BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

AMDOBELL

HANDFUL OF STARS: 43. "Lateral Thinking"
Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Dr Greenway thinks he has found the reason for Captain Reynolds' violent headaches. Nelson and Marcus pick Mal up and leave for the pre-arranged rendezvous with Serenity. Meanwhile, Zoe and the crew dodge a bullet of their own."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1349    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "LATERAL THINKING" CHAPTER: 43. Sequel to "THE DEVIL YOU KNOW" SERIES: HANDFUL OF STARS Series AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Simon/Kaylee Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "Dr Greenway thinks he has found the reason for Captain Reynolds' violent headaches. Nelson and Marcus pick Mal up and leave for the pre-arranged rendezvous with Serenity. Meanwhile, Zoe and the crew dodge a bullet of their own." 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.

"LATERAL THINKING"

A "Firefly" Story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

It was something of a gorram relief when the pain meds hit him. The sigh from his lips reflected in the easing of tension on his face. Sheriff Bourne gave a small nod to the doctor as Malcolm Reynolds finally passed out.

"Must'a been in a whole world of pain."

Dr Elias Greenway finished checking his patient's vital signs, pleased to see the man had finally fallen into a sound sleep. It was what his body craved and would help him heal. "Can't say I'm surprised." The doctor parted the Captain's hair just behind the crown to reveal slowly healing scar tissue. "Someone operated on him an' see here? Someone else went back in an' then did a mighty fine job closin' the wound properly."

The Sheriff frowned. "How'd you know it wasn't the same person?"

"A surgeon's handywork is as individual as handwritin'. The original incision was crude, messy. Whoever did it had no care for the man under his or her knife. It's uglier an' longer than it needed to be. The second operation is much neater with care taken to minimise scar tissue an' trauma."

"Why in *diyu* would anyone cut a man's head open?"

The doctor stared at his friend for a moment and noticed Caleb was listening intently. "Don't rightly know what the intention was but there's signs - lessions - indicatin' a degree of manipulation in the cerebal cortex. Put plainly someone was messin' with his brain. The newer surgery appears to be an attempt to correct whatever was done to him."

Sheriff Bourne paled, looking mighty unsettled. "You sayin' Alliance did this to Mal?"

"Well, it wasn't any friend of his."

The Sheriff gave him a sour look. "Now Elias, no need to talk so smart, was just a reasonable question."

Dr Greenway nodded. "Just sayin' is all. This portable scanner don't give as much detail as I'd like but far as I can tell he ain't in any immediate danger but that could change right quick if he moves about too quickly. Seems to be a small shard pressin' here," he indicated the area on the scanner with a pen "an' I'm guessin' that's what's been causin' most of the pain. Probably a fair amount of nausea an' double vision too. Need someone with better facilities an' skills than I got to remove it without causin' more damage."

"Did Mal say anythin' about double vision to you, Caleb?" Asked the Sheriff.

Caleb shook his head. "*Bu qu* but I'm confused."

The Sheriff raised an eyebrow. "How so?"

"Far as I could tell they were usin' sensory deprivation techniques an' I saw some electrodes an' insertions from thin wires but I don't think they cut him open."

His father looked disturbed and exchanged a look with the doctor. Both men wished they weren't thinking what they were thinking. After a minute or two of silence Dr Greenway cleared his throat. "How many times has this friend of yours been tortured Sam?"

The Sheriff shrugged awkwardly. "*Wo bu zhidao* an' he isn't exactly my friend."

Dr Greenway looked surprised then gave a crooked smile as he began to pack up his medical equipment. "Huh, seems you've gone to a lot of gorram effort for someone who ain't a friend." "Didn't say he wasn't a friend." Said the Sheriff a mite irritably.

The doctor smiled. Hah. Caught him! But good friend that he was he didn't gloat. Glad he could at least do something to end the Captain's misery. It would have to be left to more adept hands than his to do the rest. "You say his friends are comin'?"

"Yeah, should be here in the next couple of hours, *weishenme*?"

