THE REFLECTION SERIES: 24. "Waking Nightmares"
Friday, December 10, 2004

"*Shi* discovers exactly what happened to Chung-li. The Captain tells Rafe about his friend. Everyone wants to go back to rescue those left behind."



SUMMARY: "*Shi* discovers exactly what happened to Chung-li. The Captain tells Rafe about his friend. Everyone wants to go back to rescue those left behind." 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.


A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Horror upon horror assailed the stunted pain of a breath held too long. Frozen in place it took precious moments for his limbs to remember how to function. Reavers! He could not believe he was face to face with the darkest nightmares that ever lived and breathed. No matter that until that moment he had believed them to be no more than the twisted figments of an overactive imagination.

The creature opened its' ragged bloody maw and bellowed something incomprehensible at him. *Shi* shuddered and carefully took a slow step back, mindful of the bloody fragments of flesh and bone making the deck slippery beneath his feet. The reaver did not immediately follow and for one wonderful, glorious moment of relief, he thought it was going to let him go. Perhaps it had eaten enough, was sated and not interested in desert? Then the clamour of others closing in told their own sickening story. The reaver had not been trying to communicate. At least not with him. It had been calling the others to come and feed.

* * * * *

It was dark, shadowy and pretty near invisible not just to sensors but to the naked eye. It moved when they moved. A shadow among the unbroken shadows of the Black. Patient it waited, uncaring of the passage of a single minute or a thousand hours.

* * * * *

Dr Simon Tam sighed and straightened his aching back. The row upon row of rescued slaves were nearly all sleeping now. The hold crammed with people aged from seven to seventy and in all kinds of physical condition. He was more relieved than he could put into words that none had died. Knew that was due to his expertise as well as the prisoners being reached 'in the nick of time'. A voice behind him caused Simon to turn. Surprised to find the Companion still up. "Inara, I thought you would have retired for the night."

She gave a little smile, her look part sympathy and part affection. "There is no night in the Black, Simon." He chuckled softly. A brief truncated glimpse of humour that fled the moment his brain caught up with what he was thinking. "Still, you should sleep." He almost added *while you can* then mentally shook himself. His sister must be rubbing off on him. Speaking of which... "Have you seen River?"

"She's with the Captain." His eyebrows rose. Mildly surprised though nothing his sister did should surprise him. Funnily enough no matter how grim or stubborn the Captain got it did not seem to put River off. As if she knew it was just a hard protective shell, not the man beneath. He was tired, that was it. "Go to bed, Inara."

"What about you? I could watch over them for a while."

"That's not necessary thanks besides they're sleeping peacefully. At least, most of them are. They know to hit the com if any of them need me."

She was about to turn and leave when she noticed he was not falling in step beside her. Instead he was heading in the opposite direction towards the hatchway connecting them to Serenity. "Simon?"

"I... I just want to check on River before getting some rest."

"Are your quarters...?" She wanted to ask if the accommodations aboard the Goose were adequate but didn't know how best to frame the question.

"It's alright Inara. I think River would rather stay aboard Serenity."

Once he spoke she knew he was right. The Companion nodded, turned and made a graceful exit. Simon watched her go, not actually thinking about her any more, his mind turning blank. Too tired to think. A voice intruded softly on his thoughts. "Have to go forward, can't go back."

He smiled then turned to face her. "River! I was just coming to look for you."

"*Wo zhidao*."

"You should be sleeping."

She shook her head. "Can't. *Zhe buzhenzhengque zai hen tuo*. Too crowded."

Immediately his look turned to one of concern, hands reaching for her, eyes searching her own with care and a doctor's need to know that all was well. "I could give you something..."

"Wouldn't work. Just chemicals telling the body lies to make it sleep. It's not a light switch, Simon. Can't just turn it off and on."

