Thursday, March 24, 2005

"Zoe pieces it all together while Serenity's crew rally around Sarah. The fallout for Sarah and Mal is not quite so shiny."



SUMMARY: "Zoe pieces it all together while Serenity's crew rally around Sarah. The fallout for Sarah and Mal is not quite so shiny." 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

* * * * *

Wash Warren stared at his wife in undisguised disbelief. "What you're sayin' *bao bei* is beyond *shenjingbing*. You have to be mistaken!"

"Trust me, *zhangfu*, I wish I was."

The pilot blinked then looked at the cortex screen again. They were in shuttle 2, half the crew off searching for Sarah, the other half moving about the ship like ghosts. This revelation simply adding to the feeling of unreality. Wash took in the details of the girl. Just a slip of a thing really, not much more than seven, slender as a beanpole with lively eyes and long dark brown hair. Even though the message was 'live' Zoe insisted the girl had died before the War. Gorrammit, was there no getting away from the gorram War? Wasn't it enough with the Captain living and breathing it without his wife doing the same? But he didn't have it in him to speak his thought aloud knowing he would hurt her and he couldn't do that to Zoe for anything in the 'verse. "You have to be wrong, sweetie. If this was her she'd be, what? River's age? Kaylee's?"

Something in his gorgeous but deadly wife's demeanour tightened but he had no idea why. "Never said I could explain it, Wash, though I do have a theory."

Wash blinked, his mind churning through the events of the last couple of months. A horrible thought congealing in the pit of his stomach as if something loathsome had died there. "*Bao bei*, you said this wave was bait?"

She nodded, tight lipped and fair humming with tension. "I'm seein' the same hand connectin' the dots."


She nodded, feeling sick. "I think Niska planned this, *zhangfu*, from cradle to grave - literally." Wash just stared at her. "I think after we rescued Mal from the Skyplex and that *tamade hundan* escaped he spent every spare moment he had plotting revenge. Man like Niska won't be beaten, *bao bei*. His pride won't let him admit defeat."

"How did he do it? I mean, Mal's sister died a long time ago. How would he know that?"

"Do you remember what the Captain said when he and Monty got back from Shadow? He said they'd taken all the gravestones."

Wash paled. "You mean...?"

Zoe nodded, tight lipped. "*Qu*. One thing you have to give Niska, he's one thorough and twisted *liumang*. Everything he does is planned to the very smallest detail. I think he went to Shadow rooting around for information about the Captain. Anything that would give him an edge, a lever. He had the gravestones removed then the coffins."

"But *bao bei* the coffins would have been useless to him. After 9, 10 years the remains would be rotted away. Bones an' dust."

"*Wo zhidao* but that's not why he took the coffins."

Surprised Wash turned in his chair and gave her a searching look. "What do you mean?"

"I think he did his research Wash then went to Shadow to check the details. Found the graves and knew just who had been lost there. He had all the gravestones and all the coffins removed to hide the fact that he was only looking for one. Grace's."


Zoe took a deep breath. It was painful even now to talk about. Her memories of little Grace were not that clear, the girl had died the year after she and her father had settled on Shadow. Her own mother having died on board their ship the fall before. In the short time they had been settled on their ranch carving a new life for themselves the Reynolds had made them feel welcome and Mal had made a point of regularly stopping off to see if they were alright, if they needed anything. Sometimes he let little Gracie sit cradled in his arms on his horse when he rode over. The most striking thing she remembered about the little girl was that Mal adored her. Now here was Mal's nemesis, Adelei Niska, using that memory and twisting it to his evil purpose. "This isn't Grace, Wash."

He looked relieved but also confused.

"I think that *goushi buru wangba dan* must have tracked down a picture of her, not sure how but with a man of his resources shouldn't have been too difficult. Then he went looking for someone as close to Grace's looks to meet his purpose."

