THE REFLECTION SERIES: 22. "Damaged Goods"
Sunday, November 28, 2004

"Serenity rejoins the Crazy Goose. Rivers tells everybody what happened and they contemplate what they are going to do with the people they have saved."



SUMMARY: "Serenity rejoins the Crazy Goose. River tells everybody what happened and they contemplate what they are going to do with the people they have saved." 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

* * * * *

Nobody knew quite what to make of Inara's assertion but it was plain to see that her words had hurt Michael Tollan albeit he had readily forgiven her. Grief bound him like a cloak. Simon looked at the Companion, worried for her state of mind. What had she been thinking? True, an overdose of medication could have hastened Thomas McCardy's end but it would be impossible to prove. So why had the normally sensible and level headed woman opted for the least likely scenario and accused the one person on the ship who had nothing to gain from the man's death? It made no sense.

Now that everything was calming down again he felt his concern for his sister mounting. Jayne was cleaning and sharpening his knife while everyone else was trying to relax and wait without making it obvious they were incapable of either. Rafe Connor turned his head and found himself looking into the doctor's clear bright eyes. "We should have heard something by now."

Simon did not know what to tell him. Hearing the rancher voice his own thoughts was disconcerting. Just as he opened his mouth to speak the com interrupted him. Wash's voice sounded excited, happy and relieved all in one. "We have just had communication from Serenity. They will be docking a little under two hours."

Tense faces broke into smiles but Jayne frowned, noticing not what had been said but what hadn't. He stomped up to the bridge and took in Zoe's face, it was hard and expressionless. Not the happy look he would have expected from a successful mission. He did not realise Kaylee had followed him until she spoke. "They find River?"

Wash nodded just as Simon and Rafe joined them. Other crew members drifting on to the bridge after them. Simon hardly dared to hope. "You say River's alright?"

"*Qu*." Zoe confirmed.

Simon paused, his expression stiffening. "*Shenme shi*?"

"They had to fight to get her and the others off."

Rafe Connor looked confused. "Others? What others?"

"We didn't come all this way to save no *tamade hundan* slavers." Growled the mercenary.

Zoe shook her head at Jayne's comment. "Not talkin' about slavers Jayne, these are the women an' children Clements an' his *friends* made sport of." As Jayne shut his mouth and fell into a subdued silence she locked eyes with Simon. "They're gonna be needin' reassurance an' such but first a doctor's practised eye might not go amiss."

"Of course." Simon paused trying to think how to put it delicately. "Do we know what sort of injuries they have?"

The first mate's expression could have cut stone. "No, an' ain't askin'. River was upset, makes me think it didn't go smooth."

The mercenary scowled. "Yeah but they found River, I call that a win."

Zoe looked at him but did not respond, then as Simon stared at her with mounting apprehension she turned and walked off the bridge. Jayne looked puzzled. "What the gorram was that all about?"

Simon shook himself out his reverie. "I don't know but I'm going to meet them as they come aboard."

Rafe decided to go with him. When they got to the hold they found Shepherd Book already waiting, his bible in his hands. "Hope they ain't gonna need that, Preacher."

"Those poor people are going to need more than soup and blankets, Mr Connor. The comfort of the Lord should never be underestimated." By the time Serenity docked the hold was abustle with people. Willing hands helping the women and children who hesitated to come aboard as if not able to believe they had really been rescued. Simon knew the ship's surgery was too small and would also be too intimidating for most of the former slaves. Might bring back all manner of unpleasant memories so he opted to create a makeshift place for them in the hold. Rafe volunteered some of his men to help and Jayne went with them, doing something would help him to wind down. Didn't hurt that he was able to give comfort to them as needed it. What had happened to those people wasn't right.

As the last of the people came off Serenity, Zoe and Wash stepped into the hold. They had left Michael Tollan on the bridge. Inara followed shortly after, pausing on the threshold, her eyes widening with surprise at the sheer numbers of people. Over fifty women and children sitting in orderly lines on the floor while Jayne and Rafe's men ferried blankets and food to them. She saw at a glance that the hold would be their temporary quarters. It was the only place big enough to house them all. Simon was working his way from one to the next, his manner calm and polite, his voice a quiet reassuring hush that stilled the panic and tremor threatening to overcome them. Her eyes swept the hold, a slow frown forming on her beautiful face.

"Where's River?"

