HANDFUL OF STARS: 15. "Upstaging the Devil"
Saturday, December 11, 2010

"The Captain finally wakes and has something of a heart to heart with Inara. The messenger finds himself receiving help unasked for. As Petrie's rage cools he comes up with another diabolical plan."


TITLE: "UPSTAGING THE DEVIL" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: None. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: Sequel to "POSSUM". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at

SUMMARY: "The Captain finally awakes and has something of a heart to heart with Inara. The messenger finds himself receiving help unasked for. As Petrie's rage cools he comes up with another diabolical plan." 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

* * * * *

He was in shock. A grief so deep it had no bottom and no end. How long Ritchie Thomas stared in horror at the box he did not know. The eye. As distinctive to him as Audrey's beautiful face, her sparkling wit and happy disposition. So unlike her solemn father yet their eyes showed their heritage. Green with flecks of hazel. They had attracted him a split second before the smile that blossomed on her lovely face, her voice tinkling like silvery bells, her hair hanging lush and lustrous in waves that bounced with health and vitality at the slightest movement of her head. All gone. Ripped away by the insane actions of one *canku tamade hundan*. All night he sat there staring until his eyes were dry of tears and his heart empty of all emotion except one: anger. It lay beneath his awareness like a second skin. As the cold at last impinged on his befogged and stunned consciousness he moved - slow, aborted little attempts to tear himself away from a scene so horrific it would be engraved in blood on his mind forever. Ritchie shuddered and rose slowly, his joints aching and stiff.

The box was closed now and for good measure he had locked it with shaking hands. It took several attempts before the silver key could be lined up with the small ornate keyhole. Bile rose in his throat but he choked it back down. This was no time to be weak, no time to fall apart and give in to the devastation of what Lincoln James Petrie had done. His betrayal the least of the man's crimes. Nagging at him was why? What reason could he possibly have to target an innocent woman in such a callous way? Then something else occurred to the Sheriff. *Dang ran*. Petrie had used him for another purpose as well, to lure Malcolm Reynolds to Cheverell. All the mundane problems that had broken out around the town now seemed replete with clues which he had failed to connect. As if a transport Captain and his crew would be the natural people to turn to in order to solve the problems plaguing the town. Problems he was now convinced Petrie had orchestrated with the sole aim of bringing Serenity and her crew to Cheverell. Ritchie had met Mal many times in the past, enjoyed seeing him again if he was honest even though he knew he had a habit of rubbing the Captain up the wrong way. Now he could only quail at what malicious evil machinations Petrie had put in place for Serenity's Captain and possibly his crew as well.

After sitting so long in silence and grief it was almost a relief to feel purpose again. As he moved the imperative to move still faster propelled him almost without conscious thought through the door and out into the street. Ritchie had to find Malcolm Reynolds and warn him, before it was too late.

* * * * *

Inara waited until Simon had sent everyone else away. As River followed Kaylee out of the infirmary she paused in front of the Companion, her eyes all too knowing.

"He knows when you're there."

"River, the Captain hasn't regained consciousness yet."

The girl nodded sagely. "Eyes closed, body in shock, but brain wide awake."

"Does Simon know...?"

"*Qu*. He just wants to be sure, *dong ma*?"

Letting out a sigh of relief, Inara smiled. "*Duibuqi, mei mei*."

"We're all worried about him." The girl whispered, then pulled back and gifted her with a playful grin. "Waking now!"

Before Inara could question her River danced away, her boots clattering like an army on the move along the metal walkway. For a moment, Inara stood irresolute halfway in and halfway out of the door. Simon finished checking the Captain's pulse, his movements slower than usual. It piqued her interest and before she knew what she was doing Inara had walked up beside him and was anxiously peering down at the benighted Captain. To her joy and surprise a pair of bright blue eyes were staring back at her.

"Where you been hidin', 'Nara?"

His words flustered her. Simon, gentleman that he was, quickly interjected before she could take offence.

"The Captain has just woken up."

Malcolm Reynolds gave his doctor a look of mock disgust. "I thought you took some oath or somesuch?"

Boy had the nerve to smirk. "The oath is to 'do no harm' not lie through my teeth. I believe the latter is your speciality, Captain."

Narrowing his eyes at Simon, the Captain addressed Inara. "Remind me, 'Nara, why we got this wise-crackin' excuse of a *daifu*."

The soft bright laughter spilled from her ruby red lips before Inara could stop herself. Really, the man was impossible. "Simon is the best doctor in the 'verse, Mal, and we're lucky to have him."

