THE FORGOTTEN REALM: 16. "Enemies and Friends"
Sunday, November 30, 2003

With the Alliance breathing down their necks the crew of Serenity are more than a little on edge. Jayne and the Captain try to figure a way passed them when they are faced with another surprise."



SUMMARY: "With the Alliance breathing down their necks the crew of Serenity are more than a little on edge. Jayne and the Captain try to figure a way to get passed them when they are faced with another surprise." 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

* * * * *

"We gotta go get the Cap'n!"

Zoe gave Kaylee a look that begged for calm while trying to hold back her own instinct to dash off and retrieve him. "We can't do anything until the Alliance cruiser is gone, you know that."

"But the Cap'n..."

"Captain knew what he was getting into, Kaylee." He hadn't but she was in no mood to point that out or explain the whys and wherefores to Kaylee. The mechanic was just a touch too devoted to the Captain to get the finer points of his memory loss across to her without making matters worse. Right now they needed to stay put and not lose their nerve. Hopefully the Captain would notice the Alliance hulk crowding the sky above his head and take the appropriate action. If not she could count on Jayne to spell it out to him in letters ten foot high. Not known for his subtlety she couldn't see Jayne holding back when his neck might be on the line.

Kaylee looked miserable and anxious, fighting back the urge to cry. Shepherd Book gave her a kindly smile. "I'm sure the Captain and Jayne will be alright."

She gave him a baleful look. "That Alliance Commandant is gonna go down to Shadow after him and we ain't doin' nothin' to stop him."

"There's nothing we can do, child. We have to trust that they will have the sense to hide and stay hidden until the Alliance vessel has gone and we tell them it's safe to come out."

Zoe did not state the obvious. Having come all this way she could not see an Alliance Cruiser turning around and going back empty handed. If they had nothing else they would impound Serenity and drag them back to face whatever music they had lined up for the Captain. Shepherd Book watched Zoe carefully, knew she was worried and also knew she would say nothing in front of Kaylee. The girl was like to go into a fit of weeping depression and none of them wanted that.

"Kaylee, why don't you see how Inara is doing? Make sure Simon and River are alright, it looked mighty cramped in that crawlspace."

Her attention diverted Kaylee nodded and hurried off to see Inara. Zoe met the Preacher's eyes and knew that he had a thousand questions perching on his tongue. "Spit it out, Preacher."

"I was just wondering what the Alliance want with Captain Reynolds."

She frowned and took a few moments to reply. "Maybe it's not the Alliance that want him." She said thoughtfully.

The Preacher raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Oh? Why do you think that?"

"That Commandant - Harkan - he's the same man the Captain saved from the Reaver."

"So? I don't recall him being very grateful at the time. He even took the salvage from us if you recall."

She nodded. Recalled everything in vivid pinsharp detail. It was her gift and her curse. "I know. Captain said he had to do that as we could not be seen to profit from what happened to the ship and crew."

"What do you suppose he wants with the Captain?"

Zoe shrugged. Her troubled mind looking for some benign solution and finding none. Where the Alliance was concerned all roads led to Hell and Damnation.

* * * * *

Jayne finally ran out of curses. The silence was welcome but not exactly comforting. The Captain looked at his sensors again. "Where the *diyu* is she?"

"Don't ask me. Ya sure this is the place we left her?"

Mal glared at him and Jayne shut his mouth with a snap. His glare said *ain't my fault*. The Captain thought about it for a moment. "They must have run into trouble, it's the only explanation."

"That means somethin' else is out here." Said Jayne in a worried voice. His first thought was Reavers but he did not even want to breathe that name out loud. Mama always said it wasn't wise to tempt fate.

There was a blip on the screen. The Captain swung round in the pilot's chair and fiddled with the knob until he had brought up enough gain to see what it was. He spat out a string of curses in Chinese.

Jayne leaned over to see what was wrong. "*Shenme shi*?"

"Ruttin' Alliance vessel."

Horror stole over the mercenary's face. "What the gorram are they doin' here?" He paused and shot a glance at Mal as if he was personally responsible. "Zoe warned ya not to come back, said they would lock ya up in an Alliance prison. But ya had to be *dai ruo mu ji* an' come back anyway. Those *chusheng ai-jiao de xiang huo*...."

"Jayne, *bi zui*! I'm tryin' to think here."

