TEMPTATION SERIES: 44. "Doing the Math"
Friday, December 23, 2005

"Things go from bad to worse for the Captain. Chung-li goes underground. River begins to hatch a plan."



SUMMARY "Things go from bad to worse for the Captain. Chung-li goes underground. River begins to hatch a plan." 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 made no murmur as he was put in chains, the manacles around his wrists slip chained to the cuffs on his ankles, the play just sufficient to allow him to walk but not run. At least, that was what the *tamade hundan* guards thought. They were not *jingcha* nor *junshi de* just lackeys for the festering son of a whore *liumang* Cyrus White. Chung-li planned a particularly gruesome end for him, one not confined by lack of imagination.

Quiet and biddable, his guards relaxed a mite but remained cautious and watchful. Their *loaban* had warned them not to be taken in by the Chinaman's habit, the simple coarse cloth no measure of the man's intent. Yet Chung-li did not do or say anything but go where he was led, meekly, like a lamb to the slaughter. But Chung-li was no lamb and the slaughter would not be at their behest though the *wangba dans* did not know it. For now the Chinaman needed them to do exactly what they were doing, taking him below ground, down among the disenfranchised, the beaten, imprisoned, the dispossessed. It was the one place on this once fair and free world where he could find what he was searching for. A brief stab of pain caught in his heart as he thought about Malcolm Reynolds, his friend, but there was no time for his heart or his mind to be divided. Folding that friendship away he focused only on the task before him.

As they descended the air became damp and moist. Shuffling pain driven souls toiled with the crudest of implements eeking the precious ore from newly opened rock faces until their hands were so sore and numb they bled. He glanced at the thready veins and knew this was the most impractical way to work a modern mine. But then. This was not the motherlode and this part of the operation was crude in the extreme. He could see the tiny fading capillaries of compressed seams, barely more than trickles of wealth. If every last trace was recovered it would only amount to the loose coin in a wealthy pocket. Shrapnel for feeding to beggars. No. This level was not where the money was, it was used for something Cyrus valued almost as much. Punishment.

With a jerk on his chain, Chung-li was brought to a rough halt. A pick ax was thrust in his hands and then he was pushed towards a particularly feint seam. The guard spat in his face, grinned then launched into a string of abuse about things his mother could never have accomplished without surgery. Distantly he was impressed that the *baichi* could be that inventive but disappointed in his lack of expertise about human anatomy. When he made no rejoiner, Chung-li knew it to be the right decision. With a sour snarl the guard moved angrily on, there would be no entertainment at Chung-li's expense this time.

* * * * *

Simon was careful as he enfolded hesitant arms around his trembling sister. She looked more than a little wild eyed, disorientated. No doubt she had been having nightmares but River did not relax in his arms. Did not return to her normally cogent state but remained tense and frantic, her demeanour becoming more and more distressed. "Sssh, *mei mei, it's alright. I'm here, I'm here. It was just *yige emeng*."

"No, no, Simon, *ni bu dong*."

He pulled back a little, just enough so he could see her face and she could see his. "*Mei mei*, the surgery was successful. Do you hear me River?"

It was as if he were speaking a foreign language. Eyes wide she began to struggle, the manifestation of her distress leaking from her eyes as she fought to form coherent speech. She needed him to understand and she couldn't do that if she gave in to her tears. "We have to go, help, quickly Simon."

"River, if the Captain gets in any trouble he'll send us a wave, you know that."

"Can't, too late."

Now it was his turn to worry. "*Shenme*? What are you saying?"

She stilled for the first time since waking. More tears flowing freely down her pale face. More woman than child he had never seen her looking so fragile. His heart in his mouth Simon could feel the raw pain in her words. "Caught. Trapped. Suffering."

Paling, Simon was torn by conflicting emotions. He needed to keep his sister safe, not to mention his very pregnant wife Kaylee and the rest of Serenity's crew. Then there was Jack. The child was barely six months old, a toddler. What would happen to him if they tried to help? He wanted to rescue the Captain and Chung-li but realistically, what could they do? The sky was filled with Alliance ships, the planet all but over run with purplebellies and the kind of sadistic government officials that would think it no more than their duty to send River back to that 'academy' and him into custody for the brief period before his very public humiliation and execution. All done very legally, of course. But that aside, how in the nine hells were they supposed to extract two men from an operation of this scale?

Calmer now, River worked a hand free and gently rested the palm against his cheek. Her eyes locking on his, the pleading in them muted. Knowing this would be hard for him. Hard for them all. But a ship without a Captain was as good as adrift and River without her *xinzang* was only half alive. Even if Simon could justify leaving them on Hope, River could not. Leaving Mal and Chung-li behind was not an option. Simon saw the steel settle in her eyes. Even as his own heart quailed at what it might cost them he could not argue or disagree. How far would he go if it were Kaylee? As far as he had to. Simon kissed her forehead then rested his head against hers. All his love put into that simple gesture, an act that reassured her that no matter how much he might dislike what had to be done he would be with her every step of the way. No longer crying, River offered him a slow beautiful smile. It illuminated his heart like a rainbow with the promise of better times.

