HANDFUL OF STARS: 42. "The Devil You Know"
Sunday, August 28, 2011

"Just as things are looking up for Serenity and her crew it looks as if everything is going to go to *diyu* after all."


TITLE: "THE DEVIL YOU KNOW" CHAPTER: 42. Sequel to "HOMEWARD BOUND" SERIES: HANDFUL OF STARS Series AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Simon/Kaylee Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "Just as things are looking up for Serenity and her crew it looks as if everything is going to go to *diyu* after all." 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.


A "Firefly" Story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

The news was good. Better than. It cheered and exhilerated the crew of Serenity and their new found friends. Wash could not wipe the smile off his face as he listened to Mr Universe.

"The Cap'n's okay?"

The brilliant computer geek hesitated. It was only for a fraction of a second but Zoe caught it and frowned, her attention sharpening as she watched him like a hawk.

"From what I hear he's a little tired but beyond that I'm not a doctor."

That was a cop out if ever she heard one but for now Zoe held her peace. Could just be Mr Universe was repeating what he had been told and truth to tell she didn't have it in her to say anything negative when the whole crew were crowded round eager for information. They had been through so much and she was just all manner of relieved to be coming out of it in one piece. The next bit of news surprised them all. Wash's eyes widened.


Mr Universe grinned at his friend's stunned reaction.

Zoe leaned over her husband's shoulder. "What's the Cap'n doin' there?"

"*Wo bu zhidao*, just passin' on the information."

"We heard he'd been captured again?"

"Well I don't know about all that, all I can tell you is he's free now."

The screen went black and Wash leaned back in his seat, a look of confusion on his face. "What in the nine hells is Mal doin' on Paradisio?"

Kaylee couldn't keep the happy off her face. "What does it matter? Let's go get him!"

For once everyone was in agreement with that sentiment. Zoe patted Wash's shoulder and kissed his cheek. "You heard the woman."

"Yeah, but you've still gotta go an'..."

She interrupted him. "I'm gonna do that now, *zhangfu*."

"But I was hopin' to come with you."

The others filed off the bridge until there was only the two of them left, their happy chatter fading as they went. "Wash, we need to go get the Cap'n. I think I can find my own way to the infirmary, *dong ma*?"

Wash tried not to show how unhappy he was. He had wanted to be with her so he could hear what Simon had to say and satisfy himself that his wife really was one hundred per cent okay. He did not want to be spoon fed only what his beautiful but deadly wife wanted him to know. The pilot could see now that his simple plan would never make it off the drawing board. He gave a little sigh of defeat but managed a smile for her. "*Wo ai ni, bao bei*."

"*Wo ai ni ye, zhangfu*."

"I've missed you."

Her face softened. "Missed you too, baby."

This time the kiss lingered and both felt the loss when it ended. "Contact Monty, Wash. Let him know the change in plan."

"Want him to meet us on Paradisio?"

Zoe shook her head. "*Bu qu*. The less fuss we make on that world the better. We go in, pick up the Cap'n an' get back into the atmo, *dong ma*?"

"So we'll meet up later?"

"*Qu*. Once we leave Paradisio with the Cap'n we'll wave Monty."

* * * * *

It was hard being unable to blink. His whole body was trembling with reaction as tendrils of fear thrummed through his body like the low level electricity being induced in his brain. The images were blurry at first but that could have just been the tears. Couldn't cry, mustn't cry. He would need that moisture later but his body wasn't listening to his mind. Ruled by emotion and the knowledge that he was totally screwed, Marcel would have wished for death had it been on the menu.

From the observation window Mr Smith was joined by his partner Mr Jones. They watched impassively, no reaction on their faces to the trauma being built up slowly in their newest test subject. The Project Manager had been incandescent with rage at the loss of Malcolm Reynolds and Zoe Washburne. The fact that it had been right under the noses of himself, his staff and their Blue Sun paymasters had simply added insult to injury. With their best chance to reel in River Tam gone he knew his chance of early promotion through the ranks would take a back seat too.

* * * * *

Marcus, Nelson and their men were having a noisy but good natured discussion with Serenity's crew in the commons area. Jayne had coaxed Kaylee into breaking out her special inter engine brew and mugs that usually held tea were now sending that burning body fuel down eager throats. Simon winced at the speed with which their guests swallowed down the brew, tempted to caution them to take it easy but Kaylee nudged him, an amused smile on her happy face as if she could read his mind.

"*Fang xin*, way I heard it Simon they got cast iron stomachs."

"Yes, but..." The doctor glanced down at his own barely touched mug. Kaylee gave him a knowing look.

