BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

AMDOBELL

HANDFUL OF STARS: 28. "More Than a Shepherd"
Monday, April 25, 2011

"Unable to stop Serenity being boarded, Mal and his crew are powerless to do more than await what doom may fall upon them."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2105    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "MORE THAN A SHEPHERD" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Kaylee/Simon. Mal/Inara. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: Sequel to "SHEEP'S CLOTHING". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: AlisonMDobell@aol.com WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at Fireflyfans.net

SUMMARY: "Unable to stop Serenity being boarded, Mal and his crew are powerless to do more than await what doom may fall upon them." 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.

"MORE THAN A SHEPHERD"

"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

There wasn't much time, in fact even as the Captain tried to scramble all his brain cells together to work out a gorram solution the tell tale sound of a ship docking with Serenity told him that if he failed to let the Inspector General board his boat the *tamade hundan* would just cut his way in. Much as he wanted to get River and Simon into hiding there was no point with Book openly willing to sell them out. He had no words for how much that twisted him up inside.

"Ain't you the poisonous one."

Not a flicker of regret showed on the Shepherd's face. In fact, Mal was beginning to doubt he was a Preacher at all. Just using one of an infinite number of guises most like. "I never promised you anything, Captain."

"*Wo zhidao* an' that's always bothered me. You're a man of a million secrets. How many of 'em are gonna do harm to me an' mine?"

They were all assembling to await the boarding party: Simon's protests loud, strident and full of panic. River's voice a calm counterpoint that felt all manner of wrong,

"At the end of the day, Captain, I'm just a man."

The Captain stared at him, sickened. How could such a well travelled, seemingly intelligent man, make such an idiotic statement? Was it meant in some way to reassure him? If so, it fell wide of the mark. "*Bushi*. Don't know what you are but there's no 'just' about it. You keep expectin' me to trust you get give nothin' in return."

"Is that really true?"

He was fed up with the Preacher's verbal sparring. Most every question answered with another rutting question, not one word bringing him any closer to the truth. "You even have to ask? It's way past the time for bein' truthsome. What's this really all about?"

The Preacher hesitated. It was brief, just a flicker, but Mal caught it. "I told you. I have to keep the girl safe."

Reluctantly, Zoe let the boarding party onto Serenity. Everyone was tense and unhappy, Simon frantic and close to tears. River tried to comfort him. Behind Simon, Kaylee was crying, the tears rolling down her face. She could not believe they were just going to let the Alliance take River. River turned to her friend. "Not Alliance."

Kaylee sniffed. "Then who are they?"

River could not stay strong much longer and looked down so that Kaylee would not see the tears pooling in her eyes. Her voice hardly a whisper but the mechanic heard and felt her own heart quail in response. "Worse."

* * * * *

Inara Serra was the only one who had not assembled with the rest of the crew but not just because she could not bear to see River handed over to the Inspector General. The Companion could only assume Book would be going with the girl as to remain on Serenity after his betrayal would be suicidal and whatever else he was Book was not stupid. Her shuttle seemed a haven of calm, the rich colours and fabrics as soothing as incense yet today everything was jarring. Her thoughts like little daggers leaving behind wounds no one would ever see but just as painful to her psyche.

Quickly Inara switched on the cortex and began to search for any and all information she could find on Malachy Harius. With such an unusual name it should have been a moment's work to bring up something but there was nothing. She tried inputting the words 'Inspector General' hoping to find a file with the various members of that office listed. Again, nothing. Inara frowned then did the one thing she did not want to do. Taking a deep steadying breath, Inara turned to the one source that had never failed her and put in an encrypted wave to the head of her order. The Guild had fingers in every pie. If anyone knew what was going on they would, whether or not they would tell her was another thing but she had to at least try.

