Sunday, November 21, 2004

"River plans the evacuation then gets a shock. Meanwhile Inara convinces Simon to turn detective. Mal is in a tight spot but Chung-li is determined to change the odds."



SUMMARY: "River plans the evacuation then gets a shock. Meanwhile Inara convinces Simon to turn detective. Mal is in a tight spot but Chung-li is determined to change the odds." The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly' are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No infringement of copyright is intended.


A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Inara Serra stared without seeing. Silent for so long that Simon was getting anxious about her. It had taken him hours to go through all the tests in order to find out the true cause of death. The fact that Thomas McCardy had so many ills did nothing to assist his medical detection. In the end it wasn't a poison or anything invasive that had killed him. "Are... are you alright, Inara?"

It took her forever to bring her focus back on the only other living and breathing occupant in the room. The brightly lit, state of the art surgery was as cold and impersonal as any tomb. Forcing back the temptation to throw up she managed to give a slow nod. Simon had a thousand questions but sensed now was not the time to ask them. The Companion looked in shock and that seemed fitting given what she had asked him to do. After several long minutes that stretched like hours she blinked at him like a diver forcing herself to come to the surface slowly to avoid the bends. Her breathing slowing down to something approaching normal as she spoke. "An overdose?"

Simon nodded. "*Qu*. I wouldn't have found it had you not been so insistent. After everything else had been ruled out by means of foul play I then did a critical reassessment. Tissue cultures, stomach contents..."

"I'm sure you were very thorough," Interrupted Inara, wanting to cut him off from expanding into anything more graphic. It did not help that Simon's hands were covered in her friend's blood or that his fingers slipped now and then as he neatly closed up the incision. "How was it administered?"

"My guess is a decoction. Very common in Chinese medicine. There had obviously been some reduction in order to increase the concentration, hence less was more if you follow my meaning." He paused and considered the body for a moment. He looked up and searched her face before continuing. "You know, this could be accidental."

She shook her head. "*Bu qu*."

He frowned. "How can you be so sure?"

"*Wo zhidao* Thomas." Inara bit her lip, *knew*. It was past tense now. She almost broke down at the thought but her determination to see this through aided and abetted her flimsy emotional control. Only her years of Companion training hid the bulk of it from the doctor.

"I'll need to see his list of medication."

Inara nodded then glanced around the small surgery. Where would he keep it?

"Perhaps we should ask..."


Simon stared at her. Startled. "Surely you don't think...?"

"I don't know what to think Simon and for the time being I would appreciate it if you didn't say anything about this to anyone else."

"Inara, if Thomas was murdered the authorities need to be notified."

"Yes." She paused so that the import of her next words could sink in. "*Alliance* authorities."

The doctor swallowed slowly, his hands pausing mid-stitch as he paled. How could he have forgotten? "On the other hand," He said carefully, trying to keep his tone steady and even. "Thomas isn't going anywhere. No need to alert the killer of our suspicions."

The Companion nodded. "*Xie xie ni*, Simon."

"You look *leihuai li*. You should get some rest."

"*Mei shi*."

Simon did not agree but finished sewing Thomas up in silence. Inara watched him tidy up the body, observed with dispassionate detatchment as he cleaned up the blood and covered him. Not until the sheet was drawn up over his face did her control break. Tears rolling down her cheeks before she could stop them. Simon would have tried to offer words of comfort but she forestalled him by turning quickly away leaving him with his mouth open and alone, only the whisper of her robe as she left breaking the silence that filled the space where she had stood.

* * * * *

"*Ting*, I don't know nothin' about no chemical weapons *dong ma*?"

John Porter Clements wasn't interested in the Captain's denial. War might be long over but in his eyes Reynolds was still a Browncoat. Even wore the gorram uniform despite the fact that their ragtag army had rutting well lost. Was indecent how unaccepting of the fact he was. Filled a man with righteous anger just to think on it. "Not interested in your lies, Reynolds."

