TEMPTATION SERIES: 41. "Following the Coin"
Wednesday, December 7, 2005

"Serenity arrives in orbit around Hope only to discover the Alliance already has the planet in a choke hold."



SUMMARY "Serenity arrives in orbit around Hope only to discover the Alliance already has the planet in a choke hold." 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

* * * * *

Water, water everywhere but she was still breathing, *dui*? So what was wrong with this picture? River tried to process images that didn't exactly bounce off her retinas, memories skew whiff because so much was tumbling through her brainpan. Sharp little shards of brilliance stung her with phantom blasts of light. What the *guai* was this? Then she remembered. Small slivers of memory trickling through a mind that was so full of holes she could have used it as a colander.

Simon worked with patient skill and utter concentration. Now that River realised she was unconscious she was much calmer, her mind forging pathways her body could only dream of. She knew Simon was worried about her but that anxiety had been pushed to one side to allow the doctor to silence the brother so he could work. Poking around inside his head she noticed it was not the cluttered palace of most minds but the orderly almost sterile confines of a disciplined one. Not that she had expected anything less but some residue of emotion would have been comforting. After all she was the one with a hole in her allowing him to probe and oh so carefully restore what had been taken from her. It was not that any body parts were missing exactly but they had been realigned so that sexual intercourse would do no more than flush the precious seed to a point of no return until it could be washed out of her system with the rest of the bodily wastes. The ovaries beyond reach, the route to a successful ovulation blocked. Now Simon was reopening the pathway, her body as well as her mind willing him to succeed.

* * * * *

As the ship drew closer to Hope Wash slowed down, almost stopping. Within minutes the Captain was clambering quickly on to the bridge to find out why. The words forming on his tongue stuck there as he looked passed Wash and saw the military build up. His mouth sagged open. Behind him Zoe hissed in a sharp breath. Her reaction prompted him to say what he was thinking. "What the good gorram's goin' on, Wash?"

"Your guess is as good as mine, Cap'n, or if you're as clueless as I am then forget I said anythin'."

Mal glanced at him out of the corner of his eye, reluctant to turn his head completely in case those Alliance pursuit ships decided the Firefly was worth pursuing or worse, opened fire on them. Not that there was any reason in the known 'verse for them to do that but that notion never stopped the Alliance in the past. Had no reason to think the present was any different where those *tamade hundan* were concerned. "You ain't exactly helpin', Wash."

"Maybe we should re-think our plan, sir."

Zoe. What in the nine hells would he do without her? Could always be counted on to keep her head even when he was half out of his. "Still have to go down to Hope."

"Sir, are you not seein' those Alliance ships? I'm pretty sure that me an' Wash ain't hallucinatin'."

The Captain shook his head. "Not what I was meanin' Zoe an' I wasn't thinkin' of Wash landin' Serenity anyway."

"You weren't?" Wash blinked at the Captain's expression then changed tack. "Of course you weren't. So, what *were* you thinkin'?"

"I have to speak to Chung-li."

Before he could disappear again Wash got in a question. "In the meantime what should I do? You want us to stay right here or move away to a less in-the-line-of-fire position?"

Mal waved a hand vaguely as if expecting Wash to pull the answer out of thin air. "Just... don't attract any unwanted attention."

The pilot muttered under his breath as the Captain disappeared from sight. Zoe leaned forward and kissed his cheek. "Don't mind the Cap'n, *bao bei*. He'll think of something." Then Zoe turned and retreated like the Captain's shadow. A glum expression settling on his face, Wash parked Serenity in orbit and tried to prop up his sinking spirits. "That's what I'm afraid of."

When the Captain got to the catwalk Zoe stopped him. "Goin' down to Hope is a bad idea, sir"

"*Fang xin*, we'll think of somethin' Zoe."

She frowned. "Did Chung-li say exactly what he thought he'd find here?"

Mal huffed and started walking briskly towards the common room, Zoe falling into step as natural as could be. "No, said it was more a 'sense'."

That surprised her. "What're you sayin', sir?"

He paused and looked at her, his face closed up in a way she hadn't seen in a long time. She wasn't sure what it meant only that she didn't like it. "Not sure what I'm sayin', *diyu* I'm not even sure what I'm thinkin'. Just that this is *zhongyao*."

Zoe pursed her lips. So close to him that it was wonder their bodies didn't rub as they moved in sych. "If it's that important then it's time Chung-li spelt it out, sir. For us lesser mortals."

The look he shot her would have raised a smile had she not been feeling so tense. When they reached the common room Mal called the crew together. Chung-li had changed into a nondescript travelling cloak, every stitch of his clothing one shade or other of understated brown. It gave the Captain the creeps, stirring memories he in no way wanted to revisit. The only bright spot about it was the slight flinch on Book's face when he saw the Chinaman. Mal turned his head and frowned. Everyone was there except Simon and River. In fact, he hadn't seen his little albatross in a good while. He hoped she wasn't having one of her episodes but right now was not the time to worry about that. Had problems a-plenty without looking for more.

"Okay people, listen up. Seems Hope has more than a military garrison on the planet. Have to say if the gorram war weren't over I'd think we were fightin' it all over again."