"I'd suggest they get him under better scannin' equipment, Sam, *mashang*. That shard needs removin' as soon as possible. They'll also need to make sure there ain't any more of 'em, *dong ma*?"

The Sheriff nodded and showed his friend out, thanking him for coming so quickly and helping out. The doctor waved away his thanks and said he had been happy to help. He promised to look in and check on the Captain before his friends arrived to pick him up, make sure he was good to travel. Caleb listened to the murmur of their voices and stared down at the sleeping Captain. Truly amazed at just how much trouble one man could get himself into.

* * * * *

Captain Trevellyan regained his composure quickly but he was still baffled. Knew without having to check that the Firefly was not an armed vessel which meant they either didn't recogognise the Enforcer as a Class III pursuit vessel or the crew of Serenity were even stupidier than the Alliance would have him believe. Neither possibility sounded quite right though. He was looking forward to taking the ship apart piece by piece and discovering all its' secrets. Then, if he didn't get the answers he wanted, he would blow the ugly little tub into so many pieces it would be practically vaporised.

"*Shifu*, the ship is hailin' us."

Trevellyan straightened and clasped his hands behind his back. He had to give them kudos for courage however misplaced it was. "Put them through, audio and video."

"Yes, sir!"

The image on the screen did not match what Trevellyan was expecting. Why was there a Preacher on Serenity's bridge?

"Captain, allow me to identify myself. My name is Shepherd Book and this is the Firefly mid-bulk transport ship Serenity..."

"I know the name of this vessel, father. If I may ask, what are you doing on a smuggler's ship?"

Book managed to look back in mild admonishment while appearing wise and kindly. Wash had no idea how he pulled that off but was happy to stay out of pick up range and let him get on with it. After all, this was Book's crazy idea not his. "If you recognise the ship, Captain, then you are aware this is Captain Reynolds' vessel?"

Trevellyan nodded. "I am. You will cut engines now and prepare to be boarded!"

Before Book could say anything in return communications were cut. Wash felt the contents of his stomach sour. "Guess he's not much for small talk."

Zoe turned angry eyes on River. "This is a bad idea, we should'a run."

She shook her head. "Can't. Besides, Book has an idea."

Although he had not had time to outline what he was thinking to the crew, River had been able to follow the Shepherd's train of thought and, with a little unobstrusive tweak or two, approved the plan. It might be ad-hoc but they had already surprised their pursuers once, time to do it again.

Simon looked worried. "What about us? We know they've stepped up their search for River and as far as I know there are still warrants on us both."

"Best hide, *mashang*."

River shook her head. "*Ni bu dong*, it won't do any good. Better to hide in plain sight."

Zoe tried to tamp down her irritation, now was not the time for the girl to be difficult. "River, the only reason me an' the Cap'n got took an' tortued was because they were lookin' for you, *dong ma*?"

The truth pierced her but she could not let it blind her. "*Wo zhidao* but this isn't them."

"*Shenme*?" Wash blinked stupidly. "Did I miss a whole lifetime where the Alliance weren't the bad guys?"

Everyone ignored him. Zoe closed the short distance to River and leaned in close. "We don't have time for this, River."

"Let Shepherd Book do the talking."

"What do you think Book can do or say that will make any difference?"

To her surprise River's smile lit up her face, the incongruity of it throwing Zoe a mite off balance. It was more than creepifying. The Shepherd spoke up quickly as the sound of a vessel docking resounded throughout the ship. "I'd best go an' meet them."

River went to follow but Zoe blocked her. "Not you. If this doesn't go well little one you need to be ready to hide, *dong ma*? An' I won't be takin' any other answer but 'yes."

The girl nodded and watched as Zoe gave Simon a look which clearly meant for him to see it to that River did just that. Not that Simon could do much if she really made up her mind to disobey. Kaylee didn't know what to do, whether to stay with them up on the bridge, go and get Serenity ready to give all she had for a quick get-away if Wash asked for it or follow Book and Zoe. In the end her curiosity got the better of her and she tagged along, relieved to see that Jayne was on the catwalk with Vera loaded. Jayne gave Zoe a nod but held back, picking a position from which he could keep the boarding party in sight just in case things went straight to *diyu*.

