COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS: 25. "Lies And Justice"
Monday, March 28, 2005

"Martin Frye discovers something he wishes he didn't know. Zoe goes after Niska."



SUMMARY: "Martin Frye discovers something he wishes he didn't know. Zoe goes after Niska." 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

* * * * *

The Captain didn't want to move her but with both Simon and Frank urging him to do so he gave in and gently picked Sarah up in his arms, ignoring the offer of a stretcher. Simon shook his head at Frank to prevent him arguing and ladened Mal's uncle down with the equipment he wanted to bring over to the house with them. Martin Frye came out to meet them, his sporadic conversation used to hide the fact that he was watching the Captain closely. As concerned about the man as he was about the burden he was carrying.

Once at the house Mal was ushered into the same bedroom he and Sarah had used before. The bed had been newly made with fresh sheets and fresh flowers had been put in a vase on the dressing table. While Mal got Sarah settled Mrs Frye bobbed around just on the periphery making sure nothing had been forgotten. Simon set up some monitoring equipment on the far side of the bed, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. He took the last pieces of equipment from Frank and nodded his thanks. After a moment's hesitation Frank left the room and joined Mr Frye in the kitchen. The two men exchanged a look. Mr Reynolds dropped his head and would have walked out the front door but Martin Frye stopped him with a few words. "I poured you some coffee."

Frank looked hesitant as if accepting anything at all was a trap. Mr Frye realised the man was nervous, as if his welcome was something not to be assumed. He knew some of it but not the whole story. *Diyu*, he had a feeling even Mal did not know the full story. Curiosity was building into something more fundamental. A deep seated need to know. Only he would not say as much to the man. Didn't want to scare him off before he found out just what in the nine hells was going on. So he held out the mug and waited. In the end manners decided the issue and Mr Reynolds took the coffee and nodded. "*Xie xie ni*."

"*Bu xie*" Mr Frye indicated the table. "Best take a seat though it looks like Sarah's gonna be alright. Mal picked himself a real shiny doctor."

Frank took a deep sip then settled in one of the wood backed chairs. "Uh huh, boy always did know to surround himself with the best."

A little silence fell, both men lapsing into their own private thoughts. After a few minutes Mr Frye spoke again. "Heard tell Mal's from Shadow."

He did not miss the wince of pain on Frank Reynolds' face. "That he is."

"As are you."

Mr Reynolds shot him a sharp look as if wondering what the good gorram he was fishing for. But Martin Frye had the face of a poker player and all the innocent charm of someone just passing the time. "Yeah."

"Seems hardly possible what happened to that world. I'm all kinds of sorry but more'n a mite baffled, truth be told."

Now Frank Reynolds' curiosity was fully piqued. "Oh? In what way?"

Martin Frye took a long sip of his coffee, cradling the mug in his hands as if hoarding the heat coming off it. "Well, I been hearin' some odd things of late. I knew Shadow an' a lot of the Rim worlds bore the brunt of Alliance disfavour. Bombing an' such. Not till this week did I know that any type of biological agent was used on the people. Have to tell ya that was a mighty big shock."

The man shuddered but did not say a word. Martin waited to give him the opportunity to speak but got only stony silence back.

"Kind'a makes sense of the burnin', raisin' the whole damn planet to charcoal an' ash but still don't make it right."

Frank had to put down the mug, his hands shaking too badly to hold it. He put his head in his hands. Martin Frye took the chair next to him, anxious and concerned. "*Duibuqi*, Mr Reynolds, I didn't mean to upset you none. Just tryin' to understand is all."

"*Fang xin*, if it's anyone's fault it's mine." He mumbled.

Stunned, Mr Frye said nothing. With an effort Frank Reynolds looked up. "I was born on Shadow." He said softly, his eyes taking on a pained far away look. "All us folks were. Generation after generation after generation of Reynolds ran livestock on that world. It was shiny back then, soil so rich, grass so gorram green cattle got fat just lookin' at it. We had us a powerful happy community, Mr Frye." He paused and looked away a moment, when he next looked at Martin there was pain in his eyes. "Reckon it started to go wrong before the War."

"*Wo bu dong. Cuode?* How?"

