THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 7. "Friend or Foe"
Monday, February 2, 2015

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.


TITLE: "FRIEND OR FOE" SERIES: THE DICHOTOMY SERIES CHAPTER: 7. Sequel to "FRIENDS YOU CHOOSE" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Tracy RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "Mal and Zoe find their new life oddly compromised by unseen circumstances. Meanwhile Simon finds himself unable to break free of his need to heal while Sally becomes suspicious of certain people's motivations."


A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

It was not supposed to be like this. Young men full of excitement, adrenalin and hope. At first it was almost glorious, the rush, the feeling of invincibility. Nothing in the 'verse could stop them. Yet as the battles went on and the wall of honoured dead rose in the slick blood soaked mud in which they were entrenched, Monty Reynolds could feel something bright and beautiful he had carried inside slowly choke and fade. Friends and neighbours fought beside him, many cut down in their prime as they fought on. The rutting Alliance swarming in endless battalions, seemingly indefatigable. It had always been an unfair contest, the odds stacked against them. Most of the Independent soldiers were farmers and ranchers, able to handle a gun but never having fired one in anger against another human being.

While the Alliance were better equipped and more numerous only knowing the rightness of their cause kept the Independents strong, unyielding. Monty roared as so many of the 75th were mown down, ordnance exploding to the left and right of him. Billy Day crying out in defiance as he fired, running and weeping, deaf dumb and blind to the mechanised death raining down on him. Monty tried to pull him back but Billy was fleet of foot and Monty was bogged down in a slough of human remains and thick mud, his heart weeping because his eyes were dry of tears. Aghast at the horror of war he was not ready to give in, not while there was breath left in his gorram body. 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.

Didn't expect to be waking, still less find himself in a nightmare of a different colour. Monty blinked, the brightness of the light not so much dazzling as confusing him. He vaguely became aware of a murmuring sound, only gradually making out words resolving themselves out of the ether. "*Shenme*? 'M I dead?"

The cool crisp voice was cultured, business like without being dispassionate. "*Bu qu*, you're in a Field Hospital."

Monty blinked but his eyes weren't working properly. Everything was blurry including the contents of his brain pan. "Huh?"

The young surgeon leaned over him. "You nearly died."

Monty blinked but couldn't seem to clear the gunk out of his eyes. Tried to lift a hand but nothing happened. Huh. Did he still have hands? While he wondered about the state of his body, the doctor gently bathed his eyes for him then wrung out a face cloth and washed his face and neck. Monty closed his eyes and sighed, the relief was wonderful.

"*Ni juede zenme yang le*?"

Monty opened his eyes and had to swallow a couple of times before he could reply. For some reason his tongue felt thick and heavy and his speech was kind of slurred. Must have him on the good drugs. "This a trick question?"

"*Bu qu*. Do you know where you are?"

"You said I was in a hospital or somesuch."

Simon Tam nodded though Monty did not see the movement. He was looking straight up at the ceiling of the tent, a confused look on his face as he tried to bring the flapping fabric into focus.

"*Qu*. It's a Field Hospital."

Slowly Monty was able to make out details: the tent, the rudimentary supplies and the shiniest looking doctor he had ever seen. Oh, he had bloodstains on his disposable apron but the rest of him seemed as spick and span as if the man were newly minted. "You Alliance?"

"*Bu qu*, I'm a Field Surgeon. A non combatant."

Monty frowned as he digested that bit of information. "For which side?"

"*Ni bu dong*, I'm not on any side. I'm a doctor, I treat anyone who needs my help."

That didn't sound right. Everybody knew the Alliance were so full of petty spite they wouldn't go near an injured Independent soldier even if the poor man was dying. Although he feared he already knew the answer, Monty had to ask. "Who won?"

"You need to rest, *dong ma*?"

"First I need to know doc, who won?"

When Monty got no reply he was about to repeat the question when he felt a slight prick in his arm. "Now that's a dirty trick..." He slurred.

Simon watched the big man lose consciousness and reassured himself that he had done the right thing. Answering that question could get them both in a lot of trouble. No. Better let the man rest and heal, even if the decision to do so was taken out of his patient's hands.

* * * * *

"We can't stay here, sir."

Malcolm Reynolds blinked at his long time friend. Despite all the excitement he was feeling well rested. The wound in his side had stopped weeping and the nick in his neck wasn't bleeding no more. Didn't even need anything on it, was just a scratch. So why all the gorram fuss? "Gotta fix the boat."