"You feelin' sick?"

"*Bu qu*, I was just saying..."

He interrupted her. "You said 'we'."

Inara could feel the beginnings of frustration. "It was a manner of speaking, Mal, you know that."

Wise man that he was, Simon started to retreat as the two sparring partners fell into their familiar acerbic banter, only the lightness of tone telling him neither was actually annoyed or angry with the other.

* * * * *

The messenger paused. Bright flashes of light sent his senses into freefall, the energy sparking across damaged synapses putting on a firework show inside his brain that left him sick and reeling. He was near the outskirts of town and fortunately no one appeared to be about to witness his shame. Dropping to his knees he leaned forward, eyes shut tight against the spinning sensation, and promptly threw up. The taste of bitter bile hardly registered, the pain a muted blast attacking his consciousness as if somehow weary of the fight. He had no idea how long he knelt in the dirt, time having no meaning to him as he gasped for breath. Fragmented images blurring and changing so quickly he could not focus on any of them. He could feel the bile rising again and tried to hang on.

"*Wei*, mister, *ni hao ma*?"

The voice startled him into opening his eyes. Big mistake. Without warning he vomitted all over the concerned citizen. With a moan of pain, the messenger slammed his eyes shut and hoped death would come quickly as darkness descended.

* * * * *

Zoe was pacing. Again. Frustrated, Wash turned from the ship's control console. "*Bao bei*, you heard Simon. Cap'n's gonna be alright so *shenme shi*?"

It took a minute or two for Zoe to calm down. Her mind had been on overdrive since they found the Captain and despite their shiny doctor removing all the high tech hardware from the Captain's brain she was worried. They couldn't hide behind this moon forever. "*Wo zhidao, zhangfu*, but we still don't know who's behind this. What if they strike again?"

"We'll be ready for 'em!"

Zoe spun round to see Jayne leaning in the doorway. He hefted Vera in his hands, a look promising a bloody and violent death to whoever was responsible. He chewed his cigar butt from one side of his mouth to the other.

"They ain't gonna get a second chance."

While she appreciated Jayne's show of loyalty it still didn't answer the question that was bugging her. "That doesn't do us any good unless we know who's behind it, Jayne."

"That's easy. We find that gorram messenger an' force the truth outta him."

Wash looked horrified. "You can't just go torturin' people left, right an' centre."

"*Weishenme bu*? Whoever sent him is who we want, *dui*?"

To Wash's consternation Zoe was nodding, a glint of approval in her eye. "Good thinkin', Jayne."

Wash raised his hand as the two were about to leave the bridge. "Can I make a suggestion?" He waited until Zoe paused. "Why don't we just follow him?"

"Not promisin' anythin', Wash. Need to get to the bottom of this or we'll always be lookin' over our shoulders, *dong ma*?"

The pilot nodded and watched his wife follow Jayne out of the door. "Yeah, like we don't already do that."

* * * * *

Satisfied that his patient was stable, Simon nodded to Inara and excused himself. Inara waited until the door closed behind him before taking the seat next to Mal's bed. She noticed he looked tired but his eyes were bright and clear, missing nothing.

"*Ni juede zenme yang le*, Mal?"

"*Wo juede hen re*." He paused and whet his lips, a frown line forming between his eyes. "*Touyin*."

"Do you want me to call Simon?"

"*Bu qu*. It'll pass, no need to fuss."

Inara bit back an acerbic comment and took his hand in her's. A mite surprised, he stopped frowning and looked at her, 'really' noticing her properly for the first time since he had woken. "I ain't gonna die, *dong ma*? Doc does good work."

The Companion nodded, waiting until she could trust her voice. It wouldn't do to let him see her get too emotional. He was alive and in one piece, she should be glad. And really, she was, it was just... "It was so close, Mal. It frightened me."

The words were out before she could stop herself. Blue eyes locked on dark brown. For what seemed like a small eternity neither spoke nor broke eye contact. At last the Captain cleared his throat, his hand turning in her's until he could squeeze her hand in reassurance. "To be truthsome I was a mite worried my own self."

"Oh Mal!" Inara paused. "How many times are we going to go through this?"

His eyebrows rose. "*Shenme*? You holdin' my hand an' not finishin' sentences?"

"I do finish my sentences!" She snapped then realised what he was doing. Inara narrowed her eyes at him. "You know exactly what I'm talking about, Malcolm Reynolds! One day your luck is going to run out."

