HANDFUL OF STARS: 34. "The War Within"
Friday, June 10, 2011

"Brooks has to readjust to things not going all his way. Nelson manages to surprise Mal and Zoe, meanwhile Commander Rigden is not a happy man."


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

SUMMARY: "Brooks has to readjust to things not going all his way. Nelson manages to surprise Mal and Zoe, meanwhile Commander Rigden is not a happy man." 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

* * * * *

Derrial Matthew Brooks hated this. The feeling of helplessness growing like a canker, an insidious desease not of the body but of the mind. Of all the things he had ever imagined happening being trapped in his own mind was not one of them. The infirmary was quiet but he was not alone. Unable to turn his head or open his eyes he homed in on his other senses. Detected the occasional movements of Simon Tam. Reached with his mind but could not detect Simon's sister. What had they done to him and was it permanent? No. Whatever else their *baichi* Captain was, that level of cruelty was not Malcolm Reynolds' style. If a man like him could be said to have any style. If Reynolds had wanted him dead he would just kill him not subject him to this, this kind of living death. So either this condition was temporary or something had gone wrong,

It took an effort of will to overcome his momentary sense of panic at the notion of being trapped. Slowly he forced himself to calm down, no sense in letting the good doctor know the man they knew as Book was awake. Only he wasn't. Not exactly. Brooks inwardly grinned, getting a vicarious satisfaction out of knowing he was not the only one imprisoned. Book might be his current alter ego but the longer he had been on Serenity the firmer that character had lodged in his psyche until he became a seperate identity. It would be good to be himself again but first he had to figure out how Simon had shut down his programmed defences. As far as he could tell, the implant had not been compromised but that could change.

The silence stretched, eventually broken by the sound of someone lumbering into the infirmary. Jayne. A second later Simon Tam confirmed it.

"Jayne, this is the infirmary not a battlefield!"

"Hide now, argue later."

River's interjection sparked Brooks' interest. Again he reached out mentally - nothing. It was like hitting a thick steel vault buried two hundred feet below ground then buried in concrete. A horrible nasty suspicion niggled in the back of his brain. With his abilities blocked off he could not access his enhancements which made escape a whole lot harder. It also meant sensing River was no longer in his purview and that was an option he could not accept even if it was only temporary. He had risked so much, sacrificed position and power to come this far. And the journey was not yet over. Interrupted, yes, but over? No. What his misguided former friends failed to realise was that like a heat seeking missile he could not be diverted from his course. Sooner or later he would resume where he had left off but with changes, modifications that would come into play long before any of them realised their error. Shepherd Book had been fun. Derrial Matthew Brooks was something none of them would be prepared for.

* * * * *

"What do we do now?" Asked Kaylee, her face flushed with running back and forth from the engine room to the bridge. Even though Serenity's coms worked just fine there was no substitute for the reassurance she got from speaking to Wash face to face. Not to mention being on the bridge if the Captain or Zoe called.

Wash's expression was firm. He did not like this but knew better than to endanger either Zoe and Mal on the ground or the rest of the crew on Serenity by taking action on his own. The Captain would find a way to let him know when to make the Big Damn Rescue and if Mal didn't then his beautiful but deadly wife would see to it that he did. A smile flittered across the pilot's face at the thought. Malcolm Reynolds might be the Captain of Serenity but Wash knew who was the real power behind that man. Him to, if he was feeling truthsome but that was alright. The whole 'verse could be on the edge of going to *diyu* in a hand basket but his Zoe would be the level headed one, her pragmatic and logical nature prioritising risks and strategies while everyone else lost what little sense they were born with. It didn't stop him worrying though. He was the husband after all.

The clatter alerted him to Jayne's presence before Wash saw him, the big man looming over Inara and Kaylee's shoulders' to see what in the nine hells had gone wrong this time. Even not seeing all of him, Wash could tell the man was bristling with weapons. Well. It *was* Jayne. "*Zenme huir shir*?"

"I thought you were supposed to be watchin' Book?"

