THE HELLBOUND SERIES: 24. "Only the Depth That Varies"
Monday, June 18, 2007

"Serenity lands on Barclay. Mal and Jayne go to meet their buyer."



SUMMARY: "Serenity lands on Barclay. Mal and Jayne go to meet their buyer." 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

* * * * *

Barclay was a nondescript little planet, not quite on the Rim but far enough away from the Core that the folks who went there on purpose were either brain damaged or desperate. Sometimes it was a combination of both. Wash had told Mal that it wasn't that bad. They didn't have geese but the beer was drinkable and the whores weren't fussy. Not that the Captain was looking for a whore. As the cargo bay door opened to a world of dust, grime and spiteful winds the Captain saw that they were expected. A big blocky man in his mid thirties stepped forward, the men behind him trying to act casual and bored and pulling off neither. Mal knew without checking that Jayne was on high alert. If any of those men so much as twitched wrong they would be dead. As far as Mal was concerned it was a good thing to know.

"Where's the plant?"

Jayne frowned. "Plant? We ain't horti-ruttin-culturists."

The big blocky man tensed. Mal spoke before it could all go to *diyu*. "An' who might you be?"

The man's look was a touch below a glare. "Brody."

"Captain Malcolm Reynolds."

Brody nodded. When no further conversation was forthcoming the Captain tried to prompt him.

"This is the part where you hand over the rest of the payment an' take these gorram huge agricultural things off our hands, *dong ma*?"

"Ain't got your coin."

The Captain's eyes narrowed. "You aimin' to cheat us, Brody?"

He ignored the quiet but deadly steel in the Captain's voice. "Boss has your coin, said to bring ya on over if'n you looked legit."

Mal wanted to laugh. He couldn't think of anything further from legitimate right now. "That wasn't the plan." He said softly.

To his surprise Brody just shrugged and started to back up. "Suit yourself but the boss ain't gonna be happy that ya backed out o' the deal."

"I didn't back out."

"I'm just the messenger boy, the meet an' greet. Come to show you where to take the plant. Boss'll meet ya there with the coin."

The Captain didn't like it but it wasn't as if he could do much about it. "Any of your men able to drive 'em?"

A man just behind Brody's left shoulder nodded. He was tall and wiry but looked every bit as tough as Brody. Something in those cold dead eyes made the Captain inwardly shudder. "Okay, then best you come drive them off, we'll follow in the mule."

When Brody and his men went to walk up Serenity's ramp, the Captain stopped him. "Just two, the rest of you can fall in as we come out, *dong ma*?"

Cautious looks and wary nods were his only answer. The tall wiry guy stepped on to the ramp with a shorter stocky fellow with a long vertical scar down his right cheek. Mal walked inside with them leaving Jayne on the ramp, Zoe covering from just inside and the rest of the crew out of sight. He didn't like the way the two men's eyes looked around as they walked. Mal waited for them to climb aboard the machines then stood to one side of the cargo bay and waved them out. As soon as they were down the ramp he got the mule and paused only long enough to instruct Zoe. "Soon as we're gone you lock up an' get Serenity in the air."

Zoe frowned. "That wasn't part of the plan, sir."

"I'm thinkin' we need to be flexible. If they're after the baby best we not make it easy for 'em by dividin' our forces an' leavin' Serenity on the ground light handed."

His first mate nodded grimly, not liking it but seeing the sense in being cautious. Unsettled, she watched the Captain drive down the ramp and closed the ship up. Heart heavy, Zoe pressed the com. "Wash, take us up."

Above her on the catwalk Shepherd Book stepped into view, his rifle resting in his hands a mite easier than his bible ever did. Concern shadowed his eyes. "Why are we taking off?"

"Cap'n's orders."

Book watched Zoe jog up the metal stairs and with a last look at the closed door he followed her to the bridge.

On the ground Brody was scowling and it wasn't pretty. Mal paused to let Jayne on the mule but didn't offer the others a ride. Jayne spoke quietly out of the corner of his mouth. "We don't need the mule, Mal."

"Maybehaps we don't but if we find the wrong kind of committee waitin' for us I'd kinda like to be able to make a quick exit."

