BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

AMDOBELL

TEMPTATION SERIES: 45. "Hope"
Sunday, December 25, 2005

"The Captain gets some limited but unexpected help. River and the others put the revised plan into operation."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2593    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "HOPE" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: No specific pairing. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: SEQUEL to "DOING THE MATH" ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: AlisonMDobell@aol.com WEBSITE: http://carlajane.50megs.com/Ali00.html

SUMMARY "The Captain gets some limited but unexpected help. River and the others put the revised plan into operation." 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.

"HOPE"

"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

He couldn't get over the creepy feeling that he was being watched. Pain and weariness dragged at him but something kept tugging him back, railroading his wandering awareness into a spike of conscious thought that kept him from drifting back into the black. There. He wasn't imagining it. Something had touched him. With a cold realisation he forced his eyes to open, his sluggish brain only slowly focusing on the myriad of hands that were touching him. Reaching out and ghosting over his body. It took more of an effort to realise he was naked. He opened his mouth to speak, to question their motives, but only a slow moan of pain leaked out between bruised and bloody lips.

The hands paused. Faces gathered close, too many to differentiate but one thing struck him solid as a rock. Each face could have been a mirror to his own. Battered and bloody but retaining a tiny thin shred of compassion. Humanity. Concern. Malcolm Reynolds marvelled at the mercy of strangers, blinked against the sudden threat of tears. Gorramit, not only his body was betraying him, his emotions were too. He hated the weakness but could not fend off the tears. A slim long fingered hand reached out and gently touched his face, careful not to hurt him. He closed his eyes as a stranger wiped away his tears. The hands, the endless ghosting hands, had found cloths from he knew not where and were gently, carefully cleaning his body. Wiping away the blood and tearing the cleaner parts into strips to bind his wounds. It did not occur to him as he lost consciousness that they had found a better use for his clothes.

* * * * *

"Ruttin' girl's insane!"

It was Shepherd Book who halted Jayne's outburst. His voice low and calm. "No, she's not and actually Jayne, it *is* a good plan."

"Still think ours was better." He grumbled darkly.

"Ours would have got everybody killed." Said Simon practially.

The mercenary glared at him. "An' since when have you been a criminal mastermind? Can't even cure your moon brained sister..."

He never got to finish the insult, River slapping him hard across the face and causing a heavy stunned silence to fall. They had moved to the commons room to discuss the finer points of River's plan. Before Jayne could do anything even more offensive or stupid, Book put a hand on the man's shoulder and looked him in the eye. Jayne had always had a wary respect for the Preacher. He thought he hid it well but Book knew. Counted on it even when it was necessary to stop the man from doing or saying something which would be past mending. "We're all more than a mite anxious and worried Jayne. Best not to say things you can't take back."

The look he gave the big man left the mercenary in no doubt that a Special Hell was looming if he didn't listen. He could almost hear his ma agreeing with every rutting word coming out of Book's mouth. *Wode ma* but this hanging around was making him ansty. Zoe waited a beat to make sure Jayne wasn't going to start up again but he seemed suitably subdued. She gave Inara a thin smile. "You sure you don't mind lookin' after Jack?"

The Companion smiled and took the baby from Zoe, her own heart fluttering a little as she looked into those impossibly blue eyes. Perhaps it was knowing she would never have children of her own that made this such a weakness. Whatever it was the pull was as irresistable as drawing breath. "I'm sure. Besides, as I won't be going on this mad crusade it seems the ideal solution."

Jayne began to open his mouth but Book shook his head. With a snap Jayne clamped his mouth shut. Satisfied that Jayne would behave, Book looked around the table, his eyes finally settling on the calm poised figure of River Tam. "It will be risky but..."

"Takin' over an Alliance scout ship?" Said Wash. "It's suicidal."

Zoe patted her husband's arm. "Sweetie, everything we do is risky."

He looked at her. "It is?"

"Uh huh."

"How d'you figure that, *bao bei*?"

"We're livin' in a tin can in space, *zhangfu*."

Wash blinked. "But still flyin'?"

She nodded. "Still flyin."

"Someone will have to wave the cruiser."

Wash turned his gaze from his wife to their resident genius. "Did I mention this was suicidal?"

Everyone ignored him. It was Book who responded to River. "I can do that."

