THE FORGOTTEN REALM: 13. "The Right Thing"
Saturday, November 8, 2003

"The Captain tells the crew what the Sheriff has confided in him. Alarmed they are even more concerned by his proposed solution."



SUMMARY: "The Captain tells the crew what the Sheriff has confided in him. Alarmed they are even more concerned by his proposed solution." 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

* * * * *

"Captain, this is all kinds of wrong!" Said Zoe. Her expression as tight lipped as he had ever seen it. Concern self evident in her dark eyes.

They were in the dining area of the commons room. Some seated around the big old table others too keyed up to settle. Jayne was scowling at him, leaning on one wall with his arms folded across his chest in open disapproval. Zoe was pacing. River sat next to Simon. Kaylee and Inara flanked Yen Mah almost protectively but she did not seem to notice, her eyes glued to the Captain's still face. Shepherd Book stood a few paces from the Captain, positioned so he could see all their faces. Wash wanted to calm his wife but he knew that look too well. Best let her get it out of her system. For all their sakes.

The mercenary spoke as if grinding marbles between his teeth. "You can't trust him, Cap. He's a lawman and I'm findin' a whole mess of things creepifying about this whole business."

The Captain nodded slowly at Jayne then glanced meaningfully at Zoe, acknowledging their concerns. His expression was grave. "More at stake than just Yen Mah." He said carefully, voice soft, eyes almost apologetic as they rested briefly on the girl.

She wriggled to free herself of Inara's hand but the Companion wrapped her free arm gently around her and bent her head to whisper in the girl's ear to calm her. Kaylee slipped her hand in Yen Mah's and gave it a gentle squeeze. Reluctantly she stopped struggling but did not look happy. Simon was giving the Captain a curious look. "Exactly what did the Sheriff say to you, Captain?"

"Enough to convince me that Yen Mah is one of hundreds, maybe thousands, of children being used and abused like this." He paused as several of the crew took startled breaths. "This is no small time operation. The Sheriff thinks we have a real chance to stop this but it requires our help."

"What kind of help?" Asked Wash suspiciously.

"Not sure yet. I was a might cautious when he told me so he said I could go with him. No need to drag the rest of you along for the ride."

They looked even more anxious now. Zoe's look was almost thunderous. "I hope you told him what he could do with that suggestion, sir?"

He almost smiled. "Did so. Told him if we helped it'd be all of us or none."

Simon raised an eyebrow. "You spoke for us?"

The Captain shook his head. "No, that's what this meetin's all about." He paused and looked at their faces. "Martin says Yen Mah has a gift. Kind'a like bein' able to predict the future or somesuch. Can't say I really understand all he said."

"Precognitive ability." Offered Simon.

The Captain turned his head to look at him. "What?"

"The ability to see into the future. To predict events. It's one of the paranormal abilities that used to be attributed to witches."

Yen Mah shrank back against Inara. "Yen Mah isn't a witch." The Companion asserted firmly.

"No one's sayin' she is," The Captain cut in quickly.

Simon gave Inara an apologetic look. "That wasn't what I meant, Inara. I'm just saying it's a natural ability that is stronger in some people than others. We all have various psychic abilities only they tend to be weak and diluted in most of us. Hammered out of our consciousness by practicality and an unwillingness to accept anything beyond our normal five senses."

"I ain't psychic." Said Jayne bluntly, his look fierce as if to challenge anyone who said differently.

Simon's hand fluttered towards his head then dropped back into his lap. "I wasn't saying that Jayne, not about you or any of us. The most obvious remnant is what we call gut instinct. That sixth sense that tells us when something is wrong or someone is watching us that we can't see."

A thought occured to Mal. He walked over to Yen Mah and hunkered down in front of her. Inara watched him cautiously. The Captain looked into Yen Mah's eyes and spoke his mind. "When you found me in that alley Yen Mah you said something about choosing me. Called me your *pengyou*. Can you tell me why you did that? Ain't no reason you should have had any call to trust me."

Her eyes were wide dark pools, they seemed to swallow his pupils. Trap him in their depths. "I saw you, knew you."

He shook his head. "See, that's what I'm not gettin' here, Yen Mah. How d'ya know?"

Yen Mah reached out a hand and touched his face. He did not move. No one spoke. "I have to stay with you or they will find me."

"Who?" He asked softly. You could have heard a pin drop.