An awkward heavy silence fell. The Captain could feel a headache coming on. He closed his eyes and tried to think. What in the nine hells would bring the Alliance out here to a no-count Rim world? It was not as if there was a military presence on Shadow and it certainly wasn't up to the kind of trade that attracted the core worlds so what was going on? Or was it some regular patrol policing the former Independent worlds to put down any seeds of rebellion? Now that was a joke. Them as rebelled had fought and lost. Paid a price so high it had all but wiped them out. Not enough browncoats to string together into a platoon let alone an army now. The numbers they once had were either rotting in open graves or languishing in prisons and penal colonies on far distant worlds where no sun ever reached. Only the stragglers like him and Zoe walked free and even then that freedom had conditions attached. Little things like being exiled from your home world. It would be a long day in *diyu* before he thought anything connected with the Alliance was a good thing.

Jayne was getting restless. "Well?"

The Captain sighed and opened his eyes. His head was killing him. He rubbed his temples and tried to concentrate. The mercenary frowned at him. "I don't know what they're doin' here, Jayne. Maybe it's a regular patrol."

The mercenary could not keep the disbelief out of his voice. "This far out?"

Mal had to admit the man had a point. It did seem unlikely but then with the Alliance you could not count on anything except a lack of compassion. Jayne was watching him closely. Noticed the Captain was looking a mite pale. In fact he didn't look so good.

"Cap, you alright?"

The words warped in the Captain's ear. Seemed to stretch and become indistinct. The pain piercing his skull made his wits a mite dull and he had to squint to make out the mercenary's face. "Don't feel so hot. Head's aching, feel dizzy."

Alarmed, Jayne swore. "What the gorram is wrong with ya?"

"If I knew that Jayne I'd tell ya. Just got a splittin' headache is all."

That did not look like all it was to Jayne but he kept his mouth shut. Afraid that pushing the Captain while he was this wired would only make things ten times worse. It was as he was wondering what to do that a slight sound from the back of the shuttle raised all the hairs on the back of his neck. "What was that?"

Mal never heard him. Jayne repeated his question. The Captain tried to steady his mind and listen beyond the steel band playing inside his head. "Can't hear nothin', Jayne."

Jayne spun round, eyes widening. Memories of Jubal Early haunting him. "There! Ya must'a heard that?"

"Nope, never heard a gorram thing."

The mercenary was about to yell at him when something moved. In a heartbeat Jayne had Vera cocked and pointed towards the back of the shuttle. The Captain tried to see what was freaking the man out but it was hard to concentrate. He closed his eyes to get some relief from the bright light when everything suddenly went dark. Jayne jumped and twisted his head round fast as the Captain collapsed unconscious to the deck. He could not believe his rutting luck. *Tianna* this was all he needed. What else could go wrong?

That was when he heard it. More distinctive this time. He spun back round ready to send whoever it was straight to *diyu*. What he saw froze him on the spot. The girl stared at him with wide lamp like eyes, her round moon face alarmed at the sight of the gun shoved in her face. Jayne was not sure whether to laugh in relief or batter her to death for scaring him so gorram much. "Yen Mah, what the good gorram are ya doin' here?"

She was about to answer him then noticed the Captain slumped unconscious on the floor. Running past Jayne she dropped to her knees with a sob. Fear raced through her heart, a great wide pit opening up before her. She could not lose her *pengyou* now, he was the key to her survival. Annoyed at her silence Jayne knelt beside her, checked to make sure the Captain was still breathing then turned her to face him. His hands gentle belying the roughness of his voice. "Yen Mah, ya have to tell me what you're doin' here."

Yen Mah swallowed hard and nodded. Jayne was the Captain's friend, she had to trust him. Not with everything but enough to garner his help. "I see things."

He frowned. "What things?"

She glanced down at the Captain, laid one small hand on his chest and bit back tears. No time for that. She stared down apalled at her sticky hand. "Blood?"

He shook his head and gently took her hands in his then turned her so that she was now facing him again. "Not the Cap's. Now ya gotta tell me, what ya doin' on this shuttle?"

"I have to be with Mal. Not safe alone."

Jayne looked baffled. "What d'ya mean? You were safe on Serenity, ya got Zoe, Wash, Kaylee, Simon an' River not to mention the Preacher to look out for ya."

