Monday, December 20, 2004

Not everything veiwed in the mirror of life is shiny. But the Truth always exacts a price."



SUMMARY: "Not everything viewed in the mirror of life is shiny. But the Truth always exacts a price." 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

* * * * *

They were spinning out of control and there was nothing Inara or Simon could do to halt it. Inara looked at the doctor, eyes wide with fear. Companion training be damned, they were going to die. "What hit us?"

Simon swallowed, hanging on to one of the consoles while he gazed in shock out of the main viewport. "That Alliance ship... it struck us."

"It did what?"

He could appreciate her sense of shock. It made no gorram sense. "Maybe they have engine problems or..."

Inara's look hardened. Pieces falling into place. "Or maybe he just wanted to finish the job."

It was not often that Inara Serra could render Simon speechless. Of all the people on Serenity she was the one he had most in common with. Their backgrounds, the circles in which they moved, the oiled wheels of the monied classes that provided everything from health and education to the exotic foods that crowded their tables. "I'm not sure I follow..."

"Carlin Ferris."

"I don't think even Thomas McCardy's son would be crazy enough to ram the Goose on purpose, Inara."

"Ferris wants his father dead, Simon."

"But you said he poisoned him."

Inara nodded, her beautiful face pale. Their impending death momentarily pushed to the back of her mind while she probed the problem anew. "*Qu*, but Carlin isn't on this ship," Simon just stared at her, baffled. He waited for her to elucidate. "So he couldn't be sure whether or not his plan had succeeded."

The doctor shook his head. "I'm having a problem with this, Inara. The man was already dying, why kill a dying man?"

"Maybe he wasn't dying fast enough or maybe..." She broke off, alarmed by her own train of thought. "Maybe," She said in a barely voiced whisper. "He hadn't been dying at all."

Simon blinked. Had the Companion hit her head when the ship struck them? "I can't believe you just said that."

"Neither can I but it's a possibility we have to consider."


"Because it may point to the reason his son wanted him dead."

Another jolt hit them, harder than the first. Simon lost his grip on the console and went tumbling, the angle of the deck beneath him sliding him passed Inara to the doorway. At the last moment he managed to grab onto the door frame and halt his slide. "I think you're right," He said reluctantly, pulling himself into a more or less upright position. "He *is* trying to kill us." Simon paused and watched as Inara tried to work out how bad things were. "Why don't we just tell him Thomas is dead?"

"Do you really think a man like Carlin Ferris would believe us? He'd just think we were trying to save ourselves."

"And he would be right but it would also be the truth. We could offer to show him the body. That has to count for something. If he's this paranoid about his father's survival surely he would want physical proof?"

"Destroying the ship would be physical proof, Simon."

He thought about that, his expression turning glum. Startled when the Alliance ship once more filled the screen but this time it did not ram them. The Crazy Goose shuddered violently. It took several moments for them to realise they were once more in a powerful tractor beam. Inara's expression was grim.

"It looks like you are right, he does want to see the body."

* * * * *

Aboard Serenity things were far from serene. The Captain hurried as best he could to the bridge, his crew and Rafe's a step behind him. He was vaguely aware of Rafe saying something to Chung-li. Zoe looked as worried as he felt. It was oddly reassuring. He did not want to think why that would be. When he reached the bridge Kaylee was standing next to the pilot's chair, her face devoid of colour, eyes wide and fearful. "We have to do somethin', Cap'n. That ship'll smash the Goose to pieces."

The Captain gave her a nod but his words were for Wash not Kaylee. Didn't have time to be doing no hand holding much as he wanted to comfort his little mechanic. "Wash, what's happenin'?"

"The Alliance ship has rammed them twice an'..." Wash broke off then swore. "They've just locked on again an' are drawin' the Goose in."

What the Captain wouldn't give right now for a fully armed ship instead of a Firefly mid-range transport. Not that he didn't love his boat with uncommon pride and such but he needed to be doing something. Anything to stop that twisted *tamade hundan* capturing the Goose and doing who knew what to Inara and Simon.

