HANDFUL OF STARS: 30. "Mind Games"
Saturday, May 7, 2011

"Book manages to turn the tables on the Captain and crew with a seemingly unassailable force on his side."


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

SUMMARY: "Book manages to turn the tables on the Captain and crew with a seemingly unassailable force on his side." 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

* * * * *

Jayne Cobb didn't like the way things were going. Book had been a friend and a gorram good one. Finding he could no longer trust the man turned him every which way inside. Kind'a curdled his stomach every time he thought about it. It was why he took a detour to his bunk to get Vera before heading for Book's room. Walking soft he approached with care, every one of his hunting senses on high alert. He didn't want to be on the receiving end of any of that martial arts *goushi*.

What the mercenary found was the last thing he would have expected. Face going pale, he felt his hands begin to tremble. Backing out carefully, Jayne threw caution to the wind and ran to catch up with the Captain and Zoe. He found Mal frowning as he and Zoe came up empty, no sign of Book or their little genius anywhere on his boat. It should have been impossible, there not being any other ship in the vicinity. The Captain activated his com again.

"You sure we still got both shuttles, Wash?"

"*Qu*, I also scrambled the door codes just in case he tries to make for one while you're lookin' for him."

Zoe's look was troubled. "He could be inside one of them, sir."

The Captain was nodding as Jayne skidded to a halt. Every eye now on him, Simon Tam trying to keep Kaylee behind him but the young mechanic had more curiosity than concern for her own safetly. Quickly it became clear that their fugitive Preacher was not chasing Jayne.

"He ain't in his room, Mal."

"An' this requires runnin' like a banshee?"

The mercenary's face clouded with confusion. "A what?"

"Forget that, why the hurry?"

The big man swallowed, hardly believing what he had seen and knowing he had to get the words out before he choked on them. His palms were sweating and the sound of his own heartbeat near drowned out the words stumbling out of his mouth. "It's a bomb!"

Looks of alarm turned to competing voices of shock, outrage and near panic. Unable to calm them down, the Captain raised his voice. "*Bi zui*! Can't hear my gorram self think. Panic ain't gonna help us deal with this, *dong ma*?"

Kaylee's eyes were wide, her body trembling. Even Simon's proximity couldn't hide her fear and worry. "*Wo bu dong*, why would Book do that? It don't make sense."

Now that the initial shock was wearing off, Zoe was thinking. She looked at Mal, their eyes locking on each other. "Maybe the bomb is to distract us, sir, slow us down. Give him time to get away."

"To where?" Asked Simon. "He doesn't have a ship and there's no one else out here."

The mercenary looked even more troubled now. "Maybe he don't think he's gettin' outta this? Maybe he's gonna blow hisself an' all of us to *diyu* rather than get caught."

Somehow the Captain didn't buy that though he couldn't completely discount the notion neither. "If he did that he wouldn't be able to protect River."

Simon Tam's look hardened into one the Captain had rarely seen on his face but knew to pay attention to. "This isn't about Book protecting my sister."

Zoe raised an eyebrow. "Then what is it about?"

Simon didn't like what he was thinking. Hated what he was about to say but knew he needed to share his suspicions with the rest of the crew. Their lives might depend on it. "If my suspicions are correct, we need to get Book scanned as soon as possible."

"Case you're feelin' a mite slow, we ain't found him yet. You got a notion on that?"

"*Bu qu*, Captain but I can't help being suspicious of the timing."

Zoe looked at him non-plussed. "Timin'?"

The doctor nodded, feeling sick. "None of this change took place until after our run in with Lincoln James Petrie."

"An' scannin' him would do what?" Asked the Captain.

Simon waved a hand briefly towards the Captain's head. "We know Petrie liked to torture people not just for fun but for reasons I can't even imagine right now. He was devious, evil but also very clever in a murderous, maniacal way."

Kaylee Frye had gone completely pale, her eyes wide. "You sayin' he did somethin' to Book?"

"When my sister was in that Alliance academy they cut into her brain, maybe Petrie did something similar to Shepherd Book? We need to find him as quickly as possible and scan him."

The Captain's frown had deepened, bringing a whole host of worry lines along with it. "I'm thinkin' we should scan everybody."

Jayne Cobb started backing away from the Captain. "Ya ain't cuttin' into my brain!"

"I don't think I could face the trauma." Said Simon drily. "It's a scan, Jayne. No cutting involved."

The big man didn't look too reassured. After all Simon had cut into the Cap's brain and the man still wasn't right. Though it was hard to tell with the Captain being a *shenjingbing shishengzi*. Could be the man had always been damaged in the brain pan. Didn't mean Jayne wanted to join him.

