GENIUS SERIES: 15. "Needs Must"
Saturday, February 11, 2006

"Serenity gets boarded. Regan Tam realises that not everything is going her way."



SUMMARY: "Serenity gets boarded. Regan Tam realises that not everything is going her way." 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 Gregory Bliss was a big bluff man with the face of a fool and the eyes of his accomplice but Malcolm Reynolds had no intention of underestimating the man. To rise to the rank he had, Bliss must have the kind of smarts that did not show on his face. Either that or the blank display was a front, an affectation used in the same way a limp or lisp might be adopted to garner sympathy or throw someone off track. If the War had taught Mal nothing else it had cautioned against accepting the obvious as fact. The eyes could deceive. Sounds could be manipulated. Stories fabricated. Identities lost, found or completely created like mist conjured out of the atmo of a cloudless sky. He was ten times grateful that he had ordered River into hiding just before the purplebellies boarded his boat. Mal was not so sure about the five crew additions that didn't appear on his books. All depended on just how thorough these *tamade hundan* intended to be.

"Captain Reynolds, I will ask you again. A courtesy if you will. Where is River Tam?" The Captain shrugged, Zoe and Jayne only remaining seated because moving about would make the purplebellies even more jumpy and trigger happy than they were now. "Not here, not that I know what in the nine hells you're talkin' about."

The man produced a picture, the face looking out from the flimsy showing a solemn and moody looking River. Odd, but when the girl was miserable or unhappy she looked ten years older than his own self. Huh. Wasn't that creepifying? "I know she was on your ship, Captain, so don't make this harder than it has to be."

Mal shook his head almost apologetically. "Can't produce what I don't got."

Commandant Bliss looked around the cargo bay at the assembled crew. Zoe stared back at him, not lowering her eyes or looking away. Jayne was scowling staying silent. Inara Serra the only one who looked perfectly poised and composed, a fact that seemed to unsettle the Alliance man more than a little. Mal hid how much that amused him. Standing by the Captain's left shoulder stood Thadius while behind him three boys and a girl all around the same age watched on. None of them looked particularly concerned or ill at ease, a fact that drew the Commandant's attention. The boys were dressed like the Captain but without braces, only Malcolm Reynolds wearing suspenders. The girl wearing a pair of Kaylee's jeans and a scruffy jumper. Her hair rucked up as if she had only just woken up.

"You, boy! *Ni jiao shenme*?"


The Alliance Commandant glowered at the boy and waited.

"Thadius Clay."

A flicker in the man's eyes showed that was what he wanted. Full name. Mal knew the drill and so it seemed did the boy. "And you?"

Behind Thadius the others gave up their names. Whether they were true or not the Captain had no idea. Just so long as Bliss and his bully boys were satisfied enough to go on their way. "Ruben Grant."

"Carl Hatcham."

"Michael Rae."

"Helen Roth Carpenter."

That was it. The whole of Serenity's cargo. Four boys, one girl. Hidden in plain sight though not a one of them looked scared. But then it wouldn't be their rutting necks on the line if the *tamade hundan* didn't believe them. Anything to belie the notion that they were slaves being smuggled across the Black in crates was worth the trying.

After that brief introduction the questions came thick and fast with no rhyme or reason to them. Bliss rapping them out at random to different members of the crew as he paced slowly back and forth, his eyes flicking from face to face, no doubt hoping to catch them out in a lie. While some of his men searched the ship, Bliss continued the impromptu interrogation. Mal was impressed by how quickly their new passengers picked up on what was happening and framed their responses to fall in line with the story given by the Captain. That wouldn't have been so surprising were it not for the fact that their insights happened *before* the Captain could impart that knowledge. Anticipating and second guessing Mal better than Zoe and not nobody knew him so well as she did. Not that he had time to consider the implications at the time.

At last the inspection was over, the Commandant pausing a moment to look long and hard at Captain Reynolds, as if memorising his face. With a sharp nod Bliss indicated the visit was over. "*Duibuqi*, Captain, but I am sure you appreciate the need to be vigilant?"

"Absolutely, sir! Fine to see you upstanding gentlemen taking your job so seriously. Makes a man all kinds of relieved."

The Commandant's eyes narrowed. Zoe held in a breath, tempted to pick up something heavy to hit her Captain over the head for always wanting to get in one last smart assed comment. Carl Hatcham fought to keep the smile off his face. Then the puplebellies were leaving, the crew waiting in stunned silence until River confirmed that the other ship had detached and they were free to go on their merry. Malcolm Reynolds closed his eyes and let the sweet relief flow through him. When he opened his eyes Zoe had turned to face him, her expression as hard and unremitting as a block of gorram granite.

"I'm thinkin' this was no accident, sir."

