HEAVEN AND HELL: 8. "Truth and Lies"
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

"Inara moves her agenda forward. River knows she is in deep trouble but there is no time to warn the Captain."



SUMMARY: "Inara moves her agenda forward. River knows she is in deep trouble but there is no time to warn the Captain." 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.


A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

He could feel the eyes boring a hole through the back of his neck but refused to turn his head and look at her. There was no way he could externalise his feelings let alone tell Zoe what the rutting *diyu* was going on. All he had were hints, subtle shifts and gut instinct. But the person shadowing them was real. Pepper Rawlings suddenly leaned over the table and clapped a hand on the Captain's shoulder cutting short his reverie. "You did a good job, Mal. We can use good folks like you if'n you're fixin' to stay a while."

The Captain could feel an itch growing he could not afford to scratch. He kept his voice friendly, an easy sliding flow meant to keep everybody calm if not distracted. He could feel Jayne at the back of them and knew the big man was on high alert albeit hiding it with the casual grace of his mercenary skill. He liked having that solid wall behind his back. A quick professional gun who had proved his worth time and time again. Just the loyalty issue that sometimes got a little shaky now and then. Shepherd Book listened and sipped his drink occasionally, eyes sharp and noting every little detail. He caught the shadow by the door out of the corner of his eye, now moving back. Out of sight but not out of mind. Keeping his expression blank he sent a mental probe to seek some clue as to the man's identity and purpose here. It did not feel accidental and that worried him. Who else but Rawlings and his men knew they were there?

Zoe Warren frowned. Knew something was off with the Captain. His tension so well masked that anyone who did not know him well would be hard put to pick up on it but she was attuned to him. The ease of his every move as familiar to her as her own. The subtle nuances of his spoken words like a kind of shorthand the two of them spoke as fluently as any mother tongue. She was not sure but thought Jayne knew. That troubled her. Why was she out of the loop? What did it mean? Her eyes sharpened, watching and listening and trying to fathom from where any potential threat might come. But there was nothing. Just them and Pepper's people. The sharp light and shadow of the bar lacked the haze of smoke familiar on many worlds. A faint dusty perfume softened the air like incense burned long ago but clinging to clothes and minds like a treasured memory. She liked this place. It had peace and contentment in it but now that balance was shifting. Zoe turned her head and caught Book looking at her. Such a direct focus of attention that for a moment she forgot to be wary and was simply surprised into curiosity. That small distraction was enough for the figure on the periphery to change tactics.

The Shepherd frowned slightly and looked away from Zoe. Alarmed and puzzled that the watcher had retreated. Mind clouded so he could not penetrate the obscuring mists of thoughts too secret to share. A sense of danger settled in his bones in an old familiar way that haunted him still. This was not good. He wanted to urge them to return to the ship but had no way of doing so without drawing attention to himself. The Captain was talking, Pepper laughing easily and keeping up a steady friendly banter that was beginning to irritate him. He stopped himself just in time. No place here for fools or the unwary. At that moment he picked up the tendril of thought he had been seeking. Like finding boot prints in the snow he latched on and used it to track back to the mind it had leaked from. A cautious, wary, trap of iron. Will encased with a determination the equal of any steel. The man's mind was not open to him but some things he could determine now with some certainty. He was on a mission. Following orders. But what were those orders and who had sent him? Was the Guild behind this or was it his people? Someone at a higher level of power tipping the balance of what was to come? No. He mentally jettisoned that idea. This had the feel of a new player not an old one.

Captain Reynolds drained his glass just as the waitress brought a new jug to the table. Pepper picked it up and refilled the glass, talking all the while, his face ruddy from the drink and windburn. His eyes sparkled with mischief in his animated face. "Come, you're not drinkin'."

"Am so, just don't gotta swim in it is all."