Jayne didn't look at him but Mal could tell by the way the mercenary's muscles tensed that he knew what that meant. "Think they ain't gonna pay us?"

The Captain turned his head enough to give Jayne a lazy smirk. From a few feet away it would look like he was smiling. "Just don't want our payment in lead."

* * * * *

Inara didn't feel ready to see or speak to Casey. Instead she headed to her shuttle and closed the hatch. After leaning on it a moment or two she locked it as well. Best to make sure no one just sauntered in uninvited. If that meant Kaylee had to knock so be it. What she needed now was to meditate, calm herself and still her mind. Use her Companion training to bring every thought, every involuntary movement under control because if what she had overheard was right, Casey would pick up on it in an instance.

First Inara lit her incense, the familiar routine calming in itself, the sweet aromatic smoke like a balm she could inhale through the pores of her skin as easily as drawing breath. Inara put water on to boil and readied a bowl, using half hot and half cold then adding lavender and neroli to scent the water. Kneeling she lit her candles and placed the natural sponge next to her bowl, inhaling with pleasure the incense and feeling her anxieties lift the burden of care from both heart and mind. Unfastening her dress she disrobed with the same elegance she did everything else, the sponge dipped into the water with as much care as she formed the characters of her calligraphy. The warm scented water dripping down her back as she washed away all negative thoughts. By the time her ablutions were complete she was calm, serene. Inara made a small pot of tea, her mind considering what to do as the little ceremony deepened her state of control.

An hour later she was refreshed and ready. Unlocking her hatch she stepped out and made her unhurried way to the infirmary. Stepping into the room with a small smile her step faltered, a look of stunned horror gripping her heart in a vice. All her careful preparation brought to naught.

Casey stood by the infirmary bed she had previously been lying on, the baby wrapped in a towel on the bed and beginning to fuss in a prelude to tears. Kaylee was white faced, her eyes wide with shock, the scalpel so tight against her neck she was terrified of swallowing. Inara tried to think and stay calm. If she said the wrong thing that blade could slip and Kaylee's blood would exsanguinate before it could be staunched.

"Casey, what are you doing?"

The glint in Casey's eyes held not a shred of warmth or regret. "Gettin' out of this *lese* madhouse."

"You don't need to hurt anyone to do that." Anger flared in the woman's eyes. "You think I'd listen to a manipulative lyin' *pofu* like you?"

A tiny gasp of anger slipped through Kaylee's lips. A thin vermillion scar appeared along the scalpel blade. A low groan deflected whatever Inara intended to say next. She turned her head, alarmed to see Simon slowly get to his feet. There was a cut on his head and he looked to be having difficulty standing without toppling over. The Companion's instinct was to go to him. Casey applied a bit more pressure and Kaylee squeaked with fear, the thin cut deepening and spilling more blood down the column of her throat. Inara was terrified that just to spite her Casey would slide the blade across the mechanic's throat and kill her.

"If you want to go," said Inara slowly, her voice deliberately as calm as she could make it "no one will try to stop you. Just let Kaylee go."

The laugh was sharp and uneven, as if the woman was too tightly wound to be reasoned with. "You think I'm some kind of *chunren* think again. I ain't Jayne."

"No, you're not."

Before anyone could react, River swung down from the ceiling, a hand flashing out and snatching the scalpel as her right foot snapped out and caught Casey under the chin. Inara rushed forward and grabbed Kaylee, quickly pulling her back out of harm's way. Kaylee sobbed with fear and relief, her heart hammering so hard and fast that she was sure she was having a heart attack. One hand lifted to cradle her neck, her eyes wide and fearful as if expecting Casey to resume her attack any minute now. Inara hugged her and felt the mechanic cling, the girl's body trembling. Simon was furious and mad at himself for not keeping a closer eye on Casey when he had given her and the baby a check up. How could he have misjudged the situation so badly?

"Not your fault, *ge ge*. Snake in the grass only knows how to bite the hand that feeds it. No conscience. No regret." River paused, watching Casey recover from the blow and telegraphing her readiness to kick the living *goushi* out of the woman if she tried anything like that again. "The nature of the beast, Simon. Can't be tamed. Civilisation is a weakness to exploit not be part of. Everything that was good was twisted out of her a long time ago."

