Monday, December 26, 2005

"Inara tries to keep the Alliance at bay. The others are in a race against time. Meanwhile Chun-li enlists Molly's help to find the others. All the while the clock is ticking."


TITLE: "MERCY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: No specific pairing. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: SEQUEL to "HOPE" ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: WEBSITE:

SUMMARY "Inara tries to keep the Alliance at bay. The others are in a race against time. Meanwhile Chung-li enlists Molly's help to look for the others. All the while the clock is ticking." 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

* * * * *

Commandant Rankin was not quite as tall as Jayne but broader. His great barrel chest reminded Inara of an opera singer but that was where the favourable comparrisons ended. She, baby Jack, and Kaylee were standing in Serenity's cargo hold surrounded by purplebellies. The Commandant's cold eyes swept up and down her body in a slow calculated insult. When he spoke his voice was carefully neutral though she knew how disingenuous it was. "Then it is true?"

Inara was briefly pleased she had handed the baby to Kaylee seconds before they were boarded. It left her hands free in case she wanted to hit the *tamade hundan*. "*Shenme*?"

The Commandant arched his eyebrows, a haughty expression coming over his face. "You're Malcolm Reynolds' whore."

She took a moment to school her face and keep an outward show of calm while inwardly her blood boiled. Inara ignored Kaylee's swift intake of breath. "I wish."

Rankin blinked. "Are you saying you are *not* his whore?"

His surprise enabled her to regain a semblance of calm. It was good to feel in control of her emotions. "I am saying Captain Reynolds' client list is even more exclusive than my own."

"And yet you travel with him?"

"I hire a shuttle from him, no more."

The irritating man began to walk around her. Inara refused to turn her head to follow his movement. Acting as if what he did or said held no interest for her whatsoever. Rankin stopped in front of her again. "I hear he fought a duel for you."

"A foolish notion of misplaced honour." Inara affected an air of boredom. "Now my client list is one short." She paused, her expression hardening just a fraction. "I am tempted to dock if from the cost of my shuttle rental."

Commandant Rankin stared at her. He had to give her this: she was a cool one.

* * * * *

River Tam had been very exact in her calculations. The upgraded smoke bombs doing their job a little too efficiently as she yanked Jayne back around the corner before the thick opaque mist could hit him and send him crashing to the ground in an unconscious heap. Simon had a handkerchief over his mouth and nose, his voice muffled as he spoke. "Do you mind telling me why we couldn't bring gas masks?"

His sister huffed impatiently as if the reason were obvious. "Would look suspicious and we don't have time to discuss and clarify misunderstandings."

Wash turned to mouth to Simon, *Misunderstandings*? His wife touched his arm and indicated for him to keep moving. Their plan depended on exact timing. No one could afford to fall behind or get separated from the others because they couldn't go back for them. Another part of the plan that Simon was less than happy with. He scowled and gripped his red medical bag tightly and hoped they wouldn't need it. Jayne was not happy. They had brought gorram explosives with them but the moon brain wouldn't let him use them.

"Where are we going, River?"

She hushed her brother with a look then whispered. "Life support."

"Uh, point of interest?" Hissed Wash, a decidedly uncomfortable look on his face. "We need to breathe too."

"No, we need to put everyone under."

"Everyone but us." Clarified Wash but River had not been disagreeing with him simply stating their priority.

"Yeah, but if your plan works we'll all be unconscious. Can't rescue nobody if'n we need the cavalry too." Jayne grumbled.

Book looked amused. "Cavalry?"

The mercenary frowned then shoved a rumpled hanky over his nose and mouth. If it was good enough for the doctor it should be good enough for him. "Leastways that's what the Cap calls it."

River hushed them again, more firmly this time. Nothing more was said as they crept to the section of the ship where life support and the other main systems were routed. Quickly Wash removed the metal cover then River got to work, emptying the rest of the contents of her vial into the unit then resealing it. Wash lifted the plate back up and Zoe sealed it. River then danced off down another corridor and opened a locker door. Simon frowned, Jayne was about to ask her what the *diyu* she was doing but Book seemed to intuit her intention and stopped the mercenary bawling her out. A second or two later River's smiling face peered around the locker door, a hand holding aloft several small breather units complete with masks. Quickly they donned the masks and took blessed filtered air into their flagging lungs.