* * * * *

Jayne Cobb wasn't a patient man but could be when necessary. It was what made him such a good hunter and tracker. Outwardly the mercenary appeared calm but inside he was furious and more than a little hurt at Book's actions. He kept telling himself that Mal had a plan, some wickedly stupid but heroic last minute save that would keep their troublesome moonbrain on Serenity and turn the tables on those that wanted to take her but no save came. The Captain stood stiff and unhappy, hands fisted so tightly at his sides that the nails were like to draw blood. Not a lick of colour in the man's face. The big man flicked an eye from crew member to crew member and saw the same tension and misery reflected in them all yet no one was rutting well doing anything. Jayne knew the why of it but it still didn't sit right with him. As for that creepy assed Inspector General, there was something more than unsettling about him. Jayne couldn't put his finger on what it was just that everything about him felt wrong.

Zoe was surprised the Inspector General did not board with a phallanx of Alliance soldiers. The man, however, was imposing in his own right - well over six feet tall and very broad of build. His short black hair had a bluish tinge echoed in his shaven chin as if a nine o'clock shadow permanently threatened. It left his face looking vaguely bruised but it was the eyes that held the crew, unsettling as *diyu*. They were such a light blue the eyes were almost transparent and held an icy quality like the deep core of a gorram iceberg. Filing in and fanning out behind him were a dozen men clad in black. Having expected purplebellies in their distinctive body armour she was momentarily thrown by the sight. Each was dressed the same, in black top and trousers, form fitting black body armour hugging the upper body and so thin it almost flexed as they moved. On each man's right hip was something that looked like a cross between a high tech syringe and a gun. The first mate didn't want to guess what the strange weapon might carry as its' payload. Just looking at them chilled her to the gorram bone. Malcolm Reynolds was struggling with the desire to do something monumentally stupid.

"Shepherd, don't do this."

Malachy Harius seemed amused at the Captain's last minute appeal to his former friend. The ghost of a smirk twisted lips that rarely smiled. Like his men he was also dressed all in black with a matching cloak, red tipped around the edges as if signifying some kind of rank. "You didn't tell them, Derrial?"

For a moment Book looked a mite unsettled as if not wanting this conversation in front of Serenity's crew. "This is for her own good, Captain.

Mal's head was aching, the gorram weave over his wound slowly leaking. He had dispensed with the bandage binding it despite Simon's protests, not wanting to go around swaddled in gorram padding like some runaway mental patient looking for a lunatic asylum. The drugs that kept the pain at bay were wearing off and along with the pain he was getting some double vision. If anything in this 'verse could be counted on it was rotten timing. Gritting his teeth, he prayed he wouldn't pass out. "You're the Inspector General, *dui*?"

Harius nodded and waited. Simon worked his way to his sister's side, arms aching to hold her, to keep her safe but she clung to Kaylee not him. It should have hurt but didn't. River had always been close to Kaylee, in fact the crew of this scruffy little transport had become a family to her and latterly to him. Part of him wondered why the Inspector General was humouring them, why the delay in taking what he wanted if all he had come for was to pick up his sister and Book? What was he waiting for? The Captain was squinting at the Inspector General, trying hard not to slur his words and hoping no one noticed.

"What does that mean?"

The man in question raised his brows and said nothing. Book replied instead. The Captain tried to hide the flash of pain behind his eyes, the piercing agony of it driving like broken glass into his gorram brain. Simon's eyes narrowed but he held his tongue. For now all he could concentrate on was his sister and hope frantically for some way out of their current dilemna.

"It means," said Book "that he has the power to do anything that needs to be done."

"An' who in the great an' not so shiny sphincter of *diyu* gives him that right?"

This time Harius spoke for himself, his piercing blue eyes staring at the Captain as the gorram pain in the man's head spiked. "A power even the Alliance has the wisdom not to meddle with, Captain."

He almost fell, only stubborn will kept him upright. Felt like something thin and sharp had sliced right through his gorram brain pan. Simon wanted to go to the Captain but was torn, not wanting to move away from his sister. This might be the last time he saw her. River chose that moment to look at her brother through the dark fall of her hair, the words barely a whisper. "It has to get worse before it gets better."