She shook her head, trembling now. He did not understand. "No. Ship's in danger."

His eyes widened, remembering the Alliance cruiser Mal had detected. "*Tamade*, the Alliance ship!"

Yen Mah nodded. Jayne's eyes narrowed.

"Ya knew?"

Another nod.

"What else ya see?"

"Escape, freedom." She paused and looked down at the Captain's unconscious form. "With him."

Jayne's mouth went dry as the little girl slipped her hands out of his and sat beside the Captain. One small hand reaching out to rest on his chest, clinging to the steady beat of his heart as if it was the only thing keeping her own going. Both distracted when a low moan told them the Captain was coming round.

* * * * *

There wasn't much they could do about the Alliance cruiser's hail. Ignoring it meant certain death. Wash glanced anxiously at Zoe. They were all on the bridge, crowding round the consoles as Wash sat in the pilot's seat waiting to see what they should do. Zoe gave him a curt nod. "Answer it."

"This is Serenity, we hear you."

A cold mechanical sounding voice floated back to them. It sounded synthesised but they knew it wasn't. Just one more unfeeling gorram Alliance soldier airing his superiority. "Prepare to be boarded."

Wash rolled his eyes, anger surging through him. "Not again!" He muttered. Zoe put a hand on his arm to calm him then gave a comforting squeeze. He could hear Kaylee over by the door next to the Preacher.

"What do you suppose they want this time?" She asked in worried quiet voice.

"It seems they couldn't have found what they were looking for." Said the Preacher simply.

For a moment all eyes turned to him. Inara was not so sure but a spark of hope flickered in Zoe's eyes before it was smothered with the need to get this over with. "Best acknowledge them, Wash. Don't want a hole blasted in her hull because they think we're slow."

He grumbled but did it. When they docked everyone except Simon, River and Yen Mah were waiting for the boarding party. Wash felt like a convict on death row. Not that he knew what a convict on death row felt like but he imagined it had to be a lot like this. He wanted to run. Hide. But his feet were glued to the deck. His heart tied to another. His soul belonged to Serenity. Even so, running would have been shiny. Had they had anywhere to run to. He was surprised when only three people walked off the ship. Two armed soldiers and the Commandant. The soldiers stood either side of the docking port and watched keenly as the Commandant walked out between them and came to a halt just a couple of feet from Serenity's crew. He cast an eye over them then looked directly at Zoe. "You are the Captain's second in command?"

She nodded. Her gun hand itching to illustrate the point but resisting the urge. "Yes."

"Come with me."

He turned and started to walk back to the ship. The Preacher looked alarmed. Wash looked frightened. "What do you want with her?" Book asked.

Commandant Harkan turned his head and gave the Preacher a cool glance. "Nothing that need concern you."

"Well it concerns me." Said Wash. "If Zoe's goin' so am I."

The two soldiers moved closer, their intent clear. Wash swallowed but did not back down. No way was he going to let them take his wife anywhere. Zoe was watching Harkan's face. Something in it must have reassured her because she gave Wash a look that told him to back off. A look of confusion fluttered across his anxious face. Kaylee wanted to kick the Commandant. Wished the Reaver had rutting well killed him. But another part of her would not wish a Reaver on anyone. Even Alliance scum were people.

A glum expression on their faces they watched Zoe board the Alliance cruiser in silence. On board the ship the Commandant lengthened his stride forcing Zoe to do likewise just to keep up with him. She frowned. The two soldiers fell back into escort positions. A few heads turned but no one commented or hindered their passage. Everything aboard the vessel gleamed. It looked as it must have done when it first rolled off the assembly line. Made her itchy. All that shining gleaming chrome was giving her a headache. They continued in silence until they came to an interrogation room. The guards stopped and took up position either side of the door. The Commandant ushered her inside and shut the door, tapping in his own personal security code to prevent anyone interrrupting them. Zoe's frown deepened. She began to feel very unhappy about this. Something did not feel right. "What do you want with me?"

He flicked a cold eye at her then seemed to wait, she knew not what for. After a couple of minutes he smiled frostily with hidden satisfaction. She was more confused than ever. What was going on? Then she noticed him put something small back in his pocket. Her suspicion rose.

"What was that?"

