BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE

AMDOBELL

NO DOMINION: 11. "The Rescue"
Thursday, September 4, 2003

"Finding Captain Reynolds becomes the first step in the long journey back. Atherton Wing is not so lucky."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2677    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "THE RESCUE" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY"/"ENTERPRISE" PAIRING: No specific pairing. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: New. SEQUEL to "ALLIES AND FRIENDS". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: AlisonMDobell@aol.com WEBSITE: http://carlajane.50megs.com/Ali00.html

SUMMARY: "Finding Captain Reynolds becomes the first step in the long journey back. Atherton Wing is not so lucky." The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly' are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. 'Enterprise' and its' characters are the property of 'Paramount'. No infringement of copyright is intended.

"THE RESCUE"

A "Firefly"/"Enterprise" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

PERSEPHONE - THE WING ESTATE

Lord Warwick waited until the servitor laid the tray of wine and glasses on the small highly polished and ornate side table and left. He looked keyed up. Intense. Though outwardly calm Inara could sense the tension coiled within him and knew he misliked this charade though he would play his part well. "I don't like this, Inara."

She felt just as unsettled but knew that only by keeping calm could they keep their wits sharp about them. "It's just Atherton impressing on us the fact that this is his estate. His home. His place of power."

Their eyes met. Both knew that this was not what had been bothering him. Lord Warwick called on some inner reserve of patience and made a conscious effort to relax. "For the time being that is certainly so."

She read his meaning clearly in the dark glitter of his eyes. "What will you do if...?"

He moved closer so he could drop his voice. "I have a selection of the other Lords standing by in the grounds and some of my men are with them. If you and your friends are correct," He paused a fraction. "And we find what we are expecting to find I will need witnesses from the nobility to back my claim."

Inara did not speak. She nodded. The understanding between them was perfect.

"I just hope," He said with cautious severity. "That we get to him in time."

* * * * *

Jayne was all for rushing straight in once they had waited the ten minutes Inara had insisted on. Shepherd Book eased himself in front of the mercenary causing Zoe to raise her eyebrows. Up until now the Shepherd had said little but she knew better than to underestimate him. Man of God or not he knew far too much about the ways of men to be ignored. Each wore the earwig com unit so they could keep in touch with each other and Serenity. Inara and Lord Warwick had been furnished with identical devices. Lord Warwick also wore a concealed com unit of his own so he could keep in touch with the other Lords and his own men. Now they needed to get their timing and orientation correct so they could move fast and accurately about the estate before Atherton's security realised the grounds and the building had been infiltrated. They had minutes at most and all knew it.

The Shepherd eased in front of Jayne. "I'll go first."

The mercenary glared at him. "No offence Preacher but you'd be best bringing up the rear. So's you can mumble words over the dead."

Zoe put a hand up and they fell silent, wary eyes on each other. Zoe spoke quietly into the discreet com. "Kaylee, you got anything?"

Kaylee's tinny voice echoed quietly in their ears. "Yeah, if you take the entrance Inara used don't go left like she did. Take a right. I'm guessing from what she said about fortifications that we're looking for rooms with the thickest walls, *dui*?"

"Yeah, thicker the better. What you got?"

"Follow the right corridor and keep going, there's rooms off to the right and left - ignore 'em."

Zoe took up the lead and eased through the door Inara had left unlocked for them. The Preacher came next then Jayne. They hurried as fast as they could without breaking into a dead run. Some of their speed sacrificed for keeping the noise down. No sense in announcing their presence before they had to. "Now what, Kaylee? We've come down a long corridor into what looks like a small hallway of some kind. There are two corridors now, one at a left angle and another going straight on."

"Straight on. That leads you to the farthest wing of the estate. More isolated."

"In space nobody can hear ya scream." Murmured Jayne at the back.

Zoe shot him an annoyed look. "You ain't helpin' Jayne."