Pepper laughed. He liked the Captain and his prickly humour. Wasn't too sure of the others, they seemed a mostly solemn bunch but then people were all kinds of folk. His own men were a testament to that. Right now Porter Knowles was frowning into his drink, nursing it like a patient clinging to life. His eyes already glassy, seeped in his cups more than seven sheets in the wind. Only the table held him upright. Wally Dunn was almost as round as he was tall. A short blocky man with sandy coloured hair and beard to match. Not so much quick in his mind as strong but there wasn't a mine anywhere than man couldn't read like a book. Many a cave-in he had predicted in time to get them all out in one piece and thanking every God in the 'verse for his presentiment. Man knew all about stress and pressure, gases and the like. Might have no book learning but in the School of Life he was already a Master. Then there was Lenny Goss. Tall and lean, he was draped in a boneless sprawl with one leg hanging over the arm of his chair and the other stretched out in front of him. Any space he occupied he over ran. Good natured and even tempered yet shrewd.

The scrape of the Captain's chair as he got to his feet pulled Pepper out of his thoughts. "Thanks again for the hospitality, Pepper, but me an' mine have to be goin'."

"Ain't no hurry, Mal..."

The Captain smiled slightly. "Well now, I tell that to my mechanic an' I'm like to be spinnin' in the Black with no suit on. Her bein' all set on seein' them lakes on Rainbow an' all."

Pepper laughed then nodded. "You gotta point an' I ain't gonna push it just remember if you come this way again we got work a-plenty for them as are willin' to haul it, *dong ma*?"

A true smile broke out on Mal's face. "*Wo dong*."

They shook hands and parted, the bright harsh light hitting the Captain's eyes in a fierce glare that made him squint as he stepped outside. Zoe moved towards him. He sensed she wanted to talk, corner him if need be but he was not in the mood. He glanced across at Jayne who had tipped his hat to keep the sun out of his eyes. The mercenary's look said he did not know where their tail had gone. All of sudden Mal's good mood wasn't so good any more. He had a burning need to get back to Serenity. To brush the dust of this place from his boots and hit atmo just as fast as he could. No one spoke as he quickened his pace. One look at the grim lines forming like rows of infantry on his face had them all unconsciously slipping into full combat mode.

* * * * *

River was wary, watching the eyes staring at her with all the calm confidence of a predator. There was not the slightest trace of regret. Simon was a distraction nothing more. When River said nothing Inara resisted the urge to smile. "He isn't dead."

"I know."

Inara weighed up the girl's mood. Slightly discomfitted by how normal she acted and sounded. How *well* she seemed since taking up with the Captain. That had been unexpected. She did not really like moving this quickly but her hand was being forced. Her thoughts she kept from River. Her mind a box that was lead lined. A Companion's grace as agile as any assassin. River knew and Inara was content. It saved having to draw a line in the sand.

"What makes you think I'll go with you?"

"The Captain."

River felt a trace of unease. She steeled herself not to look down at her brother's suppine form laying in an untidy heap between them. A distraction no more. *Oh Simon, why do you never listen? Wisdom doesn't come with age but with experience. You can't expect it to be handed to you like the candles on a cake. Too many candles and you get burned. Everyone knows that* The thought made her think of the Inara. Even now she could feel the fashion of the Companion's lies spinning round inside her head. "You speak but the words don't make sense." She paused, a solemn intensity settling in her eyes. "They don't ring true."

Inara began to relax. This was the River she knew. "That's what people usually say about you."

The girl nodded slowly perpetuating the half-crazy myth that spanned the worlds of the gifted and the insane with equal favour. "All reflections in the mirror but the surface isn't clean and we're all thrown off by shadows." When Inara made no comment River elaborated. "Sleight of hand." She raised a hand slowly, turning it gracefully as if by way of demonstration. "It's all in the wrist." Before Inara realised her intent River struck. The blow sudden and deadly accurate but just short of delivering the coupe de grace. The Companion was dangerous but if you pulled a snake's fangs and removed the poison it was no more than an overpainted worm. All faces were plain beneath the vibrant gloss of stolen colours. As Inara crumpled to the ground River sank to her knees, her eyes anxious as she reached for Simon. Heart cycling through controlled chaos as she fought the urge to cry. She checked his pulse then shook him. They didn't have much time.

