BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

AMDOBELL

HANDFUL OF STARS: 44. "The Good, The Bad and The Criminall Insane"
Sunday, September 11, 2011

"Just when everything appears to be shiny unexpected complications arise."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1821    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE CRIMINALLY INSANE" CHAPTER: 44. Sequel to "LATERAL THINKING" SERIES: HANDFUL OF STARS Series AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Simon/Kaylee Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "Just when everything appears to be shiny unexpected complications arise." 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.

"THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE CRIMINALLY INSANE"

A "Firefly" Story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

"You are not to try to warn anyone, do you understand?"

Mr Universe stared at the Operative and tried to hide how much his heart was quelling inside. The man was tall and urbane, well dressed and with an odd inflection to his accent which he could not place. The silver grey suit made him oddly seem more dangerous not less. Maybe it was the sword strapped to his back in a matching silver grey leather harness. The fit was so good that when he put his raincoat on you could not even guess there was anything unusual about him. But the eyes, the eyes held him in their orbit and would not let him go. Brown eyes so dark they almost appeared black. They were startling and mesmerising with not an inch of give or compassion in them no matter the inflection he put into his voice.

"As you no doubt have guessed, we are able to monitor both your input and output. If either displeases us we will not need to have this conversation again, *dong ma*?"

He nodded, unable to get his voice to work properly. The sweat sliding down his face began to sting his eyes but he did not dare raise a hand to wipe it away. Who knew what would set the man off again? Mr Universe tried not to think about the 'example' the Operative had made of his very expensive, very specialised equipment. He really would need to find a more secure location and install several layers of high security. A constantly updated back up system for both power and memory would be top of his agenda as well. The Operative had already stripped a lot of his encrypted information and then destroyed the equipment afterwards. It left him with the means to make contact and receive calls but little else. He was, effectively, neutered and the injustice of it burned like liquid fire in his veins. Self preservation however kept him silent. The Operative stared at him for another minute or two then gave a short satisfied nod. The echo of the Operative's diminishing footsteps at last allowed him to take a deep shaky breath.

"*Wode ma*! What has Wash an' his *shenjingbing* friends got themselves - an' me - into?"

Yet even as he was silently cursing them, his mind was racing, trying to think of a way to warn them without alerting the Operative. If he got it wrong he would no longer be able to keep the signal going and a lot of very good people who relied upon his information and services would find themselves buried so deep in an out of the system Alliance *jianyu* that not even God could find them. Hands shaking he turned his head slowly and blinked back tears. A lifetime's passion and work lay in ruins around him. Only a couple of monitors were left in one piece and knowing what he knew now, he did not think he would ever trust using them again. No. What he needed was to retire, find some new hidey hole and start again. Build a new system from scratch, it would be the only way to ensure nothing had been compromised by this visit. He would need to be more careful, smarter. Then, and only then, could he begin the long fight back.

* * * * *

Marcus would be more than happy once they met up with Serenity. The reunion was due to take place on Verbena, a small mid-Rim world with no Alliance pressence. Nobody had wanted to use one of the more prosperous or frequented worlds just in case unfriendly eyes had loose tongues too. Also, Monty would be waiting. The short communication had settled the big man's worry though they knew Monty wouldn't relax until he could see for himself that everybody was whole and in one piece. That might be a little difficult in Malcolm Reynolds' case especially if Dr Greenway was right about that shard in his head. Portree Nelson thought his friend looked more than a little ragged around the edges. He should have let Nelson's regular pilot, Warren, take the helm. What was it about bosses being unable to delegate? Sure he could give orders, send folk to do all manner of jobs for him, but when it came to steering a course he had to be the one with his hands on the controls. He guessed that was it. It was all about control. Right now Marcus was paying for that stubborness with another almighty yawn.

"Go, rest! I'll take over for a while." "But..."

"You're no good to anyone dead on your feet, *wode pengyou*."