"Ain't lies, just tellin' the ruttin' truth."

Clements shoved his face close to Mal's. "You wouldn't know the truth if it rose up and bit ya on the ass! *Ni bu dong mai* or do I have to spell it out to ya, *nuofu*?"

The Captain forced himself to take a deep breath and not react to the insult. Losing his temper would be the stupidest thing he could do right now. Had people relying on him and wading through this kind of *goushi* wasn't like to help one bit. "Ain't lookin' to lie to you. No need for things to get *choulou*. Should be able to talk this out like reasonable men."

The blow came swift, hard and unexpected catching the Captain in the solar plexus and knocking all the air out of him. He huffed and grunted in pain, unable to pull out of the way or do anything to diminish the force of the blow. The manacles round his wrists holding him upright and putting enough strain on his wounded shoulder as it was. As he got his breath back he opened his eyes and glimpsed the dark murderous look on Chung-li's face. The Chinaman was chained to the opposite wall. Mal hung from the ceiling by a pair of thick manacles. At least Chung-li had both feet on the ground. Clements had made sure that Mal would not have that luxury, the chain pulled through the heavy metal eyeholes in the ceiling to keep him on his tip-toes. The strain on his insteps just added one more painful ache to the catalogue his body was fast accruing like some sick kleptomaniac. His lip had been split in three places by his captor. Tasting the blood in his mouth was like to be the only thing he would get to quench his thirst in a good long while.

* * * * *

"Should'a heard somethin' by now." Growled Jayne.

Zoe said nothing. She was thinking. Could feel Rafe Connor's impatience. She cut a glance across to where Counsellor Michael Tollan was sitting at a cortex terminal. There were eight of them on the bridge. Tollan, his pilot, Wash, herself, Rafe, Kaylee, Jayne and ... Inara. Zoe did a double take. The Companion looked pale as a ghost as she joined them. Seconds later Simon appeared, hesitating in the doorway before stepping inside. His expression closed off and tense. What the good gorram was going on? Had something happened?

Before Zoe could say anything Tollan looked up, saw Inara and smiled. Inara did not smile back, she looked strained. As if she wanted to cry. Then Zoe reminded herself that Thomas McCardy was dead. An expected thing by all accounts but no less traumatic to those who had known him it seemed. Didn't think she'd ever see tears on a Companion's face though. Him being a client and all. Would she shed tears so readily for any of them? Kaylee, most certainly. The rest of them? Not so much. She wondered whether that concerned or comforted her. "Somethin' happen I should know about?"

Inara had not meant to say anything until she had spoken to the Counsellor in private. After all, she only had her suspicions. Wouldn't even make it to an official complaint if she tried to lay charges. No one would be suspecting foul play and with Thomas McCardy's deteriorating condition nobody would be looking for it either. They would be more inclined to be suspicious of her motives in making such an allegation. No. She needed to confront him before she lost her nerve. Catch the first look upon his face when she challenged him. "Why did you do it?"

Michael Tollan gave her a blank look. "*Shenme*? Do what, Inara?"

"Kill him."

The tension on the bridge was palpable. Kaylee put a hand over her mouth in shock, eyes wide. Wash looked stunned. Zoe's eyes narrowed and Jayne put his hand on the butt of his gun. Not yet drawing it but ready just in case. Never did much like the Core bred piece of *goushi* anyway. Too fancy and monied to be more than an Alliance stooge.

The Counsellor looked too stunned to be angry. "Inara, what are you talking about?"

She stepped closer but halted just out of reach. Simon shadowed her but stayed back a couple of paces. "Thomas. He was already dying."

Tollan looked confused and pained, the loss of his friend cutting him deep. "*Wo zhidao*."

"But you couldn't wait, could you?" The sudden icy bitterness in her voice put everyone on edge. Through his grief, Tollan stared at Inara with a cold stealing dread seeping into his gut. "What are you saying?"

