GENIUS SERIES: 27. "Cutting the Strings"
Monday, April 10, 2006

"You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time but you can't fool all of the people all the time."



SUMMARY: "You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all the time." 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 Director had passed puzzlement and non-comprehension hours ago. Now he was working through disbelief and well on his way to rage. Gabriel Tam sat quietly in his chair, no expression on his face. At last the man stopped pacing and turned to face him. "What do you mean she just *left*? Your wife is a Councillor, Gabriel. A member of this Parliament, *dong ma*?"

"*Wo dong* but you must understand my wife is..." He paused, just shy of theatrical. "Passionate about her children."

*Her* children. The wording was not lost on the Director. He cooled his anger so that he could think dispassionately, his beady eyes boring critical holes into Gabriel Tam. "Why do I think you had some hand in this?"

Gabriel raised an eyebrow. "The only arguments I have ever had with my wife," He said calmly. "Is over the children." He paused and shrugged, his nonchalence beginning to set off a deeper irritation in the Director but then Gabriel Tam had always affected him that way. "She no longer listens to anything I have to say about them or their welfare."

The Director's eyes narrowed like twin lasers. "Meaning?"

"She is acting on her own. Certainly the matter was never discussed with me beyond a barely coherent ranting and raving. Lunacy has more company in the female brain."

A stony expression settled over the Director's face. "Regan never struck me as an hysterical person, Gabriel. You on the other hand..."

It was disconcerting to see such a mild expression on Gabriel's face, his lips turning up into a disingenuous smile. "Now, now, insults are so beneath you, Director."

Anger, swift and sharp, transformed the man's expression in a heartbeat. "You go too far!" Now it was Gabriel's turn to remove the gloves, rising to his feet so quickly that the Director actually took a step back. Gabriel's face twisted into a look of such dark hatred that the Director wondered if he had ever known this man at all. So fixed was he on the transformation that he was slow in realising the door behind him had opened. The stunned expression on his face was frozen as he fell, Gabriel breaking his fall simply to minimise any noise. He did not shut the man's eyes as with soft choking sounds the last breath of life was squeezed out of dying lungs. The thin trickle of blood from his nose and ears were like an artist's signature though many hands now produced the same works of art. An assassin by any other name.

Gabriel stood up and looked at the two men facing him, their blue gloved hands folding into each other as if nothing untoward had taken place. Both grave men were immaculately dressed, not a single crease in their dark suits, not a single emotion in their unfeeling eyes. "We have to move fast."

They did not ask why. Gabriel watched them turn and go, not even pausing as he followed in their deadly wake.

* * * * *

It was all kinds of eerie moving about the silent boat. Well. Not *silent* exactly. There was him and the Captain of course and the turn of Serenity's engine as Mal got her moving again but everyone else lay still as the gorram dead. Jayne found it creepifying, luckily Vera had no such concerns. Her weight was a solid comfort in the big man's hands as he swept the bodies littering the cargo hold then turned to stomp back up to the bridge. Zoe and Kaylee should be waking soon and though he would never admit it, Jayne couldn't wait.

"So, where we goin'?"

The Captain did not look up. Jayne could see him flipping through screens, charts and such. Didn't mean a thing to him. "Have to find a safe place we can set down."

Jayne huffed. He didn't see what all the fuss was about. "*Diyu* Mal just hide round the backside of the nearest rock big enough."

"Jayne," The Captain half turned so he could look him in the eye. "That is exactly why I'm the Cap'n an' you ain't."

The mercenary frowned. "Huh?"

The Captain sighed, he was way too tired for all this *fei hua* but he knew Jayne would keep pecking away until he gave the man an answer he could understand. "Jayne, where's the first place they're gonna look for us?"

"The Black."

"An' when they can't find us, then what?" At Jayne's blank look Mal elaborated. "They're gonna start from our last known position then check every ball of rock they come to 'til they find us. On'y we ain't gonna be that predictable, *dong ma*?"

