TEMPTATION SERIES: 25. "Vain Pursuits"
Tuesday, October 11, 2005

"Chung-li and Shen Ling are left with but one option. Niska makes a run for it but Serenity's crew have other plans."



SUMMARY: "Chung-li and Shen Ling are left with but one option. Niska makes a run for it but Serenity's crew have other plans." 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.


"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

The Chinaman was not weary just heart sore. The cavern empty of all but the two of them the swinging hook above their heads a reminder of just how wide the chasm now between them was. Chung-li's eyes did not leave his sister's face. "*Weishenme*?"

"It was my job, *da ge*. My obligation."

"*Yixiang renwo*?" Horrible pieces started to slot into place. "You work for Adelei Niska." It was not a question but a sickening realisation. "Do you not know the monster at whose feet you grovel?"

Her face retracted into a hard mask. "I do not grovel."

"You speak of obligation." The words were low and harsh, raw distaste souring the words like a curse. "What of your obligation to me, *mei mei*? Or have the politics of the enemy become your creed? The justification for unspeakable acts masquerading as honour?"

"Chung-li, *xiongdi*, I did not mean to hurt you. A long time has past since we went our separate ways. You have no right to judge me now."

Something flickered in his eyes, too swift for her to catch yet it unsettled her calm in a way she could never show. "You judge yourself."

An eyebrow rose. Any rumour of emotion now vanquished. In Shen Ling's head she was counting off the seconds into minutes. Letting Niska and his men get away with the Captain. Why the man was so important to her *laoban* Shen Ling never asked, it was not her business to know such things. Curiosity being a commodity that did not promote a long and happy life. Niska would tell her what she needed to know when she needed to know it. "I let you live."

"It seems," Said Chung-li mildly as he readied himself for the coming fight. "An unfortunate gift."

Shen Ling had hoped things would go differently. She did not really want to kill her brother but she knew Chung-li would not let her leave the cave. Not after what she had done therefore let the consequences be on his head. A small tiny spark deep inside evinced sorrow. A long dead emotion stirring in the pit of a blackened soul. Like a memory from a distant time when she was very different from the woman that now stood before him. Steeling herself Shen Ling prepared to put this last vestige of conscience behind her. She had a new master now, one who would give and ask no quarter. The only coin he demanded of her was obedience. The cost was irrelevant and would be paid in full.

* * * * *

Simon Tam was frustrated. "River, you can't!"

His sister smiled tolerantly at him. "*Ni bu dong*, you never do."

They were closing on shuttle two's location. Wash looked concerned. "It still hasn't moved, *bao bei*."

"*Wo zhidao, zhangfu*." Zoe agreed, her voice calm and oddly reassuring.

Wash looked up from his controls to scan her face. "That's good, right?"

"It means the shuttle is still where the Captain set down." Said Simon slowly. "It doesn't mean he's on it."

"Cheer everybody up, doc." Said Jayne sarcastically, his expression annoyed. "'Sides, not as if you'll be comin' along, *dong ma*?"

"*Wei*!" Everybody turned to look at Wash. The pilot was staring at his console in something approaching alarm. "The shuttle wasn't the only thing that was down there."

"Define *was*, honey."

"Um, as in it's not there now?" Wash told his wife.

Before anyone could ask for clarification River spoke. "They're moving him."

Shepherd Book glanced at their resident genius as they approached Diemos. "Who?"

"The vulture seeks higher ground, doesn't need the bait any longer. He has what he came for."

Simon reached out for her but River slid around Kaylee to stand on the other side of Wash's chair. Next to Zoe. "River..."

A babble of conflicting voices started to argue over what they should do next when a voice from the doorway silenced the lot of them. "*Bizui*!" Inara stepped through the doorway and glanced from face to face. "Where's the Captain?"

River pointed at the cockpit window. Every head turned just as a sleek vessel shot up from the planet below and into the cloudbase above their heads. Inara thought again of the words of St John of the Cross: *The more I rose into the height, more dazzled blind and lost I spun. The greatest conquest ever won was won in blindness, like the night. Because love urged me on my way to make that mad, blind, reckless leap that soared me up so high and steep that in the end I siezed my prey.* Her eyes locked on River's. Slowly River shook her head from side to side.

"It's my shuttle." Said Inara quietly.

"But my plan." The girl responded.

The others stared, baffled by the odd exchange, not understanding what they were talking about. Revelation hit Inara in a flash of insight. "I thought it meant me."