"The men. Bad men, Mal. They hurt people then use them."

"What for, *bao bei*? What they use 'em for?" Her eyes seemed to mist over. Inara was about to intervene when Yen Mah replied. "They take them to colony worlds. To the estates of the rich and powerful. Use them to predict the rise and fall of political regimes, the movement of troops, even the bounty of crops on distant planets. Anything that can be turned to financial gain they monitor. Some of us are turned into spies. Those that won't co-operate are never seen again."

It was more than creepifying hearing such adult words from the child's lips, as if an older voice spoke through her. It shook the Captain. Stunned them all.

Jayne's jaw had dropped. "Ya mean...?"

She turned her head to look at him. "They kill them."

"And you think the Captain can protect you?" Asked the Preacher gently.

She shook her head then smiled at Mal. Her hand dropping to hold his. Such a small tiny hand lost in the wrap of his callous worn fingers and the hard work ridged surface of his palms. Yet they held her hand gently, firmly. His warmth surrounding her. A comfort through any storm. "Not protect. Save."

For a moment no one spoke. Simon turned his head to look at River. She had been awfully quiet and come to think of it he was surprised she had never said anything during all the time Yen Mah had been with them. Had made no spooky pronouncements about the girl or her supposed 'gift'. River shook her head gently at her brother. Willing him to understand. "Different gifts."

Mal turned his head and looked at them. "What was that?"

Simon answered for her. "River says Yen Mah has different gifts."

The Captain frowned, not understanding. "What do you mean?"

The doctor realised the Captain had no memory of River's past. Would not know that she had been part of a secret Alliance experiment. That they had been cutting into her brain and tinkering with her for reasons he had yet to truly fathom. That they had damaged her in ways that broke his heart anew every time he looked into his sister's eyes. "My sister is very bright, Captain. Not just gifted but a genius. The Alliance had her in a secret medical facility where they were doing experiments on her. Cutting into her brain."

"I was broken." Whispered River.

Simon put his arms around her. "Sssh, sorry River."

"It's okay, Simon. Tell him."

"You sure, *mei mei*?"

She nodded and buried her face in his shirt. He rocked her and carried on talking, not taking his eyes off River. "I used every resource I had which was mainly money and determination. It took me two years to find her then months to find the right connections and palms to grease to break her out of the medical facility..."

"Wait. You broke River out of an Alliance facility?" Gasped the Captain.

"Yes, and I'd do it again if I had to."

"They were hurting me." Murmured River, her voice tinged with distress.

Simon shushed her and rocked her again, closing his eyes briefly as he cradled her in the protective circle of his arms. The Captain looked at Yen Mah. She shook her head as if knowing what he was thinking. "Different people."

"But your gift..."

River raised her head and looked at the Captain. "What they were doing to us wasn't natural, Captain. They wanted to tap into our brains, change us."

"Change you how?"

She shook her head. "Secret."

"And Yen Mah?"

River looked sad. "Exploitation but they didn't just use their minds, they wanted their bodies as well."

Rage lit through Mal like a forest fire. Yen Mah squeezed his hands drawing his eyes back to her waif like face. "Vengeance not help, *pengyou*. Be smart. Only way."

He wanted to lash out at something. Punish the people who would do such things to children. It wasn't right and someone was going to pay. Zoe was looking at him in growing concern. "Sir?"

"Yes, Zoe?"

"How does the Sheriff think we can help?"

He was looking at Yen Mah. "Not rightly sure but he says me and Yen Mah are the key."

The Shepherd was frowning. "What does this have to do with you, Captain?"

He shrugged, not offended by the question. "I asked him that my own self. He said I was the key, me and Yen Mah."

To his surprise River spoke up. "He wants Yen Mah but she doesn't trust him, won't go to him so he needs you."


"Yen Mah trusts you. You are the key to him getting the girl."

Her words made sickening sense and struck a deep fear in his heart. Unsettled him more than he cared to admit. "But he's a Sheriff. Man of the law. He's been tracking this slave ring for months."

"So he says." Growled Jayne.

"He also knows a lot about me." Added the Captain quietly as of speaking to himself.

Inara looked unsettled. "What sort of things?"

"He warned me not to go to Shadow."

Zoe stiffened. Her eyes dark with suspicion. "How did he know about Shadow?"

"I don't know. He seemed to know all kinds of things. Said he'd been checking up on me."