"We ain't?"

"Nope. 'Sides we lost most all our connections when Miranda went down. Not nobody gonna feel too friendly towards us after that."

The big man's frown deepened. "Where we gonna go?"

A pained smile flashed back at him. "The last place they're gonna look."

"*Yesu*, Mal ya ain't thinkin' of a Core World?"

"*Bu qu*." The Captain paused and turned his head, pretending he needed all his attention on the controls. Not wanting Jayne to see how much the decision hurt him. "Haven."

A string of expletives rolled out of the mercenary's mouth, some even more colourful than what Mal was thinking his own self. Could be Jayne was more creative than he had thought but right now they needed a *safe* place not a pretty one and Haven was it. The silence stretched until it was bordering on uncomfortable. Jayne scowled at the back of Mal's head. "Ain't nothin' on Haven." He murmured darkly.

No, nothing, Mal thought. Only the place where Shepherd Book had died. A man so much a part of them by the ending that it was like a piece of their souls had been ripped out and left behind. Gorrammit, they'd already lost too many friends and not just to the rutting war neither. Shepherd Book and Wash both leaving holes so big not nothing could fill them and yet they moved on. Or at least, tried to. Now he was going to be asking the Shepherd to help them one more time only the man himself would no longer be standing before him. Angry as he was with God, it looked like the Captain would have to go cap in hand to Him after all. Still, no reason any of the others should know that. Haven had an underground complex, shielded from Alliance scanning equipment. Sure, most everything had been destroyed but thick natural rock was still a good way to block the sensors. And who would look for the living on a dead world?

* * * * *

The Alliance Stealth Ship was sharp and angular, a great narrow wedge of austere beauty cutting through the Black like a surgeon's incision. Gabriel Tam could feel the slow coursing excitement like a muted parade longing to surge through his veins, but control was everything. The heat of pleasure cooled to a permafrost, the better to savour the victory to come. He had waited so long and now his reward was drawing nearer with each breath he took. Mr Smith gave him a dispassionate glance. A thousand secrets shared in one brittle look. Absent of emotion the knowledge was an electric static between them. No give, no take, just an acceptance that this was how it would be.

Almost he wished he could have remained behind just long enough to see the reaction of the others when Director Rossheim was found. Panic would outweigh anger, then alarm would turn to concern then paranoia. A slow smile of self satisfaction painted itself across his face. He may have lost his son but his daughter was still at large. By the time Parliament realised what was happening his experiment would be concluded and the future would be his.

* * * * *

The Captain couldn't help it, his vision kept fading and he was feeling so gorram hot. Blinking furiously he tried to concentrate on the course he had set, knowing they would not reach Haven for another six or seven hours. He needed Kaylee awake and cognisant, able to coax Serenity to shorten that time frame. Shave off as much as she could because he honestly did not think he could stay conscious much longer. Jayne kept staring at him but Mal resisted the urge to swear and send him on his way. If he passed out he needed someone to make sure he didn't bleed over anything important. Last thing they needed was for the controls to short out. "Jayne!"

The mercenary moved as if he had been expecting this, quick and light on his feet for a man his size. His eyes narrowed in concern. "Ya gonna puke?"

Mal closed his eyes a moment, the perspiration stinging. His breath coming in shallow pants. When he opened them again Jayne's face was so close they were almost touching. "Help me."

Jayne frowned. "*Wei*, don't ya go faintin'. Gotta get to Haven, *dong ma*?"


Before the Captain could topple over Jayne caught him, then gently lowered him to the floor. The Captain didn't look so good. "Gorrammit Mal, ya can't pass out, you're the Cap'n."

If Mal could have spoken he would have snorted in derision at that. Oh yeah, the Captain. Like his crew obeyed him without question and his body wasn't falling apart on him. "Jayne..."

The big man had to kneel and lean down low just to hear the Captain's pained whisper.