Wash could hardly believe anyone could be that bitter and twisted or go that far to crucify a man who's only crime was being too noble to do the *liumang's* dirty work for him. "So this kid on the wave is actin'?"

She nodded. "*Qu*. That's why as soon as Mal got the wave he moved every heaven and every earth to get to Shadow. As impossible as it seemed he had to check, had to know. Reassure himself that Grace was still on Shadow."

The pilot went cold. At times he had been all too aware of the dark places in the Captain's soul that sent a chill through him. "That's why he was so upset about the headstones?"

"An' why he dug down lookin' for the coffins. According to Monty he was diggin' with his bare hands. Through the ruttin' snow. Not nothin' Monty said would stop him."

He shivered, unable to get warm. "You don't think he thinks... that Mal believes..?"

Zoe shook her head. "*Bu qu*. Cap'n knows this wave isn't from Grace but I'll bet he's had nightmares every night since he got the message. Going to Shadow was the only way he could reassure himself that she was still resting in peace."

A wave of pain caused the pilot to close his eyes. It was not a physical pain but one that tore at his heart and soul and filled him with sorrow. "*Xie xie shangdi* that *tamade hundan* is dead."

"That," Said Zoe slowly, choosing her next words with care. "Is the other thing I wanted to talk to you about."

* * * * *

When Simon got the call from the Captain, Inara and River were with him on the bridge. Everyone on tenderhooks waiting for news. The initial euphoria dampened by the fact that Sarah was bleeding heavily and too poorly to be brought in by horseback. Simon quickly agreed to come out to them, checking the co-ordinates a second time before ending transmission. He glanced at Inara. "We'll need Wash to drive the mule."

River shook her head. "Too bumpy and he's busy. Distracted."

They looked at each other. Inara didn't want to waste time working out what she meant. "Forget the mule Simon, we'll take my shuttle. It'll be quicker and more comfortable for her."

Relieved he nodded. "I'll just get my things."

As he raced off the bridge, Inara turned to look at River. "You said Wash was distracted?"

"Distracted. Sad. Doesn't understand that the vulture doesn't always feed off the dead. Sometimes he likes his meat warm."

She shuddered. Suddenly glad she hadn't asked the question while Simon was still present. River shook her head.

"Can't wrap him in cotton wool. Stronger than you think especially when it matters."

"River, when the others get back tell them we've gone to collect Sarah in the shuttle, *dong ma*?"

"*Qu*. Tell Simon, two patients not one."

Before she could respond River danced over to the doorway. "Going to find Kaylee now. Needs to hear the good news."

Inara blinked. Good news. Finding Sarah was good news but part of her was apprehensive, concerned about how it would affect the Captain and how that in turn would affect her and the crew. Quickly she hurried to her shuttle just as Simon got there with his medical bag. Once on board she ran a rapid pre-flight check then took off, heart pounding as she keyed in the co-ordinates then swooped out over the rolling grassland. It took minutes, less than an hour. Jayne looked up at the sound of her engine, waved a hand then dipped his head in the cave to let Mal know. Shepherd Book was kneeling next to Sarah, the Captain holding her hand and whispering calming words to her. What the good gorram he was doing that for Jayne had no idea, especially with her being all unconscious and all. But wasn't his place to query the why of it. "Cap, Inara's shuttle is here."

He nodded and looked at the Shepherd. "You ready there Preacher?"

"Whenever you are, Captain."

"On the count of three then, nice an' easy. One, two, three."

Sliding their arms gently under her they lifted as one, Mal wincing at her quiet moan of pain. Slowly they backed out of the cave just as Simon and Inara came running from the shuttle. Simon realised it was best to get her inside as quickly as possible. It would do her no good being lifted, set down, and lifted again. In silence they went to the shuttle and started to board. Jayne hung back and spoke to Book. "I think I'll ride back, Preacher. Return the horses."

Book nodded approvingly. "Good idea, Jayne."