Simon looked up from a woman with a head wound, his hands continuing to bandage the cut while answering the Companion. "Apparently she's with the Captain."

A child of twelve or so poked her head out of the doorway then spotted Simon. Hesitating just a moment or two, she hurried over to him. "Are you a doctor?"

Simon smiled, trying to disarm her so that she would not feel frightened. The girl looked traumatised. "Yes, I am. My name's Simon. Where are you hurt?"

The girl shook her head. "River said to find you."

His look was quickly replaced by one of concern. "River? What happened?"

"The Captain got injured and she won't leave him. Sent me to find you."

He frowned. Pleased that his sister was apparently alright but wondering why the Captain always seemed to attract trouble of the near terminal kind. He was losing count of the number of times he had patched the man up. He glanced around then spotted Inara. Calling her over he asked if she would continue checking on the patients, helping where she could whether with bandages and sympathy or just a ready ear. Inara nodded and gave the woman with the head wound a smile. "You're going to be alright. You're safe now."

* * * * *

Jaimie Sparks was worried. He, Ricky Sable, Harry Simmons and Blade were crouched on the ground around the Captain. He sent Ian Scott to go find Rafe but cautioned him to say nothing about the death of Chung-li. That was one message he had to deliver in person. They watched River tend the Captain, her small pale hands fluttering around the man's bloody face. Jaimie's frown deepened causing Ricky to shoot him a worried look. "He gonna make it, *Shi*?"

He was not pleased with Ricky for speaking his fear out loud but could hardly blame the man for that. Most of them had nicks and scrapes but nothing a swab of antiseptic wouldn't see to. He did not like the look of Mal though. Man had been through the wringer more times than his vest and didn't look so gorram good. *Shi* bit back a sigh but before he could respond River looked up and spoke. Her clear voice carrying without the need to raise it.

"He won't die. You're worried he'll die but he won't. Captain's made of sterner stuff."

Funnily enough her assertion actually made him feel better. *Shi* gave a little chuckle, saw the men exchange fleeting smiles. Truth to tell they all felt pretty ragged. River turned the bloody cloth in her hand and finished wiping the Captain's face. She was careful not to press too hard, all aware that he was still healing from the burns he had received in the fire. The men had wanted to carry him off the ship but River had been adamant that Simon see him first. Also she knew in her heart that the Captain would want to stay on his boat. The Crazy Goose might be the shiniest ship in the whole 'verse but it wasn't home. Not for her and not for Mal. Not that she would expect Rafe Connor's men to understand that. Home for them was on Glory.

Ricky was about to ask if he should go get some water when he turned at the sound of movement behind him. Simon Tam hurried over to the Captain, his eyes flicking from the unconscious man to his sister's face. "Are you alright River? I was so worried about you, *mei mei*."

She gave him a sweet smile, head tilted to one side, the matchless beauty that shone from her fair taking his breath away. There had always been something very special and precious about River. She was not simply gifted. She was a gift. One he was lucky to share in life. "*Hen hao*, Simon. They were clumsy and cruel, couldn't catch me."

Even as her words reassured him they also made him feel anxious. His all too creative mind filling in the nightmare scenario she must have faced trying to keep one step ahead of the slavers hunting her down. He still felt guilty about going with the others and leaving Mal and Rafe's men to look for her. He glanced down at the Captain, his sensitive hands checking him over with a surgeon's grace. The men around him relaxed, instinctively knowing Mal was in the best hands. "Hmm, well he's got a broken nose and it feels as if some ribs are broken." He paused and checked the shoulder wound. "Looks like the bullet passed straight through." His hands checked the shoulder again, tentatively probing the awkward angle. He looked up. "The shoulder's dislocated. Probably best if I do this while he's still unconscious."

The men exchanged a wary glance. *Shi* raised his head in a little jerking motion. "Go get something to eat and clean up. I'll join you once we have Mal settled, *dong ma*?"

They nodded and shuffled out of the room. Simon looked at *Shi* as his hands settled into a firm grip ready to manipulate the shoulder back into place. "You don't have to stay."

"No, I want to. Rafe'll have a lot of questions for me an' I'd like at least to be able to answer some of 'em."