He actually smiled, noting the look on her face. Rampant with distrust and full of suspicion. He liked Zoe. Understood emotions that said exactly what they meant. The negative emotions were so uncomplicated. So honest. The positive ones confused him, meant to manipulate not inform. In their layered depths hid many lies and those lies couched many an unwary man in early death. "I wanted to be sure this conversation would not be recorded."

Her eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Why? Isn't that what I'm here for?"

He ignored the anger creeping into her voice. Her concerns were irrelevant. "Please, sit."

She knew it was not a request and sat. The table was an empty square of chrome, matt finish not shiny. He sat opposite her. There were no other chairs in the room and both table and chairs were fixed to the floor. Seems the Alliance did learn from past experiences. She hid the amusement that flickered through her at that thought and waited. Commandant Harkan considered her for a moment. "We did not find Captain Reynolds."

She almost nodded. That figured. When she said nothing he resisted the urge to sigh. He did not have time for this.

"Where is he?"

"Your guess is as good as mine."

"Evidently not." He paused. "I cannot remain here to look for him."

His tone was confusing her. Shouldn't he be torturing her round about now? Where was this leading?

"I will have to trust you to carry a message for me." The suspicion was back in full force now. "What kind of message?"

He did not answer immediately. Instead he reached into an inside pocket and took something out. "I have something I want you to give him."

To her utter surprise and astonishment the Commandant produced a silver chain. He laid it in front of her on a soft grey velvet pouch and watched her questioning gaze turn to bafflement. What the *diyu* was this about? Why was he giving the Captain jewellery? It didn't make sense. "*Wo bu dong*"

A smile almost twisted his lips. She saw cold humour in his eyes and something else, something she could not quite fathom. "If the Captain is as smart as I think he is, he'll work it out."

"And if he isn't?"

Harkan shrugged. "I've done my part, the rest is up to him."

Zoe did not blink. "The rest of what?"

He did not answer. After a few moments of silence she let her eyes drift down to look at it. It was not something she could actually imagine anyone wearing, male or female. The chain was perhaps 16 inches in length with a plain silver claw clasp. The clasp was done up and the chain was laid out in a loop on a soft silver velvet drawstring bag. No obvious markings. Nothing elaborate. To Zoe it was the ugliest gorram thing she had ever seen. Trust the Alliance to turn even a piece of jewellery into something no one with a working brain cell would want let alone wear. She frowned, noticing it consisted of a series of silver balls only they were not equidistant nor, now that she looked more closely, did they appear to be all the same size. Some weren't even completely round, more like oblate spheroids as if some of the spheres had been dropped and dented or flattened on one end completely lacking in symetry. The object floored her. The unexpected she could accept, the plain bizarre was something else entirely. And this Commandant, what the *diyu* was she to make of him?

"This is a joke, *dui*? You can't expect the Captain to want to wear this?"

Her words surprised him then he laughed. Her eyes widened at the sight of the starchy opinionated and superior Commandant busting a gut laughing. Her eyes narrowed, his reaction putting a nice little edge to her dislike of him. She would cheerfully like to strangle this mocking *wangba dan* and see if he laughed then. With an effort he got himself back under control but it was disconcerting to see that he was still smiling. When she made no move to pick up the trinket, he leaned over and carefully placed it inside the velvet bag then held it out to her. Suddenly Zoe did not want to touch it. Wanted nothing to do with it. "Go on, take it. It isn't a bomb if that's what you're thinking. You're to hand it to the Captain and no one else, *dong ma*?"

"Why should I?"

"Try this on for size: take it and return to that piece of *gos se* Reynolds calls a ship or I will have it blown out of the sky. With everyone on it."

A wry look came into eyes as hard as steel. "What kind of message is that going to send?"

He almost smiled. He really liked Zoe. Understood where she was coming from. Hard as nails and trusting no one. Just his kind of soldier. "It says *don't fuck with me* or would you prefer that in pinyin?"

All the way back to Serenity Zoe was in a daze. Nothing made sense. No one questioned her or the Commandant all the way back to the docking port. No words were exchanged when she left and no one accompanied her. As soon as she was back on board the Firefly, the Alliance vessel detached and left. Wash hugged her, the others stared. Zoe felt cold and uncertain, as if she had just accepted something that would bring the rest of the 'verse crashing down on their heads. What was it? And why did this ugly piece of *gos se* weigh more heavily on her with every second that passed?

