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AMDOBELL

THE REFLECTION SERIES: 25. "One Man's Meat"
Friday, December 17, 2004

"Rivers shows Serenity's crew what to do. The Counsellor is getting more and more unhinged."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1680    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "ONE MAN'S MEAT" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: No specific pairing RATING: PG-13 STATUS: SEQUEL to "WAKING NIGHTMARES" ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: AlisonMDobell@aol.com WEBSITE: http://carlajane.50megs.com/Ali00.html

SUMMARY: "River shows Serenity's crew what to do. The Counsellor is getting more and more unhinged by grief." 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.

"ONE MAN'S MEAT"

A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Zoe listened carefully to River and inwardly marvelled at all that learning crammed into such a fragile vessel. The girl paused mid-sentence. Everybody was in the commons area of Serenity discussing the Captain's barely explained plan. Only the Captain was missing. "Won't break. Might look fragile but I'm like silk. Ounce for ounce stronger than steel."

Zoe's eyes narrowed slightly. They didn't need River drifting off topic, too much was at gorram stake. River nodded slowly at Zoe.

"I won't." She barely paused before continuing. "Kaylee has the line ready, *dui*?" Kaylee nodded. "We have enough chemicals in the infirmary to put everyone on the forty-four to sleep in eighteen minutes and forty-five seconds."

Simon opened his mouth to object but his sister silenced him with a warning glare.

"Necessity is the mother of invention but we are the parents of intervention. Once the gas takes them out we'll have two hours - three at the most - to board the ship, rescue the people, then set the charges as we leave."

"That's not a lot of time, River." Said Wash slowly, thinking of the running from deck to deck and cell to cell, the locating and carrying of unconscious folk and such.

"I ain't goin'." Growled Jayne quietly. "Don't care if the Reavers are asleep or just pretendin'. Ain't gonna be there when they wake up."

"No one's asking you to go," Said the Shepherd.

"The most efficient way is to kill them while they're unconscious. That way we'll have all the time in the 'verse to finish the rescue."

Stunned faces stared at her. Simon opened and closed his mouth in shock, not a single word making it passed his lips.

"That'd be cold blooded murder." Said Wash at last. "An' kinder than anythin' they'd do to us."

Everyone turned round to look at Rafe Connor. The rancher's expression was grim but determined as he joined them. At his back were eight of his crew, every one of them armed to the teeth. Blade stood stocky and solid beside him, over his shoulder they could see Harry making a point of checking the rounds in his sidearm. Many of them wore ammunition belts and all of them wore wicked long knives the like of which not even Zoe had seen before. They were longer than a bowie and slightly curved, the metal thinner and no doubt sharper by the look of it. She noticed Jayne's greedy eyes fixed on Blade's knife. The man blinked back at the mercenary totally unconcerned, his muscles rippling across his back as he shifted slightly. He might not be very tall but he was solid and every inch of him was toned muscle.

"If we're going to do this..." Said Book slowly, his words prompting them.

Zoe nodded. "Let's do it."

"About the whole killin' thing..."

"Not now *zhangfu*. That only counts for people."

"Yeah," Said Jayne starting to feel his blood rise and beginning to change his mind about going. After all, if the gorram Reavers were asleep he'd just make it permanent. "It's not like they're real folk." "Jayne," Book reminded him mildly. "Reavers were men once."

"Ain't men no more." He responded, a spark glinting in his eyes. Seeing the others' determination and watching them get tooled up and ready he realised he didn't want to be left behind. Inwardly his stomach was turning at the thought of what they would be facing but he liked River's plan. Especially the part about making sure those flesh eatin' *chusheng xai-jiao de xiang huo* didn't wake up. It was Simon who sounded a last note of caution even though he would not be amongst those going. Apart from being a poor fighter he was needed on Serenity.

"You appear to have worked out how to put everyone to sleep but what about when you board the forty-four? We don't have enough breather masks for everyone."

River gave him a truly dazzling smile. "Thought of that."

Kaylee explained. "Once the gas has been released we wait ten minutes then vent the atmo. Just enough to clear the gas then we seal it up tight, wait another five minutes for the air to flow clean again."

Simon frowned slightly, still worried but wanting to be reassured. "You've done this before I take it?"

