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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
"Simon manages to stabilise the Captain. Inara makes a discovery about Badger's parentage. Wash informs the crew that they have a ship on a fast intercept course and nowhere to go."
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1372 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
TITLE: "RUNNING THE GAUNTLET"
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
PAIRING: Zoe/Wash. Kaylee/Simon. Mal/Inara.
STATUS: Sequel to "OUTSIDE INFLUENCES".
ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where.
WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at Fireflyfans.net
SUMMARY: "Simon manages to stablise the Captain. Inara
makes a discovery about Badger's parentage. Wash informs the
crew that they have a ship on a fast intercept course and nowhere
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.
"RUNNING THE GAUNTLET"
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
* * * * *
Simon threw everyone out of the infirmary except Zoe. He needed someone who could remain calm and functioning, someone capable of the cold detatchment necessary to help him. Zoe watched as he placed the pads on the Captain's chest, her heart in her mouth, lips a grim line of not-happy but her tongue silent. The first shock lifted the Captain's torso off the bed but the tone did not alter. Simon keyed in a higher setting then tried again. It took four attempts before the flat line peaked, Zoe feeling as if she had taken the same journey as her Captain.
Then things got hectic for a few minutes while she helped Simon stablise her friend, anxious eyes raking over the Captain's body looking for any sign that he might crash again. Fortunately they had got to him in time. Only once Simon was sure the Captain really was stable did they pause and look at each other.
"What happened, Simon?"
He swallowed slowly, trying to find a way to relate what had happened without unleashing the terrible fury he knew the first mate was capable of. She had never aimed it at him but there could always be a first time and the crew had been under too much tension and strain of late. In the end he realised he could only tell the truth. What Zoe did with it was out of his hands. "It was the wave from Inara."
Zoe's face darkened but she said not a word. Her damning silence was almost harder than had she lashed out with a stream of vitriol.
"Inara told the Captain that she had been sent a wave, footage of an incident after the War ended." He paused and gave the first mate an intent look. "Did you know Inara had a brother?"
She blinked, thrown by the question. It had the intended result of momentarily derailing that build up of anger. "*Shenme*? What does that have to do with anythin'?"
"Seemingly everything. Apparently her brother fought for the Alliance during the War, got captured and taken prisoner by the Independents. When the War ended he was not released but beheaded. Inara said it was caught on camera and that was what was in the wave."
"*Wo bu dong*, why would Inara bring that up now? What does that have to do with the Cap'n?"
Simon took a deep breath. "Inara said she recognised the man weilding the sword. It was Mal."
From shock to fury was no more than a nano-second. "That's a ruttin' *shuohuang*! We didn't execute anyone before, after or during the War an' Mal don't know one end of a sword from the other let alone own one. I was with the Cap'n all through that bloody campaign. If it had happened I'd'a known Simon an' I can tell you this. I wouldn't follow any man who would do a thing like that. That *pofu* is lyin'. It figures she only wanted to contact us to finish what she started."
Simon raised a hand. "*Deng*, that was what Inara said was on the wave. She says that was why she acted so violently towards the Captain, made those threats, promised to take him down any way she could."
Her eyes narrowed dangerously as she stared at Simon. "Ain't heard nothin' yet to make me change my mind."
"*Wo zhidao*. Inara said that it was only after leaving Serenity that she had a chance to get the footage examined properly." He paused. "It was a fake, Zoe. A very expertly put together piece of fiction intended to turn Inara against the Captain."
"A fake? *Weishenme* an' who would do such a thing?"
The doctor ran a hand through his hair, suddenly wearier than he had been in a good long while. For too long the crew had been running on adrenaline and now Simon's body was beginning to flag. "*Wo bu zhidao* but Inara says if you go to her shuttle and access the last wave you will be able to see for yourself."
"Could be a trick."