Whether the Captain heard him or not was a moot point. All the man was focused on was the girl lying in a pool of blood on the Companion's bed. Inara didn't mind, her own concern only growing as she got her first glimpse of the state of the girl. She knew better than most the risks a woman ran when attempting to abort a baby without the medical expertise and know how to do it properly. Her eyes shifted to the Captain, took in the worry and concern he could not hide, the sorrow on his face, the hurt in his eyes. A conversation she had had with Sarah only hours before she had gone to Simon replayed over and over in her mind.

*You're a Companion?*

*Yes, Sarah, I am*

*Do you mind if I ask you a question?*

At the time that had amused her. Looking back it was not so funny. *Qing, what is your question?*

*I've heard tell that Companions have the means to self terminate unwanted pregnancies. Is that true?*

Once Inara got over the initial shock of the unexpected question they had talked around the subject for a minute or two before she asked Sarah point blank. *You told Mal?*

The girl had shaken her head. *No.*

Inara had not had any problem in refusing her request. *Then I can't help you.*

Now, staring down at the deathly white face of Sarah Moore she felt a twinge of conscience. Not that she had refused to help Sarah abort the baby but that she had kept quiet about it. The least she could have done was alert Simon.

* * * * *

River came up the ramp with Kaylee, Monty, Frank Reynolds, Johnny Carr and her parents just as Zoe and a pale faced Wash exited the spare shuttle. Inara had docked minutes before. Zoe wanted to know what had happened. Surprised then relieved to hear that Sarah had been found and feeling a little guilty that she had locked herself away with Wash while everyone else was out looking for the poor girl. The insight she had gained though was a heavy cross to bear. Kaylee took her parents up to the commons area and got some water on for a drink. Mrs Frye flicked worried eyes over everyone. "Sarah gonna be alright?"

Zoe had no idea. Simon was operating right now to seal a tear she had opened up. Naturally the Captain was with her, so was Inara. "Guess we'll know soon enough."

Mrs Frye bit her lip. Her husband squeezed her shoulder. Kaylee tried not to cry, River sliding close, her pale face tilted towards her friend. "It's not the physical wounds you should worry about."

Alarmed, Kaylee's eyes widened. "*Shenme*?"

"Be good as new on the outside," Said River.

Kaylee wanted to ask about the inside but was scared. Didn't want to think of nothing bad happening. If they lost Sarah she didn't think the Captain would survive it. Maybe that was what River meant? Just at that moment Inara and Shepherd Book joined them. River smiled brightly at the Companion. "Home for tea."

"Yes, River, home for tea."

Even though no one felt like eating Mrs Frye decided to put herself to good use and asked where they kept the food. For a while the banging of pots and pans, the busy work at the stove and the stilted banter between crew and family gave the ship an air of normalacy. Shepherd Book eased passed Monty and John-Jo and smiled at Mrs Frye. "Perhaps I could be of assistance?"

With a smile Kaylee's mother waved at all the little cupboards and such that passed as storage for the dry goods. "I'd be obliged if you could help me make head or tail of where you store your food." He chuckled. "We have a *unique* filing system, Mrs Frye." He smiled mischievously and cast a sidelong glance at River who caught his eye and poked out her tongue. When Mrs Frye turned her head to see who he was looking at River looked as if butter wouldn't melt in her gorram mouth. But Mrs Frye had a whole passel of kids and wasn't fooled none by the saintly nonchalent air. The Shepherd showed her where everything was, her expression changing to one of sympathy when she looked in the drawers full of assorted colours of unappetising cubes.

"Protein cubes. We have every shade you can think of and some you can't."

She smiled as if pained. "Shepherd Book, if you and this crew have been livin' off this *goushi* it's no wonder y'all thought my table was paradise." His smile was warm and genuine. "Oh you're table would be paradise even if we were eating the Core's finest."

