TEMPTATION SERIES: 43. "Beg, Steal or Borrow"
Monday, December 19, 2005

"The trap is sprung and the crew work on a rescue plan. River has no intention of letting the blind lead the blind."



SUMMARY "The trap is sprung and the crew work on a rescue plan. River has no intention of letting the blind lead the blind." 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

* * * * *

Being a suspicious man, Malcolm Reynolds blessed his luck while cursing the ease with which the shuttle landed among a nest of Alliance heavies the like of which he had seldom seen in one place except during the War. Made every inch of his gorram skin crawl. He glanced at his friend, noting how serene Chung-li appeared but knowing that blanket of calm could hide a myriad of things. "Okay, so we're down."

Chung-li did not say anything. The Captain swallowed slowly, as if still sorting out the words he needed to say in his head and not wanting them to come out wrong.

"I got a bad feelin' 'bout this, Chung-li. Fact is I seen merrier gallows."

"You did not have to come, *wode pengyou*."

Anger sparked along with a brief stab of hurt but evaporated an instant later. Mal knew the Chinaman meant no offence and would be the last one to wish to put him in harm's way. "*Bushi*. Not no-way was I lettin' you come alone, *dong ma*?"

There was little time for further conversation. True to his word the Governor of Hope had an escort waiting for them. Without voicing any more of his misgivings the Captain checked his sidearm and followed Chung-li to the door. A short burst of code sent back to Serenity to let them know they had landed safely and to keep radio silence. From here on they were on their own. Even though it looked a mite pointless, the Captain locked the shuttle as they made their exit, the pallanx of purplebellies arrayed to meet them made his gorram insides twist into painful knots. A man stepped forward and introduced himself to Chung-li. "I am Commandant Cleveley. The Governor is pleased to grant you an audience."

The greeting did not extend to Malcolm Reynolds. The disapproving twist of the Commandant's lips when he glanced towards the Captain actually made Mal's spirits rise just a little bit. Discomfitting the Alliance by any margin added polish to his day. Not enough to stop the rattlers multiplying in his stomach but right now he would take what he could get.

* * * * *

Wash listened as his wife outlined her fears. They were all gathered on the bridge, not a one of them cracking so much as a smile. "If this is a trap why did they go down there?" Asked Kaylee.

"Because," Said Zoe evenly. "Rafe Connor an' his people are friends. Cap'n an' Chung-li got right close to them."

Kaylee flushed. "*Wo zhidao*, I didn't mean... What I meant to say is why go walkin' into a trap? There must be other ways to find out what they wanna know."

Awkward looks were exchanged. Kaylee frowned. Shepherd Book cleared his throat slowly. "Actually, the most direct method is sometimes the best."

The look Inara gave him made him feel guilty but he would not retract an unpalatable truth.

"I said *sometimes*." He added by way of compensation.

"Then it ain't best now?" Asked Jayne.

"I'm sure the Captain knows what he's doing..." Simon's words trailed off as everyone turned to look at him.

"I'm thinkin' you're forgettin' some of the Cap'n's plans."

"No, Zoe, I'm not it's just he has Chung-li with him and..."

"An' the Chinaman ain't been right since we found the massacre on Glory!" Jayne finished for him.

Aghast, Simon's mouth hung open. Kaylee squeezed his hand but it didn't make the doctor feel any better.

"'Sides," Jayne continued. "Cap'n said for us to stay clear."

As Zoe's eyes began to narrow dangerously Book spoke. "Not that any of us actually promised to do so."

Zoe did a double take. Inara realised the Shepherd had something in mind and was curious and more than a mite relieved. With or without Chung-li coming to Hope had been a massive mistake. Not that she couldn't appreciate the reasoning behind it. Leaving brave and noble aside, a fool was still a fool whichever way you looked at it.

* * * * *

Many times since he and River had come to Serenity, Simon had cause to believe he had fallen in with people who had escaped from a mental institution. They were beyond crazy. This latest plan was even worse than the one the Captain and Chung-li had embarked on and *this* was supposed to be a rescue plan? Huffing to himself he went to check on his sister. The meds should be wearing off soon and he did not want her to wake alone. Added to that he didn't think he could listen to the crew a moment longer without banging his head on the airlock door.

* * * * *

The door was heavy, the room small, dark and musty. Mal blinked and tried to block out the bright fragmenting stars bursting into little supernovas inside his gorram head. Huh. he had known this was a stupid idea but hadn't thought it would go to *diyu* so rutting fast. The visit with the Governor had been something of a revelation. As they had stepped into the obscene oppulence of his 'palace' the Captain had felt as far removed from reality as it was possible to be and still draw breath. Forgetting for a moment that he was just an observer he had whistled and spun slowly round, his eyes wide and disbelieving as he took in walls lined with gold leaf, chandeliers made of precious gemstones, the floor beneath his feet made of opal and marble. Every expense imaginable used to decorate the throneroom of the unworthiest of Kings. No pretender to the throne had ever bathed in more wealth.