Standing to the side of the cargo bay where everyone was gathered, Jayne Cobb watched through narrowed eyes. All manner of unhappy but now with a growing suspicion. Careful not to make any quick moves he eased his gun clear of its' holster and flicked the safety off. He didn't know what was going on but some instinct was screaming in his brain pan and he had learned long ago never to ignore that warning itch. Zoe looked as upset as he had ever seen her. The whole crew were unhappy which just left Book. Why in the nine hells had he turned on them? And why now? The Preacher had been with them a goodly while, was practically crew. Could have turned River in any time but he hadn't so why now? What about this rutting puzzle was he missing and why hadn't the Captain picked up on it? That was when Jayne realised that Mal looked about ready to drop. The man had been flagging ever since that gorram ship had docked, the *wangu chunrun* ignoring any and all advice Simon had tried to give him. Jayne hadn't thought anything about it at the time, it was just the Captain being the Captain. Now he began to wonder whether it was something more. Shouldn't the man be getting better not worse?

* * * * *

Inara stared at the screen horrified. *Renci de Fouzu*, she had to warn the others before it was too late.

* * * * *

As if some silent signal had been received, the Inspector General's look hardened and he stiffened. "Time to go."

At that point several things happened at once. Shepherd Book walked towards River to take her over to the other ship. Simon lashed out just as Book got within inches of grabbing his sister's arm, his right fist executing the perfect upper cut with all the power of his anger and formidable will behind it. A nasty smile slid across the Inspector General's face and he flicked the index finger of his right hand at the Captain who immediately fell like a puppet who's strings had been cut. Kaylee gasped in fright and alarm, hands over her mouth and shaking so bad she could not keep them still. Everything was unravelling all around her and she didn't know what to do. The crew reacted on instinct, Zoe and Jayne spraying gunfire in an arc to take out as many of the Inspector General's men as they could but somehow unable to fire on the man himself. There was no time to wonder why.

"Why ain't they fallin'?"

Zoe gritted her teeth. "They're wearin' body armour, Jayne. Aim for their faces."

The Inspector General ignored the mayhem going on around him, his eyes fastened on River Tam, the two of them locked in silent unholy combat. River knew now what this was. Not a battle of wills but of minds, his intent not on simply subduing her mental capacity but claiming it for his own. Knowing now what she faced River did not even attempt to fight back, instead she gave him everything he wanted - and more. The sudden flood of information on mulitple levels brought a brief look of shock to that humourless face then the mask was back in place, all emotions squashed as he greedily tried to absorb everything she threw at him.

Above them on the catwalk no one noticed Inara running from her shuttle or an anxious Wash being sent by the Companion to return to the bridge.

Harius paused and a genuine smile of smug satisfaction spread across his face. His advanced mental capacity so full of extra input that he was almost dizzy with the joy of it. River watched and waited. The Inspector General's control was considerable but suddenly achieving what he had spent a lifetime pursuing loosened his grip just a fraction. Inara Serra chose that moment to exact her own revenge on behalf of both River and the crew. The arrow was near silent, its' trajectory true. In that small window of opportunity River's actions had created, Inara's arrow penetrated the centre of the Inspector General's forehead. A choked sound was the man's only reaction, then he was falling. His body collapsing, dead before he hit the ground. Inara quickly fitted another arrow to her bow. Zoe and Jayne had taken out a good two thirds of the soldiers that had accompanied the Inspector General but the Companion knew they could not afford for a single one to survive. With fluid skill, Inara centered herself and fired again determined to make each arrow count.

Simon Tam hurried over to the fallen Captain, alarmed to see a tinge of blue on the unconscious man's lips. *Wode ma*, he had not gone to all that trouble to save the man only for him to die now. The doctor glanced up but the only one not fighting was Kaylee and she was in shock. River was dancing in and out of the few remaining soldiers. Even unarmed she was deadly, spinning and aiming only for the head. Zoe cursed when the girl spoilt a shot but as River spun away and caught her eye the girl was grinning, the figure of a soldier crumpling like a broken toy behind her. Zoe was battle hardened enough to realise River Tam had aimed her kick with such precision that the man died instantly, his chin rammed up inside his brain. A whoop from Jayne made them turn, the big man looking as happy as they had ever seen him. A sudden silence settled over the cargo bay, bodies littered the deck and blood splattered the walls and floor. In the silence, Simon's voice carried firm and clear, the urgency in his tone breaking the spell cast over them.