No one used the name Brooks, it just reminded them all too painfully that the man they had known as Shepherd Book was seemingly a stranger to them now.

"Doc's with him. Ain't woke up yet."

Wash raised an eyebrow. "An' when he does?"

Jayne hefted Vera into view, a nasty grin on his face. "We'll be ready if he tries anythin', *dong ma*?"

It was on the tip of Wash's tongue to ask if Vera could fire round corners and all the way from the bridge to the infirmary but somehow he didn't think that would go down too well. It was Inara who asked what they were all thinking.

"What are we going to do with him?"

A look of alarm flashed across Kaylee's face. "We could just drop him off at Southdown Abbey."

Wash was nodding but Inara shook her head, though she did not look happy about the thoughts running through her head. "What about River and Simon?"

Kaylee looked as though she had swallowed a bug. "Hadn't thought of that." She paused, eyes large and anxious as she looked from face to face then settled on Inara. "He wouldn't turn 'em in, would he?"

"All I know," huffed Jayne darkly "is that man ain't Book. Don't go thinkin' he'll act like him. Now he knows we know we gotta be *xiaoxin*, keep our gorram eyes peeled."

"An' watch him closely." Put in Wash mildly.

Jayne seemed to get the message and left to go back to the infirmary without another word.

"You really think he'll tell the Alliance where Simon an' River are?" Asked Kaylee, her fingers twisting into knots of anxiety.

Inara and Wash exchanged a look. Wash tried to break it to the little mechanic gently. "He 'is' Alliance, *jide*?"

Kaylee Frye paled. Inara put an arm around her friend and put a smile on her face. "*Fang xin, mei mei*. The Captain will think of something."

Her face brightening into a miniature sun, Inara was always surprised how readily Kaylee placed her absolute trust in the Captain but for once she was relieved to see it. "*Dang ran*." Kaylee grinned her thanks to Inara then looked at Wash. "How long we hidin' for?"

"Just until we get word to go pick 'em up."

Kaylee nodded. "Then best I see to Serenity, make sure she's ready."

They nodded and watched the girl leave, her steps much lighter.

* * * * *

Commander Rigden was frustrated beyond words, his temper rising in ugly increments. It should not have been this difficult to locate Reynolds and that rag tag group of people he was doing business with. While he did not know Portree Nelson or any of his men, the Commander was developing a deep dislike for the man if only because he made his job harder. He listened in silence as his lieutenant comfirmed what his gut feeling was telling him.

"No sign of them, *shifu*, and we were 'very' thorough."

The Commander's eyes narrowed. Very thorough would have meant dragging Malcolm Reynolds back by his ankles and in Alliance cuffs. "What about Nelson? He's local, *dong ma*?"

Lt Downs looked unhappy as he shook his head. "*Bu qu, shifu*. Seems he lives off-world, only comes to Lilac to trade."

That was news to Rigden. "Where's his home planet?"

"He doesn't seem to have one, sir."

Anger flashed in eyes that held not one whit of give in them. "*Jieshi*!"

The man gulped as if a noose were tightening around his own throat. "According to the records he's a visitor here."

The Commander stepped in close to his major domo. "Then he has to have off world transport, *dong ma*? Find that ship, *mashang*! I don't care who you have to upset, walk over or shoot. And Lieutenant?"

Lt Downs back stiffened to attention. "*Qu, shifu*?"

"Do NOT come back empty handed."

* * * * *

River stepped back slowly, her eyes fixed on Book. Simon finished checking the man's vital signs, his eyes flicking over to check on his sister's odd behaviour. "*Shenme shi, mei mei*?"

She shook her head. "Confused."

"The nanotechnology is working, River, there's no need to be afraid."

Her head turned quickly, eyes fastening on his like limpets with a look that stilled his heart. "*Cuode*, more dangerous now than before."

Alarmed, Simon shot a look at the prone man but could see no sign of him regaining consciousness. "*Wo bu zhidao*."

"It's what he's relying on, Simon. Wants to look harmless, under our control, but like everything else it's just a sham."