Zoe stopped short of telling him that the pile of junk would never float. Saw how Mal's face lit up every time he looked at the wreck of a river boat yet Zoe had to try. Save Mal from himself and in doing so the rest of them for where he went they followed. Not nothing in the 'verse was going to change that. "It isn't safe, sir."

"We got weapons now, Zoe."

"Two rifles an' no ammo to refill them."

"Better than nothin'."

"Sir, those men that broke down the gate? They'll be back. Bring more men an' guns with them, we can't hope to hold them all off."

"Zoe, they were in the wrong an' they know it."

"Which brings me to another *wenti*, sir. What're we gonna do about him?"

Mal looked at the man trussed up like a turkey for Thanksgiving. Not that they had Thanksgiving no more, there being no turkeys or such. Jayne Cobb was sitting upright, hands tied behind his back, feet tied at the ankles, glowering but saying nothing. "Suppose we ask him?"

Tracy scowled. "He tried to kill ya, Sarge."

For the first time their prisoner spoke. "No, I didn't."

"Ya were gonna cut his throat." Said Tracy.

"Didn't have a knife, was just an itty bitty piece of slate. Needed him to think I was armed, dangerous, *dong ma*?"

Mal was looking at the bound man closely. "They say you set fire to a barn, burned it to the ground with your daddy in it."

The man's face flushed with anger and indignation. "It ain't true! I woke up in a burnin' barn, someone had hit me on the gorram head I reckon, knocked me out. Didn't know anyone else was in there, on'y just got out."

"What about the man who died?" Asked Zoe.

Jayne Cobb deflated like a balloon with all the air let out of it, his face crumpling though he did not cry. "*Wo bu zhidao*."

More gently that he would have expected, Mal pressed him further. "Was it your *fuqin*?"

The man lifted his head and stared at Mal, unshed tears in his eyes reflecting a misery he could not hide. "Never saw the body but they took somethin' out on a stretcher. Couldn't make out a gorram thing it was so badly burned, reckon the bones're charcoal now."

"Your name's Jayne Cobb?"

He nodded at Mal. "Yeah."

Mal introduced him to everyone. Zoe frowned but said nothing. Noticed Kaylee kept well back, Tracy giving the girl a smile and moving in front of her. Kaylee flashed Tracy a grateful smile. There was no sign of River Tam but then the girl had a habit of vanishing one minute and popping up when least expected the next. Strange girl, had an oddity about her but also a sweetness. Zoe turned her attention back to the conversation Mal was having with Jayne.

"Why'd you attack me?"

"Weren't like that. Had to keep ya quiet."

"You have to keep Kaylee quiet too?"

Jayne flicked a glance in the girl's direction then looked at Mal. "Didn't know anyone was in there 'til the blanket moved. Was afraid she'd give me away. Didn't hurt her none though."

Anger flashed on Tracy's face. "You frightened the gorram life out of her! She thought you was gonna rape her you *tamade hundan*!"

The colour drained from Jayne's face. "I wasn't gonna hurt her an' I ain't no rapist, *dong ma*?"

"Why did you wanna keep Mal quiet?"

Jayne looked at Zoe, knew she didn't trust him, would as soon shoot him as let him go. Couldn't say he blamed her. "Heard the racket at the gate, folk tryin' to get in, knew they was comin' for me."

"Could'a stayed in hidin'." Said Mal.

"Could'a, would'a, should'a."

"What're we gonna do with you, Jayne Cobb?" Mal mused.

"Ya could let me go."

Something in the bright hopeful way he said it made Mal think that Jayne was telling him the truth, that he really was just trying to stop anyone giving him away. That being so he sure had messed up the whole idea of lying low. Zoe wasn't happy with even the notion of letting him go.

"We should call the sheriff, sir. Let the law take care of him."

"They'll hang me!"

"You ask me," said Tracy "it's probably long overdue."

"I ain't gonna hang for somethin' I didn't do."

"An' if we cut you lose, what then?" Mal asked.

Zoe looked at her friend in alarm. "You can't be thinkin' of lettin' him go, sir?"

"What do you think would happen if those bounty hunters came back an' found Jayne here?"

"They'd think we'd been hidin' him."

Mal nodded. "We let him go he looks out for himself."

"But he tried to kill ya, Sarge!" Protested Tracy.

"No, no he didn't." Mal turned the little fragment of slate over in his hands. "I got cut 'cause I turned my head without thinkin' when I heard what was happenin' at the gate but it wouldn't have killed me. An' you, little Kaylee. What do you say, did he hurt you?"

