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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
"River and Simon tell Wash their plan. Meanwhile the Captain arranges search teams to look for Shepherd Book."
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1624 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
TITLE: "THAT SPECIAL HELL"
CHAPTER: 49. Sequel to "MIRROR IMAGE"
SERIES: HANDFUL OF STARS Series
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
PAIRING: Simon/Kaylee Mal/Inara
SUMMARY: "River and Simon tell Wash their plan.
Meanwhile the Captain arranges search teams to look
for Shepherd Book."
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.
"THAT SPECIAL HELL"
A "Firefly" Story
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
* * * * *
"What's the plan?"
Simon took a moment to answer Wash, sure that his sister would interrupt if he spoke but when she remained silent he explained. "We activate the back up."
Wash raised his eyebrows. "We?"
"I mean I do."
When Simon made no attempt to go and do just that Wash glanced from brother to sister, a look of confusion clouding his usually sunny face. "Don't you have to go do that activation thing now?"
River nodded. "Not from here."
"Are you gonna tell me or is this twenty questions 'cause I have to say I was always good at those."
"Wash, what River means is we can't do anything hiding behind this rock."
"Oh, you mean the ship has to be in line of sight?"
River shook her head. "*Bu qu*. Captain Daddy wants Serenity to stay hidden, we'll take a shuttle."
Alarmed, Wash could see all manner of *goushi* coming his way if he let that happen, not to mention the fact that River and Simon Tam were two of the Alliance's most wanted fugitives. "Why don't I just edge far enough out from behind the rock to send the Cap'n a wave?"
"Won't work and he'll be mad as *diyu* at you."
Wash knew that but he was going for damage limitation. He wondered if he could somehow get Inara to talk some sense into the siblings but she had gone to her shuttle to meditate and Kaylee was busy tinkering with the engine. Come to think of it, Inara could be their solution. River interrupted him before he could blurt out the thought.
"Won't work. Can't send a com message or use the cortex, *dong ma*?"
"Are we bein' monitored?"
"Sure as eggs are eggs."
Wash had no idea what eggs had to do with anything but this was River. Simon patted the pilot on the shoulder. "*Fang xin*, Wash, we'll be careful. We only need to be able to send a clear signal, once we activate the Shepherd's back up the rest we can leave to Captain Reynolds and the others on Paradisio."
He brightened. "Oh, so Mal an' Zoe know about this plan?"
The siblings shook their heads in unison then River grinned brightly at him. "Won't matter, the result will be obvious."
Wash opened his mouth, realised he didn't know what to say and watched helplessly as Simon picked up a small hand held unit from the infirmary counter that he had never seen before and followed his sister towards the spare shuttle. Worried and feeling that somehow whatever happened would end up being his fault, Wash contemplated trying to contact Mal anyway. Hot on the heels of that thought was what Zoe would do to him if he broke radio silence. Everything hinged on keeping Serenity off Alliance radar. He just hoped that River and Simon's attempt to help wouldn't ruin everything.
"How ya wanna do this, Mal?"
"As quickly an' stealthily as possible."
"There's no quick an' stealthy with Jayne carryin' a sackload of grenades."
The Captain resisted the urge to roll his eyes at Monty. "Need to split into teams then search in a methodical fashion, *dong ma*? Just don't make it look like you're lookin'."
Sheriff Bourne listened to the ad hoc plan thinking it was being made overly complicated. After all, if someone was trying to take Shepherd Book off world they would just head to the dock. Either they had a ship already or would need to hire one. The Port Authority should be able to help with that but Malcolm Reynolds had been insistent on not notifying the authorities. He caught Zoe's eye and something in her look relaxed him. Didn't know what, just an inkling that she and Mal had everything under control no matter how gorram crazy it seemed. Caleb listened in silence, his mind still full of the results of the autopsy Doc Greenway had performed on Marcus Bole. The agonies the poor man had been put through by the *tamade hundan* responsible set his teeth on edge yet it was the cut across the jugular that exercised his deepest thinking. At first the assumption had been that it had been a knife but Jayne disabused them of that as soon as he looked at it. Doc Greenway had been impressed with the mercenary's knowledge then had gone on to explain why it couldn't have been done by a knife.
