Wednesday, August 25, 2004

"The crew try frantically to think of a way out of their predicament. Inara is asked to help Tollan one last time. Meanwhile some people just cannot leave the War-that-was behind them."



SUMMARY: "The crew try frantically to think of a way out of their predicament. Inara is asked to help Tollan one last time. Meanwhile some people just cannot leave the War-that-was behind them." 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

* * * * *

Kaylee was upset. "I can't believe you're blamin' this on the Cap'n!"

Wash felt a brief stab of guilt but quickly gave it the coup de grace. "It's his place to be here with us not galivantin' off an' doin' what the gorram he wants." He knew he was being unfair but he just couldn't seem to stop himself. Anything was better than admitting where the blame belonged. Besides, Malcolm Reynolds was the Captain and everyone knew the Captain was supposed to go down with his ship. Wasn't he?

An awkward silence fell. Simon had been openly shocked at the pilot's words and seeing the hurt and anger on Kaylee's face spurred him into speaking out. "This isn't the Captain's fault, Wash, and you know it. He's as entitled to a few days break as we are and we did spring this on him."

The pilot looked surprised. "What? I can't believe you're defending him now. You don't even like him."

Simon flushed. "That's not true. I'll admit when we first met I thought he was a rude, arrogant and ignorant bully of a man but that was before I knew him."

"You think you know him now?"

The doctor hesitated. He was not sure any of them really knew the Captain but it didn't seem the time or place to say such a thing. Besides, Kaylee was looking at him with eyes that shone. Speaking up for the Captain had certainly won her vote. He wondered what it would take to shake her absolute faith in the man. Or maybe the fault was not hers but his. "Maybe know is too strong a word but I think I understand him. All I'm saying is we can't blame any of this on Mal."

"You sayin' this is *our* fault?"

River's quiet voice rang out disturbingly clear before Simon could think of an appropriate response. "Sooner or later all pigeons come home to roost."

Wash blinked. "*Shenme*?"

"Classic act of desperation," Explained River calmly. "The transference of guilt."

"*Wei*, I'm not guilty of anythin'. If anyone's at fault it's these ruttin' *liumang* and that *tamade hundan* Badger."

"I thought you said it was the Captain's fault?" Said Simon calmly.

Flustered, Wash wasn't quite sure what to say but regret was cooling his flash of anger quicker than rolling naked in the snow. "I didn't mean it like it sounded it's just..." His voice trailed off and he turned his head away for a moment. "Captain should be here." He mumbled.

"Regret." Said River softly, her eyes sad and compassionate. "Always comes too late to save the day."

* * * * *

John Porter Clements abused the right to be ugly. It not only warred with the features of his face but also his nature warping him in ways that made mind, body and soul shiver with deep seated revulsion just to look at him. And yet there was a sick charm to his darkness. A malevolent joy seeping through the corners of his hard glittering eyes. A man of many levels, each one more corrupt than the one before. Devious and subtle when he had to be, rough and unspeakably violent when he did not. Now he was paused between the swings of the pendulum and Zoe did not know which side he would settle. To her left she could sense Jayne itching to lash out and rip the *tamade hundan's* face right off. At least it would give the ugly on the outside a rest.

"You have nothin' to say?"

Zoe scowled as she disengaged her helmet. Shepherd Book and Jayne had already taken theirs off but she had hesitated wanting to be sure nothing noxious was released into the room before she did so. "Goodbye?"

Clements smiled, the folds of his face looking like the aftermath of an earthquake. "You wish to die so soon?"

"Huh," Jayne shook himself out of his brooding silence. "Ya ain't man enough for that."

He got an amused look in return. No anger. Not even a glimpse of irritation. "If I wanted damaged goods I would have cut you off at the waist." He paused then got serious. "Take off your suits."

Jayne looked at him suspiciously. "*Weishenme*?"

Clements grinned. "I can sell the suits separately or have 'em adjusted for our more delicate work."

Zoe raised an eyebrow and looked at Book but the Shepherd kept his expression carefully blank. As they hesitated a couple of Clements' goons moved closer, the unspoken threat obvious. Knowing they had no choice Zoe gave the others a curt nod and undid her suit. Book's eyes narrowed but he did as instructed without saying a word. As Zoe stepped out of her suit she paused, the look on Clement's face igniting a firestorm of rage within that only long years of a hard life enabled her to mask for she could as easily have been standing naked before him.


