THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 5. "Serendipity"
Monday, January 19, 2015

A smile tugged at his lips then he fell over the lip and into that deep dark abyss where nightmares lived only this time it was empty. A big yawning nothing ready to swallow him up.


TITLE: "SERENDIPITY SERIES: THE DICHOTOMY SERIES CHAPTER: 5. Sequel to "BABY STEPS" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Tracy RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "Malcolm Reynolds has a plan but not nothing goes the way he expects it to."


A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

He was weary, his long lanky frame too lean to be healthy but still strong enough to carry him. It had been a stupid idea but seeing that compound had made him feel that here at least he could hide out for a while, lost among all the clutter in the boatyard. Climbing over the locked gate had been child's play but Jayne had not realised that he had been followed. Or, as he later discovered, hunted. The shot from the sniper's rifle had scared him good and proper but it was one of the folk inside the compound who paid the price, not him. He should have been relieved, instead he felt all manner of guilty. Shouldn't have come here but now he was stuck, at least for the night. Place all locked up and someone looking to get him in their gorram crosshairs. Best to stay put and hide.

* * * * *

The hotel was more hostel than a genteel place to stay. Everything was rough and ready, the rooms the old Lady had hired were spotlessly clean but lacked any refinement. Her carer cast a sharp eye over the place, noted the connecting door from one room to the other. Naturally she had the small bedroom next to this large plain but well appointed one. Looking out of the window she had a good view of the Southern end of the long linear town which wound and stumbled its' way along the banks of the wide muddy river below. They weren't too close though. Her employer wasn't one to get her feet wet even if she had someone paid to dry them afterwards.

"Girl, stop gawkin' out that gorram window an' run me a bath or do I have to stink all day before it occurs to you to do your job?"

She bit her lip, gave a slight nod and got straight to it. No apology fell from her lips though, it was the only wilfulness on her part but truth to tell she did not think the old Lady would notice. In that she was wrong. Her employer missed nothing but for now kept her peace. It was hard to get good service and no amount of money could elevate the crude barely literate populace of a small backward town into producing someone with a lick of sense. No. This one was by far the best paid Companion she had ever had but saying so was a kindness that would never pass those tart lips.

Inara Serra sighed but quietly, her heart aching with the way things had changed so drastically for her family. Her father, the famous diplomat, fallen from grace by backing the wrong side in the War though he did so discreetly. How did they find out? She did not dwell on it, not when every second citizen was a spy. At least that was what her mother said. Of course she could have saved herself the ignominy of having to hire herself out to bitter old ladies without a kind bone in their mean bodies but the alternative would be as bad as selling her soul to the Devil. No. A little humiliation she could handle, legalised rape was not for her no matter how handsomely it paid. Perhaps if the clientele were not so rough, uncouth and downright spiteful towards those that served their needs it would be different. And no one looked up to you when you made your way lying flat on your back.

"That bath ready yet, *nu haizi*?"

Snapping out of her reverie, Inara turned off the tap and tested the water. Liking how the perfumed soap foamed the surface of the water adding a faded glory to the place. Inara kept adding a little cold and checked until she was satisfied it was neither too hot nor too cold. "*Hao le*!"

* * * * *

Zoe huffed as she finished checking Mal over. "Just a scratch, sir. Don't even need stitches."

"What did I tell ya?"

"Just bein' *xiaoxin*, sir. We're very much on our own here."

"Maybehaps we ain't alone as we think."

Zoe stared at him, noting not a hint of humour now in his tone or demeanour. Tracy frowned not picking up on any of the sub-text. "Ya mean Kaylee? She seems sweet enough, Sarge."

Kaylee blushed. "Why thank ya that's a right kindly thing to say."

"Not what I was meanin'." Mal said quietly. Looks were exchanged. Kaylee looked confused but Mal was not looking at her, all his concentration on Zoe, the one person who could read him like a gorram book without even opening the cover. A small nod was enough for him to know his message had been received and understood. Kaylee couldn't quite stifle a yawn. Belly full, a place in the dry and outta the wind and she was ready for bed.

"There's a room through the back ya can sleep, Kaylee. Got a bed an' everythin', just don't except anythin' high end, *dong ma*? No one's been on this boat in a long while, it's like to be covered in dust."

Kaylee gave another yawn then grinned, happy and easily content. "*Xie xie ni*."

