GENIUS SERIES: 17. "Believe"
Friday, February 17, 2006

"Zoe does some straight talking. Simon tries to find a way to further his plans without his mother finding out."



SUMMARY: "Zoe does some straight talking. Simon tries to find a way to further his plans without his mother finding out." 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 wave was short and bitterly polite. All protocol and manners, so heavy with subtext that Commandant Bliss wanted to explode but discretion was the better part of valour and keeping his temper meant he and his crew would actually outlive their error. This time. As the screen darkened the Commandant ground his teeth. "They deceived us!"

None of his officers made a comment. The transmission from Parliament had unnerved them all. The thinly veiled threat of what would happen should such a thing occur again had hit home with a vengeance. Bliss had wanted to turn his ship around and go hunting down the Firefly that had made such a fool of him but the Councillor had dismissed the notion. In fact, had insisted that he step away from such thoughts. The matter was out of his hands now but it left a sour taste in his mouth. Keeping his ship on course, Bliss vowed that if he ever came face to face with Serenity and her crew again he would make every last one of them live long enough to regret it.

* * * * *

On Serenity things were not as smooth as the Captain would have liked. Even though his crew were not openly rebelling he knew they were unhappy and not with the job neither but with him. He sighed, trying not to wince at the look in Zoe's eyes. He really did not want to be talking about this but knew it was better to get it said when there was just the two of them than in front of the whole gorram crew. He gave a slight nod and turned to go back to his bunk, his second in command following close behind. Only when she stepped off his ladder closing the hatch behind her did the Captain speak. "Okay, Zoe, best say what's on your mind."

For a moment she just stared at him, her eyes stern, the look in them hard and unforgiving. "What the *guai* is goin' on with you an' them Readers, sir?"

Mal raised an eyebrow. "What d'you think is goin' on?"

"I asked first."

"*Yiwusouyou*, Zoe."

"Saw you with Thadius."


"Didn't seem right is all."

"Zoe, we spoke. That's it."

"Looked more like he was wrappin' you around his little finger, sir."

He almost choked on the notion. "*Wei*, where you get such a twisted idea from?"

"I got eyes. Ears too."

"Well wash 'em out! You ain't seein' or hearin' straight, *dong ma*?"

"I'm not the one lettin' those kids rule the roost."

He could hardly believe they were having this conversation. Mal had known she was unhappy. *Wode ma*, most all his crew seemed to have their noses out of joint. But this was unexpected. "Not nobody rulin' the roost aboard my boat but me. Decided to talk to them is all, we had a meetin' in the lounge last night. Got a few things straight."

"That why Thadius went back to your bunk, sir?"

"He noticed I wasn't sleepin'."

This time it was Zoe's turn to raise her eyebrows at that startling admission. It was not like Mal to admit having trouble sleeping especially not to strangers.

"An' you can wipe that look off your face, not nothin' unseemly happened. Just helped me get to sleep is all."

Instead of reassuring her his words deepened the unsettled feeling in her gut. "Cap'n, I don't think its' wise to spend time alone with any of them." Annoyed, he tried to keep his voice level, calm. "What you sayin'?"

"Don't trust 'em is all."

The Captain took a step towards her, his eyes pleading for her to understand. Zoe was his rock, his firm right hand and more often than not his conscience. He couldn't have her questioning his decisions. "Zoe, they're just kids, *dong ma*? More folk wronged by the gorram Alliance. They ain't evil."

"I think your war issues are underminin' your ability to think straight, sir."

"An' I'm thinkin' you're skatin' close to insubordination." "War's over." Zoe said softly. The words shivered through the Captain like someone walking over his rutting grave.

"Not fixin' to start another one." He answered.

"Wasn't you I was worryin' about."

"Zoe, I can't explain it but I trust 'em. What I need to know is if you trust me."

For a couple of seconds she did not speak, her eyes looking deep into his, looking for the cautious and astute mind she knew lurked beneath his rough grace. "Sir, they're Readers. Don't know how powerful they are but if River's anythin' to go by that makes them at least five times more deadly. Just thinkin' your thoughts may not be your own."

