Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Carefully he merged with the darkness, easily treading quiet and soft not knowing who or what might mark his passing. A man could never be too careful especially when there was a noose with your name on it.


TITLE: "BABY STEPS" SERIES: THE DICHOTOMY SERIES CHAPTER: 4. Sequel to "NEW START" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Tracy RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "Things are beginning to look up for Malcolm Reynolds. Zoe and Tracy plan to catch fish and Jayne is more confused than ever when the Horse Doctor disappears."


A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

If Mal had not been with Henson he would have missed the place, night closing in so fast and with no street lights to speak of. There wasn't even a gorram moon just a few fitful stars and a cool breeze. The eatery was right on the waterfront, pale lights only visible through the windows when you got right up close. He figured they didn't pay much mind about keeping the windows clean, maybehaps they thought an extra layer or two of dust and dirt would make the place warmer.

"You sure this place is open?"

Henson laughed. "Sally don't close, she just locks the door when she runs outta customers."

Mal chuckled. "Like the sound of this place already."

When they got to the door, Henson gave the lock a tap then pressed up and did something complicated with his wrist. The door swung open as if the hinges were oiled. Henson grinned at Mal's expression. "What can I say? I got magic hands."

As they stepped through into the dipped lights of the eatery, a husky female voice cut in on their conversation. "That better be you Lyall or some stranger's gonna get a new hole in his head."

"Calm down, sister. That any way to treat someone bringin' ya a new customer?"

The lights brightened and Mal saw a busty lady in her mid forties holding a shotgun as if she knew how to use it. Gorramit, didn't Henson say the place was always open?

"Sally, put that thing down. Least 'til he's paid for his meal, *dong ma*?"

Sally lowered the gun but didn't put it away. "We're closed."

"Door was open. Lights still on."

"You know I dip 'em when I'm closin' up, an' don't think I don't know that trick ya do with the catch."

Mal looked from one to the other. He really didn't want any trouble, hungry as he was. "If you're closed I can come back tomorrow, ma'am, when you're open."

Her expression lifted. "Well ain't ya the polite one?" Sally paused, gave her brother in law a glare then put the shotgun behind the counter. "Reckon I could rustle ya up some food, what ya wantin'?"

"Anythin' that ain't all vegetables an' has meat on it, ma'am."

Her chuckle was deep and throaty. "I can hear your gorram stomach rumblin' from way over here. Sit yourself down, *fengmi*. Still got a couple'a steaks an' some meat pie. Won't take long to put a meal together. You want gravy with that?"

When the meal came it was massive. Mal stared at it then looked up into Sally's expectant face. "Think I might just have fallen in love!"

Her laughter rang from the rafters. "Just eat, holler if you're still hungry an' I'll bring out my special apple pie."

Henson watched his sister in law sashay back into the kitchen leaving the two men alone. Mal was already cutting and shovelling food into his mouth like it was going out of fashion. "Ya got some charm, mister. Ain't never seen nobody turn a smile on her face so quick."

He got no reply. When it came to the serious business of eating, Malcolm Reynolds' only method of speech was a nod. Gorramit he was hungry enough to strip the flesh off a live cow. Henson whistled as he watched him.

"When did ya last eat?"

"Can't remember." Mal mumbled.

Henson shook his head. "Ya really gonna live on that old river boat?"

Mal paused to swallow down what was in his mouth. "It's a place to stay an' I can't afford to buy bed an' board. 'Sides, if I'm on my boat it's easier to work on her."

"Ya really are a *wangu* sumbitch."

Mal gave him a quick grin, not offended in the slightest. "That I am an' I will get that boat fixed up, you'll see."

"I believe ya. Never thought I'd be sayin' that about that old wreck but ya seem the type to have the determination to do anythin' he gorram sets his mind to. It'll be good to see her sail again."

As Mal cleared his plate he gave Henson a sidelong look. "When that big day comes, I'll be lookin' to take folk up an' down the river. Payin' cargo too if there's anythin' needs haulin'. What I'm sayin' is if that is the case I'll be lookin' for food supplies an' such. Maybe even a right good cook to serve it up if there's one willin'."

Henson stared at him then threw back his head and laughed. He slapped his right hand on his knee and took a moment to get his breath back. "Ya sure don't waste any time, Mal."

"Never know how much ya got of it, truth be told."