His eyebrows rose and disappeared into his shaggy fringe. "You call this *yunqi*?"

"Yes, Mal, I do. Someone cut into your brain. Simon says whoever did it was very proficient."

"What in the good gorram they wanna do that for?"

"To monitor and torture you. Simon removed some sophisticated wiring, Mal. He called it nanotechnology."

The Captain opened his mouth then closed it again. Really. What could he say? His gorram day was getting weirder and weirder. "We still on Cheverell?"

Inara shook her head. "No. Zoe wanted to get us as far away as possible in case removing the wiring would alert whoever was responsible."

"Mayhap we should'a let 'em come, 'Nara. Can't fight 'em if we can't see 'em."

"Now you sound like Jayne."

"A good idea's still a good idea."

"Except when it isn't."

He glared at her. Inara ignored him. "We needed to get you somewhere relatively safe before Simon operated just in case they decided to detonate it."

"Huh? You sayin' someone put a gorram bomb in my head?"

Inara patted his shoulder with her free hand. "We weren't sure what they could do and Simon wanted to be safe not sorry." She paused, her voice lowering and softening. "Simon saved your life."

"He's a doctor, 'Nara. It's what he does."

She stared at him. He shifted awkwardly and tried to ignore the way stars were exploding like miniature rutting suns behind his eyes. Maybehaps he should just lie all quiet like until the mush that was his brain settled down again. "Not sayin' I ain't grateful, I am, just - you know."

Inara Serra almost smiled. The stubborn, frustrating, irritating but noble man was likely to be driving her insane until the day one or both of them died. "You should get some sleep, Mal."

"Just woke up."

"Go to sleep."

He wanted to argue with her, tell her she had no right telling him what to do on his own boat but his body was a traitor. Eyes closing on their gorram own and without his say-so. With a jerk his eyelids fluttered open wide and he stared at her. "You sure Simon took all them wires an' such outta me?"

Alarmed, Inara leant forward, worry crowding onto her face. "Is something wrong?"

The Captain blinked, slowly. "Can't seem to keep my gorram eyes open." He muttered.

Relaxing, Inara sat back and watched Malcolm Reynolds' lose the fight to stay conscious.

* * * * *

The man wasn't just tall and lanky he was gorram heavy. Old man Ellis straightened his back and took out a kerchief to wipe the sweat from his face. Gorramit, where were all the townsfolk? Might be the end of the town but there were still a few houses and such but no one was stirring. If he hadn't lived here all his life he would have thought he was in a ghost town. Something mighty creepifying about folk losing their curiosity all sudden-like. Made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. He glanced down at the unconscious man and wondered what his story was.

Man had obviously been in a mighty bad accident at some time. Most of his gorram face was gone, skin ripped off or maybe burnt off. Whoever had patched him up hadn't taken too much trouble to put him back together. Perhaps the man had viscious old wounds he couldn't see? Might explain his current predicament though somehow he was not convinced. There was something going on here, something odd even for Cheverell. Ellis leaned over the prone man, not knowing if he could hear him or not.

"Don't know what your trouble is friend but if'n ya don't wake up I'm leavin' ya here, *dong ma*? Can't lift ya let alone carry ya."

There was no response. Ellis sighed and straightened. Well. This was a fine mess. Normally he didn't get involved in other folk's business but some instinct was telling him he had to do something, but what? The man was a stranger and a creepy one at that but so far as he could tell the man hadn't hurt anyone or done anything to bring the Sheriff down on him. Ellis paused, his look brightening. Of course, the Sheriff! He knew Richie was back because he'd seen him with his own eyes. Well, he would just go see the man and drop this little problem into his well paid lap. It was about time the man did something to earn his gorram pay.

* * * * *

Lincoln James Petrie was a man used to getting his own way. He had spent a lifetime ensuring that he would always end up on the winning side. Morality mattered not only succeeding and he had learnt that the coin of betrayal was not always an equivalent of cashy money. Sometimes it was expertise. Secrets. Knowledge. Ephermal things that could not be weighed or quantified, and those he had amassed from locations and sources as varied as the imagination itself. His one guiding star had fed his passion, the master he still followed beyond the grave watched over him and demanded all in the pursuit of perfection. Purity of execution in place of intention. Into that black heart he had poured his hopes, his dreams, his fears and all the many rejections lesser beings had sought to impose upon him. It fed his anger and the anger his hate.