He nodded, not wanting to try to persuade her either way. Simon wasn't sure of anything any more just that they all needed to calm down and get some rest but tensions were too high for anyone to be sleeping any time soon. "*Qu* it could be, or it might just explain this madness for once and for all."
Zoe gave him a long look. "You believe Inara?"
He shrugged. "To be *chengshi* I don't know. I want to, but..."
Hearing Simon voicing his own uncertainty calmed Zoe quicker than anything else would have done. The doctor was a fundamentally honest and truthful man. She knew that Inara's betrayal had hurt them all not least because they had considered the Companion a friend. One of them. That she could turn on the Captain had shaken them to the core. Regaining that trust would be a hill she might not be able to climb but if there were answers Zoe wanted them. Didn't much care where they came from.
"Best I go check that wave."
Her look asked silently if he wanted to be there but Simon shook his head. "I don't want to leave the Captain."
"You need to eat, sleep, same as the rest of us."
"And I will, but not until I'm sure there won't be a relapse."
He sighed. "Right now the only thing I am sure of is what I can see, feel and touch with my own senses." He paused as Zoe began to turn to leave. "Zoe?"
She cocked a brow and waited, impatient to be on her way but her eyes flicking nonetheless to the unconscious form of her Captain and friend.
"Inara suggested it was something 'everybody' needed to see. So..."
"I'll pass it on."
He nodded. "*Xie xie ni*."
"You wanna thank me, Simon, don't let the Cap'n die."
There was nothing Simon could say to that. He had no intention of losing his patient and not just because Malcolm Reynolds was the Captain of Serenity but also because he owed the man so much. Might never be comfortable admitting it in words but if it weren't for their brave, irascible and stubborn Captain he and his sister would probably be in Alliance hands by now and that thought more than any other put him forever in the man's debt. He watched Zoe leave then with a little sigh turned back to do what he could for his most frequent patient.
He was so angry that for a moment words wouldn't come. His mother watched her son's face redden, his expression an overblown show of outrage that she actually found more than a little amusing. She shared a smile with the third member of their party. Inara Serra was as elegant and serene as ever, only her eyes gave away a deep seated concern that had nothing to do with Badger and his mother and everything to do with catching up to a scruffy little ship that she had once called home. Now Badger was all but throwing a fit. Inara wondered whether the former Mistress of House Madrassa would be terribly upset if she injected him with a smoother.
"Stephen, sit down. You are embarrassing the cockroaches."
The look he gave her could have peeled paint off a metal hull but it had no effect on the redoubtable lady herself. "I ain't goin' nowhere with Reynolds' painted whore!"
Instead of hitting him, his mother looked at Inara and raised an eyebrow. The invitation did not need saying aloud. Regretfully, Inara shook her head. "While I confess it would be satisfying I can't afford the distraction."
Badger glared at her. "*Shenme*? You too high an' mighty for the likes of decent folk?"
"If you were in that category I might answer you but as you aren't..." Inara let the sentence hang then got back to trimming their course. It was a sleek Alliance pleasure cruiser. Not her choice of craft but as the House Mistress had been loaned the vessel on short notice and it was the fastest thing they had she had not made a fuss. The same could not be said for Persephone's former crime lord.
"This is a gorram outrage, that's what it is."
When no one answered him Badger sat down with a huff. His voice was sulky and displeased. As if he couldn't understand for the life of him how he had ended up in this situation.
"Bad enough to be headin' for Reynolds' ship without havin' to put up with this."
His mother fixed him with a look he could not read. "Are you ashamed of your own mother?"
It was funny to watch the little man's eyes widen in alarm as he rushed to assure her that was not his intention. When Inara smiled he shot her a look of pure venom. Although she was facing the front, her eyes checking the instruments and keeping a look out ahead she could clearly see reflections of both Badger and his mother without turning her head. Badger did not know who he hated more, the smirking jumped up Captain of Serenity or his equally jumped up whore. Not that the man had sense enough to bed her. Made him wonder whether the man was sly, not that it would do him much good either way. That thought brought a whole slew of recent memories back into sharp focus. Badger shrank in his seat. No way did he want to go back to Serenity. Having ordered his hired thugs to cripple the Captain he could only imagine the kind of retribution that would be waiting for him. Inara knew or guessed what must be going through his mind but his mother didn't know. *Tamade diyu*, could his life get any more screwed up than this?