The racket brought Sally back from the kitchen, her face flushed from the oven and carrying a hot apple pie on a tray. Full as he was, Mal could feel his mouth watering and stomach aching to make room for the whole glorious thing. Henson turned to Sally, a smile on his face so wide it was a wonder his head didn't split in two when he opened his mouth. "Ya best know Sally, Mal bought that old river boat. Gonna fix her up, sail up an' down the river to ferry the rich folk an' such. Says when he does he'll be needin' to feed 'em, could maybe use a good cook if he could find one willin'."

Sally's eyes grew round as saucers then laughter lines broke out on her face. "Mister, if ya bought that broken down wreck of a boat ya won't be sailin' anywhere for a good long while 'cept to the bottom of the old muddy. I reckon every piece of it needs replacin'."

Mal shook his head, eyes on the pie even as he spoke. "*Bushi*. I been takin' a good long look over her, ma'am. Plenty of places need new timber an' she needs scrubbin' clean from top to bottom but most of her is pretty sound. Nothin' hard work won't fix."

She put her hands on her hips and watched Mal start in on the steaming hot pie. Either the man had an asbestos mouth or he hadn't eaten well in a good long while. She was guessing the latter judging by the way his ribs showed through his shirt. It kind of hurt to see a man so painfully thin though she hid it well. "I'll make ya a deal, Mal. Ya get that river boat sailin' an' I'll come cook for ya, *dong ma*? But if ya don't, if the *lese* pile of *goushi* can't be put to rights ya have to come work for me."

His eyebrows disappeared up into his hairline in shock. "Work for you?"

Sally gave her sweetest smile, a thing that made Mal mighty suspicious of her intentions. Amusement danced in her eyes as if she could read his gorram mind clear as day. "Got a ton of chores need doin', roof that needs someone up on top to keep it watertight an' parts of the back wall that need reinforcin' an such before it falls down. An' if ya get bored there's always the dishes to wash."

At the scandalised look on Mal's face, Henson laughed fit to bust. As he looked at his sister in law they shared a grin and started laughing again. Two peas in a gorram pod. Sally turned back to Mal and noticed the whole pie was gone. The culprit sagged back in his chair as if it was the only way he could accommodate his stomach but Malcolm Reynolds was smiling with deep content and that made her glad. Not nothing better than seeing a man who knew how to appreciate good food. "How much do I owe ya, ma'am?"

"Name's Sally, an' the first meal's for free. If your hard work pays off, Mal, then I'll be lookin' to make a pretty penny off this enterprise of yours."

"Might fall flat on my face." He cautioned her honestly. Didn't want to be promising something that he might not be able to deliver.

Her face softened a mite. "Ya been upfront with me an' I like that. Let's see how it goes, *dong ma*?" Mal nodded. Sally straightened, all business again. "Now, anythin' else you're wantin' before I lock up?"

* * * * *

Night was a welcome relief. Dark and cold as it was the blanket of anonymity it accorded that made Jayne relax for the first time since getting free of that rutting *jianyu*. He frowned, ignoring the first chilly drops of rain falling on his unprotected head. Wondering where that *shenjingbing* Horse Doctor had got to and what his role in all this was. He hadn't believed for a minute that Book had nothing to do with the break out. It was all too convenient for his liking, made Jayne think the man had reasons of his own for wanting him free. Carefully he merged with the darkness, easily treading quiet and soft not knowing who or what might mark his passing. A man could never be too careful especially when there was a noose with your name on it.

* * * * *

Tracy was exhausted, practically dead on his feet but Zoe was tireless. It was one of the things he had always admired about her during the War but now he wished she would ease up, let them find a place to rest for the night. As if hearing his unspoken thoughts Zoe looked over her shoulder at him, saw how he was flagging and stopped. Her eyes were wary and restless, on constant look out for danger.

"It isn't safe, Tracy."

With a sigh the soldier sank to his knees then sat on his rump in the damp grass. "I'm all in, Zo, an' we need to rest."

"*Wo bu zhidao* just don't think this is the place."

The muffled sound of voices silenced them. Zoe crouched down and silently cursed her lack or armament. If she wasn't mistaken the voices were getting nearer and here they were out in the gorram open. Tracy crept back towards a thicket, jerking his head back for Zoe to do the same. She shook her head. The pathetic bush would hardly hide Tracy let alone herself. Besides, his uniform being mostly shades of brown would blend in while her dress was mostly white with little yellow and blue flowers scattered over it in some kind of random pattern. The lacy neck and cuffs were more aggravating that attractive to her mind, wishing she had her britches and the rest of her own clothing. Plus it was thin as an overused dishcloth. Carefully she crouched low enough to hide her profile but not too low that she could not put on a spurt of speed if necessary.

