HANDFUL OF STARS: 31. "The Pursuit of Truth"
Sunday, May 15, 2011

"Book undergoes surgery while Kaylee deals with the bomb. What Simon finds unsettles the whole crew."


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

SUMMARY: "Book undergoes surgery while Kaylee deals with the bomb. What Simon finds unsettles the whole crew." 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

* * * * *

In the infirmary the Shepherd was quickly settled. Simon brought out a mobile scanner from one of his shiny cupboards. Malcolm Reynolds watched everything with a keen eye, not taking a chance that Book would wake before Simon completed the necessary task.

"What we lookin' for exactly?"

"My sister had her brain cut into over and over again. They changed her, tried to make her something that wasn't natural."

The Captain nodded. "Super killin' machine."

Simon gave him a dirty look. It wasn't what he meant but he could not deny the result. That did not mean he had to like it. The doctor bit back his momentary irritation. "I think someone did something similar to Book."

To the Captain's right, Jayne looked relieved. It had been bothering him something fierce how Book had gone from friend to cold hearted child stealing *hundan* practically overnight. "Can ya fix him?"

"*Wo bu zhidao*. I can't even fix my sister, Jayne."

For several minutes no one spoke. Zoe poked her head through the door, exchanged a look with the Captain then left them to it when she got a small nod to let her know everything was shiny. Jayne did not really want to be there but this was Book and he had to know. Was his friend still in there or had someone else taken his place? And if Book was gone, where in the nine hells had he gone to? Was it like dying or something worse? Jayne screwed his face up, deep in uncomfortable thoughts. If the Captain noticed he did not give any sign. Simon moved the scanner screen so that they could see what was on it. Using a scalpel, Simon pointed out the salient parts which was a good thing as neither Mal nor Jayne knew what the good gorram they were looking at.

"It's as I thought, Captain. Someone did surgery on Book but where it differs from River is that they didn't just alter what was already there, they inserted these."

Jayne leaned real close and tried to work out what he looking at. The Captain looked at Simon. "What's that?"


Jayne straightened and frowned. "What're they?"

"Tiny microscopic robots. This is very expensive technology, Captain."

"So, Alliance?"

Simon shook his head. "I'm thinking more like Blue Sun."

"Ain't they the same?"

"There's been some debate about that in certain circles though I admit the two do appear to be connected."

"Can you remove 'em?"

"*Qu*, but it's delicate work."

The Captain looked him right in the eye. "I got every confidence in you, Simon." He waved a hand vaguely at his own head. "You fixed me up fine."

Jayne snorted. "Ya ain't never been *fine*, Mal."

He got a dark, unamused look from the Captain. "Just for that you're on septic tank duty."

"Aw Mal, it ain't my turn!"

"No, it was Book's."

All the fight went out of Jayne at that. Book. Huh. Suppose he would do it for him though he was gonna have the Preacher do some of his chores in return once the doc fixed him up. A tendril of worry nagged at him. "He *is* gonna be fixed?"

"Providing I find no other nasty surprises there is no reason why he won't make a full recovery."

"That a yes?"

Simon bit back a sigh. "Yes, Jayne."

Simon turned his head at the sound of running water to see the Captain scrubbing up. "What are you doing?"

The Captain turned the tap off with his elbow, shook the excess water from his hands then dried them on a disposable towel which he then dropped into the medical waste bin. "Figured you'd maybe need a hand."

"How long have you been a celebrated brain surgeon, Captain?"

"No need to be *bu limao*, doc. While you're doin' the fancy stuff I can be handin' you medical instruments an' such."

"In that case, *xie xie ni*."

Mal noticed Jayne was starting to look uncomfortable. A little grey around the gills if he was any judge. "Jayne?"

"Yeah, Mal?"

"See if everythin's alright on the bridge. Then ask Zoe to come to the infirmary."

"Ya want me to come back as well?"

"*Bu qu*." At the relieved look on his mercenary's face the Captain couldn't help adding. "You'll be too busy cleaning out the tank."

* * * * *

Inara Serra knew it made sense but could not help being angry at the Captain. Kaylee couldn't see what she was so mad about. If the bomb went off it wouldn't just be them it would be the ship too. Kaylee wiped at a big black smudge on her cheek with the cuff of her boiler suit, careful not to jostle the device.

"Wouldn't be enough left of Serenity for anyone to salvage, 'Nara."

"You shouldn't have to do this, Kaylee. It's too dangerous."

Kaylee smiled at her. "Ain't no one else *can* do it, 'Nara. At least the bomb ain't electronic."