"*Fang xin*, you're worryin' for nothin'."

Zoe was really hoping not to have to bring out the big guns but with the Captain being so intransigent she felt she had no other option. This wasn't just about trusting her Captain and friend. They had a crew to consider. All lives held in the palm of Malcolm Reynolds' hands. They would live or die by decisions the Captain made. It was her job to make sure those decisions were sound even if it put her at odds with the man who was closer than a brother to her. "I spoke to River."

Those four words hit him out of the blue. Like being gutshot but without the blood. "*Shenme*?"

"She says they can mind map."

"What the good gorram is that?"

"Like terraformin' inside your head, sir."

He was spluttering now. "I AIN'T been terra-ruttin'-formed, *DONG MA*? How many times I gotta say that you're wrong about this?"

"Until I believe it."

He stared. Hurt and angry and all kinds of upset with her. How could she go behind his back like that? How could she think so little of him? "I think you should leave now."



For a moment he thought she would try to fight him but he was almost beyond caring, so crazy mad he was to like to lose the last bit of control he had.

"Just askin' you be careful, Mal." She could not help urging quietly, her voice softening just enough to let him know she was concerned not mad at him. "We don't know these people an' we on'y got their word for it that bein' moved in those crates was somethin' done against their will. What with bein' set up an' all this could have been deliberately staged so you would take them on."

"That's ridiculous, Zoe."

"Is it, sir?" She moved to the ladder then paused to look back at him. So serious that he found himself holding his breath. "Just think on it is all I ask."

"Did River say anythin' else?"

Her hesitation made his heart sink "She said they were conditioned. You were never meant to open the crates, sir."

"Not sure I'm followin' you."

"River says whoever opened the crates an' woke them they would imprint on."

"That mean what I think it means?"

"It means they would automatically answer to an' follow the person who freed them."

The Captain felt himself begin to relax, all kinds of relieved. He ran a hand through his hair. "Well now, that don't sound too bad."

"River also said it would go both ways."

Mal stared at her, the slow dawning realisation undoing all the good the night's rest had done him. "*Diyu*, why can't anythin' ever go smooth?"


"You got another gorram bombshell you want droppin', Zoe?"

She almost smiled. Some of the tension easing a mite knowing that the Captain was as alarmed as she was. There was something perversely comforting about sharing bad news. Or maybe it was just the familiarity of it. "*Bu qu*, sir, just think you should have a talk with River. I'm thinkin' sooner rather than later."

The Captain nodded. Zoe turned and started up the ladder.


She paused.


"Just watchin' your back, sir."

"*Wo zhidao* an' don't think I ain't all manner of grateful."

Zoe gave a curt nod then left him alone with his thoughts. The calm happy buzz of the night before now blown to tatters and yet he could not find it in his heart to believe Thadius had been playing him. Surely he would have had a suspicion or two if the boy had been manipulating him? And what about Thadius talking him to sleep? Had he been hypnotised or some such? Suddenly Mal was not looking forward to breakfast. Knowing he had five Readers on his boat with agendas he could not begin to fathom did little for his peace of mind. It wouldn't help either if he joined them all around the table and found his mind unconsciously broadcasting every reservation in his gorram head. *Tianna*, why did these things always happen to him? And why hadn't River warned him before he opened the rutting crates? Come to think on it, River had encouraged him, even telling him which gorram crate to open first.

That thought raised more questions than answers. Zoe was right, he needed to talk to River. And sooner rather than later.

* * * * *

It had taken an inordinate amount of skill to find a good enough reason to absent himself from Parliament. Strictly speaking Simon was not a Councillor but even Alliance Agents had to report their comings and goings. Lose canons were not allowed however benign to the regime they might appear. Not content with having almost every world in their part of the 'verse within the hegemony of the Unified Planets the Alliance wanted individuals to surrender their personal freedom as well. Control it seemed bred the need for control. A circular logic propagating inbuilt chains that mouthed the words of freedom from a cage dipped in gold. But scratch the surface and the gold came off revealing a metal that was rusting up inside with the kind of decay that could bring down mountains.

