HANDFUL OF STARS: 29. "Layer on Layer"
Saturday, April 30, 2011

"The Captain needs to decide what to do about Book. Inara informs them they may have a bigger problem to worry about."


TITLE: "LAYER ON LAYER" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Kaylee/Simon. Mal/Inara. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: Sequel to "MORE THAN A SHEPHERD". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at

SUMMARY: "The Captain needs to decide what to do about Book. Inara informs them they may have a bigger problem to worry about." 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 could hear voices, not yet distinct enough to make out words but the tone and timber were easy to identify. Simon Tam was talking to the Captain. Years of training made it second nature to feign sleep, his heartbeat kept low and even to match it at rest. After a moment or too, Book had to resist the urge to frown. Why were they whispering?

"He's awake."

"*Mei mei*, you're mistaken. The readings haven't changed."

River Tam shook her head, moving to stand over the suppine Shepherd. "Not real, fake."

The Captain's voice chipped in from the other bed, a mix of intrigued and irritated. "Then maybehaps we should be takin' this conversation somewhere else."

There was a moment or two of silence. What were they doing? Book would have heard had they left and he could sense River still hovering over him. Then someone else stepped up beside him and a creeping lethargy gave him his answer. Gorramit they were sedating him! How many times had they done that, and why? If they wanted to kill him wouldn't... His thoughts trailed off, too sluggish to inform his fading mind. The darkness clouding his senses deepened until it was complete and Shepherd Book knew no more.

"You sure he can't hear us?"

"Captain, I gave him enough to knock out an elephant."

Malcolm Reynolds frowned. "A what?"

It was River who answered, her face a shining happy beacon, her eyes sparkling. "It was a large land mammal from Earth-that-Was. Big and grey with huge flapping ears..."

The Captain huffed but it was a half hearted protest. Seeing River happy was all kinds of pleasing even when the joke was on him.

"Not joking. Simon can show you pictures."

That made the Captain blink. He looked at the doctor who seemed a mite embarrassed. "River, anyone with access to a cortex screen can bring up photographs."

"But you have them saved on a capture."

Amused, the Captain couldn't resist teasing his doctor. "You got a thing for big animals with huge flappin' ears?"

At that moment the mercenary poked his head through the doorway. Simon turned his head, saw who it was and gave a dry reply. "Speaking of Jayne, was there something you wanted?"

"Inara wants to speak to the Cap."

Simon wondered why she didn't just come to the infirmary herself. Come to think of it he hadn't seen her for a few hours now. The Captain appeared to have the same thought.

"There some reason why 'Nara ain't doin' the askin'?"

Jayne cast a dark look in the Shepherd's direction as if that explained everything.

"Jayne, the man is sedated."

"Huh, I know that doc, you know that, but it's Inara. She don't wanna talk in front of... 'you know who'."

The Captain was amused. "You can say his name, Jayne."

"Nah, just leaves a nasty taste in my gorram mouth."

"You'd notice?" Simon quipped.

Jayne shot the doctor a death glare then stepped back into the corridor. "Just passin' on a message, *dong ma*?"


The mercenary paused mid step and looked at the Captain. "Yeah?"

"Inara say where she wanted to talk?"

Mal expected the big man to say her shuttle but Jayne surprised him. "Said best discuss it in the commons area. Wants everyone to hear what she has to say to ya."

Then Jayne was gone. Simon and Mal exchanged a troubled look, wondering what the good gorram that was about. River's voice reminded them there was someone present who probably knew.

"Information. Wants to share."

"You know what it is, little one?"

"*Qu* but it's rude to eavesdrop. Better to hear it from the horse's mouth."

"Not sure Inara'll be happy you called her a horse."

River stuck her tongue out at Serenity's Captain then laughed before skipping out of the infirmary. Bemused, Simon helped the Captain to his feet then waited to make sure he would be steady enough to walk unaided. He got a frown for his trouble. "Ain't gonna fall flat on my face, Simon."

A pair of elegant eyebrows rose as if to challenge that assertion. The Captain raised a hand.

"*Bi zui*! Best we get goin', *dong ma*?"

Simon nodded and turned to go when he realised the Captain wasn't following him. Looking back he saw that Mal had walked over to where Shepherd Book lay. Before he could ask what he was doing, Simon saw the Captain strap the Preacher to the infirmary bed. "Captain, there's no need for that. Book is sedated."