"What do you mean?"

The mechanic pointed out it's construction. "It's crude but effective. A mechanical device which means it's got workin's. See this here?"

"It looks like a clock."

Kaylee nodded. "That's what he's usin' as the timer."

Inara looked up. "When is it due to go off?"

"Fifteen minutes, give or take a few seconds."

Inara's face lit up, hope and relief shining like twin suns. "Then we have time to put it in the airlock and vent it into space!"

Kaylee shook her head. "That much motion would set it off 'fore ya could get the airlock door open."

The Companion's face fell. Kaylee jerked her chin in the direction of her toolbox.

"Can ya hand me them pliers?"

Inara passed them and Kaylee carefully teased out a wire then cut another one quickly straight after. Inara held her breath. The clock continued to tick but now it wasn't connected to anything. Kaylee put it on the floor and gave her friend a grin as she dismantled the rest of the contraption. "See, 'Nara? Just workin's."

The Companion sat down quickly on Book's bed, suddenly feeling a little faint. Concerned, Kaylee ignored the bomb for a moment. "You alright, 'Nara? Maybe I should get Simon to..."

"*Wode hao, mei me*. I just can't believe you dismantled a bomb."

Kaylee's face clouded a mite. "Ya didn't think I could do it?"

"No, no, of course I did it's just..." Inara paused and got herself back under control. "I've never seen anyone do that before, Kaylee. I was terrified it would go off."

Serenity's mechanic nodded sagely. "Ya thought it had an anti tamper mechanism. *Fang xin*, first thing I made sure of."

That was not what Inara had meant but Kaylee didn't have to know that. She stood up and smiled down at her friend, a hand reaching down to help her to her feet. "Come on Kaylee, let's get you cleaned up then we can throw this out."

"Can't do that, 'Nara. Cap'n'll wanna see."

She frowned as she helped Kaylee pick up the pieces and put her tools back in the box. "Why would he want to do that?"

"Can tell a lot about someone from the things they make with their hands."

"Kaylee, are you saying there may be more of these on the ship?"

Kaylee shook her head. "No, but he'll wanna see it, know how it was supposed to work an' such. That way, if we ever come across another he'll know what to do."

"But you'd be here to dismantle it."

"Not necessarily. What if we came across one an' I was off ship gettin' spares for Serenity? Makes sense to share knowledge, 'Nara. As the Cap'n says, we're in the middle of No and Where most of the time, never know when we're gonna need some information in the future."

Inara shook her head but she was smiling. "I'll never understand the life you lead."

Kaylee grinned back as they left Book's quarters, their voices echoing like their fading footsteps. "You're leadin' it too, 'Nara."

* * * * *

It was four hours later and Shepherd Book was sleeping after surgery. Simon Tam was happy with the way the operation had gone though what he found had been somewhat troubling. The Captain gave Simon a nod and watched as the doctor administered a low level sedative into Book's iv. The man needed to rest and he needed to talk to Simon. Not here but in the commons area where the rest of his crew could be brought up to date. Didn't want Book waking and fussing and maybe undoing Simon's work.

"You did good, Simon."

Simon threw the disposable syringe in the medical waste bin and peeled off his surgical gloves. He looked tired, his expression a little pinched. "We'll see."

The Captain frowned and paused by the door, delaying their exit. "Somethin' you wanna tell me?"

"No, I just don't like to assume anything until the patient is awake and coherent. Once I have completed a full range of tests I will be more confident."

"You sayin' somethin' could'a gone wrong? Cause I have to say it looked textbook to me."

It was an indication of how worried Simon was that he did not make a derogatory quip impugning the Captain's intelligence even if he never really believed he was that stupid. After all, everyone needed a hobby. "We won't have confirmation until Book wakes and I can examine him properly."

"Then best we not waste his sleepin' hours. You want a hand with those?"

Simon shook his head and carefully picked up the tray of items extracted from his patient's skull. Mal was glad he had taken the time to wash the blood off first. It would be disturbing enough for his crew to see what they had found. Zoe didn't speak, her eyes doing the talking for her as they met the Captain's. Simon had always suspected the two of them had some kind of psychic link, at times like these he was sure of it. Or perhaps they just knew each other so well they didn't need words to convey their thoughts like normal people. Well. People not like his sister.

By the time they reached the commons area everyone was already waiting. Inara was pouring mugs of tea then ducked down behind the counter while Kaylee was rustling up something that looked like a cross between busicuits and flattened buns. Didn't know what it was but it smelt shiny. Seeing the Captain looking at the hot tray she took from the oven, Kaylee beamed at him.