Simon gave a half shrug then wrenched the Captain's shoulder hard enough to make it crack. River put a hand on Mal's forehead as a low deep groan seeped out of his mouth, the pain rousing him to the brink of consciousness. Simon rifled in his little red bag and administered a pain killer. The Captain was slowly stirring beneath his hand, his voice sounding slurred and groggy. "What the gorram you doin' to me, doc?"

The doctor rocked back on his heels and smiled down at him. River brushed the Captain's fringe gently off his face. He seemed unaware of her but she knew better. Knew there was very little that the Captain of Serenity missed especially when it came to his crew.

"You had a dislocated shoulder."

"Huh." Mal squinted up at him, could feel the darkness pulling at him but was in no way tempted to surrender to that dark seduction. Too many things he needed to know. He could sleep all he wanted once he was dead. "Did you just drug me?"

"*Fang xin* it was just *zhitong yao*."

He blinked, had trouble breathing out of his nose so let his mouth sag open again. His breath heavy and rasping but it got oxygen where he needed it so he wasn't complaining. "Couldn't have given me that *before* you yanked on my ruttin' shoulder?"

Simon laughed quietly. Grumpy and prickly as the Captain could sometimes be it was good to have him back, awake and not hovering on the brink of death. He was careful to make no comment about the manacles still on the Captain's wrists. Knew there was like to be a pretty unpleasant tale to tell but he did not want to go into that now. He would get Jayne to use the cutting equipment to get the manacles off once the Captain had rested. *If* he could get his stubborn patient to rest.

The Captain raised his eyes, meeting the upside look in River's eyes as she leaned over him. "You did good, River. Those kids... They couldn't'a made it without you, *xin gan*."

Her smile was beautific. It dazzled the Captain. Simon knew just how that felt. He watched the look on the Captain's face darken slightly, the eyes not so light and teasing now.

"You could'a been caught, River. Those were bad people - *heishoudang liumang* - *dong ma*?"

She looked sorry when she saw he was getting upset. Knew he worried about her. Worried about them all. "*Mafan ni le*."

Seeing her look so sad made him take a breath, force himself to calm down before that shiny brother of hers doped him up to his eyeballs. "*Mei guanxi mei shi*, it doesn't matter." He could feel the darkness tugging at his eyelids. They were so gorram heavy.

Her hand fluttered to his face but he was barely conscious of it. Struggling against the pull of incredible weariness. Suspicion hovering on the edge of his consciousness as his speech began to slur again. "What you give me, Simon? You slip me a *animianyao*."

"*Bu qu*, Mal, just painkillers but you're body's been through a lot. You need to rest."

He wanted to argue but the insistent pull was winning, the darkness deepened around his closing eyes. Like black waters closing over his head the current dragged him down and along, far far away from the welcoming brightness of consciousness that he craved. He was so rutting tired. Ached so gorram much and in the end he was but a breath away from letting go. Wasn't even aware of it when he did.

"Out of the night that covers me Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud, Under the bludgeonings of chance My head is bloody, but unbowed..."

- 'Invictus', poem by William Ernest Henley

The unmistakable thrum and reverberations of running feet presaged the arrival of the rest of Serenitys' crew. Kaylee gasped, Jayne scowled at Simon as if it was somehow his fault. Wash and Zoe exchanged worried glances and Inara stared. It was Shepherd Book who spoke, transforming their anxious bodies into motion.

"Why don't we help get the good Captain into the infirmary?"

Only River did not follow, she hung back, her eyes on *Shi*. "You didn't tell him so he doesn't know."

Jaimie Sparks frowned. "Doesn't know what?"

"That his friend is dead."

The breath caught in *Shi's* throat. "You mean Chung-li?"

River nodded.

"But I thought... you told us what happened. How Chung-li had pulled the rings out of the wall and tried to protect Mal when he was being tortured. How he gave his life to save him."

The girl nodded. She and *Shi* were the only two left in the room now. It occurred to him that she had chosen her moment well not wanting the others to overhear though he did not know why. "If Mal didn't tell you then how did you know?"

River had a faraway look in her eyes as if only her body was present. It was all kinds of creepifying but he couldn't move even if he wanted to. Her words echoed like a cold wind through his soul, as if a ghost walked in the girl's body. Animating the fragile planes of her gentle face until the notion hurt him. "He didn't tell me, I saw."

It took an effort for Jaimie Sparks to ask what he wanted to know. "How did you see?"

