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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
The Captain presses Inara for more details. The Commandant gets impatient and the Sheriff finds himself caught between conflicting evils."
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1852 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
TITLE: "NOT MADE OF STONE"
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
PAIRING: No specific pairing.
STATUS: New. SEQUEL to "SIDETRACKED"
ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where.
SUMMARY: "The Captain presses Inara for more details.
The Commandant gets impatient and the Sheriff finds himself
caught between conflicting evils."
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.
"NOT MADE OF STONE"
A "Firefly" story
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
* * * * *
"More information would be good, I'm thinkin'."
Inara had to fight to find her voice. All her Companion training momentarily deserting her. When she did not respond Mal's frown deepened.
"I take it you've seen somethin' like this before, *dui*?"
She nodded. "Yes, Mal." A pause. A dry throat swallowing hard. "How much did you handle it?"
He looked surprised at her question then looked down at the unprepossessing chain as it lay with seeming innocence upon the plush grey velvet bag. "A little. It has an uneven weight but then the spheres - River calls 'em planets - aren't the same size, shape or weight. Why?"
Inara closed her eyes for a moment then urged him to put the chain back in the pouch. Preferrably without touching it. "You have to get rid of it. As soon as possible."
"*Weishenme*? What is it?"
"A tracking device."
He almost dropped it, the colour draining from his face then flushing with anger as he realised he had been set up. "That *chusheng xai-jiao de xiang huo*..."
"Just get rid of it, Mal."
His first instinct was to do exactly that but then he froze, his mind racing. Possibilities occurring to him as he hefted the weight of the little bag in his hand. His look thoughtful.
Inara noticed his mood change and put a hand on his arm. "Don't."
"Whatever it is you're thinking. Don't do it."
"Just thinkin' we been handed the perfect way to get that *tamade hundan* back."
She shook her head. "No, Mal. *Ni bu dong*."
"Then explain it to me." He said with quiet intensity.
All of a sudden she had a vivid idea of what playing poker with Malcolm Reynolds would be like. "This kind of device may look crude but it's really very sophisticated."
"*Shi ma*? How so?"
"The usual way would be to key the device into the DNA of the target."
She nodded. "You."
"Why me? I saved that *hundan's* life so why would he thank me this way? An' how would he get my DNA to use against me?"
"He had you in custody, *jide*? Handcuffed."
"Not likely to forget but I'm not seein' your point here."
"DNA is carried in all the body fluids, Mal, not just blood, urine and semen. Also in sweat."
"*Qing*, let me finish." She said softly.
He nodded, face taut. Hands bunched into tight fists. Every line of his body was tense.
"I don't know why he would do this to you Mal or what he thinks it will accomplish but I don't like it. Why give you a map? Especially such a hard one to read? What did he expect you to do with it?"
He was about to say something then stopped, mouth open but no sound coming out of him. His eyes widened slightly in shocked realisation. Inara stared at him. He blinked then turned bleak eyes on her, the rest of the blood draining from his face. "He was usin' me, Inara."
The Companion frowned, not sure what was coming next. "Using you?"
A tight nod. Pain flickering in his eyes and dulling the depth of the blue. "Makes sense now." He murmured to himself.
"River. Said somethin' that was all kinds of confusing. Said they were lookin' for her but I paid it no mind. Now I'm thinkin' this explains everythin'." He paused. "He doesn't want me, Inara, he wants River."
Inara was baffled. "How could he want River? He doesn't know she's here."
"Maybe, maybe not. Or maybe he's fishin' an' this is the hook." His head jerked up at his own words, echoing ones spoken to him by Simon's sister. He was fired with a sudden urgency. "I have to talk to her."
"Mal, I think you're heading down the wrong path. This can't have anything to do with River."
The Captain shook his head, eyes hardening with grim determination and turning cold. "*Bushi*, this has everythin' to do with River an' if that *wangba ban* thinks I'm gonna hang on his hook until he reels her in he's got another gorram thing comin'!"
The child's bird-song voice thrilled through him as he luxuriated in the softly scented foam. Anxious faces pinched into false smiles. Yards of agony bound in inches of sorrow. All invested in the cloth of his regard. A bastardised coat-of-many-colours where the coin of the realm washed away the blood of innocents. Yet forever would his soul be stained, his spirit darkened by unnatural pursuits that sparked a twisted passion he craved without let. The estate was dressed with the most exquisite finery. Fountains played melodious tunes as their flowing waters were coloured by hidden lamps, their fluted openings gushing forth in time to the music.
