Saturday, April 4, 2015

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.


TITLE: "MASKS" SERIES: THE DICHOTOMY SERIES CHAPTER: 10. Sequel to "ALL THE KING'S MEN" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "Inara has a showdown with Patience. Book is forced to reveal more than he wanted about his presence in the simulation while slowly things build up to a critical mass."

"MASKS" A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Inara took a step back and stared at Patience. The old woman's eyes flashed with barely checked anger. "I said, hand me the gorram gun!"

Shaking her head Inara took another step back, keeping herself and the gun out of reach. Patience paused. "Why so *wangu, nu haiza*? Ain't as if he's anythin' to you."

"I won't let you kill a man in cold blood. Can't you see how badly injured he is?"

"Yeah, an' I'm gonna put an end to his misery."

Inara was about to argue, try to reason with her, but at that moment Patience lunged and made a grab for the gun. The loud sound of the weapon's discharge startled them both. Patience stared at Inara in shock, stumbling back, her mouth dropping open as she looked down. "Oh, *goushi*!"

Horrified, Inara stared at the hole in the woman's belly, blood soaking through her clothing. Inara started to move towards Patience when blue sparks surrounded the woman. Inara froze, what in the nine hells was this? As she stared a bright flash caught her unawares and she closed her eyes. When she opened them again Patience was gone.

* * * * *

"What does she mean, 'old paymasters'?"

"Time to remove the mask." Said River.

Book glanced from Zoe to River then back to Zoe, projecting as much soothing calm into his voice as he was able. His look was kindly and tolerant but Zoe was not taken in. She had seen the flash of panic on his face. What did River know that the rest of them didn't?

"I'm not a Horse Doctor."

"*Women zhidao*." Said River helpfully.

"I'm actually a Preacher."

Zoe blinked, diverted despite her best intentions not to be. "*Shenme*? What's a man of God got to do with any of this??"

"Not a man of the cloth." River corrected, her eyes locked on Book as if to pin him in place. "He carries a bible, says the words but it's not his true faith."

Jayne looked beyond confused. "Then what the *diyu* is he if he ain't that?"

"I am a Shepherd from Southdown Abbey but then no one here is quite what they seem."

Zoe's look hardened. "Think you need to explain, *mashang*."

The Shepherd would have preferred not to have this conversation at all but then no one could predict what River would say or do next. Lyall Henson gave his sister a look and she put on another pot of coffee. Having been reminded how dangerous it would be to remain at the compound they had followed Henson to his sister's eating house and Lyall had quickly turned the Open sign to Closed then locked the door. Sally had given him a questioning look but whatever she saw in his eyes had kept her mouth closed. Whatever was going on she knew it was serious. Tempted to close the curtains Sally decided that might make folk more curious than just having the place closed. If they saw a party of folk inside they would just assume it was some private function.

"For example, you obviously fought in the War." Zoe's eyes narrowed but Book continued. "As did your friends Malcolm Reynolds an' Tracy yet where is your uniform?"

Zoe looked down at herself. The dress was a bit filmy and not something she would normally wear. "This isn't mine."

Book nodded. "What happened to your uniform?"

She frowned at him. "Suppose you tell me?"

"What about the others?"

"What about 'em?"

"Are they wearin' the right uniforms?"

"*Bu qu*. Couldn't find our brown coats either but how d'you know that?"

"I've been watchin', observin'."

Wash had been listening carefully, not wanting to believe that Book was anything other than he proclaimed himself to be but the more the man spoke the more his suspicions were multiplying. "You're a spy!"

The Shepherd sighed. "Not a spy as such, more an interested party. I'm not like you, I entered the simulation voluntarily. You were all inserted without your knowledge."

Zoe felt sick. "You do that?"

"No, but I know who did. While I'm not sure why it appears to be some kind of experiment. One that cannot end well."

"So who you workin' for?" Kaylee asked.

"I'm what you might call an impartial observer."

"That don't make sense." Said Zoe. "If you were impartial you wouldn't be here."

Book stared at Zoe for a minute. "This is going to sound *shenjingbing* but in the future we will meet an' become friends. That future is not goin' to happen if you are locked in this simulation. If you cannot get out none of you will ever go home, *dong ma*?"

