"The Debt"
Friday, December 23, 2005

"The Captain has a surprise destination for his crew. Someone else has a bigger surprise."


TITLE: "THE DEBT" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: No specific pairing. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: Standalone Christmas story. ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: WEBSITE:

SUMMARY "The Captain has a surprise destination for his crew. Someone else has a bigger surprise." 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

* * * * *

By rights he should be dead. He knew that, of course. Above average intelligence illuminating all the shady corners of a colourful past. She had saved him, inadvertently but still. No touching guns. A dry disingenuous smile flirted with cold lips as he thought about his nemesis and considered. His life had been handed back to him, a gift. Funny how the prospect of imminent death brought everything into sharper focus. Like the loss of his parents. A tragedy seen only through the warped necessity of layers of lies. Layers that twisted the blood on his hands until it seemed more a blessing. Fabrications to make sense of the way his brain had been rewired. It seemed every time a thought traversered across the synatic gap another little piece of him was fried. The resulting short circuit often flicking the switch over to violence. It satisfied and soothed but ultimately left him with fewer targets for his unreasoned wrath. Each progression leaving him more hollow than the last. Was a man still a man if his soul was empty?

The introspection as he drifted was cathartic.

It took a return to the one environment that was truly his for all the cascading thoughts vying for his attention and understanding to coalesce into a plan. He had been given a gift. His response seemed suddenly clear. Smiling, Jubal Early closed the hatch and equalised the air pressure in his ship before cracking the seal on his helmet. The smile grew, a sop to the madness he cradled like a newborn, nuturing the errant thoughts, the twisted idealism, until he could focus on one simple fact and exclude everything else to infinity.

Rebooting the ship's sleeping systems he gently touched the old photograph, remembered the childhood pet with a fondness never exercised while it had lived. In death all things were perfect for they aged no more, did nothing to anger or appease. They could not haunt him like the living did. The pain of their breath like a stepping stone to a burning grave. This though was different and for a moment he relished the clarity of vision forming a glowing path across the Black. He would take his time. Do this right. This too would be perfect.

* * * * *

Months passed and gradually Serenity's crew learnt to deal with their nightmares. Each celebrating life and being grateful for what they had. The Captain worried and inwardly fretted while putting up a stoic front. Zoe could tell what he was thinking, how hard Jubal Early's invasion of the ship had hit Mal. A man committed to his ship and crew being suddenly powerless, violated in a way that left him helpless and beyond the simple frustration of being beaten. Outwitted. No one should have been able to do what Early had done. That it had happened at all added layers of paranoia to the Captain that had the crew edgy. Without even speaking on the reason for his inner distress his crew altered the way they interacted with him. Giving the man space and hoping time would return them all to their previous individual orbits. A 'verse they could at least understand.

Kaylee still had nightmares only now she had Simon to chase them away. The frenzied fever of hot sweaty sex worth more than a planetful of shrinks.

By the time Christmas came round they had all forgotten. Caught up in celebrations each vied with the Captain over where to land for the festivities. The suggestions coming thick and fast. Truth be told Mal didn't care where they spent the holiday as he had no intention of celebrating his own self, not that he would admit as much. Wouldn't spoil his crew's pleasure neither if he could avoid doing so. Mayhap get drunk. But what he really wanted, craved even, was to find somewhere quiet and isolated where he could wait out the wall to wall smiles until the wrongness of it ceased to hurt him.

* * * * *

River Tam liked Spendthrift. Everything from the dusty bowl of the central canyon to the specially irrigated interior. By rights it was and should have stayed desert. The terraformers had tried to build the Garden of Eden out of sand. While the rest of the crew lamented and berated the Captain's choice of planetfall, River smiled. The smile seemed to grow exponentially as their disatisfaction increased. Catching her friend's odd humour Kaylee called her on it. "Why are you smilin'? Nothin' on this dustbowl but.... dust."

She shook her head. "No, this is paradise."

Simon turned his head from arguing the pros and cons of death by dehydration as opposed to starving to death through lack of provisions. Both sounded equally possible on this hell hole. "River, this is Hell."

"No, you don't understand." She looked from puzzled face to puzzled face. The only one missing was the Captain. Even Wash had taken time away from his beloved cockpit to look out on the new world threatening them all with, not a violent death, but a long slow painful and boring one. River spread her arms out and grinned. "You have to look to find the treasure."