Kaylee had been feeling slowly braver and seeing the big man talking it out with Mal made her review what she thought had been going to happen to her. "*Bu qu*, just scared me is all."

"Then I say no harm done."

"Sir, he can't be trusted."

"*Wei*, I ain't gonna turn on ya! Got my word on it."

Malcolm Reynolds leaned in close to Jayne, his voice lowering into a level of quiet deadliness that made the hairs on the back of Jayne's neck stand on end. "An' what is your word worth, Jayne Cobb, that I should be trustin' you?"

* * * * *

Even by Sally's tardy time keeping it was long past time to lock up but customers weren't that plentiful and paying ones less so. She watched the one in the brightly coloured shirt mop up the last of the gravy with his bread and hid a smile. The tall one she had seen a time or two before, called himself a Horse Doctor but she had never heard of him healing no horse. Still, as long as they paid.

Book gave the woman a smile, it changed the solemn aspect of his face and lent him warmth and charm. "*Xie xie ni* for a fine meal."

Sally nodded and tried to hide her amusement as Wash burped then tried to pretend he hadn't. Book handed her the last of his coin. "Gonna lock up now, *dong ma*?"

She watched them get up and followed their progress as she gathered up their plates. Book paused after Wash had gone through the door, making her curious but also wary. "I wonder if you've seen a friend of mine."

Her eyebrows rose but she didn't speak, waiting for him to explain.

"He's not long returned from the War. Might be with a woman, tall, strong - the silent type."

Something made Sally careful though her smile was friendly enough. "You want that I should keep an eye out for 'em? Let you know if they pass through?"

That was not what Book was wanting and one look at his face told her she had been right to be wary. Not sure why but she felt a mite protective towards Malcolm Reynolds. Anyone who could get excited and wax lyrical about a broken down old river boat couldn't be all bad and there was a kind of darkness clinging to the man now asking questions though he hid it well.

"*Bu qu*, sorry to trouble you. I'm sure we'll run into each other at some point."

As soon as Book was gone Sally secured the door, making sure the lock was good and tight and all the windows properly closed. There was a familiar step behind her, a loud yawn, then her brother's voice still sounding half asleep. "Did I hear voices?"

It was on the tip of her tongue to make a sarcastic remark about the asylum missing an inmate but thought better of it. "Yeah, couple'a customers. That Horse Doctor an' a younger man. Never seen the young one before but he seemed harmless enough."

Henson frowned. "That why you couldn't wait to lock up when they left, Sal?"

"Can't explain it but that Horse Doc gives me the creeps plus he was askin' questions."

Henson poured himself a coffee. It was black as tar and stewed into a kind of thick sludge but it was hot and that was all he needed right now. "What did he wanna know?"

"Asked about Mal an' some woman that might be with him."

"What'd ya tell him?"

"I asked if he wanted me to keep an eye out for 'em."

Her brother chuckled. Sally hadn't told a lie but she hadn't given anything away either. "Think they're trouble?"

She shrugged. "What do I know? Just thought there was somethin' of the predator about him."

"What about the other one?"

"I kind'a liked him, seemed the friendly sort."

Henson slowly sipped his hot sludge, his eyes on his sister over the rim of his mug. Might be nothing but Sally was like their Mama, had good instincts. "Reckon I'll take a look up at the compound before I turn in."

Sally laughed. "Ya just got up!"

"So? I can lie down again after. I'm nothin' if not flexible."

* * * * *

"What she was sayin', she's right *dong ma*? They won't stop comin' an' each time there'll be more men an' more guns." Said Jayne as he rubbed feeling back into his wrists.

Tracy didn't like the fact that the Sarge was even listening to Cobb let alone that he had untied the man. "Then I say we hand him over, Sarge. Let the law sort out the rights an' wrongs of it."

Jayne Cobb had not taken his eyes off Malcolm Reynolds, even as Tracy spoke the big man ignored him. Had been all manner of surprised when Mal had ordered him untied, gave a tiny spark of hope where there hadn't been none before. In Jayne's eyes Mal was the Alpha Male of this little pack. He was an Alpha Male himself only he didn't have a pack to belong to which put him at a disadvantage. Right now the only opinion that mattered was Malcolm Reynolds'. By his word he would live or die, simple as that. Zoe stared hard at Jayne but got no reaction. Kaylee followed the back and forth of conversation, her gentle heart quailing at Tracy's blunt solution.