* * * * *

He hardly noticed the *lese* transport filled though it was with the trappings of Alliance make-work. Demi-officials posing like gods upon a ricketty stage full of clowns and misfits. Among the squalor and debris of human life he was invisible. Who needed friends in high places when those in the gutter could serve you so well? Innocent of his purpose they clothed him in their rags and he was content though inwardly his heart swept his thoughts, his hopes and fears before him like a flash flood. He could barely take an even breath for all that he had gambled on this one throw of the die. He understood Jeb's caution only too well. Embraced in spirit his need to protect, to hold on to all that was left of the dream. He cherished it but did not want to dream the dream. He wanted to *live* it.

Tears bedimmed eyes looking inward and back. Heart aching with remembered joys and sunfiltered days leaking through the gaps in the boarding of their barn and catching the motes of dust like fine grains of gold to rain down upon him. Blankets thin and worn soft with age bound him in warmth from the cold snap of early dawn as they lay drifting between sleep and waking, the warm scented breath and stamp of the horses lulling him with a familiarity he could almost feel beneath his fingertips. The shared moments precious to him because they could not be lived again nor tasted nor savoured nor brought to mind with anything but the sharp bittersweet agony of what was lost. Now. This chance had come to him. This unbelievable possibility a shining light to vanquish all the darkness of the years wasted in sorrow and regret. So much had been taken from him almost before he could appreciate what he had.

He blinked. Not noticing the glassy wet diamonds that fell like crystal shards in elongated drops to shatter as once his heart had done. They said that diamonds were the hardest material known to man but they were wrong. Harder still was having to say goodbye to those you loved. To leave them or have them leave you before the journey ended. To walk a path devoid of that company. That union of souls that breathed life into the heart of every man. His father would have mocked him gently. His mother would have kissed his tears and held him close. His uncle would have tried to distract him. His friends reassure him. But his brother. He would have looked into his eyes with not a word spoken. Touched the tears upon his face and dried them with understanding. A thing that needed no expression. A bond not even death could take from them. And now, he all but trembled at his own daring. This step into the unknown. The desire so ripe in him to join the ghosts of the past with the blood and breath of the living. Was he a fool? Assuredly so. Was he deluding himself? He did not think so. But in truth he did not know. Was not even sure it mattered. He had to try. Win, lose or draw. It was the last big gamble he would ever take. If he lost he alone would pay. The others would live. Continue the cause that had taken so many gallant souls to early graves. And if he won? Why then. Even the darkest pits of *diyu* would echo to the celebration of joy that would ring like a bell through his heart and soul. Then. Then he would find peace enough to open his eyes and live again.

It was all he wanted. All he craved. Almost he felt guilty for wanting it so much as if it was selfish to long with such single minded passion for something that meant more than any other thing in the 'verse to him. He sighed softly and placed a hand over the ring hidden beneath his vest. The shape of it a comfort to his cold fingers. What it represented bringing warmth to his mind. The sudden jolt told him they had landed but he did not move. Let the others crowd and push and hurry he would follow on and lose himself in their wake. He ran a hand through his fine brown hair, the movement stirring the dust that had settled on him and bringing a smile to his lips as he imagined every grain tinged with gold. Mama had called him a dreamer. Well. With *yunqi* this would be one dream that would come true.

* * * * *

Zoe did not try to slow the Captain down, her long legs easily keeping pace with his hurried steps. The Shepherd was frowning and kept casting surreptitious looks at the Captain's back. Jayne brought up the rear, eyes wary and every sense stretched like radar for the slightest hint of trouble. They found none. When they reached the ship it was to find an anxious Wash waiting for them. The Captain increased his pace until he was almost running up the ramp, talking as he moved, his body in constant motion. The tension in him like fuel in an engine. "What the gorram happened?"

Wash glanced at Zoe, his worry making her all kinds of uneasy. "It's Inara."

That stopped him. So surprised that for a moment he just stared at him. "*Shenme*?"

Wash blinked. "Inara. Kaylee found her unconscious and bleeding. Next to her was Simon. He was out cold and even after we managed to rouse Inara he didn't come round."

The Captain sucked in a harsh breath, head turning as he looked into the ship's shadows. Taking in everything Wash said but like a cat on hot bricks. "So everybody's fine?"