Paul Santo rose from his sunken bath. The deep half shell sporting young girls made busy with natural sponges and bath oils. As he stood he paused and watched them, waiting for them to gather the deep cotton towels to dry him down. Nervous hands patted him while his smile grew, his hands turning to touch, to stroke, to play whatever intimacy his foul mind imagined for the sport of his craven flesh. They shivered, he sighed with rising desire. It was the wave that interrupted his pleasure and turned the handsome face into a distorted image from *diyu*. Anger and irritation vied with each other for ascendance giving the girls their chance to retreat and make themselves scarce.
"I told you not to disturb me here." He snapped as a robe was placed around his shoulders.
"Your pardon *shifu* but one of your operatives is very anxious to speak to you. He says you ignore him at your peril."
Something flashed in Santo's eyes. His major domo took an involuntary step back. He had seen that look before and was wary of what it might presage. Santo was nothing if not a twisted son of a bitch. The only people who did not think so were those who had died before his birth. Yet he had a dark kind of charisma as evil men often did. A fell charm that could ease his way passed many a well earned gallows. He also had his followers. Men equal to his perversions but not quite so gifted in carrying them out.
Simon did not like the way this conversation was turning out. The Captain was not looking at him, all his attention was on River. She tilted her pale face and regarded him in silence. Taking the time to hear him out before speaking. Inara stood taut and uncertain a step behind him. Fortunately no one else was in the infirmary at that time of day.
"Told you." Said River softly.
The apology was in the Captain's voice. "I know but it made no sense at the time."
River nodded, eyes sad but with no hint of condemnation. "Separate paths that cross and join. Pieces in motion blind to each other. Not smooth. Battle lines being drawn in someone else's war."
"River, I need you to tell me what this is about, *dong ma*?"
Her pale face tilted. Her eyes became distant lamps shining on a faraway shore. "They follow, afraid to draw too close."
"Who, River? Alliance?"
Simon held his breath as he listened. River seemed not to hear the Captain yet her words belied the chilling absence of her presence, eyes shining vacant like empty stars. "He thinks you tricked him. Angry now."
"How does he think I tricked him?"
All of sudden she snapped back into the focus of the here and now, her eyes glued to his, willing him to understand. "Last time he looked but couldn't find us." She paused, watching his face keenly to make sure he was following. "Then he found out. Whispers reaching straining ears. Waiting to breathe poison into open veins."
His eyes widened slightly, wanting to be certain of her meaning. "Speak plain, River."
She blinked and took on an unexpected cockney accent. "Found out we was 'ere all the time. Me an' Simon. Didn't like bein' bested by no browncoat *hundan*. So 'e plotted 'is revenge, see? Wants the prize for his masters, you for hisself."
"How did he know?"
He blinked. "Whispers?"
"Yeah. Hidin' round corners, amazin' what you'll pick up."
Simon reached for her but she managed to keep just out of arms reach, the Captain her pivot as she danced around on light feet a measured footfall at a time as if moving to some inward beat only she could hear. He could imagine that even on her deathbed she would be graceful. A cold illogic that pained him. With a jolt Simon realised the Captain was speaking. "You sayin' we got us a spy?"
Her head tilted again and the cockney accent disappeared. Voice now sad, plaintive almost. It sent little chills down Simon's spine. The Captain was hanging on her every word. Inara did not know what to think beyond a growing unease. She could almost feel the brush of the sword of Damocles as it hung over their heads, the bright balanced blade swinging in a slow languid arc that belied the razor sharpness of its' glittering edge. Its' finish the mocking mirror of death.
"Thinks he's a patriot." River explained in an emotionless voice. "Worst kind of traitor is the one with a twisted heart. Makes everything skewed out of true."
She blinked, her eyes slightly unfocused for a moment. The Captain's query brought her back to herself and thus back to them. "Figure of speech, Captain."
His voice dropped a little. "Who's the spy, River?"
"Not who you think. Doesn't know it themself."
He wondered if she meant Jayne or perhaps even the Preacher? Before he could speculate further Wash's voice came over the com. "Captain, you might want to get up here. We're being hailed by an Alliance cruiser!"
He swore and hurried to join Wash on the bridge. Simon, River and Inara exchanged worried glances and silently followed in his wake. Over the months they had been together they had come to learn that what touched one touched them all. River and Simon were not simply crew, they were family.
Sheriff Bowman frowned but could not say anything. Jarrod had told them Mal and Jayne had escaped by shuttle then left. The interspacial yacht they now comandeered was sleek and fast but it used fuel like a glutton at a feast leaving mouths to open and close on nothing. He kept his peace and watched, the *laoban's* men taking charge and seemingly unconcerned at the rate at which they were spending the precious fuel. It was not until they were well into the Black that he realised why. Their only cargo was fuel. Realising the single minded nature of their mission did not ease his heart one whit. He glanced at his deputies and saw his own unease reflected on their honest faces.