The voices stopped, but yards from where they held their breath. A good natured male was wishing someone luck, his voice kind of rusty but not unkind. They didn't hear the reply but it was obvious the two men were parting company. Zoe gave Tracy a look and the man readied himself. Two against one was better odds that two against two, though with luck they would not need to show themselves. Could be the man would walk on by but to her consternation a slow even tread came closer to where they were trying to blend with the night then stopped.

"Whoever ya are I ain't no threat, *dong ma*? Why don't ya come out an' show yourselves?"

Zoe gasped. Tracy jumped to his feet, his weariness forgotten as Zoe stood up. "Sarge?"

The look on Malcolm Reynolds' face was worth a King's Ransom. Surprise then unmitigated joy lit up his face and though his arms were full Zoe felt his pleasure as firmly as if he had put his gorram arms around her and hugged her. "Zoe, that you?"

"*Qu*, been lookin' for you ever since we woke up in this gorram place."

His voice was cautious now. "We?"

"Got Tracy with me, sir."

Malcolm Reynolds chuckled and stepped into their line of sight, now only a couple of feet away. Grinning like a loon he couldn't seem to stop his tongue running away with him. "Well, ain't this shiny? You find any of the others?"

"No, sir. Just us two."

"Well then, best we make the best of what we got. You hungry?"

Tracy looked at the packages the Sarge was carrying, his nose twitching. "Ain't had a bite since we got here."

"Then c'mon. I got a place we can stay an' food a'plenty. As much as ya can eat."

Zoe fell into step beside him. "You rob a store?"

Mal's laughter was a balm to her soul. A thing she had never thought to hear again after all the horrors they had been through. "*Bu qu*, bought it fair an' square."

Her eyebrows rose. "With what? None of us had any coin between us."

Zoe and Tracy noticed they had been steadily making their way up a gentle bank overlooking the river. Some kind of compound looming out of the darkness ahead of them. "That's the weird thing. Woke up to find myself in a Field Hospital tent an' before you ask Zoe, wasn't one of ours. These clothes were apparently on my back when they found me an' after they fixed me up I left. Checkin' the pockets I found a roll of cashy money, more'n we could make in a gorram month."

"Sir, won't the owner be lookin' for you? Folk have been hung for less."

"That's the creepy part, look at my pocket."

Zoe frowned at him then looked at his chest pocket and saw that the name 'M. Reynolds' was neatly stitched on it. Fear ran through her veins. "Gorramit sir, what in the nine hells is goin' on?"

"*Wo bu zhidao* but how about we get under cover 'fore we discuss this further? Might be all manner of eyes an' ears out here, *dong ma*?"

Zoe and Tracy nodded, even more intrigued when the Sarge used a key to unlock the padlock on the compound. Bursting with questions, Zoe bit down on her need for answers and waited for him to lock up behind them. Confused when Mal walked briskly towards a big old scruffy river boat that had seen much better days.

"Where's the owner, sir?"

She got a smile back. "You're lookin' at him."

Zoe blinked. "This a joke, sir?"

"You can drop the sir, Zoe. War's over."

Tracy felt as out of water as Zoe and not nearly so trusting. "You sure about that, Sarge?"

Malcolm Reynolds frowned at him. "Why'd you ask?"

"Don't turn around but looks like someone's got the drop on us."

Stunned, Mal just stared at Tracy then looked at Zoe. "He's right sir but I don't think we're gonna have much trouble."

He was about to turn around to see what or who they were talking about when a querulous voice shouted a warning. "Don't move a muscle or I'll cave your head in!"

* * * * *

Derrial Book was worried. While he was pleased that Jayne was no longer in that cell awaiting the end of a rope he had no idea how to put everything right. Once his word would have carried weight but this place was not and had never been home. The brief contact he had with Jayne Cobb convinced him it was not the big man's home either. In fact Jayne did not seem to know where he was. While Book was just as baffled in that regard he was more troubled every time he tried to close his eyes. The flashbacks were like disjointed pieces of someone else's worst nightmares and made no sense. Yet bits of them felt familiar but not in a nice reassuring way. Slowly trying to put two and two together didn't help either as he had a feeling he would not recognise whatever picture they formed at the end of it. *Wode ma*, where was this place, how did he get here and why had he been drawn to a man about to be hanged?

* * * * *

"We can't go."

"It's too dangerous to stay, Simon."

Simon Tam stared at his sister. "We're safe here, *mei mei*."

Her look was sad. Not for herself but for him. "It's all an illusion."

