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AMDOBELL

THE LOYALTY SERIES: 6. "Status Quo"
Tuesday, September 2, 2003

"The crew of Serenity discover that nothing is quite what it seems."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2870    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "STATUS QUO" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: No specific pairing. RATING: R. SERIES CONCLUSION. STATUS: New. SEQUEL to "DEALING WITH THE DEVIL". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: AlisonMDobell@aol.com WEBSITE: http://carlajane.50megs.com/Ali00.html

SUMMARY: "The crew of Serenity discover that nothing is quite what it seems." River tries to warn them but her sanity keeps slipping." 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.

"STATUS QUO"

A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Inara was terrified. She could not find Wash and the echoing silence of Serenity was filling her veins with ice. She tried to com the others but either something was interfering with the transmission or Zoe and the others had troubles of their own. Why could things not go smooth? Looking round the empty bridge made her mind scream with fear. She tried to calm down, use her Companion training to maintain control but it was not working. If only she did not feel so alone. So utterly and totally helpless. Slowly she retreated to her shuttle. The one place she still felt safe.

Eyes watched her. Cold detatched humour. They let her go. Run, whore, run. There was nowhere for her to go. He smiled and retreated back to Kaylee. He loved the salty gleam of tears on her cheeks. The undisguised fear and terror was delicious to him. Made him feel powerful. He licked her face and enjoyed the way she shuddered. Kaylee screwed her eyes shut. Jubal Early seemed amused. "Can't shut me out. You know that." He paused. "Maybe I should rape you, what do you think?"

Kaylee's eyes sprang open, wide with panic and pleading for mercy. Oh he liked that, yes he did.

"Your body is mine." He reminded her darkly, eyes watching hers intently. Reading her thoughts as easily as if they were written in letters of fire a foot high. He rubbed a hand down the front of her clothing then shoved it between her legs. Not making any attempt to undress her just toying with her. Enjoying the heightened level of panic he could build in her so easily. "She was wrong about me."

Kaylee did not know. Had no idea what or who he was talking about. She was crying again.

"I didn't torture those dogs." He was idly undoing the buttons on her boiler suit, going slowly to make the terror more delicious. "Just had to teach them who was boss." He paused and frowned at her. "Can't have a dog thinking it can do as it pleases. Does that seem right to you?"

He began to shove his hand through her clothing when something sharp pierced his brain. He closed his eyes and swore, letting go of Kaylee to clutch his head in bright agony. It lasted only a moment then his defences kicked in though it shook him that she had been able to reach him. He gazed unseeing. "You want to play games little girl? Don't play games with me."

River's thoughts echoed in his head. So loud and matter of fact that it shook him. "You're just a mean and spiteful bully."

"Why don't you show yourself? Come with me and I'll let the others go."

"You'll let them go anyway."

"Oh?" Jubal Early turned his head, looking around slowly in an attempt to see where she was. "Why would I do that?"

"Because I can kill you, Jubal."

"He smirked slightly. "I don't think so. If you could do that I'd already be dead."

"Oh but you are," Echoed River's voice eerily. "You just don't know it yet."

* * * * *

Jayne was huffing and puffing so heavily he had no energy to swear. At last they came to the compound that marked the curtilege of the desert stronghold Constance used as her base. Zoe tapped Jayne lightly on the shoulder and they both ducked down. They could not see where Book had slid off to and the dog was nowhere in sight. Zoe swore. That meant the Shepherd and that crazy dog had gone after the Captain right into the jaws of the enemy without even a paperthin plan in place. Wonderful. Why did she have to be surrounded by rutting fools?

Movement in the compound made her duck her head back down. Jayne was looking at her, a crease of worry on his face. "What now?"

"Shepherd's missing."

"*Tamade*."

She nodded, echoing his thought. "Dog too. For now we wait and watch, get ready to back whatever play the Preacher has in mind."

"What's he gonna do? Hit Constance over the head with a prayer and hope for divine inspiration?"

"I'm hoping he'll find a better solution than that."

Jayne grunted and moved slightly so he could see better, counting off the burly men moving around the compound. Wondering where Constance was and what they had done with the Captain. Neither of them wanted to go bowling in with guns blazing if they had a gun on the Captain. Some rescue that would be if it just got him killed.