Paul Santo was livid. He stared at the carefully scrambled link. "You're sure of this?"
The voice that echoed back was definite. No room for misunderstanding. "Yes. An Alliance Cruiser has hailed them."
Santo was silent for a short while. "And they were on their way here?"
A silence fell. Over several heartbeats no one dared to breathe. "They cannot know." He murmured. "I was so careful." The last words were like a mist on his tongue, they disolved before they reached the ears of his men yet the face staring back at him could lip read. He forgot that piece of expertise in his momentary distraction.
"What do you want me to do?"
His eyes darkened. "Nothing. Continue as before."
The figure nodded then the link was severed. He stared unseeing at the logo then shut it off completely. After a moment he looked at his major domo. "Find out who commands that cruiser."
As the man strode briskly away Santo's lips twisted into an ugly look of disatisfaction. All his plans were in danger of turning to ratshit. He would not be driven from his lucrative trade by any man, least of all some pathetic loser of a browncoat and his ragged band of thieves. How could the Companion ally herself with such *wuneug de ren*?
Captain Malcolm Reynolds stared at the image of Commandant Harkan and tried to keep his voice calm, his mild manner belying the churning inside his gut.
"Prepare to be boarded, Captain Reynolds."
He affected innocence and a mild curiosity. "You never gave me a chance to thank you for my *liwu*."
The cold lips twisted in a parody of humour. "Then you will be able to do so in person, Captain."
Mal nodded without a word, realising that there was nothing he could say or do to prevent it. As the communication was ended he spun round, expression tight and anguished. "We don't have much time. Simon? I want you and River to go into hiding. Take Yen Mah with you, she'll be with Kaylee. This whole timing is making me all kinds of nervous. Somethin' ain't right."
At that moment Jayne stuck his head around the door. Behind him stood a grave looking Shepherd. Mal had no idea how long they had been standing there or how much they had heard but was grateful he would only have to have this conversation once. "Yeah, I say we blow that *wangba dan* to kingdom come!"
"Jayne," Said the Captain calmly, the tension in his eyes not his voice. "Might want to give that some thought first, *dong ma*? Harkan has a whole cruiser behind him. We don't even have an armed ship."
"No, but we ain't defenceless, Mal. We can take him down soon as he clears the airlock."
The Preacher spoke up before the Captain could. "We would just be blown out of the sky, Jayne. There wouldn't be a piece of Serenity big enough to make a wall plaque or a headstone."
The Captain's face tightened. The thought of anything happening to his boat was like a knife in his guts. Since when did this flying tin can come to mean so much to him? Or maybe it was just the people in it? Not that it mattered, he was not going to let anything happen to either the boat or his crew. *His* crew. How quickly he had donned the clothes prepared for him. He might not remember his history with these people. Might have no recollection of buying this floating junk heap that cradled all their lives against the harsh reality of an unforgiving 'verse, but he felt welded to them now like the layers of his skin. What had simply been him and Yen Mah had somehow blossomed into a whole second family that were as precious to him as every breath he took. He was not going to give that up not for nothing. *When you can no longer run you walk, when you can no longer walk you find someone to carry you*. His heart missed a beat. *Diyu*. Where had that come from and why did it touch him deep, beyond the shifting ground of lost memories to the bedrock of something so fundamental it seemed to underpin his moral code and run right through his gorram soul like letters through a stick of rock?
There were many former colony worlds. Outposts where the Guild held more sway than the Alliance. Places so remote as to rouse little or no interest from the Core planets. The Guild used them as listening posts. Remote hideaways. Training grounds and places for rest and sojourn at the journey's end. Except the journey they referred to was life itself. The old man's face was heavily lined. Wrinkled as a walnut. Sun darkened as he squinted up at the sky above his head and relived memories that would have to colour in the days of the rest of his life. Once he had been handsome. Once he had been strong. Young. Torn away from the bossom of his family to serve an indenture imposed on him for his gift with herbs. It was strange the way the 'verse shifted like sand in his hands, not able to allow him to hang on to even this.
The women at least gave him respect. They liked the Chinaman's calm quiet manner. His skills prized for treating their ailments without side affects. The preparations created to age old formulas passed down by word of mouth from one apothecary to the next. He was not a doctor. Not a man of medicine but he was a healer. Of heart and soul as well as physical flesh. He also had a limited gift of sight and what he saw when his eyes rimmed over with milky darkness made him tremble as he slept.
