THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 9. "All The King's Men"
Saturday, February 28, 2015

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.


TITLE: "ALL THE KING'S MEN" SERIES: THE DICHOTOMY SERIES CHAPTER: 9. Sequel to "ALL THE KING'S HORSES" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash RATING: P-G-13 SUMMARY: "With folk disappearing it is disturbing when they turn up in the last place they want to be. Meanwhile Book is reluctant to tell them what he knows and Inara is alarmed by a revelation about Patience."


A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

He tried to push down the wall of panic threatening to engulf him. The dark pitiless place he found himself in was like to devour him a cruel mouthful at a time but that was not gonna happen. Not if he had anything to say about it.

If this was some kind of nightmare he had to find a way to wake up. If it was real then permaybehaps he had already lost and what he was experiencing was the dying of his gorram brain. Life was nothing if not creative. Defiant. Full of all manner of redundancy in a body's DNA for just such a scenario. Ready to offer a lifeline, however fleeting or tenuous, to escape that end of days.

Something sluggish stirred he knew not where. Was it within or without? Imagination or reality? Dream or rutting waking? There was no way to tell and try as he might Malcolm Reynolds was unable to connect with any of his senses. The pitch darkness was unrelenting, soundless and without any kind of motion to it. If this was *diyu* where was the Devil hiding? Just then the pain hit and he had his gorram answer. This really was the not so shiny sphincter of Hell and he was shoved many gorram miles up it.

* * * * *

Kaylee couldn't stop crying. Zoe did not have the words or heart to comfort her, trying as best she could to cope with her own not inconsiderable grief. Oddly enough it was the stranger in the eye watering shirt who took the time to sit with her, ignored at first as he quietly did his best to make her feel better. Zoe wanted to lash out, to tell him that his kind words were not wanted, his too sympathetic face an affront to a heart bleeding deep inside where the wound would not show. Wash was oddly perceptive, gentle and patient. In the end he simply wore her down.

It took several attempts before Simon was able to check Zoe's injuries. To his relief they were superficial, a tough brown leather waistcoat catching most of the shrapnel which was still half imbedded in the garment. A few pieces had struck her upper arms and neck, that was where the blood had come from but none of the cuts were deep and none required stitches. Zoe waved him off.

"*Fang xin*, just a scratch."

The doctor nodded but he was still worried. Zoe's voice was flat, almost lifeless, her eyes gazing unseeing as if in shock. That was natural enough given what had happened yet it struck a wrong note to see someone so strong and naturally competent in such a lacklustre state. Wash gave Simon a small sad smile that seemed to thank him for his trouble while sympathising that there really was nothing he could do.

"Well, if you change your mind..."

Her lips were a flat line of denial. Eyes bleak. "I won't, *xie xie*."

"*Mei shi*."

Turning away Simon looked for his sister, pleased to spot her sitting with Kaylee. The two girls sat with their heads together as Kaylee sobbed and River comforted her, slowly calming the distraught girl down. Book moved close to Simon, his voice dropping to no more than a whisper. "This is only the start."

Simon's head jerked up, eyes bright and sharp as they considered the Horse Doctor's words. "*Ni zhide shi shenme*?"

Book paused a moment, seemingly distracted as he watched Jayne and Lyall Henson moving the bodies of the men who had attacked them. "I think you know."

The doctor's eyes narrowed even as his pulse quickened. "*Jieshi*." "I've been watchin' your sister. Listenin' to what she's been sayin'."

"River is schizophrenic."

"But not stupid." Book stated.

Simon was not sure how to respond, not sure he liked what Book was saying or implying. "We have all had a terrible shock."

"I'm not the enemy, Simon, but I can tell that you an' your sister were not as surprised as the rest by what happened. I think you know what is goin' on."

"Deflection doesn't hide your true face."

Book started, surprised to see River Tam now stepping between him and her brother. Her eyes were bright, intelligent and seemed to look right inside him. It was a feeling he did not like. "We need to leave."

River nodded. "*Qu* but you know the way."

"I do?"