"But we didn't hurt ya." Kaylee wailed, her eyes wide and longing for understanding. Wanting Casey to reassure her it was all just some horrible mistake.

A slow nasty smile slid across Caseys' face. "You have no idea what you're messin' with."

River was watching her intently. "Neither do you."

* * * * *

"General Tobias Brak."

Malcolm Reynolds squinted at the man, getting an absurd amount of satisfaction on seeing the dressing protecting the man's broken nose. "That name meant to mean somethin'?"

Brak all but spit stones through his teeth. "Only to those tired of living."

The Captain grinned. "*Hao* 'cause that ain't me."

"Did you really think I wouldn't catch up with you?" Jayne didn't like the way this was going. Couldn't understand why Mal had walked into the rutting trap knowing it was waiting for him. And dragging his own self into the mess. Made him inclined to shoot the Captain himself if the slimey *goushi buru hundan* didn't do it first.

The General was smiling, or at least as much as his sour features would allow. He walked slowly around the Captain savouring his superiority, a subtle nod to his men ensuring that Jayne Cobb stayed right where he was. On the sidelines. He wasn't much interested in the mercenary except as a means to an end. Naturally the end was likely to be messy. "I could kill you."

No one spoke. The Captain just waited, knowing his silence would needle the man more than anything he might say. Brak had a powerful need to cow people with words. Only Malcolm Reynolds wasn't a man inclined to oblige him that way.

Brak stopped in front of the Captain. "You are a singular thorn in my side, Captain Reynolds."

"Just happy to be doin' my bit."

Anger flared on the man's face, a tick starting under his left eye. He looked over Mal's shoulder, an instant later a rifle butt slammed into the side of the Captain's head. The Captain dropped to his knees, blood pouring down the side of his face, pain joining hands with dizziness. Felt like the *tamade hundan* had cracked his cheek bone. Made him see gorram stars. Jayne glared, wishing he could wrap his hands around the smug *hundan's* neck but he was too closely guarded and both he and Mal had already been unarmed.

"Now," said Brak as he leaned in close to the fallen Captain "you are going to be given some very explicit instructions, Captain, which you will not deviate one iota from." The General straightened and gave Jayne a meaningful look before continuing. "One tiny deviation and your friend will die and I can assure you he will die screaming and cursing your name."

"Huh," said the Captain in a dull voice, trying to block out the pain "ain't no friend of mine."

Even though Jayne knew they were just playing parts the comment hurt. He knew he wasn't the smartest nor the quickest in the brain department but he was loyal. Leastways after Ariel he was. Kind'a hurt that even in jest the Captain might think otherwise.

"Friend or not, he's going in the hole until you bring me what I want."

The Captain couldn't clear his head. His vision kept blurring and he felt sick. Turning his head a mite he spat the blood out of his mouth. "What hole?"

Brak grinned. It was the creepiest sight Mal or Jayne had seen in a long time and that was saying a lot. "The one I'll seal you up in if you fail."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*diyu* = hell *dong ma* = understand? *lese* = crappy *pofu* = bitch *chunren* = fool/jerk *ge ge* = big brother *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *hundan* = bastard *goushi* = crap/dog shit *hao* = good *goushi buru* = lower than dogshit/lowest of the low


Monday, June 18, 2007 6:23 PM


"Above her on the catwalk Shepherd Book stepped into view, his rifle resting in his hands a mite easier than his bible ever did." That sentence alone is worth a rating of 10. Good job!

Monday, June 18, 2007 10:14 PM


It's pointless, I suppose, to ask that Brak meets a very sticky end. Because he will ... won't he?

And Casey is certifiable. You sure she isn't Saffron's sister?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007 5:28 AM


> "You have no idea what you're messin' with."

River was watching her intently. "Neither do you."

Ahh, nice exchange there. I can picture River saying that to someone trying to harm her family.

Friday, June 22, 2007 5:49 PM


Utterly fabulous work here, AMDOBELL...though a bit too short for my tastes. Things just started getting good when you decided a cliffhanger was in order;)



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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.