The guard shoved the Captain to one side, distracting him. Opening his mouth to complain he shut it with a quick snap, the gun levelled at his head a timely incentive. Ahead of him Chung-li walked up to the Governor's seat, his calm demeanour solidifying into cold anger held barely in check as he recognised its' occupant. "Cyrus White! I had no idea a snake could crawl so far upon its' belly."

Mal's head snapped round. What? Cyrus White? Did Chung-li say the *tamade hundan* in charge of this circus was called Cyrus White? Taking a step to close the gap between him and his friend was the Captain's last mistake. The butt of the rifle hit him square in the face, smashing his nose and knocking him flat off his feet. Blood gurgling in pockets in his broken face he barely had time to roll onto his side as he vomitted, the darkness closing in over him as his breath clogged with blood.

He came to in pain and gingerly surveyed the limits of his prison. Cold damp walls formed a room eight foot square. There were no windows, just a little crack in brickwork so thick and heavy it could have been a gorram bomb shelter. A tiny sliver of silvery light leaked through about a foot or so above his head. It was the only thing relieving the darkness. Mal closed his eyes, he did not feel so good. Not only did he have a broken nose, it also felt as if there were several cracks in his cheek bones. Made him wonder if the *tamade hundan* had hit him again after he had passed out. Not that it mattered none. Cursing himself for getting separated from Chung-li he fretted, all manner of terrible possibilities running through his aching head. What was happening? Was his friend even now being tortured to within an inch of his life? Anger burned deep in him but he was powerless to act. Frustration made that anger more profound, coupled with the shame of having failed to protect his friend. *Wode ma*, he would never forgive himself if anything happened to Chung-li.

As he sank to a sitting position on the damp earthen floor, Mal scooted back and leant against a wall. His thoughts turning to River. A deep sorrow settling in his heart and soul at the thought that he might never look upon her beautiful face again. She had her moments the same as the rest of them but so did he. Mal wasn't exactly the father of sensible thinking his own self, his current predicament being a case in point. But they were both adults and it wasn't wrong that he and River had found something in each other that filled their own lack, a resonance that went beyond the simple concept of love. More encompassing and enduring. He knew some might think them being together was wrong but to him it was the most right thing that had ever happened to him and now it was in jeopardy. Not only would he lose Chung-li, he would lose his friends and crew, his ship, and the single most important person in his gorram life. A sob caught in the back of his throat, his mouth hanging open because it was the only way to get breath into his lungs. Spitting out a mouthful of blood he felt sick. *Gorramit xin gan, I'm so ruttin' sorry*.

Bowing his head he rested his forehead on his crossed arms, trying desperately to think past the pain. But dizzy and having trouble forming more than a fragmented thought at a time, only one thing was clear. He had to get out. Somehow. Some way. Or sure as he knew anything he was gonna die in this place.

* * * * *

Chung-li managed to keep his expression impassive. Shocked by what had happened he needed to stay cool, project an impartial and unconcerned air. If Cyrus White thought the Captain was important to him the man would suffer in ways that he would not inflict upon his own worst enemy. The only good thing was that Cyrus White had no interest in Malcolm Reynolds. The man he wanted vengeance on was standing right before him.

"Did you think I would not find you?"

The Chinaman watched the handsome face, not surprised to see that Cyrus had put on weight. A life of excess and pampering took its' toll. Yet still the face was beautiful, high cheek bones shone with health and vitality. Eyes bright and sharp as tacks. Long dark lashes fanning a tanned complexion. The voice cultured from the best schools the Core could provide. Yet nothing could educate ignorance and for all his wealth and privilege Cyrus White was a greedy ignorant man. Chung-li knew that the key to his salvation lay in the careful manipulation of this man's excess.

* * * * *

Dreaming. She had to be and yet the images were pin sharp, the pain debilitating in its' clarity. River was drifting but it was as if she was tethered to that swaying connection that bound her to him. What was happening and why did she sense that her *ai ren* was in dire need of her help? River went deeper, farther, projecting her thoughts and seeking him out. Her body tensing as her mind dipped in and out of minds known and unknown, following a silver trail of thoughts edged in fever-bright pain. With a panicked rush, consciousness flooded back into her and she sat with a sudden jerk, eyes snapping open and staring almost sending Simon Tam into cardiac arrest.


She did not blink. Eyes still staring, her consciousness adrift, searching, seeking. A mind not at rest. Heart in his mouth, Simon eased close, his hands outstretched in a tentative attempt to touch her, to gather her into the safety and security of his arms. When he was but inches from her, River blinked and focused on him. She frowned. Simon froze. "He's in pain."

"Who, *mei mei*? Who's in pain?"


As much as Simon wanted to believe his sister was not a Reader the facts did not support his wish. "Do you know where he is? What happened?"

"An old enemy seeking revenge."

Simon's stomach flipped. *Tianna*, don't let it be Niska! River shook her head.

"He doesn't want the Captain."