Once in the skimmer, Simon knew he would have to move fast. The tracker buried under the skin in his left forearm needed to be removed but not here. Crushing it under foot or any other of a dozen ways of destroying the mechanism was not an option. No. He needed to deflect their attention, send the searching eyes and ears in another direction completely. Simon slowly brought his racing heartbeat back into a calm even rhythm. He had told his superiors that he needed to go back to the family estate and collect the rest of his mother's things. That once that had been done they could do whatever they liked with the house and grounds because neither of them would be going back. It had pleased and surprised them. And so that was where Simon went. At first. He took the precaution of searching through each and every room because there were hidden eyes, Alliance cameras set up to record any and all activity at the premises. It was the sort of thing he could not afford to overlook.

His bedroom was pretty much bare but River's... Simon paused, his heart stumbling in his chest with a nameless grief. Pushing back the thoughts that threatened to undermine his control he stepped into her room and ruthlessly emptied the cupboards and drawers onto her bed. Then, more slowly he picked through her few possessions. Memories attached to each and every one of them and holding him in thrall more than was wise. He picked a few small items then moved on. Did the same in his parents' room then cast a baleful eye at the fabrication of a life that he would be leaving behind. Once that was done he stepped into the grounds, leaving the skimmer in full view in front of the main entrance to the house. He took his time, weaving slowly through the trees and shrubs, pausing to sniff at a bloom here and there or to study some fauna as if every leaf and twig were waiting for his goodbye.

Deeper he edged until any surveillance equipment would have difficulty tracking him but he knew one that was impervious to any attempts to hide. The small rocky alcove was hidden in a wooden arbour, the perfumed roses coming to the end of their flowering still thickened the arched trellis and made the small corner of solitude that bit more seductive. Moving into the shadows he turned to face the rock, his back to the open entrance, and felt in his pocket removing the scalpel and small disposable pack of antiseptic. The syringe in his right hand pocket would anaethatise the area enough to allow him to cut out the transponder. It would not hurt so much as prick but later no doubt it would be a sore reminder that from hereon in there could be no turning back.

Gritting his teeth, Simon got to work. His surgeon's hands put to good use, the tiny tracking device carefully removed with the aid of the scapel so that it could be removed undamaged. It was important that the tiny transponder still be transmitting. Wrapping it in tissue, Simon put the device in his top pocket then threaded a needle to close the small wound. A wipe clean then small dressing completed his task. He put his shirt back on and rolled the sleeves down, making sure he was neat and tidy before exiting the arbour. Now all he needed to do was find another carrier. Something or someone that would distract his handlers long enough for him to get away.

* * * * *

The Captain did not turn up for breakfast. Inara gave a little frown, sensing something was off but not knowing what. Zoe felt a stab of guilt but was convinced that she was doing the right thing. Thadius looked at her for a moment, a sadness skimming his eyes that pierced her for a moment before she hardened her heart to him. With a soundless sigh he bent his head and finished eating in silence. Ruben watched the subtle exchange but like the others remained silent. River didn't eat, she was staring down at her plate as if it was an armed assassin. Kaylee frowned, not knowing what the *diyu* was up with her friend. She nudged River with her elbow. "*Wei, shenme shi*?"

River did not look up from her plate. "Not what it seems."

Kaylee laughed. "It's not that bad, at least Jayne didn't do the cookin'."

"Hey! I heard that."

The mechanic smiled across the table at Jayne, amusement rising as she watched him steadily continue to plough food into his mouth as if none of it touched the sides on the way down his throat. Man must have the constitution of an ox. Zoe got up and put her plate in the sink then left, everyone else still sitting at the table at various stages of finishing the meal. River looked up, caught Thadius looking straight at her. Without a word she got to her feet and went to find Zoe. The first mate was on the bridge, staring out at the Black and not in the least surprised when the girl stood silent and glowering behind her. Could almost feel the gorram eyes drilling into the back of her skull.