Marcus felt silly but part of him was reluctant to do the sensible thing as if everything would go to *diyu* if he wasn't there. He paused for a moment but could find no good reason not to take his friend's advice. He gave a crooked smile. "Yeah, *xie xie ni*, Nelson. What would I do without you?"

Nelson raised his eyebrows. "You want that listed alphabetically, *laoban*?"

* * * * *

It took the Shepherd longer than he would have imagined to track the mercenary down. It was as if Jayne Cobb was actively avoiding him. Come to think of it, that was exactly what he was doing. Book held in a pained sigh, his heart heavy knowing that it would take some time and more than a little patience on his part to convince his friend that he was not the Devil Incarnate in a stolen dog collar. What the *diyu* could he do to conviince him that Brooks was gone? Excised, ejected, his very essence destroyed by their very own gifted genius? If Jayne no longer trusted him surely he had faith in River? That thought stopped him in his tracks. River. The girl who constantly put the mercenary on the back foot with her creepy ways and knowledge she should not have mixed with an innocence that could be dangerously disarming. On top of that she had once cut his friend with a kitchen knife just because of the shirt he was wearing. On second thoughts there was no real reason for Jayne to trust River's word over his own.

The Shepherd had rarely had cause to visit Serenity's compact but well equipped armoury. How Jayne had managed to fold himself inside and still have room to sit on the floor and spread his guns out to clean them he had no idea. For a moment Book watched his friend work, those large but capable hands dismantling and cleaning each weapon with a skillful familiarity that brought a smile to his lips. Jayne did not look up as he broke the silence. "What d'ya want?"

"I've been looking for you."

"Yeah, well that don't answer my question."

"We need to talk, Jayne." The big man looked up and carefully laid the gun he was cleaning on a cloth. "Got nothin' to say to ya."

"You've been avoiding me."

"Nah, just prefer the company of friends."

Book almost turned and walked out but if he did that it would be even harder next time he tried to speak to him. "I am your friend, Jayne, you know that."

"*Bushi*, sayin' the words don't make it so. An' I don't wanna find out soon as I let my guard down an' you do that ninja stuff on me, *dong ma*? Gonna stay armed an' alert 'til Mal gets back an' throws you off his boat."

That surprised Book. He knew Jayne had serious reservations about accepting that he was really back in control of his mind and body and that the interloper, Brooks, was finally gone. For good. The Shepherd hadn't thought it through enough in deciding how to deal with him. Jayne's solution was straight forward and practical but for one salient point. He was not Brooks. The trouble was Jayne didn't believe him. "Jayne, I'm not him. Brooks is gone. River destroyed him and released me." "How stupid d'ya think I am? Ya might'a fooled the others but not me."

"What can I do to convince you?"

Jayne stared at him for a moment then picked up the next gun laid out at his feet and picked up the cleaning cloth. "Leave an' don't come back."

The words hurt more than Book expected. "I don't want to leave, Jayne."

"Yeah, well I don't want ya to stay."

In the end there was nothing he could do or say to change the mercenary's mind. "If you change your mind..."

"I won't."

"But if you do, you know where to find me."

Then he was gone. Jayne worked in silence, methodically dismantling, cleaning and reassembling every weapon in his arsenal and a few that weren't. Wouldn't hurt to make sure the weapons Mal kept under lock and key in here were good to go as well. Never knew when some *hundan* wearing the face of a friend would try and sneak up on you. And yet, part of him was ineffably sad, an emptiness inside where his friend Book had been. He knew he had been hard on the man but had no choice, the hurt and loss he felt was still too raw a grief and he couldn't take the chance that the real Book was really back in control. Could be a trick and if it was he would end up having to put a gorram bullet in his head. No. It would take more than a few smooth words from that body snatcher to fool Jayne Cobb. Besides, he couldn't be sure that putting a bullet in his head would do anything other than kill his friend's physical body. Who knew what Brooks was? Was it a jumble of those nano things or was it another consciousness or somesuch? How in *diyu* was he supposed to know let alone tell the difference between friend or foe? So he preferred not to fire that shot because if he did that and Brooks was able to survive or find another body he would have killed his friend for nothing.