Kaylee looked about ready to cry. "You sayin' we're gonna die in here?"

"*Bu qu* though it is a distinct possibility."

Simon Tam had been listening carefully. "You said if we cannot get out none of us will ever go home, what about you?"

River glanced sideways at her brother so she could still watch the Shepherd. "He has a back door."

"Well ain't that shiny?" Growled Jayne angrily. "Suppose you weren't gonna tell us about that?"

* * * * *

Jaimie Ray Fisher was careful. A committed member of the Alliance he seldom troubled himself with the finer points of Alliance policy but working so closely with Blue Sun creeped him out. He kept it hidden, no sense in drawing attention to himself if it could be avoided. He had learnt more about the sallow faced Hands of Blue than he ever wanted to know, the nightmares being the kind of gift that kept on giving. This little operation had seemed tame by comparison, a simple experiment tightly controlled and properly monitored only he had witnessed the way in which methods of torture were refined on subjects whose only crime had been to lose a gorram War.

He watched the monitors and was alarmed to see that they were continuing to diverge. Checking his instrumentation the changes were not that big, hardly noticeable unless you were looking for it. The technician sucked quietly on his teeth and waited, imposing a patience he did not feel in order to allay any suspicion in the man in the sombre black suit. His white shirt was just as crisp and almost the same washed out shade as his gaunt face. There were usually two of them, like underfed and haunting bookends completely devoid of feeling and scary as *diyu*. Only one was with him now, the other having left almost an hour ago. Something was going on as their routine never varied. Jaimie waited and tried not to worry about what it all meant. Another fifteen minutes slipped by then the remaining man left, the thin blue gloves he always wore opening the door with barely a sound. It closed softly behind him leaving Jaimie holding his gorram breath.

He waited another ten minutes, anxious eyes scanning the monitors and then scrolling through the cameras to see where everyone was. Reynolds was still in the sensory deprivation chamber, Tracy was in the bottom of the Pit and Zoe Warren was pacing her cell like an emaciated tiger. He paused and checked one more time, alarmed to see that the divergence was growing. If he was going to do anything it had to be now. He would only get this one chance. Quickly his fingers flew over the keyboard, carefully and incrementally adjusting the controls. No big movements, nothing that would raise a flag. Jaimie just hoped he had time before the men from Blue Sun reappeared.

* * * * *

Everyone stared at the door. Who the good gorram was banging on it like that? Was it the Sheriff demanding to know what had happened to his men? But no, they had already established that the men who attacked them in the compound were not deputies. Henson started towards the door but Zoe stopped him.

"We don't know who it is."

"*Bu qu*, an' we won't know unless I go see."

Anxious looks were exchanged but Henson gave her a curt smile. "Trust me, it'll look worse if I don't answer the gorram door. Might make folks think we got somethin' to hide."

Zoe blinked, looked at the others then gave him a careful nod. She glanced at Jayne who moved to cover one side of the front door while she sidled up to the other, both with weapons drawn. Simon thought it was all a bit over dramatic but couldn't fault them for being careful. For all he knew River and he were wanted in this version of the 'Verse as well.

Lyall opened the door a crack, startled to see a woman of amazing flawless beauty looking ragged and distressed on the other side. Even so, her beauty made his breath catch.

"*Qing*, help me! Do you know where I can find a doctor?"

Startled, he opened the door wider the better to see her. "You *teng*?"

Inara shook her head. "*Bu qu*, but there's a man appeared in my rooms. He's been shot."

Before Lyall could ask her anything else he was gently but firmly pushed aside by Simon Tam, the doctor's expression one of concern. "I'm a doctor, how bad is it?"

Inara could have wept. "I think he's dying."

"I'll just need to get my..." Before he could complete his sentence River appeared and put his medical bag in his hand. Simon paused to smile at his sister. "*Xie xie ni, mei mei*."

River gave her brother a little push. "*Kuai dianr*!"

As Simon nodded and hurried out of the door Shepherd Book turned to Zoe. "I think we need to go as well." It was on the tip on Zoe's tongue to argue but River was nodding and ran out after Simon, Kaylee hot on her heels. With a huff of frustration Zoe nodded and everyone followed in Inara and Simon's wake. If Inara thought it odd she made no comment on it, too worried about the man she had left bleeding and dying in her hotel room.