Caleb let the conversations going on around him become background noise. The doc said it was definitely a sword. Not many people carried that kind of weapon although some of the criminal gangs might carry one among their weapon stash for when they needed to take someone out without the noise of a gunshot. Personally, for such close work you would have to go a long way to beat a good knife but the sword, well now, that was as much ceremony as efficient dispatch. He knew, the one he owned always drew blood whenever it was unsheathed. Some said the blood helped in keeping the edge sharp but Caleb knew that was a falsehood. It was however indisputable that the sight of a blade wielded by a master in the craft could be a pretty terrifying sight.
"You with us, Caleb?"
He blinked at Captain Reynolds. "*Qu*. Where d'ya want me?"
The Captain hunkered down and looked Caleb in the eye. It was kind of disconcerting to have all of the Captain's attention focused on him. He would have got up but the Captain indicated it wasn't necessary. "You been awfully quiet, son."
"Just takin' it all in, Cap'n."
Mal watched him closely, saw Zoe hanging back as the others filed out of the door and gave a little shake of the head. She nodded then made her exit. Sheriff Bourne wanted to ask what the good gorram was going on but the Captain asked if he could have a moment or two with Caleb. Reluctantly the Sheriff agreed. "Time I made my rounds anyway." He paused to catch his son's eye. "You call me on the radio if you need me, *dong ma*?"
"*Wo dong, fuqin*."
He got a nod back then the Sheriff picked up his rifle and left them to it.
"There a reason you wanna talk to me alone, Cap'n?"
"I saw your face when you got a look at Marcus's body."
Caleb said nothing, waiting for the Captain to speak plain.
"I'm figurin' you got some thoughts on that subject."
That surprised him. "How so?"
"The way his throat was cut, had quite a reaction there."
He shrugged. "It's a gruesome way to die, Cap'n."
"Not sure what your point is Mal."
"I think you know more'n you're lettin' on. Now I can't make you tell me what you know or think you know but I gotta man taken hostage by the same *hundan* that killed Marcus which means he's in a whole world of trouble. You got any thoughts on that it would be a kindness to share 'em."
"An' if I don't?"
The Captain sucked in a sharp breath, his voice going quiet but with an edge that made Caleb inwardly shudder. "Well now, I find out you been holdin' out on information that could'a saved Book an' we lose him, I ain't ever gonna forgive you. Don't make no never mind that you're the Sheriff's son, *dong ma*?"
"*Wo dong* but what makes you so sure I know anythin'?"
"You read my 'unofficial' file Caleb, that tells me two things. One, you know what I'm capable of an' second, I know who gets to see a file like that which tells me all I need to know about you."
Caleb nodded, impressed despite himself. "I'm still figurin' it out Mal but I will promise you this, the moment I have the dots joined up you'll be the first to know."
"I'll hold you to that."
Then the Captain was on his feet and heading for the door, Caleb rising much slower, wanting to give himself space. He paused when the Captain stopped with his hand on the door knob. "Oh an' Caleb?"
"Keep your gorram sword sharp."
Caleb stared at the door as it closed behind the Captain. *Wode ma*, he knew the man was smart but that was all manner of freaky. Then a slow smile spread across his face and instead of exiting he turned left and jogged up the stairs to the rooms above. He had something precious to retrieve before he could join in the search. Would feel mighty naked without it.
Simon couldn't resist giving his sister a hesitant look as they took their seats in the spare shuttle. Without looking, River went through the pre-flight sequence her eyes locked on her brother's, knowing what was on his mind. "You should just ask, Simon."
"Are you sure about this, *mei mei*? We never tested it."
"Now's as good a time as any."
"It'll work, *fang xin*. You just have to have faith."
It sounded wrong to hear her quoting Shepherd Book but they were committed now, too late to back out. With a nod Simon watched as his sister expertly lifted off from Serenity, neither speaking until they were just out of the shadow of the rock.
"It's time, Simon."
Simon flicked the switch and silently prayed that it would work. As soon as River was satisfied she flew the shuttle back to Serenity and docked. It had taken less than ten minutes.