It took time for him to calm down, to find that soothing detachment that would distance himself from the emotional turmoil that currently ruled him. Many times in the past that lack of control had robbed him of victory and yet it had been snatched from his hands at the eleventh hour not by his enemy but by the hand of fate. That was what had incensed him so much. Having Malcolm Reynolds in his power only to lose him, the man's heart giving out when he had yet to complete his slow, painful and beautiful deconstruction. The flames burning so hot, so hungry. And now he was robbed of that final satisfying pleasure. How could he savour his triumph now? Petrie took in a deep breath then another, slowly forcing the air into his lungs and then easing it slowly out again. His muscles trembled with the effort to keep calm, to allow ritual to restore order. At last he was able to think more clearly. His hands no longer shook when he reached for his glass. Pure crystal water. Nothing added. He needed to clense his body as well as his mind, to meditate and work out his next move. With Reynolds gone he was left without a satisfactory replacement. The man had cheated him as he had once cheated Adelei Niska.

Petrie almost dropped his glass. *Tamade diyu*, that was it! Was the answer so simple? Trying to contain his excitement he put the glass down and hurried back to his observation room, stopping short when he got there. His eyes widened as he took in the utter destruction. His men had cleaned up every bit of broken glass, all the shattered remnants of work stations and equipment. All painstakingly brushed away and gathered to be disposed of out of sight of their master. Petrie felt bereft, a denatured sorrow and shame momentarily sweeping through him at his own reaction to the unwelcome news of Captain Reynolds' demise. Some of the equipment was irreplaceable and it would mean some projects would need to be started again. From scratch. The nanotechnology was cutting edge and could only be obtained from a single, closely guarded and unstable source. A slow nasty smile manipulated the twisted angles of his face into something dark and foreboding. If high tech was now beyond him, low tech would have to do. Rubbing his hands slowly together, Lincoln James Petrie could almost feel the return of the fire. The heat immolating his failure and transforming it into another opportunity for success. Did not the phoenix rise again, born from the eternal flames?

He had to go back to the beginning. If he hoped to salvage anything at all he did not have a moment to lose. Failure was simply not an option.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*canku* = cruel *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *dang ran* = of course *qu* = yes (lit. go) *dong ma* = understand? *duibuqi* = sorry *mei mei* = little one *daifu* = doctor, a physician *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *wei* = hey! *ni hao ma* = how are you? *bao bei* = precious/treasure *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *wo zhidao* = I know *zhangfu* = husband *dui* = correct *weishenme bu* = why not? *ni juede zenme yang le* = how are you feeling? *touyin* = dizzy *wo juede hen re* = I feel hot *shenme* = what *yunqi* = lucky *tamade diyu* = fucking hell


Sunday, December 12, 2010 7:52 AM


I'd like to see Ritchie get some revenge. >D

Sunday, December 12, 2010 11:10 AM


Always like Mal and 'Nara convos... this one is priceless. I like the fact that Mal still thinks it's nothing much. Man gets almost dead and it's still no big deal. Love it, my friend.

Sunday, December 12, 2010 1:34 PM


Thanks for the shiny feedback, it is much appreciated! Ritchie will get a kind of revenge Bytemite. As for Mal and Inara, Angellemarcs, I always liked how their emotions could turn on a dime with all manner of emotional undercurrents neither will admit to. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Tuesday, December 14, 2010 8:06 AM


Late for the party again, good sense of Mal and Inara in this chapter.

Like Byte says, hope Mal and Ritchie get some resolution (I don't like the word revenge)

post more

Tuesday, December 14, 2010 11:18 AM


You aren't late Platonist, good to have your comments. More to come in a day or so! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Tuesday, December 14, 2010 4:08 PM


OK, so now I am caught up with this storyline and eagerly awaiting more. Your writing is always so vivid, so riveting! Kudos!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010 10:52 AM


Darn school's been keeping me away but I'm catching up ;) Loved the Mal Inara convo, it was totally in character! Got me interested in he coming up with something?

Mighty fine work!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010 2:06 PM


Good to see you slumming and thanks for the feedback. As for Ritchie, Anonym, you are going to see a side of him appear that no one has seen yet. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Thursday, December 16, 2010 7:34 AM


Great chapter! Thoroughly enjoyed the conversation between Mal and Inara!
So, what has Petrie come up with now to torment others with? Can't you just kill him? (I know. Sometimes I sound just like Jayne!) *grin*

Thursday, December 16, 2010 2:47 PM


Neesirie, that is spooky - you DO sound like Jayne but without the grenades! LOL. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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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.