"Now," Said River's muffled voice. "We need to get to the bridge and we have to hurry."

Her steps were more than a fast walk, almost a run. Concerned, Zoe paced her. "River,*shenme shi*?"

"He's in trouble. Don't have much time."

Zoe's heart skipped a beat. Didn't like the sound of that. "He?"


"What about Chung-li?"

"In chains of his own making." At Zoe's puzzled look she elaborated quickly, not lessening her rapid pace one iota. Girl really wasn't kidding about the need to hurry. "He hasn't made his move yet."

Seconds later they burst onto the bridge. It was eerily quiet. Figures slumped over consoles and across the floor. River turned to Jayne. "String. Rope. Whatever you can find. Tie them up."

"Don't ya want me to kill 'em?"

She shook her head. "We aren't murderers."

"We kill people."

"Only when we have to."

Book stepped in. "I'll help."

"Not just the ones here but all of them."

"That'll take," Simon paused, his mind racing. Calculating. "Some time."

"Not if we hurry but it'll be worth it. Insurance. Can't risk being delayed by someone waking, grabbing a gun. One mistake and everybody dies."

He blinked, gulped then nodded. *Tian Yesu*, there were times he wished his sister were not so gifted.

* * * * *

There were advantages to being considered among the great unwashed. For a start the guards preferred to leave them below ground and slip back to the surface and their comfortable rooms to sleep at night. Of course, it was always a twi-lit gloom below ground. Most of the captives simply slept where they worked, too tired to slink off to find a more comfortable spot. Knowing only too well that in a few short hours the next shift of guards would come down to whip them back into activity. They would be fed as they worked, poor rations for heavy toil but no one complained. Lessons that had been painfully learnt seldom needed repeating.

Chung-li did not sleep nor did he let Molly. Though his heart misgave him at the state of her he knew they must make the most of the time they had unobserved. The odd head rose, wary eyes watching them, then dropping back to fall into a deep sleep. Molly wanted to join them. She did not want to hunt for those who were probably already lying in early graves.

"Molly, I know you said Mark and Todd were dead but that still leaves eight unaccounted for, *dong ma*?"

She frowned as if uncomprehending. How could he know that? The Chinaman waited until they walked into an empty part of the tunnel. Anxious not to be overheard.

"I went to Glory," He said softly, his eyes a-glimmer with the threat of tears. They hardened like diamonds as he spoke. "Counted every body. Never found your father or Ben, nor Blade, Paul Cotton, Ricky Sable, Harry Simmons, Mike Handy, Pete Barlow or little Rose."

His voice hitched on the last name but he sucked it up. There would be time enough for giving in to sorrow when this nightmare was brought to an end. "Harry's dead." Molly mumbled.

Chung-li frowned. "On Glory?"

She shook her head. "No, here. He got an infection so they shot him in the head."

"*Shenme*?" Chung-li looked horrified. "They shot him dead for being sick?"

"*Qu*. Afraid it would pass to the rest of us. Sick workers don't work."

The Chinaman could barely contain his temper. "This is make-work Molly and you know it. Add all these seams together and you wouldn't glean enough gold to dust your coffee."

"*Wo zhidao*. This is punishment."

"For what?"

She shrugged. "Bein' enemies of the Alliance."

"That doesn't make sense. Surely the more people working the mine the more gold they'll extract. So why do this?"

Molly laughed. It was a cruel cracked sound that hurt his ears almost as much as it hurt his heart. Would he ever hear her carefree laughter again? "*Ni bu dong* their thinkin', Chung-li. The Alliance are greedy as well as immoral which is why they only trust their own. The thought of havin' us diggin' at the rich seams terrifies 'em. Think we might steal their gold." He thought she was kidding then realised she wasn't. Sweet Buddha, these people were beyond sick. "Come, we have no time to lose."

"Why the hurry?"

"I came with Mal but they hauled him off somewhere. Don't know where. We need to find as many of the others as possible then get the *diyu* out of this place."

Her eyes widened. "Mal? You brought him here?"

The Chinaman almost smiled at her reaction, grim as things were. "He wouldn't let me come alone."

"An' now he may die for that."

"*Bu qu*. I will not let them kill him."