Her delighted laugh broadened the Preacher's smile then the two got to work turning the unsavoury fare into something approaching pallatable. Mr Frye chuckled and hugged Kaylee. "So, Kaylee-girl, this is my first settin' foot on this boat of yours. How about you show your father what's so shiny about it?"

He could not have said anything better guaranteed to lighten her worry. Inara smiled and took over the tea making. When she next looked round there was no sign of Zoe, Wash and Monty. John-Jo was sitting at the table along with Frank Reynolds. On the catwalk Monty's eyes widened as he heard the full of it from Zoe. "*Wode ma*! I knew it was a mistake to go to Shadow but you know Mal."

Zoe's look if anything got even grimmer. "But that ain't the worst of it."

He stared at her, flicked a glance at Wash standing rigid and subdued beside her. "Then best you tell me."

"Not here."

With a nod he followed Zoe to the spare shuttle, Zoe pausing to kiss her husband and send him back to the commons area. Didn't want no one getting suspicious as to where they had disappeared to. "We won't be long, *zhangfu*."

He wanted to tell her she was wrong but couldn't. The plain truth of it was he didn't know. Wash could only hope that the doom-laden scenario she had outlined for him was just that. A scenario. A blueprint that would never now become fact.

* * * * *

It was not a long operation. Normally Simon would not have allowed anyone to remain in the infirmary while he operated unless he needed their assistance but the Captain was so intimately involved there was probably no way of excluding the man and living to tell about it. Not that he could bring himself to be that cruel. For his part the Captain was quiet and self contained, his expression one of grave concern. Once the operation was over, Simon went over to the sink to wash up, the Captain settling in a chair by the head of the bed, holding one of Sarah's tiny hands in his.

Simon watched him surreptitiously while he cleaned up taking in the man's rough almost bruised appearance where lack of sleep and worry had caused dark shadows to appear under his eyes. "She'll sleep for a good few hours Captain. You should do the same."

His nod was barely movement, his focus not straying from the woman's face. "*Xie xie ni*, doc, but think I'll stay right here. Don't want her to worry any if she wakes up alone."

He could have argued, bullied and cajoled the Captain out of the infirmary but letting him stay was not that big a concession. "Okay, but I really do insist you try to rest yourself." Seeing the Captain's look turn to scowl he hurried to explain. "You'll be no good to Sarah when she wakes if you can hardly stay conscious so my advice is sleep when she does, *dong ma*?"

The Captain turned his head and looked at the doctor, a glimmer of amusement in his sombre eyes. "You sound like my moma."

At Simon's startled expression Mal gave a soft snort.

"She gave the exact same advice to one of my cousins on the birth of her first young 'un..." Mal's voice trailed off as recent memories kicked in. Pain shattered in his eyes and he looked away not wanting Simon to see how upset he was. The doctor pretended not to notice and opened a cupboard, pulling out a couple of blankets and a spare pillow and putting them on the spare bed. "Call me when she wakes up or if there's any change."

He got a nod of thanks and let himself out of the room shutting the door softly behind him. Mal sighed then looked down at Sarah's pale face, his heart aching when he thought of how gorram close he had come to losing her. Gently he brushed the hair off her face and dropped a light kiss on her forehead, whispering for her to get well and not to worry, that he wasn't going nowhere. He glanced at the other bed and decided it was too far away. As a compromise he got up and picked up a blanket, wrapped it around himself then settled back in the chair alongside Sarah's bed. He wanted to be within arm's reach if she needed him.

* * * * *

The commons area was a quiet hive of activity. Mrs Frye and the Shepherd were serving up just as Simon joined them. The subdued conversations stopped at a stroke. Kaylee couldn't stand the suspense. "Simon? Is Sarah gonna be okay?"

He gave her a tired smile and looked at the little sea of anxious faces waiting for his response. "*Qu*, she should make a full recovery."