"We have to do somethin'!" Wailed Kaylee. "Inara an' Simon are on that ship."

The Captain looked at her, his expression grim, eyes holding her together when she would have fallen to pieces. "I can't be havin' this Kaylee. Need you in the engine room, *dong ma*?"


"No buts, ain't got time for buts, neither do they. May need you to pull somethin' real fast an' I can't do that if you're on the bridge."

Kaylee sniffed back her tears and nodded. The Captain was right, he was always right. He'd find a way to get 'Nara an' Simon out of this mess. Just had to do as she was told, keep Serenity flyin'. As she passed the Captain reached out and gave her a quick one armed hug, "That's my girl."

Her smile was watery then she was gone, her boots ringing as she broke into a run. Rafe stepped forward and spoke before the Preacher could do so. "What we gonna do, Mal?"

"Try to talk to Ferris."

"An' if he don't listen?" Growled Jayne.

The Captain was staring out at the huge Alliance vessel, watching as it drew the helpless Goose closer and closer to it. "We take a leaf outta their gorram book."

Zoe frowned, "What leaf is that, sir?"

He turned his head and gave her a humourless little smile. "We ram 'em."

Wash turned troubled eyes on his Captain. "Sir, that may not be a very good idea."

"Not a matter of good ideas, Wash, reckon we're all outta those. All outta options too. Time to make a bold move."

Before Wash could open a com to the Alliance vessel something flickered on his screen and he sat forward, eyes widening in shocked suprise. "What the...?"

The Captain leaned over his pilot's shoulder. Everybody tensed. "What is it? Talk to me, Wash."

"It's a, the Goose's runabout." "What?"

"Someone's takin' the shuttle an' is headin' for the Alliance ship."

The Captain swore a virulent string of curses. "River!"

The Shepherd was about to ask him how he knew when he realised he had not seen their resident genius for some time. He had a sinking feeling in his stomach that the Captain was right. Everybody knew how devoted Simon was to his sister. It seemed River felt the same.

* * * * *

Laurie Riggs was quite certain that if this was not the day they were going to die it was certainly the one next to it. He eyed Tommy Bale soulfully, both men crammed under the heavy fixed tables in the Crazy Goose's kitchen.

"What do you think went wrong?" Tommy ventured, trying hard to stop his teeth rattling as they were shaken by another powerful collision.


Tommy scowled at him. Friend or no friend he was in no mood for banter. "Care to be more specific?"

Riggs shrugged. "Feels like heavy impact so either we're takin' incomin' or somethin' hit us." He paused a moment. "No explosions so reckon somethin' hit us."

"Rammed us more like." Growled Tommy.

There followed a long silence, both men listening intently and pretending not to. When the lull continued Tommy looked at his friend. "Don't know what's to become of us all with Thomas dead."

"*Fang xin*, the Counsellor will do right by us." Tommy huffed but his eyes were sad. "Heard he ate his gun."

That was news to Riggs and not welcome news either. "*Shenme*? How come you didn't say anythin'? I didn't know that."

"Figured you already knew."

Laurie Riggs looked mighty disturbed now and that unsettled Tommy.

"What is it? *Shenme shi*?"

Laurie was tracking back over the last hour or so and little things were falling into place. Things he should have seen if he hadn't been so busy keeping a low profile like the boss wanted. Hell, his low profile had been all but invisible and now both the boss and Tollan were dead. A horrible thought occurred to him. "Who in *diyu* is flyin' this ship?"

His friend had no idea but Laurie could guess. Quickly he scrambled out from his hidey hole, flying debris be damned. He had to get to the bridge *mashang*.

"What in the nine hells do you think you're doin'?"

"There's nobody flyin' this ship, Tommy."

Their stomachs suddenly dropped, the vessel seemed to shudder then lurch. All the colour left Laurie Riggs face. Tommy stared at him. "What the good gorram was that?"