Simon looked from one to the other. "River?"

"He isn't who he appears to be Simon but neither is anyone else. The parts have been jumbled up to form a new play but we mustn't fall into the trap."

Jayne Cobb finished helping with the bodies and caught the tail end of what River was saying even though he didn't understand what she meant. "Trap? What trap?"

"We have to find the one who is pulling the strings."

Everybody now stared at River but the girl was looking at Book as if waiting for something. Wash frowned, why was River fixated on the Horse Doctor? And what did she mean about him knowing what was going on? Momentarily forgotten by all of them Lyall Henson had a different question.

"What d'you mean when you said they belong here?"

River turned to Henson, the man indicating the bodies now piled neatly to one side of the entrance to the compound. "This is their world not ours."

Something clicked in the back of Zoe's brain pan, something she had forgotten. "We don't know this place."

The girl nodded. Kaylee looked confused then thoughtful, memories starting to come back. When she spoke she sounded surprised. "I never ran away from home."

Jayne screwed up his face. "An' we never had a gorram barn."

Simon stared at Book. "Are you really a Horse Doctor?"

The man sighed as if the weight of the 'verse had suddenly been placed on his shoulders but unlike anyone else he looked like he could carry the weight. "Son, like the rest of you I'm not even supposed to be here. In fact, we aren't supposed to meet for many months."

Wash looked as confused as the rest of them. "We aren't?"

"How do you know?" Asked Simon.

Every pair of eyes was now on Book. "If I tell you," he said reluctantly "you will all be placed in more danger than you can possibly imagine."

"We can handle danger," said Zoe in a clipped no nonsense tone. "it's the lies an' betrayal we want no part of."

* * * * *

It was like falling from a great height only when he hit the bottom he didn't so much die as wake up. Tracy opened his eyes and tried to remember where he was and what he had been doing but his mind had gone all fuzzy, his memory a blank. For several minutes he just lay flat on his back in the dark. He must have been dreaming or maybe having a nightmare though what it was about was a mystery to him. Gradually he became aware of the surface he was lying on, impacted soil that had a kind of dampness lingering to it like a bad odour. He blinked and stared up, a grey dimness high above that sparked a memory. Tracy frowned then remembered. Gorramit he was in The Hole. Some called it a Pit or Oubliette but as far as he was concerned a hole was a hole.

That realisation sparked another memory. The Sarge. How many times had they put the Sarge in the Hole? Was he even still alive? Was Zoe? Tracy sat up slowly, surprised at how much he ached all over. Felt kind'a light headed too and so hungry he was tempted to eat his gorram boots. Was this how they intended to kill them? Torture then starve them to death? So much for the shiny Alliance being the answer to all the problems in the 'Verse. From his perspective they were the cause. Trouble was winning the gorram war had not made the Alliance look any kindlier on them as had stood against them. Those who wanted to be free of that gorram yolk seen only as enemies to their own evil ambitions.

The Browncoats surrender at the Serenity Valley should have been the end of it: no more War, no more enmity pitting brother against brother and leaving whole worlds dying and devastated wastelands. The promise of fair treatment and the chance to return to their homes had been the worst of lies. Rounded up and imprisoned, tortured for no other reason than spite and the cruellest twist of all. Even had they been free many had no homes to return to.

Why did Empire Builders have to tear down everything that had gone before? Didn't they realise that the truly great civilisations were only great because they stood on the shoulders of those who had gone before? But then evil never did recognise its' own face nor the fetid smell of rot where everything they touched was putrefied in death. It made Tracy so mad and yet he could do nothing. Shoved in this gorram Hole he felt he would choke on his own impotence. Wished the Sarge was here, he would know what to do. As he considered the bleakness of his likely fate Tracy could not help but think, what would Malcolm Reynolds do?

* * * * *

"Shouldn't we be leavin'?"

Book gave Zoe a long look then slowly nodded. "*Qu* but first we have to decide where we're goin' to go."

"We have to go before more come." Said River.

Simon tried to reassure her. "It's okay *mei mei*, we're safe."

