THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 8. "All The King's Horses"
Thursday, February 12, 2015

Without warning something came through the opening and rolled with a metallic clang across the ground before exploding.


TITLE: "ALL THE KING'S HORSES" SERIES: THE DICHOTOMY SERIES CHAPTER: 8. Sequel to "FRIEND OR FOE" FAMDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: None RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "The compound comes under attack and while counting their losses Zoe has to decide who to trust."


A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Looking up at the lowering cloud base Lyall Henson lengthened his stride. With no moon to speak of once the night set in there would be precious little light to see by and he wanted to check on the compound before heading back to a warm supper and his bed before full dark descended. As he got closer he paused mid stride and tilted his head the better to listen. Was that voices? Just then he heard the distinct sound of wood splitting. The gate to his compound if he was not mistaken. Anger rising he shifted the rifle off his back and thumbed off the safety. Lyall moved slowly, figuring stealth would serve him better than speed. Didn't know what in the nine hells he would be walking into but was determined not to be taken unawares.

* * * * *

"*Women qu nar*?"

When Book told him, Wash stopped in his tracks and stared at him. The Horse Doctor was *shenjingbing*, there could be no other explanation.

"It's night time, Book!"

Book was calm, his voice soaked in reasonableness. "*Wo zhidao* an' we are out of coin."

"What makes you think they'll let us in at this time of night?"

In the falling darkness, Book's smile had an eerie shine. "Trust me, I can be very persuasive."

Instead of reassuring him, Wash felt something cold touch him. Not sure he wanted to go with Book let alone be part of whatever the man had in mind.

"*Fang xin*, Wash, I know what I'm doing."

The trouble was Wash didn't. Should he trust Book or strike out on his own? The decision was pretty obvious, he didn't know where he was being led but knew there were plenty of people along the riverside who would happily end his life just for the fun of it. Even with their money back those losers would still hold a grudge. No, he had no idea where else to go and Book seemed mighty confident. Plus, the man had saved him when he most needed it. Wash nodded. "Okay, I'll go with you. *Neitiao lu zui jin*?"

"Not far now though it is uphill from here."

Isn't it always, thought Wash.

* * * * *

Jayne Cobb was itching to hold a gun, felt kind'a naked without one. Mal made a hand sign which Jayne instinctively knew meant to slow down. He wanted to ask what Mal had heard but the next second he heard it too. The sound of splitting wood.

"Gorramit, Mal, I need a gun!" He hissed.

"*Bei chao*! When we take out them as are breakin' in you can pick one of theirs, *dong ma*?"

The big man gave a soft unhappy grunt, hefting the metal bar he had picked up and testing its' weight in his hand. As they reached the gate they saw Zoe and Kaylee making for one side and Tracy the other. Good. Now if only they could see who the good gorram was out there, how many they were up against and how well armed they were. A loud crack drew their attention to one side of the gate, the weakest part. A piece of wood that River and Zoe had nailed across a broken section fell to the ground leaving a hole the size of Jayne's head. Mal raised his rifle to his shoulder, ready to send whoever crawled through it straight to *diyu*. He did not get the chance.

Without warning something came through the opening and rolled with a metallic clang across the ground before exploding. Tracy was thrown aside like a rutting rag doll. Zoe managed to somehow shield Kaylee from the worst of it but was showered with sharp bits of shrapnel. Only her War experience stopped her from dropping the rifle, instinct kicking in like lead armour, her eyes squinting through the firebomb looking for a target. Didn't care who or what it was those responsible would pay for this. Malcolm Reynolds felt the shockwave knock him off his feet, only Jayne standing solid and true beside him prevented him being thrown further back. Jayne saw the blood on Mal's face, the front of his jacket in tatters with flames trying to get a hold.

Jayne pushed Mal flat on the floor and rolled him quickly a couple of time then jerked him upright and gave him a gentle shake. To Mal it felt like being handled by a grizzly bear but one not inclined to rip his head off. Jayne picked up the rifle Mal had dropped and handed him the bar instead. "Hold this an' don't get in front of me, *dong ma*?"

Mal just blinked stupidly at him, his head all muzzy and vision blurring. Jayne didn't have time to check if the man was badly wounded or not. Hefting the weapon with an ease born of familiarity Jayne stepped forward and got into position just as the gate shattered into pieces. Jayne dropped to one knee and didn't shift position, he was waiting, finger on the trigger, focus narrowed to whatever came through the rutting gate. He heard a rough shout from the other side, not aimed at them but rallying whoever was gathered out there. Then men were piling through the gap where the gate had been and Jayne took careful aim, not wanting to waste more than a bullet per man. He remembered Zoe's concern that they had no more ammo which meant every gorram round had to count.