Frank Reynolds gave a bitter laugh. "My brother John was the best rancher among us but I was always lookin' to capitalise on what we had. Bigger, better, brighter. Shinier. Heard tell that there were treatments that could increase the meat yield per head capita of cattle. Small outlay, big return. I was all excited but John was wary. Didn't trust short cuts. If he couldn't see the how an' the why of it he wasn't interested. We quarrelled. Mal's Mama stepped in an' stopped it. Said the ranch was half mine an' if I wanted to introduce any improvements I could do so but on a small scale, *dong ma*? My cut of the herd." He paused and laughed but there was no humour in it. "I didn't know I was givin' the gorram Alliance a gorram foot in the door."

Martin just stared at him. What was he saying? Frank drained his coffee mug and set it down with exaggerated care before continuing. Casting a quick look at the door to make sure they were still alone.

"Sounded so gorram good." He said softly. "I left Shadow for the husbandry fair on Delamont. It was the biggest thing of it's kind any gorram where. When I got there they had every kind of new fangled piece of farming equipment, state of the art guns an' knives - all beyond anythin' a rancher like me could afford. But then I got to the seeds and animal foodstuffs. They had demonstations. Should'a seen it, cattle in a pen near a quarter size bigger than anything we had on Shadow. Checked 'em my own self. Big, beefy, just brimming with health an' from the same root stock as ours. I listened close to everythin' I was told an' it was so mighty impressive I spent all my coin on new feed. Couldn't wait to get home an' tell John. On'y when I got home he told me I was *dai ruo mu ji*. Said I'd been had, conned outta my coin. I was so ruttin' mad thinkin' he was just puttin' me down in front of Mal's mama. Truth was I was desperately wantin' to impress. Her, him, gorrammit the whole gorram ranch."

Martin frowned. "*Weishenme*?"

Frank sighed. "*Cause I loved Jenny Reynolds that's why. Loved her somethin' fierce an' here she was married to my gorram brother, that's why!" He had to pause to get air in his lungs and calm down a mite. "We courted a few months before she took up with John. I had such a gorram crush on her, can see it now. Prettiest thing I ever did see! Didn't last. It was her what broke it up, told me straight that she had feelin's for John an' it wasn't right to be seein' me when she wanted him. Was all kinds of sorry it hadn't worked out but she was just bein' kind." He gave a pained smile that looked more like wind. "No way could I hurt her so when she said what she really wanted I stepped back. No big deal, no problem, on'y it was. For me. I had to carry on workin' the ranch seein' them get closer every day an' shut away the feelin's in my heart pretendin' it wasn't breakin' me up inside. Would have succeeded too but Jenny found out she was pregnant." Breath hissed out of him. "They got married a couple of months before the baby was born." Frank looked at Martin Frye, his look steady. "They called him Malcolm."

It seemed as if lifetimes came and went in the silence that followed. At last Martin Frye shook himself out of his stunned stupor. "What does this have to do with the cattle feed?"

"I was tryin' to find my place. Should'a sold my share to John an' moved on, found another place to call my own on'y I couldn't. Had to be near him, watch my boy grow even if I could never own up to the why of it. I was tied to him. John didn't know, didn't suspect the boy wasn't his an' no way in *diyu* could I break his heart an' tell him. Years came an' went, Mal grew older, John an' Jenny had a child - a little girl." He smiled sadly. "Name was Grace. Never was a child more worthy of a name than little Gracie. Like an angel, kind'a delicate but such a good girl. Always lovin', always full of joy an' never happier than when she was with Mal." He laughed lightly but there was a painful ache in it. "For the longest time I just held on an' more years passed an' pretty soon no one wondered why I'd never married an' never wanted to leave home. But I still wanted to make my mark. Wanted Mal to look up to me for somethin' other than the uncle he thought I was. So when I heard about the special feed I got excited. Thought here was an area where I could shine. If I could capitalise on what we had, increase the profit for the ranch then folks would be looking up to me."

"You were tryin' to buy your son's love."

Frank blinked. "I wanted him to respect me, look up to me. Was that so wrong?"

Martin did not answer the question. "What happened with the feed? You said it was your fault, what was?"