"No we're not and neither is anyone else. We have to get out!"

Jayne screwed his face up. "Where we supposed to go?"


Jayne blinked at River. "Yeah, but where's that?"

Kaylee was wringing her hands, all manner of worried and confused. "You don't remember? Why don't you remember?"

"*Wei*!" The big man growled. "I ain't the only one, *dong ma*? Do you remember where you live, Kaylee? How to get there?"

Kaylee opened her mouth to say of course she did then stared at them with growing horror. "*Wode ma, wo bu zhidao*!"

* * * * *

The technician was worried. Increasing the dose had been a bad idea but he was in no position to do anything but comply. Orders were orders. Keeping his expression blank he stared at the instrumentation, watched the shuddering performance of a heart under too much strain. The subject had come out of the virtual reality programme without any action on their part and this had caused a ripple of consternation among his masters. Why was he back and what had he seen? Yet, instead of pursuing that path they wanted Reynolds re-inserted into the programme immediately. Jaimie Ray Fisher didn't like it. It was one thing to fight a man in battle or to put a wounded foe out of his misery but this? It was beyond cruel. A senseless torment that he could see no value in yet disobeying was not an option.

He watched Malcolm Reynolds struggle, organs on the point of failing, the strain building to impossible levels for any man to survive. Jaimie glanced surreptitiously at the camp commandant, saw the hard set of his jaw and knew there would be no reprieve. If Reynolds heart gave out they would simply dispose of the body and move on to the next poor soul. Once he would not have cared but after so many deaths something had shifted inside him. Not sympathy as such but a growing sorrow as if simply witnessing what they were doing tainted and sullied his own soul. It was hard to maintain moral superiority over an enemy under these conditions.

* * * * *

Inara Serra was a woman of great inward strength but her employer was chipping away at her self control a mean miserable mouthful at a time. She closed her eyes briefly, asked Lord Buddha to give her strength, as Patience complained and became ever more strident in criticising everything and everyone. People had bent over backwards to accommodate the spiteful wretch, taking pity on her and helping Inara carry the heavy wheelchair up the long staircase to their rooms yet not a word of thanks ever passed the woman's ungrateful lips.

"I can't believe there isn't a single river boat to take us to Orton! What kind of backward town have you brought me to?"

Inara bit her tongue, too close to telling the old woman she was not going to put up with another hour let alone day of her carping. In truth, Inara Serra had nowhere else to go. Patience glared at her.

"Well? Cat got your ruttin' tongue, *nu haizi*?"

"*Bu qu*, I made enquires but it seems the boats do not run out of season."

"They do know we can pay, *dui*?"

"It isn't the money. Apparently this time of year the weather is on the turn and no Captain worth his salt will risk his boat until Spring comes again."

"It's always about the money, child! Do you know nothin' about commerce? Not a soul on this miserable world would get outta bed if they weren't bein' paid an' that goes for you too."

Inara stared at her, realising that no amount of money was worth another day in this awful woman's company when the light flared and something akin to thunder flashed. The room was by turns lit up and darkened as if in the midst of a violent storm yet outside all was calm. As suddenly as it struck it was over. Patience looked shocked, her weathered face pale, eyes wide with a look Inara had never seen before. "What the *diyu* was that?"

Her personal companion was not listening. Inara found herself staring at something seemingly deposited by the weird storm, a soaked and barely conscious body lying in a crumpled heap in the middle of the room. As Patience found her tongue Inara blocked her out, her instincts drawing her to the man who looked more dead than alive. Quickly she went to him, knelt and gently rolled him onto his back. A low quiet moan leaked out of the slack mouth, eyes closed, dark hair plastered to his scalp. Odd clothing covered his form but it was the man's sorry medical state that worried her the most. Unless she was much mistaken he was dying. The creak of Patience's wooden wheelchair prefaced the woman herself. Patience stopped the other side of the body and peered down, her look clearing and twisting into one of spiteful glee.

"Well, well! Malcolm Reynolds, what in the nine hells are you doin' here?"