A cry of surprise as the first man fell to the ground, a hole in the middle of his forehead. The one next to him didn't have time to react before a bloom of red blossomed on his chest and his rifle fell from nerveless fingers. Jayne was vaguely aware of Zoe firing from his right, sporadic but careful shots that he approved of. They might just get out of this alive. Well. He might. Quickly he grabbed a fallen rifle and tossed it in Zoe's direction while grabbing another for himself. It was over in minutes. Jayne paused, eyes narrowed against the dust and debris in the air as he waited to make sure there was not a second onslaught but a deadly hush had fallen over the place.

"Why do people wanna kill us?" Kaylee wailed.

Jayne didn't hear Zoe's reply but Kaylee sounded more worried now. "*Wode ma*, Zoe, you're bleedin'!"

Kaylee had nothing to stem the blood oozing out of Zoe's jerkin and the woman had such a fearsome look on her face that she quailed at the thought of even trying. Kaylee turned to see what Zoe was staring at and as she did so saw Tracy moaning softly where he had fallen. Before she could go to him there was some kind of electrical sparking as if the man had touched a live wire or somesuch. Kaylee blinked and Tracy was gone. Her mouth dropped open in shock. Zoe swore next to her, a hint of something akin to fear in her voice.

"What in the nine hells happened?"

Kaylee looked ready to cry. "He just, just vanished! That ain't possible." Kaylee turned pleading eyes on Zoe. "It ain't possible is it?"

Zoe shook her head but didn't answer. Just then a deep voice preceded a tall dark man as he stepped, casual as you like, into the compound. At first Zoe didn't notice his more colourful companion. Jayne stared in shock, he had almost shot Book.

"What in the nine hells are ya doin' here?"

Book's voice carried a veneer of dark amusement. "Good to see you too, Jayne."

Zoe's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "You two know each other?"

"He helped me get away from the gaol. Still don't know why."

Kaylee peered around Zoe, eyes wide and wary. "You gonna go up in a puff of smoke too?"

"Now child, I'm as solid an' real as you are." Book paused when no one smiled. "Did someone disappear?"

The careful way he said it put Zoe on notice. "You don't seem surprised."

"There's a lot about this place that is like no other. What happened?"

Zoe kept her rifle trained on Book. Didn't matter a good gorram that Jayne knew him. After all, Jayne was a wanted man and she still wasn't convinced he hadn't murdered anyone. "Who are you, what're you doin' here an' why should we answer any of your gorram questions?"

"My name is Derrial Book, I'm a Horse Doctor, an' I came here hopin' to spend the night. We were nearin' the compound when he heard the explosion, came as quick as we could."

Kaylee frowned. "We?"

Wash emerged from behind Book. "Um that would be him an' me."

"An' who are you?" Snapped Zoe. Her head ached and she was starting to hurt from more places than she could count. Had no time for niceties plus the man's shirt was making her head ache even worse.

"Hoban Washburn but just call me Wash."

Just then River Tam dashed passed Book, her brother Simon following a little more cautiously in her wake. "Simon, hurry, before they vanish!"

The look on everyone's faces was priceless. Jayne looked from one to the other then down at Malcolm Reynolds. The man had sagged then slumped to the ground without Jayne noticing, so much going on around him that he was trying to wrap his gorram head around. As he watched a bluish light seemed to sparkle around Mal and River ran towards them, her voice frantic. Jayne stared as the crazy girl reached them just as the sparking intensified briefly forcing Jayne to blink. When he opened his eyes again Malcolm Reynolds was gone. With tears in her eyes, River turned to her brother who looked too shocked to speak or move.

"Too slow, Simon." Said River mournfully, her pale face sad. "Daddy's gone."

* * * * *

Where the *diyu* was he? Was this death or something more sinister? The dark was an unremitting backdrop to a lack of all sensation. Memories a jumble of discordant images that jarred as if broken and scattered in a consciousness that had no foothold on reality. Time hung suspended, a meaningless concept in a 'verse without boundaries. The nothing was extended, by what he didn't know, only that it was relentless and unending. Instead of giving up he shut off the part of him that was inclined to panic, to cry out. What did he actually know? Well, the fact that he was able to form that thought must mean he wasn't dead but if that was so why was he cut off from everything that might inform him of where he was and what the good gorram was going on?

