a twist Petrie suddenly spun, dislodging the Captain's hold and turning the gun that was gripped between them towards Malcolm Reynolds. A cold sneer warped that cruel face, Petrie's eyes glittering with the kind of relish that made the skin crawl. He sounded happy, jubilant.

"The Shepherd was right, you ARE alive!"

Mal blinked in confusion just as Petrie cocked the gun.

"Now you will die, Captain. A pity it has to be so swift."

"That ain't how it's supposed to work."

"Welcome to MY version of the 'verse. The one YOU become extinct in."

Before he could pull the gorram trigger they were interrupted by a loud concatenation that shook the room and split the door in two, cracks forming in the stone beneath their feet making them stumble as dust filled the room. The Captain tried to pull back but Petrie had a death grip round his gorram throat and that gun was coming closer. Then, to his surprise, Jayne Cobb materialised out of the dust and debris like some avenging angel. Jayne shoved Vera under Petrie's chin and disarmed him. "Yeah, an' welcome to MINE!"

The discharge was loud in the enclosed space making Mal's ears pop, his eyes closing as blood, bits of bone and brain splattered every which way. The body fell, a dead weight, with no head left to speak of. Shaken, everybody just took a moment to stare. Mal found himself looking into Jayne Cobb's grinning face. The Captain laughed, his face creasing in a big rutting smile of its' own. "Gorramit Jayne, you're a sight for sore eyes."

The big man's grin actually got bigger at the warmth in the Captain's voice then Mal looked beyond Jayne to his first mate. "**Ni hao ma*?"

"That was gonna be my line, sir."

The Captain smirked but before he could say anything else something moved out of the corner of his eye and rammed into him, knocking all the air out of his lungs and flattening him against the wall by the door. The back of his head connecting with the wall sending shooting pains exploding inside his gorram head and making him all manner of dizzy. A face that would probably haunt his nightmares for a long time glared at him as he fought to focus through the pain. The sound of several weapons cocking around the messenger had no affect. He kept his eyes glued to Malcolm Reynold's face while the Captain took a moment or two to get his breath. Jayne frowned at Mal but didn't step in to rescue him. Well, wasn't that shiny?

""What the *diyu* did ya do to piss him off?" Jayne growled.

Mal's eyes widened with surprise. "*Shenme*? How do I know? I don't know him."

"Huh. Maybe ya did before they ripped his face off."

About to tell Jayne he didn't know what he was gorram talking about, the Captain's train of thought paused, the notion not an entirely welcome one but still. Some things a man just needed to know. Over the messenger's shoulder he could see Zoe had armed herself with Petrie's bloodied gun and was ready to shoot the messenger but the Captain gave a tiny shake of the head. She frowned but held her fire. If the man so much as twitched wrong he would be dead before he hit the ground and they both knew it.

"*Wei, wo zhidao ni*?"

The man loosened his grip on the Captain just enough to shake him. Hard. "You left me!" He yelled.

Stunned, everyone stared at them. The Captain blinked, his voice rising in pitch while his head continued to spin. "Left you? I don't even know you!"

A calm seemed to come over the man, his grip gentling. As he eased his grip on the Captain, one big meaty paw patted Mal on the shoulder as if in apology. The Captain tried to hide a flinch, he was still mighty sore from being Petrie's plaything and the brass band in his head had broken out all the percussion instruments as well but all things considered it was better than being ripped apart. The man sounded disappointed. No rage or anger, just a sadness that somehow hurt more. "You don't recognise me."

Mal leaned closer and tried to focus, his eyes searching those of the messenger's. Looking for anything that might give a hint as to his true identity. "*Wode duibuqi. Ni jiao shenme*?"

The man blinked and for a moment the Captain was worried that he was going to cry. Not nothing more disturbing than seeing a grown man break down, especially one that could take him apart with his bare hands. Fortunately, the messenger seemed to get a hold of himself. "Can't think straight, Mal. Close my eyes an' all I have left are visions of *diyu*." The man waved a hand towards the headless corpse at their feet but didn't look down, his eyes fixed on the Captains' face, willing him to understand. "That an' that *guai* who thought it fun to keep torturin' me. He ripped off my face, Mal! Not once but over an' over again an' me bein' awake while he did it."

