HANDFUL OF STARS: 32. "Friend or Foe"
Saturday, May 21, 2011

"The crew finally get to question Book but end up with more questions than answers."


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

SUMMARY: "The crew finally get to question Book but end up with more questions that answers." 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 was trying to equate what they had found out about Book with the man standing before them. "So ya ain't evil?"

They were all in the commons area, a fair mix of tense and wary.

"No. At least I'm trying not to be evil." At Jayne's confused expression Book elaborated, "I was once, Jayne. In the past I have done things I am not now proud of. Terrible things, and the worst of it was that I had no conscience. No sorrow or regret for the harm I was causing."

"But ya ain't evil now?"

Book almost smiled at Jayne for wanting to simplify things into something the mercenary could easily grasp and hold onto. "I'm afraid human beings are more complex than that."

The Captain had so many questions for Book, the hard part was choosing which to ask first. "Are you even a Preacher?"

"Once I walked the world, Captain. Travelled far and wide, saw and learnt many things. I had a myriad of teachers too numerous to mention, studied every art, every discipline. It broadened the mind but also, in a strange way, de-sensitised my humanity."

Jayne scowled. "What the ruttin' *diyu* does that mean?"

Book sighed softly, his voice hushing. The crew hung on every word. "It was long ago and when, with time, I came to my senses I needed somewhere, a place of solitude and retreat. To re-connect if I could with my lost humanity and find a way to right some of the terrible wrongs I had been party to." Something clicked in the Captain's head. "That when you became a Preacher?"

"*Qu*, and I might have stayed at Southdown Abbey ever since. I found the cloistered life calming, healing, soothing to my tormented soul but after a time I had the need to walk in the world once more. Perhaps for the last time."

"Why choose my boat? Why Serenity?"

Before Book could answer Simon cut in. "I think I can answer that, Captain."

All eyes turned to Simon Tam as he rose to his feet and walked over to where Book, Jayne and the Captain were standing at the end of the table nearest the door.

"He was looking for my sister."

The mercenary gave Book a dark, disapproving look filled with a fair mix of disappointment. "Thought ya said ya wasn't evil no more?"

"I don't think he was." Said Simon slowly. Enlightenment dawned on the Captain.

"River was your road to absolution."

The Shepherd knew the only thing left he had to give was the truth. Painful as it was he was looking forward to unburdening himself. At least, as much as he would need to for now. "I had to save her."

Simon took a step towards Book and stopped. "*Weishenme*?"

They were startled to see the Preacher's eyes glisten with unshed tears. "Because I was one of the ones who designed the programme for Blue Sun. Your sister went through what she endured at that academy because of me, Simon, and I am so sorry."

Book bowed his head. Everyone looked stunned. Kaylee put a hand to her mouth, her eyes wide and filling with tears. Hardly able to absorb the fact that the Preacher had done that. All of sudden it was like looking at a stranger wearing the face of a friend. Only Simon seemed unphased by the revelation. Mal wasn't sure what it all meant and didn't like what he was thinking.

"Simon, you knew?"

The doctor shook his head. "No, Captain, but once I'd finished all the scans, located the nanotechnology and Book's implant things started to make an horrific kind of sense. Especially the timing. Petrie finding Book's ident card was the clue. We know he liked to torture people and implant devices to extend his reach while taking vicarious pleasure in the torment of his victims. Allowing them to think they were free of him only to manipulate and deepen his control. And remember, Book's behaviour didn't change until after he escaped with the others from Petrie's stronghold."

The crew shuddered, like a wave of collective horror had rippled through them. Jayne Cobb's face had gone pale.

"Ya sayin' them things ya found in Book are crawlin' around my brainpan?"

Simon shook his head. "No, Jayne, you're clean."

"Not sure I'd go that far." Mumbled the Captain but his heart wasn't really into teasing the big man. He just wanted this gorram nightmare to end.

Inara had been trying to follow Simon's logic. "Why pick Shepherd Book? It doesn't make sense."

"Unfortunately, Inara, it makes perfect sense." Simon turned to Book who raised his head, their eyes meeting. "Petrie was looking for something different, something new to tempt his jaded appetite. People weren't people to him, they were spare parts to be dismantled and reassembled as he saw fit or the mood took him or simply dismembered for his sick pleasures - usually with the victim still alive and conscious. I think he saw something in Book he hadn't expected, something he could use."

Mal looked thoughtful. "You mean when he found out about Book's past?"

"You said it yourselves, an Operative of the Parliament would never be allowed to leave, retire or withdraw from his obligations. Once Petrie found that ident card his interest and suspicions would have made him relentless in finding out everything he could about Book."

The Captain felt sick. "*Wode ma*, I knew that thing was gorram trouble."

"That 'thing' has saved our lives a time or two."