* * * * *

The dull clatter at first failed to impinge on Tracy's consciousness. Head in his hands he was too busy feeling sorry for himself. It was minutes later when he took his hands away that he saw something catching what little light filtered down from high above. Tracy stared, not sure he was seeing what he was seeing. His eyes now accustomed to the darkness of the Pit he could make out lighter areas and cautiously moved closer to the object glinting back at him. As he did so he gasped in surprise then dropped to his knees and picked up the knife. Where the good gorram had that come from? He shuffled back to look at it more closely and as he did so his knee touched on something cold and metallic. Carefully he eased back and looked down, startled to see a second knife. What in the nine hells was going on? Had he fallen asleep in this hell hole? Surely he was dreaming? Why would anyone be dropping knives down into the Pit?

Tracy carefully searched to make sure there were no more foreign objects but found nothing else. So. What to do. At least he was armed now but that was hardly helpful when he was unable to reach his enemy. He froze, a sudden thought coming into his mind. Staring at the knives he got an idea, crazy but then what in his life wasn't? A slow grin slid over his grimy face. He would use the knives to form footholds to climb out of the Pit. It would be slow work but any chance to escape was worth taking and if he could get out maybehaps he could find and rescue the others too.

* * * * *

As soon as they reached Inara's rooms Simon rushed forward and knelt beside the fallen man, his mouth dropping opening in surprise as he recognised Malcolm Reynolds. 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. A small sharp cry hardly registered then Zoe was kneeling beside him, her face grave with worry and tight with stress. Wash wished he could do something, anything, but right now Simon Tam was the most important man in the room.

Quietly Book shut the door behind them. Kaylee peered anxiously around Wash, worry etched into every line of her face. She noticed Mal's chest was no longer rising and falling, panic gripping her. "He ain't breathin', why ain't he breathin'?"

Simon was already starting chest compressions and instructing Inara on giving mouth to mouth. While he worked he could clearly hear Kaylee sobbing behind him. Without turning his head he tried to reassure her as best he could. "*Fang xin*, Kaylee, he's badly hurt but we should be able to get his heart re-started."

* * * * *

Tracy was so rutting tired. Never thought climbing could be so much hard work but he was weak from lack of food and the bouts of torture plus he had to embed a knife deep enough into the impacted earthen side of the hole so that he could step up onto it without the soil round it crumbling, then balance there while he did the same with the second knife a foot or so higher up. Once on the second knife he had to lean down and remove the first one then embed it a little higher again, on and on to the very top. Despite how weary he was the surge of adrenalin from finding the knives and the chance of a way out spurred him on. Finally the top of the hole was in reach, with a grim smile Tracy put his hands on the lip and prepared to haul himself up and out of his prison when a harsh voice took the last of his hope and crushed it into itty bitty little pieces.

"Where in *diyu* d'ya think you're goin'?"

Tracy stifled a groan and looked up into a face not even a mother could love. The Alliance guard sneered, twisted his already ugly face into something akin to road kill and kicked Tracy in the face sending the exhausted man flying back down the hole. The guard laughed and spat but Tracy was beyond noticing. A world of pain enveloped him as if every bone in his body had been broken before darkness found him.

* * * * *

As Simon and Inara worked on Malcolm Reynolds the rest of them gathered in a solemn ring of worry. Henson wished there was something he could do to help but what could be done was already being accomplished with an expertise and efficiency that was somewhat reassuring. Lyall looked over his shoulder to say something to his sister and noticed a look of horror on her face. Turning back he was just in time to see the air crackle around the prone man, blue sparks flickering and moving outward from where Malcolm Reynolds lay. Alarmed, Lyall stepped back and grabbed his sister's hand, drawing her clear. Suddenly there was a blinding flash of light. Lyall and Sally automatically closed their eyes and tried to shield themselves but when they opened their eyes there was only confusion.

Lyall looked around but he and Sally were the only ones in the room. A room he did not recognise. Bewildered he was unaware that memories that should have been there were no longer in his head. "What're we doin' here, Sal?"

His sister shrugged, as clueless as he was but not suspicious. "*Wo bu zhidao* but we'd better head back. My eatin' house don't run itself."

