HANDFUL OF STARS: 48. "Mirror Image"
Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"While Mal, Monty and co try to find out what is going on Caleb learns from his father how Marcus died. Meanwhile, Shepherd Book is having something of an epiphany."


TITLE: "MIRROR IMAGE" CHAPTER: 48. Sequel to "THE FACE IN THE MIRROR" SERIES: HANDFUL OF STARS Series AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Simon/Kaylee Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "While Mal, Monty and co try to find out what is going on Caleb learns from his father how Marcus died. Meanwhile, Shepherd Book is having something of an epiphany." 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

* * * * *

"No, no, no, no! Didn't listen!"

Simon rushed over to where River appeared to be freaking out, in obvious distress. "*Mei mei, shenme shi?"

Eyes wide she stared at him with a mix of distress and horror. "I warned him, Simon. Why wouldn't he listen?"


"Shepherd Book."

Kaylee was confused. "Warned him about what?"

River though was getting more and more agitated and upset, her body fairly vibrating with it. "We have to tell Captain Daddy, Simon, before it's too late!"

"River, Book went with them, *jide*?"

The girl nodded but was not calming down. "Yes, but they split up. They weren't supposed to split up!"

* * * * *

Caleb's eyes widened, his father's words hitting him hard. "Dead?"

Sheriff Bourne nodded. "But that's not the worse part."

Feeling a mite faint, Caleb sat down and waited for his father to stop pacing and tell him the rest of it.

"He was tortured, Caleb."

His son paled. "Why would anyone wanna hurt Marcus?"

The Sheriff sat on the edge of his desk and rubbed his troublesome knee. "*Wo bu zhidao* but I can't help thinkin' it wasn't personal."

"How can you say that, *fuqin*? A man is dead, tortured to death..."

His father shook his head and corrected him. "*Bushi*. He was tortured but that isn't why he died. When I got there his throat had been cut Caleb, could see the blood running under the door before I opened it."

Caleb felt sick. *Wode ma*, what in the nine hells was going on? "Do you think it has anythin' to do with Serenity?"

"I think it has everythin' to do with them."


"Marcus is a friend of theirs though what brought him to Paradisio I can't begin to guess."

Caleb thought it through and felt himself go cold. He sprang up from his chair as if it was on fire. "I have to warn Mal!"

The Sheriff stood up and straightened his back, hands on hips, eyes on his son. "You know what's goin' on you should tell me, *mashang*."

"Wash had a wave, Cap'n was mighty disturbed by it. Somethin' about havin' a job waitin' on Paradisio which he thought was somewhat strange. Too convenient he said seein' as how that was where he was headin'."

Bourne nodded. "As if someone knew you were already comin' here?"


"If Mal thought it was a set up why'd he come?"

His son sighed softly. "He wanted to know what was goin' on, who was pullin' the gorram strings."

The Sheriff closed his eyes for a moment then gave a gentle shake of his head as he opened them again. "That curiosity may end up costin' him dear."

Caleb by now was halfway to the door.

"*Ni qu nar*?"

"I have to warn them."

"Son, we can send them a wave."

He shook his head. "*Ni bu dong...*"

"You think their coms are monitored?"

"*Qu*, it would make sense. Would explain how they know about the connection between Marcus an' Serenity's crew."

"Thought he was very careful?"

A little sour look twisted his son's face. "He was, was bein' the word *fuqin*."


"Whoever's behind this is more'n a step ahead of our friends."

"*Xiaoxin*, son. These people don't take prisoners."

Something in Caleb's expression hardened as he nodded and turned to go out the door. "Neither do I". He whispered just quietly enough that his father wouldn't hear.

* * * * *

"Where are we goin'?"

"To get you some answers, brother."

Book didn't want to go with him but what could else he do? "I should go back to the ship an' get my sword."

"Have you forgotten I have our father's sword? *Fang xin*, we'll go and retrieve yours when the time is right."

Not knowing how best to reply Book just nodded and gave a little smile, hoping that would be answer enough. So far he had not called the man by name, not knowing what Brooks' brother's Christian name might be. Simply calling him brother seemed to be sufficient for now. The Shepherd had assumed Brooks' brother had a ship in port but though they headed in that general direction they did not approach any of the vessels. Veering off towards the boarding houses Book realised he must have a room here. Something eased inside, at least they would not be heading off world yet. That would hopefully give him time to think of a way out of his current predicament, pretty sure by now that it was Brooks who had set up the call to Serenity and the offer of a non-existent job for ship and crew. He was mighty glad that the Captain had the forsight to keep Serenity off-world. Brooks would not be familiar with Monty's ship but somehow the man seemed to have no interest in how Book had arrived at Paradisio.