"Jayne! Help me get the Captain to the infirmary, *mashang*."

Zoe turned her head as Inara joined them and spared the Companion a warm smile. "That was some fancy shootin', Inara."

Inara nodded her thanks but was looking passed the first mate, her eyes on Mal as Simon and Jayne began to carry him to the infirmary. "Did Mal get shot?"

The smile on Zoe's face vanished, a frown forming. "*Bu qu*. To tell the truth I don't know what happened. He just collapsed."

* * * * *

"Abort!"

The Deck Commander hesitated. "We can finish them off, *shifu*."

Black pitiless eyes stared back at Commander Mark Davis. Inwardly he shuddered. "And destroy the prize? *Bu qu*, if one way is blocked we will try another *dong ma*?"

Davis knew better than do aught but agree. With a nod he snapped out the command and his ship disengaged from the Firefly transport ship. Moving off at quarter speed, he waited only for the new setting then flicked the red switch on his command board. Almost instantaneously the ship zipped forward, faster than light engines leaving a blur of motion in its' wake. One blink, two, and they were gone.

* * * * *

"Where to, *bao bei*?"

"Juliet. Monty said there was a job transportin' seeds an' such."

Wash inputted the co-ordinates, a thoughtful look on his face. Zoe noticed he still looked a mite worried. "What about Mal? He gonna pull through?"

"Cap'n's tough, *zhangfu*."

For a few moments Wash fiddled, not actually doing anything just playing for time while he chose his words. Zoe knew her husband well and was content to wait him out.

"What about Book?"

"Simon's keepin' him sedated for now."

Wash swivelled round to face her. "Thought River knocked him out?"

"She did an' Simon's gonna fix the damage once he's finished workin' on the Cap'n but River said best he doesn't wake for a while."

"Is it just me or does that sound more than a mite creepifyin'?"

Zoe's voice hardened. "He sold us out, Wash. Man's lucky we didn't vent him into the atmo. Still might."

He didn't point out that Book had actually sold out River not them knowing that as far as the Captain and crew were concerned it amounted to the same thing. "It just doesn't sound like Book."

The first mate patted his shoulder to soothe his disappointment, her expression softening a touch. "Fooled us all, *zhangfu*."

Long after she left to go check on the Captain, Wash stared at his dinosaurs, a little frown still on his face. "What I don't get is why he didn't rat out River before. Why did he wait all this time?"

The dinosaurs didn't reply. With a sigh Wash realised this was one mystery he might not get an answer to.

* * * * *

At last the infirmary was the quiet medical haven it was supposed to be. Since the drama had ended, Simon had put up with a constant stream of crew members popping in and out 'just to see how the Captain was doing'. He could not be mad at them and for a time had been worried the man might not recover. With Mal's lips turning blue it had been a race against time to get him to the infirmary and re-start his heart. Why he had collapsed was still a bit of a mystery. The head wound was no longer life threatening, it was just a matter of giving it time to heal. Not that the Captain had a good record on that count but he should not have relapsed like that. Also, the timing was more than suspicous.

"Not natural."

Simon looked up at his sister. River had been so quiet he had almost forgotten she was sitting next to the Captain, a hand on the man's arm as if she needed physical contact to convince herself he was still in the land of the living. Catching his thought she shook her head with a little smile of amusement on her lips.

"Not dead, sleeping."

"It was a near thing, River. The Captain's heart stopped. What did you mean when you said it wasn't natural?"

The genius looked down at the unconscious Captain. "Harius planned it."

Alarmed, Simon hoped he had misheard but he hadn't. River looked up.

"He tried to take my mental abilities, Simon. Strip them from me and augment his own. Make himself the most powerful Reader in the 'verse. Harius knew Captain Daddy would oppose him any way he could and even though he was stronger and could not help but win he didn't like to have anyone even thinking of standing in his way."

"River, the Captain is not your father. Inara is not your mother and the crew are not your brothers and sisters."