"Tractor beam." Alarmed Tommy went to scramble out from under the table but Laurie put a hand on his shoulder and gave him a grim look. "Stay here, Tom. I'm goin' up to the bridge to see what's goin' on. Maybe Miss Serra has some information."

"An' if she don't?"

"Then you'll already be on your knees ready to pray."

No more was said, then Riggs was hurrying up the sloping deck as fast as his legs would carry him.

* * * * *

"Kaylee, can you give us any more speed?"

Kaylee's voice came back reluctant and sorrowful as if any lack was her fault not due to the specs of the ship. "Sorry, Cap'n, already runnin' hot as it is."

Wash knew the Captain was wired, they all were, but he felt a note of caution was in order. "We can't maintain a fast burn for too much longer, Cap'n."

"Won't need to."

The pilot stared at him. Zoe's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Why's that, sir?"

But the Captain wasn't looking at any of them, he was staring right ahead with as bleak a look on his face as they had ever seen. Then Wash saw what he was looking at, or rather, where he was looking. "*Tianna!* She's gone to cloak."

Rafe had been listening to the exchange intently. "What do you mean, gone to cloak?"

The pilot explained about the runabout's cloaking device and a slow smile spread across the rancher's face. "But that's good isn't it? If they can't see her comin'..."

The Captain turned to look at his friend. "They what? Once she gets there she has to get on board then do whatever the *diyu* she thinks she can do only this time no cloak, no hidin' in plain sight. Just one brave an' *shenjingbing* girl up against the might of the God-awful Alliance."

There were a couple of minutes complete silence then the calm voice of Shepherd Book said something that turned all their expectations upside down. "Who says River's going to the Alliance ship?"

Several sets of eyes focused in on the Preacher.

"Best you explain yourself, Preacher."

"Gladly, Captain. I'm just saying that River could have been going to the Alliance ship or she could be trying to get to the Crazy Goose."

Wash frowned. "But why would she do that?"

The Preacher raised his eyebrows. "You said no one was flying that ship. We all know that River has a certain... ability in picking up such things."

The Captain closed his eyes. He could see it all too clearly in his mind's eyes. Was about to order Kaylee to get ready to go to ramming spead when the com crackled. He opened his eyes and frowned. "What the *diyu* does he want now?"

But it wasn't Carlin Ferris calling, it was River. "Captain, I've managed to get to the Goose and they've found the pilot so I'm going to see what I can do with the Alliance ship..." "No! River you can't do that!" Yelled the Captain.

Her voice floated back calm as could be, trying to reassure them that she was not about to commit suicide even if that was how it looked to them. "Time to *xinren* Captain. Just be ready to do your part, *dong ma*?"

His part? What the gorram did she mean by that? But River had cut the connection and with the runabout now in stealth mode they could not only not see it but could not pick it up on their sensors. Well. That at least was good. Then a nasty thought occurred to him. "Wash?"

"Yeah, Cap'n?"

"That cloaking device on the runabout. You ever seen anythin' like that before?"

"No, Cap'n."

Zoe was watching Mal intently. "What you thinkin', sir?"

"Just wonderin' where the *diyu* such technology could come from is all."

"You think it's Alliance tech?"

Before the Captain could answer Book spoke. "No, if the Alliance had something like that they would have used it in the war."

The Captain had to admit that made sense. Jayne was getting restless. He didn't like the Goose getting caught any more than the rest of them but what was done was done, didn't mean the rest of them had to put their heads in no gorram Alliance noose. "We should get outta here while we can. While they're distracted."

Everyone turned eyes that burned on him. Zoe looked ready to space the mercenary.

"You're welcome to leave if that's your thinkin', Jayne," Said the Captain mildly. His eyes cold and boring holes into the big man and making him all kinds of unhappy. "But we ain't leavin' our own to no Alliance *hundan*. No one on this crew gets left behind, *dong ma*?"

The mercenary's zeal for self preservation retreated just a little. He didn't want Mal to think he was no *nuofu*. "Was just makin' a suggestion is all."

"Best not make it again."