The room was below sub-standard. The walls roughly finished, patchy and damp. Everything was in one room. The ratty bed looked like something born to be infested with bed bugs, fleas and anything else that could carry disease. There was an odour to the place that seemed vaguely and disturbingly familiar but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. Brooks gave him a quick grin then beckoned him over to one side of the room where a mishapen dresser stood propped against a wall. As he drew nearer he watched Brooks grab a cloth from the wash stand and wipe the mirror then dip his head until his reflection stared up at them. Book frowned.

"What are you doin'?"

Brooks grin if anything got even wider. "Showing you your true face."

The Shepherd's eyes widened with sudden fatalistic realisation. *Wode ma*, Derrial Matthew Brooks was a twin!

* * * * *

Serenity was hiding behind the ravaged moon. Wash did not set her down, wanting to keep his options open in case they had to move in a hurry. It meant they couldn't transmit or receive to their people on Paradisio but also meant they would be free of eavesdroppers, Alliance or Blue Sun. The Captain's plan had been a mite unsettling but by now they all accepted that River's unique abilities were their ace in the hole. Right now Wash tried not to think of how deep that hole was getting. Wasn't there some saying about when you're in a hole you should stop digging? There was hiding which was smart and getting buried which wasn't.

When he got to the infirmary the others were already waiting. Simon looked uncomfortable, Inara concerned, Kaylee anxious and River confident. Oddly enough River's confidence unsettled the pilot more than the others' worry. How twisted was that? And how come they were having this meeting in the infirmary? "Okay, we're all here River. What now?"

Her look brightened. "We test the technology."

Wash looked at her blankly then turned to Kaylee. "We have technology? Why did no one tell me?"

"Wash, River's talking about Shepherd Book."

*Shenme*? Could this day get any stranger? "What are you sayin', Simon?"

"When I operated on Shepherd Book to remove the implanted consciousness of Brooks I also removed some very sophisticated nanotechnoloy."

"Yeah, nanobots you said."

Simon nodded. "Book was locked away in a box for want of a better description. River found it, opened it and we were able to retrieve him. What none of you know is that River had an idea, a way to use microcircuitry to send information back to us."

Kaylee's eyes widened. "You sayin' we was spyin' on the Shepherd?"

"It was a way of monitoring him, making sure I hadn't missed any of the nanotechnology implanted in his brain."

"Also put in a failsafe." River said brightly.

For a moment the others stared at her. Inara wasn't quite sure what that meant. "A failsafe?"

River nodded. "Brooks was hidden as a sleeper in a specially constructed box. The nanotechnology enabled that consciousness to spy on Book and wait for the right moment to take over. Bit by bit the nanobots usurped the original consciousness until Brooks emerged in complete control and used the box to imprison Book."

Wash shook his head, it was all a bit confusing. "*Wo bu dong*."

"You don't have to understand," River explained "when we neutralised the intruder spy it seemed foolish to destroy all the technology when we could turn some of it to our own use. Simon wasn't happy but we needed to be sure we hadn't missed anything, that there was no way that Brooks' handlers could re-activate him."

"I thought you said Brooks was neutralised?"

Simon nodded to Inara. "We did but neutralise isn't the same as destroy. I removed all the nanotechnology, basically the building blocks that enable Brooks to operate and manipulate Shepherd Book's body and superimpose his own consciousness instead. With River's help that was over ridden and Book was freed, enabled to take up his life again."

"But we still had questions," said River "or at least I did. How did Book become compromised?"

"I know the answer to that one. It was when Petrie caught him."

"That's what I thought at first, Wash." Simon replied. He took a moment to steady himself before explaining. "Neither of us realised that the tampering had happened over quite a long period of time." Kaylee looked confused then annoyed. "What ya sayin'? Book ain't a spy!"

"Kaylee, that's not what I'm saying."

"Well then what are ya sayin'?"

"I think sometime in the past Book must have been compromised. That would have been the start of this operation or experiment, call it what you will."

"Wouldn't he have known somethin' was goin' on, Simon?"

"No, Wash, I don't believe he would. From his own admission Book has travelled a great deal in the 'verse, knows many things and has led a varied and very interesting life before joining the monastery. None of us knows what he actually did or where he went but it stands to reason he would have mixed with some very unsavoury characters in his time. That being the case, he could have laid himself open to compromise."