The Captain gulped, feeling a hollowed out pain inside that any man could do such a thing to another human being. It wasn't right. To Zoe's surprise the Captain put his hands on the messenger's shoulders, his voice dropping into that coaxing tone he used when River was in one of her states or they found themselves outgunned. Never ceased to amaze her how quickly he could calm a fractious beast or someone teetering on the edge of madness. "May not know who you are right now but you didn't deserve none of that, *dong ma*? You come with me I'll see what my shiny doc can do to help, how's that sound?"

No one dared speak, sensing that this was a make or break moment. Mal was alarmed to see the beginnings of tears form in the messenger's eyes. "You'd help me, Mal?" He asked quietly. "Even when I'm a monster?"

"You ain't no monster, you hear? An' before you say I don't know what the good gorram I'm talkin' about Petrie cut into my skull but I got good people with me. Simon operated, got my head straight again. Could maybe do the same for you if you're wantin' that."

The man could not speak for emotion so just nodded then leaned forward and hugged the Captain. Startled, Mal froze then found himself patting the messenger awkardly on the back and telling him it was going to be alright. He was safe now. Not nobody gonna hurt him ever again. Over the messenger's shoulder Mal and Zoe's eyes locked and the Captain knew they were going to be talking about this later. Wouldn't that be fun? Just as Zoe was about to ask Monty to move back into the hallway so they could come out of the room, Shepherd Book hurried through the doorway. Before anyone could say anything Zoe spun fast as lightening bringing the stock end of her mare's leg up in a sharp arc. The resounding crack as her weapon connected with the Preacher's face made more than one of them wince. As Book fell Zoe quickly kicked the rifle he was carrying out of his hand, ignoring it as it skidded across the blood slicked floor, her mare's leg pointing at his face with only an inch or two to spare. She was vaguely aware that there were other people in the hallway but for now she only had eyes for the traitor at her feet.

Mal looked shaken by the unsettling turn of events. "Zoe? Care to explain why our Preacher is the subject of your wrath? Not that it ain't all kinds of entertainin' but..."

"He betrayed you, sir."

The Captain blinked. Jayne frowned as if the first mate was suddenly speaking an unknown language. Did she mean Book? The messenger barely glanced at Book as the man began to stir. "He ain't no Preacher, Mal."

Zoe's head snapped round, her eyes pinning the Messenger. "You know him?"

The messenger spat. It was such an unexpected action that everyone just stared at him. Jayne felt all manner of uncomfortable, wanting to speak up for Book but also wanting to know what in the nine hells was going on. The messenger turned to look at Mal. "He's gorram Alliance."

The words were body blows. Gorramit, while Mal had suspected there was more to the Shepherd than anyone knew he had not been expecting that. Had come to respect and like the man, trust him too. "*Wo bu dong*."

"Me neither." Muttered a stunned Jayne.

An aging round face peered around what was left of the doorway. "*Wei*, hate to break this up but *women dei zou le*. Nearly finished settin' the charges, *dong ma*?"

The Captain nodded to Ellis then tried to keep his head from moving again, the spikes of pain setting off a bright dazzle behind his eyes that was all manner of dizzying. Didn't want to throw up over his supremely angry second in command. Not the mood she was in right now. "Jayne?"

"Yeah, Mal?"

"Help get Book to the mule."

Zoe shot her Captain a look that could have burned through solid rock. "Should leave him here, sir."

"An' maybe I'll be agreein' with you, Zoe, but first I wanna hear what the good gorram is goin' on."

With a sharp unhappy nod Zoe stepped back to let Jayne get to Book, the Preacher being pulled to his feet a mite more gently than she would have done. Her lips soured but she held her peace. Time enough to knock sense into her Captain and friend once they got back to Serenity. Then she got a good look at Mal's face, saw there was not a lick of colour in it. The man was listing a mite, blood running down from the back of his head where the messenger had slammed him into the wall and reopened the wound Simon had so carefully sealed. "*Kanqilai ni shenti bu shufu*, sir."

He couldn't argue with her. When Zoe was right she was right, not to mention downright scary. His lack of response told her all she needed to know. Zoe was about to ask Monty to help with the Captain when the messenger put an arm around him and began to help him out of the room. The messenger ignored the look on her face but Monty understood and quickly slid in along Mal's other side. It was with a sigh of relief that everyone finally got out of that place, the last one to leave being Old Man Ellis. The flash of his smile could not hide the look of grim determination in his eyes. For Don Ellis this was payback. Beside him was Sheriff Ritchie Thomas. The man was covered in dust and bits of rock derbis, his expression equally determined. It was odd to see the man so quiet. Must be the gravity of the gorram situation.