Not Niska then. "Who is it, River?"

"Feels cheated, lost what he'd stolen. Wanted it back. Even if he ruined it to get it."

"River, *wo bu dong*. What did he lose and who are we talking about?"

"Cyrus White."

It took a moment for Simon to place the name. His eyes widened. *Tian Yesu*, this was not good. "Do you mean the Cyrus White who tricked Rafe Connor out of his land?" River nodded, swinging her legs over the side of the infirmary bed. "He's Governor now. More power. More wealth than God. Only unlike God he will never be satisfied. Enough is never enough. There is only more."

"We have to tell the others."

"*Qu* but this time we'll need explosives."

Alarmed, Simon was about to ask why but River had already slipped off the bed and was running out of the infirmary. Snapping his mouth shut Simon hurried after her. Whatever else might be said about life aboard Serenity, it was never dull.

* * * * *

It amused the Governor not to restrain the Chinaman. Not just yet. He watched the subtle play of emotions on the strong man's face, savouring the effort it was costing him not to lunge forward and try to strangle him.

"*Weishenme*? You have more wealth than any man alive."

Cyrus White raised an exquisitely sculpted eyebrow. "It is a matter of principle."

"Principle?" Chung-li almost choked. His reaction amused Cyrus. The Chinaman did not share his humour. "You cheated him out of his ranch, his land, his home. He trusted you and that trust was betrayed."

The Governor's face darkened. His men edged a little closer, poised to either shoot the Chinaman dead or restrain him. "I was the one wronged not him!"

"You may lie to others Governor White, but there is a part of you that knows the truth. You say you wanted what was yours, claim the land was yours, why then destroy it? Why kill men, women and children whose only crime was to have something you wanted?"

"I do not have to justify myself to you!" Cyrus stood and with a flick of his hand had Chung-li restrained. With a sneer, Cyrus White took a step towards the Chinaman. "Why did you come here?"

"To find out what had happened to Rafe Connor and his family."

"You went to Glory?"

Chung-li could not hide his sorrow or revulsion. "*Qu*."

"Then why come here?"

"I counted the bodies. Some could be recognised, others were too badly burnt. But numbers do not lie. Not all were accounted for."

"Maybe some left before we got there."

The Chinaman shook his head. "If there is anything I have learnt about you, Cyrus, it is that you are very thorough." He paused and watched the smirk of satisfaction oil its' way across Cyrus's face. It was all the confirmation he needed. "Where are they?"

"You want to see them?"

Chung-li nodded and waited.

"Then you shall." Cyrus stepped back and snapped his fingers.

Before Chung-li could react he was cuffed and shackled.

* * * * *

The tunnel was hot, dusty and with scarce enough air circulating to inflate flagging lungs. The girl wiped a weary hand over a dirt streaked face. Her clothes hung off her slim frame hiding the jutting ribs and the emaciated flesh. Her face looked hollowed out and gaunt belying her years. A teenager who looked middle aged and moved like an old woman. Everything ached including her heart. Sorrow and grief weighed her down. The only bright spark was that her father still lived but her brother Mark was dead, had died trying to defend them against impossible odds. Todd had been flayed alive when he tried to stop the women from being raped. So many gone. Dead. The land they had lived on and loved for so long now nothing but smoke and ashes. In her heart she wept for the futility of it, the cruelty and wrongness of murder, theft and wanton destruction. Not to speak of the kidnappings and slavery of working in the mines. Mind numbingly boring repetitive work that filled day and night alike with the weight and toil of long hours underground.

She wondered where Molly was. Almost she wished her sister had died too, better that than the repeated rapes. Her spirit all but broken Molly had let them do what they wanted, her only prayer was for it all to end. If that meant in death so be it. But she was powerless and had no access to a weapon. So silent and morose, Molly wandered through the grim reality of her life like a somnambulist, the glaze in her hooded eyes becoming more pronounced day by day. In her head ticking off the seconds, minutes and hours of a life already over.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*wode pengyou* = my friend *bushi* = not so *dong ma* = understand? *wo zhidao* = I know *diyu* = hell *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *wode ma* = mother of God *xin gan*/*ai ren* = sweetheart *mei mei* = little sister *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *tianna* = oh God! *tian Yesu* = sweet Jesus *qu* = yes (lit. go) *weishenme* = why


Monday, December 19, 2005 11:09 PM


You do such amazing original characters, Alison. I admire that tremendously. And, of course, your writing is flawless as always.

In fact, there's not much you don't do well. You've got a great grasp of suspense, characterization, pacing, atmosphere... everything that makes a story great. Every chapter is a treat.

We're lucky we don't have to go to a bookstore and pay to read your work.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005 1:02 PM


And no folks, I did not pay Cub to write that! Many thanks for the shiny words. Appreciate it more than you will know. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, December 21, 2005 2:07 AM


OMG - grim ending. Very raw and painful.

Cyrus is an excellent villain. Great to have a baddie I can really hate.


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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.