Kaylee didn't look convinced, upset that Simon was trying to sully Book's name when he wasn't there to defend himself. "That ain't true, it can't be! He ain't been nothin' but a good friend all the while he's been with us."

Wash put a hand up. "I agree with Kaylee, up to the creepy part where another consciousness took him over."

"The reason I say this," Simon continued "is because the kind of intricate technology I found could not have been put in place over such a short period of time as when Book was in Petrie's hands. At first I wasn't suspicious enough, mastering the technology and retrieving Book was my main concern. It was only later that I realised I had been missing a crucial point and that brings up another concern."

"What is that, Simon?" Asked Inara.

They were all paying close attention now. "What if Petrie wanted Book all along?"

"Petrie was a *shenjingbing* psychopath, Simon! Book wasn't his only victim besides he was after the Cap'n, *jide*?"

"*Wo zhidao*, Wash. Don't take this the wrong way but I think everyone else he experimented on were subjects for his twisted and perverted appetites. He liked torturing people and the Captain attracted his attention because he was the only person known to have survived and escaped Niska's clutches. He liked to see how far he could push people, how to trigger and manipulate their fears and so on. He didn't do that with Book though, did he?"

"Maybe he did." Said Kaylee, though she didn't sound too sure. "Maybe the Shepherd just didn't wanna talk about it."

Wash shuddered. "Nobody'd wanna talk about it, Kaylee."

Simon glanced at his sister. River nodded and took over. "I asked Simon to turn their spy into ours. Using some of the nanotechnology we'd removed, we altered it then inserted some microciruitry I'd been programming. We couldn't actually remove the box, it was too integrated into deep tissue, removing it would take out a sizable piece of Book's brain and we didn't want to do that." Kaylee made a face and felt sick. "But we could now be sure that Book was really Book."

"You've been spying on Shepherd Book?"

"It's not as obscene as it sounds, Inara." Simon paused, realised what he had said and corrected himself. "Well, actually it is but it was the only way to be sure we had all of Book back and none of Brooks controlling him." "So you can remove it now, *dui*?"

"*Bu qu*, Kaylee. Now we know it works and is doing it's job we have another function for it to perform."

Wash was sure he wasn't going to like this but had to ask. "What's that?"

* * * * *

Paradisio wasn't exactly a thriving hub. In fact wasn't even thriving that much, just ticking over. The Alliance made sure that anything of real value that came up from the mine was shipped off world for their own use. The miners got paid a pittance and the mine owners not much more. They made a lucrative business out of creaming off whatever wealth could have been generated for the people of Paradisio. Bad enough to be under the heel of the gorram Alliance, the bullies also exulted in keeping them poor. Downtrodden. Though they did make something of a concession in ensuring regular supplies of Pescalin D. Had to keep the miners fit enough to mine. Fortunately the Alliance had no interest in the crops and small amount of husbandry on Paradisio. Soil wasn't rich enough for it to be an agricultural world but it was good enough to feed the people that relied on it.

Monty spat out a plug of tobacco and frowned at his friend. "What're ya expectin' to find, Mal? Ain't nothin' here that I can see."

"Somethin' stinks, Monty, an' I don't mean us."

The big bear of man squinted at the harsh bright light of a sun that threw off surprisingly little heat. "Were ya given a time an' date to meet anyone?"

The Captain shook his head. "*Bu qu*. The wave was short an' there wasn't a second one. Wash tried to get Marcus back but couldn't get a gorram connection. He was able to confirm it came from Paradisio though."

"Maybe he changed his mind, left already?" Said Jayne.

Mal frowned. He wasn't buying it and could see the mercenary wasn't believing it either, just trying to make sense of what they weren't finding. Mal clicked his hand held once. That would let Zoe know they had come up with nothing. He waited a good couple of minutes before he got a click back. Just one. "Gorramit!"

"Well what did ya expect?" Jayne complained. He hated this rutting world, couldn't wait to shake the dust of it off his boots. Waste of gorram time, that's what this was. "I say we get outta here, Mal. Ain't gonna find nothin'." The Captain was just thinking Jayne might be right when they saw a couple of figures hurrying towards them. Jayne put a hand on the butt of his gun but Mal shook his head. "It's Caleb."

The Sheriff's son was mighty glad to have found them. Hurrying alongside him was one of Monty's men. Don gave Monty a nod and the men fell into step. Mal didn't like the look on Caleb's face. "*Shenme shi*?"

"We should head for the goalhouse, Mal."

The Captain raised an eyebrow. "Wasn't aware we'd broken any laws."