"Ya ain't gonna finish that are ya?"

He looked up, not knowing quite what to say without putting his foot in his mouth and upsetting her. She laughed.

"Simon, I ain't gonna be mad. Don't drink it if ya don't wanna."

"I'll drink it for ya." Said Jayne.

Simon hadn't heard the mercenary approach but for once was grateful. With a nod from Kaylee he handed the mug over with relief just as Zoe stepped through the doorway. The first mate glanced around then stared straight at him.

"Um, that reminds me, I should check on Zoe, Kaylee."

Kaylee turned her head and spotted Zoe weaving her way towards them. "Sure, see ya later?"

His smile made her heart do a little back flip. "I look forward to it, *xin gan*."

The kiss was as welcome as it was unexpected, it being in full view of everyone but Kaylee was too ecstatic to care. Normally Simon was too tightly wrapped to loosen up emotionally in public but over the last week or so things had changed. Perhaps the reminder of how fragile their lives were out on the raggedy edge had helped the doctor to finally realise all they had was 'now'.

* * * * *

Malcolm Reynods stared at Caleb Bourne, a stunned expression on his face. The Sheriff could not hide his amusement at the Captain's reaction. Proud as only a parent could be of how smart his son was and how well thought out the rescue plan had been, stinking mud notwithstanding.

"Don't know rightly how to thank you, Caleb, but *xie xie* anyway."

Caleb smiled. "It was kind'a fun."

The Captain's eyebrows rose into his hairline. "The thing about dicin' with death, Caleb, is" he paused for impact "it's dicin' with death, *dong ma*? You don't always get to walk away an' those were very unlovely *hundan*."

He got a solemn nod back. "*Wo zhidao*. When I saw exactly what was happenin'," he paused as a shudder went through him "it just made me more determined."

"How'd you get caught up in this mess anyhow an' what the good gorram happened to the real Dr Mathias? I take it there is a 'real' Dr Mathias?"

"Marcus Bole is a friend of mine. We go back a long ways. When he told me what he was plannin' to do I tried to talk him out of it but he was so determined. I could see nothin' would stop him so I did what any good friend would do, I offered to help."

"I thought I raised myself an intelligent son, Mal." Sheriff Bourne was smiling though as he said it. One hand absent mindedly rubbed his knee as if it ached. "Can't think where I went wrong."

The Captain glanced from son to father, a serious look settling for a moment on his weary face. "I think you raised a man to be proud of. Not many would go to such lengths for a stranger still less with Blue Sun bein' involved. Those that have tried in the past tend to disappear all sudden-like." He paused before getting back on track. "What happened to Mathias?"

A grin flashed across Caleb's face. "Right now he's probably enjoyin' the same hospitality you did."

"You mean he's in that torture chamber?"

"I can't be sure but that would be my bet though I didn't put him there." Caleb explained about the use of the neural nets to get him out and swapping the Captain for the unwitting technician before using a net to change the man's features enough to fool those monitoring the chamber. Dr Mathias had been knocked unconscious not long after Caleb had got himself aboard and been tied up and stashed in a storage cupboard. He was quick to assure them it had an ill fitting door so there was no prospect of the doctor suffocating before he was found. The other two nets he had used on himself and Mal to get out. It had been an incredibly risky but slick operation and kind of left Serenity's Captain in awe.

Before the Captain could ask any more questions the Sheriff spoke, his son settling back in a chair as if they had already rehearsed this. "Don't take this *cuode* Mal but you look like death warmed over. I've called in doc Greenway to take a look at you."

"*Wei*! I always look like this, no need to fuss."

Both the Sheriff and his son had noticed how pale the man was and the pinched look on Mal's face as he rubbed his forehead as if it pained him. It was such an unconscious act that Sheriff Bourne was sure there must be some deeper underlying damage the Captain was not confessing to. Would be just like the man. Stubborn as a bag of rocks. A knock on the door sent a look of barely disguised relief over Caleb's face as he went to answer it. He for one didn't want to explain to Marcus how he had successfully got the Captain out of that complex only to lose him from internal injuries he had failed to spot.

Dr Greenway was tall and thinner than a fence post. His long sallow face however was animated by bright intelligent eyes that were sharp and appeared to miss little. He instantly saw that there was a problem.

"Much obliged you comin' over, Elias." Said the Sheriff.

The doctor hurrumped but there was a vaguely affectionate edge to it that told Mal these two were men of long and close acquaintence. Friends even. The Captain tried to brush off the notion that he needed anyone looking at him before he got back to Serenity. The doctor heard him out, all the while watching the Captain's face closely, his eyes not missing a single flicker of pain or tell tale flinch.