Tracy went to say something but at Mal's glare he held tight, no one saying anything until after Kaylee had gone into the back bedroom and closed the door behind her. They could hear her thumping about and coughing, a few curse words muttered as she shook out the bedding and got ready to get some shut eye. Zoe pinned Mal with a look.

"*Shenme shi*, sir?"

Malcolm Reynolds lowered his voice and Zoe and Tracy leaned in closer. "Don't think we're alone."

Zoe wondered whether the wound in his side was maybe troubling him more than the graze on his head. "Think the sniper's gone, sir."

"Not him." Mal paused. "Or her, could be a her. Womenfolk showed in the war they could fight as good as any of the men. No, I mean I been hearin' boards creakin' all sneaky-like."

Tracy grinned, relieved. "Is that all, Sarge? This is an old piece of junk, we'll be lucky if it's still standin' come mornin' let alone worryin' about gettin' it fit to sail in."

"Ya want I can leave ya behind come that happy day."

The grin vanished. "Didn't mean no harm, Sarge, but it ain't in the best condition."

"That as may be but I can still recognise the sound of boots on a wooden deck even when it's as quiet as a gorram mouse."

"You think we have another stowaway, sir?"

"*Bu qu*, I'm thinkin' maybe that sniper ain't outside the compound no more."

* * * *

This was the third establishment he had been chased out of but the first with firearms aimed at him. Sucking in air as he ran wasn't nearly as efficient as he hoped it would be and it seemed his pursuers weren't content just to see him off the premises. Gorramit, he could be seriously injured if he didn't find somewhere to hide or find a way to lose them. Maybe even killed. The thoughts rattling around his brain pan were no comfort plus he had been forced to leave his winnings behind. Money he needed if he was to shake the dust of this *lese* town off his shoes.

As he threaded his way through the narrow winding back alleys along the river bank he could hear curses behind him, a weapon being cocked. Automatically he lowered his head and ran half stooped, the bullet whizzing through the space where his head had been. Yelping with fright he almost missed the grasping hand that yanked him through a half open gate. His forward motion kept him going even after the hand let go and he took a couple of stumbling steps to stop himself running right into the back of a half derelict building. Doubling up to catch his breath, the sound of the gate closing and a lock turning made him straighten, eyes widening as his rescuer closed the distance between them.

Before he could say anything a large hand was clapped around his mouth, his rescuer leaning close to hiss in his ear. "Not a word, *dong ma*?"

Hoban Washburn nodded, wondering if he had just jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire. In silence the two men stared at each other as they heard several people run down the alleyway, shouts turning to angry exchanges as they hunted for their prey but could not find him. Wash opened his mouth but the man shook his head, a clear caution to wait before speaking. The minutes ticked by then they heard the men retrace their steps, their voices warmed with rough humour about how they had taught him a lesson he wouldn't forget in a hurry.

Only once it was clear the men were really gone did Wash say what was foremost on his mind. "*Xie xie ni*, you saved my life."

"Why were those men tryin' to kill you?"

"Kill is puttin' it a bit strongly."

"Son, they were firin' bullets at you an' I can clearly see you aren't armed. What did you do?"

Wash raised his eyebrows. "*Wo buzhidao zuocuo le shi*! I was just playin' card, *dong ma*? Not my fault they were sore losers."

"Were you cheatin'?"

Wash looked scandalised. "It's a game, anyone can play but if you don't know what you're doin' you can lose a lotta money. Not my fault they weren't much good."

"You're a card sharp." It was a statement not a question.

Now that he had calmed down, Wash gave his saviour a closer look. "You never introduced yourself."

Book chuckled. "Neither did you."

"Oh, well my name's Hoban Washburn but don't call me that. I prefer to be called Wash."

He got a smile back. "Name's Book, Derrial Book. I'm a Horse Doctor."

"I don't see any horses."

Book threw back his head and laughed. "I don't have any. I doctor other people's horses when they get sick."

"No offence but I haven't seen a single horse since I've been here."

"Then we can assume they are all fit an' well."

For a moment neither spoke, Wash thinking over what Book had said and not sure any of it made much sense but who was he to judge? "Why did you step in an' save me?"

"You looked like you needed a little help."

"Well, I'm obliged. What happens now?"

Book's eyes seemed to twinkle somewhere deep down, a keen intelligence shining down on Wash as if the man knew much more than he would have supposed, but that wasn't possible, was it? "What do you want to happen?"

Wash rubbed his chin, the rough scruffy beard almost as curly as the hair on his head. "I want my winnin's but I don't think it'd be safe to go back, do you?"

