Easy Tickets: Chapter 3
Thursday, May 25, 2006

One of the baddies gets ready for action; Mal, Jayne and Kaylee go shopping with mixed results; Kaylee gets a surprise, and River finally gets through to Simon.


See Chapter 1 and my blog for disclaimers and such.

Except I have to say thanks to VERA2529, LEEH, and GUENEVER for the beta help!

* * *

Ginger left the rest of her crew, carefully creeping over the crest of the hill and down into the shallow valley, looking for a place to set up. The familiar cold clarity was coming over her already. Lately there hadn’t been enough opportunities to snipe, and she’d been getting restless. Not shooting gave her an itch that even Will couldn’t scratch; only a job could put her fully at ease.

She loved what she did. She loved how all the stupid complications of life went away and all that was left was the target. She loved the hard satisfaction of making something or someone silently shatter in the center of her crosshairs, and all the effort it took was a bare millimeter’s movement of her finger. Like she was the Almighty, striking from a distance with inevitable power.

Ginger could shoot. She’d been good at it the first time she ever had a rifle in her hands, just a nine year old girl on a swampy border world. She’d gotten better since, and the weapon in her hands had gotten a whole lot better too.

A couple hundred meters out from the Firefly’s wide open cargo bay, she found an ideal spot. She set her rifle down carefully, almost lovingly, then kneeled behind a rock of just the right height. She folded up her faded green military coat and set down her pack, then took a few seconds to check the ammo in the pistol hanging from her belt.

When she was ready, she rested the rifle barrel on the rock in front of her and squinted through the sights; as she’d expected, the brightness of the afternoon had overwhelmed her vision and she couldn’t make out any detail in the dark of ship’s cargo hold. She set about fixing the problem by getting a duck billed cap and some heavily shaded goggles out of her pack and putting them on.

She had one thing to do while she waited for her eyes to adjust; she pulled a small comm out of her shirt pocket and activated it. It was time to talk to the boss.

“Aunt Betty, you there?” she said. “It’s Ginger.”

Of course, the woman wasn’t really named Betty. Ginger had a few ideas about who Aunt Betty really was, as did Will, but it wasn’t their place to be figuring that out. All they needed to do was carry out the job, exactly as Ray planned it.

Ginger wasn’t sure how much Ray guessed about Betty. Most likely, he didn’t even care who she really was. The man just wanted the pay-off. The ignorant hick had never even been off this world; he didn’t have a clue about how complicated things could be. He didn’t know how to cover his ass.

A reply finally came through: I’ll be right with you. The voice sounded crisp and clear; it belonged to an elderly woman.

Ginger waited, watching Ray, Will, and Hank. They had been creeping down the hillside, and were just reaching the bottom of the valley. They stopped twenty meters from the Firefly, huddling behind a rock to make final plans.

It was near a minute before the Aunt Betty spoke again.

Ginger, my dear, how are things proceeding?

“These folks are fools. We’ll have their ship in a few. Thought you’d wanna have a look.” She tipped her head towards the clear blue sky, focusing on the colorful pattern of the rings that encircled the world’s belly.

How kind of you to think of me.

The woman’s voice was low but pleasant; Ginger never could tell if she was serious when she said things like that. “Locate my signal yet?” she asked.

The visual is coming up now.

Ginger stretched out on her back and waved one arm over her head, keeping it low to the ground. No one who wasn’t directly above would see the movement.

“You got me?” she asked.

Yes, thank you. You’ll have the ship soon?

“Shouldn’t be a problem.”

Very good. Let me know when you reach the harvestor, so I can time the rendezvous.

“Will do.”

Good luck, deary.

Ginger returned the comm to her pocket, snickering at how easy the conversation had gone. Necessary, too. The signal between herself and Aunt Betty could be tracked and logged by interested third parties, if they knew what to look for.

She settled back to wait; she was good at waiting. Had years of experience with that. One of the main lessons of being in the military, at least the branch of it she’d been in: how to pass time.