* * * * *

It was dark but not scary. River Tim liked the silence, untroubled by the 'verse turning slowly around her. The suit was bulky but adequate. Oxygen levels were good and would last several hours but she knew they didn't have hours. Couldn't switch off the clock and the countdown had already begun. She watched as the top hatch opened and Shepherd Book climbed onto the top of Serenity. He closed the hatch carefully behind him, the magnetic boots anchoring him to the ship's metal hull.

"We should go inside."

River shook her head but didn't reply via her com. Let Book use up all his air, she was counting not just hours, but minutes and seconds.

"River, I am not going to hurt you."

*Already have* She projected into his brain pan.

Book's eyes widened and if anything the man's muted excitement intensified. "You have come so far. Let me take you the rest of the way."

*No. You lie but you can't tell the difference any more. Makes you more dangerous not less*


*The bomb was a bad idea*

"I needed to buy us some time."

River was about to reply when her eyes widened, senses picking up something that had been hidden until now. Stealth technology morphing into her worst nightmare.

* * * * *

"This don't make sense." Muttered Jayne, looking more than a mite baffled. "They ain't on the ship, Mal. How come they ain't on the ship?"

"It's called hidin', Jayne."

The man scowled at the Captain. "I ain't a backbirth."

The Captain had no answer to that. At least, not one that wouldn't leave Serenity minus one Captain.

Wash's voice interrupted any further conversation. The urgency in his tone unmistakable. "Mal, you better get up here, *mashang*!"

The Captain broke into a run as he answered, Zoe right behind him. The others hurried so as not to be left behind. Just because they hadn't found Book or River, didn't mean they weren't there. "Talk to me, Wash!"

They emerged onto the bridge as the pilot replied, all eyes quickly fastening on the view through the windscreen of the Firefly. Words dying on their lips as Wash made the unthinkable flesh.

"It's an Alliance ship, Mal, but it wasn't there a second ago!"

Mal blinked. "How's that possible?"

Zoe moved closer to her husband, her hand settling on his shoulder but staring out at the huge vessel blocking their path. "*Wo bu zhidao*, Mal. I can only think it's got some kind of cloakin' device but whatever it's usin' it's still usin' it."

That made no sense. "Wash, you tellin' me that ship de-cloaked but is still gorram cloaked?"

"Not exactly. When it was cloaked it was not only invisible to Serenity's sensors it was invisible. Now we can see it but Serenity can't."

Mal rubbed his eyes and cut a look at Zoe. "You seein' what I'm seein', Zoe?"

"Yes, sir, but I don't believe it."

Just then Inara Serra joined them. She paused as she caught sight of the huge ship then sought out the Captain. "That's not all you won't believe."

The Captain barely turned his head, not wanting to lose sight of the Big Damn Enemy staring them in the gorram face. "*Shenme shi*?"

"I think I know where River and Book went. Two of the EVA suits are gone, Mal."

"*Chusheng xai-jiao de xing huo*..."

Jayne interrupted the Captain's tirade. "*Women dei zou le*, Mal!"

The Captain's eyes narrowed, all his attention momentarily on his mercenary. "You wanna cut an' run, Jayne? Look out the gorram window, that Alliance ship ain't gonna let us go anywhere."

"If we stay, Mal, they'll get us too!"

Malcolm Reynolds started to move towards the doorway. "Then best they not get us."

Zoe followed him off the bridge. "What're we gonna do, sir?"

"You're gonna keep an eye on that ship, *dong ma*? Wanna know if they so much as twitch."

"What're you gonna do?"

The Captain flashed a grim smile, eyes sparking in that dangerous way they had just before he did something monumentally stupid. "I'm gonna retrieve our lost lamb."

Her eyes widened. "Bad idea, sir. Book's bound to be expectin' us to try somethin' like that."

"Zoe." Mal lowered his voice so the others wouldn't overhear. Fortunately, Simon was still on the bridge but Inara was hovering a mite too close for comfort and he didn't have time to find somewhere more private. As for Jayne he was scowling at them from the doorway of the bridge. "They ain't hailed us?"

Confused by the question she shook her head. "*Bu qu, weishenme.*?"

"Don't that seem odd to you?"

"Define odd, sir."

He did not crack a smile. "I'm thinkin' Book's intendin' to take River over in the suits."

Zoe's eyes widened in horror. It was muted but there. "That would be suicide."

"Unless the *tamade hundan* planned it that way."

"You mean...?"

He nodded. "I'm thinkin' they'll have someone on a wire ready to haul 'em in on'y it ain't gonna happen."


Now his grin was wide and wicked, a promise of dark unpleasant things in his eyes. "I plan to get there first."

For once she was speechless.

"Jayne, you're with me."

Zoe watched in silence as her Captain and long time friend hurried away to prep a suit with Jayne Cobb grumbling about everyone being *shenjingbing* as he followed. Behind her, Inara sidled close, unable to mask her concern. "I take it Mal has a plan?"