Jayne looked confused. "*Shenme*?"

"Ships, Jayne." Explained Zoe in a terse voice. "Lots of 'em an' none of 'em friendly to us."

"We in trouble, Cap'n?"

Mal tried to smile at Kaylee but couldn't quite manage it. "Not yet, *mei mei*, but I don't like the way things're shapin' up." He paused and looked at Chung-li. Push had come to shove. "Chung-li, I need you to tell me what the good gorram's goin' on. What these Alliance ships doin' crowdin' round Hope?"

"*Wo bu zhidao*, Mal."

"What's the real reason we're here?" He asked softly. Shepherd Book's interest sharpened but he said nothing. Letting his eyes pick up clues that his ears might miss.

"I have to go down to the planet, Mal. Not so you."

The Captain waved an impatient hand at him. The others were surprised, they had yet to see the Captain show any irritation or impatience with Chung-li. "*Bushi*, that's nothin' but *fei hua*. If you're insistin' on goin' down then I'm insistin' on goin' with you but that ain't what I'm askin'. What you expectin' to find on Hope?"

"Gold!" Said Jayne. In the silence his word echoed a mite too loud and faces turned to stare at him. Uncomfortable at the scrutiny he scowled back. "What? I'm just sayin', gold."

"Yes, Jayne." Said Zoe calmly, her eyes hard but not angry. "We know about the gold."

"No," Explained Jayne shaking his head. "I mean maybe that's why they're there 'cause of the gold. Alliance needs funds, all them soldiers, ships an' such. Havin' gold mines on Hope means someone else can foot the bill don't it? Leastways that's what I'd do if'n it were mine."

"Only it isn't yours." Shepherd Book averred, his voice calm while it was his eyes asking questions.

"Not their's neither," Responded Jayne. "We do this right it'll be ours."

Anger flashed sudden and violent like a summer storm across the Captain's face. "*Bizui*, Jayne, that's enough! This ain't about gold. That's not why we're here. Chung-li, how 'bout you tell us why we're here?"

For a moment the big man did not speak then slowly he nodded to Mal. The Captain was his friend and the people of Glory had meant a great deal to the both of them. "Not all the bodies add up to the dead, *wode pengyou*."

"*Shenme*?" What the *diyu* was he talking about?

"I counted." Said Chung-li slowly, his eyes fixed on the Captain as if no one else were in the room.

Mal's mouth went dry. "What you tryin' to say, Chung-li?"

"I lived on Glory for years, Mal. Knew every soul on that ranch. Rafe and his folks were like kin to me." The man paused and gave a long heavy sigh. His serene mask cracking with pain. "Some are missin'." He said softly.

Now no one spoke or dared move. All of them hanging on Chung-li's words. Quietly Mal prompted him. He had to ask, to know, much as the knowing might grieve him. "Who ain't there?"

"Can't be sure..."

"Chung-li!" The crack of the Captain's voice made them all take a breath. "I know you got a good idea or we wouldn't be here. Now. No more games, *dong ma*?"

Big soulful eyes looked deeply into the Captain's own. "Most of the ranch hands were there," He said softly. "Some I could recognise by bits of jewellery. Hal by those gold teeth in his lower jaw..." Mal shut his eyes against the pain. Chung-li had to gulp in more air just to keep his voice steady. "I figure there's ten, maybe twelve people not accounted for."

He wanted to ask, *tianna* how he wanted to ask, but he didn't dare. His voice came out dry and scratchy. "An' you think they'd be on Hope, that it?"

The Chinaman nodded slowly, carefully, as if the weight of all those lost souls were sitting on his shoulders. The slightest wrong move and they would topple off, dislodged into the abyss. The Captain was watching him closely, his expression somewhat puzzled.

"What in the nine hells you think they're doin' on Hope?"

"I think they've been put to work in the mines."

For a minute or two everyone just stared at the Chinaman. If he hadn't been so full of sorrow Mal might have laughed at the absurdity of it but he didn't. Chung-li was not a fanciful man. Not a dissembler of information or a liar. If he said something was so then it was. Set in gorram stone as far as Mal was concerned. But this? It beggared belief. Stretched his faith in the man if he was being truthsome. Had grief finally tipped him over the edge? Had Chung-li lost it? Before he could say anything Chung-li answered his unspoken thoughts, going right to the heart of the matter.

"When I close my eyes I see them, Mal."

A long string of Chinese obscenities slipped out of the Captain's mouth.

"We don't have much time."

"Way, wait, you see them? You sayin' what I think you're sayin'?"

The soft smile was meant to cushion the blow. "River knows. Understands."

Something clicked. Shepherd Book found himself nodding. "You're a Reader."

"No, I have different skills but I sense things. See them sometimes too. I do not read minds, Shepherd."

The Captain was getting all fired up with impatience and the need to drag the words out faster than a couple at a time. "Spit it out, what the good gorram do you see an' how can we get them outta there?"

* * * * *

Simon was weary. Not because he lacked sleep but because of the release of tension, the worry pent up inside him. Now that he had managed to put right what the Alliance had done reaction was setting in. At least River's physical body would heal. If only he could restore the mind as easily. For a while he watched his sister sleep, mind numb but grateful. He washed his hands and made sure everything was properly sterilised and that his sister was breathing easily.