He raised his eyebrows. "*Shenme*? What're you suggestin'?"

"Don't like the timin' is all."

"I don't like the timin' neither but," The Captain paused to let a big old shit eating grin spread across his features. "Did you see their faces?" He sounded excited, like a little kid who has managed to get away with something he should not have done. "Didn't Bliss look pissed? An' I swear that was a twitch startin' up in his left cheek."

"Shiny, sir." Zoe deadpanned, her manner showing how unimpressed she was with his reaction to near death.

"Will you lighten up, Zoe? You'll scare the passengers."

Zoe turned to look at their strange cargo, finding it a mite disconcerting to see the boys - no, men - wearing the Captain's things. More surprised than she could put into words that Mal had offered them up without so much as a flinch, a curse or any of the whining she might have expected. Her eyes narrowed as she looked from face to face. Not one of them looked away but met her eyes with a calm detachment. Not openly defiant or dismissive, just waiting as if knowing that there was only one set of orders they needed to obey. She found it more than a mite disconcerting. Inara took a step towards the Captain, careful to walk round the new arrivals not through them.

"Mal, what happens now?"

He blinked at Inara, sensing her wariness. Taking note of the tension building among his crew. For a moment it baffled him. Shouldn't they be relieved, happy, and all manner of grateful to have dodged that bullet? "We finish the job."

Jayne grinned, pleased that they would be dropping off this odd cargo. Couldn't put his finger on it but they unsettled him some. Might be little more than kids but they were different, had a kind of calm to them that suggested they were more than they seemed. Even Zoe had picked up on it. Kaylee though was mortified. "But Cap'n, ya can't do that! What'll happen to 'em? Ya saw how they was, didn't even have a stitch of clothin' between them!"

The Captain gave her a reassuring smile and put a hand on her shoulder. "*Fang xin*, Kaylee. Not nobody bein' dumped off my boat, *dong ma*?"

"But ya said..."

"I said we'd finish the job." Said the Captain crisply. All humour gone. He was the boss again and on his boat his word was law.

Inara was interested to note that none of the new additions seemed at all concerned about what was going to happen to them. Thadius caught her look of speculation and gave the ghost of a smile. The Companion knew something was going on but what? And would it do any good to try to warn the Captain? Thadius turned his head, all interest in her gone. The Captain was speaking. "Best you come with me, I'll show you where you'll be bunkin', *dong ma*?"

Thadius nodded. "*Qu*, Cap'n."

A little smile teased the Captain's lips. It was so long since he had anyone so biddable. Was kind of a nice change from having to chivvy, threaten and downright get ornery to lick his crew into shape. Oh they were a good crew, none better, but there were times when he wanted smooth. Uncomplicated. Times when biddable was good.

* * * * *

Simon knew what was needling his mother. No words needed to pass her tight lips to inform the Top Three Per Cent of his over bright brain. Regan Tam had been well on the way to getting everything she wanted and now this fly in the ointment was threatening everything. She turned her flint gaze onto Simon, their eyes locking in silence. The meeting had gone well even though Regan had been distracted. It was child's play to fence back and forth with her peers while letting another portion of her mind reach out to keep track of events deep in the Black of space. "How could this happen?"

He did not reply. Though mother and son were first tier telepaths Regan was also a fully functioning Reader. No longer kept in check by her husband's subtle concoctions in her food. For years she had not known or understood why her mental powers had been fading but she had been in love. Gabriel was so tall and handsome, so cultured and wise. He had flattered and wooed her until she could do naught but love him. In his way he had loved her too, for she was a stepping stone to power. Yet she was also his antithesis. As dangerous to him as undiluted poison. As treacherous as an abyss opening beneath his feet. Gabriel Tam had known the risks, had been aware of the danger of such a courtship but entered it with both eyes open. Spurred on by the unholy alliance it would unleash. Carefully, slowly, he had taken down her defences, inveigled his way through the armour that protected her, kept all her secrets safe. His training made him adept not bullet proof. His mind shielded by surgery and drugs. A gift he wanted to impart on her so gradually that she had given in without a fight, not knowing a war was being waged let alone who waged it. Understanding not hitting her until the last possible moment and the shock had been as profound as it was mind shattering.

But if Gabriel thought the War was over he was wrong. It had just began. Let him have his little battle. His psuedo-war. Now that she was regaining all her previous powers the need for revenge was becoming more difficult to resist. Regan wanted vengeance but the broken man she had left behind held little interest for her. She wanted her children. The legacy meant to form a dynasty against which nothing could stand. Her shrewd eyes narrowed on Simon's pale and pinched face. He could hide his worries and uncertainties from others but not from her. Even though Simon's mind was shielded and she could not reach or touch his thoughts some things were universal and right now his body language was screaming to get away. Be rid of her. Outwardly he played the dutiful son. Regan smiled. She could work with that. After all, she had been playing Russian Roulette with her genes for a shot at the ultimate prize. "Come."