"Yours an' mine as I recall."

"You get all them things out'a him?"

"Yes, Jayne." Simon turned back to Book slipping effortlessly into doctor mode. "There'll be headaches and times when you'll feel dizzy, disorientated. That is natural, it takes time to heal and brain surgery is a serious operation, not to be taken lightly." The Captain had a feeling that last comment was aimed at him but let the doctor continued uninterrupted. "Fortunately, they didn't cut as deep or as often into your brain as my sister."

"So he'll make a full recovery?"

Book sighed. "I can hear you, Jayne."

The big man screwed up his face. "Yeah, well you ain't a doc."

Mal was amused and enjoyed seeing Jayne wanting Simon's opinion on that. Trusting the young trauma surgeon to know best about the health of his friend. He closed his eyes a moment as a sharp piercing pain reminded him that he was healing too. He opened his eyes and hoped no one had noticed and waited for the brief double vision to clear. Inara rose to make a new pot of tea taking Kaylee with her. He must remember to thank her for that. The young mechanic was pretty shaken by recent events and Book's revelations were unravelling the happy in her quicker than a lightening strike. Didn't seem right to see anything but a smile on that face.

"You're gonna have to tell me how you managed to overcome the gorram sedatives - again."

"Or not, Captain."

"Biological enhancements."

Everyone had forgotten that River was in the room, she had been so quiet. Now the slim girl was staring at the Preacher, her voice not raised but clear enough for all of them to pick up every word. The Captain looked a mite confused.


"He can operate any weapon, overcome any system and master any discipline."

The slim girl had not taken her eyes off Book. The man tried to cover how uncomfortable her scrutiny and insight made him feel. "I wouldn't go that far."

"False modesty doesn't become you. It's just another lie."

The Captain cut in before the conversation went too far off track. He still wanted answers. "About the sedatives, how did you do that?"

Book watched River for a moment to see if she was going to answer for him but her lips were sealed. Book chose to ask a question instead. "I thought you wanted to know who I am?"

"Only if it's the truth."

The Shepherd's lips tightened just a fraction. "Perhaps we should make ourselves more comfortable? This may take a while."

He had hoped he could talk to the Captain alone, perhaps in his room. Simon pulled a chair away from the table and pushed it towards Book. The Shepherd realised no one was going anywhere nor were they going to make this any easier on him. Not that he could blame them but he was used to manipulating events to suit his own purposes not that of others. The change in emphasis was not a welcome one. Book sat, noticing that Mal and Zoe remained standing. Everyone else had settled around the table, most sitting at it except Jayne who had his right hip hitched up onto the corner of the big old oak table. Inara quietly passed mugs of tea around. Book shook his head. Didn't think he would be able to keep anything down right now. The Captain crossed his arms over his chest.

"Best you start talkin'."

"You do realise there are some things I *can't* tell you, Captain?"

"Just start with what you can and go from there. Book your real name?"

The Preacher shook his head. "*Bu qu*. My first name is my given one but not the surname."

Mal nodded. It was as he thought.

Jayne gave Book a curious look. "So what is it?"

The Preacher shrugged. "I don't see how it's important now."

"Then you won't mind tellin' us what it is, you owe us that much at least." Said Zoe.

"I was born Derrial Matthew Brook. Believe it or not I started out as an altar boy."

"Til you fell from Grace."

Book dipped his head at the Captain's words, an acknowledgement in part of just how far he had fallen. When he looked up again his eyes were sad, tormented even. Mal would have liked to believe the emotion was real but right now he couldn't trust anything that came from the serpent's mouth. Didn't mean he wouldn't listen though.

"It was a gradual decline, Captain. I didn't even realise what was happening until it was too late and by then I didn't care. Too carried away with the new religion."

Inara put down her tea, her interest piqued. "What religion was that?"

"Building a New World."

Zoe swore softly. Wash reached up and took her hand and gave it a squeeze, unconditional love shining in his eyes. She felt her heart contract with emotion, too full with love for him to do anything but squeeze back.

The Captain's look had darkened. "That worth destroyin' this one? All the lost lambs that should'a been saved sacrificed on the altar of Alliance hypocrisy!"

"Nothing was so cut and dried back then and they were very persuasive." Book paused, not wanting to go into just how persuasive they had been. "I was offered a place in the finest military academy. One on one tuition, all fees paid. My parents were stunned with gratitude."

"An' you?" Asked the Captain curtly. "Were you stunned?"

"I was excited." Book corrected. "Wanted to please my parents, make them proud."

"Let me guess, they're Core bred?"

Book frowned. "I really don't see what that has to do with..."

The Captain raised a hand and cut him off. "Humour me."