There was no time for any queries, no delay allowed. Ushered out of the room and through a long chromium plated corridor Zoe felt her heart turning to lead. The Shepherd watched every move their escort made, Jayne humming with anger and tension alongside him. The slightest sign from Zoe and they would leap into action but she did nothing, gave no indication that they should do anything but follow the instructions their enemy gave to the letter. It burned Jayne, the mercenary wanting nothing more than to rip Clements limb from limb. Shepherd Book was more detached but just as keen to find a way out of their predicament. By the time they had traversed their third such corridor Clements was approached by one of his overseers, a brief hurried conversation was exchanged in whispers, then the man left through the side door he had entered. Heavy locks cycling into place as the slab of metal swung back into place behind him.

Clements turned to face them, his expression dark and foreboding. "It seems your friends tried to send a message."

Zoe's heart missed a beat. Tried? Had they failed, was that what the *chusheng xai-jiai xiang huo* was saying?

The ugly man shook his head slowly and closed the gap between him and Zoe. Jayne took a step to intercept them but was prevented from going any further by one of the guards. A high powered laser gun aimed point blank at his face. He thought of ripping it out of the man's hands for all of half a second despite the fact that the corridor was lined with armed men all looking for the slightest excuse to end them. Better to bide his time if he wanted to escape. Suicide was not an option.

They were three very different people. Crew. Friends even. Sharing one disturbing thought. Had the others survived? Hot on the heels of that thought he wondered whether their friends had managed to get any of the message out before being discovered. As they trudged down yet another seemingly endless and identical corridor Zoe bit down hard on her bottom lip, her face as impassive as a stone mask, while inwardly her heart contracted in painful concussions. Was she merely another prisoner or was she now also a widow? Anxiety over her husband's safety momentarily eclipsed her worry for her friends.

* * * * *

"We can't take him here." Hissed Bill Peary.

His friend simply nodded, head full of a thousand thoughts looking for a common thread to link them. He could be patient. It was one of his incredibly finite store of virtues.

"Ain't ya got nothin' to say?"

"Nope. We just watch an' listen. Our moment'll come an' when it does Mr-high-an'-mighty is gonna have a great fall."

Bill chuckled. "Be Humpty-Dumpty all over again."

Harper Brooks frowned. "Who?"

The chuckle became a dry laugh. "From an ancient rhyme on Earth-that-was. Seems Humpty-Dumpty had a great fall an' not all the King's horse nor all the King's men could put him back together again." He broke off to wait for enlightenment to hit his friend. "Always did like that ruttin' verse."

The two stared at each other then shared a smug smile. Two sick minds in perfect harmony.

* * * * *

Shepherd Book was surprised to see the type forty-four heavy duty transport. What the good gorram was it doing way out here? The forty-four was one of the older Alliance vessels, a veritable work horse that was more floating tank than haulier. Many had been retired out of service by now, broken down into their component parts and cannabalised to repair their lighter and sleeker successors. To see one not only in good condition but still in use was kind of a nostalgic feeling for him. The bon homie did not last. Eyes narrowing Book wondered just who John Porter Clements answered to. This whole operation might be his own private nest egg but the presence of the forty-four indicated that someone at a much higher level of power was working the strings.

The vessel was massive. In silence they were ushered up to the loading bay doors where they were urged to go up the ramp and into the belly of the archaic beast. At the top of the ramp Daniel Draper stood waiting for them, his crisp sharp demeanour setting Zoe's teeth on edge. Even in worn and dusty civilian clothes the man screamed Alliance. Clements stopped in front of Draper. "Where is he?"


"Any trouble?"

Draper shook his head then flashed broken and blackened teeth like punctuation marks as he talked. "Don't know why he insisted on comin' all the way out here. Ask me it's a waste of gorram time. We always dock when we got full cargo."