The pilot was really nervous now. They reached the top of the ramp and Jayne punched the button to close and seal it after them. The Shepherd wanted to go straight to Inara and see how she was but needed to hear what Wash had to say first. A little delay to gather information was never a waste of time. After all information was power. The only universal coin in the 'verse. "Not so much."

A horrible sense of impending doom hung over the Captain like the Sword of Damocles. His heart thundering so loudly in his ears that it was hard to hear anything else above that nameless dread. "Meanin' what? I need you to spit it out Wash."

"After we found Inara and Simon we thought we'd better check on River." He paused just a fraction. Seeing the murderous gleam in the Captain's eye did nothing to steady his nerves. "We couldn't find her, Mal, and we looked *everywhere*."

The blood drained from the Captain's face. "What do you mean you couldn't find her?"

"I mean she's not on the ship."

Zoe quickly stepped between them, not liking the look burning in the Captain's eye. Friend or not she knew how volatile he could get when those he loved were in danger. She might not approve of this thing he had going with River but no one could deny the depth of their feelings for each other. Slowly she was coming to accept them as a couple. This latest development made her go cold all over. If anything happened to River they would be hard put to control the Captain's temper let alone his sanity. The others had never really seen Mal lose control but she had been with him in the Valley. Seen the same things he had seen. Fought and endured in conditions other people couldn't even visualise let alone live through. The sheer scale of their losses at the Battle of Serenity, the abject cruelty of the Alliance troops. The lie of amnesty, the horror of the work camps and the sporadic torture of those held in captivity for no other reason than their desire to protect what was theirs. Being exiled from their home worlds was the least of it. "We should talk to Inara." She said with enforced calm. Willing him to hold it all together. "Find out what happened, who did this."

The Captain's hands were bunched into trembling fists, every cell in his body tense and angry. He did not reply but ran towards the infirmary, the others following. The sight that greeted them gave even the Captain pause. Kaylee was crying. Hardly any sound came from the mechanic but the tears were rolling down her face as she fussed over the Companion. Inara was sitting up on a medical bed, a large medicated pad held up to her face, most of it a vivid crimson. The Captain swore. "What the *diyu* happened to you?"

Inara's words were muffled and pained behind the pad. Shepherd Book moved to stand beside her, watching how tightly Kaylee clung to her hand and trying to get a sense from Inara of just what in the nine hells was going on. He put a hand on her shoulder as if in comfort but he was really ensuring he had some form of physical contact. Touch telepathy would minimise the possibilty of anyone being able to hear their thoughts though with River gone that should not be a problem. *What happened, Inara? Zhen de*?"

She did not look at him. The Captain was talking, his words snapped off in a rapid staccato like bursts of gunfire. Book blocked them out and concentrated on Inara, waiting for her response. *It was River. I injected Simon and before I could do anything to stop her she struck me. Broke my nose!*

The Shepherd's expression darkened. *Where did she go?*

*Wo bu zhidao. I blacked out. When I came to Kaylee was shaking me and crying so much I couldn't get any sense out of her*

*What did you do to Simon?*

She looked away from him and nodded briefly at something Zoe said to her. The Captain turned and stormed out of the infirmary gathering the pilot along with him, pausing only to glance once in Simon's direction. But nothing and no one seemed able to rouse the doctor. Wash exchanged a look with Zoe. Her imperciptible nod telling him she would speak to him later. Then the Captain was gone, the end of his brown coat flapping against his legs as he left. Jayne followed them out, a look of grim determination on his face. Something akin to deep concern on Zoe's as she watched them leave. Every atom of her being wanted to be with the Captain but something did not feel right about this. Not sure yet what it was but she was a creature of instinct and right now her gut was telling her the answers were right here. Trouble was they were camoflaged so well she couldn't see them. Her eyes narrowed and she looked again.