He didn't want to look up, to acknowledge her or have to make small talk but his mother was not a woman ignored without facing dire consequences and he would be in enough *goushi* once she and Serenity's Captain put their heads together. If he could find a way to avoid their meeting without having to resort to ritual suicide he woud do it but even Badger could see that he was out of options. "*Shenme shi*?"
That eyebrow rose again. All elegant and imperious. "I was about to ask you the same question."
He shrugged and found the palms of his hands most interesting. "Yeah well, me an' Cap'n Reynolds ain't exactly friends."
"But you are business partners, *dui*?"
Badger snorted and looked up in surprise. "*Bushi*. Just use him for jobs now an' again. Still don't see why it's gotta be his ship. Tons o' ships an' Cap'n's to choose from an' you gotta choose him. The 'verse gorram hates me."
"I chose him because he can be trusted."
His look was incredulous. Watching his reflection, Inara found Badger's reaction entertaining. It had been quite a shock when she returned to House Madrassa to not only find the sleazy little crime lord hiding out there but to discover he was Mistress Barbette's son. She could only imagine what Mal would make of it. As she thought about Serenity's Captain her smile vanished. Badger was not the only one not looking forward to stepping aboard the Firefly. If the crew didn't shoot her dead on sight maybe she would stand a chance of convincing Mal that she really was sorry for everything.
Even though Gillion was inordinately relieved that his brother in law was finally turning his mind to something constructive, he was concerned that they were jumping from the frying pan straight into the fire. Paul was pacing, his look concentrated, animated in a frentic way that spoke of increasing tension.
"We have to find them, Gillion, before it's too late!"
Gillion bit back a sigh as his friend stopped pacing, unable to hide his concern. "*Weishenme*? We got them out, isn't that enough?"
Paul could feel his anger building and only managed to control himself with effort. "They got China, *ni dongle ma*?"
"Paul, they cannot connect her to the children."
"They'll be adults now."
"Some, but most are still young. 15, 16 to 20 years old at most."
"*Qu*, an' they won't be prepared for the storm that is comin'."
"Is there somethin' you're not tellin' me?"
For a moment Paul was silent, his anger forgotten. "China kept tabs on all of them." He confessed quietly. "Did you know?"
Gillion stared at him. Shocked. "That is not what the group agreed on."
Paul nodded. "*Wo zhidao* but you know China. How stubborn she could be."
"Please tell me she did not keep written records?"
He shook his head. "My wife was *wangu* not *bendan*." Paul paused and watched his brother in law's tension ease just a little. "It was like they were her children. She felt a responsibility for them."
"This is why we are anonymous, Paul. It has to be this way to protect each of them as well as the Underground. If we stay connected then if one is compromised we all are."
"We can't walk away now, Gillion. They need us."
"It's beyond our control. Let go."
Paul actually looked sorry. "*Wo bu neng*."
Zoe stared at the ship drawing so close it looked as if they would be able to reach out and touch it. "We can't let the Alliance board us, Wash."
He nodded, fully agreeing with his *qizi* but unable to do anything. "We can't outrun them, *bao bei*."
Zoe leaned over his shoulder, frowning at the other vessel with an intent look upon her face. "Don't look to have any weapons."
"That's our only bit of good luck."
She stared at him. "If we refuse to let them onboard what's the worst that can happen?"
"They use cuttin' gear then blast us to pieces when they do board."
"Has anyone ever told you, you're a very *up* person, *zhangfu*?"
