"THE FORGOTTEN REALM": 22. "Sacrifice"
Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Yen Mah goes after the Captain. The crew decide to unlock the secret of the necklace then make a disturbing discovery. The Captain finds himself in more kinds of hell than even the Preacher could imagine."



SUMMARY: "Yen Mah goes after the Captain. The crew decide to unlock the secret of the necklace then make a disturbing discovery. The Captain finds himself in more kinds of Hell than even the Preacher could imagine." 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

* * * * *

Even though it was hard for her she had allowed herself to become detached from him. A necessary adjunct to what needed to unfold. Form could then follow function. Fading seamlessly into the background she had allowed others to monopolise his time though inwardly she ached to be with him, near him. She could not afford to do that. Not this soon. Not with so very much at stake. Her eyes blurred with memory. He was her *pengyou* and she needed him strong. If she stayed too close she would not be able to go through with it and hundreds would perish because of her weakness. Blindly she blinked back the veil of tears. Daring to recall the forgotten ones. The ones who had unconsciously placed their trust in her. Not that they knew or that she would tell them. There was safety in anonymity. Numbers were not always the best recourse when avoiding the bully. Sometimes it just gave him a bigger target. One he could not miss. This way was less certain and more risky but less likely to be detected until it was too late.

Yen Mah had chosen him with care. Recognised his mettle even as he lay damaged and unconscious in a pool of his own blood. The visions had led her to him and her foreknowledge had sent him into a den of thieves the like of which would dwarf his conscious self. So dark and formless that the Black of space dazzled in contrast. Timing was everything. As she piloted the spare shuttle tears again broke free of her control and slid silently down her pale cheeks. *Yuanliang, pengyou*. Without you *wo milu le*. Though she knew he could not hear her prayer she hoped the merciful Buddha would send her plea from her heart to his so that on some deep unconscious level he would understand.

Behind her Yen Mah knew another world was slowly shattering in her wake. Her friends would take some time to realise what she had done and certainly they would not understand why. Perhaps River would but not the rest. Oh no, not the rest. Her tears intensified, imagining the hurt and pain on Kaylee's face. Kaylee, who so adored the Captain. In her eyes he could do no wrong not even when he could not remember her. She tried not to visualise each of them in turn knowing if she did so she would be rendered unable to fly the machine that would take her to him. A weight of necessary sorrow lay like an impossible burden on her heart. A doom upon her soul. For even though she was coming for him she knew she was destined to arrive too late. Almost her vision was lost to her sense of grief. Only a great strength of will kept her to her course. Every act required a sacrifice. He would be hers.

* * * * *

Life was such a sluggish current. Growing slowly more turgid like his thickening thoughts. All vibrancy leaking out with the seeping blood loss. A pain that oozed a crimson tide. Darkness clothing his senses in the rags of the tomb. A light dimming, on the brink of being extinguised. Yet they would not let him die. Just short of oblivion they yanked him back, his body jerking where it had fallen on the cold pitiless deck of his torture chamber. Commandant Harkan waited for the signal telling him it was safe to enter. The two men watched him with ink black eyes that drowned the soul and squeezed every last remnant of joy from it. Their dispiteous presence discomfitted the Commandant not at all. He always liked to see an artist at work.

Captain Malcolm Reynolds lay at an awkward angle, his body rumpled into a boneless tangle on the floor. Harkan hid a smirk and hunkered down next to his head. The Captain's eyes were closed, red tears staining his cheeks. Harkan reached out a hand and drew a light finger through the warm blood as if finger painting on a living landscape. He paused and regarded the man before him for several moments in silence as he shivered at his touch. The Commandant was oblivious to those that watched and listened. "You should never have opposed me." He said softly. "Your lie will cost you dear, but then you knew that didn't you?"

The stir of his voice against the Captain's ear made a tiny shudder wrack through him. Every movement hurt. Even thoughts were bathed in the echo of unbearable pain. A remnant of past agonies and a promise of those yet to come. It mildly amazed him that he was still alive. But was this living? What the *diyu* was this *wangba dan* doing with these people? Bad enough that these creepy folk existed deep in some hidden medical facility. Creepier still that they moved among normal folk out in the Black. Polluting *his* 'verse with their obscene nightmares made flesh. No wonder River was frightened of them. He was all kinds of terrified his own self.

"You *will* tell me what I want to know, Captain." Said Harkan softly. A finger drawing idle patterns in the Captain's blood like a vivid red tattoo slowly covering his face.

The Captain was trembling, every touch of that *wangba dan's* hand building on a hidden terror inside his soul. An unspeakable horror coming to life in slow insidious increments that he could not have articulated even if he could have formed the words to utter.