"They're family to the Captain, Simon."

Her brother's voice softened, he knew River was inordinately fond of them all but there were times when Simon Tam was honest to a fault which was why he felt it his duty to correct her. "River, *ting*, you don't get to choose your family."

To his surprise a beautiful smile blossomed on his sister's face. Happiness and deep content shone from her eyes with such crystal clarity it made him catch his breath. "No. This time Simon, family chose us."

* * * * *

"You know this Malcolm Reynolds?"

Monty nodded, letting his caller see his approval. "*Qu*, he's like family."

Marcus Bole gave Monty a level look through the cortex screen. "Have to tell ya I got relatives I wouldn't trust further than I could throw 'em, *dong ma*? Heard tell he's a smuggler."

Monty laughed heartily. "Marcus, you're wantin' someone to fly supplies under Alliance radar not take your daughter to church, who're you to call a good man willin' to do that for you an' yours a smuggler?"

A slow sneaky little grin stole across the man's face. He liked Monty, had known him a good few years, had many a job done by the big man and his crew. If Monty said Captain Reynolds was trustable so be it. "Just needed to be sure, *ni dong*? Can't be too careful."

As the connection between them faded out, Marcus put in a wave to Serenity. Time to let Reynolds and his crew know about the job. The sooner he got his supplies, the sooner his people could get crops in the ground and food on the table. They had some basics a-plenty but lacked root crops and seed for planting wheat and somesuch. Would surely be good to have a transport Captain they could rely on.

Wash took the call and Marcus gave them details of where to pick up the supplies. Zoe gave her *zhangfu* a nod and Wash re-set the co-ordinates for Lilac and the contact on that world who would have half the cashy money up front for them. The rest of the coin they would pick up when the supplies were delivered to Marcus on Juliet. Zoe left the bridge with a spring in her step. Leaning back in his seat, Wash smiled down in satisfaction at his dinosaurs like some benign deity, the cortex screen now blank, the thrum of Serenity's engine a satisfying hum around him. With the Captain on the mend and a paying job now confirmed things were looking shiny again.

* * * * *

Despite all the ups and downs Simon was pleased with the Captain's progress, especially relieved to see the man conscious. Some instinct must have filtered through the ship because Zoe entered the infirmary just minutes after Simon made sure the Captain was stable. He couldn't blame his sister because River was still sitting next to the Captain's bed as if someone had glued her in place. River flashed him a grin and Simon inwardly reprimanded himself for thinking such thoughts in the company of a Reader.

"Good to see you awake, sir."

The Captain didn't nod. His head was sore enough without aggravating it further though he suspected Simon of giving him the good drugs. "Good to be seen, Zo."

"Just thought you'd wanna know sir, that job on Juliet? Been in touch with Marcus Bole. The supplies are on Lilac so it's practically on the way."

Something in the Captain relaxed, a deep satisfaction settling in his bones. He could always rely on Zoe. "Shiny, how long?"

"Just under 24 hours to Lilac then another day an' a half to Juliet. We get paid half up front." She mentioned the agreed sum and Mal smiled for the first time in too long.

"We doin' the job?"

The Captain looked at Jayne as he lumbered though the doorway, his smile turning into a grin. "That we are."

Jayne looked pleased and relieved. The Captain's eyes narrowed. Catching the look, the big man got a mite defensive. "Thought ya was gonna turn it down."

"It's a payin' job, Jayne."

"Yeah, but..."

"We do the job, get paid."

Their eyes locked and Jayne nodded. That sorted, the Captain turned his attention to the silent girl sitting beside him, his voice dropping to a warm honeyed tone though his look was serious. "I'm guessin' that was Blue Sun?"

River shook her head. "Deeper, darker. An off-shoot thought extinguished now resurrected."

Zoe didn't like the sound of that. In fact none of them did. "To what end?"

"Tired of being a dirty little secret. Wanted a taste of power so the order was made to eliminate them. Extinguish the flame before it could burn the house down."

A grim look settled on the first mate's face. "They failed."

"Didn't know it at the time. The few left went so deep underground. Split into sleeper cells waiting to be wakened when the time was right."