"*Bao bei*?"

She looked into Wash's worried face. The others crowded round her silent and anxious.

"Are you alright, Zoe? What did they do to you?"

She was not sure how to tell them. Didn't believe it herself. Taking a deep breath she decided actions could do her talking for her. "Turn the ship around, Wash. We're going back to Shadow to find Jayne and the Captain."

* * * * *

He felt dizzy and a little disorientated but the pain cleared his head and memory flooded back to him. The Sheriff blinked as he woke, then squinted and sat gingerly. His wife smiled gently at him then renewed her work replacing the dressing to his bullet wound. "One day, *zhangfu*, you're going to learn to duck."

That made him smile just before he winced again. "Now where would be the fun in that?"

She was about to berate him when he kissed her, her lips melting against the warmth of his mouth.

"Love ya Mary."

Her eyes softened then crinkled at the corners. Before he could ask her what was so gorram funny a decidedly male voice spoke directly behind him. "Are ya intendin' to kiss us too 'cause if ya are I have to tell ya my rifle's loaded for bear."

He turned right round and his mouth dropped open. The *laoban* stood just inside the doorway leaning back on the door jamb, his rifle casually sloped in his hands like a sleeping lover. The pearly white handle of his favourite gun poking out of the top of the holster at his hip. Grinning like bookends either side of him were the Wester twins. He wondered where his own deputies were and how long he had been out. The *laoban* shifted his weight and stood upright.

"Glad you're awake, Bowman. He got away this time but we'll get him. Once we catch up to Reynolds it's only a matter of time until we get the girl."

The Sheriff felt his wife stiffen but did not dare look at her. They had to keep their nerve and play this out carefully. He knew now why the man was here. Why he was talking about such things in front of his wife. Why he had invaded his home in the guise of concern for his welfare. The *laoban* could be subtle when he had to be and this was a warning. Couched in a smile and lips that lied better than a two bit whore on a Saturday night. Only he trusted the whore a whole lot more.

"Ya be sure and get well soon, Sheriff. We got us a hunt to finish."

Even when they were gone it was hard for the Sheriff to take a clean breath. Mary sat beside him, her face worn with worries old and new, her eyes shadowed by what she had heard. A nameless fear touching her heart as their children slept unawares above them through the dead of night. He put an arm around her and kissed her cheek. The warmth of it defrosting some of the ice that was forming in his heart. "It's okay, *xin gan*, I'm gonna finish this."

She wanted to cry. To beg him to leave it. Let others take it up from here, he had done enough. But that wasn't Martin Bowman. It wasn't the man she married still less the man she loved. As she cradled him in her arms she could not quite hold back the tears. She would love him, stand by him, and back every decision he made because it was what she did. Didn't have to like it. Didn't have to approve. But he was a good man and a good father. How could she be less than a good wife? Whatever he wanted, whatever he needed. She hugged him to her heart and felt his gentle kiss on her brow. Closed her eyes and prayed. For him. For all the lost children he ached to find. For their children and all the ones as yet unborn.

* * * * *

"Do you think she bought it?"

"She bought it."

"Think he'll figure it out?"

"I'm counting on it."

A short pause. "You know, you may be giving this man more credit than he deserves."

"I've met him. I'm sure."

Another pause. "What about the tracking device? This all goes south if she finds it."

"She won't. It's keyed to his DNA."

"So if he doesn't turn up, if something *did* happen to him, that's it?"

"That's it."

A heavy, heavy sigh punctuated the air. For a long time they contemplated the Black, immune to the gleaming surfaces that shone with a mockery of moonlight around them.

"This had better work, sir."

Harkan turned his head and eyed his major domo without a trace of warmth or humour. "I only make a mistake once. And then I pick myself up and clean it up, *dong ma*?"

His major domo nodded. Asked no more questions. This time he believed.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*dai ruo mu ji* = dumb as a wooden chicken *chuseng ai-jiao de xiang huo* = animal fucking bastard *bi zui* = be quiet/shut up *diyu* = hell *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *tianna* = oh God *pengyou* = friend *tamade* = fuck *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *dui* = correct *dong ma* = understand *gos se* = crap *wangba dan* = bastard *bao bei* = precious *xin gan* = sweetheart *zhangfu* = husband *laoban* = boss


Monday, December 1, 2003 5:26 AM


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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.