He muttered something barely audible and fell silent. So pumped up all he wanted to do was kill and seeing no ready targets was beginning to really piss him off. What was the use of adrenaline pumping through your gorram veins if it had nowhere to run to? They carried on, the sounds of their footfalls becoming quieter and quieter. Zoe frowned and glanced down at her feet. It was the Preacher who explained in a voice so soft that it made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. "Sound proofing." He said.

How the hell did he know a thing like that? Zoe hissed into her com. "Kaylee?"

"Go ahead, I hear ya."

"How thick are the walls now?"

A slight pause. "About three times as thick as everywhere else."

Zoe and Book exchanged a look. "Someday Preacher you're gonna have to tell me what you did before you became a Shepherd."

"Or not." He responded simply.

She did not like to think how that response unnerved her. They slowed right down now. Not wanting to race passed the one door that might lead to the Captain. Zoe made a hand sign and they split up, each picking a door. Zoe put her ear against the first door. Nothing. No sound. No movement. She looked up and noticed the Shepherd was not listening at his door, he had his left palm flattened over the wood panel and was very slowly moving it over the surface of the door. Zoe frowned and straightened. "What are you doing?" She hissed.

He did not look up. "Checking the heat."

She blinked. "Heat?"

"Wherever they're holding the Captain will be warmer than the unused rooms."

Zoe frowned. "How do you come to that conclusion?"

He gave her a look which made her shiver and did not reply. She decided it was better not to know. The first eight doors led to empty rooms. But the ninth. The ninth was a charm. As soon as Book put his hands on the door his head jerked up and he nodded, stepped back and gripped his rifle. Jayne took his cue and charged the door, nothing so subtle as picking the lock. Inside was a scene from anyone's worst nightmare. The Captain half-stood and half-hung from the manacles above his head, his back towards them, head hung down, body sagging. A gaunt frightened looking man shrank back from them and moved closer to the Captain. It was almost as if he did so for his own protection. The Preacher swore and went quickly over to the Captain to see how badly he was hurt though the bloody gashes across his back told their own tale. He was alarmed to also see injuries across his chest and the blood crusting his left ear. Captain Reynolds was barely conscious.

Zoe took a moment to get her breathing under control. "Kaylee? We found the Captain."

The young mechanic whooped down the com. It took Zoe two goes to get her to listen.

"Tell Simon we need him here. NOW."

On the other end of the com Kaylee gulped. "How bad...?"

"Bad enough that he might die while I explain it to you, *dong ma*?"

She could not help the snap in her voice but this was no time to be worried about hurt feelings. They had come to rescue their Captain not redeem a corpse.

* * * * *

In shuttlepod 1 Trip, Malcolm and T'Pol were quietly discussing tactics. Simon had been idly tuning in and out to their conversation. As no one seemed to be interested in drawing him into their discussion he had let his mind wander a little. The sudden crackle in his earpiece made him stiffen. He turned away from the others and listened intently. When Zoe finished he quickly acknowledged that he was on his way and turned to the others. Sub-Commander T'Pol raised an eyebrow. The three of them stopped speaking as he moved towards them. His features grave and somewhat pinched with concern. They held their breaths.

"They've found Captain Reynolds. He's injured."

Trip nodded. "Okay, we'll..."

Lt Reed cut him off. "No, you stay here Commander. Someone has to stay with the shuttepod in case we need to make a hasty exit." He glanced at the Sub-Commander. She nodded, no expression on her face.

"I will stay with the Commander."

He nodded and took his phase pistol out of its' holster then looked at the doctor. "After you, Simon."

They ducked down and ran across the manicured lawn to some thick decorative hedges. The Lieutenant didn't care how pretty they looked just so long as they provided the necessary cover. He looked at Simon to ask him which entrance to make for but he had already sped off again and with a curse he was forced to follow. Simon got to the door and paused only long enough to make sure Lt Reed was behind him then sped off down the right hand corridor. He had his medkit in one hand, the other hand cradling his ear. Kaylee gave him rapid but precise instructions, his feet did not pause. Not caring now how much noise he made. A sound in the distance behind him only vaguely impinged on his conscious mind. He heard the discharge of Lt Reed's phase pistol but did not look back. When he got to the small foyer Kaylee directed him into the correct corridor and now he was certain he was coming to the right location. The splintered remnants of a door scattered in the hallway told him Jayne had not brought a key either.