The compassion on River's face was painful to the Companion though she hid it well. Wash aborted the landing sequence and turned to follow Niska's ship. River looked at Zoe. "Divide and conquer. We need to distract them to give us enough time to go in for the kill."

"Hey, I thought this was a rescue mission?" Growled Jayne.

"It is," Said River before anyone else could respond. "For the Captain not Niska. Nobody mourns the ones who pick your bones."

"So, divide and conquer." Kaylee spoke slowly trying not to think about the images River's words evoked, wanting to be sure exactly what it was River had in mind while willing herself not to shudder. "That why you wanted Inara's shuttle?"

"Yes. He'll keep the Captain alive as long as he can."

Wash's expression darkened. Memories of his and Mal's torture on Niska's skyplex too vivid to block. He did not want to imagine what the Captain might be going through right now but couldn't stop his mind from filling in the blanks. Zoe placed a hand on his shoulder and kept it there. The comfort of her touch almost breaking him. His expression softened as he met the understanding in her eyes. "I love my wife."

* * * * *

It was hard and fast. Shen Ling moved like a blur, her flowing marriage of speed and technique hard to match by any but a master. Chung-li was that master. A large stocky frame belying the skill of the shaolin monks and the discipline of kung fu. It was not just his expertise that made him so deadly but how well he read her every move, anticipated, blocked then struck. Time and again, each blow debilitating her a little more. Slowing her down in the vain hope that reason would overtake anger and pride. But Shen Ling was committed. No going back. Failure was not an option. She knew what happened to those who disappointed her master and such a shameful fate would never be hers. Better to die in battle than of shame.

He should have been easy to defeat. Shen Ling was lighter, faster, more deadly but her brother was the spirit of bushido, the eye at the centre of the storm. The power behind the artform. He flowed like a force of nature and the universe answered. Shen Ling found beauty in the dance and at last was able to accept the only gift he could bestow upon her. Deliberately she spun into his orbit and did not block, the edge of his hand breaking her windpipe, the force of the blow shuddering through her in truncated aftershocks as the spray of crimson scattered red tears across the floor like ruby petals. She saw the look of sorrow etched on his beloved face, her hard mask slipping enough to let him see the girl she once was. The sister he had lost so long ago returning to him briefly before they would part forever. It was the nearest she could come to saying sorry.

* * * * *

"You know, this whole torturin' an' killin' thing is gettin' old."

Adelei Niska smiled. He did not mind Captain Reynolds' attempts at humour. He had already met the real man and he was quite a man. An extraordinary man. But as he had told the Captain before, this was not a time for extraordinary men. "I am thinkin' this time I do not want days."

He was walking slowly around the Captain who was strapped to a table in the middle of what Mal guessed must have been the ship's galley. "Well good, because I have to tell you I'm not impressed with the hospitality at this hotel."

Niska tilted his head and light reflected off his little round glasses, the benign looking smile had all the sincerity of a shark about to feed. He stepped up to the side of the table and leaned towards the pinned man. "No, Mr Reynolds, this time I think a week at the very least."

"A week? Why so generous?"

Niska straightened and waited until a sharp fillet knife was placed in his hand. Mal tried not to imagine just how much damage a twisted *tamade hundan* like Niska could do with it. "For you, I think something special. Yes?"

"No, no need to go to any trouble on my account."

"No, is no trouble."

The Captain was shirtless but otherwise still clothed. Niska dipped the thin whip like edge of the knife until it rested on Mal's chest. Slowly he let the weight of the knife define the depth of the cut as the blade lightly scrolled across the Captain's chest. Mal tried to mask how creepifying that was, the thin trail crossing back and forth across his skin as Niska watched him intently.

"You know you are one sick *liumang* if I might say."

"This cut? Is nothing, it will not kill you. For you I think the death of a thousand cuts, yes? Is fitting."

Before Mal could even think of a response the ship lurched hard. The clang and echo reverberating through the metal hull like a clapper striking a huge bell. The Captain tried to hide the spark of hope that leapt in his chest. "Was that...? Did somethin' just hit us? 'Cause if so I don't mind comin' back when you're less busy."

Niska frowned then began snapping out commands in German and Chinese. The two men attending him disappeared to see what was wrong and Niska turned to face his captive again. This time he looked far from pleased, his face screwed up like a shrivelled prune. "Always with the interruptions." He muttered in irritation.

"Yeah, know what you mean. Can be a real pain in the..."

"*Bizui*!" Snapped Niska. The knife traced a deeper line from the Captain's stomach to his adam's apple then paused at his throat. Mal tried real hard not to swallow. If the ship lurched again he was a dead man. "You try my patience, Mr Reynolds. You do not want to do that."