The doctor lay as still and pale as a corpse on a mortuary slab. Only the slight rise and fall of his chest reassured them the boy still lived. Not that Book did not believe Inara but the Companion had different rules and in her hands the truth was nothing if not a fluid commodity that answered to the highest bidder. Both of them had supported Unification but for different reasons. The Preacher was about to ask her another silent question when Simon began to stir. Kaylee gave a broad smile and hurried to the doctor's bedside, a hand reaching out to gently brush the errant fringe from his face as he opened his eyes. Behind her back, Book shared an unguarded moment with Inara unaware that Zoe was watching them. Inara was more than a little annoyed by the unexpected turn of events. The Shepherd cautioned her to do nothing in haste, an idea forming slowly in his mind. It began to solidify into something much more interesting. Something they could yet turn to their advantage. A cold fleeting smile brushed across his lips then vanished leaving only the echo of it in his eyes. A prickle of apprehension crept along Zoe's spine and chilled every bone in her body.

* * * * *

Hidden eyes watched. Ears stretched. Hands still and wrapped together to prevent any movement betraying them.

* * * * *

Mal was so wired he could have punched a hole through the gorram hull with his bare fist or so it seemed. Wash was trying to fathom what the Captain thought he could tell him. He had, after all, spent most of the time either on the bridge or in the commons area with Kaylee. Had seen little of Inara, River or Simon. But that was nothing unusual. What was unusual was the idea of anyone sneaking on board Serenity without him or Kaylee noticing. When Mal put it like that all the alarm bells in Wash's head held hands and had a party. He was not the only one not celebrating.

* * * * *

The man clung to shadows as if they were another layer of skin. He moved on the edge of light, his eyes a piercing searchlight in the heavy squat face. Swarthy complectioned and stocky he was not tall, no more than 5'8" even in his shoes. But he was no fool and knew his business. His business was knowing other peoples'. His business could coat every word he uttered with poison. He watched and listened, waited and took in every detail. He had known within moments of tailing the target that he was aware of him. *That* was unusual. He was light on his feet despite his build and subtle with it. That meant the Captain was not to be taken lightly. This might take longer than the Companion wanted but he had the feeling it would yield more. He always relished a challenge.

Once the meet with Rawlings and his men had finished he let the target go, not following him back to Serenity. There was no need. Some instinct was propelling the Captain to return post haste. The last thing he needed now was for him to get a glimpse of his tail. It would be like allowing the condemned man to peel back the executioner's mask. And that absolutely could not be allowed to happen. No. He would back off. Let him be lulled into a sense of false security. Meanwhile he turned his attention to Pepper Rawlings. Something in the miner's eyes made him wonder but he wasn't sure and he liked to make all his suspicions absolute. Stepping out into the light he folded himself between the shadows and stepped into the bar. Like a knifestroke cutting off all the oxygen silence fell around him.

It was the lounging affable stranger who unwound himself from the furniture and spoke first. He seemed to recall Rawlings calling him Lenny. "Who're you?"

Well. That at least was nice and direct. He decided to adopt the same approach. "Diamond Harry."

Surprise. Eyes flicked between them. Pepper Rawlings leaned forward just a tad, eyes fixed like heat seeking missiles on Harry's face. If that was his real name Rawlings was a donkey's ass. "Where you from?"

He allowed a warped mockery of a smile to twist sardonic lips. "Somewhere with no beer to the only waterin' hole in town. *Weishenme*?"

For a second he thought he was going to be either challenged or thrown out, then something in the room relaxed. Not sure what it was but he could breathe. Stale musty air but it had oxygen in it. So long as heart and lungs still pumped he wasn't fussy. "Now," Drawled Rawlings, his voice neutral but eyes still hard and suspicious. "How about you tell us where you're really from, how you got here and what in the nine hells you want?"

Harry resisted the urge to laugh. As predictable as night following day. It was a refreshing change. Turning his right hand just enough to make it look casual he carefully enunciated his request. "Just want a drink *pengyou*. A stranger passing through."

The tiny glimpse was enough. Every man in the room reacted albeit the change was subtle. Rawlings nodded slowly and pushed the jug of beer across the table towards him. Lenny Goss rearranged himself in the chair he had just vacated and kicked out an empty one in silent invitation. He was in. Harry gave a nod and took the seat, waiting until a glass was proferred before pouring himself a drink. The ring now safely hidden again. As he drank he stared straight into Rawlings' eyes and this time the silence that folded around him was not hostile. Wasn't exactly friendly either. More like a truce. They were waiting. He drew it out as he swallowed, enjoying the slow burn caressing his dry throat while he relished the moment. There was something so rutting satisfying about being right. When he finally laid the empty glass to rest one of Rawlings' men could not resist asking him a question.