When they got to Monty's mule, Zoe insisted the Captain go with her and Jayne to where they had left Serenity's mule. It was smaller and less heavy but faster. She wanted Mal to see Simon as soon as possible. Turning her head she paused, a frown on her face. Monty noticed and hung back. "*Shenme shi*?"

"Where's River?"

Just then her com blinked. Thinking it was Wash, Zoe flicked the sound on. To her surprise, River's voice came sailing over it clear as day. "Don't move, coming to you."


"I went to get the mule, told Serenity to meet us mid-way. Can't come closer or we'll be in the blast range."

Zoe blinked then remembered that Old Man Ellis had rigged the mountain stronghold. Alarmed, she told Monty to get his people back to the Kingfisher *mashang*, they would be following straight away. Quickly she helped Jayne and the messenger get to the first bit of clear ground beyond the rocks to find River waiting with the mule. Ritchie helped Ellis pay out the roll of fuse wire, the old man waving River and the mule back. Without arguing River took off.


"*Fang xin*, he knows what he's doing."

"But you said the blast range..."

Again the little genius cut her off. "He knows, he comprehends. When they are far enough away he'll set the fuse then join us, *dong ma*? No one can hurry fate."

* * * * *

"Simon Tam, what in the nine hells are ya doin'?"

The good doctor looked up. He was on his hands and knees in the infirmary, hard brush and a pail of hot soapy water close at hand. "I'm scrubbing the floor, *bao bei*."

Kaylee blinked then put her hands on her hips. "Well, I can see that! What I meant is *weishenme*? It's shinier than my plate after I've licked it clean."

Her reply left him momentarily speechless. Explaining that licking the plate clean was an oxymoron given the fact that the hot moisture of the mouth and tongue was a veritable breeding ground for germs would be more likely to offend Kaylee than inform her. Simon Tam had learnt that some things were best kept simple. "I've almost finished, xin gan*. I need to make sure the infirmary is as sterile as I can make it before the Captain gets here."

"But ya fixed him up good."

He swallowed a sigh. Dear, sweet Kaylee. "Wash says the Captain isn't doing so well. Apparently the head wound has reopened."

Wide eyes pinned his with fear. Quickly Simon hurried to reassure her.

"I'll probably need to debride the wound and re-suture it. I'm sure the Captain will be fine Kaylee, we just don't want to take any chances we don't have to, *dong ma*?"

Kaylee nodded. "*Wo dong*." She paused and glanced at the super shiny infirmary, sure that if she bent down close to the floor she would be able to see her gorram face in it. "You want some help?"

The smile was warm, genuine, and lit Kaylee up from the inside out. "*Xie xie, wo bu yao*, Kaylee. I'm almost finished."

Then she was gone, no doubt to tell Wash to hurry. Simon got back to his task, wanting it finished by the time Serenity landed and his most frequent patient returned.

* * * * *

Hemmings couldn't understand it. They should have caught up with Hardy and Davy by now. That could only mean the two turncoats had gone to ground. After the debacle at Old Man Ellis's place they were down to seven men. That left only one solution. It was time to go get the dogs.

* * * * *

Ritchie Thomas didn't know why he did it but the sound tugged at something inside that should have been dead. Ellis had finished laying out the fuse wire and found a rock big enough and heavy enough to shelter them from the blast but that depended upon them actually hiding behind it. Right now Ellis was a mite distracted putting the finishing touches to connecting the wire to the detonator unit. Again, that sound. More pitiful than last time and low enough to be ignored if you were of a mind but Ritchie couldn't help acting on instinct. Cursing softly under his breath he slipped away from Ellis and went back towards the hideout. No fancy scanner to get in, the opening waited. He did not pause on the threshold, another little cry propelling him forward into Petrie's once impenetrable fortress and leaving his common sense outside.

The corridors seemed darker this time but Ritchie found light enough to make his way, head slightly cocked to one side to tune in to the sound he was following. Was it his imagination or did it seem weaker now? More pathetic? He hurried, turning down corridor after corrider, the ground beneath his feet tilting unerringly downward. The sound spiked, definitely louder for a moment or two before a soft wail of anguish propelled him into an all out run.