* * * * *

Portree Nelson and his men landed on Paradisio about the same time as Marcus was dropped off. They had quite the little welcoming committee. Sheriff Bourne made quick introductions and whisked them away from prying eyes before they could ply him with questions. As soon as they reached the goal house he took them through to a warm and surprisingly cosy little kitchen. Marcus frowned, he had been expecting to see Captain Reynolds. Instead, a tall thin man unfolded himself from the worn armchair. The Sheriff introduced him.

"This is Doc Greenway. I asked him to check on Cap'n Reynolds. He was havin' headaches an' such."

Marcus looked alarmed. "Is Mal alright?"

The Sheriff deferred to the doctor. "He will be but first he needs surgery. There seems to be a shard of some kind in his brainpan, can't tell if it's the only one but it's applyin' pressure an' is likely the cause of the gorram headaches. Probably some double vision an' nausea too. Don't have the equipment to tell if'n there're any more, if there are an' they're smaller my scanner won't pick 'em up. I understand he's got a shiny doc on his ship, *dui*?"

Portree Nelson nodded warily. "*Qu* but we thought it too dangerous for them to come get him. Serenity is high on Alliance radar right now. We don't have a doc ourselves but it shouldn't be more'n a day 'til we meet up with 'em."

Dr Greenway's face fell a mite but he recovered well. The thought of leaving things as they were for another twenty four hours before the Captain could have surgery did not sit well with him and meanwhile the man would need to be kept calm, probably sedated, until they got him back to his ship. "Then best I come with you."

"*Shenme*?" Marcus was not sure he was hearing right. "No need for that doc, once we pick Mal up we'll rendezvous with his crew an' let their doc handle it."

"I'd be happier if the Cap'n was under medical observation 'til then plus I'll wanna speak with Serenity's doc an' I can't do that here."

Marcus looked at the Sheriff. "What's goin' on?"

Dr Greenway explained that the shard should have been picked up by Serenity's doctor. He had known from the quality of the sutures that the man was skilled in his craft so the only reason he could think for the object not being discovered on the ship's medical scanner was that it must have moved. If it was shifting there were a number of worrying possibilities that he did not trouble to point out. Why worry folk further when the worst might not happen? It took a few minutes to bring them up to speed, Marcus feeling the blood drain from his face. Nelson looked confused. Who the *diyu* would do such a thing? Alliance were obvious suspects for the torture and so forth but operating inside a man's skull? What was the ruttin' point of that?

They stopped long enough to break their fast, Caleb rustling up some rough fare and hot mugs of strong sweet tea. Dr Greenway decided it would be better to wake the Captain. Just had to make sure the man didn't move around too much. Carrying the man out on a stretcher would raise too much attention.

"He'll be a mite groggy but can go back to sleep on your ship." That said, the doctor excused himself.

Once he was gone, Caleb noticed the underlying tension in Nelson and his men and the way Marcus would cut his friend a worried look when he thought no one else was watching. He cleared his throat gently as the plates were stacked and put in the sink. "Are you expectin' trouble?"

It was almost funny watching the two men try to pretend anything but. Caleb resisted the temptation to grin. The stituation wasn't funny but he had been told more than once that he had an 'inappropriate sense of humour', whatever one of those was. Still, he didn't want to rub anyone up the wrong way. Not unless they were Alliance *hundan*.

"Not expectin' it," said Nelson gruffly "but we'll be ready just in case."

"Then maybe I should come too."

Everyone stared at him. Sheriff Bourne gave his son a very unhappy look. "Caleb, let them take care of things now. You done a good job gettin' Reynolds' out of that complex."

"They might need another gun, *fuqin*."