"An' as I recall he was sedated when he woke up, on'y he pretended to still be under. What does that tell you?"

"I didn't give him enough sedative?"

The Captain shook his head. "It means we can't assume anythin' where Book's concerned always supposin' that's even his real name. Maybehaps he's got somethin' in his system which helps him wake sooner or works the drug out of his bloodstream."

"I'm not sure that's even possible."

"After everythin' you've seen? Believe me, Simon, if evil men can think it they'll find a way to make it."

Simon Tam did not have an answer to that.

* * * * *

Wash hoped like crazy that nothing else was going to go wrong. He fiddled with his dinosaurs and tried not to worry. His wife put a hand on his shoulder and leaned down to kiss him, her lush lips sucking the tension out of him and putting a sappy smile on his face. "We could just stay here, *bao bei*?" He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

Her smile made him go weak inside. "Cap'n said everybody, Wash."

"Yeah, but I'm the pilot." He waved towards his console where the co-ordinates were already laid in for Lilac. "You know, I should be pilot-in'."

Zoe chuckled and gave a little shake of the head, her look tolerant. "Everybody means you too, *zhangfu*."

Knowing defeat when it stared him in the face Wash got up. "Mal say what it was about?"

"*Bu qu*, somethin' to do with Inara."

That raised an eyebrow. Wash couldn't understand why those two didn't just get over each other and give in to what the whole crew knew they wanted: each other. But that would mean the Captain relaxing enough to admit it to himself and Inara accepting that the Guild was not the be-all and end-all of life in the 'verse. Occasionally one or the other of them would forget themselves and it would look like things might actually be moving in a positive direction but it never lasted. Another less welcome thought followed on the end of that. He stopped in his tracks, a new worry nagging. "Is Inara leavin'?"

Zoe frowned. "Why would you think that?"

"Um, it's just that she's left before."

"From what little I could gather I think she has some information for us."

By the time they reached the commons room everyone was there except for Shepherd Book. Inara Serra looked unhappy but determined. Simon didn't understand why he was there but the Captain had been insistent and living on Serenity had taught him to choose his battles. This was one he wouldn't win. River caught his eye and smiled. For some reason it settled him more than a library of words would have done. A hand on his made him turn his head, Kaylee's face a wreath of smiles. So happy, her face a-glow with goodness and making his heart miss a beat. The moment was broken by the Captain clearing his throat.

"So, this Inspector General you wanted to talk about?"

River spoke before Inara could say anything. "Just a title. Doesn't mean what you think."

Jayne Cobb gave her a suspicious look. "How'd you know what I think?"

The little genius ignored him. "Made it up. Needed something official sounding, imposing."

River's words helped something slot into place for the Companion. "I hadn't heard of the rank or Malachy Harius, Mal, so I looked him up on the cortex. It explains why I couldn't find any references on the database."

The Captain felt a mite frustrated when she stopped speaking. "An?"

"He doesn't exist, Mal. At least, not by that name or designation."

The first mate was putting the pieces together. "Is that why you killed him?"

"Yeah, that was a good shot, 'Nara." Chipped in Jayne, a grin breaking out on his face. He had been mighty impressed when that arrow went through the *tamade hundan's* creepy face. "Zoe an' me tried but none of our bullets would hit the piece of *goushi*."

That little snippet was news to the Captain. "Ni zhide she shenme*?"

"No magic, deflection." River responded helpfully, eyes locked on the Captain as if that explained everything.

"What's that in Cap'n-Dummy-talk?"

River looked at Zoe and Jayne. "Touched your minds just enough to divert your aim. Didn't know Inara was up on the catwalk. Caught him by surprise."

Zoe gave Inara a nod of thanks. "Lucky for us."

The Captain didn't say anything. He didn't believe in luck and was dismissive of those who relied on it. This time Mal would let it pass. Too happy that he and his crew had survived to want to jinx it.

"I'm thinkin' you found out more than what you don't know."

Inara Serra nodded then took a moment to steady herself. While she could not reveal her source there was no way she could keep what she had found out from them. After her fruitless search on the cortex she had contacted a friend high up in the Guild. Koji had once trained with her and the two had become firm friends. While Inara had concentrated on honing her skills as a top class Companion, Koji had gravitated towards the political complexes of the Guild itself. Inara Serra was smart enough to know where the true power lay. As she thought back, Inara found herself reliving that conversation and the shock it had left her in. Koji had not minced her words but the import of them had struck Inara hard. Koji's voice then softened at the look on her long time friend's face.