Jayne was beyond frustrated. "Gorram moon brain's gettin' worse. Don't make a lick of sense 'cept when she's sleepin'."

"Are you saying my sister talks in her sleep?" Simon's next uncomfortable thought was how Jayne would know if she was and did he really want an answer?

"Don't know, don't care, just when she's asleep she ain't bein' all creepified an' insane."

"My sister is not insane!" Yelled Simon, face flushing with anger, hands curling into fists. Kaylee stepped up to him and rested her shoulder against his, hoping her nearness would deflect some of his anger.

They heard the Captain stomping into the cargo hold before they saw him. "Okay people, what the good gorram is all the shoutin' about?"

"Just discussin' your unique choice of planet, Mal." Said Wash drily.

The Captain paused at the top of the open ramp and looked out on the inhospitable looking world. "What? You wanted planetfall for Christmas. This is planetfall an' unless I'm much mistaken, it's Christmas."

"Mal," Said Inara with a long suffering sigh. "It's a wasteland."

"An' that's my fault how?"

"You chose this place, Captain." Book reminded him. "Everybody was gettin' excited about the upcoming festivities."

"Yeah," Growled Jayne angrily. "Hard to celebrate when there ain't nothin' an' no one to celebrate with."

The Captain looked a mite amused which in equal parts annoyed and mystified his ansty crew. Only River seemed happy. Mal managed not to laugh outright. "Wash you're the hottest pilot I ever knowed. Not nobody can fly a ship like you."

Stunned, Wash had difficulty knowing what to do with the unexpected compliment. "*Duibuqi*." He paused and when the world didn't end in fire and brimstone he tilted his head and narrowed his eyes at the Captain. "Are you sure you're feelin' okay, Cap'n? Sure the heat hasn't got to you?"

"Wash, I'm standin' in the cargo hold of my boat. How in *diyu* am I supposed to get heat stroke?"

"So remind us again why we landed here?" Said a puzzled Simon.

The Captain grinned and for a split crazy second he and River looked like bookends. Simon rubbed his eyes and wished he could carve that image out of his brain.

"If you can't see the potential guess it's up to your Cap'n to show you."

Alarmed, no one actually wanted to take Mal up on his offer but he was still the Captain and they were still his crew. They didn't take the mule as Wash expected, just rumaged around to find something hat-like to stick on their scorching heads then followed Mal as he trudged purposefully across the packed sand. Simon really did not want to go, Inara had actually tried to beg off but the Captain had somehow convinced her to come along too. It felt odd to Zoe leaving the ship empty but Mal had been insistent so she had locked up and set the code feeling faintly ridiculous at the notion that anyone would or could steal the Firefly out in the middle of nowhere.

It took an hour to reach the dustbowl, the ground arcing in a long downward curve. Wash squinted, Book kept casting suspicious glances at the Captain but the man was silent, his attention focused on some destination that the others could not see. Jayne was getting well and truly fed up, even considered ending the charade with a well placed bullet to the Captain's brain pan. The only thing stopping him was the knowledge that the second sound to hit his ears would be Zoe putting a bullet in his own head. Annoyed as he rightly was he intended to go on living so for now he kept trudging along, silently thinking of all the ways he would repay Mal for dragging them to this awful place.

It was Book who noticed first. As they trudged nearer and nearer to the middle of the dustbowl he noticed it wasn't exactly empty. Every few yards or so something suspiciously like the end of a chromium pipe stuck a few feet above the ground. Suspicious he meandered over to the nearest one and took a closer look. Tempted to laugh he managed to hold his mirth in check. Noticing his distraction Zoe was about to call him on it when the Captain stopped walking and everyone turned to see what he was going to say. Grinning like a loon, the Captain stomped down hard with his right foot and yelled, "Merry Gorram Christmas!"

Then, to their utter surprise, a big square metal box began to rise out of the sand. Wash stepped hurriedly back, dragging a surprised Zoe with him. "Woah, where did that come from? An' what the good gorram is it?"