Caleb didn't even crack a smile. Any humour the Captain felt immediately vanished. Gorramit. "Take it you got news?"

The man nodded but he did not look happy. "Best speak inside, *dong ma*?"

Mal nodded, close lipped and in silence they made their way to the goalhouse. Once there the Captain was more than a mite surprised to see Zoe and a couple more of Monty's men waiting for them along with the Sheriff. There was no sign of Shepherd Book. Probably found himself a whole new bunch of heathens to preach to. Sheriff Bourne gave Mal a nod, his face as grim as the Captain had ever seen it. What the good gorram had happened?

"We found Marcus."

The Captain looked at Zoe but she shook her head. He turned back to the Sheriff. "You found him? Where an' what's with the cloak an' gorram dagger?"

"He's dead, Mal. Been tortured then had his throat cut."

* * * * *

Shepherd Book eyed the equipment unhappily. He had had enough of people poking inside his brainpan without Brooks' brother doing the same to try to retrieve a mind that was no longer there. Yet he couldn't tell him that, couldn't give away the fact that whatever was left of Derrial Matthew Brooks' twisted consciousness had now been destroyed. Utterly.

"What are you going to do, brother?"

Brooks' expression did not reassure the Shepherd. There was something hungry and feral in the man's eyes that made Book worry about his own survival but what could he do? "We couldn't keep the body in storage."

Book was genuinely shocked. "*Shenme*?" A look of discomfort briefly crossed those normally unfeeling features. "Not my idea, brother, but you have to understand there's a limit to how long you can keep a body on ice."

He blinked. Just how long had Brooks' consciousness been hiding inside his own? The thought was not a comforting one and made him feel deeply troubled and unsettled. Obviously he couldn't ask Brooks' brother, the man would assume he would know. Showing his ignorance would be a clear sign that he wasn't who he was purporting to be. Gorramit, how did he let the Captain talk him into this mess? Not that it was Malcolm Reynolds' mess to begin with but still. Surely he could have thought of another way? One that didn't involve having another psychopathic madman playing with his brain?

* * * * *

The Captain was upset. They all were. Gazing down at Marcus Bole's traumatised body filled him with anger and a deep growing sorrow. Hands fisted at his sides he had never felt so gorram furious or helpless. Couldn't stop the feeling that this was his fault. Had Marcus not been trying to help him the man would still be alive. They were in a back room off the goalhouse that was used as a temporary morgue. Doc Greenway arrived half an hour later to do the post mortem, his face going pale when he saw what had been done to their friend. Mal could have asked Simon to come down but the whole point of using Monty's ship was to keep River and Simon safe and Serenity tucked away and out of sight. No sense in advertising their gorram presence. Seeing the state of Marcus he was selfishly glad to have taken that precaution.

"We'll need to let Nelson an' his people know. Bury him proper."

Sheriff Bourne nodded but didn't say anything. Mal looked up.

"Know how I might get in touch with 'em?"

The Sheriff shook his head. "*Duibuqi*, they don't live on Paradisio." Mal felt a mite irritated. Gorramit, even he knew that much but one look at the Sheriff''s closed expression told him he wouldn't be getting any help on the matter. He met Zoe's eyes, both of them feeling worried and careworn. They had troubles a-plenty and his first instinct was to return to Serenity and get as deep and far into the Black as their fuel would allow but there was a mystery here. And a grisly murder of one not deserving such treatment. Didn't seem right to turn tail and leave, making sure his own people were safe and out of harm's way while Marcus was buried and left to rot far from home. Would make him worse than a gorram coward. He hadn't known the man long but he was a friend and blood cried out for blood. Then there was Monty. Him and Marcus had been firm friends for years and seeing what had been done to him had aged Monty ten years. Zoe caught the implaccable look in the Captain's eye and held it with her own. Backing whatever he wanted to do about this all the way.

Unaware of the undercurrents Jayne was getting a mite fidgetty. "This mean we're leavin' now, Mal?"

The Captain shot him a frosty look. Might as well not have bothered for all the effect it had on the mercenary.

* * * * *

It had been so quiet that when the hand held clicked it sounded too loud. Brooks' head jerked up and he glanced around with quick jerky almost bird-like movements trying to locate where the sound had come from. Book was sitting upright in a chair, his eyes glazed and an iv line attached to the inside of his left elbow. The bag on the drip stand was not clear like saline but a murky reddish brown as if it was a mix of substances. An unholy cocktail of sorts.