"Don't worry about what you don't got," Said River, mimicking the Captain. "Let's think on what we do got."

As she had hoped, her mangled vocabulary made him smile back.

* * * * *

Rolling on to his side sparked a spasm of agony, his chest and stomach protesting with aches and pains he didn't know he had. Huh. Figured it would be more than his gorram nose and face that was busted. Mal paused and struggled for breath, his heart hammering away a minute or two before finding its' rythym again. He had no idea how long he had been in this *jianyu*. Could be hours, could be days. Hard to tell when he kept passing out.

As soon as his vision cleared and his stomach settled he inched forward. There was something by the dim crack of light that indicated the base of his cell door. Apart from that and a narrow crack in the brickwork above, the place was in permanent darkness. Right now though there seemed to be something by the door. A small darker patch of black. Only when he was almost within touching distance did he see what it was. A bowl of water. No food. No place for him to perform his bodily functions. He wondered why they had even given him that. If they intended to just shut him away until he died all slow-like why give him water? Then it hit him. The water was not a kindness but a way to prolong the inevitable. Not that it made much sense to him but then he was no *shengbing tamade hundan*.

Thirsty as he was he didn't touch the bowl. Somehow that would be like giving in and as much as he was hurting he wasn't finished yet. First he would rest awhile then he would have to think of a way to get the good gorram outta this cell. His friend Chung-li was out there somewhere, and maybe Rafe and his family. Or. Not. Whichever. Whatever. Enough bad had already happened without letting any more befall them. Eyes so heavy they might have had lead weights on them, his head sagged, his breathing messy and laboured. The darkness of his cell inconsequential when the greater darkness took him. Waking was sudden, so abrupt it was like being split in two. Light dazzling him like sharpened shards of glass, cutting his vision into pieces that wouldn't work to inform his sight. But the pain. Now. That he did understand.

He must have passed out again. When he came to with a long low groan he was in the cell. Even the slither of light under the door was gone, no ghostly thread of light from high above his head neither. Huh. Must be night unless those *tamade hundan* had murdered the sun as well. Wouldn't put a gorram thing passed them. The Captain did not try to move. Lying in an ungainly heap, his face tilted to the wet floor, he took a moment or two to relish the cold against his face until he realised it was not the damp of water but of congealing blood. Well, that answered that question anyhow. They weren't intending him to die slow after all. Huh. Who would'a thought there could be mercy in hearts that cold and black? Not him.

* * * * *

Peter Wilshaw had once been a big stocky man. Now his frame was bone and sagging skin draped over a body devoid of the fulness of flesh and with wasted muscles. They had worked him until his body could no longer hold him upright, his hands no longer grip the pick ax, his arms no longer lift his hands. Yet his brain worked fine which in other circumstances might have been funny. Peter sat slumped next to a group of equally sorry corpses. None of them dead yet but none truly fully alive. There were perhaps thirty souls sharing a space meant for six. Sweaty bloody bodies rubbed shoulders, dirt engrained faces and hands did not reach out for comfort or reassurance for there was none to be had. Too tired and dispirited to rouse themselves. Counting off the seconds and hoping the end would be swift only it wasn't. Even in extremis the human spirit was not about to give up.

He closed his eyes, the sounds that had woken him coming again. Dimly Peter wondered who in the nine hells was having the *goushi* kicked out of him or her now. Couldn't be any of them, none of them were worth expending that much energy on. Pretty soon this packed mass of thirty would dwindle into a pile of bones as death removed the suffering from the shoulders of the exhausted captives. Peter didn't care or at least he didn't think he did. It was the strange scratching sound that caught him unawares. Really, for a man waiting to die it was very inconvenient to have his curiosity roused at this late stage. And damned thoughtless too. He wanted to shut it out of his mind but the rag and bones next to him dug him in the ribs. Not hard when they stood proud of his body like pieces of embedded shrapnel. Peter grunted, beyond even the effort of being annoyed. "What was that for?"


That made his sticky eyes widen. He blinked in the praeternatural gloom. "You're kiddin' me? What *goushi* you pullin'?"

The fractured voice sounded like dry frosted leaves cracking. "I heard a cry."

Peter would have laughed but where in the nine hells would he get energy enough for that? "Ignore it. Too busy dyin' m'self."

"Ain't dead yet." The dry cracking voice mumbled.

He thought it sounded like a woman but was too tired to turn his head. Another poke. Harder this time. "*Shenme*?"

"Try the door."