She blinked slowly at him, as if coming back across a great distance. Her smile was sad, gentle, as if she did not want to scare him but needed him to understand. "I can see through his eyes. Feel his thoughts. Touch emotions that sleep in his heart."

*Shi* was not prepared to let her off the hook that easily. "But if you saw through his eyes he already knows."

"He knows but he does not comprehend." River paused but *Shi* just stared at her so she tried to explain. "He'll want to see the body only he can't go back."

Then River was gone, like a light breeze drifting away. Her bare feet soundless, leaving a troubled air behind her. *Shi* realised that Mal was not the only one who would need to see the body. So would Rafe. River had said the Captain couldn't go back but he realised somebody had to. Someone needed to go back to make sure. Not just for Mal and Rafe but for all of them.

*Shi* did not know how long he stood there, his thoughts a tangle, his understanding struggling to accept what he had heard without going crazy. Yet something in him believed the girl. Trusted her. And if that wasn't the most morbid and creepifying thing in the 'verse he didn't know what was.

* * * * *

Counsellor Michael Tollan was deep in thought. So much had happened in such a short period of time that now he had the luxury to think things through he found himself getting more and more disturbed. Inara had accused him of killing Thomas. Even after his denial and her apology the accusation hurt. Burned through him like a hot brand. The injustice of it sending a pain through his heart that was beyond any anger. How could he rail against her when she loved Thomas too?

Slowly his chaotic thoughts stilled again. In the quiet of the now deserted bridge he took his time reviewing everything that had transpired. Reliving the moments with Thomas over and over again. Had something happened? Had he missed some sign? The ship was manned by what was literally a skeleton crew. The nominal pilot was Thomas though the real task had been shared between him and Laurie Riggs. The only other crewman on board was Tommy Bale the cook but both men had been with Thomas since the dinosaurs were eggs. Their presence so quiet and discreet Thomas and he hardly noticed they were there. It gave them the illusion of privacy, of having the ship to themselves. But this question mark over Thomas's death worried him. It made no sense that someone would want to stop the heart of a dying man. He rubbed a hand over tired eyes then thought back to something he had been taught many years ago when he was first studying law and politics. 'Always follow the money'. It was a trail that inevitably lead to murderers, thieves, embezellers, blackmailers and literally all the low lifes of a hundred systems. It didn't matter if the money was in coin, bonds, credit chits, platinmum or any other commodity. 'Money or moneys worth'.

Sucking his bottom lip he recalled what he had told Inara. When Thomas died not a single coin would come to him, it was all being left to his family. Or more precisely, his son. Carlin Ferris would inherit the entirety of his father's estate. Only not in the manner that bitter and worthless *goushi buru* would expect. That thought alone raised the echo of a smile to Tollan's sad lips. But Carlin had never been a man motivated by greed. The thought at first astonished him then shook him. No. Carlin was a spiteful embittered man. Twisted in ways that were hard to comprehend. As many times as Thomas had reached out to his son, that son had lashed out. Not once, not twice, but every time. When Carlin had tried to kill Thomas and instead caused the death of his mother leaving his father a cripple there had not been a shred of remorse. Only anger that he had failed. The blame for his mother's death laid firmly at his father's door. Carlin had always seen Thomas as weak and therefore undeserving. Had viewed his neutral stand in the face of the mighty Alliance as a betrayal.

While Tollan slowly thought it through a horrible sick suspicion stirred in his mind. Had Carlin at last succeeded where he had once failed?. If so, how had he done it? And how in the nine hells had the Companion, Inara Serra, suspected that Thomas McCardy's death was anything other than the natural breakdown of a failing body?

* * * * *

Jaimie Sparks knew that if he asked he would be denied so he didn't ask. Instead he walked quickly back to where Serenity was sealed to the Crazy Goose and went back aboard the luxury ship. His mind made up he lengthened his stride, thankful that he did not meet anyone on the way. Trying to recall as much detail as possible from the last time he had been aboard one of the Goose's landing craft. It was child's play to board the shuttle and not as difficult as he would have imagined to familiarise himself with the controls. Once happy that he could operate the start up sequence he steadied his nerves and looked more closely at the rest of the controls. Looking for the master switch that would turn on the little craft's cloaking device.

* * * * *

"Ssssh, he's waking up!"