"I know, *mei mei*." He soothed. And he did know. He just wished sometimes he didn't. That life could be as uncomplicated and vacuous as it had been growing up on the Tam Estate. But even that fantasy was not really what he wanted. Not any more. He couldn't put the genie back in the bottle, couldn't pretend he didn't know. Simon knew he had to move forward, River was right. But if the past had no closure how could he?

* * * * *

Rafe Connor was shocked. The man was a walking wreck. Not an accident waiting to happen but the twisted and tragic aftermath. He felt his heart go out to the Counsellor. "What if no one did this to him?" He said quietly.

Tollan raised a face pale with trauma and inconsolable grief. He and Rafe were the only ones on the bridge. Fever bright eyes stared at Rafe for a moment as if he did not know the man. The look in his eyes chilled Rafe but he wouldn't look away. The man had single handedly saved his gorram ranch from the foul slimey clutches of Cyrus White and that wasn't nothing. Debt like that couldn't be repaid with a simple 'thank you'. "It was poison." Tollan said in a dull voice.

The rancher kept eye contact and hid his surprise. "What type of poison?"

He blinked. "*Shenme*?"

"What type? If you say your friend was poisoned then you must know which poison. No room for doubt."

Michael Tollan frowned. What in the nine hells did it matter *which* poison the killer had used? Dead was dead. "*Wo bu zhidao, weishenme?*."

Rafe shrugged. "No reason just if ya don't know which poison killed him then maybe you don't know as much as ya think."

As the Counsellor began to frown Rafe continued speaking, his voice mild, his attitude calm and non-confrontational.

"Sometimes we get an idea stuck in our heads an' not a gorram thing in the 'verse'll shift it. Could be you got somethin' stuck in your mind."

"I'm not making this up." He said tightly.

"*Wo zhidao*, it's just that grief does strange things to a man."

"Inara said he'd been poisoned."

That silenced Rafe. The admission stunning him. It took him a moment or two to find his voice. "How does she know that?"

"Chung-li told her."

"*Wo bu dong*."

"Inara was worried that nothing anyone did appeared to help Thomas. Chung-li offered to take a look at him. Said he had some small medical skill which he would willingly place at her disposal." A sad smile drifted across Tollan's lips. The pain of it hurt Rafe to see. "He spotted the signs, alerted Inara, warned her to keep a sharp eye on him then the Captain announced his plan to board the forty-four and Chung-li was determined to go with him. You know the rest."

Rafe hung his head, his heart sorrowing. He still could not believe that his childhood friend was gone. Once he discovered the Captain was conscious he had gone to see him. Mal insisted on having some time alone with him, time which Serenity's doctor seemed reluctant to allow but seeing the determined look on the Captain's face he had relented. That was when Mal had told him. Secretly Rafe kept hoping the Captain was wrong but in his heart he knew he was just deluding himself. Looking at Counsellor Tollan he realised he might not be the only one. He wished he could do something but nothing in the 'verse could bring back the dead. He sighed. Why was it that every way he turned he was confronted with pain? If not his own then that of others. The 'verse was mocking him and he did not find it funny. He looked up and fixed firm and determined eyes on his grieving host.

"It's not over yet, Mr Tollan. There are other slaves still incarcerated on that hell hole of a ship an' we're goin' back for 'em."

Tollan nodded, his mind already drifting away from the conversation. Hardly aware when Rafe left the bridge. The Counsellor stared out at the black and felt it slowly slip and slide into the hollow of his soul. His own emptiness reflected back at him as the dark filled him, his grief swallowed up in a numbness so huge he was unaware that it was slowly destroying him from the inside out.

* * * * *

Strange how good it felt to be back on Serenity. *Home*. Simon smiled to himself as he made his way to the infirmary, River almost floating ahead just in front of him, like some heavenly sprite to guide him on his way. The doctor shook his head and resisted the urge to laugh. He was simply tired. It was making him all kinds of fanciful. His mood became more sombre when he stepped into the infirmary and looked across at his patient. As interesting as the medical challenges were he would be happy if just once the Captain would come back unscathed. If only for the novelty value.