Tired eyes opened with sadness and regret. The price was too high but he knew she would pay it. He also knew she would regret it for the rest of her life. Tears dampened wizzened cheeks. Sleep would not come now and he was grateful. Unwilling to surrender to the mocking arms of his nightmares. If only there had been a better way. The Tao would not feel despoiled beneath his newly washed feet. His heart flagging under the weight of a gentle conscience constrained by someone else's necessity. He might as well have been deaf and dumb as well as exiled for all the good he could do here. And yet it was not in his nature to give up. Wiping his tear stained face he prayed to the ancestors and kneeling on the hard cold floor he lit the incense and bowed his head. Knowing that all he could do was keep the child safe.
The Captain felt the tight air of tension wrap around him and squeeze the breath in him so that he took slow shallow inhalations to mask the rapid beat of his heart. He did not like this. Hated the way Harkan had played him yet he had to be careful. Not let the man know he knew. If he did he would want to know the how and the why and the wherefore and no way in *diyu* would he bring Inara into this. If his neck was on the line so be it. Didn't mean anyone else had to suffer. Leastways not if he could help it.
"Ah Captain, good to see you again!"
He nodded at the disingenuous smile and the false bon homie. "Commandant. To what do I owe the honour of this visit?"
The Commandant's smile stiffened slightly and the Captain almost smirked. The Commandant would make a poor poker player but he did not intend to let that notion underestimate the danger they were in. This man held their lives in his hands quite literally. And he had the weight of an Alliance Cruiser to back up any action he wanted. It paid to play nice when you had a tiger by the tail. The Commandant was followed and flanked by twenty men. Captain Reynolds felt his palms begin to sweat. This was going to be even worse than he had imagined. A cursory search would not satisfy the man this time. "Is there somewhere we can talk?" He asked mildly, lifting an eyebrow.
Behind him Mal could feel Zoe stiffen and twitch. Knew that his crew was tense and anxious. He worried that Jayne might try something but the few words he had exchanged with the Preacher should keep the mercenary in check. If anyone did anything to upset the balance this whole bluff would blow up in their faces. In which case it would not just be River and Simon Tam who would pay for it. It would be *all* of them and that would include little Yen Mah too. No gorram way was he going to let that happen. Not on his boat.
"How private you want this?"
The Commandant just stared at him. Mal nodded as if he had received his answer. Only then did Harkan turn slightly to his major domo, making sure he kept one eye on the Captain at all times. Behind Zoe little Kaylee was shaking in her boots but trying hard to appear unaffected and calm. Only her faith in the Captain kept her from crying. Inara put a hand on Kaylee's shoulder and the mechanic took comfort in her presence. They had come through worse than this. The Commandant glanced at the crew before giving his instructions. "I want you to search this ship from top to bottom, *dong ma*?"
His major domo nodded then began to divide the men into teams of two, one set tasked to remain with the Captain and Commandant. Jayne Cobb's eyes narrowed dangerously at that but a look from the Captain kept him from saying or doing anything. Harkan smiled at the Captain. "Your quarters would probably be best."
Mal did not like the sound of that one bit. His quarters. Why there? But he did not gainsay it, instead he gave a tight nod and led the way not saying a word as he did so. Harkan by contrast seemed to relax, the two Alliance soldiers falling in behind them like an escort. As Harkan walked passed his major domo he told the man to join him in the Captain's quarters when he was done. Zoe and Jayne exchanged a concerned glance. Wash slid an arm around his wife's waist but resisted the urge to talk. Only the Shepherd seemed perfectly at ease, his sharp eyes missing nothing behind the polite immobile mask.
"What do ya suppose that's all about?" Whispered Jayne to the Shepherd the moment the guards were out of earshot.
"He is trying to intimidate us."
"By isolating the Captain he hopes to get what he wants from him without having to threaten the rest of us."
"Cap won't talk."
Book nodded, a little worry line appearing between his eyes. "I know but the Commandant doesn't know that."
"Then he ain't as smart as he thinks he is. He'll leave empty handed." Said Jayne with a smug tone to his voice.
The Shepherd said nothing allowing the big man to reassure himself. Zoe was feeling more and more anxious. Afraid the Alliance soldiers would find Simon, River and Yen Mah and equally afraid that if they didn't the Commandant would make the Captain pay for it. Wash squeezed her hand. "It'll be okay, *bao bei*. Captain'll fix it, you'll see."
The look she gave him almost made his heart stop. Wisely he shut his mouth with a snap and did not open it again.
When Harkan and the Captain reached his quarters, the Commandant turned and gave a nod to the two soldiers. Without a word they took up their posts either side of the Captain's hatch. He felt a sliver of fear slide down his back making him all manner of uneasy. What the gorram was going on? Harkan's eyes were devoid of all humour or warmth now. He nodded to the Captain. "After you, Sgt Reynolds."