"We got flour!"

At his blank look Kaylee explained.

"An' eggs, soy milk an' such. 'Nara even got some honey, Cap'n, ain't that shiny?"

Before he could reply a flour faced Companion popped up from behind the counter. "They're honey cakes, Mal. Nothing special but I thought the crew could use a treat."

Simon enjoyed the look on the Captain's face and was tempted to laugh outright when Jayne tried to side step the Captain to grab a handful of cakes off the tray before they could reach the table. Inara's wooden spoon rapped the mercenary across his knuckles. Jayne recoiled and shook his hand, looking affronted. "*Wei*, mind where you're wavin' that thing!"

"No touching the cakes until you sit at the table, Jayne. These are for everyone, *dong ma*?"

"*Diyu* I know that, was just gettin' my share."

"And everyone else's." Muttered Simon. Kaylee caught his eye and beamed at him. A tap on her shoulder from Inara got her moving again. She wanted the crew to eat them while they were still warm.

The Captain gave Simon a look, silently the two of them putting off their revelations until they had eaten. As Kaylee reached the table Inara served a couple of cakes on each plate and handed them around. Jayne looked down at his two little cakes feeling more than a mite cheated. "Huh, is that all we get?"

"This isn't the main meal, Jayne, just something a little sweet." Said Inara.

"Then where's the rest of it?"

Kaylee sat down next to Simon and waited for him to bite into his cake first. As the cake crumbled between his lips a smile swept over his face, his eyes closing briefly as he savoured the honey and something else he couldn't quite name. When his eyes opened he found Inara looking at him from across the table. "Do I taste berries?"

"They're cranberries, Simon. You don't see them very often so when I came across them in the market I couldn't resist."

The Captain took a cautious bite and felt his smile swallow up the rest of it. Inara turned her head and smiled at him. He swallowed quickly, embarrassed that she had seen him wolf it down in one go. "When did you go to market?"

"Some weeks ago Mal, when we were on Bellepheron." The Captain started to frown a little, wondering how the berries had kept fresh all that time. As if she could read his mind Inara's smile sweetened even more. "They were dried. I soaked them overnight before using them."

"*Haochi*, Inara. I haven't tasted anythin' that sweet in a long time." Enthused Wash.

Zoe leaned in close and wiped the crumbs off her husband's face. He smiled just for her.

"*Xie xie ni, bao bei*."

"Mei shi, zhangfu."

Zoe kissed Wash. Jayne screwed his face up. "D'ya have to do that when folks is eatin'?"

As they broke apart, Wash looked at Jayne. "At least I don't shapen my knife at the table."

Before a quarrel could start the Captain cleared his throat. All the cakes were gone now and it seemed as good a time as any to bring his crew up to speed. Simon got up and went over to a side table to retrieve his tray of items. Kaylee's smile faltered a mite.

"How's Book?"

It was what everyone was thinking but were afraid to ask. Book had long since stopped being a passenger. He was crew. Family. The thought that he might not now be either was painful to contemplate.

"Simon, you wanna explain?"

Serenity's doctor nodded, his expression solemn. Carefully he put the tray on the table and every eye homed in on it. "The surgery went very well, textbook in fact." He glanced aside at the Captain then looked forward again, addressing himself to the whole crew once more. "I found a number of nanobots inside Book's head, they are nanotechnology. Tiny robots that are programmed for specific tasks."

"What kind'a tasks?" Rumbled Jayne, his eyes fixed on the bits on the tray as if afraid they would up and attack him.

"I think they are partly responsible for Shepherd Book's change in behaviour."

River had sat quietly through the eating of the cake and the beginning of Simon's explanation but no one was surprised when her silence did not last. "He isn't what you think. Wasn't then, isn't now."

Simon gave her a worried look. "River?"

Before she could speak again the Captain's voice flowed smooth as the honey in the cakes, calm and soothing. "Care to explain, little one?"

"He was something else but tried to change. Hid away until the Black called him."

Wash looked a bit confused. "Are you sayin' someone contacted Book an' did this to him?"

The little genius shook her head. "Was opportunistic. He didn't know what Book was but found out. Couldn't resist tinkering, throwing a switch that someone else put there a long, long time ago. The nanobots were for monitoring, gathering information. The switch did everything else."

The Captain turned to Simon, an expression of alarm on his face. Simon knew what he was thinking. Despite everything he had found during the surgery there had been no sign of a switch. Which meant, if there was one, it was still in there.

Inara Serra picked up on something Simon had said. "What do you mean 'partly responsible' for Book's change in behaviour?"