Memory, that slippery surface where thoughts had a habit of not so much clinging as sliding away from him. He tried to be scientific about it, to move his hands, feet, even his mouth or eyelids. Anything. Nothing appeared to change. Maybehaps he was asleep? Logic suggested this was some kind of nightmare and he would wake and count himself foolish for considering it anything else but some instinct was reluctant to let go of the suspicion that more was going on. That the waking nightmare was far worse than any sleeping one.

* * * * *

No sooner had Zoe decided that Book and Wash were not the threats she had first imagined than another figure stepped through the gap where the gate should have been. The man looked very much annoyed and held the most peculiar looking firearm in his hands. It was tucked into his shoulder with what appeared to be the business end pointed at them.

"Who in the nine hells are you an' where's Malcolm Reynolds?"

Zoe stiffened, Kaylee stifled a cry, but River darted around them all until she stood in front of him. River tilted her pale child-like face up at him. "You came too late. They blew up the gate, took out Tracy and Mal." Lyall Henson looked upset. "Mal's dead?"

"Only here."

Everybody stared at River except Book. Henson took a breath and gave the girl an intent look. "*Nu haizi*, suggest you explain from the very beginnin', *dong ma*?"

She looked sad. "Won't change the outcome. We could have but we came too late."

With a sigh Lyall Henson clicked the safety back on his weapon and slung the heavy rifle over his shoulder. Jayne couldn't help frowning at it. Had never seen one with a gorram bell on the end before. "What kind'a rifle is that?"

Henson frowned at him. "Mine."

"Huh, wasn't gonna take it just never seen anythin' so ruttin' *choulou*."

"Then maybe you should look in a gorram mirror."

For a moment no one said anything. Zoe stepped up close to Jayne to stop him doing anything stupid. This man knew Mal, had seemingly come to help him. They wouldn't know more if Jayne ripped the man's head off.

"Before we tell you what happened how about you tell us who you are an' what it's got to do with you?"

"Name's Lyall Henson, I own this here compound an' everythin' in it."

"Except the river boat," Kaylee piped up.

Henson frowned at her then raised his voice. "*Wei*, you're that runaway!"

"Kaylee's with us." Said Zoe firmly, the look in her eye daring Henson to try to make something out of it.

Henson glanced round at the dead bodies by the entrance and watched Simon checking them one by one. Simon looked at Zoe and slowly shook his head then got to his feet. They were all dead but the knowing of it added another level of confusion to what had happened. Both Tracy and Mal had vanished when they presumably died so why had these men remained? Why were their bodies still here?

"This is where they belong." River explained.

Zoe gave her a curious look. Simon moved to stand beside his sister. "Please don't mind my sister, she's schizophrenic."

"In two minds but not *shenjingbing*." Said River, breaking into a grin.

Then Henson was explaining about how Mal had come into his compound and fallen in love with the broken down wreck of a river boat. Paid the last of his cashy money and drove a pretty hard bargain to keep it in the compound until he had fixed it up to get back into working order again. Henson's face fell as he remembered. "Y'know I actually believed he'd do it? Never met a man so determined an' *wangu*."

"If Mal said it can be fixed then it can."

Henson stared at Zoe and gave her a small smile. "Y'know you kind'a remind me of him." Henson paused. "*Fasheng le shenme shir la*?"

Zoe told him and Henson listened in silence. When she had finished he whistled and blew out a breath. "Phew, you folks sure know how to stoke up a store of trouble." "Not our doin', just peaceable folk wantin' to be left alone."

"That as may be ma'am but them folks over there, most of 'em are wearin' badges."

Jayne felt himself go cold. "Badges?"

"Uh huh, unless I'm much mistaken those're sheriff's men."

Kaylee looked confused. "That don't make sense. If they're the law why'd they break a hole in the gate an' throw a gorram bomb inside? We ain't done nothin' wrong."

Henson shrugged. "*Wo bu zhidao*. They must'a wanted somethin' real bad."

"Yeah, but if they're the law," said Kaylee tentatively "shouldn't they like, be lawful?"

To their surprise it was Book who spoke up. His deep voice calm but authoritative. "Not all who wear the badge have earned it, Kaylee."

Kaylee looked confused. Wasn't aware she had ever met Book so how did he know her name? The moment passed and was quickly forgotten as Henson was speaking again, his voice now urgent. "Best not to leave those bodies here. Folk will come lookin' for them sure as night follows day."