Marcus butted in quickly, seeing the Sheriff looked to be getting upset. "*Xie xie*, Caleb, but that won't be necessary. We've got more than enough men on the ship an' we won't be contactin' Serenity direct so there'll be nothin' to connect us to them."

Caleb didn't look convinced but Nelson agreed with Marcus and the Sheriff was mighty relieved when his son at last gave a reluctant nod. Dr Greenway returned with a groggy but conscious Captain. Malcolm Reynolds thanked the Sheriff and his son before being herded away to Nelson's ship. Marcus hung back a moment to add his sincere thanks. Caleb surprised him by putting a hand on Marcus's arm as he turned to go. "*Xiaoxin*, Marcus. That facility was very high tech an' while I was in there I was sure we were bein' monitored."

Marcus looked alarmed. "Then how did you...?"

White teeth flashed as he smiled. "I used some tech of my own, let's just say we were lucky to get out. What I'm sayin' is you can be sure they will be huntin' for Mal an' Zoe with everythin' they've got. Don't just be ordinary careful, be paranoid, *dong ma*?"

Marcus stared at him, for a moment tempted to change his mind and let the young man come with them after all but he had the Sheriff to consider as well and it had been abundantly obvious how much the man wanted to keep his son away from any further Alliance or Blue Sun entanglements. And yet Caleb, like himself, had connections to their mutual friend Mr Universe and while he had spoken to Caleb several times before this was the first time he had met the man in the flesh. Was it possible Caleb might know something they would otherwise miss? The man was full grown after all. It took Marcus only a second to make a decision. "You still think you could help if you came along?"

Caleb nodded, his eyes sparking not in excitement but determination. "*Qu*."

The Sheriff was not a happy man. "Son, this isn't your fight."

"*Wo zhidao* but I want to do this. You always taught me it's not just about doin' what you want to do in life but for the right reasons. This feels right, *fuqin*."

It was hard and Sheriff Bourne couldn't deny that the boy was big enough and ugly enough to know his own mind but it still hurt knowing he would be likely heading into danger. He liked Malcolm Reynolds well enough but not enough to trade his only son. And there was the rub. It wasn't his decision any more and he had to respect that. He gave a nod, unable to speak in case his gorram voice broke. What he wanted to say was in his eyes though. Caleb smiled gently, an unspoken promise that he would be careful and that he would come back. For Sheriff Bourne that would have to be enough.

* * * * *

Zoe felt her gut tightening as purplebellies poured onto Serenity. Captain Tevellyan was tall and broad with little bright gimlet eyes. It gave an air of mean spiritedness to an otherwise handsome face. Shepherd Book stepped forward and introduced himself, offering his ident card as he did so. The Captain stared at Book for a moment then snapped his fingers and his lieutenant produced a reader and slotted the card in it. His eyes immediately widened. Trevellyan frowned and the lieutenant handed him the device.

It was funny in an anti-climatic sort of way. Captain Trevellyan did everything but salute the Shepherd. Zoe wondered, was he seeing Book's details or those of the displaced parasite Brooks? She would have given a small fortune to have seen what was on that screen. Book was smoothness personified.

"As soon as I realised there was an Alliance vessel behind us I knew this was my lucky day, Captain."

Trevellyan's eyebrows almost vanished in his hairline. "Anything I can do to help, *shifu*." His thin manicured moustache twitched involuntarily, the only sign that this unexpected turn was not entirely welcome. Most Alliance officers abhored facial hair of any kind thinking it a throwback to the wrong end of the gene pool but he thought it dashing. An affectation preserved to impress the ladies and seeing Inara Serra join Shepherd Book and Serenity's first mate he all but preened in her presence. "In what way can we be of service?"

"We seem to have lost Captain Reynolds."

Trevellyan forgot about Inara's allure, momentarily surprised. He stared at Book in disbelief. "*Milule*?"

"The Captain was captured an' taken to a complex - believed somewhere on Hera - where we think he is being tortured. I was hoping you might be able to provide assistance in recovering him."