"I hope this works, *mei mei*."
"You worry too much, Simon."
"It's my job to worry."
Her smile was soft, loving and endlessly tolerant.
Caleb was pleased that when he left the goal none of the others were in sight, they had already dispersed. He knew the main focus would be on the docks but that was not where he was headed. Operatives always came at you sideways, it was also the way they tended to think. Nothing so predictable as a regular stream of consciousness so looking for a ship would be the last thing their target would do.
His expression turning grim, Caleb headed for the rail head. Trains ran roughly on a hourly basis except for when the Alliance was in town and then they ran whenever the purplebellies ordered them to. For now they were lucky that there was little Alliance presence on Paradisio. The end of the month would be a different matter when it came time for the miners' payroll to be shipped in and the ore shipped out. He checked the platform clock - twelve minutes until the next train. Shiny. Stepping back between a couple of buildings he carefully took something out of his backpack. Part of him was sorry not to have clued in the Captain but some things needed to remain under wraps. This, was one of them.
It had been days and still no word. Mr Brown's doleful face was not happy. A man of few words and even fewer expressions, his pale sallow face was more waxwork than flesh and blood. "He is not responding to recall."
His colleague gave the briefest of nods. The silence stretched between them.
"We could order forcible extraction."
*Bu qu*. We cannot afford to alert them. Not yet."
"Giving him more time is a mistake."
"If we are betrayed..."
What should have been a smile looked grotesque on the sallow facial features. "You forget the self destruct."
"I forget nothing."
There was a longer silence, somehow colder than the first. "*Hen hao*. We need to recover him intact. Once we have had time to interrogate him we can dispose of the remains. Nothing must be left to chance."
"What of River Tam?"
"It is possible he is in pursuit. We will give him 24 hours."
Shepherd Book felt beyond weird. Everything seemed so distant and unreal. Sound, sight, touch, smell. His mouth was dry but seemed unable to process anything, no sense of taste at all. He had no idea why that should be or why he could not move or act unless told to do so. His thoughts were a mish mash of truncated memories. Nothing made sense. What in the nine hells had happened and where was he?
Book was guided lightly down the rickety staircase, told to pause at the bottom while everything was checked outside. Satisfied, Brooks came back for him and escorted him out of the room rental place and towards the station platform. Brooks felt a deep sense of satisfaction but would not properly relax until they were well and truly gone from this place. He checked his watch. Five minutes to go until their train arrived. It would pull into the station two minutes early, plenty of time for them to board and get settled before it set out on its' way. He turned to speak to Book when the Shepherd's eyes went wide, his mouth sagged open in a soundless cry and the man collapsed at his feet. Cursing, Brooks dropped to his knees and felt for a pulse, one hand slipping to a concealed dagger in case Book was pretending but the man was unconscious. Puzzled, Brooks could find no reason for the collapse. Surely he had not given the man too much?
Before he could rise to his feet a shout went up. Brooks jerked round to see who had called out. A man and woman on the opposite platform were pointing at him, the man with some kind of handset to his face. This was bad, very bad. He could not afford to draw attention to them, to have anyone able to describe himself or the Shepherd. That meant he had to get Book off the platform and out of sight, then track down the couple and eliminate them. No witnesses. But how? At that moment the train pulled up alongside the platform and Brooks took a chance. Lifting the Shepherd was not difficult but he was lanky and non responsive which meant he had to take all the man's weight. As he did so something bumped into him from behind. He half turned but there was nothing there. Huh. Wasn't like him to get jumpy. Turning back to Book he noticed a blur of motion out of the corner of his eye, hardly visible at all but he had the training. The Shepherd slid out of his hands and Brooks immediately went for the sword on his back but his assailant was quicker, unimpeded and already in motion. The cold slide of steel against his throat told its' own story. Eyes widening in realisation he could not even call out, his vocal chords cut as the blood flooded out in a fountain from the servered jugular. Darkness clouded his sight while his nimble mind lost all agility and clarity of function, body shutting down. The last image he saw was Shepherd Book suddenly vanishing. His mouth hung open but nothing came out except a gurgle choking what was left of the air in his throat then he was gone. His body a crumpled pile of flesh, bone and shiny grey suit. Even his eyes were empty.