"Kaylee... W..wake Kaylee."

"Mal, I don't think..."

Jayne was interrupted by a voice he could have hugged only doing so would have shortened his life to less than a heartbeat. "Cap'n gave an order. Don't think Jayne, just do it!"

Relief swamped his face. Zoe was up and functioning. Well. He looked at her a bit more closely, she was up at least and that wasn't nothing. Woman looked pretty unsteady but as he got to his feet Jayne noticed she seemed to be recovering pretty quick which suited him just fine. Zoe took a moment to catch her breath then knelt down next to the Captain, her hand now steady as she felt for his pulse. Sluggish lids peeled back slow over eyes losing their focus. "Zo, that you?"

His surprise almost raised a smile. She noticed the wound had reopened, his blood soaked shirt wet not dry. New blood soaking through the old. Not good. "Sssh, you need to lie still, sir."

"*Bu qu*, I need to..." He tried to rock forward but the effort drained him. A slow exsanguination of curses escaping through tight lips drawn in pain. She eased him back then turned to look for something to place beneath his head. He waved a weak ineffectual hand in her general direction. "Haven."

Zoe's eyes widened. "There some reason you're mentionin' that place, sir?"

It took effort for him to scrape together the energy to focus on her face. Sweat pouring off him now. She hid her concern behind her austere duty and waited. After all he was the Captain. "Got.. to go there."

"*Weishenme*? Ain't nothin' there but unmarked graves."

The Captain winced and Zoe's regretted her words but she wouldn't take them back. The truth was the truth whatever colours you painted it. "Hide."


Unable to nod he blinked his eyes and hoped it would be close enough. "*Qu*. Underground. Rock. Hidden from... s..sen..sors."

He was fading fast, his eyes closing, breath fanning out in little ragged exhalations. Zoe frowned and left him long enough to get a couple of blankets from a locker. One she folded and placed under his head, the other she used as a crude barrier to blood loss, knowing it was far too little to do much good. She needed Simon but he was still unconscious. She stared at her friend. "Huh."

The Captain did not stir and for a moment Zoe had stepped back in time, reliving the moment of Wash's death. His blood staining her clothing where she had gone to him, her arms wrapped around her *zhangfu* wanting to beg him not to die. Mal pushing her to the deck beneath him as another spike just missed them. Now the Captain's blood was welling up beneath her hands and there wasn't a thing she could do to stop it. Her friend was dying and she was too numb to move. He must have coughed or shuddered because the movement stirred her and propelled Zoe into action. The Captain's words rewinding in her head like the distant crack of command, her soldier instincts latching on to what she knew best. Haven. Quickly she checked their course then put the ship on autopilot. Casting the Captain an apologetic glance she left him to get to the com. "Jayne! Get that ruttin' doc up here, *mashang*! Cap'n's bleedin' out!" * * * * *

The boy was curious and not yet alarmed. Skinny as a bean pole and ragged as any street urchin his dirty face tilted to the overcast sky. The place was pretty much devoid of life, the scatter of bones decorated by strips of rags blowing fitfully in the occasional gusts of an intemperate wind. The boy was oblivious. Maybe twelve, thirteen at most. Only him and Sissy left breathing in the rank odour of death that clung like a prison cell to the ruins of their lives. Orphans before the terrible reckoning had even come. Had felt so safe. So loved. Then the monsters had come and every horror story they had ever heard had been visited upon them. Every hand that had ever reached out to help them had been cut down.