He needed to sit down. Really. This was just too fantastical to be really happening. "You realise that Captain Reynolds is not highly regarded in Alliance circles, *shifu*?"

Book nodded. "I do not think it is the Alliance that have incarcerated him."

"*Wo bu dong*."

"I believe it was Blue Sun."

Captain Trevellyan paled. Uh oh. He really wanted nothing to do with this pile of *goushi* but how could he refuse to offer aid to one with such a high Alliance clearance? Within certain circles this man was a legend. "May I be permitted to ask how you know this?"

"I was taken as well." Zoe informed him.

"I am confused. If you and Captain Reynolds were taken to a Blue Sun facility how did you get out?"

Her smile was solid ice. "I was rescued but we couldn't get the Cap'n out."

"And these rescuers..." Trevellyan's voice trailed off, his head turning to the left and right as if he expected the helpful citizens to appear out of the shadows.

"Have gone back to their homes." Said Book smoothly, his manner saying 'subject closed'.

Those little beady eyes narrowed and sharpened but Trevellyan was careful not to call Zoe a liar in front of the Shepherd. After a moment he turned to Book. "I can make some enquiries *shifu* but you must understand, Blue Sun governs its' own operations. Asking questions may bring more attention to this ship and crew than you might wish."

Book appeared to give the advice some serious thought. "Would you be able to get any information for me unofficially? I have contacts of my own who could then do the rest without there havin' to be any 'official' involvement."

The Captain's expression cleared a little, happy to see a way to keep himself and his battle group out of whatever fiasco Serenity's Captain had got himself into. That it included Blue Sun was enough to chill the blood in his veins. They reminded him of dead men walking yet more deadly than any soul living. It creeped him out more than he liked to admit. "I will see what I can do but I can make no promises."

Shepherd Book nodded, his expression grateful. "*Wo dong*, and Captain?"

"Yes, *shifu*?"

"This conversation never happened, *dong ma*? Furthermore you will remove any record of having met up with this ship, is that understood?"

He nodded, already wishing it was actually true. It was not until Captain Trevellyan was back on his ship and speeding away from Serenity that it occurred to him to wonder why the man had not contacted Blue Sun himself. Ah. He must be under deep cover. Trevellyan nodded to himself, had the carrier group expunge all reference to sighting the Firefly and their subsequent rendezvous with it then resumed their original course. Glad that his security level did not require him to mix in the same unlovely circles.

* * * * *

Inara was distraught and trying to hide it. The crew were looking forward to being reunited with their Captain, eager to get him back on board then deep into the Black. Zoe was impatient for news, wanting to know when and where and what was taking Nelson and Marcus so long that they couldn't even rutting well wave. River moved with ethereal grace around them, silent and almost ghostlike with her wispy dress floating around her as she moved, her pale face tilted as if to catch words and sounds that no one else could hear. It would not have surprised Simon if she could but despite asking her several times if she was okay, his sister simply smiled and gazed into the far distance before spinning away and out of his orbit. Kaylee grinned at him.

"*Fang xin*, Simon. River's shiny."

"I wish I knew what she was thinking."

"No, you don't."

He jumped and spun round, frowning at his sister who giggled at him. "That isn't funny, *mei mei*. I was worried about you."

"Always are, even when there's nothing to worry about."

Then she was gone again. Simon sighed and turned to Kaylee. "She's my sister, Kaylee, and half the time I don't understand her."

Kaylee smiled. "On'y half the time?"

"You too?"

She laughed at the small sound of hurt creeping into his voice. He was tired and everyone was making fun of him. Well. Maybe not everyone. Kaylee threaded her arm through his and gave him a kiss before he could say anything else. "Cap'n'll be here soon, Simon. Everythin's gonna be fine, you'll see."

His mood changed, a different kind of worry creeping in. "Zoe said they were put in sensory deprivation chambers."

Kaylee frowned. "What's one'a them?"