The mechanic smiled brightly at him. "No, but it should work. River did the math I just made sure the line would fit and got the linkage in place."

Simon resisted the urge to shake his head. Crazy. They were all crazy. Their *wangu shenjingbing* Captain was obviously rubbing off on them.

* * * * *

Counsellor Tollan was mortally relieved when Rafe and his men left the Crazy Goose. He knew they would be back to borrow the cloaked shuttle and had no problem with that, it was just comforting to know he would have no interruptions for a couple of minutes. It wouldn't last, nothing ever did, but it should be long enough. He was standing in the little surgery staring down at his friend's ice cold body. The lips had a pale blue cast and Thomas was dressed in his best clothes. For a moment Tollan just stared down at him, hardly being able to believe he was really dead. That he would not see him alive ever again. Not that he didn't believe in karma or the notion of reincarnation he just wished it was an instantaneous thing. Poof, one second you're alive and poof, the next you're reborn. He could have handled that much better than this.

His last wish was that he could have caught up with Carlin Ferris and blown the *wuneug de ren* to Kingdom Come.

Michael Tollan adjusted his collar. He hated formal clothes but was determined to show proper respect to his friend. His companion. His one true love. Gently he leaned down and laid a kiss upon those cold lips, warm tears weeping over cold flesh. "Merciful Bhudda," He murmured softly as he straightened, his eyes not leaving his friend's face. Slowly he raised the pistol to the side of his head, thought about it a moment then changed the angle, now placing the end of the barrel vertically under his chin. The gun adjusted so that the shot would go up through his throat to the back of his head. He didn't want to risk not getting it right first time. "Forgive me, Thomas. I thought I could be brave enough to face this but I can't. If I can't live with you *wode xinzang* I won't live without you."

The shot rang out loud and clear. A pure sound the retort of which echoed so loud it would have made Tollan's ears ring had they still been attached to the rest of his body. As the bullet tore through his throat and up through the top of his head bits of bone and flesh exploded outward in a shower of blood and gore. Bits of brain flying and sticking to whatever surfaces it landed on. The body knocked backward by the kinetic force and the recoil. Dead before he hit the deck. The air momentarily a spray of crimson, the bright droplets falling in seeming slow motion like ruby red rain. As the debris settled an awful hush descended, two tiny pinpricks of red landing on Thomas McCardy's cheeks. Later when Simon and Inara found them, Simon would be struck and haunted by how much it looked like Thomas had been weeping tears of blood. In the sorrowing silence of loss Simon could believe it was true.

* * * * *

Jayne was as wired as he had ever been, his body practically thrumming with tension and anxiety, straining to board the slave ship and get this over with. Anything but the waiting. Rafe Connor was staring at the hatch of the little shuttle. A small advance party were taking the cloaked vessel over to check that the plan had worked. Each of the six crew had breather masks just in case. Once they confirmed it was safe to remove the masks and that everyone on the forty-four had been rendered unconscious, Wash would bring Serenity alongside to dock. With so many people to bring back the little shuttle would be near to useless for the task.

Blade glanced at his *laoban*, worried about the man though not a word of his concern would pass his lips. The man had always treated him fare and he respected his moral code. Losing Chung-li had been a hard blow but now they had lost *Shi* as well and it had to effect the man. Rafe turned his head as if feeling those dark eyes on him. "*Fang xin*, old friend."

The man nodded, his ebony face solemn but calm. Rafe knew he was hurting too, they all were. He glanced at Harry and Ricky, noticed Jayne Cobb looked ready to smash his way through solid gorram steel. Then he saw the Preacher looking straight at him and wondered for the tenth time how Mal had managed to hook such a diverse crew to fly under his banner. He reckoned it had something to do with the man's unyielding sense of honour, the hard and fast friendship of a man who did exactly what he said and gave no quarter to the enemy. Not an easy man but a good one. Tormented by his demons same as the rest of them but knowing the difference between the right and wrong of it down to the very atoms of his DNA. Rafe knew the type, had them settled around his table morning, noon and night. After this was over there would be a couple of places empty. Faces gone but never forgotten. Carried within each and every one of them like the pieces of precious they undoubtedly were.