"Best you humour me, son. I can be a real sumbitch when patients try to tell me how to do my doctorin'."

Mal blinked. That accent... It kind of sidetracked his objections. "Forgive my askin' doc but where're do you say you was from?"

A dusty smile cracked solemn lips, his hands busy rumaging in his medical bag while he kept eye contact. Not once did he look down to see what he was doing. Huh. Must be used to working in the gorram dark. "I didn't but I was born an' raised on Shadow. Went off-world years before the War to train. By the time I made it back..." The man paused but quickly recovered his equillibrium. "Wasn't nothin' I could do for the folks back home. Fact was, pretty much everythin' was burnin', boilin' or dyin'. Buried my folks best I could an' moved on, didn't look back. Found a place for myself here on Paradisio an' been here ever since."

Then a cool hand was touching his forehead, a penlight shining like the Devils' own fire in his gorram eyes. The Captain jerked back almost dislodging the hand.

"Mmm, how long you had head pain an' don't be tellin' me it's nothin'. I got long sharp needles for folk that tell me lies."

"Had a run in some months ago with a *shenjingbing tamade liumang*. Nearly killed me."

"Son, I am a right good doctor but I ain't no mind reader. Tell me exactly what this *hundan* did an' no need to mind my sensibilities. I've had my hands elbow deep in more folks guts than you've had hot dinners, not much shocks me."

* * * * *

Inara was impatient and more than a little frustrated, not understanding why they couldn't go straight to Paradisio in Serenity. Wash had explained and Nelson had backed him up. While she could not argue with their logic she fretted as soon as Nelson and his men left. Every delay a little more of her calm and patience crumbled though due to her training she was able to hide it better than most.

"*Fang xin*, 'Nara. They'll bring the Cap'n back before you know it."

A wave interrupted any further conversation. Wash grinned as he answered, his good mood evaporating when Mr Universe appeared warning him that Alliance ships were on their way to Serenity's position.

"*Wode ma*, how'd they find us?"

Mr Universe shook his head, looking as worried as Wash and that was all kinds of wrong. Man made Up not so much a direction as a way of life. "Not sure they're lookin' for you but you need to leave, *mashang*!"

It was on the tip of his tongue to argue that they needed to be there for when Nelson got back with the Captain but his friend was already speaking again, his words hurried as if he was about to cut the transmission.

"No time to argue, Wash. I'll keep the others in the loop. "*Zhu ni shunli*!"

As the screen went blank he exhanged a look with Inara, noticing how pale she had gone. "You might want to strap yourself in, 'Nara." Wash then flicked the com switch to speak to Kaylee then angled the ship away from the direction Nelson had taken. With a broadcast to the crew to hang on tight, Wash poured on the power. If the Alliance *wangba dans* did catch sight of them at least they could lead them away from their friends.

* * * * *

Simon was surprised that Zoe didn't get up and rush out of the infirmary at Wash's announcement. Then his eyes met hers and he got an inkling what was really worrying her. "You think they may have used nanotechnology?"

Her nod confirmed his guess.

"I can do some tests..."

At that moment River breezed in, Shepherd Book a couple of steps behind her. While Zoe didn't mind seeing River she was still unsure of Book. That is, if it really 'was' Book. She still hadn't quite reconciled Brooks taking over Shepherd Book as a separate consciousness though with nanotechnology anything was possible. Which was why it creeped her out that Blue Sun may have tried to pull a similar stunt on her and the Captain. After all, she had been hearing voices in her gorram head, been seeing a ghostly Shepherd giving her advice while she was held captive. Had any of that been the product of her traumatised mind or had Blue Sun manipulated those visions? Manipulated or implanted them? Whatever, she had to know but that didn't mean she wanted the man who may or may not be their former friend to be present while Simon found out. It was just too creepy.

"*Fang xin*, safe now." Said River, her eyes wide and luminous but steady and content.

"Still would rather just have Simon, little one. This isn't a spectator sport."

River's face darkened as if with remembered pain. An old wound, never healed. "It was for them."

A chill went through Zoe and she almost got off the infirmary bed. Simon's intervention steadied her.

"River, *mei mei*, you aren't helping."

Book bit back a sigh and gave them a nod. "I'll go."

Zoe felt relief sweep through her. River looked sad then her expression cleared. "I can help."

"*Mei mei*..."

"No, Simon. I can see them."

"What do you mean you can see them?"