"Open your eyes." Harkan commanded. Voice firm and almost conversational in tone.

Mal did not react. Harkan shoved the Captain so that he rolled on to his back, the movement making his eyes flutter open before closing again like a china doll that had been rocked. An agonised moan seeped out of his mouth. The Commandant knew the Captain was in pain and it comforted him.

"All you had to do was give them up." He said reasonably, his finger once more sliding through the now cooling and sticky blood. He kept changing the pattern on his skin until the Captain's face was a red sickly wash of colour. He stopped and wiped his hand on the front of Mal's shirt, watching him intently as if the Captain would stir and open his eyes any minute. But he did not.

It dawned on the Commandant that the Captain had passed out. He looked up at the two men sitting patiently at the table, their dispassionate eyes showing nothing of what they were thinking.

"Wake him."

The nearest one pinned him with a cold empty look. A certain glimpse into the void. "We are not concerned with your 'amusements'."

"Not even if it gives you what you want?"

For a second no one moved, they just stared at each other. Then the male nearest to Harkan gave a barely perceptible nod. He waited for the Commandant to stand up and move aside then took out a thin short wand and crouched over the fallen Captain. He paused as he glanced up at the Commandant but not one more word passed his lips. Harkan watched him pull out what looked like a little antenna either end of the wand. He held it over the Captain and the Commandant watched the tormented man jerk violently, body spasming and moans of pain leaking out of his slack mouth and multiplying. A fresh flow of blood began to trickle from his eyes and nose. Noticing that his ears were beginning to bleed as well Harkan raised an anxious hand.

"You must not kill him!"

The wand was withdrawn. A gasp escaped trembling lips. Harkan again crouched beside him. "Tell me Captain and this will stop. Where is River Tam? Where is her brother Simon?"

He thought the Captain would not answer. Did not think he was able to respond. But just as he was about to repeat his question with the aid of a little more 'persuasian' the Captain forced his eyes to open just a crack. Wide enough to see what a piece of unmitigated *gos se* looked like up close. "*Ri ni*!"

"Not very polite." Mused Harkan happily. "Now," His smile vanished. "Where are they?"

* * * * *

Simon stared. Horrified. Inara looked shocked then riven with deep concern. They had begun to gather in the commons area once the word was out. The ship for the moment not locked on to any course just idling while they discussed this latest unwelcome turn of events. Things were 'going to hell in a handbasket' and no mistake. Zoe was glaring, anger and frustration vying for ascendance in a face that was beginning to look really pissed off. She was definitely not amused. Wash said nothing. The Shepherd arrived with River hovering at his elbow, a look in her eyes that made Simon's heart sink. As if bits of her were crumbling before his very eyes. He wanted to go to her. To wrap himself around her like some protective cloak but the look in her eyes kept him in his place. She neither wanted or needed it. A focus sharpening in that fragile look that could break steel alloy and not raise a sweat.

"What the *diyu* did she think she was doing?" Said Zoe in angry frustration.


Everyone turned to look at River. Zoe's eyes narrowed. "How can she do that? Serenity couldn't keep up with an Alliance cruiser on full burn how would Yen Mah be able to? All she's got is the shuttle and that's not designed for interstellar travel."

River shook her head. "Not going interstellar." Simon's eyes widened. "Where are they going, *mei mei*?"

The girl took a moment to think, head tilted, then she straightened and looked at him. Eyes bright but sad. "She doesn't need a map. Can't follow."

Jayne shifted in his position propped up against the wall. "She can't follow 'cause the shuttle's too ruttin' slow. Don't make sense. How she helpin' apart from gettin' herself killed by stupidity?"

"That's rich coming from you." Quipped Wash.

The mercenary glared at him but one look from Zoe made him pause. After a moment he decided to act as if he had not heard the comment.

"There's something else." Said Inara reluctantly. An almost guilty look creeping across her face.

Zoe held her breath. What the good gorram could go wrong now?

"The necklace is gone."

For a moment all she drew was blank looks. Only River did not look surprised, a lightening of her expression seeming to suggest that the news had helped another piece of her spooky puzzle slot into place. Did it matter that it was all kinds of crazy and brilliant and nonsensical?

* * * * *

Sheriff Martin Bowman hated this. Deputy Crowther kept sneaking glances at him, trying not to look anxious. It did not fool the Sheriff and he was sure it would not fool the *laoban's* men but he was hardly in a position to take the boy to one side and caution him to relax and calm down. A fine order that would be seeing as it was one he would not be able to follow his own self. Jubal Fox glowered at him. "You got something to say, Sheriff?"

He shook his head. "No, not me. Got some wonderin' though."