"Yes, they were. It seemed I had an aptitude for martial arts and the academy indulged me in every disciple you can imagine. Not only that but I travelled extensively, no expense spared. Learnt to speak over twenty languages and forty dialects. My proudest day was when I was chosen to become an Operative and earnt the right to my very own Katana. You have to understand Captain, an Operative's sword doesn't come off a production line. It is made for him, becomes part of him, balanced to the perfect weight for his hand. An extension of himself in combat. Each Operative creates his own blade while master smiths hand carve the handle and he is only parted from his blade by death."

Jayne straightened, his look suspicious. "I ain't seen no sword."

"And you won't unless it is my intention that you do so." Jayne frowned. "Huh? Thought we was friends?"

"Friends don't interrogate each other, Jayne."

"Which brings us neatly to the point." Said the Captain, his tone crisp, business like. Zoe straightened next to him, anticipating his next words. "Are you Friend or Foe?"

"You have nothing to fear from me, I give my word."

The Captain's eyebrows rose, his voice softening into that dangerously mild cadence that caused many to drop their guard. It had the opposite effect on Book. "What was the plan? You take River, hand Simon over to the Alliance and have the rest of us thrown in some high security *jianyu* somewhere the sun don't never shine?"

"I gave you my word. I have no quarrel with you and your crew, Captain. In fact I should thank you."

Zoe's eyes narrowed, her tone hardening with suspicion. "*Weishenme*?"

"For keeping River safe."

"You don't want to save me."

Book tried to will River to be calm, to trust him. "I'm here to protect you."

The little genius's eyes widened with fear, her voice becoming a scared whimper as she started to back away. "The darkness is back!"

Mal, Zoe and Jayne immediately drew and cocked their weapons, every one aimed at the man they knew as Shepherd Book. Didn't matter a good gorram that he had told them his real name, he would always be Book to them. Besides, there was no guarantee any other name he gave was any more real. Book spread his hands out slowly to show they were empty.

"There's no need for alarm. I am unarmed."

River's voice was ice. "But deadly."

The Shepherd took a step towards River.

The Captain spoke quickly, a simple command. "Simon, now!"

Simon took out his tranq gun and fired it at Book. For a moment nothing happened. Book stared at Simon in shock then looked down to where the dart was embedded in his right shoulder.

"Your sedatives cannot stop me."

Simon shook his head. "It isn't a sedative."

He looked at the doctor in surprise, the surprise then turning to alarm as something foreign began to invade his system. Only it was not a chemical reaction. Tiny re-programmed nanobots swarmed into his bloodstream like an invading army. A look of horror stole over the Preacher's face.

"What have you done?"

"Payback is a sumbitch." Said the Captain.

Book collapsed unconscious to the ground. At first no one moved or spoke, weapons still drawn and waiting to see if this was a ruse or whether the man was truly down. Jayne summed up how they were all feeling.

"Well, that was ruttin' creepy."

River stayed behind the Captain, her pale face peering round him to look at the fallen man. "It wasn't him."

Jayne huffed. "Yeah, well, whoever it was don't wanna meet him again, *dong ma*?"

"If this works you won't have to." Simon knelt to check on Book, giving the Captain a nod to confirm he was out for the count. Mal and Zoe holstered their guns but Jayne didn't. Book had been a friend and a mighty good one but Moonbrain had said it wasn't him and he was not going to take any chances.

* * * * *

Zoe looked at her Captain and long time friend and frowned. He looked so gorram tired. In fact the whole crew looked a little ragged around the edges, the whole matter of Book weighing heavily on their minds.

"That gorram *tamade hundan* casts a long ruttin' shadow."



His reply surprised her. Zoe naturally assumed he was talking about their former friend. "Petrie's dead, sir."

"Don't stop him hauntin' my boat."

His first mate shot him a look of concern. "*Shenme shi*?"

The Captain sighed. Never could keep a gorram thing from Zoe, not that he wanted to but still. Sometimes his dark thoughts weren't fit for sharing except when ignoring them could be the bigger danger. "Book. What am I supposed to do with him?"

"Could drop him off at Southdown Abbey."

"Don't think you're comprehending the bigger picture."

Mal was glad they were having this talk away from the rest of the crew. The last thing he needed was to have his muddied thoughts churned every which way by the competing opinions of his crew. He needed the cool, level headed thinking only Zoe could provide. A friend who wasn't afraid to tell him outright when he was being gorram paranoid or when an idea of his was about to go bad. The fact that she was his closest friend was a bonus he treasured and that money could not buy.

"Which is what, sir?"

"We can't trust him, Zoe. Maybe never again."

"There's always the airlock."

He gave her a sharp look. Zoe had only been half joking and they both knew it. "I ain't killin' a Preacher."

"What about a back-stabbin' lyin' piece of *goushi buru* posin' as a friend?"

