STOLEN MOMENTS: 35. "Loose Ends"
Monday, July 4, 2005

"River and the Lost Ones come face to face with Atherton and his men. Meanwhile the Captain catches up with Badger."



SUMMARY: "River and the Lost Ones come face to face with Atherton and his men. Meanwhile the Captain catches up with Badger." 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.


"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Some days were definitely better than others. This Atherton knew from long and bitter experience. His mouth felt dry, his heart stuttering in his chest with reaction. All the happy crushed out of him by the bitterness of disappointment flavoured with a heavy dose of utter panic. What should have been the crowning glory of his spite had been turned against him with an elegance he failed to appreciate. *Goushi* why did this kind of thing keep happening to him? And what was it about Serenity's crew that always left him on the wrong end of any encounters he had with them? Bad enough that the warped *shenjingbing tamade hundan* of a Captain had taken Inara from him, now the *yuchen baichi* got to rub his nose in it.

At first he had thought it was a gorram joke. They were little more than children, what could they do against him and his armed men? He had not initially been concerned much less afraid. The fear came later, once every exit had been blocked by his men and he made the mistake of confronting the odd group, thinking he had the upper hand. With a swagger he looked for the leader, his arrogant gaze settling on a pale faced girl with an oddity to her manner that was kind of chilling. She watched him intently and the others appeared to take their cue from her. Good enough. Sneering, Atherton pointed an imperious finger in River's direction. "Where's Malcolm Reynolds?"

River tilted her head as she considered him. Her eyes bright as a magpie's. "Gone."

Atherton's face darkened. "I don't believe you! What are you doing here?"

River's accent turned cockney, her head tilting to the other side as if she could see something he could not. "Now it don't seem as I would tell you, do it? But since you ask so nicely I'm cleanin' up, see?" She paused and took a step towards him. Several weapons cocked ready to fire, the sound embolded Atherton. What could she do, a mere slip of a girl like her? Not one of the children carried a weapon that he could see. Lambs to the slaughter every one.

"You're going to tell me where Reynolds is."

River shook her head and smiled slowly at him with all the warmth of a crocodile. "Told you once. Don't listen. He let you live when he should have killed you. Mercy may be the mark of a great man but it's wasted on the undeserving."

Her words chilled him. "What're you talkin' about?"

She straightened slightly, the children behind her beginning to move. So slowly he did not apprehend his danger until it was too late. River shook her head as they seamlessly formed a circle facing outward to face the ring of soldiers attempting to pen them in. Confused Atherton paused, trying to comprehend what they thought they were doing. There was no escape, he had seen to that. What did they think they could do against armed men? River nodded to Atherton then raised her chin, "Time to take out the trash, *dong ma*?"

He watched in bafflement as the children joined hands, the circle complete when River took the hands either side of her. Before he could ask what the *diyu* they thought they were doing pain the like of which he had never known before invaded his mind. Atherton dropped his gun and put his hands over his ears even though the sound was coming from INSIDE his brain. Every one of his men was likewise affected, the clatter of falling weapons a metallic rain that was music to River's ears. She smiled briefly then concentrated on the final mental push into madness, Atherton screaming and writhing all the way as he struggled to avoid the abyss but it was too little, too late. In the periphery of her vision River saw Ruben step out of the circle to pick up one of the discarded weapons. Not one of Atherton's men was left standing.

"No touching guns."

Ruben pulled back his hand, leaving the gun where it lay, and rejoined the others. In less than a few minutes it was over. Atherton's men lay unconscious, insensate. Only Atherton himself was kept aware enough to bear witness. He lay in an ungainly and awkward heap, eyes wide and staring. Unable to blink. River leaned over him, her hair hanging down in an unruly waterfall of dark strands. "You have been spared even though you don't deserve it."

He could not form the words to ask why or what in *diyu* they had done to him. Every now and then a body would twitch but none of the others regained consciousness. He wanted to rant and rail at River and the children but his tongue would not work, his lips numb and his mind reeling in a frantic effort to make sense of his change in fortunes, his panic dulled at last by the blunt realisation that he had been out manouevred by a child. The humiliation was something he would carry with him for the rest of his life. Always supposing it did not end here.