"Doesn't do it on purpose." A soft voice hushed next to his ear.

Simon gave her a mild look of reproof. "River, how many times have I told you not to go sneaking up on me like that?"

"Wasn't sneaking, you were lost in thought. Didn't hear me."

He did not correct her, she was probably right anyway.

"Always am."

Her smug response to the thought made him smile. A murmur from the bed told him his patient was beginning to wake. Simon checked the Captain over carefully, pleased to see that the shoulder wound was starting to knit and had stopped bleeding. His face was still a painful patchwork. A few more weeks and all the visible hurts would be pretty much mended, he did not want to take a guess at how long it would take the internal wounds to heal. The Captain opened his eyes and stared at Simon.

"If you're here I must still be in the infirmary."

"Yes, Captain, you are."

The Captain closed his eyes again as if the effort of opening them had drained all his strength. River peered down at him. "Doesn't want to wake up, doesn't want it to be real."

Simon gave her a gentle cautioning look, his voice not whispered but quiet. "The Captain needs to sleep."

She shook her head. "No, he needs to heal." Her voice was soft, thoughtful. She watched as the Captain opened his eyes and stared straight up at her.

"What you doin' here, River? Should be sleepin' your own self."

"Even when they're gone they're always with you." She said softly.

Mal felt a cold shudder go through him.

"They won't hurt you. Only the living can do that."

"Well, creepifyin' as that is it's good to know." He cut her a wary glance. More awake with every passing moment. "You sure doc didn't fill you with my medication?"

She laughed. A bright happy sound that sang in the air as she tossed her dark hair back. The Captain watched as it sprayed out like a fan and enjoyed the sight of her momentarily free of care. Course, such a thing could never last. This being River and all.

"Captain, you really should rest." Said Simon.

Mal snorted. "I been restin'. Like to go crazy layin' on my back another minute."

There was a vaguely huffy sound from Simon. "It's called Recovery."

"Yeah, well I'm all kinds of recovered doc an' what I need can't be found in here."

Simon frowned not understanding what he meant for a moment then realised the Captain was trying to sit up. "Where do you think you're going?"

"My bunk." The Captain paused, he realised he needed a little help to sit and it just wasn't happening. "You think you could stop disapprovin' long enough to help me up?" Simon crossed his arms over his chest. "I am not going to become complicit in your own stupidity."

Before the Captain could launch into reasons why opposing his will would be a very bad thing to do he heard the sound of someone running on the stairs. "What the gorram...?"

River didn't need to look to know who it was. "Jayne."

"Jayne!" Bellowed the Captain causing the thundering steps to falter then backtrack.

Jayne's head popped through the doorway. His face was animated and flushed. "Yeah?"

"Get in here an' tell me what the *diyu* you're doin' runnin' like the hounds a' hell're after you."

"Ain't got time Mal, gotta go. Gotta help Rafe."

"Go? Go where? An' why the good gorram did no one tell me what was goin' on?"

"You was out of it Cap but we got it covered. We're goin' back to the forty-four, gonna kick us some Alliance ass an' bring back the rest of them slaves then blow that gorram piece of *fei hua* outta the sky!"

Alarm quickly spread over the Captain's face. He felt sick. River helped him to sit, carefully ignoring the glare on her brother's face. "Jayne, listen to me, that is the last thing you gotta do."

The mercenary longed to be off on his feet but defying Mal even when the man was injured was a hard thing to do. "Why's that?"

A look of sorrow darkened the Captain's face. Simon took a step nearer, ready to administer something for the pain if necessary. The Captain shot him a look and Simon froze. Mal looked at Jayne, aware now of the sounds of movement along the catwalk outside and on the stairs indicating that most if not all of his crew were up and about. "It's not safe."

Jayne snorted. "Hell, what is?"