Kaylee stared at her friend as if hardly able to take in what she was saying. "Ya sayin' Shepherd's safe?"
They were in the commons area. Inara had finished her meditation and joined them but she was no wiser than Kaylee or Wash. Simon seemed a little more circumspect.
"We don't know that yet, Kaylee."
His sister's eyes sparkled as if she knew a secret but wouldn't tell. "She knows 'and' she comprehends."
Inara poured the tea with more care than usual, not wanting to spill a drop while getting as much of the story out of the girl as possible. Whether it would be coherent would be another thing. "Perhaps you should start from the beginning, *mei mei*?"
Mal was in shock. Gorramit, they had to get across the rutting track. Zoe was the more measured and sensible of the two. "We can't cross live lines, sir."
"Ain't fixin' on touchin' 'em but you saw that *tamade hundan* with Book."
He was frustrated, couldn't get anybody to answer his hand held and didn't have the patience to go to the end of the rutting platform and use the crossover. Just as he was deciding to run down the platform to the end of the train that had pulled in opposite blocking his view of the other platform, it moved off. Zoe caught his arm, her eyes fixed on the opposite platform. The Captain feared that they would be too late and Book had already been bundled onto that gorram train and off to who knows where but no. As he stared anxiously across the tracks he could clearly see a bundle on the platform. The sight was enough to propel him fast as his gorram legs would carry him across the tracks. Zoe swore then followed him, casting an eye up the line to keep a look out in case another train was coming. By some miracle the Captain avoided touching the live rail. It certainly wasn't by design as he never looked down once, all his attention on that bundle.
"He ain't movin', Zoe!"
She did not reply. It did not mean the Shepherd was dead but she was in no mind to give her long time friend false hope either. As she reached his side, Zoe hissed. Mal had turned the man over and they got their first good look at his face. It wasn't Shepherd Book. The Captain looked up at her in confusion.
"*Wo bu dong*."
Zoe opened her mouth to ask a question then just stared.
"Sir, your hand's covered in blood."
"Huh?" He looked down and almost sprang back, his eyes now fully taking in the condition of the dead man. Moving him had exposed not only the face to view but also the reason for all the blood. "Zoe, you see what I'm seein'?" Mal asked quietly.
"*Qu*, his throat's been cut."
"An' 'less I'm mistaken by a gorram sword."
Caleb was careful. He kept the jamming device in operation until he found a dark recess between the buildings on the outskirts of the rail head. Not too far from the platforms and not too close either. He needed time to make his exit but also wanted to make sure Book would be quickly found with no direct link to himself.
As for the man in question, he was quickly beginning to come back to his senses. Caleb was surprised, had expected to to have to carry him but a little guidance was all that had been needed to get him this far. There was still no sign of any focus in the eyes and for now Caleb was grateful for that small mercy. He had to go now, before he was discovered and before Book became aware enough to realise what had happened and who his rescuer was. Let him embrace the mystery of his deliverance, one more prayer of thanks to his God. He wanted to assure Book that he would be alright, that help was coming, but did not dare let his voice betray him. With one last look to make sure the man was not going to keel over the moment he let go, Caleb left him. Book didn't notice, hadn't seen a thing. The mildly damp wall helping to support his weight and keep him upright. Gradually he became aware of his surroundings, confusion knotting his brow. Where in the nine hells was he?
For his part, Caleb only shut off the device once he was well away from the area. Quickly he put away his gear and made his circuitous way to where Monty and Jayne were checking boarding houses. He could hear Jayne swearing up a storm and quickly hid a smile. His foot on the bottom step, Caleb had to jump back as the big man came stomping down the outside staircase in the foulest of moods, Monty Reynolds just a step behind him.
"Gorramit, this is a waste of ruttin' time!"
Caleb tried to look equally despondent. "You got no luck either?"
Jayne shook his head. Over his shoulder Monty gave him a brief curious look then was distracted when Jayne answered his hand held. "What d'ya mean ya got the Operative fella but there's no sign of Book?"