"You see," River explained calmly. "This is a war you can never win. Twice you have been allowed to live. Take this warning with you: there will not be a third time, *dong ma*?"

As Atherton stared at her a thin trickle of blood began to leak out of his ears and nose. River looked disappointed knowing it meant he was still trying to resist her.

"How can I help you if you refuse to listen? Perhaps you need an example."

He wanted to say no, to beg her to let them go, but the words were trapped inside him. His body a prisoner to the chaotic minds stripping him of his will to fight. Traipsing through his mind with no regard for how much the sensation creeped him out. Their thoughts ringing condemnation, their mental touch forcing the bright glitter of tears to fall from his shocked eyes. Was this death or something far worse? Gradually they emptied out of his mind but the relief was cold comfort not knowing what they had done. The hollowness they left behind terrified him.

"We're going now," Said River calmly. Behind her one of the soldiers regained consciousness and started dragging himself across the floor to reach for a weapon. Without even looking behind her River raised an arm and Atherton watched aghast as the man - Richie Daws - cried out in agony and put his hands over his face. He watched horrified as blood seeped like a ruby stain through the man's fingers, running down his arms. Atherton was the only one still sensate but movement was currently beyond him. Held in thrall by whatever River and the Lost Ones had done to him. His mouth hung open, slack and ridiculous and empty of words. His mind a mushy playground of half formed thoughts and a vanquished will. He was like a rag doll, the stuffing removed from him. River watched his inward struggle, saliva drooling from his open mouth. Trapped in a hell he wanted no part of while she drew pictures inside his skull, her warning as clear and unequivocal as a death sentence.

"Try to follow us or seek revenge on the Captain or crew of Serenity and you won't live long enough to complete the thought, *dong ma*?" She paused. "And I promise you, if that happens you'll die screaming."

Atherton struggled to curse her. She released enough control to allow him to respond. A single broken and disjointed word was all he could muster. "H... how?"

"I can kill you with my brain."

Then River stood up and seemed to lose interest in him. The moment she turned away Atherton's consciousness fled with a whimper. River looked at the Lost Ones. Twenty children in various age groups from 8 to 18. Without a word they turned towards her and as River picked her way out from among the unconscious bodies the children fell in step behind and beside her. The scatter of their enemies unable to lift a finger to stop them.

* * * * *

Jayne loved the plan but Zoe was wary. Whatever else Badger was he was no fool though she always left room in her thinking for a body to disappoint her. "Sir, what if Badger's expectin' us?"

"Then best we not disappoint him."

She frowned wondering if his head wound had been worse than they thought. Simon had cleaned and stitched it, cauterised his bloody nose then given the Captain something to ease the headaches. Good as new. Well, close enough in the Captain's mind. Zoe thought something was vaguely off with him but had no idea what. "Not what I was thinkin'."

The Captain paused. They were in Serenity's cargo bay getting ready to depart. "If you got somethin' to say spit it out."

"Why're we goin' to see Badger?"

"He double crossed us."

"I recall he's done that before an' we never went after him."

"Leavin' us hangin' ain't the same as handin' us over - or handin' me over. Man's gotta know he crossed a line."

"An' River?"

The Captain paused before answering as if thinking of her pained him. "Well now, I can't get to wherever she's gone. Have to trust she'll return when she's done in the meantime we got scores to settle."

The Captain had wanted it to be just him and Zoe but in the end Jayne, Wash and Simon came too. Shepherd Book elected to stay with Kaylee and Inara on the ship. The Captain had asked Kaylee to help get the women and their children settled and Book had offered to help. He could not devine the meaning of the look on Inara's face. Would have been more than a mite surprised by the look of speculation on her face when his back was turned. Mal had wanted to at least insist Wash stay with Serenity but the pilot didn't want to let his wife out of his sight. He was sick of staying behind with the worrying. Book had smoothly stepped in and offered to stay on the ship in his place. The Captain glanced at Simon but seeing the firm set of the doctor's jaw decided if anyone had a right to come along Simon did. As for Jayne he was pretty hyped up until Zoe took him to one side, her quiet deadly words of warning damping down his overt enthusiam but not extinguishing it. The Captain checked his sidearm then gave a terse nod. It was time to go Badger hunting.