Zoe snorted softly. "*Mei name duo*." Inara frowned. Zoe turned and looked her in the eye.

"Don't mean it won't work."

"You don't think it will?"

The first mate shrugged. "Think a lot of things, right now I think we need to watch that ship like a hawk."

An unpleasant thought occurred to Inara. "What about the bomb?"

"Kaylee's takin' a look at it now. If there's any way to defuse it she'll find one."

The Companion looked alarmed then angry that Mal had asked Kaylee to put herself in harm's way like that. Before Inara could protest Simon joined them, catching the tail end of their conversation. Concern for his sister now warring with worry for Serenity's shiny mechanic. "That's a terrible idea, Kaylee could be killed!"

Zoe gave him a hard look, needing him to understand something very fundamental. Something that Top Three Per Cent brain of his was missing. "If that bomb goes off, Simon, we'll all be killed. Kaylee's our best hope of that not happenin', *dong ma*?"

"But Kaylee..."

"Volunteered. Cap'n didn't ask but he couldn't deny she was best placed to look it over."

Simon's mouth flapped once or twice but no words came out. Could this nightmare get any worse?

* * * * *

The Shepherd edged closer to River Tam. He was pleased that she did not back away. It would make this much easier. Just as he reached a gloved hand out to her, the Captain's voice came over his suit com.

"You can't take her."

Book had not heard the Captain exit from Serenity's top hatch, not that his arrival would change anything. The Captain could just make out the Preacher's face through his faceplate. "You stand between River Tam and her safety."

"*Bu qu*, you do."

River actually took a step closer but before Book could get close enough to make a grab for her the girl moved sideways and closer to Serenity's Captain. Book tried another tack, his voice changing to a deeper register, warmth flowing into his words as if River Tam was the only person that mattered.

"It's time for us to go, River."

Her reaction was not what he had expected. "Get out!"

Book hoped to reason with her. "River.." She would not let him.

"Get out, get out, GET OUT!"

The Captain recovered from her outburst first, Book staring at the little genius as if stunned.

"Think River's made her meanin' plain."

River wasn't looking at the Captain, her gaze fixed hard on Book. "Leave him alone!"

Book looked puzzled and somewhat distressed as River's voice rose in pitch until she was screaming at him. Concerned that his little albatross might do something rash the Captain put a hand around her waist. River seemed almost unaware of him, her eyes wide and fastened on Book's, chanting and screaming over and over for Book to get out. Mal couldn't see how more 'out' their former Shepherd could be but her reaction provided just enough of a momentary distraction for the Captain to half drag River over to the top hatch. By the time Book recovered his senses the Captain had stamped twice on the hatch and Jayne swung it open. Quickly he helped Mal get the girl inside then to Jayne's consternation the Captain walked away from the hatch to coax Book to follow.

"Ain't nowhere left for you to go."

Book just stared at him. Both men ignored the huge Alliance behemoth looming over ship and crew. Without a word the man meekly allowed the Captain to escort him back inside the ship. Once down the small ladder, Jayne reached up and clamped the hatch shut, locking it up tight. Moments later Zoe came down the corridor towards them, pleased to see that River was once more safely aboard but concerned by the wild look on the girl's face and the distant look in her eyes. What in the nine hells had happened out there? She did not get a chance to ask, Simon pushing passed her to get to his sister.

"*Mei mei, ni hao ma*?"

"The *guai* came but he didn't leave, Simon."

She was not looking at her brother. Simon noticed she was fixed on Book, not taking her eyes off him as the Preacher removed the purloined EVA suit. Carefully he removed River's helmet. "What *guai* is that?"

"The *guai*, devil with the face of a friend."

The EVA suits were quickly removed. Inara joined them and with Inara's help put the suits back. The equipment was too critical to not take care of and they would not be easy to replace. They returned to rejoin the Captain and Jayne as Book was being herded towards the infirmary. River kept her distance, using Simon as a shield, her brief moment of calm quickly vanishing as words tripped out of her mouth, her voice rising and getting more agitated until she was screaming. Book started trying to reason with her, then he was shouting too, the air a loud cacophony of dischordant voices that hurt the ears. the Captain tried to calm things down but nobody was listening to him. They were now approaching the infirmary but Simon could see unless he intervened things would only get worse. Raising his voice he called out a foreign sounding phrase and suddenly everything went quiet. Within seconds both River and Book dropped to the floor without another murmur.

Alarmed, the Captain sprang forward. "What the good gorram did you do?"

Oddly enough the doctor was calm, as if he did this kind of thing every day. Simon knelt next to his sister and checked her pulse, satisfaction flowing through him on finding it steady and regular. He looked up to see the Captain's furious face looming over him. "When I was arranging to get River out the people who helped me taught me a codeword. I didn't think I'd ever have to use it."