* * * * *

Jubal Early turned his head slowly, tried to reach out for her with his mind but there was nothing to catch hold of. The wisp of her consciousness taunted him then vanished like vapor through the fingers of his mind. "Show yourself!"

He heard her chuckle. Kaylee's eyes had widened even further, only hearing Early's half of the conversation. Sure that the bounty hunter was completely crazy. "You thought you were so clever."

Early frowned. "Why don't you come out so we can talk, hmm?"

River continued as if he had not spoken. "Thought you could hide it, all the pretty pieces sparkling like diamonds and cut glass..."

He frowned. Only being able to hear not see was doing all sorts of things to Early's imagination. "What are you doing?"

"So many buttons... What shall I press first?"

Alarm shot through him. His ship. She had to be on his ship. But that was impossible. He had hidden it. Sent it away until he needed it. How could she have found it? Out of sight, out of mind, wasn't that the way it was supposed to go? He checked his wrist control, scrolling through the functions. Kaylee for the moment forgotten. Just then he heard a beep and froze in place. A light had come on. "River, don't touch."

She giggled, her merry voice echoing and putting him even more on edge.

"You don't want to touch anything. Just leave the ship alone, okay?"

"You hurt my friends."

"And I can hurt them some more. So you just leave the ship alone and come back to Serenity."

"No. You leave Serenity first."

"I'm not gonna do that..."

Before he could issue a threat his screen scrolled in a mad frenzied tumble. Alarmed Early scrambled out of the hidey hole and dropped the plate down behind him. "River no, don't!" He was raising his voice now, all attempts to appear calm and unruffled abandoned. She could ruin everything. Not just his current plans but his future ones too. That ship was everything to him.

"This was how you survived wasn't it? Tumbling through space you just waited until we were gone then called your ship back to fetch you. Pluck you out of the abyss."

"Seemed the right thing to do."

"You should have died, you know that."

"I'm not going to die. I'm a survivor."

"No, Jubal, you're not. You're a mistake. An aberration. You are the experiment gone wrong."

"NO!" He yelled, hands slapped to the sides of his ears. "You don't know what you're talking about."

"Do too." River said calmly. "They cut you open but you enjoyed it. Began to watch, to learn, to look for the next incision. That was when you started to cut yourself."

His heart froze. How could she possibly know that? "You're guessing..."

"No, Jubal. Your mama knew. Knew why you wanted to hurt those animals. Why you got more pleasure from giving pain than anything else. She couldn't help you or save you."

"That's not true."

"She tried to have you treated but you knew what she was planning so you killed her. Father too."

"They killed themselves."

"No. You did. And you laughed while you did it."

"They should have listened to me."

"They were trying to help you but you were too sick to see. Too twisted to want to get better."

"No, I could have shown them but they wouldn't listen. They were frightened of me. I was their son but they feared me. Does that seem right to you?" He paused. "They should have trusted me."

"You're sick Jubal."

"No! I'm gifted."

"They cut your pineal gland. Such a neat incision. Delicate work. It was supposed to open up your third eye."

"I'm smarter than you."

"No. You just think you are. You can't create psychic ability nor can you force a body of flesh and blood to react like a mind unbound. All they did was make you crazier."

"Where are you?"

A slight pause. "I thought you were smarter than me?" River taunted quietly.

Jubal Early finally lost his temper. The sounds of him smashing up anything and everything he could get his hands on echoed throughout the ship. River said nothing further. She listened, watched and began to move.

* * * * *

The Captain was so rutting tired but at least he was not tied up any more and Constance had let him join her gang round the makeshift fire. He was not sure what the meat was that they were roasting but it smelt mighty good. Tasted better than anything he had eaten since the War. They all ate with their fingers, the hot fat dribbling down their hands. Mal dipped his head to suck the fat off and savour the flavour. Constance sat smiling next to him and that made him frown, his movements arrested by the look in her eyes.

"Relax Mal. I wanted you dead you'd be dead, *dong ma*?" As she finished speaking she leaned towards him, eyes fixed on his, and began to slowly suck the grease off his fingers. The meat in her own hands forgotten. Mal just froze and stared at her. Not sure what to do that wouldn't turn every gun blazing against him. Constance might still have a thing for him but it was touch and go whether it was something that would save him or just put another nail in his coffin. Why did all the crazies have to latch on to him?