* * * * *

Wash didn't quite know what to think. Zoe was eager to meet up with Marcus and Nelson's ship, the Hourglass, and instructed her husband to plot a new course but he still wasn't happy. She noticed his hesitance even as he input the new co-ordinates.

"*Shenme shi, bao bei*?"

"I just don't get it, why Santos? It doesn't make sense an' takes us further out."

"Maybe that's the point."

Her answer stirred the hairs on the back of his neck.

"Wash?"

He tilted his head and looked at her, as serious as she had ever seen him. "I think I'll wave Mr Universe, get a confirmation."

Her eyebrows rose, surprised he was that worried but in matters relating to handling the ship she deferred to him, unless it was in direct contradiction with the Captain. Trusting him came easy. Zoe nodded and watched Wash put in the call, the transmission scrambled and coded to hide the point of origin as well as the sender but with an identifier he and his friend had thrashed out between them years ago so they would always recognise each other no matter how many satelittes it was bounced off of. His eyes widened and with a slightly shaky hand he sent the message again. Zoe leaned over his shoulder, trying to see what was wrong.

"Wash, what is it?"

His expression was stricken, face pale. "*Yiwusuoyou*."

"Then why the long face?"

"No, no, *ni bu dong*. I mean nothing, there's NOTHING. It's as if Mr Universe isn't there any more."

Worried, Zoe tried not to jump to conclusions. "Maybe he had to switch off his network for some reason."

"Or had it switched off for him."

Both thought about that for a moment, their earlier euphoria on hearing that Marcus had picked up the Captain now muted by a very bad feeling. Wash got a sudden insight and began changing their heading back. Zoe frowned.

"What are you doin', *zhangfu*? We're supposed to be goin' to Santos."

"*Wo zhidao* but I think I've figured it out. What if he's been compromised? If so, Mr Universe might not be able to tell us an' if that was so how would he be able to warn us?"

Zoe didn't like the way this was going. "He wouldn't."

"Exactly! He's doin' what I would do in that position. He's closed down. No confirmation means 'ignore the last transmission'. He's tellin' us not to change our original headin'. I'll bet if we went to Santos we would find someone else waitin' for us, *bao bei*."

All the blood drained from her face. Zoe had to sit down. "You really think that's what's happenin'?"

"It's the only thing that makes sense. Remember, we aren't dealin' with Marcus or Nelson direct so what if they don't know about this latest transmission? After all we weren't due to get any further contact from Mr Universe so what changed? And why, if it was a genuine course correction, didn't he explain the reason? No, *bao bei*, this is a warnin' we can't afford to ignore."

"What if you're *cuode*?"

"Then all we lose is a few days."

Zoe stared at the controls for a moment, mulling it all over and not liking any of it. "Why would anyone want to divert us to Santos?"

"Remember why we've had all this trouble to begin with, *bao bei*."

It was like a light going on in her head. One that filled her with dread not illumination. The name came out in a whisper. "River?"

Wash nodded, his lips compressed into an angry but stubborn line. Wash locked in their original heading. "Blue Sun will never stop lookin' for her, we know that, an' we know they'll go to whatever lengths it takes to get her back. One method doesn't work they try another. An' they're one of the few organisations who might be able to penetrate Mr Universe's little operation an' in doin' so discover his connection to us."

Zoe got up and patted his shoulder. "Good work, *zhangfu*."

"Where're you goin'?"

"Think it's time to tell the crew. We have to be ready in case Santos wasn't a ruse."

Wash nodded and hoped they could at last shake off the bad guys but with a sinking feeling knew nothing was ever that simple.

* * * * *

As soon as he had shut down his com system, Mr Universe stripped it down. While he did not trust any of the components not to have been tagged by Blue Sun that didn't mean he wanted to leave anything that their technicians could use. When he put his mind to it he could be as efficient in destroying what he had built as he was in putting the tech together in the first place. His last act was to make sure that even the damaged and ruined equipment was reduced to little more than vapour and dust. If they wanted to come pick it apart they were welcome but they'd need an electron microscope to do it.