"It was the money, wasn't it?"

"Inara, I didn't kill Thomas." He said quietly.

"He was worth a fortune. *Wo zhidao*, he told me. All you had to do was wait for nature to take it's course."

Tollan's eyes were bright with rising tears. He could not believe what he was hearing. What he was being accused of. "You think... I *killed* him?"

The pain and hurt in his voice penetrated the anger of loss. Inara paused. Did she really think that? "If not you," She paused, uncertain. "Then who?"

"Why would anyone kill him?" Said Tollan in distress. "He was dying. Nothing in the 'verse could save him and believe me Inara I tried." His voice broke. "I tried."

Tears rolled down Tollan's face, the mask of grief too painful to look at yet no one could look away. Inara hurried to him, put her arms around him, her own bright tears joining his. "*Duibuqi*, Michael, forgive me."

Simon turned and indicated for the others to go. Jayne looked as if he wanted to argue but Rafe tugged his sleeve and slowly the bridge was left to Inara and Michael Tollan. Simon hung back, waited by the door in case he would be needed. No doubt in his mind that if this was foul play, Michael Tollan was not the man responsible.

* * * * *

The first guard was easy. Obviously he had been on duty too long, was weary and bored. His attention kept drifting off allowing River to slip up behind him undetected. By the time he turned he was already falling, the sudden thrust of her outstretched hand cutting his oxygen off in a quick hard blow to the larynx that rendered him unconscious. She stumbled slightly under the weight of the body as it crumpled but could not take the chance of alerting the second guard that something was wrong. Carefully River rolled the body off to one side so that it could lie in shadow. The second guard was now circling round the far end of Serenity by the port thrusters. Had she been on board she would have given him a close up view that would have been second to none. Of course it would have killed him outright but then nothing in life was perfect.

River searched the fallen guard. She did not take his weapon - 'no touching guns' - but smiled when she found the knife. Turning it slowly she liked the shiny blade, the way it reflected the light and kept its' stories to itself. A hunter that was sleek and stealthy, a lot like her. On bare feet she moved with soundless grace, aping her prey as she followed in his wake. He was startled by a tap on his arm, turned with words of admonishment for his partner. The words never passed his lips as he traded a look of stunned disbelief for a crimson smile. River watched the light fade in his eyes, dead before he hit the ground, then dragged the heavy body over to some packing crates. She returned to the first guard and took his handcuffs, cuffed him then looked round for something to stuff into his mouth. She couldn't find anything. The wicked smile on her face reflected in her eyes as she put down the knife and undid his right boot. Her eyes laughing she pulled off a smelly sock, held it away from her with a brief look of disgust at the vile rank stink of stale body odour, dirt and sweat then shoved it in the unconscious man's mouth. If nothing else it might teach him to bathe more regularly.

She glanced at the other foot, boot and sock still in place, a look of fleeting sadness in her eyes. River liked order, balance. Everything in harmony. It was why numbers spoke to her. The second guard was dead. She wouldn't need the other sock and that felt wrong. She was tempted to remove it anyway and not leave him like an unmade bed then decided it was not important. Oddly a childhood song ran through her mind - 'One and one is all alone and ever more shall be so'. Resisting the temptation to sing out loud she hummed softly then crept on board the Firefly.

Everything at first seemed in order. Serenity was simply deserted. River reached out a tentative hand and touched the metal wall, the ship speaking to her as she walked through the empty cargo bay and kept her eyes peeled and her mind sharp. 'Just because no one's home doesn't mean they aren't watching'. Inch by inch she covered feet then yards, the math in her head not taking to the metric but preferring the old imperial measurements that craftsmen had since returned to. Measurements that were more in harmony with the 'verse, made all the equations add up in ways that pleased her broken mind. She counted the steps up to the bridge and considered the square of mercury, her head tilting as she paused on the top step. That was odd. The ship was empty, deserted but for her. Why then could she hear a muffled thudding? So quiet it could have been her imagination only it wasn't.