Clements only half-listened to him, he knew why their contact had come in person. Knew what it was he was after as he paused at the top of the ramp. Zoe could feel Daniel Draper's eyes crawling over her body and turned her head to fix him with a thousand year stare. It was cold enough to turn molten copper into ice. Way beyond permafrost. Her anger though was forgotten as half a dozen scruffy armed men appeared. Zoe narrowed her eyes and swore under her breath. Jayne glared angrily but a look from the Shepherd kept him silent though she could almost see the steam coming out of his rutting ears. It was the voice they heard first then the phallanx of armed men parted to let the grubby little kingpin swagger into view. The twist of humour on his lips belying the scaturient words spilling from his disingenuous mouth.

"Have to admit you're as dumb as that *chunren* Captain of yours." He shook his head slowly in mock sadness making sure his lack of sincerity was only too obvious. Anything to get their backs up and add to the piquancy of the entertainment. "Oh but this is priceless." His smile was a mite more sincere this time and they could well imagine that Badger was more than a little pleased to have the crew of Serenity between a rock and a hard place. "Speakin' of the good Captain where is he?"

No one said a word. Badger closed in on Zoe knowing the Captain never took a step without his faithful second knowing about it. If she was here Serenity's *wangu wangba dan* could not be far away. "I believe I asked you a question."

"*Wo bu zhidao*."

A little humourless smile dusted his lips, head tilted back he looked into that death-stare unflinching. He loved how easily he got under her skin. It was something of a hobby of his. "I think you know but right now that ain't what I'm after." He watched the slight frown and his smile widened knowing his reaction was puzzling to her. "You got somethin' I want, see? An' I've come to collect. Take out the middle man." He stepped back so that he could watch all three reactions. "I want the girl."

Shepherd Book's face darkened remembering that little display back on Serenity when the Captain was off fighting duels he had no business to fight. He had hoped Badger would forget about River's performance in the cargo bay but it seemed she had made more of an impression on their seedy and obnoxious sometime empolyer than they realised. That Mal had to deal with the man at all was endemic of their precarious financial situation. The hand to mouth existence that was the reality of life in the Black. The only piece of freedom they would ever know.

One of Badger's men stepped up to him and whispered something in his ear. A smile oiled its' way across his face. "Don't want to talk to me, pity. Don't think her brother'll be quite so reticent."

Badger jerked his head and his men moved in to assist Clements' men in herding Zoe, Jayne and Book further into the massive ship. They seemed to walk for miles the vessel was so vast. Occasional heads turned from dubious labours to watch them pass then got back to the relentless grind that was life for indentured servants and slaves alike. Would this be their life now? At last they came to the very lowest level of the ship, low in every meaning of the word. The only sounds were occasional moans and the sussuration of breath that bespoke the aftermath of torture. Jayne frowned, Zoe and Book stared at each other. Understanding with brutal clarity that this huge vessel was not merely for transport. It was a slaver's ship.

"*Wode ma*." Muttered Book softly.

They stopped at a heavy metal door, one of a number of identical ones in the fetid metal bowels of the ship. Badger grinned at them. "Time to reunite you with some old friends." He turned his head and nodded to Clements.

The big heavy door was unlocked and opened. Zoe caught her breath. Wash was alive, a thin trickle of blood down the side of his face attesting to some rough treatment when Clements' men had detected the transmission. He was the pilot ergo he was the one responsible for sending the wave. Frustrated at not being able to find out where it was sent they had beat on him. Surprisingly enough Simon and Kaylee had not been harmed. And equally surprising, River Tam was nowhere to be seen. A hope sparked in Zoe that the genius had managed to escape. Seeing the look of frantic desperation in Simon's eyes her hope was crushed into that same hollow of deepening dispair that had already sucked him in. Zoe could only escape by breaking eye contact.

They were pushed into the metal cell. Badger looked from one face to the other before speaking, wanting his words to hit home. "Suggest you use the time to think an' think real hard. I get the girl an' I'll see about you goin' free. No girl an' none of you will ever see true daylight again, *dong ma*?"

Simon leapt to his feet, hands extended like claws, eyes wide just a blink away from completely losing control. "You leave my sister alone you *goushi buru* piece of *houzi outo*."