"It's a soundproof room. A person is placed inside, sometimes in a tank of water, sometimes strapped to a chair or a bed with all external stimulii removed. The room is pitch black, there is no sound, no sensation of heat or movement. Nothing but silence and emptiness."

"Why would anyone wanna do that? What's the point?"

"It's a kind of psychological torture, Kaylee, but that isn't the worst of it. I asked Zoe and she said they used electrical stimulus and drugs as well. She found herself hallucinating, said it scared her and we both know Zoe doesn't do scared."

"They do that to the Cap'n?"

Simon nodded but did not elaborate. According to Zoe's account he was not treated as kindly as she was. He didn't like to think of what the man might have been put through. Just then Wash's voice rang out over the com, letting them know they had been waved by Mr Universe and all was well. Marcus had picked up the Captain and would meet up with them on Santos. Simon frowned.

"Santos? Why the change?"

Kaylee shrugged, too happy to care. It would be good to have the crew complete again. Zoe hurried up to the bridge and turned anxious eyes on her husband.

"What's goin' on, *bao bei*?"

"*Wo bu zhidao*."

"Did Mr Universe say why we're goin' to Santos?"

"Just said there'd been a slight change in plan."

"An' the Cap'n?"

Wash grinned, finally happy to give some good news. "On his way. Oh, an' Marcus said they'd be bringin' a couple'a guests."

Zoe didn't like the sound of that. "What kind'a guests?"

He shrugged. "Didn't say but Zoe? He did say Marcus wanted us to know there was nothin' to worry about."

Her frown deepened even though she kept her tone light. "Who's worried?"

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*diyu* = hell *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *shifu* = sir *weishenme* = why *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *shenme* = what *dong ma* = understand? *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *wo zhidao* = I know *dui* = correct *qu* = yes (lit. go) *hundan* = bastard *fuqin* = father *xie xie* = thanks *xiaoxin* = careful *milule* = lost *goushi* = crap/dog shit *lese* = crappy *wo dong* = I understand *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *mei mei* = little sister *bao bei* = precious/treasure

COMMENTS

Thursday, September 8, 2011 3:49 AM

EBFIDDLER


Ah, so we get an explanation of the Captain's headaches! I sure hope he gets that medical attention he needs soon. I love how you've written the character of Caleb Bourne and especially enjoyed this section:

"Caleb noticed the underlying tension in Nelson and his men and the way Marcus would cut his friend a worried look when he thought no one else was watching. He cleared his throat gently as the plates were stacked and put in the sink. "Are you expectin' trouble?"

It was almost funny watching the two men try to pretend anything but. Caleb resisted the temptation to grin. The stituation wasn't funny but he had been told more than once that he had an 'inappropriate sense of humour', whatever one of those was."

Like Zoe, I'm wondering just what's on Book's magic Ident Card, is it Book's or Brooks's?

Great work.

Thursday, September 8, 2011 4:25 AM

NUTLUCK


very cool chapter.

Thursday, September 8, 2011 7:10 AM

AMDOBELL


Thank you for the shiny feedback ebfiddler and Nutluck. As for the magic ident card, ebfiddler, you will find out more about it but from a totally unexpected source. I am glad you like how Caleb has been written and yes, Mal is finally going to get some much needed and long awaited relief. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Thursday, September 8, 2011 7:16 AM

BYTEMITE


Ooh, nice way of resolving the Alliance boarding attempt. Well, the good news is, they don't have to personally go after Blue Sun, and they might be able to get some intelligence about what Blue Sun is up to.

Thursday, September 8, 2011 9:35 AM

AMDOBELL


You never know, Bytemite! Thanks for the feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Thursday, September 8, 2011 12:36 PM

MALSDOXY


We know you too well, AliD...I don't think the Captain is going to have an easy time of it even after he's reunited with the crew...captivating chapter, as ever

Thursday, September 8, 2011 12:52 PM

AMDOBELL


I could swear I heard you chuckling as you wrote that, MalsDoxy. Let's just say it's how you get there that's the worthier part. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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