"It weren't no ordinary feed, Mr Frye. It had been treated, what with I never did know. I took some cattle to one side an' fed 'em. Kept the feed bags separate from everything else in the small barn I had built for the purpose. Little Gracie was so inquisitive, wanted to know what I was doin' an' what it was about the feed that was so special. So I decided to make her part of it, let her put her little hands in the bag, feed the cattle her own self. She was so happy, thought she was helpin'. It was only later when she got sick that things stopped bein' so shiny. Even then I never put two an' two together."

Mr Frye's eyes widened in horror. "Gorrammit! You tellin' me handlin' that feed poisoned Grace?"

Tears gathered in Frank Reynolds' eyes. "We thought it was some kind'a fever. Doctor was almost a day from Shadow but John went his own self to fetch him an' I stayed to look after the family. They looked to me to care for 'em can you believe that? Me? After what I'd done."

"Did you know?"

"*Wode ma*, 'course I didn't know! Least not then. John came back with the doc but by then Gracie was in a coma, in delerium the doc called it. Not nothin' nobody could do. Mal was beside himself with grief, John an' Jenny weren't no better. None of us had a clue what the gorram could have happened. No one else got took sick. Within three weeks Gracie had died."

Martin closed his eyes. Were all the stories from Shadow destined to be sad ones?

"It was a month or so later when the first of the cattle died. Mine not theirs. John was worried it would pass to the other cattle but I kept my small experimental stock separate from the rest. The vet didn't have a clue what had killed it. When none of the others took sick we began to relax then one day I went into the small barn to get the feed ready when one of the cattle dropped in front of me. Just fell to the floor, no co-ordination at all. Sweat so slick you could smell the sickness. I was real fightened by now, convinced it was that gorram miracle feed. Put my own gun to its' head and pulled the gorram trigger. Then I did the same with the rest - thirty five head of prime cattle. I burnt the remainin' feed an' bodies. John tried to cheer me up sayin' it was just a bad batch of feed." His eyes were glassy with tears, cheeks wet with crying. "But nothin' he did was a comfort. All I kept rememberin' was how little Gracie used to feed 'em, put her little hand in that gorram bag of blue."

"Frank," Said Mr Frye carefully. "If you think her touchin' the feed poisened her then you should have got sick too."

"*Ni bu dong*, I never did put my hand in the bags. We got an automated feeder, *dong ma*? Ya just tip up the bag in the top and the contents go inside then the machine distributes it into the feeding troughs. On'y Gracie liked to hand feed."

Mr Frye bit back a groan, his heart sorrowing. "Does Mal know?"

"*Shenme*? You think I could tell him a thing like that?"

"Tell him a thing like what?"

The two men froze then slowly turned, Frank Reynolds face going whiter than a ghost.

* * * * *

"We'll on'y get one shot at this." Said Zoe grimly, her eyes going to each of them, wanting to impress on them the need to get it right first time.

River nodded then looked at the Preacher. "We can get started now. Time for you to help."

Shepherd Book blinked at her. "What do you think I can do?"

"You have the codes."

Something flickered in his eyes. "I think there must be some mistake...."

She shook her head. "No, mistake. I can see inside your brain. It's cluttered but not like normal people. Everything pigeon-holed and in its' place. More library than storeroom."

"I...." River stepped right up to him and grabbed his hand. "No time for excuses, the clock is ticking *dong ma*?"

Wash and Jayne exchanged a look. Zoe frowned hard at the Shepherd and wondered who he really was. As sure as she had ever been that whatever his real name was it wasn't Book. He had been fearing something like this but how could he refuse? If he did there was no telling what secrets would slip from the girl's lips even though he had been pretty careful to hide them. "What do you want me to do?"

They were now sitting side by side at the Cortex screen on the Kingfisher's bridge. Zack moved back to give them room and shot Monty a quizzical look. The big man gave a little shake of his head and Zack relaxed. Jayne Cobb was curious and tried to get an angle of view over the Preacher's shoulder to see what code he tapped in. But the Preacher was a fly one, knew only too well what his crewmates would be thinking and entered the code so quickly that the eye could not follow all the detail. Except River. An uncomfortableness trickled through his body as he looked at her. When she smiled he actually felt more uneasy. How much had she seen? How much did she know?