It was easier than he expected to find the man, Badger not expecting a visit from his latest victim. Deciding attack was the best form of defence Badger began to rant and rave at the Captain, his lips peeling back from his teeth as he yelled. His blistered face still red raw and painful, pleased that Mal could not see the livid scars on his back. "You set me up!"

Mal blinked. Stunned by the unexpected accusation. What the good gorram was he on about? "*Shenme*? You not recallin' how you double crossed me? Left me to ruttin' well die at the hands of Atherton Wing?"

Badger snorted, carefully. Parts of his body were still very tender and any quick movement sparked off the kind of pain beloved of torturers. He was determined not to let on how much he was hurting. Giving that kind of satisfaction to Malcolm Reynolds was not an option. "On'y you didn't did you?"


"You didn't ruttin' well die."

"Not through any lack of you tryin' I might add." The Captain paused, noting Badger's injuries and realising how he had got them from the glimpses River had given him of her plan. Maybe he wouldn't have to kill the little piece of *goushi* after all. Besides, there was something else he wanted to know. "How in the nine hells did you come across that cargo? I never did any deal with you."

It did not occur to Badger to wonder how the Captain had known about that. Instead he went into defensive mode. "Found it. Legal salvage, see?"

Mal raised his eyebrows and kept his face straight. Wouldn't do for Badger to know about the children, what and who they were or their part in what had happened to him. Best to keep things simple. Smooth. From the state of Badger he had already received a hefty down payment of what was owing to him. "an' you didn't get suspicious seein' such a 'valuable' cargo a-drift?"

"Don't look at me like that, you would'a done the same."

"As you can plainly see I didn't but it might have gone as you say."

Badger nodded, a little confidence returning. The Captain was being more reasonable than he had expected, not that that was saying much. Recent events had shaken him badly. He ignored the smug little smirk on Jayne's face and frowned at the expression on Simon's face. Zoe gave Badger a stone cold stare and he dropped his interest in the doctor. "How was I to know it was a gorram bomb?"

"What did you think it was?"

The little King Pin glanced from the Captain to Zoe but she was not saying anything, her stoic presence eternally watchful. Jayne, Wash and Simon stood by the door to make sure there were no interruptions. Zoe took up position a few paces and to the side of the Captain. Watching his back but also keeping a close eye on Badger. It was obvious this was the Captain's show and the others were only along for the ride but Badger had no intention of underestimating any of them. He turned his attention back to the man he had betrayed. "Looked high tech, new technology. Fancy gear."

The Captain frowned slightly. "Care to be more specific?"


"Just curious is all."

Badger began pacing, more restlessness than nerves. "Looked like some kind of cuttin' edge computer."

"So this computer," Said Mal. "Was one fancy big unit, *dui*?"

"No, there was several of 'em, see?" He paused, starting to get suspicious. "Why so gorram curious?"

The Captain shrugged, projecting an air of nonchalence he did not feel. "Don't get testy just don't wanna fall for such a thing my own self, *dong ma*?"

Diverted, Badger looked worried. "You think there may be more of 'em out there waitin' to waylay honest businessmen?"

It was hard for Mal not to choke on the idea of Badger being described in that way, even in the man's most distorted dreams. "Could be or maybe you were right and it was a fancy computer."

Badger rounded on him, Jayne stiffening up at the sudden movement. "You not been listenin'? It blew the gorram up - fireball nearly consumed me!"

Wash chose that moment to straighten up from where he had been leaning against the far wall. "I think what the Cap'n's sayin' is that it probably had an anti-tamper sub-routine. The kind meant to stop it fallin' into the wrong hands."

"*Your* hands," Murmured the Captain half under his breath.

"It was salvage." Badger protested.