"*Ni bu dong*, Jayne."

"What doesn't he understand?"

The Captain turned to the doorway to find Zoe staring back at him, her expression set in grim unforgiving lines. It was the look of a stone killer. What the gorram had happened while the doc had him drugged up? "I been rememberin'."

Shepherd Book was now peering over Zoe's shoulder and the Captain could hear Kaylee's plaintive voice asking someone - probably Wash - when they were going to make a move. He felt a rush of weariness and a great heavy wave of sorrow filling in the gaps between sleep and waking. Nightmares crouched on the edge of his consciousness where they could mock him and drag him down where nothing light, sweet nor caring could ever touch him. His chest tightened with the kind of panic that made speaking coherently more than an act of will. Simon looked worried and began to fuss over him, River with a hand resting on the Captain's good shoulder watching him keenly as his eyes closed fast on a sudden spike of pain. She turned to look at the others, now able to see Wash and Kaylee because Zoe had stepped right into the infirmary.

"It isn't safe." River repeated the Captain's words only now no one was speaking, mumbling or complaining. All eyes were glued to the creepy girl who often knew more than the rest of them put together. "Nightmares are waking. They opened Pandora's box when they left. A parting gift." Zoe tried to hold back her annoyance, aware on the periphery of her vision that Simon was giving the Captain something for the pain. It had to be bad because he wasn't complaining. "River, we don't have time for twenty questions, *dong ma*?" To her surprise it was the Captain who responded. Still resisting Simon's efforts to get him to lie down. Afraid if he did he would be unable to remain conscious and he couldn't allow that, not when his crew needed him. Not when they were about to do something so monumentally stupid none of them were like to survive it. "Zoe, you gotta tell Rafe not to go."

Her lips compressed into a hard worried line. "Can't do that, sir, they went on ahead."

The Captain looked at her with horror, eyes wide and staring. His reaction worrying her more than his words had done. "Jayne?"

The big man stepped passed Zoe. "Yeah?"

"Help me up."

Simon tried to block the mercenary. With a scowl, Jayne pushed passed him ignoring the doctor's warning that the Captain was not well enough to go anywhere. Shepherd Book wondered what it was the Captain knew that no one else did. "What is it you're not telling us, Captain?"

"Like I said I been rememberin'," Jayne carefully eased the Captain to his feet. All the colour quickly drained out of his face and Mal closed his eyes. Jayne was about to put him back on the bed when the Captain's eyes opened and locked on his. "Don't you dare, Jayne."

Even though he acted hard and uncaring the mercenary did not like the look of the Captain. "Look like you'll collapse the moment I let go."

"Then don't let go."

Just then an alarm sounded and Inara came running into the infirmary, her beautiful face contorted in fear. Shepherd Book tried to calm her down. "Inara, what is it?"

"It's Rafe." The Captain closed his eyes and sagged against Jayne. Simon went to help him get the Captain back to the bed, letting him sit while he got his breath back. Inara calmed a little but the look on her face was not a comforting one. "They found something terrible and they can't get out. Whatever it is has them trapped and..." She broke off, unable to continue. All too aware that Kaylee and River were both listening intently.

Mal took a couple of deep steadying breaths. Relieved that Jayne and Simon had not used his moment of weakness to force him to lie down. They needed something only he could give. Information. "Reavers."

Jayne took a step back and the Captain almost pitched forward off the bed. Simon steadied him and the Shepherd helped settle Mal on the bed, puffing up a couple of pillows so he could sit and stay part of the conversation.

"Ain't goin' nowhere near Reavers." Jayne ground out through gritted teeth.

"Good," Said the Captain. " 'cause that would be my next order."

Kaylee looked frightened but also concerned. "What about Rafe an' his men?"

"Doubt we could reach 'em anyway..."

Her eyes widened on the verge of tears. "But we can't just leave 'em to be butchered, Cap'n."

"Better them than us." Said Jayne.