Back on the surface Ellis was frowning. Where the *diyu* was that useless *baichi*? "Ritchie? Get your gorram ass back here!"

There was no reply. Ellis huffed and called again, still nothing. Oh well, guess he must have changed his mind and gone with the others. The Old Man called one last time, just to be sure, then lifted the plunger.

Inside the hideout Ritchie barely noticed it was getting hotter. Figured it was his running making him feel so warm. The sounds were more sporadic now, more pained. Couldn't tell who or what it was but sounded most like a child, something young and vulnerable in a whole 'verse of pain. Ritchie had no stomach for suffering, either his own or that of others. Since Audrey's death he was even more sensitive. Not going to let a little thing like fear for his own safety stop him doing what was right. Never again.

* * * * *

They were at the concealed rear entrance. Hemmings had been careful to make sure no one was lying in wait for them. Didn't want to find Hardy and Davy waiting to ambush them but no, the place was deserted. As it gorram should be. Hemmings put his hand on the sensor and as the hidden doorway opened to let him in the ground beneath his feet started to shake. He glanced round at the others but they didn't know what it was either. Could it be an earthquake? It was one of those split second decisions that Hemmings would never live to regret.

Quickly he darted inside, his men hurrying to follow to safety. As the door shut behind him everything seemed to explode in a hail of rock. The ground beneath their feet split open, the walls and ceiling trembling before tumbling down. They tried to turn and head back out but the way was now blocked and as they frantically searched for an alternative exit a second explosion finished what the first had started.

Deeper in the hideout, Ritchie felt the increasing instability rumble through walls, ceiling and floor but as he hesitated a louder cry rent the air and then he wasn't thinking at all. Picking his way as he stumbled, Ritchie went even deeper until there was a loud crack and the walls themselves split. He fell, caught himself on rock that burned and snatched his hands back. What the good gorram? Now the cries he had been following stopped. Were the children dead? Horribly mangled? After a minute or two of slow progress part of the corridor collapsed and a new sound made him freeze in his tracks. Was that...? No. What would dogs be doing underground? It didn't make sense. Just as Ritchie had convinced himself he was hearing things a trio of large dark hairy bodies bounded towards him from the pit of hell. The wolves were anxious and more than hungry. Tongues lolling out of mouths trying in vain to cool themselves down the beasts literally ran into the former Sheriff. For a split second man stared at wolf and wolf stared back, then one or the other must have blinked. As they fell upon him Ritchie Thomas gave a strangled cry. Above them the rock was falling in on itself, blocking off the corridors above and sealing the way out forever but Ritchie was oblivious, the pain of several sets of teeth ripping and tearing into him was all he knew. By the time he lost consciousness he was in too many pieces to care and the wolves who had been shut up for days waiting for their masters to need them again, at long last began to feed.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*cuode* = wrong *dong ma* = understand? *xianzai* = now *ni hao ma* = how are you? *chusheng xai-jiao de xiang huo* = animal fucking bastard *diyu* = hell *shenme* = what *wei* = hey! *wo zhidao ni* = I know you? *wode duibuqi* = I'm sorry *xin gan* = sweetheart *ni jiao shenme* = what's your name? *guai* = devil/ghost *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *bao bei* = precious/treasure *kanqilai ni shenti bu shufu* = you don't look well *baichi* = idiot *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *wo dong* = I understand *mashang* = at once, on the double, immediately *xie xie, wo bu yao* = no thanks


Saturday, March 5, 2011 11:47 AM


Yes, Zoe. Mwahaha, Petrie downfall in ignorance.

Poor Ritchie, but on the other hand, if he's gone, then considering what happened to his wife that isn't so bad. But something tells me that the cry he heard is still going to be important. I wonder where the other eye is.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011 3:33 AM


You always seem to know how to thrill us and you say I give you nightmares. LOL!! Loved this as always, but thinking you ain't done with the thrills just yet.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011 2:55 PM


Thanks for the feedback Bytemite. As for what happened to Audrey's other eye it was too badly damaged, he kept the other one because it was all that was left of her that was still intact and then decided to give it to Ritchie to twist the knife. I know, yuck" Glad you loved it Agnellemarcs, as for the nightmare stakes I think we both like to throw collective spanners in the works in that regard. All adds to the drama and no, not done with the thrills just yet! 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.