When he got to the room he sucked in a deep breath then pushed his way passed everybody to get to the Captain. An old man was kneeling at the Captain's feet. He looked distraught, a shirt hanging on a painfully thin frame making him look older than his fifty years. Eyes bright with intelligence raised to meet Simon's. He reached out to ease the old man back. "It's okay, I'm a doctor. I'll see to him now."

Biv nodded and got shakily to his feet. He stepped back but did not go out of the room. Simon dipped his head so he could look up into the Captain's downturned face without lifting his head up. He did not want to add to any pain the man was already in. "Captain, can you hear me? It's Simon."

He saw the lips move and felt a small surge of relief. He was still alive. "S...Si-mon?"

"Yes, I'm here with Zoe, Jayne, Book and some friends."

The Captain fought to clear his head. The dull drumbeats of pain seemed to have cut him off from the rest of his body. The sensations he could feel seemed too far away as if they belonged to someone else. Eyes flickered and opened a crack, vision blurring making him feel seasick. He had to close his eyes just to stay conscious. Biting back the rising bile. "Didn't know ya had any friends, doc..." He murmured.

Simon smiled tensely, eyes worried and pained. Biv watched him open his medkit, eyes widening as he saw the quality of the drugs in it. No rim world copies here, these were the real deal. A hundred per cent undiluted medication. "You're, you're a doctor?"

He hardly glanced at Biv. Loading up a syringe to inject the Captain with painkillers. "Yes, my name is Simon."

Biv watched him fill the syringe and gently inject it into a vein. Somehow the Captain managed to raise his head and opened his eyes enough to fix them on the doctor's face as the painkillers began to take effect. "Best gorram doc in the 'verse, Biv."

Biv smiled and felt himself relax. Instinctively knowing that his friend was now in good hands. Simon tried to shush the Captain. Wanted him to save his strength.

"What for?" He slurred, eyes already closing like heavy weights.

He ignored him and looked up at the Preacher and Jayne. "Now, if you could please take the Captain's weight. We need to get him out of these manacles and out of here."

Book and Jayne carefully lifted the Captain. Biv moved closer to Simon. "He took the key."

"Who? Who took the key?"

The old man swallowed hard, determined not to shame his friend and cry. He had been so brave how could he be any less? "Atherton."

Behind him he heard a hiss, half turned and saw the look on Zoe's face. He cringed at the murder shining in her dark eyes as she raised her weapon. Biv closed his eyes. Shook as a shot rang out, then jumped as a second shot followed the first. When he felt no pain he opened his eyes and was startled to see that she had shot the manacles off the Captain's wrists. There was a bloody graze along the left wrist but that was all. He stared at her. Mouth hanging open. Book and Jayne were about to lay the Captain on the bed when they saw it was already heavily stained with the man's blood. A look of anger and distaste distorted the Preacher's usually calm features. "*Wu de ma*, what kind of animal is Atherton?"

"The kind I'm gonna enjoy puttin' down." Growled Jayne.

Another voice cut in just then. A cool cultured voice. "No one is putting anyone down."

Still holding the semi-conscious Captain in their arms, Book and Jayne looked back towards the door. Startled to see Lord Warwick Harrow and Inara standing in the doorway. The room was so crowded now that it was beginning to make Zoe feel a mite claustrophobic. Simon stepped forward, as close as he could get to his patient. "We need to get him back to Serenity as soon as possible."

Lord Warwick cast an anxious look in the Captain's direction. Simon could hear but not see Lt Reed speaking to someone in the corridor outside. "I'm afraid the Captain won't make it to your ship in time."