He thought about Michael Tollan and felt a different kind of sadness tug at his heart. Such a waste of life. A senseless act in a moment of terrible grief. And yet he could understand the why of it only too well. It was always hard to see the way forward when your light had been taken from you. He felt the little shudder as they came alongside the forty-four but waited for confirmation. A single nod and everyone put on their masks and got ready to open the hatch, the hiss of air equalising pressure around their ears with a popping sensation against their ear drums. Then they were moving, fast and focused. Time was of the essence. Two or three hours might sound a lot but they had a lot to cram in. His earpiece crackled and he looked to his left, Jayne Cobb's swear words punctuated with a cry of satisfaction as the big man slid his knife across the throat of the first Reaver he came across. Shepherd Book frowned. Not at the morality of slitting a man's throat while he was asleep - Reaver or not they were still men in his eyes and God's - but at the fact that the Reaver had been so close to the airlock. Coincidence? He sharpened his focus, more alert and wary now. They checked the corridor but found only one other body, this time one of the slaver's presumably. The man would be hard to identify though with his whole face ripped off. He tried not to look at the teeth marks where the throat had been torn out. Imaginning all too vividly the man screaming in his death throes while the Reavers ate his living flesh and drank the fountain of blood from the torn artery as he lay dying.

They moved on swiftly, the same tale repeated over and over again. Rafe was getting more concerned and anxious. There being no sign of either *Shi* or Chung-li. He wanted at the very least to bring the bodies of his friends home, even if all he could find was the soles of their gorram feet. Those feet would rest on Glory's soil not a nightmare hell like this.

* * * * *

Simon Tam was so tired he was almost asleep on his feet but he could not rest until he had cleaned up the Goose's little surgery and done his best for the two friends. He was heartily sick of death already and the blood bath had only just begun. At least that was what he assumed. Slowly he washed his hands, taking great care to be as thorough as possible. The surgery gleamed and smelt of the disinfectants he had used to sterilise it. Unable to do anything for Michael Tollan, Simon had laid him on the deck, a white sheet placed discreetly over him so anyone coming into the room would not have to look at the grisly sight. Inara Serra had already done that and though she had openly wept she had been strong enough to insist on helping him clean up. He could not imagine how hard that had been for her.

"You should get some sleep." The Companion managed a tired smile. "Haven't we already had this conversation?"

"It's even more relevant now and we can do no more good here."

Inara nodded, her expression grave and sober. "This is my fault." The doctor jerked his head up as he finished drying his hands. "How can any of this be your fault? You weren't here and Michael Tollan is old enough to make his own decisions."

She shook her head, a trembling hand reaching out and gripping the side of the table. "*Ni bu dong*, I told Michael that Thomas had been poisoned."

"You didn't kill him." Said Simon softly.

Inara Serra blinked back the threat of tears. She was a Companion and she would not cry. Not again. "I might as well have done. Michael may have shot himself but you could say I carried the bullet."

"Now you're misquoting the Captain."

At the mention of Malcolm Reynolds she looked up, momentarily diverted. "How is Mal doin'?"

Simon almost said *better than you* but caught himself just in time. "He'll be fine if I can just get him to rest and let his body recover."

The activation of the Crazy Goose's com startled them both. It was Serenity's pilot. "Simon, Inara, can you hear me? You might want to see if the Goose has a cloaking device."

Inara frowned, nonplussed. "*Shenme shi?"

"Looks like we've got company, Inara. Don't ask me how but a hulkin' great Alliance vessel has just appeared on my screen."

Inara and Simon began to run. Fortunately the bridge was only yards from the entrance to the little surgery. When they got there Simon shot her an anxious look. "Do you know how to fly this thing?"

She shook her head, "With luck we won't need to fly it Simon." He watched her flick switches one after another then pause and frown. He was almost afraid to ask.

"Problem?"

Inara looked up and locked eyes with the doctor. "This ship doesn't have a cloak."

"O-kay, then we run. Right?"

A shudder made them both reassess their life expectencies. "That was a tractor beam." Said the Companion in a voice that was far too calm.

"But we can shake free of it, can't we?"

Simon was close to panic and he knew it but he couldn't help it. He couldn't let the Alliance catch him and River. Couldn't allow them to take her back to that academy. All of a sudden the senseless suicide of Michael Tollan didn't seem so senseless after all.