"Surely you knew, *xiao mei mei*?"

"*Bu qu*. I didn't think they could track me."

Koji's face had been a picture. "Inara, every wave has a unique signature. You know that."

"I was careful, Koji. The transmission was scrambled, relayed through several different carriers. No one should have been able to trace it."

Her friend had leaned in close to the screen. "You have friends in high places, *wode pengyou*, but also enemies."

Inara blinked. That idea somehow had not occurred to her, so worried for her friends had she been. Horror set in. "*Renci de Fouzu*, what have I done?"

"Acted like a friend. You should have used an intermediary, Inara."

"The transmission was coded. Surely the Guild..."

Koji had interrupted sharply. "Inara!"

Snapped out of her train of thought, Inara Serra stared.

"That's better, now pay attention *xiao mei mei*. Not everyone inside the Guild 'is' inside the Guild, *dong ma*?"

That was when Inara Serra had paled, her own folly seeming to multiply the more she heard. "Are you saying the Guild has been infiltrated?"

Koji Morita laughed at her friend's naivety. "Inara, who do you think helped to fund the Guild?" Inara was brought back to the present by the Captain clearing his throat impatiently. "Need to be hearin' what you found out sooner rather than later, *dong ma*? Can't keep the Shepherd sedated forever."

"It seems I have made matters worse. Apparently, even triple encrypting and using various relays to scramble the transmission I seem to have shaken something loose that was better left buried."

"What did you find out?"

Taking a deep breath, Inara told them everything. For a several long, pained minutes no one spoke. A deathly hush seemed to fall upon the Captain and crew. Zoe looked unhappy. Despite being initially stunned the Captain was quick to recover, not so the rest of his crew. "Well, now, that changes things."

Zoe took a moment to stop staring at Inara as if she wanted to shake the woman and turned to Mal. "What do we do, sir? Chances are they have someone already en route to intercept us."

The Captain rubbed his hands together as if he was looking forward to that but everyone could see it in his eyes that bravado only went so far. He was worried but rapidly trying to spin something positive out of the fix they were in. "Doctor? Think it's time we had words with our one time Shepherd."

* * * * *

It was laughable. Really. They thought sedatives could keep him down, that leather straps could hold him. The man known as Derrial Book had initially succumbed, his senses overcome by the drug but he knew it would be only temporary. The nanotechnology was state of the art though it had taken many months of discipline to learn how to use his mind to switch it on and dictate specific programming. As he dropped into sleep his body was already being clensed of the sedative, his neural pathways sharpened to detect any threat while he was indisposed. He woke bare minutes later, mind sharp, breathing kept steady and low so as not to trip the monitor. He cursed Simon Tam for connecting him to the equipment but could not fault his actions. It took seconds thereafter to activate the hidden knife, the little snick as it slid out of the end of his right sleeve cuff bringing a smile of satisfaction to his lips. The leather straps fell away with hardly any resistance then Book switched off the monitoring equipment and disconnected the wires.

Not knowing how long he had, Book did not waste a second. Carefully he made sure to keep his shields up and tightly locked, not daring to risk even a surface scan to locate where everyone was. River was a gifted Reader and loyal to this hap-hazzard crew in ways that made his next course of action something that needed to be well planned and swiftly executed. He could not risk her getting an inkling of his intent. Not if he intended to survive to complete his mission.

* * * * *

Jayne couldn't help feeling nervous. On reaching the infirmary and finding Book gone, the hairs on the back of his neck had risen. A horrible feeling of dread settled like lead in his stomach, only it seemed to be eating its' way through his gut as well. "I can't believe Book's a Ninja come deadly assassin Operative!"

The Captain pointed at the empty infirmary bed and the cut leather straps, a sour look on his face. "He was sedated an' strapped down, Jayne. What more proof you need?"

"Yeah but..."

The big man trailed off. Wash looked like he wanted to be sick. Book had been a friend, someone they had all trusted. Gorramit he had even taken up arms with them when deals turned sour and they found those who should have been paying them for jobs turning their guns on them instead. Zoe took the briefest glance around the no longer sterile room.

"Anthin' missin', Simon?"

Simon Tam blinked at her, a little non-plussed. "*Shenme*?"