He did not close his eyes. Billy looked skyward, always towards the Black. Shepherd had told him he was bright, would amount to something one day. Only that day would never come. Sissy was sick now, her bones nudging the wafer thin skin hanging loose where famine tugged at a belly too long empty and limbs too worn out to drag the pathetic bundle of bones in the hunt for sustenance. Billy knew it was useless. Drinking from small pools of water where moisture had collected, some of it foul, some of it bitter. Didn't matter a good gorram. He knew he would die just didn't know the hour of the day or night that thief would come and take his last breath away. He leant his head back against twisted metal. The downed craft the one single success of their fight for survival. He could not even summon up the enthusiasm to curse the enemy circling above waiting to pick his bones. Let them choke. Billy's eyes slid closed, a hot heated breath simmering in his scorched mouth. Let them all choke to death. There weren't no Heaven, but he now knew for certain that there was a Hell. And he was like to die there. * * * * *

Gabriel Tam was as close to happy as he could be, not that it was obvious from his expression. Anticipating the fulfillment of a lifetime's ambition was heady stuff but he was sensible enough not to let it distract him. First he had to find his daughter. River. It did not matter if she was dead or alive though alive was better. All he really needed was her DNA. More valuable per ounce than gold. More precious than anything as pathetic as a human life. She was a building block, no more. Part of the fabric that would underpin the new world. A shiny view of a perfect 'verse. A supersoldier for tomorrow. The first drop of many in a new gene pool. Sharks and plankton. The only way to build that better world was to clean out the pond and start again. Out of the ooze of the primordial sludge would come the fashion of a new species. Stronger, smarter, quicker, more intuitive, less emotional. The Genius Strain every one. Perfect. Flawless. And utterly amoral.

They would be his children. Live only to perform his will. Create the vision that no one else could imagine still less build. Yet there were true believers. Agents and Operatives vying for the same goal he pursued but oblivious to the real purpose of their conditioning. The steady but progressing dehumanisation of an entire species. To rebuild and fashion something new. Something other. And utterly alien.

* * * * *

The lurch and grind became an elongated screech of metal ripping along concrete, sparks flying as the ship dragged along her belly until she came to a bumpy stop just before running out of space in the underground hangar. Zoe leant forward and closed her eyes in relief. She stayed hunched over for a minute just trying to take in the fact that they hadn't crashed and everybody had made it in one piece. Well. Some in bigger pieces than others.

Worry sprang weary eyes open again but before she could stumble out of the pilot's chair, Kaylee took hesitant steps into the cockpit. Jayne hovering behind her as if he expected the mechanic's legs to give out any second.

"Well," Said Zoe in a flat montone. "We're down."

Kaylee looked worried. "Cap'n don't look so good."

It had been what Zoe was fearing, she looked at Kaylee and hated the anxiety and defeat staring back at her out of huge fearful eyes. "What about Simon?"

The mechanic shook her head. "He's still out." Kaylee paused, her look baffled. "*Wo bu dong*, they should be awake now. 'nara's stirrin' an' makin' tea but no one else is wakin'."

Jayne made a face. He felt so gorram tired. "Cap drugged 'em."

Zoe's head snapped up. "*Shenme*? What in the nine hells would he do that for?"

"*Wei*, don't look at me I ain't *shenjingbing*. Mal had some notion whoever was followin' us could track us through them Readers. Figured if River was one of 'em so was Simon. Somethin' 'bout genetics."

"Simon ain't a Reader." Kaylee defended.

The mercenary sneered at her but there was no malice in it just sarcasm. "Huh, you're just sayin' that 'cause doc's all rich an' fancified."

"No he ain't, Alliance crashed all his accounts when he broke River outta that place."

"Yeah, poor little rich kid."

"Jayne!" Snapped Zoe. "*Bizui*. Ain't got time for this. Don't care what Cap'n gave 'em, he's got his reasons. But that was then this is now an' we gotta start gettin' everybody awake startin' with Simon."

Kaylee looked worried again. "Cap'n's gonna make it ain't he, Zoe? He's tough."

The second mate pursed her lips into a tight thin line. "Did the best I could but he needs a surgeon's skill an' he's lost a lotta blood."

Before they could get maudlin Jayne headed for the door. "*Fang xin*, I'll wake him even if I have to shake his eyes outta his head to do it."