Jubal's eyes narrowed, dangerous sparks in their dark devious depths. "And what wonderin' might that be?"

He tried a casual shrug but he was still a mite pained from his gunshot wound and movement was tugging at the stitches that kept his innards from joining his outards. "What makes this *wangba dan* worth so much effort?"

The words surprised the *laboan's* right hand man so much he almost laughed outright but he reminded himself that Bowman was not quite as dumb as he looked. A little slow mayhap but not a complete *baichi*. "Should be enough for you that he's wanted, Sheriff."

"Oh I'm all aware of that. But he's flown the coup an' instead of postin' wide alerts for wherever the *ben dan* makes planet-fall we go lookin' for a sleek an' fast pursuit vehicle. To my mind that says there's more here than a simple felon."

For a moment Jubal Fox just stared at him. At last he blinked slowly as if the movement was some indicator that his brain was working at tip-top speed through a backwash of human waste. His look saying that he was looking right now at the blockage. "You know what you need to know, Sheriff. Reynolds is wanted and believed to have information on some other people needed for questionin'."

It was more than the Sheriff had expected him to say. He gave a nod, his eyes never leaving Jubal's. He allowed his brief show of curiosity to flatline in his eyes and adopted an air of boredom. "Thought as much." He huffed. "Sooner we get him in custody the sooner me and my boys can get back to our homes and families an' some of that fine meat an' potato pie your wife makes so well Crowther."

His deputy hid his surprise and nodded not trusting his voice to speak. He wasn't married and those few words had the duel effect of allaying Jubal's suspicions and alerting the Sheriff's own men that they were on opposite sides of whatever rutting coin the *laoban* had tossed among them. His men were now listening with heightened awareness. Ready to take their cue from the Sheriff. For his own self he was worried about the Captain. Concern deepening for the girl and all the other children trapped in the maw of such unsavoury forces. They needed to tread carefully. As his papa used to say to him when he was a boy, *walk soft and carry a big stick, son*. Well, he didn't have a big stick as such but he was damn shiny at walking soft.

* * * * *

"Necklace?" Jayne did not hide his look of disbelief. "Who cares about a gorram piece of *lese* jewellery?"

"Whoever took it." Said Inara calmly.

"You think Yen Mah is going to use it as a map?" Asked Simon quietly, his eyes betraying how fantastic that sounded to him and how foolish the girl must be to even think she could make sense of it.

River fluttered in front of them like some agitated butterfly unable to land. "No, you're missin' the pieces of the puzzle. They're all there but in the wrong order."

They remembered when River had informed them that the planets on the chain were not in the correct sequence. Now she was saying the same thing about puzzle pieces. Could they be the same thing? What in the nine hells did it mean?

"Life or death." Said River, her flighty movements suddenly stilling putting them all on edge. Wash was sure the hair on the back of his neck was standing straight up.

Zoe did not need any more cryptic craziness. They had to find the Captain. Yen Mah was a secondary consideration though she was tactful enough not to say it out loud. Sure that if she did the Preacher would have a 'special hell' to put her in.

"So what do we do?" Asked Jayne.

Before Zoe could reply, River's voice floated like a tangible thing in the air around them. "Not a map."

Inara turned to her and placed a hand gently on her arm. "River?"

The girl smiled at the Companion but did not seem to be looking at her. "She can follow the connection because he held it in his hands."

No one knew quite what to make of that. Zoe was frowning. "River, what do you mean?"

"They have a connection."

Simon felt like he was caught up in some nightmare or other and shook his head as if the action would wake him up. "River, I don't see how this helps."

She looked at him and gave him a half smile, her eyes cradling an odd kind of gentleness and patience in them as she did so. "It helps. Not us but them."

"Them?" Asked Wash.

"Yen Mah and the Captain."

"Oh." He said as if understanding though the look on his face showed he was even more baffled than before. He looked to Zoe for help. "Tell me again, *bao bei*, how those two have a connection and why the map that isn't map will lead Yen Mah to the Captain?"

Something clicked in Inara's mind. "Of course!"

River beamed at her as if she had just gone to the top of her class. They stared at each other for a moment then Inara turned to the others. "The Commandant used Mal's DNA to activate the device then followed the signal. I believe Yan Mah is able to home in on the Captain in some similar fashion."

"How?" Demanded a sceptical Jayne.

"I don't know." Replied the Companion honestly.

Jayne blinked and looked unimpressed. Even a litte disappointed. "Huh, thought ya were gonna say somethin' useful."

"Jayne." Admonished the Preacher in a quiet but firm voice. Inara did not look offended.