He flashed a brief little grin. "It's part of my charm." The pilot broke off the banter as a console light winked. "They're hailin' us."
For a moment Zoe did not speak, every option she could think of immediately being discounted as not being viable in the current circumstance. They couldn't even do a Crazy Ivan because the other vessel was too close and they would be caught up in the backwash. Her husband raised his eyebrows and waited, not trying to influence her one way or another. If they were going to turn all bloated, fetal and die he didn't want to be the one who had made the decision. Not that he wanted it to be Zoe either but sometimes there were no good choices. He watched her take a steadying breath then nod. Wash put the other ship through, audio only. There was a brief pause before a voice they recognised came sailing over the link.
"Wash? *Xie xie shangdi*!"
Hardly able to believe her ears, Zoe activated the screen and stared at the last face she expected to see here in the Black. Inara Serra looked tense and anxious. Shock made Zoe numb to the unexpected turn of events. "What in the sphincter of *diyu* are you doin' here an' give me one good reason why I should listen to a single thing you have to say?"
Natalie Mary Bell was not a pretty girl. Big boned and a little on the clumsy side no one would ever mistake her for the cream of Alliance social society yet she was born of a good family and up until her enrolement in the academy at the tender age of seven years old had experienced the very best life in the Core could offer. That was eight years ago. Her fairy tale life turning into a nightmare as slowly the truth about her shiny new school began to become more and more apparent. Her 'teachers' paying increasing attention to what she could do with her mind rather than any academic ability.
At first she had not been suspicious. Too young and inexperienced to know that this was not a natural direction to take. Bobby Conner was a year older and had been there two months longer than she had. In the way of children he had lorded it over her that he knew what was going on and she didn't. Still she was unafraid. Bobby's superior air was ignored as the bluster of a little boy trying to impress when he had nothing to back it up with. Then Bobby had started a fire. Not just a little thing but a great wall of flames that sprang up from nothing when men came to take him to the assessment room. Natalie didn't know what it was but Bobby's fear spread to her just as surely as the flames did from wall hangings to furnishings to the clothes the staff were wearing. The screams were only partially drowned out by the sprinkler system and soon men in suits arrived and split all the children up.
Natalie never saw Bobby Conner alive again. Some nights she would swear she could hear him screaming until the screams broke into hiccoughing sobs, dying away into the dead of night like hope vanishing in a new era of fear. Sandra Turnstyle was next, then John Waghorn followed by poor little Jimmy Brewer. The really smart ones were taken away right at the beginning and she only knew about them through rumours and the echoing cries that punctuated many sleepless nights. When it was her turn to be taken to the assessment room, fear almost paralysed her vocal chords as well as her body. It didn't matter, they simply picked her up and carried her away. Trembling so hard her teeth chattered she could not even struggle as they strapped her to the table. White walls, white ceiling, white floors, people in white surgical gowns with white masks over their faces. The metal cap upon her head pierced her with needles on the inside, her screams muffled by the gag in her mouth though why they should want her awake but silent when the other children terrified her with their screams she did not know.
Tears pricked her eyes, trickling down her face as they removed the gag after her 'treatment' and the sessions began. They recorded them. A detatched dispassionate voice asking questions, measuring her responses and doing things to her mind and body she did not understand. Years went by. Her once lively personality succumbed to apathy. The new additions made no impact, elicted no interest. Words no longer slipped past her lips. Every view was a different angle of a prison from which there was no escape. The reading room became a microscope, where every thing she looked at or read was under scrutiny. The gym was filled with silent watchers, machines set up to not simply provide exercise but to force a regime that pushed each student to the limit not only of physical fitness but of endurance. And then, when her strength was at its' lowest the invasion of her mind began. Slowly at first. A creeping rape that spread its' tentacles and would not let go. Afterwards she was taken to the assessment room and the metal cap was fitted once more to her head, piercing its' long invasive needles into a scalp covered with earlier scars that had never healed.