River was laughing and clapping her hands in glee. Shepherd Book smiled, Inara's eyebrows rose. Simon's jaw dropped and Kaylee squealed. The box stopped rising and a big shiny metal set of double doors swung outward, letting light and music, and cheerful voices spill out like water sating thirsty throats. The box comfortably fit the entire crew inside, then descended like a lift. The inside was an incredible mix of bar, restaurant, shops, rest rooms and even a meditation area. An entire underground city.

Three days. They spent three days on Spendthrift in an insane whir of celebration. By the time they were ready to leave every one of them had fond memories to take back to Serenity. Happy and more than a little lubricated the crew laughed, stumbled and sang off key as Zoe entered the code. Serenity welcomed them with a cool refreshing silence. The Captain sighed to himself with pleasure. Not that he didn't appreciate a little socialising from time to time but this was where he felt most at home. At peace. As Wash went to get the ship ready to take off River paused mid-step, Simon bumping into her when she suddenly stopped. "River, *mei mei*, what's wrong?"

Her eyes were round wandering saucers. Gradually the bon homie faded as the rest of the crew became aware of River's distraction. The girl looking so distraught that Inara took her shawl off and placed it around River's trembling shoulders. "Are you okay, River?"

Kaylee suggested they have some tea and Book went to make it. River wouldn't go up the stairs though not until Kaylee and Simon both encouraged and cajoled her into doing so. Frowning, Mal looked at Inara. The Companion shrugged and they followed, startled when River stared at a parcel sitting in the middle of the large dining table. Everyone stopped speaking, all eyes on the table. A thread of fear running through them. Shepherd Book looked discomfitted. "Oh my."

"Who the good gorram's been on my boat?" Said the Captain.

No one answered. They were thinking of another unwelcome guest. Jayne slid his gun out of its' holster noting that Zoe already had hers in her hand. The Captain was about to order the crew to search the ship when River picked up the brightly wrapped package. Before Simon could stop her, she tore the paper off. When the package did not immediately detonate curiosity took over from self presrvation. Carefully and one by one the crew edged nearer.

River removed the lid of the box and peered inside. Eyes widening she did not need to read the gaily scrolled card to realise who it was from and what it meant. She looked up and gave a smug little smile. "Two by two, hands of blue."

Alarmed, Simon pushed through the others to see what was in the box. A loud gasp made him turn just in time to see Kaylee put a hand over her mouth in shock. Captain Reynolds peered over River's shoulder. River smiled at him then picked up the objects lying in blood soaked tissue. Inside were a pair of hands cut off at the wrist. Bloody and still encased in thin blue surgical gloves. Two by two, hands of blue. Indeed.

Inara stepped back, not liking the gift or what it might mean. But River looked ecstatic. Carefully she removed the card and read it out loud. "You gave me a gift, my life little one. I give yours back to you. I would wish you a Merry Christmas but don't think you'd be wishing me the same back - does that seem right to you? JE."

Pale faced, Mal turned to look at Zoe. "We have got to get better security for Serenity."

Though they searched the ship from top to bottom and inside out they never found hide nor hair of Jubal Early. And stranger still, afterwards no one had any more nightmares about the bounty hunter. Years later River confessed to Simon that that year had been the best Christmas ever.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*duibuqi* = thanks *diyu* = hell *mei mei* = little sister


Saturday, December 24, 2005 11:07 AM


"You gave me a gift, my life little one. I give yours back to you. I would wish you a Merry Christmas but don't think you'd be wishing me the same back - does that seem right to you? JE."

*smile* that's actually kind of sad but sweet to me. merry christmas.


Saturday, December 24, 2005 1:44 PM


Hey, that was a really good story! You captured exactly the sort of Christmas story we probably would have seen on Firefly, had it ever gotten that far :sniff: Plenty of reminders of how much Mal cares for his crew and they care about each other, but the constant series of dangers and fears they face doesn't go away for the holidays. Believable treatment of Early, too.

Wednesday, February 1, 2006 12:20 PM


Hmmm....Finally had time to start readin' your works of fiction and started with a one off...I liked it...I was afraid it was going to be a tragic end to the party, but liked what you did...nice twist.

I even felt a little sad for Jubal...although personally I think he is crazier than River ever thought about bein'...LOL

You did a wonderful job of painting a picture...LOVED the crews reaction to Mal's vacation true to form.


Thursday, November 3, 2011 8:23 PM


Darkly SHINY!!!


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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.