Pain was a low background hum, sound a scramble of competing voices rising and falling like waves buffeting him on some stormy sea. Now why would he think a fanciful thing like that? He was aware of a cool impersonal hand touching his forehead then fluttering down to fuss over him. Had to be Simon. Didn't know nobody better suited to his doctoring than River's brother.

It took a couple of tries to unglue his eyelids and when he did the blaze of light almost sent him scurrying back to hide from the brightness but he was no coward. Kaylee leaned over to smile down at him. "Hey, Cap'n, how're ya feelin'?"

Her smile was infectious, so full of happy he didn't want to carry the pin to prick that bubble. Felt crabby as *diyu* but dragged up a smile for her anyhow. "Like I been shot."

"You'll be happy to know the bullet passed right through your shoulder."

He huffed, blinked and looked at Simon. "If you're here then..."

"You're on Serenity." The doctor affirmed.

Mal smiled, a real one this time. Serenity. His girl. His *good* girl. Gorrammit if he wasn't feeling all woozy again. His eyelids fluttered, that rutting undercurrent tugging at him again. A hand on his good shoulder stopped the rocking of that particular ocean. "Captain?"

The deep baritone was quiet and serious. Book. He managed to open his eyes again and turned his head to focus on the Preacher's face.

"Good to have you back, Captain."

He gave a nod, words all tangled up inside him. Knew the Preacher had questions though what the good gorram he needed to ask them now for he didn't know. Behind Book he could see Zoe and Wash. Wash was smiling, his kind eyes happy, content even. Zoe looked relieved then concerned. Now that was unsettling. Concerned? Belatedly he realised Book was asking him a question. "Hmm?"

"I said, can you remember what happened?"

"'Course I remember, that *tamade hundan* Clements caught us."

"Yes, I saw the manacles."

Manacles? Had there been manacles? He blinked. Yes. Remembered now. Had been hung from the gorram ceiling in them while Chung-li had been chained to the ruttin' wall opposite. Made the man watch while they tortured him. The Captain closed his eyes against a different kind of pain. The sort that hurt the heart more than the body.

"Captain, can you..."

"I think we should leave the Captain to rest."

Simon. Who would have thought he'd be his gorram protector?

"Yes, yes of course."

Book sounded reluctant. Now that was scary. What was it the Shepherd wanted to know and why was he certain it was something he didn't want to tell him? He lay quietly trying to marshall his thoughts but they were hard to tie down. *He* was hard to tie down. He heard the sound of retreating footsteps. Just breathed a soft sigh of relief when a voice huffed softly next to his ear. "Hiding."

The word jolted him. Damn the girl, why did she always have to be creeping up on him?

"Now River," Simon's voice. Maybe if he just kept his eyes closed they would go away? "The Captain needs his rest."

River shook her head but kept her eyes on the Captain. "Not sleeping."

He was about to ask her how she knew that when the Captain opened his eyes and looked straight at him. "You should learn to listen to her, doctor."

Simon crossed his arms across his chest, his look saying he didn't approve of the Captain pretending to be asleep but the glimmer in his eyes saying he did understand. It was a balancing act the boy had off to perfection. Well wasn't that shiny?

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*qu* = yes (lit. go) *shemne shi* = what's the matter? *shi* ten *tamade hundan* = fucking bastards *mei mei* = little sister *hen hao* = very good *dong ma* = understand *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *zhitong yao* = painkiller *xin gan* = sweetheart *animianyao* = sleeping pill *heishoudang liumang* = gangster asshole/bastard *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *mafan ni le* = I've given you so much trouble *mei guanxi mei shi* = never mind *goushi buru* = lower than dogshit/lowest of the low


Sunday, November 28, 2004 9:21 AM


ANother great installment Alison, thank you. What is goin to happen when Jaimie goes back for CHeung Li? How did Carlin arrange for the death of his father? Does that mean there is a traitor on board?

Can't wait for the next one!

Monday, November 29, 2004 1:00 AM


I really admire the way you orchestrate your huge casts of orginal characters, Ali. So many, all with their own personalities - quite some feat!

Alway like the way you paint Jayne. And of course River. She shines in your stories and you always show the good side of Jayne.

Good on Mal's grim sense of humour too.

Looking forward to finding out how the murder was carried out and who did it.

Monday, November 29, 2004 7:17 PM


Glad Mal's more or less okay. I got the feeling that Chung-li is not as done as he seems to be. Good chapter!


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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.