"An' you just thought the rightful owners had left this expensive equipment lying around waiting for an upstanding businessman like you to come along an' salvage it?" The Captain mocked.

"*Wei*, got no call to ridicule me."

The Captain took a step closer to Badger, the banter a distant memory. "Now you double crossin' me was painful..." "Hurt our feelin's." Chimed Jayne.

Ignoring Jayne the Captain continued. "But not totally unexpected."

"I've always treated you fair, Reynolds."

"No you haven't but that's not the point I'm makin'. I'm curious. The double cross I could see, almost understand - though don't for a minute think me approvin'. What intrigues me is why you came back." Mal paused, not taking his eyes off Badger's face. "What you doin' here, Badger, an' don't even think of lyin'. I already know you got no respect or likin' for me or my crew so what you doin' here an' who sent you?"

"Nobody sent me. If you must know I feel more than a mite bad 'bout what happened."

Simon could not believe what he was hearing. "Are you saying you want forgiveness?"

"Knew we should'a brought the Preacher." Muttered Jayne darkly.

"*Bizui!" Said Zoe just loud enough for Jayne to hear. The big man dutifully fell silent then Zoe turned her attention to what Badger had said. "He doesn't want forgiveness, he's lookin' for information."

A startled look came into Badger's eyes then a disingenuous smile oiled its' way across his unshaven face. "Always said you was a smart lady."

The Captain butted in before the little man could ramble off the subject. "What information would that be?"

"I wanna know who set me up."

Everyone stared at him. Wash found the whole conversation surreal. "Why ask us? Why not ask your 'friend' Atherton?"

Something very dark and unpleasant crawled across Badger's face. The Captain read the subtext as if it had been illuminated in letters of fire three foot high. "You think Wing set this up?"

"He knew you were out here." Mused Wash.

"An' he would know a prize like this would be somethin' you couldn't pass up," said Zoe, the clues slotting into place as she worked it out.

Badger frowned. "Yeah, but why?"

The Captain was thoughtful. Zoe was definitely on to something. "Maybe he thought he was tying up loose ends. After gettin' you to do his dirty work he might not have wanted to leave any witnesses behind."

Furious, the little King Pin reeled off a diatribe of Chinese obscenities before calming enough to speak properly. "I'll ruttin' well kill 'im! By the time I've finished with that..."

"Not sayin' it was him of course." Mal offered mildly.

"Who else knew?" Asked Wash.

The seed planted it was all kinds of amusing watching Badger getting more and more agitated and upset. The little man burning with the need for vengeance. Mal cleared his throat. "Now, touching as this little heart to heart may be I'm not forgettin' that had your plan worked? I'd be a dead man now."

"Not my plan." Said Badger.

"But you knew what Atherton wanted to do."

"Didn't know he was gonna kill you."

"An' that would'a just grieved you." Pressed Mal.

"Look Reynolds I don't like you. Never have. Make no secret of it, see? Always lookin' down on me, not showin' proper respect. Thinkin' you're better than. Wanted to knock you down a peg or two, that's all. Didn't want you dead."

The Captain stared him right in the eye, no expression on his face. "Don't believe you."

Badger felt his bravado falter a mite but carried on. "Wouldn't'a made good business sense now would it?"

Mal laughed, a harsh brittle sound filled with sarcasm and disbelief. "*Shenme*, you think I'd trust you now? After this?"

"I might'a made a mistake but no harm done. Don't 'ave to like you to do business with you, *dong ma*?"

"Must'a hit his head." Muttered Jayne darkly. Why were they messing about talking to this *goushi buru wangba dan* anyway? Should'a shot him the moment they caught up with him.

Badger seemed to have recovered his equilibrium somewhat. "As far as business goes you get the job done, I respect that."

"Except when you pull the rug out from under us, leave us hanging." Snarled Jayne.

The little man looked at the mercenary. "Had no choice. Business. Couldn't afford to get connected to no imprinted goods." Looks at Mal. "Maybe, when this misunderstandin' blows over we can do business again." The Captain gave him a grim look. "Not makin' no promises Badger, but you ever try to pull a stunt like this again..."