The Captain tried to sit up straighter. "You sayin' Blue Sun don't know about this Inspector General *hundan*?"

"They wiped themselves off the map leaving no trail to follow."

Zoe's lips flattened into a line so thin it practically disappeared. "Until now."

River Tam closed her eyes and was silent a moment. When she re-opened them everyone was staring at her. "Gone now. Black Ghosts."

The mercenary felt some satisfaction at that. "Least they's gone."

River looked at Jayne. "They'll come at us sideways."

"Thought it was just you they wanted?"

"Jayne!" Zoe's warning snapped the mercenary's mouth shut even though he didn't think he'd said anything wrong. Wasn't it what they were all thinking?

"They wanted me but you stopped them. They'll want revenge."

The Captain was trying to follow all the threads, those spoken as well as those suspected. "You said they were sleeper cells?"

"When the culling came a few escaped, went into deep cover. There were only a handful of activators left."

Jayne frowned, what the *diyu* was the moonbrain talking about? "What the ruttin' hell is an activator?"

"Like a controller, a commander." River tapped the side of her temple. "They operate inside your head."

The big man took a couple of steps back, instinctively wanting to put distance between himself and the *shenjingbing* girl. Didn't want no mind reading crazy person in his head. River watched the play of emotions on Jayne's face, not offended. Jayne was just being Jayne.

"Never said I was one."

Zoe had to know. "Are you?"

River shook her head, sad that Zoe felt the need to ask but understanding the why of it. It did not make it hurt any less though the prick of pain was fleeting. Lack of information would leave them blind and it was a loss they could not afford to indulge by remaining ignorant of any danger however remote it might seem.

"There's a lot about this I don't understand beginnin' with what that *tamade hundan* did to me."

"Threw a switch to kill the power." River explained.

The Captain wanted to know what she meant by that but had a horrible feeling he already knew. Zoe tried not to show her frustration with their resident genius. "Thought you were gonna speak plain, little one?"

"The brain's a computer. Electrical impulses, synapses..."

Mal interrrupted her, not wanting the girl to drag the explanation out. "So killin' the power?"

"Disconnects power to function."

"An' if it ain't reconnected?"

"It dies."

For a moment no one spoke.

"*Wode ma*, they kill with their brain?"

River turned her head and just stared at the mercenary. Suddenly Jayne didn't want to hear any more but self preservation stopped him from retreating to his bunk. Moonbrain was right about one thing: lack of information would leave them blind and they needed 20/20 vision now more than ever before. The survival of the whole rutting crew depended on it.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *wo zhidao* = I know *bushi* = not so *diyu* = hell *dui* = correct *wangu chunrun* = stubborn fool/jerk Renci de Fouzu* = Merciful Buddha *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *shifu* = sir *dong ma* = understand? *bao bei* = precious/treasure *zhangfu* = husband *qu* = yes (lit. go) *ni dong* = you understand? *hundan* = bastard *ting* = listen *shenjingbing* = crazy *wode ma* = mother of God

COMMENTS

Monday, April 25, 2011 8:18 AM

MYOWNKNIGHT


wow! very cool and well written!

Monday, April 25, 2011 8:40 AM

AMDOBELL


Yay, thank you for the shiny comment, myownknight! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, April 25, 2011 9:33 PM

NUTLUCK


Very cool.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011 3:02 AM

ANGELLEMARCS


Awesome, and i completely agree with Jayne. They need to know what's coming or someone is gonna get hurt or worse dead. Thinking this is definitely one of your best...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011 8:48 AM

AMDOBELL


Glad you like it nutluck. Yes, they are all definitely going to need to keep themselves sharp and on the ball, Angellemarcs. Thanks for the shiny comments! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Thursday, April 28, 2011 11:40 AM

JANE0904


Eek, just realised I haven't commented!

Excellent chapter, although I hope you deal with Inara killing Harius - as in her having to reconcile doing so. And Book is still a mystery, something to be pondered on. Still, my favourite bit is Jayne's 'they can kill with their brains?' line. Brilliant!


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