One day everything changed. Strangers infiltrated the facility and got them out but it was already too late for Natalie. She nodded at whatever they said, reacted when expected to do so, silent and waiting. In the end they had thought it safe to let her go. Told to find her family but stay low, to not draw attention to herself lest the Hands of Blue find her. She never knew her saviours' names but her photographic memory would not forget a single face. Then slowly, one by one, she found them and eliminated the threat. Her family and friends first, then those who had sought to free her. There was only one left. She knew there had to be more but could only pursue those she had met for herself, the others might as well be figments of someone's else's imagination. They meant nothing to her.
With an expertise implanted not learnt, she retrieved the information she needed from the mind of the prone body while it was still warm. The name had an address attached. A safe house. Exiting the alley with great stealth she became a shadow among other dark forms, one with a deadly purpose. They had freed her but she would not be truly free until they were all gone. Like Bobby Connor. Like the screams in the night. The terror by day. The long white corridors with no exit. The white room where faceless strangers stripped her mind of every piece of compassion she had ever had. Yet they had omitted one important piece of information. Natalie Mary Bell could not tell friend from foe.
Zoe was furious. For once the rest of the crew were as angry as she was. They had come so close to losing the Captain a second time that Inara's sudden reappearance so soon after Simon had him stablised again was too much to forgive. However, that was not what angered them the most. Another target for their collective ire had stepped onto Serenity with her. Jayne Cobb clenched his fists and before anyone could stop him had Badger lifted off his feet in a stranglehold. Mistress Barbette stepped towards them to intervene but Zoe blocked her way, an implacable look upon her face.
"Let him go!"
Inara was torn between siding with her House Mistress or letting Badger take his chances with Serenity's crew. She still didn't know the whole story but realised that in some way the irksome little man was responsible for Malcolm Reynolds' condition. Baffled and confused she turned to Zoe. "*Wo bu dong*, what does any of this have to do with Badger?"
Before Zoe could think of a suitably cutting remark Shepherd Book spoke up. "He ordered his men to shoot the Captain."
The Companion looked stunned. "He did?"
The Shepherd nodded. Kaylee wanted to go to Inara but couldn't help remembering why they were in this mess and how her own interference had only made things worse. River came into the cargo hold and quickly assessed the situation, the tension having no affect on her. She was logging everyone's position. Noted Jayne had one hand wrapped like a vice around Badger's throat, saw the concern on Mistress Barbette's face and the confusion on Inara's. Jayne shook Badger one handed, the little man making a pitiful choking sound while he feebly kicked his feet out, the ground a good two foot below him. River also noticed the wide space the crew had left around Inara. She walked up to the Companion and stopped a foot away from her.
"He wanted him crippled not dead. Wanted him to suffer for the rest of his life, unable to earn a living or be a man again."
All eyes fixed on the young Reader. Jayne's fingers tightened a little further around Badger's throat, his face colouring and eyes beginning to bug out. Inara stared at Badger then caught Jayne's eye. The big man gave a feral grin, revenge shining in his eyes. "Suffer for what?"
Mistress Barbette was frantic, sure these people would kill her son and probably herself and Inara next. What a mess this was. But as stupid as her son had been she did not want to see him die. If anyone was going to kill him she wanted the pleasure of doing it herself just not now, and not yet. "*Qing*, everybody needs to calm down."
Jayne grinned at her. "*Wei*. I'm calm."
"Release my son." When he just glared at her she tilted her head. "*Qing*."
"Don't answer to no whore."
River was still staring at Inara as if none of the others were there. Shepherd Book stepped quietly up to Jayne and put a light hand on his arm. "Best drop him. Captain'll want words with him later."