"You weren't supposed to tell him!"

Zoe turned and looked at her. "He's the Cap'n, River, it's his place to know."

River was visibly upset. "That's why, *dong ma*? They're imprinted now - mirrors reflecting back. If the Captain is suspicious they will be too. He was safe when he didn't know."

Alarm seeped through Zoe's veins like a poison. "An' you tell me this now? What are you playin' at, River?"

The girl shook her head, unable to hide her distress or her frustration. "I wanted to warn you, just in case. Safety net."

"What about the Cap'n?"

"He wasn't supposed to know or I would have gone to him. It's why I chose you, he trusts you."

Zoe just stared at her for a full minute, willing her breath to steady and to keep her anger in check. There was always the chance of misunderstanding with River and she didn't want to start yelling at the girl only to find the fault was her own. "You said they were dangerous."

"So am I."

"Except," Said Zoe as her look sharpened, a keen gaze intended to filter out the truth. "You're one of us."

All the frustration dissipated from River, her distress turning to sadness. "Am I?"

"*Qu*, of course."

But even after River had left the bridge Zoe couldn't help wondering if that were true.

* * * * *

Gabriel Tam watched the monitor, his eyes narrowing as he followed Simon's progress first through the house then into the grounds. Each time his son bent to touch or pick anything up he paused the footage and zoomed in to see what had caught his interest.

The Director watched in silence, a slow smug smile touching his austere lips as Gabriel finally turned it off and turned to look at him. "He's ours now."

When he got no reply, the Director's smile vanished.

"You disagree?"

Gabriel could not quite put his finger on it. Simon was nothing if not conscientious in all his dealings. Going back to the estate had been a surprise move and every instinct his father possessed screamed at the incongruity. What was he up to? Or was it as the Director said, had Simon really decided his only future was the one mapped out for him? Was it really that simple? Gabriel steepled his fingers together and tapped the index fingers to his lips, a thoughtful expression on his face. "I think it's too early to assume anything."

The Director watched Gabriel intently. "You think he's faking?"

"I think my son is far more subtle than we have given him credit for."

That was not the response the Director was looking for. He frowned. "Then I will have him picked up. We can discuss this with him in person."

Gabriel Tam shook his head. "*Bu qu*!"

"*Shenme*? You've as good as said he's acting against us."

"I said no such thing. He is acting out of character but that may be the shock of being permanently parted from his sister not to mention the twin shocks from his mother and myself."

"Then we should ignore this?"

The lazy blink did not diminish the piercing look in Gabriel's eyes. "We ignore nothing, we simply do not jump to conclusions." Gabriel paused. "That is why we won the War, *dui*?"

Relaxing, the Director eased back into his comfortable chair. The trappings of untold riches a smooth hum in his mind. "*Dui*. You are a wise man Gabriel Tam."

He got a slight nod in response. Gabriel sat for a long time thinking after the Director had gone. Then, with a thoughtful look on his face he played the footage one more time.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*guai* = devil/ghost *yiwusuoyou* = nothing *wei* = hey! *dui* = correct *dong ma* = understand? *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *shenme* = what *diyu* = hell *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *wo zhidao* = I know *duibuqi* = sorry *tianna* = oh God! *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *qu* = yes (lit. go) *wode ma* = mother of God


Friday, February 17, 2006 2:47 PM


*Wish* I knew where this was going! I love how it is unwrapping slowly. Very good :D

Saturday, February 18, 2006 1:55 AM


This plot is so thick it's like cement! Whew... Can't wait to see where it's going!

High tensions, multiple players and a subtle complexity that puts others to shame.

Keep it coming!

Saturday, February 18, 2006 3:02 AM


Yay another chapter!

I love how this is going along, all the different strands.

And I still don't trust those kids!


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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.