Simon opened his mouth to protest but Lord Warwick held up his hand. Simon froze. The man had a commanding presence. An authority about him that automatically assumed control of the situation. Having been brought up in the echelons of the monied classes he responded to him in kind. Lord Warwick clicked his fingers and waved Zoe and the others out of the room. Only Simon, Biv and the Preacher remained. Jayne glowered darkly at Lord Warwick but a look from Inara was enough for him to go meekly enough in the end. Then half a dozen men filed in, their faces grave and solemn. Each wore the sash of Lordship. Lord Warwick nodded to them and they gave curt nods back. "Gentlemen, I regret that I must show you Atherton Wing's handiwork first hand."

Several of the men looked discomfitted. One openly looked shocked. He walked over to the Captain and noted the injuries on his back then indicated for Simon to turn him gently so he could check his front. Simon looked up at Inara, ignoring Lord Warwick. Inara bit her bottom lip and nodded. Reluctantly he began to turn the Captain over, surprised when a pair of light boney hands joined his to help. He looked up and saw Biv's compassionate face staring back at him. A tiny nod and they eased the Captain over, Simon flinching at the slow moan of pain easing from cracked and bloody lips. Biv gently brushed the hair off the Captain's forehead. Simon wondered what the old man's story was and why he was hovering over the Captain with such concern. Was he another prisoner of Atherton's?

Lord Cresswell swore and stood up from where he had been kneeling. The other Lords one by one came and looked, their voices silent, but the anger in their eyes speaking volumes. They converged on Lord Warwick as if no one else was in the room. Simon was annoyed, restless, wanted to get the Captain out of there but Inara's look held him in place. Rutting hell why the pantomime? While the great and the good were conferring the Captain was dying.

"Atherton Wing did this you say?" Said Lord Cresswell.

"Yes." Said Lord Warwick Harrow.

Lord Deter frowned. "It is hard to believe one of our own could do this. It is completely against our code of honour."

Before Lord Warwick could say anything else Biv walked over to them. Ignored until he opened his mouth to speak. "My name is Biv Daniels. I was once a member of your august company, landed gentry. A Lord with lands and titles to my name. I lost them in gambling debts. Debts Atherton Wing drew me into then paid until I was his."

Silence fell like a guillotine. Every eye was now on the quiet unassuming man standing like a pale ghost of himself before them.

"I was his creature for nine years. Kept in servitude to 'pay off my debt'." His words were bitter. As he spoke he began to undo the buttons on his shirt. The Lords exchanged worried glances but said nothing. Biv continued, his voice soft but clear as a bell. The shirt fell from numb fingers. "Atherton did not want to be paid back in money, gentlemen."

He turned with what dignity he could muster and in the silence their gasps of horror rang a death knell for Atherton Wing.

* * * * *

He remembered nothing of the journey back to Serenity. Later Biv would tell him how he had roused briefly before they took him, insisting that he would only go back if Biv went with him. The man had tried to argue but the Captain was nothing if not stubborn. In the end his will held and Biv acquiessed. Unwilling to see the Captain's condition deteriorate because he would not yield. And truth to tell there was nothing left for him on Persephone. Inara had hugged Lord Warwick surprising a twinkle in his eye. He really was very fond of her. Then there were brief farewells. Only Lt Reed insisted on knowing what would happen to the perpetrator of this grisly crime. Lord Warwick gave the Armoury Officer a level look.

"He will be taken before a court of his peers. A Higher Judiciary Court will hear the witness of what he has done then sentence will be passed."

"Yes," Said Lt Reed impatiently. Watching as many hands helped to carry the now unconsious Captain out across the grounds to the waiting shuttle. "But what will happen to him?"

For a moment Lord Warwick cocked his head and considered him. The others were trailing across the lawns to leave. For a moment he stood alone with the Lord in the grounds of the Wing Estate. A light wind touselled his dark hair. "Once sentence has been passed he will be taken to a place of lawful execution and hung from the neck until he is dead."

Malcolm gasped. It was no more than the man deserved but to hear it so calmly stated was something else. He watched Lord Warwick raise an eyebrow. No emotion on his face.

"You think the sentence too harsh, Lieutenant?"

He shook his head. "No, just surprised that you would be so certain of the outcome before the trial."

"I already knew of his guilt, Lieutenant. All I lacked was the proof."