* * * * *

Never before had a picture of Hell ever been written in more graphic detail. Jaimie Sparks knew he was hyperventilating. Unable to pull the trigger of his gun he let it fall from his numb fingers, mind recoiling in shock and horror as the end of his scream wailed out of him like some manic banshee. The Reaver never hesitated. As a huge bloody hand reached out for him *Shi* finally closed his eyes. Certain that the 'verse as he knew it was about to end.

* * * * *

Kaylee heard the panic in Wash's voice. Alliance? How the good gorram had they got there? Serenity was no longer coupled to the Crazy Goose. Simon had left Serenity in order to help Inara with something urgent on the other ship when the Preacher had called up from the cloaked runabout to declare that the mission was on track. They needed Serenity to dock with the forty-five immediately, time now being of the essence. Kaylee had milked the engine for all she was worth, coaxing every last bit of effort out of her. Wash bringing the Firefly alongside the enemy ship so smoothly there was hardly a shudder as they docked. Now he was talking about an Alliance ship. Inara and Simon were still on the Goose and most of the crew of both ships were pouring onto that slaver's vessel.

To little Kaylee it felt as if the whole gorram 'verse was conspiring against them. A soft voice sang behind her, bringing an impossible calm to her building fear. "Won't end, it'll just feel like it."

"What won't end, River?"

"The 'verse." River paused, tilted her head and smiled softly but Kaylee was not sure if she was in the Here and Now. "Not what they expected but what they need."

There was no more Kaylee could do to boost Serenity's power so she sat next to her friend and took her hand. "River, sweetie, it's gonna be alright. Zoe an' Jayne an' the Preacher they know what they're doin', an' they got Rafe an' his people helpin' an all.

She looked sad. "Heartaches waiting just like everything else."

Her heart missed a beat. "Heartaches?" River nodded then dazzled her with a smile. "It's not what they think they see."

"What ain't?"

Startled, Kaylee turned her head and gasped. River did not look surprised to see the Captain of Serenity leaning heavily on the doorframe of the engine room. There was not much colour in his face and he seemed to be having trouble getting enough breath but if stubborness alone could fuel a man through life he would live forever. River smiled up at him, her look gentle, a hand fluttering up to brush his cheek while her eyes seemed to look right into his very soul. "They've gone to get the others but they won't find them. The monsters are loose but not for long. No one to save but the lone survivor. More cunning than any hunter because his heart is in the eye of the storm."

His heart went cold as he tried to hide how much her words disturbed him.

"But out of the sorrow will come joy. Bought with blood and pain but more precious for being unexpected. It will heal him. Heal you too."

"River, I ain't got no notion what in the *diyu* you're talkin' about."

Her smile was patient, her eyes older than the light from distant stars. "You will. And when you see you'll understand."

"River?" Said Kaylee, her voice tentative. Not able to hide her worry.

River turned to her friend. "Don't worry, they haven't come for you."

Kaylee blinked. She had been worrying about River and Simon not herself. After all the Alliance didn't have wanted posters out for no mechanic. Couldn't be so sure about the Captain though. "What d'ya mean, River? Who they come for?"

"Not who you think." River turned her head to look at the Captain. "He pretends he doesn't care, that he's unbreakable but he isn't. Even with a heart as empty as the Black he can't forget. Makes him spiteful, mean."

"Who, River?"

A far away look came into her eyes then it was as if the light in them was growing dim with approaching sadness. "Time to go."

Before the Captain could ask what she meant Wash's voice came over the com. "Kaylee, we're bein' hailed by the Alliance. You'd better tell River to go into hidin', we're about to be boarded." Malcolm Reynolds scowled and hit the com. "Wash, don't let anyone board. Stall 'em, jump up an' down an' flap your arms if you have to but don't let 'em set foot on this boat."

Wash's voice floated back with surprise tinged with relief. "Cap'n? Aren't you supposed to be in the infirmary?"

The Captain didn't answer he was steeling himself for as brisk a walk as he could manage to the bridge. River smiled at Kaylee's anxious expression. "He isn't looking for me."

Mal sighed, he really didn't need to be dealing with this right now. "Just humour me, *xin gan*. Time enough to say 'I told you so' when we're all safe in the Black, *dong ma*?"