Simon opened his mouth to ask her to explain when Jayne's voice cut in. "What's a gorram sham?"

He would never admit it but Simon was glad to see Jayne. The big man frowned when he got no reply and gave River a wary look. "She off her meds?"

"She is right here!" River's glare halted anything else Jayne had been going to say. Then River's annoyance dissipated to be replaced by worry. "Have to watch him carefully, Jayne. He isn't who we think he is."

The big man nodded. "*Wo zhidao*, says his name is Derrial Matthew Brooks."

River did not even blink, her eyes now locking on Jayne's as if what she had to tell him was of the utmost importance. "Isn't who he thinks he is either."

* * * * *

Malcolm Reynolds' mouth dropped open in shock. Nelson got a good amount of pleasure out of seeing the stunned look on the Captains' face. Zoe took everything in without giving anything away. Nelson was happy he wasn't playing gorram poker with her. The Captain though, he could beat him hands down.

"*Tianna*, how'd you keep all this from the ruttin' Alliance, Nelson?"

The man was openly smug now, the look only shifting down to a smirk in a vain attempt not to overdo it. "Used to be a miner." He nodded to his men who grinned back and went about what were presumably their routine tasks though Mal noticed four hung back to guard the hidden entrance. "My folks came from Paradisio so minin's in the blood but I was lucky - got out young."

Mal frowned. "Bowden's Malady?"

If Nelson was surprised the Captain had heard of the condition he didn't show it. He shook his head. "Nah, like I said, I got out early." His look darkened for a moment. "Wish the rest of the family had."

There wasn't really anything Mal or Zoe could say to that. After a moment or two the Captain spoke his mind. "Shiny as this is, I don't see no short cut to my boat."

"It isn't but I thought if I told you we were goin' into hidin' you'd get *wangu* an' insist on goin' back. Maybe get yourself shot to pieces."

The Captain raised a brow. "Can't. Gave Wash the signal, Serenity took off."

A huge shit-eating grin spread across Nelson's face. He then threw back his head and laughed deep, hard and hearty. Mal smiled and Zoe chuckled. Honest good cheer was a tonic. When Nelson got himself back under control he was smiling, properly happy for the first time since Mal and Zoe had met him. Knocked ten years at least off the man. "You're a smart man, Cap'n, an' I like that. Less likely to get me an' mine killed."


Nelson blinked. "*Shenme*?"

"Call me Mal. No need for us to stand on ceremony, *dong ma*?"

His eyebrows rose in a tease. "Where'd you learn such fancy words?"

"Dunno, gonna look it up on the gorram cortex if I ever get my boat back."

Nelson laughed lightly and turned twinkling eyes on Zoe. "By my reckonin' I still owe you good folks a drink."

* * * * *

It was hard, suffocating, if he actually breathed air. The limits of his confinement were so extreme that there was hardly room to stretch his thoughts. Yet there was no pain just a kind of waking oblivion. He blinked, or thought he did. Nothing. No glimmers of light, no shadowy movements on the periphery of his vision. Was it night time or was he blind folded? Having no senses apart from his mind to inform his intellect he paused and reviewed the little he knew which wasn't much. He just remembered people being mad at him, disappointed. *Weishenme*? What had he done? And why was he finding it so hard to remember?

* * * * *

Wash listened closely, his concern turning to a guarded relief. He did not know Marcus Bole except by Monty's recommendation and that was not elaborated on. It left him knowing only that Mal trusted him on Monty's say-so. While not a ringing endorsement in Wash's book it was a paying job and pretty soon Serenity would be flying on fumes. Not long after that they would be inhaling them.

"If they're safe why can't I talk to them?"

The face on the screen was not so much cagey as reticent. "To keep them safe, *dong ma*?"

"Safe how?"

For a moment Marcus just stared at the pilot as if he were brain damaged then with a tiny little sigh leaned close to the screen. Without realising he was doing it, Wash mirrored his actions. "They're bein' hunted. No doubt the Alliance are monitorin' the airwaves."