Jayne nodded. The Captain looked passed him, surprised to see that only Book and Rafe stood next to the mercenary. Chung-li and the others were nowhere in sight. He looked a query at Rafe, the rancher gave a tight little smile. "They've gone to get ready. Check their weapons an' so on. I sent Chung'li to get cleaned up some."

The Captain nodded and swallowed hard, trying to get the image of Chung-li dressed in the blood and gore of friends out of his mind. Could still see those pieces of skin stitched to that gorram vest. Hurt ten times worst knowing it was all that was left of Jaimie Sparks. *Shi*. They had called him Ten Lives because he had more lives than a gorram cat but even cats had to run out eventually. Didn't help that he had died doing something honourable, trying to save a friend. Didn't help neither that the manner of his death would haunt Mal for years to come. Rafe seemed to know what he was thinking, a firm hand reaching out to clasp him on the shoulder. "You should rest, Mal. I have a feelin' this could take a-whiles."

He shook his head. "If we fail we'll be restin' 'til the 'verse grows cold, Rafe. What we need is a plan."

At that moment Chung-li reappeared, clean and dressed in fresh clothing. "Mal?"

Despite everything the Captain found a smile for him. "Yeah?"

"Need to have a word with you, my friend."

He was about to refuse, not wanting to leave the bridge, when Zoe cut in. "We'll call you the moment we hear anythin'." His eyes held hers for a moment, asking questions he would never say out loud. Seemingly reassured by what he saw he nodded briefly. "The very moment."

A nod back from Zoe and he turned and left. Wash looked from Zoe to Rafe then back again. "What do you suppose that was about?"

"Not for us to speculate, *zhangfu*."

He opened his mouth to quiz her but the look on her face silenced him. Instead he turned back to what he did best and tried to find a way to figure out what in the nine hells River was going to do next.

* * * * *

Chung-li lead him to the Commons Area. As they entered Harry Simmons, Ricky Sable, Blade and the others gave a nod and silently filed out. The Captain shot a suspicious look at his friend. Chung-li led him over to the table and indicated they should sit down. Mal hesitated.

"What's goin' on, Chung-li?"

The big man took a seat and stared at the Captain until with a sigh he sat next to him. "You should trust the girl." He said quietly.

For a moment Mal was too stunned to speak. "Why should I do that an' why would you be sayin' such a thing?"

Chung-li did not answer. The Captain stared at him for a minute or two, all kinds of unsettling thoughts moving around in his mind. The big man was watching him closely. "Go ahead and ask, a divided mind cannot make whole decisions."

"Ain't got time for that."


The Captain blinked then it all rushed out. Everything he had kept knotted inside him since he had escaped from the hands of John Porter Clements. "I saw you die, Chung-li! Saw you pull them gorram rings outta the wall and beat the *goushi* out of them *hundan*. Saw Clements shoot you point blank range. Not once, not twice, but over and over again until that ruttin' gun was empty."

Impossibly, Chung-li gave a faint gentle smile. "Didn't you know that the chief of the Eight Immortals cannot die, *wode pengyou*?" Mal opened his mouth but before he could speak Chung-li continued, this time serious once again.

"The vest saved me Mal."

The Captain swallowed hard, emotion rising in him that he could not hide. "Then how'd I get free? They had me hangin' from the gorram ceilin', Chung-li. I saw you die, gorrammit."

"You were cut down."

"Yeah, but who did the cuttin'?"

A pause. "I did."

Mal nodded slowly, eyes never leaving Chung-li's. "Figured as much."

"You passed out for a moment. I was afraid it had all been too much for you. Then I heard someone coming, when I looked it wasn't any of Clements men."

"It was Reavers wasn't it?"

Chung-li nodded. "Had to get you out of there Mal an' didn't have a lot of time to do it. You were injured, weak but *wangu*. I knew we had a little time but not much so I let you think I was dying, pleaded with you to go."

The Captain shook his head. His voice a hush as if he could hardly believe they were passing his own lips. "I crawled over to you, Chung-li. Remember that much. Couldn't find no gorram pulse."