The screen changed, various password protected gateways opened up which River passed with ease. She almost looked bored with the simplicity of it. The last gateway she did not attempt to access, her eyes turning on the Preacher once again. "Your turn."

Book tapped something in then pressed his thumb against a blank plate. They all realised it was a fingerprint analysis port. What that told them about the man amongst them sent chills up and down their spines. Jayne frowned but said nothing. Wash began to feel that they might have been safer dealing with Niska on their own but he could not say that. Once inside the holiest of holies River's fingers flew over the keyboard. Wash looked stunned and impressed. Jayne confused. Zoe kept shooting a glance at the Shepherd but he said nothing at all. Inara Serra squeezed Kaylee's hand then glanced across to find Monty looking at her. An odd expression in his eyes. Then he turned his head away and stepped off the bridge. Inara had the urge to follow him, ask what that was all about, but she wanted to see what River found first. Whether this was going to work or whether they would soon be running for their gorram lives with elite Alliance troops in hot pursuit.

It didn't happen. Instead some kind of activity seemed to be going on at the facility. She leaned closer, her eyes narrowing. "River? What's going on?"

River grinned, not taking her eyes off the screen. "Housekeeping."

Jayne scowled at the crazy girl. "Housekeeping?"

Just then a series of huge explosions rocked the complex, one seeming to set off the next then the next until the concatanations reduced the whole gorram place to a box of fireworks exposed to a naked flame. Zack moved the Kingfisher back as concussive waves of energy spread outward like invisible rings warping the space around them. Jayne whooped and shoved his fists in the air. Monty came running back and let a wide smile of pleasure split his face in two. Truth to tell he had not really believed they could do it, now nothing could keep the grin off his face. He just wished Mal could be with them to see it.

It was the sombre tone of Shepherd Book that instilled a measure of calm into the mayhem breaking out all around him. "I suggest we move away from here as soon as possible."

"Relax, Shepherd!" Said Wash happily. "We're the only ones out here, let's enjoy the moment."

Book did not smile. "As soon as the integrity of that place was breached a signal would have gone in tight beam burst to the Alliance Control Centre. As we speak warships will be scrambled to make their way to this sector to investigate. It would be best if we were not here when they arrived."

His words sobered their celebrations. Zoe nodded and looked at Monty. "Think maybe the Shepherd's right."

Monty nodded, still smiling, and patted Zack on the shoulder. "Turn this ship around, Zack. Let's get back to Carousel."

Jayne's face twisted into a scowl. "Hey! What about the gorram milk run?"

River smiled and poked a finger against his chest. "Consider it done, *dong ma*?"

"Huh? You sayin' there ain't no milk run?"

The others smiled and chuckled as the ship turned and sped away from the scene of the crime. "An' to think people reckon you're slow." Said Wash in a mock-disbelievin' voice.

"I can break every bone in your body, little man." Growled the mercenary.

"An' I can hurt you so bad you'll beg for death." Said Zoe.

The mercenary blinked into the face of a stone killer and decided not to push with the threats. When everyone had relaxed somewhat on the journey back he did take the time to sidle up to Wash and whisper in his ear. "One day you won't be able to hide behind Zoe."

"An' one day you'll get yourself a sense of humour. We won, big man, hear that? No more nightmares, no more Niska. I'd call that a win."

To Wash's relief the angry look vanished and a big happy smile slopped over his face. "Yeah," He said. "Any one ya walk away from."

As the Kingfisher sped away from the scene the haze over the part of the moon where the complex had stood obscured a small craft taking off in the opposite direction. Heading for the dark side of the moon and the beacon that would take it by hyperspeed to its' next port of call. The single passenger fingered the remote self destruct device with pleasure and deep satisfaction. While he may not have got what he wanted at least he had ensured no witnesses had been left behind. He was pathologically thorough and that was both his virtue and his vice.

River fell silent. Her thoughts drifting on so many levels it was hard to keep track of the Here and Now. Seeing her distraction Kaylee slipped a hand in hers and gave her a smile. "You alright, River?"