Alarm shot through Wash. "*Wode ma*, they'll pick up this transmission an'..."

Marcus almost laughed. "I'm not callin' from Lilac."

Wash blinked. Of course. He had forgotten. Marcus was on Juliet. "So what happens now?"

"You wait."

Behind Wash, Inara felt unsettled. As if picking up on the Companion's reservations Wash pushed for clarity. "What do you mean 'you'?" The grin was a quick flash like shark's teeth. "I have a little... 'paper trail' to set. The less you know about it the better." Marcus began to reach for the control to close down his screen and paused with his hand on the switch. "*Fang xin*, Wash." He said more gently, a look in his eyes asking Wash to trust him. "I didn't have my men step in to save your people just to let the Alliance get them *an'* your ship. I need Serenity an' her crew more than a pat on the back from everybody's worst enemy, *dong ma*?"

Wash felt something tight inside his chest relax a mite. Just as he was beginning to think everything was going to be alright Marcus made one last comment before cutting the connection.

"Just have to look after my own people first."

He stared at the now black screen as if he had just been double crossed. Inara folded her elegant body into the co-pilot's seat.

"Was that meant to be a reassurance or a warnin'?"

River stuck her head through the doorway. "Both."

Wash tried to hide the fact that the girl's sudden appearance had made him jump. When he turned around to question her, River was gone.

* * * * *

"How can you have lost them?"

The Commander resisted the urge to curse the man to 18 generations. It would only make things worse and he didn't fancy having his body jettisoned into the atmo in some tragic little accident. "My men have searched high and low, sir, but can find no sign of them. They must have had a ship standing by."

The man seemed lost in thought for a moment. "You checked with the Port Authority?"

Commander Rigden nodded. "First thing I did, sir."

"No ships missing or newly taken off?"

"None except that Firefly."

This time the silence was longer. "Then they are still on the planet, Commander." Another pause. "I want you to concentrate on searching for the Firefly, *dong ma*? I have 'other' resources for locating our hidden prey."

Rigden almost shuddered at the cold way that was said. For the first time in a very long time he almost felt sorry for Reynolds.

"Oh, and Commander?"

"Yes, sir?"

"When you locate the ship you are to disable the engines but not board, is that understood?"

He didn't but the Commander was no backbirth. He nodded sharply. "Yes, sir!"

"I want containment not contamination."

Commander Rigden was still blinking stupidly long after the screen had gone blank. What the *diyu* was that all about? For the first time since getting this assignment he wondered whether there were some sort of viral outbreak. If Reynolds and his crew were infected he hoped Lt Downs and his men didn't find him on Lilac. Let the creepy cadavers from Blue Sun clean up their own mess.

* * * * *

It had the oddest taste but was not exactly unpleasant. A surprise was all. Zoe merely let her lips touch the golden liquid, the drink barely leaving a gloss on her lips. The Captain had taken a cautious sip then stared into his glass. When he looked up Nelson was smiling at him, the man's eyes dancing with humour. The change in the man from their first meeting had at first been welcome, now Mal was finding it a mite creepifying.

"What did you say this was?"

"My men call it nitro on account of it kicks one *diyu* of a punch. Kind'a explodes in the gut."

Mal was about to ask 'what punch?' when it hit. He gasped and leaned forward in his chair, eyes screwed up and smarting. When he was able to blink them clear of tears a warmth spread through his body from gullet to gut - and back up again. And he had only had a 'sip'. "Gorramit, Nelson, what in the shiny sphincter of *diyu* you tryin' to do to me?"

Nelson raised his glass and downed the contents in one. The Captain swallowed as if there was a lump in his throat. Their glasses had been filled from the same gorram bottle. Either the man had innards of asbestos or he wasn't ruttin' human, either way Mal had no intention of following his host's lead. Carefully he put his half full glass down as if the slightest jolt would blow them all to Kingdom Come. Nelson looked at Zoe. "You really should have taken a sip."

"I did."

He shook his head. "*Bu qu*, you let the liquid touch your lips not your tongue."