The Captain could not speak. A shake of the head and that razor sharp blade was like to slit his gorram throat. A nod would be just as bad. Either way it meant a whole world of pain before the blood gushed out of him. Red was so not his colour. Just then one of Niska's men ran into the room and whispered in his boss's ear. Annoyed, the *liumang* gave a hefty sigh and moved the knife from Malcolm Reynolds' neck, his attention diverted. Mal briefly closed his eyes and thanked whatever quirk of good fortune had given him this breathing space. Breathing being his most favourite word right now. Another violent hit sent Niska stumbling away from the table. The Captain opened his eyes. The lights flickered. Mal tried to loosen the catgut tying his wrists and ankles to the edges of the table but the more he struggled the deeper the gorram twine cut. He paused and tried to think, his head turning from side to side as he looked for some way out but there was nothing. Niska was at the doorway now, talking urgently to someone just out of sight. The ship lurched again, hard. Everything not nailed down was clanging and rolling across the tilting deck then rolling back the other way as another blow rang throughout the ship.

Mal was puzzled. Something was definitely hitting them but what? There were no explosions, no sound of ordnance or gunfire. Not nothing. If he didn't know better he would think someone was throwing gorram rocks at them. Just then the mother of all rocks must have hit because he could hear the scream of damaged engines, the grind of tearing metal then all the lights went out. Darkness. His stomach turning over and over as the ship spun out of control, no doubt in a downward gorram spiral. Made him feel sick and frustrated as *diyu* not being able to move and take advantage of the mayhem. He could hear Niska's voice kinda on the high and worried side which was all kinds of comforting. Then came something he did recognise. Gunfire. Shouts, then cries. Someone or something hitting the deck then someone was scrabbling about beside him. He cursed, wishing he could see. Hoping it wasn't one of Niska's goons come back to end him before they all took off in whatever passed for lifeboats on this leaky ship.

But the end didn't come. Leastways not any ending he could have imagined. Instead a hand gently brushed his face, a pair of lips next to his ear cautioning him to keep silent. Hope resurrected in his heart a second before he realised who the good gorram had come to get him. River! What in the nine hells were his crew thinking to let the crazy girl go putting herself in danger like that? Not that he wasn't all manner of grateful but still. Girl could get herself killed going all heroic.

"Sssh, we're leaving now. Don't speak, just follow where I lead."

"I can't gorram see a thing, River." Murmured the Captain. "An' what in the nine hells hit us?"

"I did."

He blinked in the darkness, sure he could not have heard her right. "*Shenme*?"

"Sssh, too much talking."

"You an' I are gonna have us a little talk when we get back."

He stumbled as River stopped and he didn't, the girl turned and to his shock a pair of warm lips covered his own in a brief but hungry kiss. Stunned he just stood in the darkness. Her hand tugged his and automatically he followed while trying in vain to get his brain in gear. What the hell had just happened? Had the crazy girl just kissed him? And why, for a split second, had he wanted so badly to kiss her back? Oh, he was going to that Special Hell.

That hand again, half dragging, half guiding him out of the galley and down a metal corridor. His feet slid on something slippy. Didn't want to think what in *diyu* it could be. Had a fair notion and wasn't that all kinds of disturbing given who his rescuer was? Simon must be wetting himself but even if he was the Captain couldn't bring himself to want to mock him for it. Truth to tell he was more than a little shaken his own self. River's hand seemed so rutting small in his yet he could feel the strength, incongruous as it was he felt a surge of pride in her. She might be crazy and all kinds of broke but she wasn't weak and that wasn't nothing. "Have to be blind before you can see." His little genius whispered. Yeah, right, 'cause that made all manner of sense.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*weishenme* = why? *da ge* = big brother *yixiang renwo* = a job *mei mei* = little sister *xiongdi* = brother *loaban* = boss *diyu* = hell *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *bao bei* = precious/treasure *wei* = hey *wo zhidao* = I know *zhangfu* = husband *dong ma* = understand? *bizui* = shut up/be quiet *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *shenme* = what? *liumang* = criminal/bastard/asshole/gangster


Wednesday, October 12, 2005 8:12 AM


Yea, a brave rescue! Can't wait to read what River found to throw at Niska's ship.
Shen Ling's demise was well written, too.

Thursday, October 13, 2005 7:43 AM


Poor Mal! Thank goodness River got to him before Niska had uglied him up real good.

Although, I guess this might be a case of out of the frying pan into the fire as far as Mal being in control of the situation though! *g*


You must log in to post comments.



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.