"Ain't gonna leave 'em, little Kaylee, just ain't gonna lose my crew on a fool's errand."

Inara was watching the Captain closely. "What do you have in mind?"

"Well, if we boarded that ship we'd be outmanned an' outgunned not to mention the next course of whatever gorram meal they're fixin' on an' I got no notion to end up sewed to someone's shirtfront while they gnaw on my bones. No. We can't board that boat."

"Then what're we gonna do?" Asked Wash.

For a moment no one spoke. All eyes fixed firmly on the Captain. "We ain't gonna do what's expected." He looked at his mechanic. "Kaylee, need you to work out a way to fix a line to the forty-four. Preferrably without anyone aboard knowin' we're doin' it."

Zoe's eyes narrowed. "A line?"

"Yeah, somethin' that'll carry oxygen an' such."

Jayne frowned. "What good will that do?"

"We get that line fixed up an' we won't be givin' 'em oxygen, Jayne."

Shepherd Book nodded slowly. "We'll be siphoning theirs out."

"Hell," Said Jayne. "Don't need a line for that. Just fill the gorram thing with holes an' let the atmo do the rest."

"You're not seein' the bigger picture," Said Zoe, her eyes fixed on the Captain. Their eyes met in complete understanding.

"There's folks on that death ship got no part of this nightmare. We do this right we put everybody to sleep, *dong ma*? Just stop short of outright killin'. Then we board, get Rafe an' his people back..."

"An' those slaves, Cap'n." Added Kaylee.

The Captain did not voice his fear that the slaves were already long dead. Best not share that little belief just yet. Kaylee was still thinking all heroic like and he didn't want her hurting more than she was right now. "An' those slaves. Once we get off that ship all as can be saved we set off those charges laid when me an' Chung-li went aboard lookin' for River."

"Always wondered why ya never blew that gorram thing to *diyu* when ya had the chance." Muttered Jayne.

The Captain didn't say anything. He was dead tired and finding it hard to stay conscious. Simon gave Book a nod and they removed the extra pillow and eased him flat on his back so that he could rest properly. This time there was no complaint. The Captain's eyes were closing, too heavy to take the weight of the 'verse any longer. River watched in silence, taking in every word that was said. Inara glanced at River then tuned back into the conversation between the crew.

"Okay," Said Zoe. "How are we gonna do this?"

River gave them all a creepy smile. "I could show you."

Somehow Zoe knew she was going to say that.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*shi* = ten *wo zhidao* = I know *mei mei* = little sister *shenme* = what *zhe buzhenzhengque zai hen tuo* = it's not correct in my head *weishenme* = why *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *diyu* = hell *fei hua* = garbage/rubbish *ni bu dong* = you don't understand


Friday, December 10, 2004 4:15 PM


Hoo-wee! Ain't you the bravest ff author out there, takin' on them Reavers!

Creepy intro, imaginantive yet consistent "fleshing" out of our characters, heroic existentialist cliffhanger: what an arsenal! Bring it on!

Saturday, December 11, 2004 1:46 AM


OK - that was the best chapter yet. The first two fragments were brilliantly chilling and full of foreboding.

Couple of bits I especially liked -
"But even that fantasy was not really what he wanted. Not any more. He couldn't put the genie back in the bottle, couldn't pretend he didn't know." - Because for me that's a major theme in Firefly.

And this:
" Even though he acted hard and uncaring the mercenary did not like the look of the Captain. "Look like you'll collapse the moment I let go."

"Then don't let go.""

had me all choked up. Such a simple way of expressing the characters' mutual need of each other. Lovely.

And finally - Jayne. Again. I love your Jayne. One minute all gung-ho and the next "I ain't going nowhere near Reavers."

Tuesday, December 14, 2004 5:52 AM


Wonderful again! Bringin' Reavers into the story is a nice touch, and it kicks up the suspense a few notches.

I can't wait for more!!


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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.