The Captain frowned, non-plussed, peripherally aware of Jayne leaning down to check that the Preacher was still breathing. "Codeword? What gorram codeword is that an' why the *diyu* did it work on Book an' not me? I was closer to River."

"It doesn't work like that, Captain, but we should hurry. We don't have much time."

Worried, Inara could not hide her concern. "Are they in danger?"

"*Bu qu*, they're just sleeping but it's only temporary. We need to get Book into the infirmary as quickly as possible."

"An' River? What about your sister?"

Simon gave the worried Captain a small fleeting smile. "She's just sleeping, Captain. River will wake in her own time."

"If you ain't used this before how d'you know that? Maybehaps she won't be all shiny."

"I didn't say I hadn't used it before just that I had not expected to have to use it now."

As the implication penetrated the Captain's brain pan, he moved automatically to help Jayne lift Book and carry over to the infirmary bed. Inara helped Simon carry River, settling her on another bed, the one nearest the door.

Just then Wash's voice came over the com, a mite panicked Mal thought. "Mal! You need to get up here, *mashang*!"

Swearing under his breath, the Captain glanced at Zoe and she nodded back. She would stay in the infirmary with Jayne and make sure Book didn't wake before Simon got a chance to get his scan. Inara gave him a worried look but he gave her a flat unhappy little smile. "*Fang xin*, what could go wrong?"

Inara could have made a list, put it in alphabetical order and quoted it to him but this was not the time or place. Everyone was too tightly wound. As the Captain ran to the bridge, Wash turned his head to look at him.

"*Fasheng le shenme shir la*?"

"The Alliance ship, it's gone Mal."

"*Shenme*? What do you mean gone? Gone where?"

"*Wo bu zhidao*. One minute it was there the next it kind of flickered then poof, it was gone!"

The Captain stared out of the front windscreen then at Wash. "Poof?"

"Yeah, like magic only it wasn't."

Mal felt so gorram tired, everything catching up with him including his rutting headache which had returned with a vengeance, bringing all its' relatives with it. "I ain't in the mood for draggin' every word outta you, Wash."

The pilot noticed how weary and ragged the Captain looked and got straight to the point. "That's just it, Mal. The ship was there a minute ago then it seemed to flicker an' vanish."

Possibilities were racing through the Captain's head, but he had to be certain. "An' still nothin' on the sensors?"

Wash shook his head. "*Yiwusuoyou.*"

For the first time in what felt like too long the Captain smiled, the skin crinkling up at the corners of his eyes. Wash stared at him dumbfounded, had their glorious and oh-so-stubborn Captain finally cracked? Seeing Wash's expression, Mal gave a short laugh, his eyes merry with brief amusement. "It wasn't a gorram Alliance ship."

Wash looked as if he thought something must have come loose in the Captain's head. "It wasn't?"

"Unless I'm mistaken, Wash, that was an illusion."

"But Mal, we ALL saw it."

"Not sayin' we didn't an' have to admit it was mighty convincin' while it lasted."

"*Wo bu dong*, how...?"

The Captain raised a hand and Wash paused. "Not now, Wash. Got a Preacher to be scanned. Once Simon has finished I'm thinkin' we'll be findin' all manner of things weren't as they seemed."

As Wash stared after the Captain's retreating form, he couldn't help wondering when his life had turned into such a complicated tug of war between insane bouts of terror and total farce. He looked down at his dinosaurs and shook his head, hoping his wife would return shortly and put him and his fantastical imagination out of its' misery.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*goushi* = crap/dog shit *bi zui* = shut up/be quiet *dong ma* = understand? *diyu* = hell *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *shenjingbing* = crazy *shishengzi* bastard (affectionate form) *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *weishenme* = why? *chusheng xai-jiao de xing huo* = animal fucking bastard *women dei zou le* = we've got to leave *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *mei name duo* = not so much *mei mei* = little sister *ni hao ma* = how are you? *guai* = devil/ghost *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *fasheng le shenme shir la* = what has happened? *shenme* = what *yiwusouyou* = nothing


Saturday, May 7, 2011 10:21 AM


wow, excellent as always, intriguing storyline, thank you, AliD

Saturday, May 7, 2011 12:00 PM


So happy you are enjoying the story, MalsDoxy. Hang on in there, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, May 7, 2011 4:14 PM


Interesting twist.

Sunday, May 8, 2011 1:35 AM


If Book can create an illusion like an Alliance vessel, what of the bomb? Is that real? Can't wait to read more - particularly as Book and River seem to have a lot more in common than was first thought.

Monday, May 9, 2011 2:53 AM


Glad you like the twist, Nutluck. As for the bomb you will have to wait and see, Jane0904! Book and River do have a lot in common but also some interesting differences. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 5:24 PM


You and your twists... keeps me thinking and reading. Wonderful!


You must log in to post comments.



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.