It was something of a surprise when he turned and realised they were no longer alone. Inara Serra looked at him in shock, her face drawn in concern. The baby on her hip momentarily forgotten as she stared at Simon. "*Wode ma*, what happened Simon?"

"It's alright, River wanted me to check her."

"For what?"

For a split second he considered lying but that wasn't his way and River had not told him he could not say anything to Inara. As the Companion listened her heart contracted. Laying pale and immobile on the infirmary bed River looked so young, so vulnerable.

"Is she...? Will River be alright?"

Simon nodded. "*Qu*. Fortunately the surgery was first rate so the wound was small. No tearing and no internal infection."

"Will she be able to..."


Inara nodded, grateful she did not have to say it.

"I don't see why not. What River needs right now is to rest and let her body finish healing. The rest, as they say, is in the lap of the Gods."

* * * * *

The com crackled just as the Captain reappeared on the bridge. Zoe stepped aside to stand beside her man, Chung-li stopping next to the Captain. In the doorway behind them Book, Kaylee and Jayne hovered. Wash looked up at the Captain. "We're bein' hailed."

"Put it through."

Wash flicked a switch and an image came up on the screen. The Alliance officer unknown to Captain and crew but looking every bit as officious as every Alliance *hundan* Mal had ever met. "This is Commander Drylan of the Dauntless. What is your business here?"

"Not stoppin' Commander, just passin' through. I'm Captain Malcolm Reynolds an' this here's my ship, Serenity."

The Commander was scowling darkly now. If he had a finger on a trigger Mal figured it would be itching to squeeze off a shot right now. "No one passes through Hope, Captain. State your business or prepare to be boarded."

"No, no you misundertand me Commander." Mal waved Chung-li into view. "This here brother needs droppin' off on Hope. Paid us just enough in coin for the trip. Soon as he's down we'll be on our merry."

Commander Drylan leaned in a little closer to the monitor. "An' who might you be?"

"A seeker of spiritual enlightenment."

"Sorry to disappoint you, brother, but there are no monasteries on Hope."

Chung-li nodded, his expression calm and serene. "Then I am in the right place, Commander."

"I'm not sure the governing body will want you settin' up a monastery on Hope. Could be you came the long road to nowhere."

Chung-li bowed. "Your pardon, if my request is denied I will of course leave immediately. If you will allow Captain Reynolds' ship to wait for me I will be able to continue my travels."

The Commander did not look too happy. Mal reckoned his job was to warn everybody off but then what could one lone priest do? "I'm afraid you can't land that ship on Hope, Captain."

"Not intendin' to, sir." Said Mal quickly. "Got a shuttle, won't take but an hour to drop the monk off and be back on my boat." The Captain then looked at Chung-li. "How long you reckon you'll need us to stay in orbit before you know if you can stay or not?"

The Chinaman did not answer Mal but looked expectantly at the Commander. Commander Drylan nodded. "Very well, you can come down in the shuttle but you will be checked on the surface, *dong ma*?"

As soon as the com was cut Zoe spoke. "I don't like it, sir."

"Not askin' you to like it. We do this right an' we won't be on Hope long."

"You do this wrong," Said Book ominously. "And you may never leave."

* * * * *

As soon as the transmission ended, Commander Drylan sent a triple encrypted wave to the Governor of Hope. As the large portly man filled the screen, the Commander cleared his throat. The object of his attention smoothed down his white jacket and waited for Drylan to explain the meaning of the interruption.

"Governor, a shuttle will be departing for the surface bringing a monk with it. The monk is seeking to build a monastery on Hope."

A glimmer of suspicion swirled in eyes that never laughed. "You were instructed not to allow anyone to land or take off."

"It is just a priest..."

The Governor stared at Drylan for a moment then nodded slowly. What could one man do after all? "Very well, I will have the shuttle met. Where does he come from?"

"He is on a pilgrimage seeking enlightenment."

Some dark amusement stirred in the corpulent face. The Governor waved a pudgy hand, fingers crammed with rings. The gold was heavy and adorned with precious stones making it look garish and tacky. The wealth of planets plundered under the guise of Alliance guidance and protection. Ah yes. It was good to have all the planets under one rule.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*dui* = correct *guai* = devil/ghost *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *bao bei* = precious/treasure *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *diyu* = hell *zhongyao* = important *shenme* = what *mei mei* = little sister *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *bushi* = not so *fei hua* = nonsense/garbage talk *bizui* = shut up/be quiet *wode pengyou* = my friend *dong ma* = understand? *tianna* = oh God! *wode ma* = mother of God! *qu* = yes (lit. go) *hundan* = bastard


Monday, December 12, 2005 2:08 AM


Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Book's final comment? Just what I was fearing. I'm relying on Zoe and River to get Mal out of whatever trouble awaits him. *crosses fingers*

Favourite line?
' Mal waved a hand vaguely as if expecting Wash to pull the answer out of thin air.'
Very Mal. Liked Wash's reaction to it too.


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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.