The reversion to his army rank was not a good thing. Reminded him all too much of the last time they had met when the Commandant had accused him and his people of attacking that transport ship and murdering the settlers and their families. Of cutting on and torturing the lone survivor. He felt his breath hitch. *Tamade*, where the *diyu* had that come from? Slowly memories were leaking back to him but instead of reassuring him they were deepening a pit of growing dispair deep inside him. The Commandant leaned towards him and hissed near his ear. "I'm waiting Sgt and I am not a patient man."
The Captain swallowed, nodded, and wordlessly opened his hatch and climbed down the ladder. Behind him he could feel and hear the heavy tread of his doom following close behind. As the Commandant reached the bottom of the ladder he turned and pulled the hatch closed after him. Outside, one of the soldiers walked along the corridor to the control panel and locked the Captain's door. Hearing the click and the cycle of the locking mechanism drew an angry frown across the Captain's face. "What the gorram do you think you're playin' at?"
"Not playing." Said the Commandant mildly. His softened words alarming Mal more than if the *hundan* had shouted at him. "You lied to me, Sgt. Told me you hadn't seen those siblings. That they weren't on your ship."
"You searched Serenity, saw for yourself."
"No, Sgt." The Commandant stepped closer, invading his personal space now. His expression like a piece of granite. His eyes cold and measuring. "I saw what you wanted me to see."
Mal's eyebrows shot up. "*Shi ma*? How'd I do that? *Diyu* I didn't know I was so gifted."
Anger flashed in the Commandant's eyes and before he could step back Harkan slammed a fist into the Captain's face. His head snapped back at the unexpected blow, a trickle of blood running from the corner of his mouth where he had split his lip. "No more games, Captain!"
"Not playin' no games, an' what's the meanin' of hands on? I let you board my boat, let your men search it. Is that any way to treat an honest man?"
The Commandant laughed darkly but it was not a pleasant sound. "Honest? You lied to me, had me actually believing that *gos se* story about Reavers. I let you go!"
"An' you did the right thing."
"Shut up!" Silence hard and edgy fell between them. The anger in the Commandant's eyes had gone up a notch or two. "You had those siblings here all the time, didn't you? And don't think to lie to me again."
The Captain said nothing.
"Where are they?"
"Don't know what you're..."
Another fist connected. This time there was a loud crack and the Captain stumbled back towards his bunk. The Commandant shoved him the rest of the way so that he fell on the bed. Glaring down at him Harkan was so mad that for a moment he could not speak. Captain Reynolds watched the man try to control himself, his tongue tentatively touching the inside of his bruised and bloody cheek. He watched Harkan force himself to take a couple of deep breaths in an effort to calm himself down enough to talk. "You made a fool of me, Reynolds, and no man does that and lives to brag about it."
They stared at each other for several minutes. The tension was broken by a soft rap on the hatch. The Commandant rapped twice on the wall without taking his eyes off the Captain and both heard the lock being released. Harkan's Lieutenant let himself down the ladder and left the hatch open above his head.
"Well?" The Commandant snapped impatiently.
The Lieutenant shook his head. "Nothing, sir."
The Commandant turned and glared down at the Captain. "Get up!" Harkan looked at his major domo. "Cuff him and take him into custody."
"What about the rest of the crew?"
The Captain wanted to beg, to plead, to do anything to save them but one look at the hard mask of the Commandant's face and he realised with a sinking feeling that a word from him would be as good as a death warrant. When he remained silent the Commandant let a cold sliver of a smile form a hairline crack on his stony face. Knowing he had him now. That at last the Captain understood. "Let them go. If any attempt is made to follow us or obstruct this investigation we will kill their Captain." He smiled a slow predatory smile, looking deep into the Captain's eyes. "Only it won't be a quick or merciful death. We'll do to him what he did to that poor *wangba dan* we rescued. *Dong ma*?"
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*dui* = correct *weishenme* = why *chusheng xai-jiao xiang huo* = animal fucking bastard
*shenme* = what *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *ni bu dong* = you don't understand
*shi ma* = is that so?/Oh really? *hundan* = bastard *jide* = remember *qing* = please
*bushi* = not so *wangba dan* = bastard *diyu* = hell *shifu* = sir *laoban* = boss
*dong ma* = understand *wuneug de ren* = trash (ie despicable person) *liwu* = gift
*bao bei* = precious/treasure *tamade* = fuck *gos se* = crap
Tuesday, January 06, 2004 12:46 AM
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