Mal sighed, his heart heavy. "That's just it. He 'was' a friend."

For a moment neither of them spoke. They were in his bunk, one of the few places on the ship where they could have a private conversation. Didn't mean they weren't likely to be interrupted at any moment though. Still. He would take the momentary privacy.

"What're you gonna do, sir?"

"Can't kill him, can't let him go."

She thought about that for a second or two. "Simon said he had an implant. That it had been there a long time, most likely from his Operative days."

"We don't know them days are over, Zoe." The Captain paused, might as well get everything out in the open. "Also said it would kill him if he removed it."

Zoe nodded but that wasn't what she was driving at. "Simon re-programmed those nanobots, sir."

His eyebrows rose, his mind a-whir with new possibilities. "You thinkin' what I think you're thinkin'?"

"Just sayin' what if Simon can re-programme the implant?"

"Ya mean turn off the evil?"

A cold little smile made a crack in her armour that had nothing to do with humour. "Make their spy ours."

The Captain just stared at her not sure whether to laugh, cry or buy her a gorram drink but it got him thinking and that was never a bad thing. "We need more information."

Zoe said nothing, waited for him to work through the idea his ownself.

"An' no, ain't gonna ask Book. Would never know which was the lie and what part was truth."

"That just leaves..."


Seconds passed and Zoe said nothing, her eyes drilling holes into his but the Captain did not look away. Good or bad, her opinion mattered to him. Always had, always would.

"Are you sure, sir? River isn't exactly stable."

He gave a very unfunny little laugh, like it kind of hurt him. "An' you think any of us are?" The Captain paused, watching her face closely. "*Diyu* Zoe, if you've got a better idea I'm listenin'."

The silence he got back was deafening.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*diyu* = hell *qu* = yes = (lit. go) *weishenme* = why? *wode ma* = mother of God *shenme* = what *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *jianyu* = prison *dong ma* = understand? *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *goushi buru* = lowest of the low (lit.lower than crap/dogshit)


Saturday, May 21, 2011 6:01 AM


Wow. Something tells me that either way, this isn't going to end well. Also, whether or not the nanobots successfully reprogram anything, Book is definitely no longer their friend, through his own actions and theirs.

Saturday, May 21, 2011 11:39 AM


Book may no longer be their friend, Bytemite, but is he their enemy? Lots more to come, thanks for the shiny comments! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, May 22, 2011 4:30 AM


I like the fact Mal still doesn't want to kill Book, but Zoe does. With all the go shi that the Alliance has put them through, you would think Mal would want to end it, even though Book was his friend. I like that turn. As for whether or not Book is the enemy remains to be seen and I know with you, it will be one helluva a rompin tale. :)

Sunday, May 22, 2011 4:38 AM


Thank you for the feedback, Angellemarcs. I think Mal has seen so much death, some at his own hands, and lost so many people that were close to him that it cuts pretty deep. Zoe has always been the more pragmatic one. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Wednesday, May 25, 2011 12:47 PM


I love that Mal turns to Zoe, his best and oldest friend, to tell him the truth, even if it's something he doesn't want to hear. And the trouble with reprogramming is that it can be reprogrammed! Great stuff - can't wait for more.

Thursday, May 26, 2011 12:29 AM


Completely agree with you, Jane0904. And it ain't over 'til it's over. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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His head still ached from the rutting probe but after the men had satisfied themselves that his story was true a thousand questions peppered the air like machine gun fire.

The vessel was shiny, sleek and black with nowhere near the bulk of an Alliance ship. Something about the way it moved through the Black was more than a little creepifying.

Personally she didn't care if Serenity was towed off to a junk yard and stripped into spare parts. She had promised the ship to Jer and his crew as a bonus but it looked like scavengers had beaten them to it.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: 2. "Counting Chickens"
The fact that her eyes were hard and sharp with intelligence kind of chilled him. Smart women always made him uneasy, it just weren't natural.

What in the nine hells were they so afraid of? Then he remembered Tracy. The body mailed to them by their old war buddy and all the trouble that had brought down on them.

If it was too gorram wet to hunt for rabbits what in the nine hells was his son really hunting? And was it something on four legs or two?

The man was in a terrible condition, his pulse weak, and for some reason he was soaking wet which did nothing to staunch the blood soaking through his clothing and seeping from the poorly tended wound where he had been shot.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 9. "All The King's Men"
The man sighed like the weight of the of the 'Verse was on his shoulders but unlike anyone else he looked like he could carry the weight.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 8. "All The King's Horses"
Without warning something came through the opening and rolled with a metallic clang across the ground before exploding.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 7. "Friend or Foe"
Then he found himself falling, the whole world silent as in slow motion the hordes of *diyu* came to swallow him up and everything disintegrated in fire, blood and pain.