Molly sighed. Her eyes sad. "He's not with you, Chung-li. There is no way you can protect him now."

* * * * *

His breath was flagging but when he stuttered once or twice someone breathed for him. It was odd. Felt weird but he was too exhausted and pained to pay it any mind. Then he was being dragged again. His torn back numb to the pain, consciousness tottering over the forgetful hump. Mayhap he'd pass out and save himself a whole 'verse of pain and worry but fate wasn't kindly that way. Least not to Malcolm Reynolds.

"Hurry!" Hissed the thin wispy girl someone called Hilary.

It felt like he was being manhandled by barely-there folk, each one so narrow and twisted he felt like a mere gust of wind would knock the breath outta them. Not that he was criticising nor nothing, just weird ass thoughts passing through his back brain as if they were had no place to go. Again with the dragging. Numbness wearing off about now. He cried out with pain but if anything the speed of their grasping hands increased. Every part of him ached and wept with the agony of it.

Then he was against a wall. Oddly enough there was a softness to it, a fleeting rumour of warmth that faded into cold. He was beginning to drift, hardly aware as they began to pile the dead and the dying on top of him. Careful though, like slotted brickwork, the alternate layers leaving little gaps to let the air through. Enough so the one not quite dead at the bottom could breathe. Not that he knew that of course. He was too busy getting ready to kiss the Black. Anything that promised a respite from the pain was worth greeting with open gorram arms.

* * * * *

Elliott looked scared. "What're we gonna do?"

"Find him!" Growled Marlowe slapping fast rounds into his gun.

"State he was in," Mused Rich Tucker. "Would take at least two men to carry him."

"You're not makin' me feel better, Rich."

The man shrugged. "If we don't find him an' them as took him we're dead men anyway."

"So stop with the jawin' already, *dong ma*?" Marlowe snapped.

The rest of the guards stared at him. All as worried except for one thing. Marlowe was the only one visibly coming unwrapped at the seams. But no one mocked the man. They all knew that if they came up empty they would be panicking just as bad if not worse.

* * * * *

Jayne hated the way River took to the Alliance controls like a duck to gorram water. Was all kinds of unsettling. He still couldn't see how this little charade would work but Zoe and Book were going right along with it so perhaps they knew something he didn't? Didn't pay no mind to what Wash or Simon said. The closer they got to Hope the creepier the mercenary felt. Would only take one of them officious *hundan* to get a mite suspicious and they were humped.

Then River started going all distressed and frantic on them and Wash had to take over control of the scout ship. Zoe looked worried but said little, her eyes speaking volumes of not happy that Jayne could relate to. The Preacher murmured a little too quietly for Jayne to hear but as the others just nodded back he had no clue what that was about. Could be the man was just praying, could sure use some divine intervention about now. Jayne just wanted to be down, grab the Cap and get the *diyu* out again before the Alliance were on to them. Didn't care one way or the other if the Chinaman got out. Chung-li had brought this down on them so as far as Jayne was concerned they didn't owe him squat. Had nothing to do with liking or not liking the man and everything to do with damage control. Any one you walked away from.

By the time they landed River was calm again. Simon hovered round her as if afraid she would shatter but whatever had ailed her before was no longer having an effect. Zoe was about to speak when River beat her to it. The smile that dazzled them was enough to give anyone the creeps. "Help unlooked for."

Jayne frowned. "Huh?"

For once Zoe agreed with Jayne. "Ain't got time for this, River."

The girl made a point of looking them each in the eye, wanting their full and undivided attention. "Change of plan."

Wash groaned. Simon looked as if he wanted to get everybody back on to Serenity and call the whole thing off. The Shepherd watched River keenly. "Change how?"

She beamed at him. "They'll keep him safe while we lay the charges."

"River, I'm not sure the explosives are such a good idea. If the Cap'n and Chung-li are in the mine..."

River shook her head, wanting to reassure Zoe but having the opposite effect. "Different parts."

No one knew quite what to make of that. Jayne looked at Book. "You any idea what the gorram she's talkin' about?"

"She's standing right here!"

"Huh, well make some ruttin' sense then."

Simon stepped between them. "Just a minute..."

"No, you just a minute doc. Wasn't my idea to bring crazy girl with us.."