"River, we don't know these people. At least here we have a roof over our heads, food to eat and nobody's shooting at us."

"It isn't Home."

Her brother blinked, suddenly realising he could not remember Home. Where it was or what his parents looked like. A frisson of fear ran through him, eyes widening slightly he lowered his voice. The last two patients in the Field Hospital were sleeping but just in case they weren't he did not want anything he said to be reported up the chain of command.

"What do you remember, River?"

Moving closer, River leaned forward until their foreheads almost touched. Her eyes grown large and almost luminous as they locked on his. "Everything. Especially the things they want us to forget."

Simon frowned. "*Shei*?"

"Things are changing, Simon. Timelines dividing. We have to pick the right one if we want to find our way back, *dong ma*?"

"What happens if we don't?"

"We'll be stuck here forever."

* * * * *

The shot came out of nowhere, the packages of various victuals scattered as he fell. Zoe and Tracy automatically dropped to the ground, unable to tell where the attack had come from. Staying down, Zoe carefully wriggled into the shadow of a woodpile but making sure she drew closer to her fallen Sergeant. Malcolm Reynolds lay face down same as them the only difference was he was not moving. Fear gripped her heart and Zoe noticed there was no sign of the ragged girl who had threatened them.

"Tracy," she hissed quietly to the man behind her "do you see where the gorram girl went?"

"*Bu qu*. Who in *diyu* is firin' at us?"

"*Wo bu zhidao* but I aim to find out."

There was no further shot, no sound of anyone moving around at all. Had the gunman gone or was he still in situ, a sniper waiting for another target to fill his crosshairs? Had the Sarge not been hit she would have considered waiting the sumbitch out but Zoe would be damned if she would do nothing while her long time friend lay bleeding and possibly dying no more than a yard or so away from her. Not in all the nine hells would that happen while she lived and breathed.

"Keep an eye out for the sniper, I'm gonna check on the Sarge."

Before she could do so a movement caught her eye. Small and furtive. Zoe squinted and waited. It was the girl. Now that she caught a look at her face she was surprised how young she was. Dirty clothes and muddy face it was hard to make out details but she looked more child than adult. What Zoe had thought to be a weapon turned out to be a length of wood. Right now the girl seemed to have forgotten she was holding it, instead creeping forward on her belly towards Mal. Zoe frowned and wriggled forward. Her movement caught the girl's eye, she froze and looked half scared to rutting death.

"I just wanna see if he's okay, *dong ma*? Didn't mean no harm."

"Who's that firin' at us?"

The girl shook her head. "Don't know but they're probably aimin' at me." "*Weishenme*?"

The girl cast an anxious look around her as she reached Mal, carefully putting the piece of wood down on the ground so Zoe could see. Tentatively she reached out and checked the carotid pulse at Mal's neck then seemed to relax a little, the relief on her face lightening something tight in Zoe's chest. "I ain't supposed to be in here but I got nowhere else to go. I been hidin' in the woodpiles, creepin' out from time to time to get water an' look for food. Usually all I can find are a few scraps at the back of some of the houses but only if I beat the dogs to 'em."

Huh. And Zoe thought she and Tracy were having a bad day. "How long ya been here?"

The girl shrugged. "Dunno, just woke up one day an' here I was."

Zoe gently turned Mal's face to one side and saw that the bullet had grazed his forehead. Well, that was *xingyun*. He would wake with a bitch of a headache but at least he would wake up. "Tracy?"


"Let's get the Sarge over by that boat of his. We're too exposed here."

"Think the sniper's gone, Zoe?"

"You wanna stand up so we can be sure?"

Tracy ducked his head a little. "*Duibuqi*, I wasn't thinkin'."

Between them they got Mal to the river boat by which time he was starting to come round. Zoe pointed to the spilled packages and Tracy gave her a look but she was adamant. "Sarge was talkin' about food, Tracy. Best not waste any of it, *dong ma*?"

The girl's face lit up. "Did you say food?"

Zoe sighed. "Alright, you can share with us if you help Tracy pick everythin' up. It is kind'a your fault."

"I didn't fire at nobody!"

"*Bu qu*, but you did say the sniper was likely aimin' at you or was that a lie?"

Even through the dirt on the girl's face Zoe could see her blush. "I guess I should explain."


While Tracy and the girl gathered up all the bits and pieces Mal had dropped, Zoe helped Mal to his feet and smiled at the look on his face. "You were lucky, sir."

He opened his mouth to chastise her then grinned, too happy to be reunited with his best friend to be annoyed. "What happened?"