"It's how I helped bring Book back, expelled the intruder. Trapdoors work both ways, Simon, and I made sure to lock it behind him. No more boxes."

Zoe looked at Simon, a frown on her face. "Can she do that?"

He shrugged, helpless as he often was when faced with his sister's unique gifts. "It's possible."

"But you're not sure?"

"I'm not going to lie to you, Zoe. The only way I could be sure is if I had the same abilities my sister has, I don't. But I am a good trauma surgeon and while I see signs of trauma I see no signs of any kind of invasive surgery."


River smiled and answered before Simon could. "No nanotechnology."

Relief swept through the first mate and something cold and hard inside her relaxed. It had been her greatest fear. Simon smiled, his look understanding. "Just to make absolutely sure there are some tests I want to do then you'll be good to go, *dong ma*?"

"*Wo dong*, an' Simon?"


"*Xie xie ni*."

"*Ni huanyin*."

* * * * *

The lead ship, The Enforcer, was a Class III top of the line pursuit vessel. Still in the experimental stages of full operation, hence these deep space exercises. The carriers in its' group were more escort and evaluation than part of a battle group. Captain Trevellyan looked as if he were sucking a lemon, his eyes glittering darkly as he stood behind his navigator. The ship had fully automated systems and an advanced AI which could take over and bring the ship home should anything happen to the crew, but for this exercise they were on manual operation. It gave him a chance to test his crew and spot any potential weaknesses. When you went into a combat situation you had to know the men who went with you wouldn't buckle, would be up to whatever was required of them even if the orders went against every instinct for personal survival. Obedience was the bedrock of Alliance security and Trevellyan intended to be the iron fist that delivered it.

"On screen!"

A small speck appeared on the sensor's monitor. Beside it co-ordinates flashed tracking the fleeing vessel's passage and trajectory. The navigator enlarged the image while increasing the Enforcer's speed so they could get a clear identification of the ship. "It's a Firefly mid-bulk transporter, *chuanzhang*."

Trevellyan narrowed his eyes slightly. "Full ident, Richards." The navigator ran the ship's specs through their database and within seconds the required information scrolled across the screen. The Captain leaned forward and read Serenity's designation, his eyes lighting up on Malcolm Reynolds' name listed as ship's Captain. Well, wasn't this an auspicious start to what promised to be a glittering career. He straightened and carefully masked the tremor of excitement thrumming through his veins. First, a few basics needed to be covered.

"Check all long range sensors."

"Yes, *shifu*."

Within seconds the navigator confirmed what Trevellyan suspected.

"They're alone, *chuanzhang*."

Trevellyan clasped his hands behind his back. "Then I think we should pursue and board the vessel without delay."

His second officer stirred at his post. "You do not wish to demonstrate the attack capabilities of this vessel, *shifu*?"

"*Bu qu*, Williams. Serenity can neither run nor hide. Right now I am more interested in where they have been and who they have on board, *dong ma*?"

* * * * *

Everybody crowded onto the bridge. Reassured that she was not infected with nanobots had lifted Zoe's spirits and now, as if to prove that the 'verse really was a perverted sumbitch, they were being pursued by the Alliance. It seemed their penchant for bad luck was never ending. Wash swore an almost endless stream of abuse.

"*Bao bei*, what it is?"

"I don't want to alarm anyone but the ship that's following us is armed to the teeth."

"Looks like more'n one." Growled Jayne.

"Yeah, I was comin' to that. I think they're armed too, they look like carriers from a command group."

Zoe caught the meaning immediately but Kaylee was confused. "What's that mean?"

"It means the lead ship could swallow us up an' eat us for dinner while the carriers would sweep behind them an' pick up what's left."

This was beyond bad. The colour fled from Kaylee's face, even the presence of Inara did nothing to calm her. "They gonna kill us? Why would they do that? We ain't done nothin'."

Her wail drew Simon closer, his arm going round her, his face pinched with concern. Behind them Shepherd Book watched in silence, taking in what Wash was able to glean about their pursuers, his look thoughtful. River closed her eyes for a few moments then opened them and pressed forward. "Turn around!"


Zoe turned to look at River. "We don't have time for this, we gotta run."

River shook her head. "Can't run."

Wash raised his eyebrows and began to pour on the speed. "Watch me!"

River darted forward and put her hand on his. "*Cuode, ni bu dong*. We can't out run them."

Zoe was beyond unhappy. "How d'you know?"

"I saw, it's new, experimental but deadly. We run, we die."

Wash looked at Zoe. "We don't run we die sooner."