River did the math, now recognising what she was hearing and why it was so familiar. She turned slowly. Someone else was on the ship. The sound was that of another heartbeat. Before she could say or do anything the owner revealed himself a split second before she screamed.

* * * * *

Michael Tollan was stunned, in a weary and sad way that hurt Inara to see. But it was only right that she answer his questions. Simon had been going to leave, to give them their privacy, but Inara wanted him to stay. To answer the medical queries that she was sure Tollan would have. "Why did you think I would kill him? He was my life."

Inara felt awkward, embarrassed even but she owed him the truth. "Thomas was a very wealthy man."

To her consternation, instead of defending her assumption Michael Tollan threw his head back and laughed. "Inara," He explained gently. "The last thing in the 'verse I need is money." He paused. "I am a rich man in my own right. Besides, even if I was as poor as a slave I wouldn't be able to get my hands on a single coin of Thomas's money."

He watched the Companion's face for a moment, took her hands in his and noticed how cold they were. Almost without thinking he rubbed her hands between his own, willing warmth back into her chilled body.

"I once told you that blood was thicker than water, it is *bao bei*. Thomas and Carlin never saw eye to eye but Thomas always hoped that one day his son would realise his mistake and they could patch things up. It wasn't ever going to happen, I could see that. Carlin is not worthy enough to kiss the ground Thomas walks on and that's not just bitterness talking but simple truth. The man is a waste of DNA. A twisted bitter creature but he is still Thomas's son." He paused. "Do you remember Thomas telling you how it was his family that insisted on getting him as much compensation as they could for his injuries?" Inara nodded. "Well Thomas knew that it was money they loved first and foremost, every last one of his kith and kin, so in his will he bequeathed it back to them - with interest."

Her eyebrows rose. "Interest? What does that mean?"

He chuckled, such an unexpectedly light sound that she thought for a moment that her ears had misheard. "Thomas invested most of his vast wealth in something they would *not* approve of." He smiled more than a mite smugly and for a fraction of a second the look in his eyes reminded her of Serenity's stubborn but noble Captain.

* * * * *

*Shi* abandoned all plans at stealth the moment he heard the scream. They had been making steady progress, clearing any and all opposition as they worked their way towards the landing platform. The scream had come in that direction and suddenly common sense and combat strategy meant nothing, the men moved on pure instinct fueled by the need to respond as quickly as possible.

Inside the Firefly River Tam's eyes were wide, startled, frightened. She had not meant to scream but he had surprised her and seeing his bloody scarred body swaying like a demon vision in front of her had brought the memory of Reavers to mind. It was enough to unleash all manner of nightmare images inside her head. Then he was falling, consciousness deserting him in a heartbeat along with the last of his failing strength. River moved quickly, broke his fall, a sob in her throat as she laid him down. There was so much blood. It was everywhere. Her hand fluttered from his face to his blood soaked chest and tentatively she checked his wounds. Found the bullet hole in his shoulder which now looked to be dislocated, the puffy mess of his face making her want to cry. But it was when she took his hands that cold realisation hit her. The manacles had been broken off at the chain so his wrists were still encased but bloody now. He had been tortured.

River hardly looked up at the thunder of booted feet hitting the Firefly's ramp. They found her in the cargo bay cradling Serenity's Captain in her arms. Stunned, *Shi* stared at the last thing he had expected to find. She was rocking him and murmuring words of reassurance. No one wanted to intrude but the men knew they had so little time. *Shi* ran up to River, a jerk of his head towards Ricky letting the men know to check out the rest of the ship. They wanted no more surprises. *Shi* swallowed hard when he saw the state of Malcolm Reynolds. Looked at the barefoot girl and made a guess. "You must be River."

"No must be about it."