With a grunt Jayne reluctantly relaxed his fingers and let the little man drop. Mistress Barbette just stared at her son but made no move to go to him. Gasping like a fish out of water Badger could hardly breathe, as soon as he could he looked up to find every member of the crew holding a gun on him except for River. Simon was not in the cargo bay and Inara could only assume he must be with the Captain. Mal. Her breath caught painfully in her throat, her heart racing. River watched her without blinking.
"He isn't dead even though you almost killed him."
"*Shenme*? I thought Badger shot the Captain?"
Zoe looked as if she wanted to kill the lot of them. "Might'a ordered the men who did it but you almost finished the job."
Her face flushed with guilt. "*Duibuqi*..."
The first mate shook her head. "Don't want no false apologies, Inara, just the truth for once. Why are you here?"
She swallowed hard. Wished she could go to the infirmary and check on the Captain herself only right now none of the crew trusted her and given recent events she could hardly blame them.
"I have some information for you."
"Could have put it in a wave."
Inara shook her head. Whatever Zoe and the others thought of her this was something too sensitive to trust to even the best encryption and Serenity's was only rudimentary at best.
"I am not your enemy though I confess I have not been acting like a friend. I know better now. Thanks to the help of Mistress Barbette I know the wave I was sent accusing the Captain of murdering my brother is false."
Zoe's eyes had narrowed. Wash stood next to her, his eyes flicking from one to the other and not liking the fact that if anything the tension was actually rising. "For all the time you've been on this ship you should have known that anyway."
The Companion swallowed, more than a mite uncomfortable at how easily she had believed the worst of Malcolm Reynolds. "*Dui* but we think we know who was behind the misinformation."
"A Parliamentary Operative."
Shepherd Book's eyebrows rose. "Oh my!"
"That supposed to scare us?" Asked Zoe, her voice clipped.
"Zoe, why do you think an Operative would want to frame the Captain for a crime he didn't commit?"
"You so sure there was no crime?" Jayne asked, his eyebrows knitting together.
"*Qu*. I know with absolute certainty because after years of believing my was brother dead I have seen him. Alive and well."
Kaylee finally found her voice, a little nervous but curious enough to speak up. "Why didn't ya tell us ya had a brother?"
"It never came up."
"He a Companion too?" Jayne leered.
"*Bu qu*, actually he's a monk."
Everyone stared at her. Even Badger couldn't take his eyes off the Companion's face. She had to be kidding, right? Just as Zoe was about to speak the proximity alarm sounded. Wash shared a worried look with her then ran for the bridge. Zoe hesitated just long enough to speak to Jayne before holstering her mare's leg and following her husband. "Watch them, Jayne. If any of them so much as twitch wrong - shoot. Don't worry about cripplin' them. Less trouble if it's a clean kill."
Kaylee's eyes opened wide in alarm and disbelief. Surely Zoe didn't mean 'Nara? But one look at Inara's face told her that her former friend wasn't sure either. Jumping as her name was yelled, Kaylee gave Inara an apologetic look then ran to the metal staircase and took the steps two at a time. Serenity needed her and as bad as things looked for Inara she had to trust that Jayne wouldn't shoot unless he had to. Everything was surely going to *diyu* in a hand basket and Kaylee didn't dare to think what else could go wrong.
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*shenme* = what? *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *shuohuang* = lie (lit. untruth)
*pofu* = bitch *deng* = wait *wo zhidao* = I know *weishenme* = why?
*wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *qu* = yes (lit. go) *chengshi* = honest
*xie xie ni* = thank you *tamade diyu* = fucking hell *dui* = correct
*shenme shi* = what's the matter? *bushi* = not so *wangu* = stubborn
*ni dongle ma* = do you understand? *bendan* = stupid (lit. stupid egg)
*wo bu neng* = I can't *qizi* = wife *bao bei* = precious/treasure
*zhangfu* = husband *xie xie shangdi* = thank God! *diyu* = hell
*qing* = please *wei* = hey! *duibuqi* = sorry *shei* = who *goushi* - crap
Friday, August 29, 2008 5:16 AM
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