Badger smiled at him as two of his men caught Simon's arms preventing him from wrapping his hands around their boss's throat. "Ah, siblin' love. Such devotion! *Chu jing sheng qing* though it won't do no good. Mind's made up, see? An' what Badger wants 'e gets. You play nice, help, an' I'll see no harm comes to her - or you. Ain't like she won't be some princess. I can give her a good life, more than you. An' I can keep her out of the hands of the Alliance forever." He paused, watching Simon closely. "What can you give her but a life o' crime an' the leavin's off other men's tables?"

"Freedom." Spat Simon, steeling himself against the need to cry and trying in vain to free himself from the men that held him. Inwardly bewailing cruel fate. "The company of those that love and care for her."

He actually looked a little surprised. "Love? I can love her, care for her. Maybe make her less crazy only I gotta admit it kind'a adds to her charm if you know what I mean? Could be I'll keep her just the way she is." He paused a fraction of a second. "Long as she pleases me."

* * * * *

Counsellor Tollan looked beyond pleased. He was ecstatic. "My dear Inara, words cannot convey the debt I owe you."

Inara blushed prettily, surprised enough by the honesty in his words to add no art to her flush of pleasure. "I was happy to be of help. How is he?"

Tollan's smile faltered a little, pain radiating in those clear eyes. "Not so good. The doctors state he is going into the final stages. A week." He shrugged. "Or maybe just days."

A wash of sympathy and sorrow swept over the Companion. "*Duibuqi*."

He managed to rally a smile for her. "There is nothing for you to feel sorry about. Today is quite a good day though he won't be allowed to get up." A full blown smile surprised her with its' intensity. "He was showing off you know when you came. Hasn't worn those legs around anyone since he had them. Could have had neurogenic surgery and grafts, every stop pulled out to fashion him replacement limbs that would fool everyone except his surgeon but he wouldn't hear of it."

A little smile responded to his enthusiastic endearments. The words of the truly besotted. Tollan really did love Thomas and that was both comfort and heartache. "I'm just sorry there is nothing more I can do."

He hesitated to ask. Inara siezed on it and waited.

"I could not possibly impose on you further." He said quietly.

"Michael, it is only an imposition if I would refuse what you ask."

He raised doubtful brows. "But you don't know what I would ask."

Seeing a shy and wary look in his eyes she had a creeping suspicion. Before she could ask he spoke.

"I did as you suggested." He blurted out. "I told him how I felt. That I... I loved him."

She blinked. Not what she had been expecting. The Counsellor was no *nuofo* but he was emminently respectable, a man aware of the proprieties of life at the top of the food chain. Not that such relationships were rare or that frowned upon any more, but they could complicate things especially on the political stage. "How did he react?"

A kind of quiet joy stole over Tollan's face. It was tinged with the sort of awe that could not be faked. "He said he knew."

The whisper of revelation was so quiet, the intensity so private, that it made Inara's eyes mist at the emotion embodied in the depths of the man. Since meeting Michael Tollan, Inara had become more and more impressed by him. His integrity, his honour and loyalty second to none. The only thing greater than all of these was his passion for his crippled friend.

"If you are willing I would like you to have one last night with him."

Her eyebrows rose. "Are you sure?" She asked gently.

His eyes shone softly. His words like new stars opening one by one in the cautionary black of deep space. "If I may perhaps join you?"

She did not gasp. No shock reverberated through her mind. He was asking more than the Companion agreeing to a threesome. He wanted her to show him how to love Thomas. If this was the one and only night the two could make love he wanted it to be as near to perfection as her skills could make it. Keeping her own emotions in check, Inara slowly nodded. "If that is what you both want but are you sure he will be strong enough?"

Tollan nodded. "*Qu*. If Thomas times his medication just right his stamina will outlast yours and mine combined."

Inara was so surprised by his comment that she laughed. Tollan found himself joining in and as easily as that the awkward moment was passed. "What time should I come?"

"The sooner you could manage the better. I should wait for tonight Inara but I don't want to waste a single moment then find those moments were all we had."

Unable to speak for the sudden catch in her throat Inara nodded. On her walk back to the shuttle she considered how brave and dignified the two very different men were. Each more concerned with the well being of the other than themselves. So lost in thought was she that Inara did not at first hear the insistent ping of her monitor telling her she had an incoming call. Distracted she locked the shuttle door and made her way to the cortex screen. Surprised to find a voice-only tranmission from Serenity. Accepting the call, Wash's voice came through in a breathless rush before she could ask what in the nine hells was going on.