"Constance, we still have to plan what we're gonna do about your mama."

She licked his hand and sucked his fingers, watching him closely. He had stopped eating. "Only one thing to do."

He raised an eyebrow. Constance closed the last few inches and kissed him on the mouth then drew back before he could retreat. She acted as if the kiss was the most natural thing in the world between them.

"We're going to Whitefall."

"But you said..."

"I know what I said Mal, I ain't goin' back and that stands." She paused and took another bite from the diminshing half haunch of meat in her hands. "But you can go back for me."

"You said 'we' Constance. I'm not hearin' much we."

She laughed, gnawed away at the bone for a while then sucked the last of the flesh off it before tossing it aside. Looking at Mal she had the sudden desire to strip him naked and run her greasy hands all over him then spend the next couple of hours in front of the fire licking it off again. She resisted the urge to shiver with desire and made an effort to concentrate. "Mama will be expecting to see you more than me."

"Don't get the job done though."

"I'll give you a message to take with you. Somethin' she'll know comes from me."

"How do I know you're not playin' games with me, Constance?"

She looked hurt. Offended even. "I gave ya my word."

He nodded slowly. "How do I know that you'll keep it?"

For a moment they just stared at each other. Constance wiped her greasy hands on the tops of her pants then dropped one hand down to rub the heel hard down his stomach until she could feel him. He couldn't wriggle back in time and she was not in the mood for giving him space. The men just watched and carried on eating. Poised for any action Constance might want from them but equally happy to enjoy the quiet spell. They did not care one way or another about Mal. They only wanted whatever Constance wanted. Big burly men every one. They made Jayne look malnourished. Mal glared back at her trying to control his anger. Constance smiled sweetly and brushed her hand against him so that the pressure and warmth of her fingers lingered through the material. The gesture was possessive as well as teasing but he was not amused. He was annoyed with her notion of fun but she knew not to push him too far. Didn't matter a damn that he was outnumbered ten to one. If he really lost his temper she would end up having no option but to kill him and if that happened everybody would lose. Constance might be rough and ready but she was no fool.

The Captain gave her a level look. "If I return to Whitehall without you I'm as good as dead."

"Don't be so negative, Mal. Mama always liked you."

"No she didn't, she thought I was stupid. Still does."

"Okay so she didn't like you, you could pretend couldn't you?"

"How many times she gotta shoot me before you give up this idea? You, she wants. Me, I'm just an annoyance. Don't make her swat me."

She chuckled lightly then sighed. "Okay Mal, you win for now. But if you don't turn up sooner or later you won't get paid."

"Got half up front."

Constance nodded as if she knew. He raised a questioning brow. She gave a wry smile. "Had to make sure you'd show up."

"*Tamade*. I been played right from the start."

She nodded.

"*Tianna*."

She watched him turn his head. He must have guessed this was the case yet he acted as if he was disappointed. Just then he stiffened slightly. The men around the fire flicked glances at each other without turning their heads. Constance started moving just as rapid gunfire sprayed the campfire. Everybody rolled in a different direction, Constance cursing in Chinese and Japanese. One of the big men, it looked like Cord, spun on his heel as he dropped to his knees and turned his gun on Mal. Convinced the Captain had been setting them up. Just as his muzzle came round in the Captain's direction a blur shot passed him. A rapid spray of bullets, chaos and someone yelling. Captain Reynolds was flung backwards, a round hitting him in the left shoulder but every other shot missing him. Something compact and very hard knocked all the air out of him.

For a moment he was too dazed to take it all in. He could hear Zoe yelling something and what could have been a gruff annoyed response from Jayne. The guy who had fired at him, Cord, had a hand around the Captain's throat but after only a minute his fingers began to relax. Anger in his red face then pain. He yelped and let go in a sudden spasm, the Captain gagging and turning on his side to be sick. He felt something touch his hand and rolling on to his uninjured side felt as if time had shifted suddenly under him. It took a few seconds for him to be regain his focus. A slow smile lit his greying face with joy. "*Yidianr muqin*."