Sighs of relief echoed round him. River pulled another chair alongside her and Kaylee and her brother gratefully lowered his weary body into it. Kaylee glanced back at the door, unable to keep the worry out of her voice. "An' the Cap'n?"

"He's sitting with her for a while. I left him some blankets and a pillow, suggested he caught up on some sleep at the same time." He had to put a hand over his mouth as he yawned. "Seemed the thing to do."

Kaylee smiled at his unconscious use of one of the Captain's expressions.

"Looks like you should take your own advice," Said an amused Mrs Frye.

* * * * *

Monty stared, not quite able to take in what Zoe was telling him. "You sayin' this whole gorram thing was a set up?"

She nodded, feeling his anger building much as hers had done. There was a kind of comfort in that. "That's exactly what I'm sayin'."

Monty might not be as devious as Mal but he wasn't no backbirth neither. "What about Ty? Doc said he was infected which is why we got took sick. Don't make sense if the land's been scoured."

"I think Ty was infected deliberately, Monty."

His eyes widened, following the trail of her thoughts. Horror added to the anger on his face, his blood all but boiling in his veins. "*Shenme*?"

"Niska wanted Mal, wanted him bad enough to plan this down to the last sick detail."

That was when she showed him the original wave. Monty did not go back as far as Zoe did with Mal. Had never seen little Gracie still less heard anything about her. By the time Mal and Monty were busy fighting the gorram Alliance no word of her ever crossed the Captain's lips. But there was a familiarity about her that made him give Zoe a keen look. "Who's this?"

Zoe hit play and the frozen image became animated, the accent so like the Captain's that she could see the cogs turning inside his head. "She isn't family, but the girl's the closest match I've ever seen for the Captain's sister."

Monty frowned. "Didn't know he had a sister."

"It was a long time ago, Monty. Gracie died of the fever when she was only 7 years old, before the War." She paused. "Mal idolised her."

Now he was really confused. "*Wo bu dong*."

She explained her theory about why the headstones and coffins were taken and watched as the pieces slotted together in Monty's head. His outrage was only muted by the need to form speech. The frantic scene down on Shadow when Mal had become almost beside himself with grief at the absence of the gravestones, the way he had fallen to his knees in the snow and begun to frantically dig down with his bare hands looking for the coffins. Hands coming up empty, all the sorrow and agony in the 'verse wracking him with pain and unbearable loss. Tears pricked Monty's eyes. Mal and Zoe were his friends, as close as any kin could be. What hurt them hurt him and this bespoke a level of cruelty unfamiliar to even his war veteran's heart.

"Are ya sayin' Niska had Ty infected?"

Zoe nodded. "Wouldn't put it passed him an' it makes sense."

His eyes narrowed. "How's that?"

"Niska did everythin' he could to hurt Mal, to punish him for escapin' his clutches. He must have found out that Ty was a friend then turned that to his advantage. He wanted Ty to die slowly which is why he had the *jianyu* built but even that wasn't enough for that *shengjing tamade hundan*. He infected him so that whoever found Ty would get sick too."

"How could he be so sure Mal would fall for it?"

"Who else would return to a dead world he's been exiled from just to put his ghosts to rest? Mal got that wave an' even though he *knew* Gracie had died all them years back the images would have played over and over in his mind, giving him no gorram rest. Niska would have counted on that. So Mal came up with a way to return to Shadow and check for himself. He expected to find everything much as he had left it but he needed to make sure we didn't try to stop him. If I had known what was going on he would never have gone, not even if I had to tie him hand and foot!"

"So that was what Christmas was all about?"

"Don't let the Shepherd hear you say that, Monty."

Her attempt at lightening the mood had no impact. Monty was so mad all he wanted to do was find that twisted *liumang* and tear him limb from limb. "Where is he? Where is this *goushi buru meiyou muqin de xiao gou*?"

"Apparently he's dead."

A silence fell so heavy that it was almost painful on the ears. Monty stared at her then fixated on the one word. "Apparently?"