"I should perhaps explain," She continued. "I have seen devices like this before. I told the Captain it was a tracking device and he should get rid of it but before he could do so the Alliance cruiser docked with Serenity."

"Well that was useful." Murmured Jayne darkly. Everyone stared at him but he was unrepentent. "We gonna *do* somethin' or just glare at each other?"

"Jayne, we are trying to understand what happened." Explained the Shepherd. "Ain't brain damaged, Preacher, just impatient."

Before anyone could say anything to that the proximity alert sounded. Wash practically flew out of the commons to the bridge, the rest of the crew exchanging anxious looks before following him. Zoe reached the bridge as Wash slid into his chair, his hands flying over the controls, an ominious looking red light blinking from the console before he switched it off. "What is it?"

"Proximity alert."

Wash's hands flipped switches and brought up an image of what had tripped the alarm. Eight pairs of eyes stared at the craft filling the screen. "What the...?"

Zoe placed a hand on her husband's shoulder. "What is it, *bao bei*?"

"We're being hailed. Hold on, putting it through now."

"Firefly class vessel Serenity, this is Sheriff Bowman. Do not be alarmed but prepare to be boarded!"

Jayne frowned. "What the *diyu* is that ruttin' *ben dan* doin' here? Didn't we get rid of him once already?"

"Jayne." Warned Book.

When the big man fell silent Zoe answered the hail. "Sheriff, what brings you here?"

"I need to speak to the Cap'n, Zoe. *Hen zhongyao*."

Zoe made a snap decision. There was no time to discuss it first. "You're clear to dock, Sheriff."

"*Xiexie ni*."

As soon as the connection was cut Jayne rounded on her, eyes blazing angrily. "What the gorram d'ya think you're doin'? That *wangba dan* ain't no friend of ours."

"Not sayin' he is, not sayin' he isn't neither." Said Zoe calmly. "But right now I got a whole lot of questions and no answers."

"What do you think the Sheriff can do?" Asked Book.

"Depends on what he wants." She looked at Wash. "Stay here, *xin gan*. If this doesn't work out we may need to leave in a hurry, *dong ma*?"

"You seen that piece of *fei hua* he's travelling in, *bao bei*? It'd be like the hare and the tortoise - with us being the tortoise."

"Speak for yourself." Said Jayne.

Everybody ignored the mercenary. Kaylee was looking all kinds of worried. It was River slipping her hand in the mechanics that helped her hold on to what little control she had left. Too many bad things all seemed to be happening at once. River squeezed her hand, her face calm, her eyes telling Kaylee that it would be alright. Simon looked ready to flee which considering they had nowhere to go should have been funny but right now Jayne wasn't finding anything funny. Zoe gave Simon a nod. "You and River need to find somewhere to hide, Simon."

His eyes widened. "Do you think they want us?"

"I'm not sure what to think, just bein' cautious."

He nodded. "*Wo dong*. Come on, River."

He thought she was going to protest but Kaylee gave her a smile and squeezed her hand. It was enough to make her go with Simon without a fuss.

"Jayne, you and Book are with me. Kaylee, I want you to check on the engines. Make sure we're good to go if we need to. Don't want any more surprises."

Kaylee nodded and hurried off to the sanctuary of her engine room. Wash looked worried, "*Wo bu xihuan*."

"Me neither but let's not assume the worse, *zhangfu*."

He nodded but still fretted as the bridge rapidly emptied leaving him alone. Staring at the craft filling his screen Wash could not help wondering what would go wrong next.

* * * * *

"You could have saved yourself a lot of suffering, Captain."

Captain Reynolds could not speak but his body felt every word as if they had been etched in fire on his naked body. He had no idea what those creepy blue handed freaks had done to him but it was like being turned into a drum, his senses stretched so tight that the slightest reverberation set his body ringing and aching and crying out with all kinds of subtle agonies.

"Now," Harkan was hunkered down beside him, the forefinger of his right hand lightly drawing circles down the side of his blood-stained face causing the Captain to tremble uncontrollably. The Commandant was smiling slightly as if this were nothing more innocuous than a conversation between friends. "I want the girl, Sergeant."

*Huh. Back in the trenches* thought Mal. "Tell me where she is." He asked again, the slide of his fingertip now dragging slowly along the seal of his re-attached ear making spasms of fear and agony overlap in a combination that was driving him into a kind of numbing dispair. Memories of Adelei Niska doing nothing to reassure him. Harkan leaned closer, his mouth just inches from the Captain's ear. "Tell me." He huffed quietly.

The warm air was like an electric cloud against his ear. The Captain shuddered and spasmed, mouth hanging open in a silent scream. His face contorted like some ancient tribal mask from Earth-that-was.