"My sister's right, there is something else buried inside the cerebral cortex but it isn't anything new. I calculate it must have been put there many years ago. Unfortunately it is too embedded for me to safely remove without taking out important parts of the brain. As far as I can tell it is inactive."

"The switch?" Asked the Captain.

Simon looked at River, his sister nodded. "So it would seem. River, how do you know about the switch?"

"Book is the only one who could block me. At first I was curious but he never explained, was always affable, kind to me. I didn't know the skill wasn't natural because I couldn't read him. Sometimes it chilled me, a darkness swallowing the light, but then it would pass and it would just be Book."

Her brother looked shocked. "River, why didn't you tell me?"

"Nothing to tell. Suspicions aren't fact, Simon, and you never listen."

Simon Tam fell silent, his look deep, introspective. More than thoughtful. The Captain's eyes narrowed on him.


He looked up. "I know what Book is, or was." When no one said anything he put it into words. "Book was an Operative of the Parliament."

Inara shook her head. "That's not possible. Operatives are not allowed to withdraw from service and Book spent years at Southdown Abbey."

"So he told us." Put in Wash, though the pilot did not look happy saying it.

Jayne was looking hard at Simon, not sure what to rutting well think. "How can you be so sure?"

"I wasn't but with what River said and what I found during surgery it makes sense of something else that has been puzzling me." Simon paused to stand up and pulled something from his pocket. Slowly he laid Book's ID card on the table in front of him. "I think Lincoln James Petrie found Book's ID card, realised what he was and that knowledge made him the perfect candidate."

"Candidate for what?" Asked Zoe.

"I think Petrie reactivated Book."

Wash put his hand up. The Captain frowned at the schoolboy tactic but Simon gave the pilot a nod. "Yes, Wash?"

"Even if he realised Book was an Operative how would he know to switch him back on? How did he know he was OFF?"

"It's a suspicion, based on circumstantial evidence it seems the most likely scenario. Inara is right, a Parliamentary Operative would never be allowed to just retire or withdraw from public life but if he were highly enough regarded they might come to a compromise."

Zoe nodded. "Deactivation instead of termination?"

"If so everything makes sense."

"Why would they do that?" Said Mal. "Ain't an Operative too risky to leave at large if he ain't under control?"

"But that's just it. That old implant is the control. With his training suppressed the way would be left open to reactive him should Book decide to return to the fold. I think he must have been very highly valued to be offered that option. I can't imagine it was given to many."

The Captain looked thoughtful. "Just who in the nine hells is in my gorram infirmary?"

The crew fell silent. It was broken by the last voice any of them expected to hear. "I think I can answer that for you, Captain."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *hundan* = bastard *qu* = yes (lit. go) *bu limao* = rude *xie xie ni* = thank you *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *wode hao* = I'm good *wei* = hey! *mei mei* = little sister *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *diyu* = hell *dong ma* = understand? *haochi* = tasty *bao bei* = precious/treasure *mei shi* = it doesn't matter *zhangfu* = husband


Sunday, May 15, 2011 11:17 AM


Wow, what a headfull you put in this chapter. Loved the bantering you included in here, and loved the telepathic implication between Mal and Zoe.

Sunday, May 15, 2011 11:39 AM


Thank you for the shiny feedback, Katesfriend. As for Mal and Zoe I have always felt as if they had a really deep connection, pretty much able to see what each other is thinking as if they are in synch with one another. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, May 15, 2011 5:28 PM


OOh, I thought it migh be something like this, though I didn't expect an Operative of Parliament.



Monday, May 16, 2011 12:48 AM


That's okay Bytemite, no one *ever* expects the Spanish Inquisition! (Dum de dum dum da!). Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, May 16, 2011 2:07 AM



Tuesday, May 17, 2011 11:16 AM


Ummm... wow! Reactivated Book... damn, you have a knack for the unusual and I like it lots.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011 3:17 AM


Thank you for your comment Nutluck, and yes Angellemarcs I do like twists and the character of Book was just begging for one! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Wednesday, May 18, 2011 10:33 AM


Book is a great character to play with, because until the graphic novel we knew nothing about his past - although I too suspected Operative too - even as part of canon. And Book wasn't just going to stay asleep under the mild sedative - he didn't before, and he obviously isn't now! Can't wait or more ...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011 10:34 AM


Oops - one too many toos!

Thursday, May 19, 2011 9:06 AM


Totally agree with your take on Book, Jane0904. Can't help wondering what else we would have found out about him had the series continued. Thanks for the feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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.