Seeing the alarmed look on Kaylee's face Zoe stepped in. "Jayne, Simon's no good to us if he can't focus, *dong ma*? I want him awake an' able to operate."

The big man grunted then was gone. Kaylee stared at Zoe, the fingers of her hands twisting together, heart in her mouth. Zoe wished she could tell her everything was going to be alright but her heart wasn't in the lie even if it was a white one. Even though she knew it was not Simon or River's fault, there were times like now when Zoe rued the day they had ever set eyes on the siblings.

* * * * *

The Stealth Ship Genesis ate up the Black like distance was but an appetizer. It was a huge great monolith of a vessel. More city in space than ship but like no city man or beast had ever set eyes on before. Gabriel was proud of it, the vessel incorporating every trick in the book and some only a handful of people in the 'verse would ever know about. The technology was light years beyond anything the Alliance had in operation albeit she wore Alliance colours and was part of their Black Ops Fleet. This vessel, the Genesis, was outside that chain of command. She was his, built with additional enhancements the other ships did not have. An intuitive interface that allowed no one else to control her critical systems but himself. Right down to the level of his DNA. Blue Sun had sponsored him as was only right. The expressionless denizens of that twisted technological corporation as tied to Gabriel Tam as he was to his core objective.

His dream. Others' nightmares. Their will, his unwavering compass. Months even years could pass and he would wait. Patient in the surety that the grand scheme was worth sacrificing all that came before. For when the new world was born nothing else would stand. He did not turn his head at the muted beep but allowed a small cold smile to settle like frost on his lips. Beneath his feet he felt the murmur of engines reducing power, the sleek ship going from power to glide, the effortless fluid grace of her arrowhead design seeking its' target. As the vessel came to a graceful stop Gabriel Tam waited for the words his ears would cherish for a lifetime. It was with something less than complete satisfaction that he turned in irritation when the navigator spoke.

"Sir, there's nothing here."

* * * * *

Simon Tam was groggy, had the *guai* of a headache and was definitely going to kill Malcolm Reynolds the first chance he got. River woke in a better frame of mind though as dazed as her brother. Understanding a quickening in mind and body that Simon had yet to accomplish. Her brother's wrath blocking out the bright spark of intellect that would have informed his brain better than words spoken. Simon was in no mood to understand.

"C'mon Simon," Jayne urged. His big hands on the doctor's shoulders giving him another shake. It wasn't too rough but it was none too gentle either. There were times when his patience with Simon was wafer thin. "Need ya in the infirmary."

Magic words. Need. Infirmary. Blanking out his other thoughts Simon pushed himself to his feet and shook his head. He groaned. Big mistake. Squinting against the flash of pain behind his eyes he saw the grin spread on Jayne Cobb's face. Oh yes, very funny. Let the ape-man laugh. He would see who would laugh last when he next had him under his knife. But no, that was just wishful thinking because everything else aside Simon took his hipocrathic oath seriously and the promise he had once made to the mercenary still stood. As he blinked and felt his head start to clear he realised he was in the cargo bay, River looking round at the scatter of bodies yet to stir. Simon noticed it was Thadius and the other Readers. Craning his neck he looked for other members of the crew. As if reading his mind Jayne supplied the information he was seeking, his voice gruff with a hint of thinning patience.

"Zoe's on the bridge, Kaylee's seein' what damage we got on landin' an' 'Nara's makin' tea in the commons room, though ya ask me she's just tryin' to avoid the Cap."

Simon looked Jayne in the eye. "*Weishenme*?"

The big man shrugged and gave Simon a shove towards the metal staircase. "Huh, how should I know? Guess Mal pissed her off again or maybe not. Who knows what goes through a woman's mind?"

River poked her tongue out at him but he pretended not to notice.

"No, no, I didn't mean that." Simon paused, took a deep breath and started again, automatically climbing up the stairs to head for the infirmary. "Why were we drugged?"