He was too concerned about the Captain to smile. *Shi* glanced around, uneasy and worried. "What the good gorram happened and where's Chung-li?" He looked again at the girl. "They were together."

"He was tortured." Said River, a hand gently brushing matted hair from the Captain's face. Her fingers were bloody. His blood not hers.

"And Chung-li?"

She looked up then, caught him in her sad eyes and he knew before she could say the words. "He's dead. Died saving the Captain."

*Shi* bowed his head in grief. This would hit the *laoban* hard. Would hurt them all. He looked up as his men returned.

"Nothin' *Shi*." Said Ricky. The man looked shaken and *Shi* could not blame him.

It was time to get out of this godforsaken place and get back to the others. Somehow he would have to find the words to break the news to Rafe. Chung-li and Rafe had pretty much grown up together. What had happened was in no ways fair. "Any of you know how to fly a Firefly?"

"I do." Every eye turned back to River. *Shi* blinked, watched as the slip of a girl laid the Captain down on the hard cold steel floor then stared as she leant forward and gently kissed his forehead. When she got up Ricky sidled passed her to see to the Captain. But *Shi* still wanted answers. "What in the nine hells happened?"

River shook her head. "No time, have to get the others and go." "You said Chung-li is dead. Mal tell you what happened?"

"They were torturing him. Had him hanging from the ceiling, made Chung-li watch. Didn't lay a hand on Chung-li, just kept him chained to the wall. That was their mistake. They took their eyes off him."

All the men were now listening avidly to River. *Shi* felt a cold shiver go through him. "What do you mean it was their mistake?"

"Chung-li pulled the rings out of the wall and attacked them. Didn't expect it. Most died before they could react but they managed to shoot him as he snapped the *tamade luimang's* neck." She paused and looked at their stunned faces. "Made a satisfying crack."

Silent as a ghost, Blade Wilkins moved forward on soundless feet. He had heard enough. "*Shi*, we gotta get outta here *mashang*. If the girl's story is true this place is gonna be over run with more of those slaver dogs. Won't take 'em long to figure they got company of the uninvited kind."

River shook her head. "*Bu qu*, can't go."

*Shi* frowned. "*Ni bu dong..*"

"No, you don't understand. The others are waiting. Frightened. Injured and cold. They've waited so long." Her voice took on a mournful tone. All kinds of sad. "But no one came."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*qu* = yes (lit. go) *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *wo zhidao* = I know *ting* = listen *xie xie ni* = thank you *leihuai li* = exhausted *mei shi* = it doesn't matter *dong ma* = understand *ni bu dong mai* = don't you understand? *nuofu* = coward *shenme* = what *goushi* = crap/dog shit *duibuqi* = sorry *shi* = ten *tamade luimang* = fucking gangster/asshole/criminal/bastard *choulou* = ugly *bao bei* = precious/treasure *mashang* = on the double/quickly/right away/immediately


Sunday, November 21, 2004 5:37 PM


Excellent chapter! You're really on a roll with this story, rapidly approaching novel length.

I would have bought the book.


Monday, November 22, 2004 1:49 AM


Fantastic job! I am soooo addicted to this story.

Monday, November 22, 2004 2:45 AM


Very spooky - and slightly scary - River in this chapter. Am intrigued to find out what really happened to Thomas - and what made Inara suspicious in the first place.
And poor, poor Mal. Don't think he's going to be taking any more vacations any time soon! ;-)

Tuesday, November 23, 2004 10:40 AM


This story is so enthralling. I can't stand the wait between parts. It's sad that Chung-li died, but at least he did it saving Mal.

Keep it coming!

Friday, November 26, 2004 8:50 PM


River, River, River...

It shouldn't have been her that found him, but I knew it would be.

Keep flyin'

Sunday, November 28, 2004 4:31 PM


"Made a satisfying crack." Zowie! River was great in this chapter. Soooo very glad to see Mal out of that fix.


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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.