"Isn't hanging barbaric?" An almost feral grin parted grim lips. "It is better than he deserves. True justice would be to do to him what he did to Captain Reynolds."

Lt Reed nodded. "Very Old Testament but you do have a point." He paused then thanked Lord Warwick for his aid and for providing the compliment of guards to help him secure their passage out of the grounds without Atherton's security coming down on them. One thing puzzled him. "I do have a last question though, if I may?"

A slight smile dusted the Lord's austere lips. "What is that?"

"Where is Atherton Wing?"

The first real smile he had seen on the man's face blossomed like a radiant bloom in the desert. "You do not need to worry about Atherton Wing."

He angled his head. Curious. "I don't?"

"No. And neither does anyone else. I believe he is even now trying to explain his actions to the other Lords." He gave a smug little pause. "You see, while we were searching for the Captain, my men were searching for Atherton. He had given instructions for myself and the Companion, Inara Serra, to await him in the reception room. When we left that room I instructed some of my men to take our place so that when he arrived we could detain him. Naturally I suffered the loss of his expression when he realised he had been neatly caught in a web of his own design."

Lt Reed grinned back. He really liked this man. Cool under fire, coldly calculating but not overly brutal. A man who could lead you calmly into battle and more importantly bring you just as calmly back out of it. Suddenly the notion of chivalry, honour, and swordfights at dawn seemed a civilised life to lead. He held out his hand. "Thank you, sir. It has been a pleasure to make your acquaintence."

The eyes twinkled again, a firm handclasp. "When Captain Reynolds regains consciousness be sure to pass on my regards to him. I intend to visit him when he is again well enough to receive visitors."

"You seem very sure that he will recover. Those were extensive wounds."

A smile tugged at Lord Warwick's lips. "I see you do not know the Captain as well as I. You will find he is not a man easily bested."

With that intriguing comment ringing in his ears Lt Reed hurried to catch the others up. He was almost back at the shuttle before he did so.

* * * * *

The detour to the hospital on Persephone calmed Simon a little but not much. While they had better facilities that he did back on Serenity he was nervous now of being anywhere but on his own territory. Fortunately he had more people guarding his charge than enough. He kept looking at the Enterprise Commander, Trip Tucker. The man never seemed to smile much but when he did it lit up the whole of his face and just drew people to him like bees to honey. Yet he saw a darkness in him. A sadness and pain that burned deep. He had insisted on piloting shuttlepod 1 in the role of escort to Inara's shuttle. He had not argued seeing the sense of it. He did not think the Captain could survive any more surprises just yet. Then there was Biv. Simon watched the man watching the Captain, a look of calm content stealing over his face when the surgeons pronounced that his condition was now stabilised.

Simon discussed their patient at length with them. Oversaw their work and was pleased to see the neat sutures and the medication taking effect. There would be some ugly scars but at least the Captain would heal. Recover. Their little family would again be complete. He thanked them then they were off again, back to Enterprise, back to Serenity. Tired he had to smile when the first face that greeted him on his return was Kaylee. Her anxious face was split into smiles of relief and joy. When he looked at her he saw nothing but goodness and hope. He smiled back. "You got the Cap'n? He okay?"

Zoe answered for him. "Yes, he's okay. Just needs to rest and heal now."

Kaylee frowned, her frown deepening when she saw them carry the Captain off on a stretcher. He looked pale and his face was bruised, a pad over his ear. She couldn't see his other injuries but noticed the drip in his arm and felt her heart lurch painfully. Shepherd Book touched her shoulder. "He's going to be alright, Kaylee."

"What did that *wangba dan* do to him?"

"He tried to break him."

Kaylee went pale. Her hands began to shake so she clasped them together. Watching as everyone went passed until only her and the Shepherd stood beside the empty shuttle. "Like....Niska?"

He put a comforting arm around her. "Not Niska. Besides, the man responsible is in custody now. The authorities on Perspehone will deal with him."

She raised eyes brimming with unshed tears and looked at him. As if he held all the answers in the 'verse in his well travelled hands. "Why does everyone wanna hurt the Cap'n? He don't deserve it."