"Oh. Cap said somethin' 'bout Readers trackin' us or somesuch."

The doctor paused and blinked. Behind Jayne he could see his sister watching for his reaction as if none of this was news to her. "O-kay, I can see why River and the others would be sedated but why me? I'm not a Reader."

The big man huffed. "Ask him yourself. The longer ya jaw the less blood he's gonna have left. Might even save ya the job of stitchin' him up again."

It finally penetrated that this was serious. Simon hurried to the infirmary and felt his remaining frustration quickly overtaken by worry. The Captain was flat out on an infirmary bed, his clothes awash with blood, his face a sickly pale colour and dampened with the odour of stale sweat. The man was not moving. Had Simon not been watching carefully for lifesigns he would have thought the man was already dead. Briefly he was irritated that Mal might die before he could hit him. Chasing close on the heels of that uncharitable thought was a flash of shame. The Captain did what he always did: the best for his crew. Didn't matter that those under his protection were never consulted. It was his way and Simon should be used to that. The trouble was he had a father who had treated him like that all his life. A father who had turned into the worst kind of monster he could imagine. The tatters of his faith found it anathema to place that lost trust in this man. No matter how much the Captain had done for him and sister. No matter how much he was coming to respect the man. It was his authority, his rule of law that Simon could not stomach. But how could the one be divorced from the other?

Jayne frowned at Simon, worried the man just intended to stand there and watch a man die. "*Wei*! Ain't ya supposed to be, ya know, fixin' him?"

The doctor mentally shook himself. Jayne was right. And if that wasn't something guaranteed to make the planets shift in their orbits he didn't know what was. Simon went to the sink and began to shrub his hands, before he could say anything River started to arrange the instruments he would need on a sterile tray. Happy to see that Simon was finally getting to work Jayne spared a glance at the Captain before leaving them to it. He had to get Thadius and the others awake. Unless he was much mistaken the next thing Simon Tam would be yelling for was blood and he sure as *diyu* wasn't getting none of his.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*dong ma* = understand? *wo dong* = I understand *diyu* = hell *Yesu* = Jesus *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *wei* = hey! *weishenme* = why? *qu* = yes (lit. go) *zhangfu* = husband *mashang* = quickly/at once/immediately *shenme* = what? *wo bu dong* = I don'tunderstand *shenjingbing* = crazy *bizui* = shut up/be quiet *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart)


Monday, April 10, 2006 5:21 AM


Ohh, excellent chapter! What the hell is Gabriel up to! He thinks he's lost Simon but River is still out there...doesn't he know they are together? Hmmm....

I'm definitely eager to know what you do with Simon and Kaylee's - well, whatever they have.

Am really loving this and am eager to read more - sooner rather than later, k? :)

Monday, April 10, 2006 5:23 AM


Another great installment Ali! How can Simon NOT know he's a reader, he's meant to be top 3 percent. Mind you, he was in denial about River so it shou'dn't be a surprise.

Can't wait to read the bext one...

Thanks for sharing

Monday, April 10, 2006 5:44 AM


Grr! The spaces between installments is bad!! :P More soon! Good chapter :D

Monday, April 10, 2006 6:00 AM


I want to see where you take Kaylee and Simon as well. A lovely series!!!

Monday, April 10, 2006 12:14 PM


And now the hunt begin in earnest....;)

Excellent work here, AMDOBELL. Really interested in seeing where the next chapter takes the BDHs and the Readers. Though you seriously creeped me out with Gabriel full-flung thoughts on recreating the human race as like River, but with Vulcan-like logic driving them:O


Tuesday, April 11, 2006 2:30 AM


Going to Haven is a stroke of brilliance by you and Mal.

Gabriel has become totally evil, I want to see what he tries next & how he's defeated.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006 3:43 AM


Wonderful so far...well written...the suspense is killing me. more soon!!


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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.