Her friend looked at her a little dazed. Kaylee squeezed her hand.

"You did good. No more nightmares."

River nodded, part distracted by something she could not name. She frowned slightly as if she should recognise what it was when a word popped in her head. "Synchronicity."

Kaylee blinked. "Is that good?"

A thoughtful look came over River's face. Trying to grasp something just out of reach. She glanced once behind her, frowned, then looked out of the front window. "'Verse can't function without it."

* * * * *

"How much did ya hear?"

The Captain frowned at his uncle. What kind of gorram question was that? "Just you sayin' whether you should tell him a thing like that. Am I the him an' if so what the good gorram you not gotta tell me?"

Mr Frye did a spot of quick thinking. "Just worryin' about Sarah, Mal."

"What about her?"

"What if she don't wanna stay?"

The Captain frowned, his attention focused on Kaylee'e father. With a feeling of relief Frank Reynolds managed to get himself back under control, silently thanking Martin Frye for not giving him away. Though his diversionary tactics involved plunging them in yet another emotional minefield. "Why would she do that?"

Martin Frye realised he had already said too much. Seemed he couldn't open his gorram mouth but to change feet. *Tian Yesu* where was his wife? She always did handle this kind of thing better than he did. "Just thinkin' with all that's happened she might find it too painful."

The Captain gave a little sigh, his shoulders sagging. His uncle moved up to give him room to sit at the table. "I appreciate you worryin' Martin but that's somethin' that'll be up to Sarah, *dong ma*? Not that I wouldn't be puttin' my case, just don't think it's up to me to be speakin' for her."

He got a nod back then the three men got into small talk. A few minutes later Mrs Frye joined them and stirred her husband into making them all a hot drink while she finished off the pot of soup she was fixing for the Captain. Mal tried to head her off, not wanting to put her to any trouble on his account. Sure he was too rutting tired to eat anyhow. But Mrs Frye was not a woman to be diverted from something once her mind was made up. She fetched a bowl and began to fill it with a thick beef and vegetable soup. Despite his protestations he had to admit it smelt mighty good. "You're in my house Malcolm Reynolds an' I won't have ya wastin' away from lack of good eatin'. Best you sit tight an' don't be even thinkin' of movin' outta that chair 'til you eat every last spoonful, *dong ma*?"

He opened his mouth then shut it with a snap, trapped in her caring smile. There was warmth and compassion, friendship and love in that look. Made him think this was how little Kaylee would be. It brought a lump of pride to his throat. If that hesitant doctor of his didn't marry Kaylee then he wasn't a fraction as smart as he claimed to be. Top three per cent or not anyone with eyes could see that girl would make any man a fine wife. He blinked, startled at his own musings as the wonderful aroma from the the bowl of soup wafted its' way to his senses. He could feel his stomach rumble. Sure did smell good. Looked good too. "That's mighty fine of you, ma'am..."

She put a spoon in his hand then took some warm bread out of the oven and passed a goodly sized piece to him. His eyes widened with appreciation. "Now, ya get eatin' *mashang* or do I have to feed ya my own self?"

It was amusing to see his ears redden but even Malcolm Reynolds knew this was one battle he would not win even if he had a mind to fight it. With a smile he gave her a nod, eyes twinkling but warm with thanks. "If it tastes as good as it looks I may have to take you away with me on my boat."

"Think I might have somethin' to say about that, Cap'n."

Mal chuckled at Martin Frye then began to eat. He closed his eyes on heaven and missed the smug look of satisfaction that passed between Kaylee's folks. Frank Reynolds began to get up when Mrs Frye placed a hand on his arm. "Plenty more soup, Mr Reynolds." She said quietly, offering a flag of truce. Whether it was for Mal's sake or his own he could not tell. "Reckon you could do with somethin' to warm you up too."

He thought of protesting but didn't have the strength and truth to tell he cherished even a stranger's kindness. Emotionally and physically drained he accepted a bowl and ate slowly to make it last. Comforted to be sitting next to his son and savouring what might be one of his last opportunities to do so. These were good people. Yet every mouthful of their largesse made him feel even more wracked with the guilt he carried. Was there no end to it? And how in the nine hells could he make it up to Mal and find forgiveness? It seemed impossible to Frank Reynolds that there would be any peace in the 'verse for him. Not ever again.