Monty was itching to speak to Mal his own self but managed to hold his tongue. Jayne looked up. "Mal an' Zoe saw Book with a fella at the rail head, on a platform as a train was comin' in. 'Fore they could get across the tracks the train pulled out. Book was gone but they got the Operative fella."
"How'd they know he was an Operative?"
"Had a sword, Monty. Reckon it's the one what cut Marcus's throat."
Caleb effected an air of confusion. "Where's Shepherd Book?"
"Mal reckons he must'a got on that train."
"Gorramit, Jayne, how we gonna catch up to a train?" Growled Monty.
"Best we speak to the station master." Said Caleb. "He'll know all the times, routes an' train stops."
Both Jayne and Monty cheered up a bit at that. "Well what're we waitin' for?" Jayne growled.
He passed the information to the Captain who agreed to meet them there. In silence the three men made their way to the station master's office. In the far distance they could see Mal and Zoe hurrying from the rail head. Monty waved, Mal waved back. Jayne turned his head and spat out a plug of tobacco. Was losing its' gorram flavour anyway. They met up just as Sheriff Bourne radioed his son. Caleb answered and quietly updated his father. Zoe turned her head, eyes narrowed and taking in every detail in case they had missed something. Monty was talking animatedly to Mal while Jayne chipped in now and again but she blocked them out. What was that? She squinted then reached out and touched the Captain's arm to get his attention.
"What is it, Zoe?"
She pointed along a line of buildings. Not the weather boarded station ones but the brick built narrow terraced ones. Something or someone was emerging from a deep recess from a front door. Jayne was about to dismiss it but the Captain seemed excited. "Gorramit, Zoe, it's Book!"
Seconds later they were crowded around the figure of their friend. Book looked more dazed and stunned than injured but Mal was not about to assume he hadn't been put through the gorram ringer. He was just mighty relieved to find the man in one piece, but how had he got away from that Operative? Zoe, ever the voice of reason, realised they were drawing unwanted attention.
"Think we need to be off the street, sir."
The Captain nodded and as quickly as they could without making Book dizzier than he was, they whisked him off to the Sheriff's office. Caleb hid a secretive little smile then let his expression go blank. Once or twice the Captain sent a look his way but didn't say anything. Sheriff Bourne was waiting for them at the door when they got there, an eyebrow rising at the sight of their recovered friend. As they crowded in, Mal saw Don and a couple of Monty's other crewmen that had also been helping with the search. He noticed they looked a bit shaken.
"*Shenme shi*, Sheriff?"
"You aren't the only one with news to tell." He paused. "Got a call 'bout a man collapsed on the platform. Imagine my surprise when we found a dead man with his throat cut. You know somethin' about that, Mal?"
"We didn't do it. Zoe an' me were on the opposite platform, saw him with Book. Before we could cross to 'em the train came, when it pulled out Book was gone an' there was just this Operative lying dead with his ruttin' throat cut. Looks like a sword was used, same as before."
A door opened at the other end of the room and Doc Greenway joined them. His sleeves were rolled up and he was wiping his hands dry on a towel. Little round rim spectacles sat halfway down his nose. Always amused Mal when folk did that, how the good gorram did they expect to see through them when they were so far from their rutting eyes?
"What did ya find Doc?"
"It's a sword cut alright but here's the thing." He paused until he had everyone's attention. "It ain't the same sword."
Shepherd Book was recovering fast. "Sword? Captain what's goin' on?"
"You remember bein' captured?"
Book nodded, the memory not a pleasant one. "Not likely to forget."
"I'm thinkin' he was an Operative."
The Shepherd shook his head. "*Bushi*, it was Brooks' twin brother."
Everyone stared at him in shock. Jayne finally found his voice. "Ya sayin' his brother's a gorram Operative?"
"I'm not sayin' anythin' Jayne but it would explain the sword he was carryin'."
"Ya saw that?" Asked Mal. Book nodded.
"It was pretty hard to miss, strapped to his back in an exotic carved case. Looked to be a very fine katana."
Doc Greenway went back into the autopsy room and quickly returned with the sword he had taken off the dead man. "Is this it?"