Simon cautiously fell into step beside her. "Where are we going?"

He got no reply, just a widening of the smile that set off every nerve in his body with horrible apprehension. For just a moment, Simon Tam wondered whether he had left his escape too late.

* * * * *

Jayne Cobb could not stop pacing. He was seething. It had taken longer than he liked to finally get the Captain away from those creepy-assed crate people. River seemed amused as the rest of the crew gravitated back into the commons room to find out what was going on. The Captain looked across at River. "We on course?"

"*Qu*. Autopilot."

Mal nodded. Kaylee followed Zoe and Inara, no one taking a seat, an air of edgy expectancy just making the tension that bit more volatile. The Captain didn't like it, not one bit, but at least they were doing this out of earshot of the new folk. "Okay Jayne, you got us all here now what in the nine hells is your problem?"

The mercenary spun round, not hiding his anger or his unease. "You, Mal, you're the problem!"

The answer was totally unexpected. Mal raised his eyebrows. "I am? *Wode ma*, how'd I manage that?"

"By not listenin' to your gorram crew."

The Captain's eyes began to narrow, body tensing. Zoe spoke before they sped into a full blown argument. They needed to discuss this not trade insults then blows. "Sir, Jayne does have a point." He turned to glare at her. "What point? I'm the Cap'n."

"That you are, no one's disputin' that sir, but this notion? Have to say it's not one of your better decisions."

"Zoe, them kids were bein' shipped off into slavery, in MY boat. Not nobody gonna turn Serenity into a slaver's ship an' you know I ain't into the skin trade."

Jayne growled. "Then why we finishin' this *lese* job?"

A nasty little grin slid across the Captain's face. "Oh, we're gonna be right on time, Jayne, make no mistake. On'y we won't be droppin' off innocents, *dong ma*?"

Inara looked unsettled. Kaylee actually beamed with relief, not that concerned about the rest of the Captain's plan. He was the Captain, it would work out right. Didn't even consider how skewed that kind of logic-less logic was. Just because things had a habit of not going smooth didn't mean they wouldn't this time. Just had to have faith. Inara could not shake off the uneasy feeling that was taking hold. "What *will* we be dropping off, Mal?"

A smug look joined the nasty little smile. "What Jayne said."

The mercenary blinked. "*Shenme*? What'd I say?"

"You said rocks," Said Kaylee slowly, then she was smiling again. "So we gonna fill the crates with rocks, Cap'n?"

"Among other things."

"What kind of *other things*?" Asked a suspicious Zoe.

"Well, reckon they deserve a little extra for all the trouble they gone to an' we still got some of that high explosive from the job on August Moon, *dui*?"

Jayne barked out a laugh of glee, a grin of pleasure wiping off the sour look. "Yeah, Mal, we got enough to blow up half a planet."

"Don't wanna blow a planet, Jayne. Just need enough rigged so when the crates open there won't be nobody left to come lookin' for the folks what packed 'em."

It was Zoe who thought to add a note of caution. "Sir? Shiny as that plan is what if they open the crates while we're there?"

A more normal smile was on the Captain's face now. He seemed relaxed and happy in a way that made her almost think this would work. "We ain't gonna be gettin' off with the cargo."

"We aren't?"

He shook his head then cast an eye around his crew. "I don't hold with this kind'a thing. Usin' an' abusin' folk what ain't done nothin' wrong. So this is what we're gonna do. By now I'm thinkin' Corbin an' his goons have to know the job was a bust but they'll know we took the cargo. We carry on as arranged to the meet point on'y we get there a little early. Make sure no noose is set up to close around our gorram necks. We leave the crates outside the warehouse then leave. No note, no fond goodbye, no demand for the second half of our gorram payment. Let Corbin make of it what he will."

Inara frowned. Imagined Alliance battlecruisers able to sail through the holes in his plan. "Won't they be suspicious?"

"Oh, I'm countin' on it."

"Then the plan'll fail." Said Zoe with a worried look on her face. To the left of the Captain, River was smiling. Everyone else looked a mite confused.

"I just expect that when they find no gunfire waitin' to pounce on 'em an' the cargo just sittin' there quiet an' unmolested greed'll take over. That an' curiosity."

Kaylee's attention caught on the Captain's last word. "Curiosity?"

The Captain wanted to laugh at their expressions. "Yep, curiosity. If'n you was them wouldn't you want to see what the good gorram was in them crates? Wouldn't you be figurin' that maybe I'd just wanted to be shot of the whole *lese* deal an' had dumped the cargo? I'm thinkin' them slaves didn't come cheap an' like Jayne said, it's all about the money."