"How'd'you get a name like 'Diamond Harry'?"

He allowed an almost smug smile to settle on his lips. "'Cause I'm as good as gold and twice as hard."

A couple of the men chuckled and grunted. None of them believed him but that wasn't the point. They were listening to him now. He pointed to the jug and waited for Rawlings to nod before pouring himself another drink. This time they visibly relaxed. Time to scatter some bait before dropping his hook in the water. Never knew what you might catch.

* * * * *

The Captain was frantic and doing a poor job of hiding it. Wash tried to calm him down. Jayne's scowl deepened. "Look, maybe River didn't go anywhere Mal. We should search the ship first, *dui*? You know how good she is at hiding."

Mal nodded, his throat too tight to squeeze the words passed his lips. His heart faltering as guilt trickled in until it was a torrent assailing him with accusations berating his decision. *Diyu* he had 'known' something was wrong. Had thought to deflect it from his boat but had ended up just leaving them unprotected. Leaving *her* vulnerable. He had failed her. *Tian Yesu* if it wasn't the Valley all over again except then he had not left them. He had fought beside them, hip deep in rotting flesh and flying shrapnel. Urging them to not lose heart but keep faith. The Angels were coming. Only no one had told him they were coming straight from hell. Jayne looked worried. "Wash's right, who knows where the gorram girl went? If someone came aboard from outside Wash or Kaylee would know. That means she's still aboard Mal, *dong ma*?"

Bleak eyes locked onto Jayne's. He did not nod this time but they were right. Taking a deep breath he managed to get his brain back in gear and free his tongue, the need to get to the bottom of this over riding the paralysing fear that he would not find her. "Okay, we'll do this by the numbers. Keep the cargo bay door locked, no one goes in or out until we get some answers."

Wash and Jayne nodded.

"I'm goin' to speak to Inara. Hopefully once the doc wakes up we can find out exactly what happened."

The Captain strode back to the infirmary without a backward glance. He stepped into the infirmary just as Simon's voice rose in an anguished cry. "River!"

He didn't know how he crossed the intervening space between them but one moment he was stepping through the doorway the next he was beisde Simon, a hand on the boy's shoulder, his eyes boring into eyes widened with shock and distress. Oblivious of Zoe, Book and Kaylee standing around the doctor's bed. He did not catch the strange expression on Inara's face, his back now to her, all his focus on River's brother. "Simon, what the ruttin' *diyu* happened?"

Simon barely acknowledged him. "Someone injected me."

His hand fluttered to the back of his neck but did not touch his skin. Mal frowned. "*Shei*?"

The doctor shook his head. Eyes now focusing on the Captain. His face so white he looked as if he could pass out again any second. Kaylee wanted to coax him to lie back down, to rest, but he needed to find River. "Don't know, didn't see them. They came up from behind. But River saw." His eyes widened in horror, reliving the look on her face which came too late to warn him. "Oh God Mal, she *saw* them!" He paused to take a gulp of air, his look becoming frantic. "Do you think that's why they took her?"

"They? Come on Simon, think. You tellin' me there was more than one *wanga dan* on my boat?"

Simon looked startled by the question, frowned, unable to grasp all the pieces of the puzzle that was sifting through his fingers like sand. "*Wo bu zhidao*"

"So it could be just one person, *dui*?"

The Shepherd's look sharpened on the Captain but he did not notice. Inara tensed slightly then forced herself to relax. He couldn't know. It wasn't possible. Simon tried to think, to remember anything that could fill in the blanks but he didn't know because whoever it was had come up from behind. "*Duibuqi*, Captain, I can't tell you anything else. I never heard or saw anything until River tried to warn me but by then it was too late, the needle was in my neck and I passed out."

The Captain frowned. "What they inject you with?"

He wanted to swear at the Captain, tell him to *gunkai* but he wasn't really mad at him. He was just so worried about River that nothing else mattered. Mal's hand on his shoulder tightened as he shook him.