The Shepherd looked thoughtful. "That *may* be true..." He said slowly.

"Or it may be a gorram lie." Said Jayne. "Told ya I didn't like him, like him even less now. I say we take off and get the *diyu* outta here before that lying *wangba dan* comes back."

Mal shook his head and stood up. "Can't."

Inara was watching the Captain's face closely. "Why not, Mal?"

"I gave my word."

"Yeah, but that was before you found out what a lying piece of *go se*..."


The snap in the Captain's voice silenced the mercenary quicker than gunfire. He looked startled then hurt. The Captain softened his voice as he explained.

"I promised not to leave until I gave him my answer."

"Mal, you can't..."

He shook his head at Inara. "My word." He paused to allow that fact to sink in. They all stared at him as if he had just taken complete leave of his senses. "Besides, we ain't gonna learn a thing if we back away from this."

"Captain," Said Wash gently. "The Sheriff may be counting on you doing just that. Not sure we should be that predictable."

He thought about that and nodded slowly. "Good point, Wash, but maybe we can use this to our advantage."

Zoe looked suspicious. "How, sir?"

"He don't want me to go to Shadow. Now why do you suppose that is?"

She frowned at him. "Why don't you tell us?"

He almost smiled. Zoe always did know him better than anyone else. "You don't want me to go back because the Alliance apparently exiled us both after the war. Don't remember that but I got no call to disbelieve you. Now why should that trouble the good Sheriff?"

He got blank looks back from everyone except Zoe. Her mind was running through countless combinations. Her eyes glittered. "He doesn't want to run into the Alliance."

Mal nodded. "My thinkin' exactly."

The mercenary frowned at them both then shook his head. "How does that help us any? You ain't goin' back so it makes no difference."

The Captain turned his head and looked at Jayne. "That's where you're wrong Jayne. That's exactly what I'm gonna do."

"But Cap, they find ya back on Shadow you'll spend the rest of your gorram life in some stinkin' Alliance prison."

For a moment the Captain was silent. Everyone seemed to be holding their breath. The Captain looked at each and every one of them as if commiting their faces to memory. It made Simon uneasy, convinced the Captain was about to do something monumentally stupid but kind of heroic. It seemed to be the man's style. "Since I was attacked and knocked out in that alley I ain't recalled none of the life we've shared." He said quietly. The Captain spread his arms out to indicate his ship. "This boat don't mean a thing to me. My bunk? No recollections at all. Ain't nothin' here that's familiar to me if I'm bein' truthsome. I'm tired, more than a mite confused an' I wanna go home. Now you tell me I ain't got no home. No family neither an' I've been acceptin' everythin' I've been told. No reason to doubt Zoe an' she trusts you therefore I got no call but to trust you too." He paused and bit back a sigh. "All I know is somethin' bad is happenin' people. Somethin' that twists me up inside an' lights a rage I can't control. It hurts me fiercesome an' knowin' there might be somethin' I can do to right that wrong is the only blessin' I can see in this whole sorry mess. Ain't no way I can walk away from that an' still call myself a man."

Silence. No one knew quite what to say. The Captain took a moment to steady himself. Not wanting to get too emotional.

"There's also another reason I have to go back. A selfish one." He paused, hung his head a moment then continued. "Up until now none of this seemed real. I can reach out an' touch but I can't believe it." He waved a hand at his head. "In my mind my folks are still on Shadow waitin' for me to return. The boys still herding the cattle, Cheng running the ranch and my Uncle riding the range to keep a weathered eye. Neighbours still callin' in and passin' the time of day. Not nothin' I seen here convinces me that ain't all still waitin' back on Shadow. Only way I can make it real is to see it for my own self. So you see, I *have* to go back. Whatever it costs me, ain't no other choice I can make an' be sane."

It was the Preacher who broke the stunned silence. The crew trying to hide how his words upset them. Book's voice low and careful as if he did not want to say or do anything to make matters worse. "Captain, you can't go back. Listen to Zoe, to Jayne. You're needed here, with us. On Serenity you're safe. You're free."

He looked at the Shepherd with bleak sad eyes. "What kind of freedom is that, Preacher? Face it, I may never get those memories back. This may be my only chance to discover the truth."

Inara bit back tears. "Is it worth the cost, Mal?"

He shook his head. "I don't know, Inara. Not sure I know a gorram thing any more except this is somethin' I have to do. You're welcome to disagree with me just don't try to stop me."