River waited until the plan had been talked out every which way then followed the Captain out of the commons room. As he approached his cabin the Captain paused and turned to her. "Was there somethin' you wanted, little albatross?"

She smiled gently. "Like me but not."

"Who likes you?"

River shook her head. "No. *Like* me. Like as in similar. We're talking parallels not perfect representations, Captain."

"Oh, okay. Your meanin' bein'?"

She followed him down into his bunk which should have been unsettling but wasn't. This was River after all. The only one on his boat who made him feel less crazy. Was kind of comforting. River reached up and touched the Captain's head, the barely there motion stirring the air just enough for him to know she had moved her hand. "Like me." She repeated softly.

All the air in Mal's lungs seemed to find nowhere to go. He stared at her wide eyed. Trusted River more than anyone else in the 'verse including his own self. "What you sayin', River? You sayin' I can't trust 'em? They gonna turn on us?"

River shook her head. "*Bu qu*, safe now."

He felt like something in his head must be loose. "Safe? What the good gorram you meanin? This ain't the time to be playin' twenty questions with your Cap'n, *dong ma*?"

Her smile was soft, affectionate. She knew he could intuit much of what she was saying, that he was sensitive to her. It gave him an edge the Captain didn't know he had. "They won't turn on you, Captain. You saved them. They hear you now. See you too."

Mal wasn't sure he liked the sound of that, not that there was a lot he could do about it. "You sayin' them folks are Readers?"

"Next generation."

Now he really couldn't draw breath. What the good gorram were Readers doing on his boat? Not that he classed River that way. She was crew now. Family. As precious to him as the rest of his motley crew.

"Not motley, Captain."

He blinked, stared at her then sat down as if someone had cut his strings. River crouched in front of him, needing him to focus, concentrate. Understand. "What's goin' on, little albatross?"

"Wheels within wheels. You weren't supposed to open the boxes."

"Huh, you think?"

She smiled. "*Wo zhidao*."

"So how'd my openin' the gorram crates change things?"

For a moment River did not answer. She was watching him, her eyes sinking into his as if seeing right into his gorram brain. Mayhap she could do that, it wouldn't surprise him. Had suspected her of that very thing more times than he could count. Why should now be a different kind of lunacy? "You opened the box, first thing they saw when they woke. Minds touched. Yours now."

His voice was faint as if coming from some place far far away. "Mine?"

River reached out and touched his cheek, such affection in her eyes. How was it this little broken bird knew him better than anyone else? Better even than Inara? "Not broken." She whispered. "Mending. Better now than before."

"I'm not understandin' River how those folks can be mine. Folk don't own other folk. It ain't right."

She shook her head, amused at his too literal interpretation of simple words. He needed the numbers to make sense or he would not be able to add them up. The equations would become meaningless. Her job. Her gift to him. "You won't any more than you own us."


"They've touched your mind, Captain. They know and understand what and who you are."

"They do?"

River leant forward until her head touched his, huge dark eyes lost in his. Willing him to understand. "Yours now. Never betray you. If you trust so will they. A mirror that cannot be broken."

He took a moment to whet his lips and calm the racing of his heart and the stumbling of his thoughts. Had to get some coherence back if he was to hang on to any kind of common sense. "You said they were weapons."

She nodded then stood up. "Like me but not like me."

Stunned he just watched as River climbed up the ladder and carefully closed the hatch after her. The Captain had some thinking to do and it was best he work the last bit out on his own. That way the answers would mean more. Would show him the trigger mechanism as well as the safety. For now, that would be enough.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *ni jiao shenme* = what's your name? *duibuqi* = sorry *shenme* = what *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *dong ma* = understand? *qu* = yes (lit. go) *wode ma* = mother of God *lese* = crappy *dui* = correct *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *wo zhidao* = I know


Saturday, February 11, 2006 1:49 PM


Yay! Refresh the front page enough and fanfiction appears! Woo! I am so glad that I can read this series now, I'm really enjoying how I have no idea where it's going! The developments are cryptic! I love your fanfiction.

Saturday, February 11, 2006 4:20 PM


ok i'm hooked-can't wait to read what happens

Sunday, February 12, 2006 2:36 AM


A wonderful installment. I want to know what Regan is up to. And if the explosion will work.

Sunday, February 12, 2006 9:02 AM


Liking the crate people, it'll be good to see where all this is going.

I have also cautiously decided that it's safe to hate Regan Tam.

Something very big is happening here- big picture style. I'm guessing you must be feeding your plot bunny lots of treats to keep it happy.

Roll on Chapter 16!


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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.