The soft murmur of his voice roused the shattered dog. Mal lay slumped on one side and watched the dog drag herself to him. He felt dizzy, sounds too distorted to mean much to him so he blocked them out. A hand pushing outward to reach the dog. Ruby got to his hand and licked it then nudged his palm with her nose - a soft whimper of welcome greeting him. He sighed, weary beyond words but oddly comforted.

"Good to see you, Ruby. Good girl. There's my good girl..." He murmured, his voice trailing off.

Then rough hands turned him onto his back. A dog growled. A flash of light then a crazy staccato of sounds. When the noises abruptly ended the light failed. Darkness and silence swallowed him whole. At that precise moment the world as good as ended.

* * * * *

Simon had no idea how long he had been cramped in the smuggler's hole. He knew Mal had these little hidey holes all over the ship but had never imagined he would find himself in one. Kaylee helped him rub some feeling back into numb and sore limbs. He ached everywhere and judging by the bruises Kaylee was sporting so did she. He frowned and kept looking anxiously around him. "Wh...where's River?"

She managed a watery smile. "With 'nara."

He blinked and rubbed his wrists. "What happened?"

Kaylee gave her first honest to goodness smile. "She outsmarted him."

"She did? How?"

"Later."

"Later?"

She helped him up, he was a bit unsteady so she helped him to the infirmary. "Wash is going back for the others."

"*Wo bu dong*"

Kaylee deposited him on a bed. Just then Inara and River came into the infirmary and it took Kaylee all her weakened strength to keep Simon still. Everybody looked the worse for wear but they were all alive and in one piece. The only one not present was Wash, he was on the bridge flying the ship. Simon was sitting up, arms wrapped around River. Inara smiling down at the girl as if she was so proud of her. Kaylee sat on the bed next to Simon. He took her hand in his and gave it a little squeeze. "You alright, Kaylee?"

She nodded and bit back tears. Terrified to think how close she had come to losing him. "It was Early."

He nodded. "*Wo zhidao*. How did he survive? I mean, I thought the Captain killed him?"

River looked him in the eye. "He had a remote control for his ship. It was amalgamated into his cuff. That was why he panicked when he realised I was in the cockpit of his ship last time. He was terrified I'd cut the connection between him and his ship then he would have been stranded with us on Serenity."

"And now?" Asked Simon.

"He won't be needing a ship any more."

They exchanged solemn glances. Simon swallowed carefully. "Are you sayin...you....he...?"

She shook her head. "No, Simon. He killed himself. Didn't trust anyone else not to do something to end him so he tried to escape on his own not knowing I'd reprogrammed the ship."

Inara was smiling, a hand gently brushing through River's dark hair. Simon looked at Kaylee but she just beamed back at him. "River, how did you do that?"

A slow smile filled her pale face. "The mind is a computer just like the ship but thousands of times more complex. I knew how he thought so I knew how the ship would think."

"Ships don't think." Said Simon automatically.

"No, but their computers do. I was able to use our computer to talk to his."

Inara tilted her head. "Are you saying Serenity spoke to Jubal Early?"

River shook her head and smiled as if explaining something to a very small child. "No. I'm saying Serenity spoke to his ship. Once I told Serenity what needed to be done she did it. Jubal Early had no choice."

She watched her brother go even paler. "River, what did you do?"

"He wanted to see fireworks." She said simply as if the answer was obvious.

"Fireworks?"

River's expression took on a far away look. It made Kaylee suddenly feel cold. Inara put her arm around the young mechanic's shoulder.

"She blew the ship up." Explained Inara.

Simon's mouth formed a perfect circle. "Oh."

"With Early on it." Added Inara.

Simon stared at Inara as if needing to be sure she was not joking but Inara was serious. He also clearly saw that she had no regrets. "That's.... that's....mur..."

"Justice." Finished Kaylee, her chin set, her eyes glittering and hard with resolve. This was one visitor to Serenity she would never mourn the loss of.

Wash's excited voice brought them out of their solemn thoughts. "We're getting a response from Shuttle 2! Everybody's safe, I repeat - everybody's safe!"

They grinned at each other then Simon slid off the bed. Kaylee glared at him. "Where do you think you're going?"