Zoe stepped close to Badger and finished the sentence. "You'll wish Reavers had caught you."

Badger tried to repress a shudder. As Zoe stepped away from him he caught the Captain's eye, the man's quiet deadly tone more unsettling than if Mal had ranted and raved. "Do we have an understandin'?"

He nodded, his voice flat and sullen. "Yeah, I get the message".

While they had been talking Simon had put a weave on the worst of Badger's cuts as well as seeing to his arm and hand. Badger flexed his fingers and rotated his arm, pleased with Simon's work. "An' ta for the doctorin'."

The doctor just nodded silently. Badger was surprised to see a look as stone cold and deadly as Zoe's. It was more than disconcerting to see the young doctor become so hard and unforgiving. Oh, he covered it well with his very fine manners and innocent air but those eyes, now they told a different story. Best not be underestimating the man from now on. Boy was growing up. Feeling that he had got as much out of the talk as he could Badger was ready for them to leave. "See you in the world."

Mal took a moment before responding. "Both eyes open." He assured quietly.

Somehow his reassurance was no reassurance at all, coming out more threat than promise. Badger knew he was being put on notice. If he messed up again he wouldn't live to repeat his error. Badger watched them go. They walked back to the ship in silence, no one speaking again until they were back on Serenity. Zoe hit the button to close up after them, Jayne all kinds of confused. He turned to the Captain, his face twisted into a sour look of angry disbelief and displeasure. "You just gonna let that *lese* weasel go?"

"If Badger runs true to form he'll be pullin' out all the stops to find Atherton."

Simon didn't say anything, he was feeling annoyed that they had not immediately gone to look for River. Why they were bothering with Badger at all was a mystery to him but he was learning not to take the Captain at face value either in word or deed. Man was much more complicated than he first appeared. As it was Wash asked his question for him.

"If we're supposed to be lookin' for River why did we go after Badger?"

"Because River an' those children went to stop Atherton an' his men." Zoe explained. "Gave the Cap'n, women an' kids a chance to get out."

The mercenary looked as if his brain hurt. "Then why ain't we goin' after Atherton?"

Mal looked beyond tired, bone weary and heart sore though being the Captain he would never admit it. "We don't know where he is only where he's been an' those gorram tunnels are too ruttin' long an' confusin'. A man could spend eternity just tryin' to get the *diyu* out. After our little conversation with Badger he's gonna be all kinds of eager to find Atherton an' give him a piece of his mind. Mood Badger's in he just might end that *tamade hundan* for once an' for all. Save us the gorram trouble."

"Don't underestimate Atherton, Mal." Said Inara as she, Kaylee and Book joined them.

The Captain's eyes narrowed, all inflection vanishing from his voice. Not so much cold as controlled. "I don't underestimate nobody, 'specially them as seem the least threat."

Inara did not reply, not willing to have that kind of conversation in front of the rest of the crew. Always supposing he had been meaning her not Simon. Come to think of it he probably meant her *and* Simon. Whatever. The only thing that mattered right now was getting River back. Their mismatched dyfunctional family needed to be whole again.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*gouoshi* = crap/dog shit *shenjingbing* = crazy *yuchen* = stupid/ignorant *tamade hundan*/wangba dan* = fucking bastard *baichi* = idiot *diyu* = hell *dong ma* = understand *shenme* = what *weishenme* = why *dui* = correct *wei* = hey! *bizui* = be quiet/shut up *lese* = crappy *goushi buru* = lower than dogshit/lowest of the low


Monday, July 4, 2005 3:13 PM


Very nice, looking foward to the next part.

Tuesday, July 5, 2005 1:15 AM


Still reeling a bit from River - I really thought she was going to kill Atherton. Glad she showed some compassion - even if I wouldn't have! *g*

Brilliant interrogation scene with Badger. I could just imagine him twisting and turning and squirming his way through it.

Chilling ending too.

Tuesday, July 5, 2005 7:33 AM


ANother fantastic installment, and so well usual.
Nice weaving of lines from the original series, and I loved Rover's cockney accent.
Please write more soon!


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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.