"I lowered my heartbeat."

"Gorrammit Chung-li, why the ruttin' *diyu* did you do that? Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because," Said the big man softly, trying not to hurt him. "You would never have left me otherwise and I had no way or time to explain my plan or make you accept it." He paused, looking deep into the Captain's eyes to make sure he understood the full weight of every word he said. "If you thought I was dead you would be free to go. Once you dragged yourself out into the corridor I stayed behind to make sure you got away."

The Captain closed his eyes. Unable to articulate how he felt at that moment. How much his friend had risked to save his life. A price he would never have asked him to pay. When he opened his eyes again unshed tears glittered. "I thought you were dead." He murmured.

"I'm immortal, my friend. How could I ever die and leave you?"

He had no answer to that. For a moment they were companionable in their silence then something pricked the Captain's memory. "You said to trust River?" Chung-li nodded. The Captain's eyes narrowed slightly.

"What you not tellin' me, 'old friend'?"

"You think she is throwing her life away but she isn't. Trust her."

"I do." The words were out before he could stop them but they were no less true. He did trust River but it didn't stop him worrying about her. Worrying about all of his crew. "I want to know how you know. Figure you owe me that much, *dui*?"

Chung-li gave the Captain a slow warm smile and suddenly the answer hit him. But he had to know. To be sure.

"Why did you insist on comin' with me an' the others, Chung-li?"

"To protect you."

Even having his suspicion confirmed it still shocked him. "*Wode ma, weishenme*?"

Chung-li fell silent and just looked at him. As if Mal should know the answer. He rumaged around in his head for clues, reviewed everything that had been said then cast his mind back on the time he had spent with Rafe and his men. The time on the Wellspring Ranch and after. His eyes widened with an odd suspicion. "You're a Reader." It was the only thing that made sense.

The Chinaman dipped his head slightly, an old world courtesy from a world that was no more. It touched something in the Captain. Made the odd pieces of this puzzle suddenly seem right. Even if he couldn't yet see the picture.

"That's how you knew about River, you knew she was a Reader because you're one too. That's why you know what she's plannin'."

Mirror images. Alike and yet unlike. Chung-li reached out a hand and settled it on the Captain's forearm but he didn't feel the warm touch. Was aware only of nothing being at all what it appeared at first sight. Was he dreaming? If so, what the good gorram would he find on waking up? Chung-li's smile expanded until his whole face was lit by it. A twinkling gleam of affection and joy shone in his eyes as if sharing a joke with him though Mal still had to hear the punchline. At last he found his voice for one more question.

"When were you gonna tell me?"

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*qu* = yes (lit. go) *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *dong ma* = understand *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *shenme* = what *diyu* = hell *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *mashang* = on the double/immediately *tianna* = Oh God! *shenjingbing* = crazy *xinren* = trust *nuofu* = coward *hundan* = bastard *shi* = ten *zhangfu* = husband *goushi* = crap/dog shit *wode pengyou* = my friend *wangu* = stubborn *dui* = correct *wode ma* = mother of God *weishenme* = why


Monday, December 20, 2004 5:39 AM


As usual, more twists than a head can deal w/ A. Good interesting to see what happens..and what happens between river and chungli when she returns.

Monday, December 20, 2004 5:58 AM


Ooh, nice twists!! Chung-li is a reader? I can actually kinda see that now. Nicely done, Ali! Keep it coming!.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004 4:08 AM


The story is moving along nicely, Ali. Thank goodness for River! Am hoping she can use her spooky skills to save the day ;-)

Inara is quite a revelation in this story - what a devious mind she has to work out the plotting and scheming. I wonder if she's going to turn out to be right?

I liked Simon being both physically and mentally jolted in the opening scene. Was the metaphor intentional? It worked well.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004 8:34 PM


Huh. Well how 'bout that Chung-li. Makes perfect sense now that it's said.

Shudders at the thought of Serenity ramming an Alliance ship. Ouch!

Wonderfully intriguing mess you keep them all in.


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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.