Zoe nodded then shared her greatest fear with her friend.

"We have to tell Mal."

She shook her head, her look adamant. "*Bu qu*. Cap'n's been through enough."

Sparks hummed in his eyes like smouldering fires. "Zoe, it ain't right to keep this from him. Man has a right to know."

"You think I don't know, Monty? But this isn't somethin' he needs now. He's got enough worry with losin' the baby an' almost losin' Sarah. You want him to lose his mind as well?"

There was a pained silence then Monty forced himself to calm down. "*Duibuqi* Zoe, I wasn't thinkin'." He paused. "What we gonna do?"

"What we should have done when Simon had that chamber rigged to detonate in Niska's medical complex."

Monty knew many of their troops called Zoe 'the stone killer'. She had that look in battle that could stop a man dead seconds before the bullet she carried hit him. That look was in her eyes now only it was even more deadly. The calm that accompanied it sent a shiver down his spine. "Now we check, make sure that evil *wangba dan* really is dead."

"Zoe, there's no way we can do that without Mal gettin' wind of it. When he does he'll be all kinds of unamused."

"I've thought of that. He'll be tied up with Sarah for a while, won't be leavin' her side not for anythin' until she's fit an' well an' they figure out where they wanna go from here. That leaves us to go an' find a job. We'll fix somethin' up, tell Mal it's a milk run. Take the worry from him."

"This could all blow up in our faces, Zoe, you prepared for that?" He knew she was but needed to hear it for his own self.

"I been with that man through levels of hell the Preacher couldn't imagine. Not gonna let a *liumang* like Niska do this an' get away with it."

He took a moment to think through everything she had said and exactly what lay behind the words. What this could cost them. "An' Wash? What does he say?"

"Wash has tasted Niska's hospitality first hand. We discussed this an' there's no way he wants to be left behind. Reckon he'll sleep a mite better himself once he's dead." She paused. "So. There's only one question left needs askin'." She paused again, her eyes locked on to Monty's. Not a shadow of humour or flicker of warmth now in her face. The stone killer was back and this time was seeking company. "Are you in or out?"

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*bao bei* = precious/treasure *shenjingbing* = crazy *zhangfu* = husband *tamade hundan*/*wangba dan* = fucking bastard *qu* = yes (lit. go) *liumang* = asshole/bastard/criminal/gangster *wo zhidao* = I know *goushi buru* = lower than dogshit/lowest of the low *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *xie xie* = thanks *shangdi* = God *dong ma* = understand *qing* = please *shenme* = what *goushi* = crap/dog shit *wode ma* = mother of God *xie xie ni* = thank you *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *jianyu* = prison *shengjing* = sick *meiyou muqin de xiao gou* = motherless fucker *duibuqi* = sorry


Thursday, March 24, 2005 7:40 AM


WTF? That was me above. I'm logged in, though...

Thursday, March 24, 2005 10:35 AM


The more I read this, the more and more I really want to be the one to kill Niska for good. Maybe you can write me into the story. "And out of the sky leaps KaySky. Flying through the air with a sword in her hands, her angle is just right so that the sword meets Niska's neck. That was all it took. One good swoop and the man's head rolled down the hill." Yeah okay, that's not going to happen, but it makes me feel better by saying it.

I loved this chapter like all the rest. Please don't keep me hanging too long before your next post. Great Job!

Saturday, March 26, 2005 11:56 PM


Just when I think you've put Mal through every kind of torture, you come up with a new one! Ooh, that Niska! You've done a great job on him.

I was glad to see Inara's part in the abortion cleared up - I was worried Mal was going to strangle her! I liked the post-operative scene with Mal and Simon too - Mal upset, Simon knowing and pretending not to notice. Very in character.

And I see there's another chapter up! Saving that for tomorrow ...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011 7:30 PM


Oh that Niska is one *tamade hundan*... Great job on this!!


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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.