"You gonna use that magic ident card'a yours?" Asked Jayne. Animosity jettisoned he was just plain curious now. There was so much about the Preacher he didn't know, so much he wanted to. Not that he would push too hard but a fella couldn't help being curious. He knew the Captain was and Book still hadn't told Mal anything about his past. The Shepherd gave Jayne an enigmatic smile before gently shaking his head.

"No, that's for emergencies Jayne."

"Ain't this an emergency?"

"No Jayne. Emergencies are situations *beyond* hope."

The subtle inference that this rescue was not a folorn hope was wasted on Jayne. The mercenary stared at Book as if what he had just said made no sense.

"I think," The Preacher continued smoothly, getting back to the plan. "We should pick a scout ship on the periphery. That way if this doesn't work we won't be sandwiched between all the other Alliance vessels."

Kaylee licked her bottom lip, so tense that only Simon's hand in hers kept her grounded. "An' if it does work?"

"Then we go an' get the Captain an' Chung-li."

"Huh," Said Jayne, not believing anything this messed up could be that simple. "Still think we had a better plan when we was just goin' in shootin'."

Simon rolled his eyes. "Yes Jayne, great element of surprise."

It was when they moved off to take their places that it occurred to Jayne that Simon was being sarcastic.

* * * * *

The Alliance Cruiser Peerless was a top of the line battle ship with enough heavy armaments to bring down pretty much anything else it might come up against. Not that Commandant Rankin expected anyone to be stupid enough to try to go up against the premiere fleet of the Alliance. It comforted him to look out and see the gleaming proof of their superiority in every direction. There were six battle cruisers waiting in readiness for the gold to be ready to move off world. Further out were the scout ships watching the shipping lanes and perpetually scanning for any sign of trouble. The scout ships were smaller, more agile and the fastest vessels in the fleet.

It was only as he turned a bored eye away from his view of the planet below that his eye caught a tiny movement on the periphery of his vision. Turning his head he focused his attention on the moving speck then ordered the sensors to magnify what he was seeing. It appeared to be a small craft, probably a shuttle of some kind. Rankin frowned. Back tracking the craft's trajectory he noticed the Firefly in a holding pattern outside the sterile area. It had not moved since the Governor had authorised the priest to go down to the planet surface. Odd. Shouldn't the second shuttle and ship stay together? Wait for the man's return so it could leave Alliance space and go on its' merry? Curiosity turning quickly to suspicion he snapped a command. "That shuttle, where is it going?"

His comms officer did some calculations then frowned slightly. A little confused. "It appears to be heading for the Scout Ship Reknown, sir."

Rankin's eyebrows rose. "The Reknown?"

"Yes, sir."

As they spoke they saw the distance diminish, the shuttle pausing in flight as if asking permission to dock. Curioser and curioser. Then the Reknown was opening up to allow the craft to enter their landing bay. Commandant Rankin turned and stared at the Firefly, expression thoughtful. "Who's vessel is that?"

"It's a Firefly mid-range transport, registered to a Captain Malcolm Reynolds."

"He accompanied the Chinaman down to Hope." Said Rankin quietly. It was not a question but his comms officer treated it as if it were.

"Yes, sir."

After a minute or two of silence he came to a decision. "Take us in close to that ship then open up a channel."

Startled, the comms officer, a man name Ryan Baker, could not hide his surprise. "Sir?"

"The Firefly. What did you say the ship was called?"

Baker hadn't but he was not fool enough to say so. He checked the ship's registration. "Serenity, sir."

"I want a boarding party ready. I think it's time we paid the crew of Serenity a visit and found out exactly what they are doing in our sky."

* * * * *

Hot. dirty. Dusty. The damp hanging in the air like a fetid but benign poison. It made you feel like you were dying but didn't kill you. It was the stuff you couldn't see, couldn't smell, that stopped the beating of a heart. Chung-li took no notice of it, working in a steady easy rythym that many of the other captives secretly envied. The good thing was it kept the guards off his back, the twisted sour gaolers moving on to look for other sport. That suited the Chinaman just fine. He did not have a lot of time and could not afford to waste it antagonising the guards.

Keeping the pace steady Chung-li let his eyes do the wandering for him. The other captives quickly tired of their silent guest and went back to work, the hammer and crack of pick ax against rock and compressed sediment making his ears vibrate with the concussion of sound. It took seconds to evaluate and dismiss those closest to him. Chung-li progressed along the seam, not opening it out but following the thin thread of ore. To the casual eye it would seem as if he was trying to extract as much of the meagre seam as possible. In fact it was his excuse to keep moving, eyes and ears searching for a face, a voice, a much loved and missed friend. If it took the last breath in his body he would find them.