He blinked. What? Was she brain damaged? This was a cell not a holiday camp. Did she think they could walk right out of here?

"Go on!"

Even fading as her voice was he reacted to the urgency in it. Dragging his protesting bones over the foot or so between him and the door he made it with a odd sense of pride. Sagging against the door he had to rest to get some oxygen into his lungs, his breath a quick pant that gradually slowed. With a shock he felt her poke him a third time. Gorrammit, how did she manage to move and him not hear her? Oh yeah, he was dying.

"Can you stand?"

Oh yeah, that was a good one. Stand? He hardly had the strength to crawl. Another poke. This was beginning to piss him off big time but resisting or retaliating were beyond him. Easier to do as he was told. After all, obedience had been drummed into him. Drummed into them all.

* * * * *

No one laughed when River burst on to the bridge. Zoe shifted the baby onto her other hip, ignoring Wash's indication for her to hand the baby over to him. Behind River came Simon, the expression on his face telling them that his sister knew what was wrong. Jayne had a deep stirring of unhappy in his gut. He couldn't see any way they were getting out of this mess alive but if that was the way of it he was impatient to get it over with.

"We need explosives."

Everyone blinked at the little genius. Shepherd Book was the first to recover. "I don't think explosives will help, child."

River shook her head. "Not a child but you're missing the point."

Wash raised his eyebrows. "There's a point?"

"Better to not go out with a whimper but a bang."

"I thought that was how the world ended?" Mused Kaylee with a little frown. Simon caught her hand in his and gave it a squeeze. Kaylee smiled at him but couldn't stop the worry shining in her eyes. She was trying to be brave but the worry was winning.

Inara watched River intently. Noticing how she was almost wringing her hands. "Why do you want explosives? If the Captain and Chung-li have been taken prisoners they could be underground. Any explosion could trap, or worse, kill them."

"We need a diversion."

For a moment no one spoke then the mercenary's gloomy expression brightened. He snapped his fingers. "Just thought'a sommat, what we need is a diversion." Simon wanted to point out that his sister had already said that but decided to spare his breath. Having a meaningful conversation with Jayne Cobb was something he did not expect to achieve in this lifetime. Short and tragically terminated as it might happen to be. It was the Shepherd who said the one thing they had all been thinking but had avoided putting into words. "Getting in won't be the problem. How are we going to get out? A few little explosions might distract the Governor's men for a brief while but once the element of surprise is over they have all the military might and muscle to wipe us off the face of the 'verse."

River gave him a dazzling smile. "*Fang xin*, safety in numbers."

"You want us *all* to go down there?" Exclaimed a stunned Kaylee.

The little genius shook her head. "*Bu qu*. Safety in numbers. Their's not ours."

* * * * *

He could not believe it. The rutting door wasn't locked. Something trickled into his head and stirred him into action. It was minutes before Peter's foggy brain registered that it was hope. He turned his head just a touch, "It's open." He hissed.

The woman didn't say anything. Peter was not sure whether that was because she was stunned into silence or because she already knew. He did not want to think about the latter because that would fill his head with all sorts of reasons why that could be the case, none of them a good thing. Carefully he eased the door half open, took a couple of breaths to steady himself, then stuck his head out. The corridor was empty. Dark, bleak, cold and wet but empty. *Tian Yesu*, he could not remember the last time he had been this lucky.

"Now where?"

A thin bony hand waved towards the heavy cell door opposite. It was thick heavy oak, like their door. Not the metal doors of police cells or detention centres. These cells were more like dungeons and each radiated their own grim promise of doom. Only two possibilities existed. Either the guard had forgotten to lock their door or he hadn't. Or. Said a little meek voice in his back brain, the one that always tried to make things seem not as bad as they were. They could think you are too weak to be able to do anything about it anyway. Peter hesitated and looked at the cell opposite. No sound coming out of it, nothing to indicate this exercise in curiosity was anything other than a waste of time and energy. Then a noise startled him into staying right where he was. Peter tilted his head and held his breath. Faintly. Lightly and so fleeting he had to listen for it to be repeated, Peter heard the quiet unmistakable sound of someone moaning in pain. Not a loud sound, nor a hysterical one, but low deep and in agony. As if every sound was being dragged out of the man.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*tamade hundan*/*wangba dan* = fucking bastard *jingcha* = police *junshi de* = military *liumang* = bastard/asshole/criminal/gangster *loaban* = boss *baichi* = idiot *mei mei* = little sister *shenme* = what *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *xinzang* = heart *jianyu* = prison *shengbing* = sick *goushi* = crap/dog shit *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *tian Yesu* = sweet Jesus


Friday, December 23, 2005 8:10 AM


Nice mysterious edge to this chapter and the description of the miners/prisoners was very affecting.

And the last sentence was utterly chilling.


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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.