"No, no he doesn't and not everyone wants to hurt him."

"No?" Her voice sounded lost. Not quite believing.

"I'd say more people were trying to help him than harm him, Kaylee. We came looking for him and you know we wouldn't have given up until we found him. Then there are our new friends on Enterprise, they sent people down to help. Inara got the help of Lord Warwick who incidentally got the rest of the nobility behind him..."

Kaylee's eyes went wide at the mention of the nobilitly climbing down off their high horses to help the Captain. Hugely impressed. "Wow! All them people lookin' out for the Cap'n?"

He smiled gently back at her. "Yes, Kaylee, 'all them people lookin' out for the Cap'n'." He mimicked back.

She laughed and he hugged her with one arm. "Come on, let's go and see what these people do for food around here."

* * * * *

Captain Jonathan Archer listened to the whole story with a look of astonishment on his face. He was aboard the scruffy little transport ship Serenity having accepted the invitation to come and dine with the Captain and his crew. Captain Malcolm Reynolds was nothing like he had expected. For one thing he was amazingly stubborn, charismatic and had the most warped sense of black humour he had witnessed in a long time. But he saw the way he bonded with his rough and ready crew, the unspoken affection that flowed between them. An easy going cameraderie that never crossed the bounds of Captain and Crew yet somehow made them closer. Family. He envied that familiarity. He ran a fairly relaxed style of command on Enterprise and his men and women respected him but he never knew if it was chiefly respect for his rank or himself personally. He could see by this crew that Captain Reynolds had achieved both. And now. To his surprise, the very man at the centre of his thoughts was sitting up at the head of a large heavy oak table regaling them with stories of their time in space. What they referred to as the Black. The others chipped in with observations of their own or playfully corrected their Captain when he wandered a bit off topic or kind of got the sequence of events out of kilter.

It was playful banter and he loved it. He watched Trip's animated face as he soaked up all the tales. It was a joy to see his friend this relaxed. Almost blunted the memory of what the Xindi had done to Earth. The loss of his sister Lizzie whom he had doted on and adored. At his darkening mood, Captain Reynolds smoothly shifted the storytelling over to Jayne. The big man happy to oblige with tales of his own derring do while he concentrated on the Captain of Enterprise. Though he had more stitches in him than a tapestry quilt and was bundled up with bandages which virtually kept him rooted to his chair, you would not think he had been hovering on the brink of death mere days beforehand. The man had to have the constitution of an ox.

"Captain Archer, I want to thank you and your fine people for all your help."

He smiled. "Please, the name's Jon, and as for the thanks I'm embarrassed to admit it was my fault your ship got banged up."

Captain Reynold's eyebrows shot up and his eyes widened in mock alarm. "You banged up my boat? *Tianna* is nothin' sacred?"

Jonathan Archer grinned. "I can't explain what happened but my helmsman seems to think we fell through a hole in the sky. A doorway, window, chute - whatever it is. We seem to have travelled to either some alternate universe or through time. Maybe a bit of both."

Sub-Commander T'Pol stiffened at his side. Her protein meal forgotten. "There is no such thing as time travel, Captain."

Opposite her Trip turned away from Jayne's story and rolled his eyes. "Ya tell 'em T'Pol, and while you're at it tell 'em there's no such thing as aliens."

The meal lasted hours but no one was complaining. Simon noticed the Captain was getting tired and inched his way nearer to him. Trip was telling them about the time he had been stranded on an asteroid with a violent alien, both struggling to survive in the fierce heat long enough for their ships to rescue them. Captain Archer watched with a smile on his face then turned to Captain Reynolds, noticed how tired he looked. His face still too pale for comfort. "Captain..."

"Mal."

Captain Archer paused and gave a deep smile, pleased to drop formalities. "Mal. I hope you don't take this the wrong way but we have a pretty efficient infirmary of our own and very gifted doctor. I'd like him to take a look at you. Maybe help..."

The banter round the table faded away. Both crews listening. "That's not necessary Jon, I got the finest doctor in the 'verse right here."