"*Bu qu*, escapin' with your life seems a good exchange."

"You sure talk funny for a Horse Doc."

"How many Horse Doctors have you known?"

"None, but that don't mean you would be typical. Can I ask you a question?" Book nodded. "If there aren't any horses for you to doctor what're you doin' here?"

"Oh, I'm not stayin'."

"You're not?"

"*Bu qu*, I'm just passin' through."

"Where're ya goin'?"

Book's smile was oddly gentle. "I rather think' it's the journey not the destination that's the worthier part."

"You got anythin' against me taggin' along? Don't think I'm welcome round here any more."

* * * * *

There were no more creaking and unexplained sounds that night and slowly Mal, Zoe and Tracy felt themselves start to relax. Mal looked at his two friends. "Maybehaps I was *cuode* but we should take turns keepin' watch."

Zoe nodded. "I'll take first watch but I think we need to change clothes, sir."

"I ain't wearin' a dress, Zoe, not even for you."

Tracy guffawed but Zoe ignored him. "Ain't mine. Woke up to find my britches gone an' this frippery on my back. No sign of my browncoat or pistol neither."

"I ain't complainin'." Tracy cut in, laughter still in his voice as he leered at her.

He got a death glare back. "I can hurt you."

"*Wei*, just givin' ya a compliment, Zoe."

"A compliment is sayin' somethin' I wanna hear, *dong ma*?"

"*Wo dong*, no need to bite my gorram head off."

Mal looked down at what he was wearing. "This ain't mine neither. Apparently I was wearin' it when they took me to the Field Hospital."

Zoe and Tracy both stared at him. A look of concern settled in Zoe's eyes. "You got injured?"

"Just a scratch, no need to fuss."

"Bullet went in, didn't come out."

They spun round trying to see where the new voice had come from. Zoe wished she had her gun. Mal was right, they really weren't alone on this wreck of a boat. There was movement from the shadows, just enough to reveal the slight figure of a girl, more waif like than physical being. Mal stared at her in shocked surprise.

"Where'd you come from? You been followin' me, River?"

Zoe frowned. "You know each other?"

"*Qu*, her brother's the doc that fixed me up. Zoe, this here is River Tam. River, this is Zoe Alleyne an' that grinnin' loon behind her is Tracy."

Tracy wiped his right hand on his trouser leg and held it out, a grin plastered on his amiable face. "Pleased to meet ya, River."

While the two shook hands Zoe glanced around warily. "There anyone else you wanna introduce us to?"

River shook her head. "Simon wouldn't come, he didn't think it was safe."

Zoe narrowed her eyes at the girl. "Then why are you here?"

"I came to warn you. You shouldn't be here. None of you should."

"River, this is my boat, *dong ma*? Bought an' paid for. Gonna fix her up an' make a livin' on the river."

"Trouble will follow you everywhere you go. It isn't safe."

"We can look after ourselves, little one, *dong ma*?"

The girl shook her head, a sad look on her face. "*Ni bu dong*."

"Then best you explain it to us," said Zoe. They were all tired and she had no patience for dealing with cryptic girls who popped up out of nowhere with visions of doom. She reckoned River must be touched in the head.

"You have to leave but it isn't safe."

"You already said that," Tracy cut in "but you haven't said why."

"Gunmen, three. Two snipers and one tracker. The compound is surrounded."

Alarmed, Zoe turned to her Sergeant. "Why were they aimin' at you, sir?"

River spoke before Mal could reply. "They weren't. Thought he was someone else."

"How'd you know so much, River?" Mal asked.

"Was coming to help, to warn you. Saw the snipers so I copied the mice. No one notices the mice."

Tracy blinked. The girl really was *shenjingbing*. River turned her head and pinned him with a look.

"Not crazy. I know things, see what's going to happen but not all the time and not always in time."

Tracy blinked, opened his mouth then shut it again without speaking. What the *diyu* was he supposed to say to that? Mal moved closer to River and lowered his voice. "You know who these snipers are an' why they're here?"

"No names, no pack drill, but they're hunting a man. Think he killed his father but it wasn't him. Doesn't matter, the scaffold's built and it has his name on it."

Mal glanced around warily, wondering what or who else might be hiding in the gorram shadows. "If those men tracked someone here then he's likely in this compound, that what you're sayin'?"

River nodding. "Hiding."

"Gorramit, what I wouldn't give for a gun."