Brooks got up and began to search, the second click coming a minute or two after the first. He located the hand held in Book's jacket and stared at it for a moment or two then slowly an evil grin slid across his face. He glanced at Book. "Think you're so *congming*? Knew you weren't Derrial the moment you opened your mouth though I'll admit you made a good stab at it."

He looked back at the hand held again, contemplating what to do with it. If he didn't answer what would the caller do? It wasn't as if they would know what had happened to Book or where to find him but maybe staying on Paradisio was a mistake. Quickly he made a decision and began to pack up his stuff. Carefully he closed off the iv then removed it, putting a plaster over the insertion site and rolling down the Shepherd's sleeve. He gave the compliant man a grin.

"You and me are going to take a little journey, *dong ma*? We can't have your friends turning up and rescuing you before we're done, can we?"

Book did not reply. Couldn't. Slowly the glazed look cleared but his mental acuity was shot to pieces, everything too much of a fog for him to think clearly. When Brooks suggested something he automatically complied, without thinking about it or being aware he was doing so. Brooks smiled spitefully. He would find out what had happened to his brother then he would make this man pay for it once he had hunted down and killed everyone connected in his brother's downfall. It should have been a perfect plan, foolproof. He needed to find out what had gone wrong. Was his brother's consciousness still trapped inside, maybe screaming at him to get a move on? Or had it been removed, placed elsewhere, or God help the 'verse been wiped out entirely? He would find out and when he did his vengence would be of biblical proportions. How apt that the first one to pay would be this Shepherd.

* * * * *

Simon Tam was apalled. "We have to do something!"

Distressed, Kaylee wanted Wash to take Serenity down to the planet surface immediately. "We have to go get Book."

Wash wanted to, he really did, but there were other people to think about as well not least of all his wife. If Serenity broke cover and landed on Paradisio the Alliance or worse still Blue Sun could be waiting for them. Then not only would they lose the Shepherd they would lose River and Simon, probably end up in a *jianyu* their own selves and have Serenity impounded to boot. No. They had to think smarter than that. Wash tried to calm his mind and think more clearly: what would Malcolm Reynolds do?

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*mei mei* = little sister *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *shei* = who *jide* = remember *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *fuqin* = father *bushi* = not so *wode ma* = mother of God *weishenme* = why *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *duijile* = exactly! *ni qu nar* = where are you going? *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *qu* = yes (lit. go) *xiaoxin* = careful *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *shenme* = what *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *shenjingbing* = crazy *wo zhidao* = I know *dui* = correct *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *dong ma* = understand? *duibuqi* = sorry *congming* = clever *jianyu* = prison


Wednesday, October 12, 2011 10:06 AM


Oh, excellent chapter here, Ali D. I knew you weren't done yet with the twists and turns. I'm not sure what River has in mind with respect to Book, but it sure seems like Book is in a terrible place. It was chilling to watch Brooks's brother at work. I'm wondering if Caleb has a plan. Your description of the room Brooks's brother takes Book to was very creepy: "The ratty bed looked like something born to be infested with bed bugs, fleas and anything else that could carry disease." yuck! (in a good way--I mean good descriptive writing of about an icky, creepy place). I look forward to your next posting, because this one has me worried!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 11:12 AM


Not sure Wash should be wondering what Mal would do. Mal always gets shot or stabbed when he comes up with a plan.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 12:40 PM


Your comments made me smile, ebfiddler. River isn't a genius for nothing and yes, Book is currently in a very bad situation. A few more twists and turns to come so hang on! As for not being sure Wash should wonder what Mal would do, Nutluck, that comment was in memory of something Nathan Fillion said at a convention when he showed off a silver bangle that had that inscribed on it. Can't remember now whether he had it made or a fan had it made for him but he was mighty fond of it. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 1:10 PM


I absolutely *loved* the "What would Malcolm Reynolds do?" line!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 1:41 PM


Heh @ Nutluck.

Jeez, what can that guy do to Book? Very creepy the part where Book wonders how long ago it happened, and it makes ME wonder if those two have been body surfing for decades. Maybe centuries!

Who was Brook, and who's this guy, and what's his connection to Blue Sun?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 5:24 PM


WWMRD? new mantra, what would Malcolm Reynolds do? Loved this and building the suspense nicely, next installment quickly please...i think Caleb may give us even more surprises, yes?

Thursday, October 13, 2011 4:47 AM


Glad you liked the last line, ebfiddler. As for what his captor might do to Book hold on tight. Answers are coming Bytemite but they might not be to the questions you are asking! Yes, it is a shiny mantra MalsDoxy and as for Caleb he isn't the only one to watch for. Thank you all for the shiny comments, 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.