"Jayne!" The sharp bark from Zoe stopped his little tirade. Looking him in the eye her words were flat and uncompromising, her expression as hard as granite. Ruttin' stone killer. They didn't have time for this. "No one says you have to come with us, but if you come you follow orders an' keep your mouth shut, *dong ma*?"

"Yeah but..."

"Yes or no, Jayne? Can't afford to have anyone with us who won't fall in line. This is the Cap'n's life we're talkin' about."

"*Diyu*, I know that..."

She waited. Jayne wanted to get Mal out as bad as the rest of them it was just River unsettled him. Made him so gorram jumpy. Wasn't natural. He nodded, shooting a look at River which the girl blithely ignored. Then River was detailing where to the set the charges, Zoe nodding and only asking the occasional question to get everything clear in her mind. Wash disabled the scout ship then they were out of the ship and running, bodies low, guns in hand, darting from cover to cover in a roundabout route to the nearest mine shaft. When they got in position River looked down and tilted her head, listening with her mind as well as her ears. Book was about to ask if anything was wrong when she moved back and nodded. Zoe lay the first charge and the group moved on. It would have been quicker to split up but River said it would increase the chances of someone getting left behind. All of them agreed this was one planet they planned on never returning to.

* * * * *

Best he could judge, it was an hour or so before dawn. Hard to tell with all that rock above his head but it gave him the ticking clock to work towards. Molly had reluctantly gone with him as they checked the tunnels one after another. Careful not to wake those sleeping but taking just enough time to check faces before moving on. Heart heavy, Chung-li was beginning to feel as though he was on a fool's errand when the first explosion knocked him off his feet. Abandoning any notion of stealth he grabbed Molly and asked her about exits. Confused it took a moment or two for her to gather her wits. By the time she did a second explosion rocked the tunnel, dirt and dust whumping down on them in a black cloud of debris.

Alarmed everyone was awake now, some screaming in panic, trying to find out what the good gorram was going on. Others just running for the last remembered route to the nearest exit. It was bedlam. Chaos. Alarmed and frustrated, Chung-li hung on to Molly and followed in the frantic tide evacuating the mine before the whole rutting thing went up. It was in this mad confused rush that he rubbed shoulders with a man who actually apologised for pushing him. Stunned, Chung-li stumbled, rough hands pushed him aside and the crowd moved on. Chung-li swung his head from side to side looking for the figure that had jostled him. Molly, noticing her friend was no longer beside her was now moving back against the tide to find him when a pair of arms wrapped around her from behind. Screaming in panic she kicked out, rammed her head back and fought like a banshee. The arms slackened, Molly turned to kick the assailant when she froze in her tracks. Stunned and awestruck. There, staring at her with a hand up to his bloodied face was her father.

Tears on both sides then they were hugging, crying with relief and determined not to let go of each other. When Chung-li got to them they were pretty much the last people to evacuate this section of the mine. Rafe Connor stared at the man in the monk's habit and slowly grinned. "By all that's holy, that you Chung-li?"

"*Qu*, Rafe, it's me."

Then the men were hugging. Laughing, crying and trying to have ten conversations at once. Tugging on her father's filthy sleeve Molly managed to get some sense into them. "We have to go, *fuqin*."

Rafe nodded, paused, framed the palm of his right hand gently to his daughter's cheek, not mindful of the tears falling from his eyes as he looked on her. "Oh Molly!" His voice broke with emotion. Rafe kissed her cheek.

"Come on, *fuqin*." She urged softly. Then without another word the three of them made their way up and out of the mine. As they hurried Chung-li worried about what they would find when they reached the surface. Would they escape the mine only to face an Alliance firing squad? If so he would take his chances but to lose his friends so soon after finding them would surely break his gorram heart.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*shenme* = what *diyu* = hell *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *tian Yesu* = sweet Jesus *dong ma* = understand? *qu* = yes (lit. go) *wo zhidao* = I know *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *hundan* = bastard *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *fuqin* = father


Thursday, March 16, 2006 6:53 AM


Finally - finally! - I get to start trying to catch up. Brilliant Inara! Lovely waspish dialogue.

Enjoyed Jayne being creeped out by River too. Especially as you know he wants to have faith, but his common sense finds it hard.


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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.