Now the Captain was all out suspicious. He jumped to his feet in alarm. "What is this?"

Nelson didn't get up nor did his men even look in their direction. Mal could shoot the man dead before anyone so much as took a step towards them. What was going on? He watched as Nelson calmly poured himself another drink.

"This is *hen tebie*, Captain."

Mal immediately noticed that Nelson was no longer speaking like a native of one of the Rim planets. He felt his heart sink. He really had been starting to like the man.

"They will hunt you down, do you know that?"

"Suppose you tell me?"

"Whatever it is they want they will never give up. This liquid has special properties."

"I got no notion what the good gorram you're talkin' about or what game you're playin'."

For a moment all Nelson's good humour seemed to vanish, as if Mal had turned the very air sour. "You can be forgiven this once, Captain Reynolds, but only out of ignorance. For that alone I shall honour my instructions and not kill you."

"Thought that's what the drink was for."

For a moment Nelson stared at him then he laughed, the tension in him easing again. Zoe said not a word but her eyes missed nothing and her right hand never strayed far from her mare's leg. If Mal gave the signal she would shoot Nelson dead.

"I should perhaps explain." By the time he was finished, Mal wished he had taken more than a sip. A bottle should do it just didn't think he'd survive the experience. "You ain't serious?" He whispered in a mix of awe and dread.

Nelson nodded. Refilled his glass and raised it in a silent toast to Malcolm Reynolds then downed it in one.

"We are the only thing between you and a long drawn out and painful death."

"What makes me so special?"

"Believe me, you aren't. Marcus did some digging. Nice and discreet. That man knows more back doors into secure systems than all the boffins on Osiris put together. You might think the smartest men in the Alliance hierachy were in Parliament but you'd be wrong. It's the faceless ones that stand behind them, Captain Reynolds."

Finally Zoe spoke, her words raising the hairs on the back on Mal's neck. "How would you know that?"

Another laugh, this one short and bitter. "I was one of them."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*baichi* = idiot *diyu* = hell *zenme huir shir* = what's up/what's happening? *dong ma* = understand? *xiaoxin* = careful *jide* = remember *dang ran* = of course *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *mei mei* = little sister *shifu* = sir *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *jieshi* = explain *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *qu* = yes (lit. go) *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *cuode* = wrong *wo zhidao* = I know *tianna* = oh God! *wangu* = stubborn *shenme* = what *weishenme* = why *wode ma* = mother of God *hen tebie* = very special


Friday, June 10, 2011 5:26 AM


Hmm... ok this is a bit different. Curious what you have in store next.

Friday, June 10, 2011 9:51 AM


Different from what, Nutluck? Not sure from your comment if you liked it or not as you didn't say but thanks for commenting as ever. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Friday, June 10, 2011 11:00 AM


I think I see the nanotech starting to take effect in Book's brain? It seems to have finally reset him back to the original and now somewhat confused Book. But now the crew will always have to worry and wonder just how close to the surface Brook is.

Wonder how Monty met up with people like Marcus and Nelson? And they seem to know that the Alliance is after the crew, and I get this sense that they've figured out why. I wonder if they were higherups who turned over to the resistance Simon was in contact with? And if that's how they know Monty, a browncoat?

Saturday, June 11, 2011 4:25 AM


Love the ominous ending. Nelson reminds me a little of the Alliance man in 'Bushwacked.' As for Book... all I can say is hunh?! good stuff though

Saturday, June 11, 2011 4:42 AM


You are partway there Bytemite but not in the way you might think. And I am happy you love the ominous ending, Angellemarcs! Thank you both for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, June 12, 2011 11:37 AM


This has me all kinds of interested. I'm wondering if there isn't another layer under Brooks/Book, one none of us has seen yet. If he dies, I can imagine it being Jayne who does the finishing, but that won't happen yet, mainly because somehow I get the impression they are going to need him. Interested indeed!

Monday, June 13, 2011 2:58 AM


Oooh, Jayne, if only I could tell you but my lips are sealed! Thanks for your thoughtful feedback, 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.