"Inara, it's Wash! We're in trouble. That milk run we're on just turned sour..."

* * * * *

They got back as the last of the light was waning in a sky bedecked with stars. The more of the light that faded into black the brighter and more numerous those fairy lights above their heads shone. Sitting in front of Mal between him and the pommel of his saddle sat little Rose, her face alight with happy joy stiffled between yawns. Mal smiled, one hand around her to keep her safe, the other holding Storm's reins with a light but firm grip. The pressure from his knees guiding the stallion home.

Rafe Connor was all kinds of happy. Not in the least unsettled that his youngest daughter had latched on to his newest ranch hand. There was something beautifully honest about the trust that lay between them and seeing his girl look on life with eager eyes not calm withdrawal made him the happiest man in the whole gorram 'verse. Yet even happy he kept his eyes peeled. Mark took up point and Hal Larkin brought up the rear riding next to the buggy. The rancher glanced across at Mal to find the man already looking at him. He smiled at his sleepy daughter. "Think you won't need rockin' to sleep tonight, *xiao nu haizi*."

A smile quirked Mal's lips. Rose turned her head and smiled at her father. Her hands spelt out her answer in Chinese. Rafe chuckled and flicked a glance at Mal.

"You teach my girl that?"

"Not me teachin' her nothin'. You got a verifiable genius on your hands, Rafe."

"She ain't never signed in Chinese before, always in English."

"Just 'cause she hasn't done it before don't mean she can't."

"But them letter shapes..."

Mal chuckled, his left hand hugging Rose a little tighter to include her in the conversation. "They're called words Rafe. Might have heard of 'em."

Rafe mock scowled. "Might want to think twice about disrespectin' the boss, Mal."

Light banter flowed back and forth between them all the way back to the ranch. By the time they drew up at the hitching post it was full dark illuminated mostly by the light spilling from the front porch of the house. Molly came out to them, laughing quietly as Mal gently handed Rose down to her father. The little girl now fast asleep and as boneless as a kitten. Rafe gave Mal a look of thanks and disappeared inside the house with Rose in his arms. The men took their horses over to the stables to bed down for the night, Hal Larkin holding back to speak to Mal as he dismounted. "You did good, Mal. That idea with the fencin'll save us a whole pile of hours work in the future."

"*Xie xie ni*."

The Foreman's smile vanished in a shadow of concern. "Remember what we said about the War?"

Confused, Mal gave him a sharp look trying to determine the reason for the sudden shift in conversation. "*Qu*, what's on your mind?"

"Best we talk in the barn." Hal murmured, using the jingle of his horse's reins to mask his quiet words.

Not speaking or even nodding Mal fell into step beside him and they followed the men into the barn, lingering after the others had finished their chores. Mal slowly curry combing Storm down and making sure the horse was comfortable and settled in his stall. The foreman watched him surreptitiously as he did the same with his own mount. Only when the boys had drifted off to the bunkhouse leaving them alone did the man speak his mind. "You made yourself some enemies, Mal."

"I did? How in the nine hells did I do that?"

Hal sucked in a breath. "I been noticin' two of the hands, Bill Peary an' Harper Brooks. Alliance men through an' through."

Mal frowned. "They fight in the Valley?"

The foreman shook his head and leant against a stall. "Nope, but they supported Unification Mal - in *all* its' forms."

Mal cursed inwardly not missing the significance of that emphasis. "I ain't fixin' to cause no trouble Hal. I'd rather move on than bring such on you an' yours."

"I know Mal an' it ain't gonna come to that but a man should be aware of what's around him. Got the boss's sons keepin' an eye but haven't told the rest of the hands. Not sure who might let slip a word to the wrong pair of ears, *dong ma*?"

"*Wo dong*."

"Look Mal, *duibuqi*. I should'a sorted those two out long ago but never had no need before. We was apart from all that fightin', just plain honest folk tryin' to make a livin' off the land. By the time it was over all folks wanted to do was tend their own. I didn't wanna hold no grudge against any man an' neither did the boss whatever side he supported in the War. That was the past, both him an' me was only interested in the Here an' Now. The future. Long as a man made no fuss an' did his work we was content."