"I thought I'd uh um..."

"Back on that bed Simon Tam or I'll strap you there!"

His eyes widened. River laughed and hugged Kaylee. Inara went to see what Wash could tell her, her heart going through all manner of butterflies. Not sure what state the others would be in. Wash glanced at Inara and noted her white knuckles as she gripped the back of his chair. He knew she was worried about Mal even if she never said so. Those two were the most stubborn pair he had come across in a long while. As they approached the landing site the com crackled and Zoe's voice floated up to them. "Don't land Wash, we're comin' up. Don't want to be on this ruttin' *diyu* a moment longer than I have to, *donga ma*?"

Wash laughed. "Anything you say, *bao bei*. Are you alright?"

"Shiny."

Wash resisted the urge to look at Inara. "How about everybody else, *xin gan*?"

There was a tiny hesitation. "Everyone's fine, Wash. A few cuts and scratches is all."

Inara knew what that meant but did not say anything. Once Shuttle 2 had docked Wash took them up to the Black and the relative safety of not being planet bound. All they needed was to keep moving and stay free.

* * * * *

Shepherd Book was working away at his weights. They were alone in the hold, Jayne spotting him. For several long minutes neither man spoke. At last Jayne broke the silence. "You knew those men."

"Know a lot of men."

"Did you know Constance too?"

"Why the interest?"

"The way you waded in like that. Killed most of them dead."

"So? They were trying to kill us Jayne and they'd already shot the Captain."

Jayne did not comment on that last assertion. "Funny how Constance was the only one got clean away."

Book's eyes narrowed. "Meanin' what exactly?"

"Nothin'." He paused. "Never saw a critter so shot full of holes come back from the dead neither."

The Shepherd gave him a stern look. "Ruby wasn't dead Jayne. The vest saved her."

The big man nodded. Thoughtful. "River says the dog saved the Cap's life."

He nodded and made no comment. Jayne leaned over the bar and looked intently into the Shepherd's hooded eyes. "So why did you save that *pofu*?"

"You're delirious."

"Am I?" Jayne produced a cloth money bag from his pocket and placed it next to the Preacher's head. "Then how come you got the other half of the Cap's money? Money that was supposed to be on Whitefall?"

The Preacher could not resist a self satisfied little smirk. "The Lord moves in mysterious ways."

Jayne grunted not buying that *gos se* for a minute. "Huh."

Watching the mercenary putting their stuff away as he finished his work out Book hid a smile. He had no intention of telling Mal that Constance had slipped him the money in the firefight and told him to make sure they stayed away from Whitefall. At least until Patience had calmed down.

* * * * *

Cord squinted up through the bright sunshine. Unable to see the ship overhead as it moved away from Eros yet knowing it was there. He did not look at Constance. An easy cameraderie lay between them. Years of companionship. After a few minutes he turned his head and looked at her. "Your mama's waitin', Connie."

She nodded. Acknowledged that she had enjoyed a goodly time off the lead and should not be greedy. "Do you think he'll work it out?"

The big man shrugged. "Does it matter? Got what you both wanted didn't you?"

Constance nodded, not trusting herself to speak. Falling into step beside one of her mother's oldest protectors. Mal did not like to play games but Constance had never let any man stop her having her fun. She sighed softly. It was definitely time to go home and return to the status quo. With luck she would be bumping into Malcolm Reynolds again some day.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*tamade* = fuck *tianna* = oh God *dong ma* = understand *yidianr muqin* = little mother *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *wo zhidao* = I know (something) *diyu* = hell *bao bei* = treasure/baby/darling *xin gan* = sweetheart *pofu* = bitch *gos se* = crap

COMMENTS

Friday, October 14, 2011 8:14 PM

SHINYZOEKAYLEE


So very shiny!!!! I just wish it was longer;) I also would have liked a little more Simon/Kaylee after Early, he didn't quite seem worried enough about Kaylee... I ABSOLUTELY *LOVED* THIS THOUGH!!

Saturday, October 15, 2011 3:03 AM

AMDOBELL


Thanks for all the feedback, ShinyZoeKaylee. As for Simon and Kaylee there are some stories later on where you get to see a lot more of them together. Keep Flyin', Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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