"You've been attractin' bullets again, sir."

"I have? Why'd I do that?"

"Can we take this conversation inside?"

He realised that was good thinking, nodded then regretted the movement. Carefully they climbed on board the river boat, Mal pointing out the broken boards and such as he led them inside. Zoe's eyes widened as she saw the extent of the decay and damage to the old boat even though she could see signs that it was under repair.

"You paid money for this, sir? On purpose?"

His glare was ignored. Tracy and the girl followed them in and put all the packages on the big dusty old table. Tracy coughed at the cloud of dust that rose.

"Maybehaps ya should'a dusted the table first."

Mal turned to the speaker, a young girl as grimy as could be but with a flash of pure white as she grinned at him, all unrepentant for nearly hitting him over the head with a piece of wood. "An' who might you be, *nu haizi*?"

"Name's Kaylee, Kaylee Frye."

"Well, Kaylee Frye what're ya doin' on my boat?"

"Never seen ya in the yard before, how'd I know you should be here?"

"I bought her that's how. Paid Mr Henson a pretty price in coin. Your turn."

Kaylee's face fell but turned to concern when Mal winced as he sat down. "You're hurt."

"It's *yiwusuoyou*."

"Ain't talkin' about that scratch on your head. You been favourin' your gorram side."

Zoe blinked. How had she missed that?

Mal sagged a little. "You gonna tell me you're some kind'a doc?"

The girl grinned, her face shining happily though the dirt crusted on it. "I ain't no doc but I know about workin's, ya know? Usually engines, anythin' mechanical. My daddy always said I had natural talent."

Her face fell as she spoke of her father and Mal had an inkling there was a sad story there. "Where are your folks?"

She shook her head, trying not to watch Tracy as he shook the packages and felt them to work out what was inside that he could eat. "They died. Drowned in a rip tide."

"A rip what?" Said Tracy.

"It's an undercurrent." Zoe explained. "The strong ones can tow a man out to sea. Is that what happened, Kaylee?"

The girl nodded, big old tears rolling down her face. Mal shifted awkwardly to get a little nearer to the girl and gently patted her shoulder. Kaylee looked at him, decided he was alright after all, and buried her face in his shirt. Surprised, he looked at Zoe and put an arm around the girl. It pulled on his side some but it was obvious Kaylee was still grieving and he'd had his fill of dead folk. When Kaylee finished sobbing Tracy and Zoe had sorted through the foodstuffs, putting the dry goods to one side, the tinned stuffed over to the right and the pouches of cooked food in the middle. Zoe was staring at Mal with the clearest begging look he had ever seen. Giving a big put upon sigh he waved with his free hand. "Go, help yourselves. Get good an' stuffed but don't blame me if you throw up all through the gorram night."

Kaylee turned to look at Mal. He smiled and gave her a one armed hug. "You too, Kaylee. Not nobody starvin' on my boat, *dong ma*."

"Ya mean it?"

"That I do. An' no pickin', you tuck right in until you can't fit another bite in there."

Kaylee smiled and took a packet of food from Zoe, her hands trembling with excitement and wondering what was inside. "It's still warm."

Mal grinned. "Sally's best gorram pie. You'll taste it an' be sure ya died an' went to Heaven."

The look on Zoe's face as she paused mid bite was a picture. "Sally?"

Mal pointed at the gravy dribbling down Zoe's chin. "Best catch that, you won't wanna be missin' a drop of that gravy Zoe. Just like Mamma used to make."

He settled back and watched Tracy, Zoe and Kaylee demolish the supplies he had brought back from the eatery. Supplies he had planned on lasting the week. Still. Seeing his friends alive and well was more meat for his soul that a body could wish for. For now at least, that was enough.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*dong ma* = understand? *fengmi* = honey *wangu* = stubborn *bushi* = not so *lese* = crap *goushi* = dog shit *jianyu* = prison *shenjingbing* = crazy *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *qu* = yes (lit. go) *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *wode ma* = mother of God *mei mei* = little sister *shei* = who *diyu* = hell *weishenme* = why *xingyun* = lucky *duibuqi* = sorry *houlai* = later *nu haizi* = girl *yiwusuoyou* = nothing


Wednesday, January 14, 2015 1:18 PM


Thank the god's for Kaylee! I doubt the riverboat will break atmo but it will be running in fine order soon enough. I am liking this,thanx

Wednesday, January 14, 2015 1:52 PM


Yes, Kaylee is a Keeper, Buckshotpilot. So happy you are liking the story and thanks for the shiny feedback, 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.