She nodded, gave his cheek a fleeting kiss and danced away before either he or Kaylee could say anything. Kaylee watched him turn and begin his painful journey then tucked herself in at his side. Amused as all *diyu* he looked down at her with gruff affection, "Ain't leanin' on you so you can get that thought outta your head."

Her smile was so bright he was amazed it didn't melt metal. "I love my Cap'n."

He could have pushed her away but it was all kinds of comforting. If she was near him he could keep her safe, protect her from the worst of whatever was coming. He just hoped River was doing as he'd told her.

* * * * *

Jayne was feeling much better. The blood lust was up and he had got himself in a good killing rythym not that any of the Reavers were resisting. At least not until he came up against the last one. Vaguely he was aware of the voices of the others. Pained stage whispers confirming that the rest of the slaves were dead. Butchered in their cells. No way out. Some had been cut up, their skin sewn like gory trophies into the clothing of their enemy. The blood was everywhere, the air thick with the metallic taste of it. The decks awash with the congealing sticky mess. He would have heaved up his guts but there was work to be done. Monsters to slay.

It was kind'a odd. The last Reaver was shorter than the others but very broad. Covered head to foot in blood, but other than that he lacked much of the ugly of the others. Plus it was the first one he had come across that was awake. Rutting gas must be wearing off. Couldn't see the face too clearly for the hideous scowl, blood and gore running down the *liumang's* face. It would be a pleasure to end him then they could get off this rutting slaughterhouse and back to Serenity. Jayne raised his knife, still slick from the blood of the last Reaver he had killed. The Reaver watched him, the scowl turning into a low strangled snarl, the features relaxing slowly as the beast's rapid inhalations began to slow. Just as he was about to strike the creature spoke. Shock running so hard through the mercenary that he almost dropped the knife.

"I won't hurt you." Jayne stared. "What the ruttin' *diyu*..."

"I'm not a Reaver." "The hell ya ain't!"

Jayne could hear the others coming up behind him. Rafe's voice quietly telling the others it was time to go. They were setting the charges as they came, making sure no one got left behind. The Reaver's head snapped round at the sound of Rafe's voice. *Now* thought Jayne, *do it now*. But something stayed his hand. That fraction of a second was all it took, the Reaver moving passed Jayne like a blur then stopping and raising its' voice. A voice that sent shock waves through every single one of them. "Rafe, it's me Chung-li. Don't shoot!"

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*dui* = correct *chusheng xai-jiao de xiang huo* = animal fucking bastards *zhangfu* = husband *wangu* = stubborn *shenjingbing* = crazy *diyu* = hell *wuneug de ren* = trash (as in a despicable person) *shi* = ten *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *ni bu dong* = I don't understand *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *xin gan* = sweetheart *dong ma* = understand *liumang* = bastard/asshole/criminal/gangster

COMMENTS

Friday, December 17, 2004 12:25 PM

POTEMKINVILLAGER


Ooooh.... Nestled at the core, tucked in behind the manifold layers of death and heartache and gore, yer such a softie.

And there's more to come. Yee-haw!

Now look what you've done, creating yet another rabid fan.

Friday, December 17, 2004 1:46 PM

AMDOBELL


Gorrammit, you saw through my cunningly concealed plan! Shiny, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Saturday, December 18, 2004 12:18 AM

KISPEXI2


Nice twist at the end. I was upset by the suicide as I read it, but now I see there's an underlying theme of resurrection and rebirth, so it served the plot weel.

Interesting on Book in this chapter - liked the way you just hinted at how knowledgeable he is about all manner of un-Preacherly stuff.

Saturday, December 18, 2004 12:18 AM

KISPEXI2


Well. Not weel.

Saturday, December 18, 2004 5:09 AM

GUILDSISTER


Well, I'd been expecting Chung-li to be not quite dead, but it was a happy momemnt to see. Jayne and the Reavers worked well--very Jayne-like. The suicide part was all manner of disturbing. And, of course, our heroes never get a break--manage Reavers on top of slavers only to have the Alliance show up!

Saturday, December 18, 2004 12:02 PM

SOULOFSERENITY


This was wonderful, Ali! I am so drawn into this story. Still curious about what happened to *Shi*...


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THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 59. "Fallout"
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