"Ya can't just hand him over Tracy, what if he didn't do it?"

Tracy shook his head. "What if he did? Don't go thinkin' he's like us 'cause he ain't Kaylee."

Mal nodded slowly. "No, Jayne ain't like us but that don't make him guilty."

"Sir, you aren't believin' his story are you?"

"We got two sides of a very odd coin Zoe. One side is the truth, can toss it in the air all we like but that don't mean it'll come down on the right side."

"I know you don't know me, got no reason to trust me but I'm tellin' ya it's a set up Mal. We don't even have a gorram barn so how could my daddy be in one let alone me settin' fire to it an' bein' dumb enough to stay inside?"

"Been thinkin' on that an' that lump on the back of your head. Where you from anyway?"

"Not here, no idea where in the nine hells I am."

Mal and Zoe exchanged a look. Jayne immediately picked up on it.

"*Shenme*? What ain't ya tellin' me?"

"Jayne, what is the name of this place?"

The big man shook his head. "Told ya, *wo bu zhidao* an' don't care, *weishenme*?"

Zoe had a bad feeling. "What about the river? You must know the name of the river."

"Never seen it before. Went to bed at home, woke up in a strange gaol with folk busy buildin' me a gorram gallows."

Just then every one of them turned towards the sound of the gate to the compound being forced. Mal handed one of the rifles to Zoe and kept the other, telling Tracy to find himself something to use as a weapon. Jayne scowled. "Ya give me a rifle an' I'll pick 'em off for ya."

"Not that I don't trust you Jayne but I don't trust you. I'm takin' a chance leavin' you free, *dong ma*? You turn on me an' one of these bullets'll have your name on it."

Jayne nodded, accepting the way of it. Mal split everybody up, putting Zoe with Kaylee, Tracy on his own and taking Jayne with him. The big man felt some satisfaction in the sour expression on Tracy's face. Mal was giving him a chance to prove himself and that was better odds that he could have hoped for.

* * * * *

So tired. Simon's head dropped to his chest, his breathing deepening as exhaustion took over. It took several hard shakes to wake him. Jerking awake, Simon stared unseeing for a moment or two, the gloom of the tent showing little detail where he had turned the oil lamps down for the night. "*Shenme shi*? Who's there?"

"Simon," hissed River "it's me!"

Immediately his drowsiness vanished, concern for his sister paramount. "River, where have you been? I've been worried sick, *mei mei*."

"Sssh, time to go."

"Go? River, it's the middle of the night."

River nodded. "Come on, Simon. Hurry!"

Then his sister darted out through the tent flap. Simon sighed, grabbed his jacket and his medkit and followed her. Once outside he paused, confused for a moment until a hand darted out of a thicket and River tugged on his arm. Although Simon knew they could not stay indefinitely he had not envisioned sneaking out in the dead of night either. He waited until they were clear of the Field Hospital and the tented village that had grown in a cluster around it.

"River, what's going on?"


His heartbeat quickened in a painful staccato, fear clutching at his heart. "They've found us?"

River shook her head and gave a hard tug on his arm. "Not us, them."

Simon blinked but kept up with her. "Them?"

The sound of soldiers talking stilled any further chance of conversation. Simon put his jacket on quickly, the material was dark and would help him to blend in, covering his white shirt and also keeping him warm. They stayed in the thicket, crouched and mostly hidden, the darkness completing their impromptu cover. Once the guards had continued on their circuit Simon leaned close to his sister so he could hiss in her ear. "Who's in trouble, *mei mei*?"

"*Ni zhidao*," she said softly, her bare feet making no sound as she broke cover dragging her brother along in her wake "but you don't comprehend."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*diyu* = hell *shenme* = what *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *ni juede zenme yang le* = how are you feeling? *qu* = yes (lit. go) *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *dong ma* = understand? *wenti* = problem *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *fuqin* = father *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *wei* = hey! *xie xie ni* = thank you *weishenme* = why *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *mei mei* = little sister *ni zhidao* = you know


Saturday, February 7, 2015 10:53 PM


I wonder which lackluster villain would have dropped our valliant crew here and so mixed up! Will the cap'ns boat ever sail?

Sunday, February 8, 2015 7:38 AM


There are some truly dastardly folk about, no question Buckshotpilot. As for Mal's boat, all manner of twists and turns still to come. Thanks for the shiny feedback, it is much appreciated. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


You must log in to post comments.



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.