"Simon! Stay with me, focus *dong ma*? No one wants to tear this boat apart more than me to find River but we also need to know what they did to you."

Simon glared at the Captain. "What they did to me? River's GONE!" He shouted, his distress now stirred up and vented at the Captain in full. "Can't you get that through your thick *chun* head?"

"Simon," Said the Captain more quietly, his words dropping into the calm cadence that had steadied many a young man in battle. Zoe recognised his tone, was not surprised to see Simon begin to respond as Mal continued to speak. His anger draining away slowly. "Need you to focus here 'cause this *is* important. I want you to use that top three per cent to analyse your physical condition, *dong ma*? Think you can do that?"

He swallowed hard to hold back the tears. "But River..."

"We'll find River, I promise."

"How can you make promises like that? She could be injured, she could be shipped off already in some crate back to the Alliance..."

His voice had begun to rise again. The Captain cut him off before he could work himself into an incoherent frenzy. "Simon, you ain't helpin' River if you don't focus." Simon stilled, forced himself to take a few deep breaths. "That's it. Good, now how you feelin'? Describe it for me."

He thought the doctor was going to launch into an angry sarcastic tirade but he didn't. That took energy and his was fast deserting him. Instead he described the feelings of disassociation coursing through his veins, the bright stab of light in his head interrupting his sight and throwing his vision and balance off. The way his thoughts could not grasp concepts, the words no longer in his head yet other thoughts flew off his tongue before he realised he was even thinking them. It was like being on a rollercoaster high but without the euphoria.

"Now what drug does that?"

Simon blinked at him. Slow and sluggish his mind was having difficulty with the question.

"Simon," Said the Captain gently, a look of worry surfacing in those dark blue eyes. "Stay with us, Simon. Not sure it's safe for you to go to sleep. Not till we find out what they did to you."

"Not going to sleep." Mumbled the doctor, eyelids growing so heavy he could barely keep them open.

The Captain looked at the Shepherd. "Preacher, I know you know some doctorin'. I want you to stay with him an' make sure he don't go to sleep, *dong ma*?"

Book nodded. Kaylee was looking at Simon with watery eyes, her hands still clasping his as if letting go would take surgery. "Simon's gonna be alright isn't he, Cap'n? He's gotta be alright."

"Kaylee, we gotta find out what they did to him. What was in that gorram needle. Why don't you stay with the Preacher an' look after him?"

She gave him a grateful nod. Pursing his lips together he caught Zoe's eye. Then. Too carefully to be entirely casual he turned and looked straight at Inara. He could not see the whole of her face because of the blood soaked pad but her eyes were now fixed on his. He had a thousand questions lining up to demand answers. The look she saw in those cobalt depths told her that he would not be taking any prisoners.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*diyu* = hell *dong ma* = understand *wo dong* = I understand *lese* = garbage/rubbish *yunqi* = luck *shenme* = what *zhen de* = it's true/really *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *weishenme* = why *pengyou* = friend *dui* = correct *tian Yesu* = sweet Jesus *shei* = who *chun* = stupid *wangba dan* = bastard (lit. bad egg) *duibuqi* = sorry *gunkai* = fuck off/get lost


Tuesday, March 16, 2004 6:25 AM


First, Ali - I was so sorry to hear about your loss. You are in my thoughts.

Second, another marvellous piece of writing. Plot, character, excitement. It's all there. Loved it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004 6:29 AM


Consistently excellent what more is there to say?

Tuesday, March 16, 2004 10:23 AM


My condolences for your loss, Alison.

You made me slow down and read the Diamond Harry stuff when all I wanted to do was see what was happening with our intrepid crew. Very fine writing, and a gripping story. Thank you!

Tuesday, March 16, 2004 12:58 PM


*Duibuqi* for all your kind comments. All sorts of stuff still to come so hang on tight! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Tuesday, March 16, 2004 2:35 PM


I'm on the edge, here...can't wait for more

Tuesday, March 16, 2004 7:40 PM


anonymous is me..gorram computer logged me out! LOL


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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.