It was not as hard to leave as he had feared, everything he had any attachment to had already been ruined or destroyed. Once off world, Mr Universe bought several sets of clothing then completely changed what he had been wearing. Every last stitch of it then incinerated. He was pretty sure his clothing carried no bugs but who knew? When dealing with the ultimate in sneaky enemies you took no chances. When he re-emerged no one would have looked twice at him. He dressed to fit in not to stand out. He would have to disappear completely, for months if not years. Anything less might put him back on the radar but the time would be put to good use finding a new base of operations and starting again from scratch. He had some third tier contacts, one that Wash knew nothing about. That came with another identity and he had coin stashed away in several far flung locations. It was frustrating having to start again but there was excitement in it too. This time he would bury his operation on a small planetoid, asteroid or outpost far from habitation. A place with nothing to offer and away from trade routes. It would mean hauling everything he needed there but it would be a blank slate, a clean sheet, and already he could feel his palms itching with the need to get to work.

Rubbing his hands together, Mr Universe began to feel his depression lifting. This time he would make no mistakes, would incorporate several more elaborate layers of security and have an automatic back up for all the information he gathered and gleaned to keep the signal going. He paused as another thought hit him. He liked the company of ladies but would not be able to risk exposure that way and while he was fine with his own company, always had been, there were still physical itches that he liked to scratch more than emotional ones. His step sped up as a big wide grin spilled across his face. That was it! Why trust outsiders when he could build his own companion? Someone keyed to his tastes, loyal to him alone? He could modify the bot as he went along, fine tune the responses and range and never be lonely again. Feeling somewhat clever and smug, Mr Universe forced the grin off his face. People would notice and that was the one thing he didn't need right now. Not until he had his new base of operations up and running, then he would broadcast all the Alliance and Blue Sun's dirty secrets that he could get his gorram hands on. They had picked the wrong person to mess with and if he could promise them one thing above all others, they would never be able to stop the signal again.

* * * * *

Mr Smith was not happy. When there was no sign of Serenity on Santos anger flashed in his cold pitiless eyes, but even that flash of temper was emotionless. Almost like an approximation of humanity. His colleague showed no reaction at all. "They must have been warned."

"No. We were monitoring and there were no communications."

He frowned.

"Then there must be some other reason for the delay."

"We will wait."

"What of our 'other' problem?"

A small icy silence crept between them. "He has arranged to meet us here."

A nod. Agreement implicit not spoken. Four more hours they waited then one excused himself without speaking, the other did not.

* * * * *

Verbena was a contradictory kind of world. Too small to cater for a large population and with no precious minerals to attract industry or mining conglomerates. The soil was thin and poor and would support certain foodstuffs but not mainstay crops. Everything about the world was a reason for passing through, not staying. Its' one virtue was as a fueling station though Monty had to wonder whether it cost more to bring the fuel to Verbena than it did to sell it to the ships passing through. It had a plentiful supply of lakes and rivers but no great oceans. The five peaks of its' one mountain range provided some limited shelter when the cold winds blew which was practically every day. When there was a lull folks would come out of their houses as if in surprise to see what caused it.

The sound of a ship overhead drew Monty's attention. Throwing back his hood he tilted his head and squinted, a smile cracking the frost on his whiskers as he recognised Nelson's ship. He watched it land next to his Kingfisher and waited until the engine cycled and closed down before moving towards it. Marcus was grinning as he stepped down the ramp, a shiver running through him as he remembered why this was one of his least favourite worlds.

"*Ni hao ma*, Monty?"

"*Hen hao*. Everythin' go without a hitch?"

Marcus nodded and jerked his head back towards the ship. "Come along inside, Mal should be wakin' soon. He'll be pleased to see you."

Something heavy and constricted loosened in his chest and Monty laughed. His breath sending little gusts and eddies of ice crystals up in a hazy cloud. "Gorramit Marc, sure is cold as a purplebelly's heart." "Can't be. Purplebellies got no heart."