"What do you suggest?"

"Well, ma'am, first you need to know who they are then find out if they really are lawmen."

Jayne frowned. "How're we gonna do that?"

"My sister has the best eatin' house in these parts, practically everybody comes there includin' the sheriff an' most of his deputies. You find their names an' I'll ask Sally. She'll know if'n they're regulars or not."

"And if they aren't?" Asked Book.

"Well then," Henson scratched the back of his head a moment "I'd say we got us a pile of imposters."

* * * * *

In the dimness the voice was quietly spoken, muted even. "He shouldn't have woken up."

"You check the equipment?"

The technician was careful not to sigh out loud. "*Qu, shifu*. There's no obvious reason to account for it."

"What about the woman?"

Technician Steven Marks checked another monitor. "Still in, *shifu*."

"And the others?"

"Nobody else stirrin' so much as a hair."

The prison governor adjusted his night lenses the better to see into the chamber. Watched the subject showing signs of distress, attempts to move. Fortunately the drugs were constantly being fed intravenously into the subject. Should have kept him from breaking out of the simulation. He frowned, not best pleased that their pet project seemed to have produced a glitch. The *laoban* would not be happy which meant that he would be looking for someone to blame. He was determined that someone would not be him.

"Increase the dose."

The technician hesitated. "*Shifu*, he's already on maximum."

The governor flashed a humourless grin, lost in the darkness but echoed in his voice. "If he dies it will be one less problem to solve, *dong ma*?"

* * * * *

Sally listened in horrified silence, the colour draining from her face. "Dead?"

Her brother nodded. Kaylee found herself warming to them. They seemed like good decent folk and Henson appeared to have forgotten that she had been a stowaway in his compound. Lyall handed Sally a scrappy piece of paper on which he had written the names of the dead men who had broken into the compound. Sally quickly scanned the names then went through them more slowly a second time just to be sure. She shook her head.

"Don't know any of 'em, Lyall. Who the *diyu* are they?"

"I'm guessin' they ain't lawmen." Growled Jayne.

"None of this makes sense." Zoe looked beyond frustrated. "People don't just disappear."

Wash kept stealing a look at Zoe and trying not to make it obvious but the woman had more serious things on her mind like what in the nine hells had happened to her long time friend and Browncoat Malcolm Reynolds. She understood life and death but couldn't wrap her head around folk that vanished. How was that even possible? River sidled away from her brother and stopped in front of Book.

"You need to tell them."

"Child, I don't know what you mean."

"And the cock crowed three times and each time he lied. Don't pretend, the cloak you hide behind will not save you."

Zoe rounded on Book. "What is she talkin' about?"

Book opened his mouth to gloss over River's words then closed it again. Zoe put her hands on her hips.

"Well? Waitin' to hear what you gotta say, Horse Doctor."

He was a man who generally worked behind the scenes, camouflaged his true intentions when he was out among others but now he was out of options. Could see that there would be no way into this group without taking a leap of faith. How far he would be able to carry them with him was another question. "This is gonna sound fantastical."

Simon moved closer to his sister, a curious look on his face. "More fantastical than people disappearing before your eyes?"

"Perhaps I should explain first that Malcolm Reynolds isn't actually dead. At least, not yet."

Zoe's eyes narrowed. "An' Tracy?"

"He isn't dead either. I can't speak to how long they have left though. We really need to get out of here."

No one was quite sure what to say. In the stunned silence, Zoe's words were quietly spoken but no less deadly. "Best everybody get comfortable then because no one's leavin' until you explain yourself an' what you know about what's happenin' Book."

Lyall hung up his rifle, suddenly a hundred times wearier than when he had last gone to bed. "Can ya make us all some coffee, Sal? Gonna be a long night."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*women qu nar* = where are we going? *shenjingbing* = crazy *wo zhidao = I know *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *neitiao lu zui jin* = what's the quickest way there? *bei chao* = not so noisy! *dong ma* = understand *diyu* = hell *wode ma* = mother of God *nu haizi* = girl *choulou* = ugly *wei* = hey! *wangu* = stubborn *fasheng le shenme shir la* = what has happened? *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *qu* = yes (lit. go) *shifu* = sir *laoban* = boss


Wednesday, February 25, 2015 12:25 PM


That darn Sheppard! Always holding back

Wednesday, February 25, 2015 8:03 PM


You can always count on Book having more layers than a gorram onion, Buckshotpilot. Thanks for the welcome feedback, more coming soon. 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.