* * * * *

By the time the Kingfisher landed everyone in the Frye household was fast asleep. It was night time and no one had the heart to wake Kaylee's folk. Wash tried to hide a yawn and failed. Inara smiled. "I think we'll stay on Serenity tonight and tell everyone what happened tomorrow."

Kaylee looked concerned. "Do we have to?"

"I would imagine it would ease the Captain's mind to know that Niska is dead, Kaylee." Said the Shepherd. "After everything else that has happened some good news will be a welcome thing."

"Besides," Said Wash around a mighty yawn. "I can't wait to see his face when we tell him."

They began to walk off the Kingfisher, each saying their goodnights to Monty and his crew and thanking him for his help. Inara could not help but notice how distracted River was. Even when they were back on Serenity the girl looked out of it. Inara touched her shoulder gently to get her attention. "River, *bao bei*. Are you alright?"

River turned her head slowly, eyes looking all around her but seeming to see something else. Then she looked at Inara and blinked lazily like an owl, her thoughts collecting slowly in someone else's cup. "Hard to spot the magician's hand when there are two not one. When both act in concert which one wins the prize? Is one any more true than the other or are all lies no more than brothers in arms mocking justice?"

Inara raised an eyebrow and looked over River's shoulder at the Shepherd. He gave a little shrug. "Perhaps we will all feel better after a good night's sleep." The girl turned and seemed suddenly lucid as she gazed at the Shepherd. "But you knew that, didn't you? You knew the vulture would be more cunning than the fox."

Jayne scowled but before he could say anything River gave an exaggerated yawn and took herself off to bed.

Everybody drifted off to their bunks, Zoe hanging back to lock up then taking the metal stairs two at a time until she got to her bunk. Wash joined her shortly after having stopped off at the bridge to check all was well. Zoe imagined Kaylee had done the same with the engine. Some habits were hard to break. She stifled a yawn and got into bed just as Wash finished undressing and slid in alongside her, a big self-satisfied smile on his face. They kissed and fooled around a little then mutually agreed to sleep. Too tired to want much beyond the comfort of each others' arms. Zoe watched her *zhangfu* settle and wrap himself around her until they were both warm and snug. She sighed and relaxed into his welcome warmth but oddly enough, tired as she was, it took her a long time before she could drop off to sleep.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*xie xie ni* = thank you *bu xie* = you're welcome *duibuqi* = sorry *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *cuode* = wrong *dong ma* = understand *dai ruo mu ji* = dumb as a wooden chicken *weishenme* = why *diyu* = hell *wode ma* = mother of God *shenme* = what *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *tian Yesu* = sweet Jesus *zhangfu* = husband *mashang* = on the double/quickly/right away/immediately *bao bei* = precious/treasure


Monday, March 28, 2005 6:50 AM


The anonymous was me - not sure what happened!

Monday, March 28, 2005 8:58 AM


Good stories inside the bigger story. I was surprised, though, that no one on the Kingfisher was surprised to see explosions when they had planned on just letting-out the air.

Monday, March 28, 2005 10:24 PM


Ooh. And the plot thickens. Some more. Loved - ""An' to think people reckon you're slow." Said Wash in a mock-disbelievin' voice." And Jayne's "Any one you walk away from" response.

And now Book's looking all manner of shady! *rubs hands in glee*

Poor, poor Frank. Noble death seems the man's only option now ...

Tuesday, March 29, 2005 5:28 PM


You know, I finally learned I need to stop predicting what's coming next because I am always way off. It's a great talent being able to throw curve balls, and you've definitely got that skill down cold. I'm just so intrigued by Book. I'm not going to try and figure him out. I'll probably just be wrong, again. But hey, being wrong isn't a bad thing when it comes to reading your stories. I like being surprised. Yeah, now that I've rambled a lot I guess I will sum it all up with two simple words: GREAT JOB! =o)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011 8:21 PM


Ack, poor Grace!!! Absolutely tragic!!! A BLUE bag eh?...That color is all kinds of creepifying. Shiny chapter, great job!


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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.