Their laughter accompanied them onto the ship where Nelson and the men were waiting. As soon as they had the cargo bay door shut it cut off the excoriating wind and Monty sighed with relief. Not that he wasn't bundled up for the weather, he was just happy to be out of it. Right now all he wanted to see was Mal. Wouldn't settle until he knew his old friend was alright. As he followed the others he asked when they could expect Serenity to get here.

* * * * *

The room was small but well appointed. At the back of the complex with no view out onto the street. There was a back staircase which meant the occupant could come and go unseen. They didn't knock, the door opening as they approached it. Mr Smith was not suprised to see the man pacing, his tall lean figure perfectly honed to its' purpose. The eyes fastening on theirs with questions though none passed his lips.

"The ship did not come."

The man nodded and waited.

Mr Brown glanced once at the small but tidy room before locking eyes with its' occupant. "Can you find him?"

"He is my brother."

The assertion seemed to mock the very idea that he would not. Was blood really that thick? "We may have need of him after all."

"He is retired."

Mr Smith gave a perfunctory nod. "He will be recalled."

The man's eyes darkened but he said nothing. It was the only sign of his displeasure.

"You disagree?" "Mine is to obey."

A look of understanding passed between them. "See that you 'both' remember, *dong ma*?"

He nodded and watched them go then went into the small functional bedroom where a grey leather valise lay open on the bed. Carefully he unpacked the suit and then the leather harness not stopping until the contents were laid out on the bed leaving a long narrow item wrapped in a soft protective cloth in the bottom. With great care he picked it up and unwrapped the sword, his eyes glittering with promises made in blood but not spoken. To utter was to defile. To retreat was worse than surrender. To die was a last communion only to be allowed when the work was done. Once his brother had joined him in the fight, as commited and relentless as any true believer. Then he had been tied to the fate of another and for the longest time he thought him lost. Now the spark that ever sang out between them had reconnected and his inner being rejoiced. He would find him and woe betide anyone who thought to stand between them.

They thought him a weapon, and he was, but like his katana he was one who cut both ways.

* * * * *

Inara had never known such relief. For all the times Malcolm Reynolds' life had been imperiled this was one of the few occasions she had imagined him not coming back. Too many things had happened with barely time for the man to recover his breath before the next near death experience hit him. She had never doubted the Captain's courage just his common sense.

Despite that it was a merry reunion. Kaylee was all smiles and tears of joy, Wash and Zoe as relieved as they were happy to get the Captain back though privately Zoe didn't like the look of him. Man was too pale and lethargic for his own good. Marcus explained that Dr Greenway had partly sedated him. Zoe's eyes narrowed into a hard and unforgiving 'why?' Her look promised swift retribution if they had done anything to harm him further. Monty was a solid reassurance, someone they welcomed without hesitation. His presence eased the threat of further tension though Zoe still had a hat full of questions she wanted answering. Simon pushed through the press of people clogging up the cargo bay and looked startled on seeing a stranger tending to the Captain. "*Duibuqi*, you are?"

Dr Greenway straightened and took in Simon's attire and manner in one swift glance. He extended his hand with a smile. "Dr Elias Greenway. Sheriff Bourne is a friend of mine an' he was mighty concerned for your friend."

The Captain was trying to rise up off the stretcher but Dr Greenway easily pushed him back with one hand, not taking his eyes off Simon Tam as he did so. Simon's eyebrows rose. That told him more than anything that the man had to have been heavily drugged or was in a seriously weakened state. He observed the Captain more closely and noticed his eyelids were at half mast, the man fighting to wake fully but being dragged down by whatever Dr Greenway had given him. Simon wasn't sure he liked someone else dosing his patients.

"Dr Tam, I was told you had an infirmary on board, *dui*?"