"An' now you think they'll do somethin' 'cause of me?"

Hal hated putting it like that but it was the God's honest truth and he liked Mal too much to lie. "So I reckon."

Mal nodded. "I appreciate the heads-up. Best maybe I move on."

The foreman looked alarmed. "No, no Mal, that ain't what's gonna happen."

"If my bein' here puts you or the others in any danger then it's the best thing to do, you know that."

"Best ain't always right, Mal."

"Don't think I don't know it but I couldn't live with myself if anythin' happened 'cause of me."

Hal Larkin smiled and clapped a hand on his shoulder. His first instincts about this man had been right. "You been hired on an' 'less the boss sacks you then you belong here with us. Only told you about those two *wangu tamade hundans* for your own safety but me an' mine will be watchin' too. They step one foot outta line Mal an' I promise you they won't see the bullet that ends 'em."

"Don't want no one to die 'cause of me."

"Neither do I, Mal, but I'll be damned to every one of the nine hells if I let a man get run off this ranch."

"That what you think they're fixin' to do?"

Hal paused. "I don't think they'd be that stupid. Probably plan somethin' when no one else is about. Most likely somethin' they can claim is accidental."

He thought about that. Made sense. "Then best I keep a sharp eye."

"Boss suggested might be best for you to sleep in the big house tonight."

"Bad idea, do that an' they'll think I'm on to them."

"Best not mistake that for a suggestion, Mal."

Mal raised both brows. "*Zhen de*?"

"Call it an order if ya want."

"Then best I do as I'm told."

The foreman smiled, glad to have that little matter sorted. He for one would be happier knowing Mal was in the big house with Rafe and his sons. Not in a million years would those two *chunren* even dream of trying something while he was under the boss's roof. In the meantime he intended to keep those two as much in his sights as possible. If either one sneezed wrong they would be out of the world before they needed a hanky. Should never have hired them but truth was they were good hard workers and at the time ranch hands had been hard enough to come by. Hal Larkin sighed and hunched his shoulders, so deep in thought as he made his way to the bunkhouse that he missed the two lurking shadows trailing behind Mal as he went towards the big house.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*shenme* = what *wei* = hey *tamade hundan*/*wangba dan* = fucking bastard *weishenme* = why *chunren* = fool/jerk *wangu* = stubborn *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *wode ma* = mother of God *dong ma* = understand *houzi outo* = monkey vomit *goushi buru* = lowest of the low/lower than dogshit *duibuqi* = sorry *qu* = yes (lit. go) *chu jing sheng qing* = the sight strikes a chord in my heart *xiao nu haizi* = baby girl *nuofo* = coward *xie xie ni* = thank you *wo dong* = I understand *zhen de* = really? *chusheng xai-jiai xiang huo* = animal fucking bastard


Wednesday, August 25, 2004 4:30 AM


See, now you've got me all sorts of anticipating the next installment!! Beautiful work, and I can't wait to find out exactly what River is up to...

Wednesday, August 25, 2004 4:40 AM


Another FAB episode Alison. What will Inara do? Thomas doesn't have much time, so can she just leave him & Tollan without honouring her commitment? But how can she ignore Wash's plea for help?

And how else will Thomas and Tollan fit into the story? Where's River? Does Badger know who she really is? What will happen to Mal?

So many questions... PLEASE hurry and post! I check several times a day to see if there is a new installment from you, and when there is I have to stop everything and read it :)

Wednesday, August 25, 2004 8:39 AM


Shiny story, no doubt about it. I'm just missing the easy joy of Mal's life at the ranch up until now, is all.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004 10:20 PM


Argh... rescues in the hands of Inara and River with Mal apparently on his own. Peril on all sides...

Happy, as ever, to have a new chapter to enjoy! Thanks.

Saturday, August 28, 2004 4:54 AM


I found the Tollan/Thomas love story section really moving. Beautifully done. And I love the way you depicted Inara's reaction - so full of grace and kindess.

Marvellous dialogue for Badger too. I could actually hear his voice as I was reading that bit.

Oh and Mal .... dear, oh dear, oh dear ...


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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.