The day passed long and unrewarding. The heat and stuffiness compounded by a lack of fresh air circulating. Chung-li knew they had efficient fans but also suspected the Governor did not want his captives to have any kind of comfort. He wanted them to suffer but not die. A man couldn't suffer if he was dead. By the time everyone stopped to rest and snatch what sleep they could, Chung-li began to feel as if he was looking for a needle in a haystack. Heart sighing he sat on the floor and rested against a formation of rock drier than the rest. Beside him a woman sat with her head turned. The stale body odour did not offend him, nor did the fact that everytime she moved her arm brushed his. What shook him was not her proximity or the way she only seemed to move as he was dropping off to sleep. A stir of indignation surfaced in his mind, his head turning so he could ask her why she could not sleep, when the woman's eyes trapped his in a recognition that stunned both heart and soul with unexpected joy.

"Molly!"

Her hush all but deafened him, so thirsty were his ears for the sound of her voice. Holding back tears his strong arms engulfed her, Molly's arms hesitating before returning the embrace. Chung-li was shocked by how thin she was, how haunted her eyes were. Pulling gently back he touched her face, not backing off when she flinched. Chung-li leant forward and dropped a gentle kiss on the dirty forehead, his movement so caring and gentle that it brought tears to her eyes. It had been a long time since a man had touched her and not caused pain or humiliation. Even though Chung-li was a dear friend her body trembled at his nearness, already steeling itself to fight or run. It took a conscious effort for Molly to do neither, the appearance of normal being nothing but a fabrication. Anxious eyes scanned her own. Molly looked down, unable to meet his gaze. Shame and sorrow crucifying her in equal measure. This doom should not be his.

"You should not have come." She murmured.

Chung-li was alarmed by the defeat in her voice. The woman had always had more spunk and sparkle than any other he had ever met. If a woman was born to best any man it was Molly Richards. But the thin, emaciated, broken woman sitting listlessly beside him bore little resemblance to the woman he had known. "What happened?"

Forcing herself to look at him, Molly told him. Every broken syllable matching a healing wound upon her body. She spoke quietly, voice calm, no hint of the horrors she had endured. He did not need to know how she had been used and abused. Did not need to know that two pregnancies from her continued rape had already been forcibly aborted by Cyrus White's own money grabbing physician. It seemed money really could buy anything. When she finished, Chung-li quietly pulled her into his arms and said not a word. No apology, no telling her everything was going to be alright, no cosmetic verbal plasters meant to comfort her in her grief over the loss of her husband. Just unconditional love and understanding. Molly closed her eyes, allowed herself this weakness. Let his strength cradle her as the walls of her broken heart crumbled, tears running down the silent face, body exhausted beyond the physical.

It was more than an hour before he spoke, the words were so soft and quiet that she could ignore them if she chose.

"We will get out of here, Molly." Chung-li murmured into her lank lifeless hair. Trying to hide how much the deaths of so many friends clung to him like the ashes of a funeral pyre. Molly did not respond. It did not matter to her any more, nothing did. What Chung-li did not know and she was too cowardly to tell him was that she was dead already. The brain was just a little delayed in accepting it.

* * * * *

Inara Serra stared at Kaylee in shock as the Alliance Cruiser hailed them. Everyone else was on Inara's shuttle which had gone to the Reknown. Inwardly she cursed, realising someone with sharp eyes must have seen the shuttle leave. Serenity was left with the barest of skeleton crews. Holding Jack close to her heart, she tried to unscramble the panic in her mind. What could they do? What would Mal do? He would try to delay them, use any tactic to hold off being boarded while trying to find out as much information as he could. Well. They could do that surely? "Kaylee, ask them what they want."

The mechanic shot her a look of concern and alarm. At Inara's nod she lowered herself into the pilot's chair and opened a com to the other ship. "This is Serenity, how can we help you?"

"This is the Alliance Cruiser Peerless, prepare to be boarded."

"I... um, the Cap'n's not here just now. He took a passenger down to Hope, if you could wait 'til he gets back I'm sure we could..."

"You will prepare to be boarded *now* Miss or your Captain will return to a pile of debris, *dong ma*? The only good news will be that you will not survive to tell him why his ship has been blown out of the sky."