* * * * *

It took several minutes for Tracy to open his eyes. The first thing he noticed was the anxious look on Zoe's face, their cell beginning to stink as if something very bad had died and was rotting in it with them. One glance was all he needed to confirm they were alone. "Where's the Sarge?"

"In the Hole."

"*Shenme*? That's what, five times now? What're they tryin' to do?"

"Break him."

Tracy shook his head. "Then they don't know the Sarge."

Just then they heard voices approaching and fell silent. Both moved back from the bars of their cell, eyes wary. As the voices drew nearer they heard the Commandant's clipped officious tone but it was the man being pushed ahead of them that made Zoe and Tracy breathe in a sigh of deep relief. Malcolm Reynolds was battered and bruised, a colourful swelling on his face and two black eyes, a split lip and a limp any paraplegic would be proud of but he was alive. Walking and Talking.

The Commandant, Mal and the four guards stopped outside their cell. Commandant Cleary gave Malcolm Reynolds a warning look and for once Mal held his tongue, not wanting to do anything to delay their release. The notion of it was still something that he feared could be snatched away at the whim of their Alliance captors.

"In line with the clemency of the Alliance following the end of the War, you are being given an amnesty but it comes with the following conditions which you will adhere to without exception, *dong ma*?"

All three nodded, not trusting their voices to speak.

"Once you leave this facility you will be given a small sum of coin to enable you to pay for a hot meal and a shower. You will need to find work to earn enough money to then move on to your desired destinations but." He paused to make sure they paid close attention to his next words. "You are exiled from any of the worlds that fought against the Alliance during the War. There are NO exceptions, *ni dongle ma*?"

Malcolm Reynolds wet lips so dry they cracked and bled. His voice came out soft and hoarse, Zoe didn't like to think how much screaming they had wrenched out of him through torture, instead she concentrated on his words. "My folks are on Shadow."

The Commandant shook his head. "That is one of the worlds under interdiction. You are exiled from ever returning on pain of death."

A world of pain and sorrow almost choked the next words before he could utter them. "*Wo bu dong, weishenme*? Why so harsh? You won ain't that enough?"

"Are you a backbirth? Did I not just say that all worlds that stood against us you would be exiled from?"

He swallowed painfully, his eyes meeting briefly with Zoe's. "Can I ask how my family are?"

"For what good it will do you." The Commandant snorted then seemed to relent just a little. "I do not make the rules, Reynolds. If I did none of you would be leaving this place alive. That you are doing so is due entirely to the good will of the Alliance and to celebrate the end of the War. Do not make any of us revisit that decision."

Mal nodded. "*Wo dong*."

Then they were processed and before he could take it all in they found themselves outside the *jianyu* blinking in the bright light of a new day. Pockets of Browncoats were scattered about, some stumbling off in directions seemingly taken at random but all with the intention of putting as much distance between themselves and the place of their cruel incarceration. As they picked a direction, Malcolm Reynolds turned to Zoe and gave her a big smile. She frowned, a look of concern on her face.

"Are you in pain, sir?"

Some of the shine was dulled. "Why would you say that?"

"You're smilin', only I reckon it's more a grimace of pain."

He laughed, Tracy smiling back and enjoying just being out in the fresh air with not an iron bar between them.

"Just happy to be out, Zo, that's all. Ain't you happy?"

Her look and voice were deadpan. "Ecstatic, sir."

Mal and Tracy traded grins then all three increased their steps, the need to be far away only topped by the joy of freedom. They knew that tough times lay ahead but not as hard as those they were leaving behind.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*wangu* = stubborn *nu haizi* = girl *goushi* = crap/dog shit *women zhidao* = we know *shenme* = what *diyu* = hell *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *dong ma* = understand? *qing* = please *teng* = hurt *xie xie ni* = thank you *mei mei* = little sister *kuai dianr* = hurry up! *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *ni dongle ma* = do you understand? *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *weishenme* = why *wo dong* = I understand *jianyu* = prison *shenjingbing* = crazy


Monday, April 6, 2015 3:00 PM


Our Cap'n the ultimate optimist! Thanks

Monday, April 6, 2015 3:09 PM


Yep, gotta admire that sunny disposition even if at times it is might close to suicidal. Thanks for the shiny feedback as always, it is appreciated. 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.