Shocked, Inara looked at her employer. "You know this man?"

Patience chuckled. "Been a thorn in my side more times than I can count, didn't expect him to turn up here though."


Patience cut her off. "Go an' fetch my box. The one by my bedside, *mashang*!"

Inara felt a little surge of hope. "You are going to help him?"

The old woman threw back her head and laughed. "Could say that. Gonna put him outta his misery for once an' all."

Inara did not like the sound of that. Patience noticed Inara had not moved and frowned, her displeasure only too evident. "Child, you were hired to obey, *dong ma*? Now get that box!"

"What is in it? *Zhende*?"

"My gun, what d'ya think?"

* * * * *

Sally was worried. "What are we gonna do about the bodies?"

For a couple of minutes no one spoke. Zoe looked at the Horse Doctor and waited to catch his eye. "If those men aren't deputies who are they?"

Book shook his head. "*Wo bu zhidao* but I can guess."

Zoe raised an eyebrow and waited.

"I think they must be hired thugs, like mercenaries."

"*Wei* Mercenaries ain't hired thugs." Protested Jayne.

"Then what are they?" Asked Simon.

"They's business men."

Wash couldn't hold back a laugh. Jayne glared at him.

"You wanna go little man?"

"You askin' me out, Jayne?"

The big man blinked, confused. "Why would I do that?"

Zoe interrupted before a full blown quarrel could break out. "This isn't gettin' us anywhere. Book, you need to tell us what you know. How do we get out of here?"

The Horse Doctor was just working out what to tell them when River pinned him with a much too knowing look. "Tell them."

"I don't..."

"If not," she said calmly "I will."

It was funny to watch Book pale, his dark skin taking on an almost sickly hue. When he still hesitated River walked right up to him and poked his chest, her eyes never leaving his.

"Tell them. Your old paymasters need excising. Like ghosts but nowhere near as benign."

* * * * *

The box was heavier than it looked. Had no lock to speak off just a hinged lid. Inara looked inside and caught her breath. The handgun looked oddly familiar. Beneath it was a coiled leather holster and belt. Inara looked at Patience. "This isn't your gun."

Patience was getting angry as well as impatient. "It is now. Hand it over!"

Inara took a step back. "I'm not going to let you kill a man in cold blood."

Patience huffed then stood up, her eyes blazing, the wheelchair a forgotten prop. "You had best hand it over now, Inara. I got no quarrel with you unless you get between me an' what I want."

Oddly enough the shock of discovering Patience wasn't a cripple after all was lessened by why she would pretend in the first place. "Why the subterfuge, Patience?"

"*Ni bu dong*, it's all part of the game. Got well paid an' I get to put an end to Reynolds once an' for all."


The old woman tilted her head as she considered Inara. "You really don't know do you?"

"Suppose you tell me."

Patience glanced down at Malcolm Reynolds. "Don't suppose it matters now. Alliance got this fancy plan, sounded too far fetched to me but the money they was offerin'? Wasn't about to walk away from enough platinum to set me up for life. They called it 'Virtual Reality' or somesuch. Didn't understand all of it but I got my people keepin' watch. If they try to pull the plug on me it's gonna get mighty messy. For them."

Inara was baffled. "Plug?"

Her former employer held out a gnarled hand. "Now give me the gorram gun. Sooner I end this the sooner we can all go home."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*diyu* = hell *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *xie xie* = thanks *mei shi* = it doesn't matter *ni zhide shi shenme* = what do you mean? *jieshi* = explain *qu* = yes (lit. go) *mei mei* = little sister *wei* = hey! *wode ma* = mother of God *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *nu haizi* = girl *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *dui* = correct *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *dong ma* = understand? *zhende* = really *ni bu dong* = you don't understand


Sunday, March 1, 2015 11:55 AM


Ya got me! I wasn't expecting Patience. Thanks

Wednesday, March 4, 2015 6:35 AM


You're welcome, Buckshotpilot. By now you should be getting an inkling of what is going on. Thank you as always for your feedback, always appreciated! 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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.