"I can kill you," Said Harkan in a conversational tone. "Or I can let you live." He paused and took his hand away, allowing the Captain to luxuriate briefly in the loss of contact. "Time to choose. Or," Another pause. Harkan was openly laughing at him now. So rutting smug it was sickening. "I can hand you back to our two friends to finish you off in style." He paused one last time. "After I've finished having my fun with you."

"Don't know what you want," Said the Captain in a pained voice so soft that the Commandant had to rest his ear against Mal's barely moving lips to hear him. "Can't give you what I don't got."

"So chivalrous," Murmured Harkan leaning back on his heels. He watched the Captain's face keenly but the man did not open his eyes. Harkan looked up and held a hand out. Silently one of the men produced a thin razor sharp blade. His hands covered in thin blue gloves like his companion. As if to remove them even further from being contaminated by human contact. Harkan took it with a cold smile, turning the knife over and over in his hand as the light played along its' finely honed steel edge. The mirrored surface seeming to transfix him. "I seem to remember promising to do to you what you did to that poor survivor."

Something prodded Mal's consciousness but he could not rouse himself enough to care. He barely felt the cold kiss of steel as it caressed his cheek like an insincere lover. Not yet turned to cut him with its' silvered edge. Harkan was playing with him but he didn't give a good gorram.

"I was going to slit your tongue first," Mused the Commandant. "But seeing's as how that would prevent you from screaming it seemed such a waste." He paused. If he expected a reaction from the Captain he was sadly mistaken. On some level he was impressed by the man's ability to withstand what was being done to him. It would be almost a shame to end him. But he had given the Captain his word and what was a man if he could not keep his word? A bastard he might be. An evil kind of genius some said. But an oath breaker? No. Not him. He owed it to the Captain to at least keep his word.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*pengyou* = friend *yuanliang* = forgive *wo milu le* = I am lost *diyu* = hell *wangba dan* = bastard *gos se* = crap *ri ni* = screw you *mei mei* = little sister *laoban* = boss *baichi* = idiot *bao bei* = precious/treasure *ben dan* = moron *hen zhongyao* = it is important *xiexie ni* = thank you *xin gan* = sweetheart *dong ma* = understand? *fei hua* = rubbish *wo dong* = I understand *zhangfu* = husband *wo bu xihuan* = I don't like it


Wednesday, January 14, 2004 11:46 AM


That was pretty intense. I'm curious to learn how Mal can withstand that kind of pain as well. Hmmm.... *deep thoughts* I love this series, very emotionally driven. Loving the development.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004 2:31 PM


Poor Mal. I don't think this is his best day ever... or is it days?
Anyway, I have to agree with Poetic4U. I am really enjoying this series. You do a great job with the characters.
I got a bit confused last episode though. The part when Mal gets his memories back. He saw someone who triggered them? Who was it?
Please keep writing!
PS: If you kill Mal, you will go to a very special hell.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004 2:46 PM


Hi Squee, your query about who was giving the Mal his memories back in the last episode, remember who came into the room. Like you, I love Mal so you'll just have to trust me on his future well being. Right now he's still on a pretty intense roller coaster. As for how he can stand all the pain Poetic4U these people know exactly how far they can push him and Mal is anything but a weakling in that area. Thanks for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Thursday, January 15, 2004 2:06 PM


Hmm... *goes back and rereads the end*

Ok, well the part when they come in doesn't say who they are. Its says 'one of the strangers'. I'm guessing that its the dudes with the blue gloves (since they are there in the next scene) but its still not very clear, especially because I didn't know that Mal knew who they were. He never saw them in the show. And if he did know who they were, why did they trigger his memories?
Hope you don't think I'm being picky. I'm just giving you feedback on where things aren't adding up from a reader's perspective.
Can't wait to read more!

When you can't run, you crawl, and when you can't crawl, you find someone to carry you.

Thursday, January 15, 2004 3:37 PM


Squee, the clues are there but they are a mite subtle. The Captain has River's cryptic craziness doing handstands in his head, memories of things she has said cluing him in. Her chant of "two by two hands of blue" being a case in point, when those two *wangba dans* entered his cell he would have seen their blue gloved hands right off and realised right away who they must be - hence the fear. And remember Harkan is after River (and Simon). Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Saturday, January 17, 2004 3:53 AM


Horrible, horrible! .....and utterly compelling. Another shiny chapter from a shiny writer.

OK, I'm going to trust you on Mal's "future well being". Because I couldn't bear it if you killed him off after all this!!

BTW I thought the HoB were able to trigger Mal's memories because of a combination of what the wand does to the brain and possibly psychic abilities like River's.


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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.