She shook her head. "You won't need it. He isn't armed either."

* * * * *

It was the oddest thing but in her dreams her father and mother still lived only in that happy place home was overflowing with aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces and all manner of kindly folk. What at first seemed like a mad house quickly filled her heart with a warmth that went soul deep and brought tears to her sleeping eyes. There was all sorts of fun things going on, parties at the drop of a gorram hat and not nobody went hungry - ever. Mama cooked the kind of food you would sell your gorram soul for and her daddy was as hale and hearty as he had been thin and sickly in recent memory. None of it tracked but Kaylee couldn't stop thirsting after the dream. Running after the fading figures begging them to stay.

* * * * *

Everyone was so dog tired. Zoe found a place to settle and kept a lump of wood beside her just in case she needed to have some kind of weapon to hand. River watched as Tracy and Mal hunted around for blankets to make impromptu beds on the floor, no one wanting to be separated. Trouble was Tracy snored something fearsome and Mal threatened to do him bodily harm unless he stuffed a sock in it. Tracy huffed but moved into another room, Zoe hiding a smile. River disappeared just as Mal was bedding down, his head coming up in a jerk when he realised the girl was nowhere in sight.

"Zoe, did ya see where River went?"

"*Bu qu* but where's she gonna go? She'll be safe enough."

"What about that killer?"

"River said he didn't do it, sir."

His eyebrows shot up. "An' you believe that?"

Zoe shrugged. "Don't know what to think. Want me to go look for her?"

"Wouldn't hurt. Tell her not to run off next time, *dong ma*?"

"I'll try, no tellin' if she'll listen, sir."

Then he was alone and all the excitement of the day stole over him. Gorramit he was so rutting tired. As he closed his eyes he could just hear the faint sounds of Tracy snoring in the next room. A smile tugged at his lips then he fell over the lip and into that deep dark abyss where nightmares lived only this time it was empty. A big yawning nothing ready to swallow him up. Silent as the gorram grave and twice as deadly. Why did he think that?

Meanwhile Zoe was looking for River, her steps automatically becoming stealthy the better to hear the slightest noise and locate the girl. She had not forgotten how River had snuck into the compound without any of them knowing until she revealed herself to them. That was some feat. Zoe did not want to be surprised again even if the girl was seemingly on their side.

Methodically Zoe searched the ship but there was no sign of River Tam. The only other place she could be was in the compound. Quietly she stepped off the ship, froze when the wood creaked beneath her. Once it was all still and quiet again she began to check out the yard, moving like a shadow between the broken hulks of other vessels and the piles of wood and engine parts that littered the place. Just as she was about to turn and try in another direction a tiny sound caught her ear. With all the grace of a jaguar, Zoe made her way in that direction and was finally rewarded by the sight of River Tam at the locked gate to the compound. River was not trying to open the gate but had her ear to the door as if listening. As Zoe drew close River put a finger to her lips to caution her to be quiet.

Zoe glanced around, wanting a proper weapon. River mouthed the words, "They're tryin' to get in."

Heart thumping, Zoe knew there was no time to rouse the others. She could have called out but that would also alert the gunmen outside the compound.

Back on board the river boat Malcolm Reynolds was dreaming. Everything more than a little off and the distinct feeling that he was missing something important but what? The dark maw he had fallen into turned out to be some kind of deep hole but where it was and what he was doing there was beyond him. Maybehaps he could find some steps or a ladder or somesuch and climb out of there? Carefully he began to search that dark space, his fingers grazing what felt like earthen walls when he felt a sharp prick on his neck. He froze, his eyes springing open and sleep vanishing as a voice growled low and menacingly in his ear.

"Move a muscle an' I'll gut ya, *dong ma*?"

Mal did not dare swallow, the knife so tight against his throat that the slightest move would cut him deep.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin) *nu haizi* = girl *hao le* = ready *xiaoxin* = careful *dong ma* = understand? *xie xie ni* = thank you *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *lese* = crap *wo buzhidao zuocuo le shi* = I didn't realise I was doing anything wrong *cuode* = wrong *wei* = hey! *wo dong* = I understand *qu* = yes (lit. go) *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *shenjingbing* = crazy *diyu* = hell


Monday, January 19, 2015 6:21 PM


I can't wait for the next instalment! You shure can spina yarn, thanks

Monday, January 19, 2015 6:39 PM


So happy you are enjoying the story, Buckshotpilot. Don't worry, lots more to come so hang on to your gorram hat 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.