Jayne had a thought. "You say the Sheriff warned ya not to go to Shadow?"

Mal nodded.

"What do ya supposed he's gonna say when ya tell him you're goin' anyway?"

He shrugged. "Not my problem, Jayne."

Jayne raised his eyebrows. "Don't be so sure, Mal."

"Why you sayin' that?"

"Remember what River said? The Sheriff won't hurt ya unless ya oppose him, ain't that right River?"

River nodded. Her face solemn. Mal looked at her but when River said nothing he looked back at Jayne and straightened up a little. Decision made. "Then maybe I just won't tell him."

Zoe looked at him in concern. Wash snaked a comforting arm around her and felt the little shiver of apprehension run through her. "What you gonna do, sir?"

"Gonna take Jayne's advice."

For a moment they thought he was going to back down but his next words filled their hope with the seeds of desolation.

"Wash get us in the air, take us out to the Black. Soon as we hit atmo I want you to head for Shadow." Mal turned his head and looked at Yen Mah. "Got anythin' to say, *xiao mei mei*?"

"*Wo bu xihuan*, Mal."

He tried to lighten her mood. "What's not to like?"

She shook her head. Wanting to beg him not to do this but she knew he would go anyway. She had seen it. All she could do was this one thing. "I come too."

"No, Yen Mah. You'll stay here on Serenity. When we get to Shadow I'll take the spare shuttle down and a com. No sense in riskin' more than we have to."

"Not gonna happen, Cap." Said Jayne firmly.

"You gonna stop me?"


The Captain was vaguely surprised at a mercenary taking a chance he did not have to. "Not havin' this conversation Jayne."

"If you're going sir so am I." Said Zoe.

He began to feel exasperated. What was this? A gorram mutiny? "I know what you're doin' an' it ain't gonna work. You say I'm the Cap'n of this boat?" Every head nodded. "Then you'll stay on board like a loyal crew an' watch my back, *dong ma*? Things get tricky com me, give me the heads up then get the *diyu* outta there." He paused then turned to look at Wash. "You still here?"

Wash opened his mouth as if to argue then snapped it shut again. What was the use? He knew that look. Feeling miserable he turned and made his way to the cockpit. No one felt much like talking after that. The Captain went to get himself a mug of tea while behind him his anxious crew exchanged worried glances. * * * * *

The voice was cool. Dispassionate. "I thought you had this covered?"

"I did. No tellin' what changed his ruttin' mind."

There was a soft sarcastic grunt. "Maybe he just let you think he would go along with your plan."

The Sheriff did not like the sound of that. The thought that Malcolm Reynolds was making a fool out of him was a bitter pill but one the Captain of Serenity would pay for. All in good time.

"If the good Captain does go to Shadow we should make sure he has a suitable reception waiting for him, *dong ma*?"

Martin Bowman swallowed carefully to hide how much that thought unsettled him. Sure he wanted to punish Mal for letting him down but he did not want to see him really hurt. Not like this. But what could he do when the *yuchun wangba dan* wouldn't listen? "Yeah, that we will *laoban*."

For a moment steel grey eyes just looked at him, then the head jerked back, eyes narrowing slightly. "*Gun ququ* and don't contact me again until it's over. Man's smarter than he looks, he get any sharper on the uptake and it'll be the last thing he does."

The Sheriff could not trust himself to speak so just nodded back, turned and left. Grey eyes took on a thoughtful expression then the man waited ten minutes before getting to his feet to leave by a separate exit. He paused just inside the doorway and rested a brief hand on the white pearly handle of his gun. The touch as intimate as a lover's caress. A promise of action to come. His hand moved away and let the flap of the jacket fall back into place hiding the firearm from casual view. His smile flashed in a feral grin as he imagined the fun he would have when the chase was over. He savoured an old saying from Earth-that-was. *You can run but you can't hide*. Time's up, little girl. And this time your gallant Captain won't save you.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*pengyou* = friend *bao bei* = precious *mei mei* = little sister *diyu* = hell *wangba dan* = bastard *go se* = crap *xiao mei mei* = baby sister *laoban* = boss *wo bu xihuan* = I don't like it *dong ma* = understand *yexu* = maybe *yuchun* = stupid *gun ququ* = get the hell out of here


Wednesday, November 12, 2003 6:00 AM


Loving 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.