Book looked surprised. The Captain smiled. "*Fang xin*, he ain't gonna bother you no more, Shepherd."
"You killed him?"
"He was already dead when we found him." Zoe corrected. "Would like to know what happened though."
The Shepherd glanced from curious face to curious face. "You think I know?"
"Wasn't no one else there we could see."
"Captain, I was drugged. Whatever he used on me didn't knock me out but took away my will. I obeyed every direction but was powerless to fight back."
"Well now," the Captain drawled thoughtfully "seems we have ourselves a mystery."
Sheriff Bourne ran a hand through his hair. Life was never dull when Malcolm Reynolds was around. "What do you want us to do with the body? I take it you know of no next of kin?"
Jayne grinned at Book. "Could say Book's the nearest he got to family, being his twin an' all."
"I am not that man's twin!"
Zoe smiled a little then looked at the Captain. "You realise sir we can't afford to let it get out that we have a dead Operative here?"
"How'd d'you feel about cremation?"
The Sheriff rubbed the back of his head as if he felt a mite uncomfortable with what he was carefully not being asked. "Disposin' of a body without notifyin' next o' kin is against the rules."
"Well, you go look for the relatives. Good luck with that."
He gave Mal a sour look. "I didn't bring this trouble here, Cap'n."
Mal gave him the sweetest little smile. "Nor did we, *dong ma*? Givin' the poor soul a free cremation would be the Christian thing to do, wouldn't you agree Shepherd?"
The Sheriff stared at Mal as if he had taken leave of his senses but the smile on the Captain's face never faltered. Sheriff Bourne glanced at Book and noticed the Preacher was looking as solemn as he had ever seen him. Book gave a slow nod. "It would be the Christian thing to do Sheriff an' I suppose it would be only right and proper for me to say a few words for him."
Jayne couldn't believe his ears and started to protest in the most colourful language but Zoe silenced him cold with a look. "Ain't helpin' Jayne. Soonest we get this done, soonest we get back to the Black, *dong ma*?"
The big man grunted but didn't complain further though he wasn't happy. Monty was tired now that all the excitement was over plus his considerable girth was lacking sustenance. "We gonna get this done or jaw all day?"
It was several hours later. The cremation had been performed as soon as night fell, less chance of onlookers and suspicious folk taking note. The Captain was surprised to find he could not understand the Preacher's words. As he watched the body go into the furnace he leaned close to Book's ear. "What was that?"
Book could not resist a smirk. "Latin."
The Captain stared at him in shock. "Two languages not enough for ya, ya gotta speak a dead one too?"
Book laughed. Zoe tried to hide a smile but it kept breaking through. "Well he is dead, sir."
Sheriff Bourne poured them all a stiff drink then turned the katana over in his hands. "What do you plan to do with this?"
"Get rid of it."
Jayne looked shocked. "You don't want it I'll have it, that sword's worth a gorram fortune Mal!"
"Jayne, there are them as'll be lookin' for that gorram Operative, *dong ma*, which means they'll be lookin' for the sword."
"Yeah, but it's worth a lotta coin."
"Coin you'll die for before you can spend."
Jayne took a moment for the words to cycle through his brain pan. "Yeah, but I ain't gonna tell no one, Mal."
"You wanna sell it?"
"That puts it back in circulation, Jayne. We can't afford to have that sword traced back to us." The Captain turned his attention to the Sheriff again. "You want my advice? Melt it down. Near as you can, destroy it, unmake it, whatever. Then throw what's left of it down the deepest darkest pit of *diyu*."
The Sheriff frowned. "It's just a sword, Mal."
He shook his head. "No it ain't, it's an instrument of evil. That Operative has just gone to that Special Hell, Sheriff, an' if you're a wise man you'll send his sword after him."
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *goushi* = crap/dog shit *diyu* = hell *qu* = yes (lit. go)
*dong ma* = understand? *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart)
*tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *wo dong* = I understand *fuqin* = father
*hundan* = bastard *wode ma* = mother of God *mei mei* = little sister
*hen hao* = very good *wo bu dong* = I don't understand xiaoxin* = careful
*shenme shi* = what's the matter? *bushi* = not so
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