Shocked, a sob caught in the back of Kaylee's throat. She looked at Inara and saw the Companion's face pale. Inara gave a reluctant nod. Capitulation. It left a sour taste of bile in the back of Kaylee's throat, huddled right up next to her fear. "O...okay."

Back on his ship Commandant Rankin gave his com officer a cold smug smile. "That," He said in a cool crisp voice. "Is how you deal with Independent scum."

Baffled, Baker stared at him. "Sir?"

Rankin waved a careless hand at the Firefly getting closer as they prepared to dock. "That ship, Serenity. The Captain fought with the Independents during the war." He broke off to give a humourless laugh. His features twisting in an expression of distaste. "Now, what do you suppose a defeated Browncoat is doing in orbit around Hope? A world whose only claim to fame is the gold we mine off it?"

Ryan Baker's eyes widened in shock. "Surely you don't think they've come to steal the gold, sir?"

"What other reason could there be? Grubby little thieves probably think they can sneak in and take some of the gold for themselves before we're on to them."

"But sir, that would be suicide!"

Commandant Rankin nodded. Pleased that the obvious had not escaped Baker's attention. "Exactly. And that's why they lost the war."

"Sir?"

A big wide smile took the bitter off Rankin's face for just a heartbeat. "The one thing the Independent cause never lacked was stupidity. Of the *terminal* kind."

* * * * *

"How many are left?"

Molly did not hear him. Her initial joy and shock at seeing him had devolved into a kind of numb stupor. What did it matter anyway? Todd was dead. So was Mark.

"Molly?"

The gentle word did more than a room full of shouting would have done. It caught her attention. It had been so long since anyone had spoken softly to her. Tears pricked her eyes, a silent waterfall breaking the wall of silence that bound her. Chung-li was worried. Molly had always been a highly spirited girl, no man he knew could keep her down. Something must have happened beyond the awful terrible things she had already confessed. He was almost afraid to ask his next question.

"*Bao bei*, where are the others? What has Cyrus done to them?"

She shook her head, not in denial but to clear the fog in her mind. The images and screams, the lusting faces, the hard hands and harder body parts shoved at her, in her, and through her protesting writhing form. Molly shut her eyes but the tears wouldn't stop. And now she was shaking, so bad she thought her gorram body would fly off in pieces. Swearing, Chung-li held her, his heart quaking while his anger simmered and grew until he had no notion of how he could contain it.

* * * * *

Corporal Devline blinked. Turned on the larger light so that he could banish the shadows his torch could not reach. "*Wode cao*!" He spun and looked at the four bare walls, the empty cell ringing like a death knell inside his head. Where the *diyu* was the gorram prisoner? The Governor might have no use or concern about Malcolm Reynolds but he wanted him kept locked up and hidden away until the man died broken and in dispair. The broken part they had pretty much accomplished already with the guards taking turns to beat the man up imbetween brief bouts of rest. They never brought food only water. They never asked questions or sought anything from him. But they took what little he had, leeching away his strength, his body's defences falling to a fist, a boot, the rod of iron they carried to deter prisoners getting physical in return. The blood splattered floor and walls attested to their devotion to duty.

White faced, Devline continued to swear uncontrollably. How in the nine hells had the man managed to get out of a locked cell? That he had found the cell door open had given him all kinds of heart failure. Finding the prisoner gone was almost enough to close the lid on his own coffin. His first thought was that the captive was wilier than they had assumed. Must have had some kind of skeleton key hidden on him. But then he remembered the pitiful condition they had left him in. Bleeding. Broken. Probably dying. How the *diyu* had a dying man who could not even stand on his broken legs reach the door, unlock it, then make his escape? No. This was something worse. The man had outside help which meant even more trouble for him and the rest of the guards. Someone had infiltrated the prisoner wing.

Spinning angrily Corporal Devline did not go straight to the Governor's office to report the escape. First he went to gather the other guards. In a panic they would search every gorram corridor and room until they found Reynolds because if they didn't, every guard on duty this day would surely hang.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*bao bei* = precious/treasure *zhangfu* = husband *dong ma* = understand? *wode cao* = I'm fucked *diyu* = hell

COMMENTS

Monday, January 9, 2006 5:40 AM

KISPEXI2


Beautiful portrayal of Inara in this chapter, Ali. Heart-rending, in fact. Like the reference to Jayne's ma too - I can so believe she's a good, sensible woman. And that she's like Book.


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