Simon snapped out of his reverie and into full doctor mode. With Jayne's help they got the Captain to the infirmary and Elias began helping Simon hook him up to the monitors. Inara looked from one to the other but they seemed engrossed in a rapid low conversation that she couldn't quite make out so she took the opportunity to take a seat next to the Captain. Jayne hovered in the doorway, not sure whether to stay or go. Simon and Inara were there so it was probably safe but he didn't know this other doc. Only had his word he was there to make sure the Captain was okay. Well Simon had him now so why was he hanging around? Struck Jayne as kind'a suspicious. Deciding he had best stay put Jayne went over to the far corner and settled himself in a chair to keep watch on them. It wouldn't hurt and with the way the two doctors were caught up in their conversation they probably wouldn't even notice he was still there.

Out on the catwalk Shepherd Book watched the comings and goings below but did not join in. He was glad to see the Captain back on board but after his stilted conversation with Jayne earlier was not sure of his welcome. He wished he could do something to change that.

"They're frightened."

He didn't have to turn his head to know that River was hanging upside down from a beam behind him. "I'm not going to do anything, River. I just want to help."

"They don't know that."

Book sighed so quietly only God could hear him. "*Wo zhidao*."

River let go and turned mid air as she dropped, landing neatly on her feet beside him. "Be patient."

"I'm growing awfully tired of waiting, River."

Her smile was understanding and a touch sad. "Anything worth having is worth waiting for."

"Yes, but..."

She raised a hand and he stopped mid sentence. River cocked her head then grinned. "Time to go!"

Book opened his mouth but she was already gone, her feet flying beneath her with a clatter of boots on the metal stairs. He peered over the rail and watched as Nelson, Marcus and their men made their goodbyes and left. Monty did not go with them. He watched Zoe lock up then invite Monty up for a hot drink and some food. Kaylee was smiling at the big man and chattering away as Wash excused himself to get back to the bridge. He felt more burden than crew, an unwelcome emptiness of purpose settling inside him. It was not a feeling he liked. Monty gave him a nod and Book followed in their wake as they headed for the commons area and a hot meal. Might as well get the kettle on and make himself useful at least until Zoe could fill him in on what had happened.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*dong ma* = understand? *wode ma* = mother of God *jianyu* = prison *wode pengyou* = my friend *xie xie ni* = thank you *diyu* = hell *bushi* = not so *hundan* = bastard *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *bao bei* = precious/treasure *yiwusouyou* = nothing *wo zhidao* = I know *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *zhangfu* = husband *cuode* = wrong *ni hao ma* = how are you? *hen hao* = very good *duibuqi* = sorry *dui* = correct *shenjingbing* = crazy *laoban* = boss

COMMENTS

Sunday, September 11, 2011 10:04 AM

MALSDOXY


EXCELLENT chapter...I can't wait for the next one, thank you, AliD

Sunday, September 11, 2011 3:28 PM

BYTEMITE


Yay, Mal's back.

Sunday, September 11, 2011 6:54 PM

EBFIDDLER


Oh, this is good. Your descriptions of Mr Universe--both with the operative and in the aftermath--were really good. I understand Jayne's suspicions, even though it's sad to read about such damage to the friendship between Jayne and Book. The scene in the infirmary, and Jayne's suspicions there, also very well done. Shiny, shiny chapter.

Sunday, September 11, 2011 7:39 PM

NUTLUCK


Very nice. I am still waiting for River to start on her plan. :)

Monday, September 12, 2011 12:45 AM

AMDOBELL


Thanks for the shiny feedback MalsDoxy and yes, Bytemite, Mal IS back! I am glad you enjoyed the scenes with Mr Universe, ebfiddler, and the disconnect between Jayne and Book is how I imagine our favourite mercenary might react when someone he regarded as a solid friend turns out to be compromised. As for River, Nutluck, you will have to wait and see. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, September 12, 2011 6:05 PM

MALSDOXY


He didn't have to turn his head to know that River was hanging upside down from a beam behind him.

BTW Loved this mental pic, she would so do that!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011 5:52 AM

AMDOBELL


With River, MalsDoxy, the crazier something is the more likely she is to have mastered it. Or maybe she just has bat genes! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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