"Simple question, did Book take any supplies?"

The doctor went through a quick and thorough inventory, paused, then re-checked three of the drawers. The Captain immediately picked him up on it, his heart rate speeding up a mite. "What did he take?"


Mal looked worried. "Filled with what?"

"That's the puzzling part, Captain. They were empty."

The Captain and Zoe exchanged a look. Wash's expression brightened. "That's *hen hao, dui*? Maybe we got here before he could take anything else."

If anything the Captain looked more worried not less. Inara was confused. "Mal, *shenme shi*? That's good news isn't it?"

"Inara, when Book came aboard I never searched his belongin's. Him bein' a Preacher an' all there didn't seem any point. He's been with us a while, plenty of time to pick up all manner of supplies we wouldn't be knowin' about. Who knows what he has hidden away."

"Then we should search his bunk." Said Jayne.

"Good idea, best you get started Jayne."

The big man looked shocked. "You want 'me' to do it?"

"Your idea." Said Zoe.

For a moment the man stared stupidly at them. "What if he's in there?"

"Then we end this before it goes any further."


The Captain turned and saw Kaylee staring wide eyed at him from the doorway. He had forgotten that she had been trailing behind the rest of them with River.

"Ya' ain't gonna kill him, are ya?"

"Not nobody talkin' about that, little Kaylee, but if Book looks to be hurtin' anyone I can't let that happen."

The Captain's eyes narrowed as he looked behind his young mechanic.

"Thought River was with you?"

"She is..." Kaylee's voice trailed off as she looked behind her and found nobody there. The rest of the blood drained from her too pale face. "*Wode ma*, she was here a minute ago. Ya don't think...?"

Mal didn't stop to think. "Zoe! Jayne! We gotta find that back stabbin' *tamade hundan, mashang*. Wash? Need you to get to the bridge an' lock down the shuttles."

Simon halted the Captain before he could make it out of the door after Zoe and Jayne. "What do you want me to do?"

"You still got that tranq gun?"

"*Qu, weishenme*?"

"Load it up an' pray you ain't gotta use it."

"Captain, Book has already shown he can somehow overcome the effects of the sedative I gave him."

"Didn't say to put sedative in it, doc."

The doctor stared at him, shocked at the look hardening in the Captain's eyes. "I'm not going to kill Book."

"You may not have a choice. If he has your sister, an' I'm prayin' he don't, it might be the only way to stop the sumbitch."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*mei mei* = little sister *dong ma* = understand? *bi zui* = be quiet/shut up! *bao bei* = precious/treasure *zhangfu* = husband *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *qu* = yes (lit. go) *goushi* = crap/dog shit *ni zhide she shenme* = what do you mean? *xiao mei mei* = baby sister *wode pengyou* = my friend *Renci de Fouzu* = merciful Buddha *shenme* = what *hen hao* = very good *dui* = correct *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *wode ma* = mother of God *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *weishenme* = why?


Saturday, April 30, 2011 11:20 AM


very compelling as ever, maybe Book isn't really as bad as we think? so looking forward to the next installment

Saturday, April 30, 2011 11:29 AM


Thanks for the feedback, MalsDoxy. As for Book, all manner of revelations still to come (gulp). Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, April 30, 2011 3:19 PM


Very interesting. Though I am not sure Book got River, for all we know she is stalking him.

Sunday, May 1, 2011 11:46 AM


You paint such a creepy Book. I love it. Though not sure how one can have River unless she truly wanted to be caught and then one must wonder just what she has in store for Book... good stuff!

Sunday, May 1, 2011 11:26 PM


Excellent chapter. I think River's on the hunt, and now Book is down the rabbit hole, the mad hatter's gonna get him. What that means is if his walls are high and tight to stop her finding him, he won't know when she does. And she knows Serenity better than pretty much everyone!

Monday, May 2, 2011 1:56 AM


Thanks for all the shiny feedback. As for what River is up to, all will soon be revealed. Our creepy Book is about to find out something he really doesn't want to know. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, May 2, 2011 4:31 AM


Sorry, I've been meaning to respond to you. The sinister Inspector General, his death, and now an unfortunate means by which the news has quickly gotten back to associates of his, who may be out for revenge or interested in silencing them. And taking River, obviously.

And the guild, guess the guild's evil. Sounds like Inara's friend is even evil and may have betrayed her.

And Book's escape.


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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.