Shepherd Book cleared his throat carefully. "There may be another way."

There was a stunned silence. Zoe more alarmed that he had spoken up with the offer of a solution than what that solution might be. She still didn't trust him and part of her wondered if the appearance of the Alliance had something to do with him. River interrupted her dark thoughts.

"You're wrong but we do have an advantage."

Wash was watching his instruments like a hawk, his alarm growing. "Whatever it is do it now, they'll be on us in minutes."

River glanced at Book then settled her gaze on Zoe. "We have to turn around, *mashang*."

"Not 'til you give me one good reason why."

"Because if we don't there won't be anyone left alive to pick up the Captain."

She didn't understand, reckoned she never would, but the certainty of that pronouncement decided the matter for her and deep down - when push came to shove - she trusted River. Zoe could tell from the instruments that the ships were gaining on them fast and even pulling a crazy Ivan would not help them this time. "Wash, turn around."

* * * * *

On the Enforcer the navigator, Jules Richards was surprised. "*Shifu*? The Firefly's turning around."

Trevellyn blinked. They were what? His preconceptions had not allowed for such an action, it made no sense. Everything he had heard or read about Serenity suggested they were smugglers and thieves led by that failed Browncoat Malcolm Reynolds. As much as Reynolds had no love for the Alliance that feeling was returned many times over by the Alliance. What were they playing at? Or was there something he did not know? "Slow down, half speed."

In silence he watched and waited, hardly believing his eyes as the little transport ship drew nearer to his state of the art hulk. Rising through his contempt for the other vessel was something unexpected: curiosity.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *zhangfu* = husband *dong ma* = understand? *wo ai ni* = I love you *bao bei* = treasure/precious *wo ai ni ye* = I love you too *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *xin gan* = sweetheart *xie xie* = thanks *hundan* = bastard *diyu* = hell *wo zhidao* = I know *cuode* = wrong *wei* = hey! *shenjingbing* = crazy *tamade* = fucking *liumang* = bastard/asshole/criminal/gangster *wode ma* = mother of God *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *zhuni shunli* = good luck *mei mei* = little sister *wo dong* = I understand *xie xie ni* = thank you *ni huanying* = you're welcome *chuanzhang* = Captain *shifu* = sir *shenme* = what *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *qu* = yes (lit. go) *wangba dan*/*tamade hundan* = fucking bastard


Sunday, August 28, 2011 6:12 AM


Pretty cool and I think I know what River and Books plan is.

Sunday, August 28, 2011 8:16 AM


Glad you are still enjoying the story Nutluck! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, August 28, 2011 11:25 AM


He's curious? Then what am I, curious squared? Intriguing as ever and River, you just gotta love her. Xie Xie, aliD

Monday, August 29, 2011 3:09 AM


Loved that notion, you 'curious squared' MalsDoxy, I can just imagine it :~) As for River, she can run rings around most anyone whether they understand her or not. Thanks for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, August 29, 2011 4:00 AM


I suspected that 'Homeward Bound' was not going to lead directly to a happy ending. You're great at putting a twist into the tale. Very concerned as to what's happened with Mal's head. The man has too many headaches!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011 2:50 AM


Ah, you know me so well ebfiddler! As for Mal and his headaches help is on the way but maybe not in the way you might think. Thanks for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Friday, September 2, 2011 10:07 PM


Great job as always. I like the doctor from Shadow ... a distant relative of Mal's, maybe? And I could feel Zoe's relief at finding out she hadn't been implanted with nanotechnology - just hope this doesn't all turn out to be part of the interrogation and it's in her head!

Friday, September 2, 2011 10:10 PM


Hmn. Just thought after hitting post for my other comment ... odd, isn't it, that we talk about things being in someone's head - i.e. the nature of reality - when we're writing fanfic about people who never existed and who we didn't create in the first place! Maybe I am a butterfly dreaming I'm a man ... (or woman, in my case)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011 4:14 AM


So awesome... not sure why someone would give you anything less than a ten... Your turn of phrase is definitely interesting. As Jane's comment, it makes you think.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011 9:47 AM


Thanks Jane0906, Dr Greenway isn't a relation of Mal's. Thought it would be neat to have someone else from Shadow put in an appearance. I smiled at you imagining more plot twists and no, I don't think you are a butterfly dreaming you are a man (or a woman) - if you were dreaming we would already have wall to wall Firefly, no cancellations and another Big Damn Movie in the works! Hello Angellemarcs, always good to hear from you and I am so glad you enjoy the writing - especially when it makes you think. Shiny, 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.