He nodded, tried not to sound patronising or to cause offence. "I don't doubt that Dr Tam is very gifted but we have medical advances and techniques that may speed up your healing process."

Captain Reynolds' answer was interrupted by the doctor himself before he could get a word passed his lips. "Captain, I would like to see this infirmary for myself if you don't mind?"

The Captain looked at Simon for a moment. "Well, I guess if it's alright with Captain Archer..."

"Absolutely. Our Dr Phlox may not be conventional but he's done things I wouldn't have believed possible."

"And if I'm going to be looking around their infirmary it might be a good idea to get a second opinion." Simon ventured carefully.

For a moment everyone held their breath. Inara came in at that moment and walked over to Simon, her quizzical look going from his face to the Captain's. Captain Reynolds seemed to be considering something. His voice came out soft but clear. "You are determined to have me fussed and pawed over until the 'verse goes cold ain't you, doc?" Simon smiled slightly. "I just want the best for my Captain." That produced two raised eyebrows and a startled look. Around the table there were a few muffled chuckles quickly disguised as throat clearing when the Captain turned his head. Captain Archer caught Trip's eye and they exchanged quick grins.

"Is that so?"

"*Tian xiao de* we may never have this opportunity again. So what do you say Captain?"

"I suppose it wouldn't hurt to take a look." He responded cautiously.

The brilliant smile that broke over Simon's face was almost worth the awkward moment. Looking down the table he cast his eye over his crew, extra chairs having been drafted in to make room for the senior staff of Enterprise. It seemed every gap and space in the commons had a body lounging in it. Felt a mite cramped but it was a good cramped. And these people felt like honest folk. His eye caught Biv's and he saw the man nod. His mood lightened. He looked Jonathan Archer in the eye.

"If we're goin' what're we still doin' here?"

They laughed lightly and the conversations resumed. Simon got Jayne to help him with the Captain, Biv trailing along behind them with Kaylee, Trip, Malcolm and Captain Archer. Hoshi had managed to wangle an invite to the dinner and was so caught up in conversation with the Shepherd that she stayed behind. The man was fascinating and his explanations for their bi-lingual familiarity was a revelation to her. "And you're saying Earth was destroyed 500 years ago?" She asked in a hushed half-scared voice.

"No child, I'm sayin' in our 'verse Earth-that-was got used up as the Captain would say. Her resources ran out. So the people left, terraformed new Earths. Some with the new technology and some not. The richer planets, the ones that embraced the new technologies and garnered great wealth, became the Core Planets. The Alliance is like a governing body complete with their own military and political infrastructure. They wanted to bring all the planets within their rule only they weren't too subtle about it."

Her eyes widened. "You mean there was a War?"

"Child you have no idea." Book shook his head sadly. Unseen by either of them River had crept out of the shadows. She quietly sat on a chair behind the Shepherd. "They waged a long and bloody war against any who opposed them. Those that valued freedom stood against them, small often technology poor worlds. Those that fought were called Independents. They finally lost in the last battle of the war, the Battle of Serenity. It was a terrible and bloody time. Families were devasted. Worlds destroyed. Men and women orphaned by the thousands. Those that survived exiled from their homeworlds."

She read much in his quietly spoken words. "Were you exiled?"

A long silence. "Not exactly exiled, child."

"My name's Hoshi." She corrected gently.

"Hoshi." He said solemnly as if making a promise. "I'll remember that."

"What happened to you?"

"I did many things. Travelled to different worlds. Learnt many things. But God has a way of giving you his gift whether you want it or not and no matter where I went or what I did I couldn't ignore his call forever."

"His gift?"

Shepherd Book smiled at her, a faint twinkle in his eyes that said he might possibly be alluding to something else. But it was too subtle for Hoshi to be sure. "Faith."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*dui* = correct *dong ma* = understand *wu de ma* = mother of God *wangba dan* - bastard *tianna* = Oh God! *tian xiao de* = God knows

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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.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: 1. "Gift Horse"
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.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 11. "Inside Out"
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 DICHOTOMY SERIES: 10. "Masks"
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.