Not basic training, of course. There hadn’t been any spare time there. It was the months following basic that had been hard for Ginger to take. She’d expected to be picked for special ops right away, because of the way she could shoot. Instead, it’d been a year and a half, time she’d had to spend as a grunt in the regular service.

It turned out the delay was for security; she was from an Independent world and the Alliance wasn’t sure about her loyalties. It took a series of psyche tests and screenings to convince them that Ginger was just a simple young soldier. But she was honest and steadfast about her talent and her purpose. She could shoot. She didn’t much care about the rest. If the Alliance was willing to give her a gun worthy of her abilities and a target to hit, she’d hit it. Simple as could be.

After a time, the Alliance brass made peace with that, and the call came.

The following two decades were a good time. Assassinations, covert ops, always an interesting job, always challenging and satisfying, and the few missions that failed no one could blame Ginger for. She never missed.

When the war came, the missions changed. The small group she’d been working with for the past several years expanded, took on tougher jobs that involved getting behind enemy lines on shithole rim worlds. Sometimes weeks of sneaking and role playing were involved in a single kill. She found it tiresome. But then she started working with Will.

Will was quite a guy. Good at planning a job and carrying it through no matter. Good at getting people to go about things his way. Good in bed, keeping life fun for her in the long breaks between jobs. She thought of him as her man, though she knew he had plenty of other women. Didn’t bother her none. She had to have a man to scratch the itch, and she was glad to have such a one as Will to do it. Best of all, he didn’t let it interfere with business, and neither did she. They kept it simple. Business and sex. None of that family crap, no possessiveness or silly spats about what else they did with their free time. Nice and simple.

She watched her man split off from the other two and circle toward the back of the Firefly. Then Will gave a signal and the three men walked across the last open space, approaching from the side. Best to go at a walk – less suspicious if they happened to be seen.

The men reached the ship. Ginger shifted one eye of her goggles up to her forehead and squinted through the sights again, peering into the Firefly’s cargo bay. This time she could make something out: there was a man in there, moving things around. A tall guy, dressed like a Browncoat. Must be the one that Will’d talked to yesterday morning, the captain of the ship.

Motion on the hillside to her right caught her eye and she swung her rifle toward it.

* * *

3 days ago

The crew got up early again, and took a few hours to finish gathering up goods, including several baskets of raspberries and a few large bags of Simon’s terrible tasting greens. Mal allowed them a last swim to cool off, then Serenity took to the sky.

The weak EM signals Wash had picked up came from the southern continent of the world, an area covered in a thick blanket of snow. It was mid afternoon local time when Serenity reached the source of the signals: a town situated around a y-shaped river junction. The half-frozen main river wound lazily through a tree-filled valley, and the tributary came down from the west, just finishing its descent through the foothills of a north-south trending mountain range.

The portion of the town on the west side of the main river had a sparse scattering of wooden houses tucked between the heavily forrested hills. The larger section of town was on the flatter east side, and it was full of people out walking the streets.

Wash set them down in an open field near a road leading in from the east. “Radio signals,” he told Mal. “Nothing strong. I’d guess there are a few people playing with old comms.”

Mal and Wash were on the bridge with Zoë and Kaylee, looking out the windows at the thin traffic on the road in front of them. People in colorful homemade clothing pushed homemade carts through the slush. The buildings looked homemade as well, and there was no sign of lightposts or power cables.

“Don’t look like they got much in the way of electronics here, Kaylee,” Mal said.

“If they’re powerin’ comms, they could have other stuff,” she replied hopefully. “Won’t hurt to look.”

“Sure hope it won’t,” Mal mumbled, then he raised his voice. “Zoë, you stay here. Looks like we’ve drawn a bit of a crowd. Be friendly, but make sure no one comes near the ship. Jayne, you’re with me and Kaylee.”

* * *

The locals were friendly and happy to greet foreigners. Book and Wash were out in front of the ship already, busily making new friends. Zoë stayed back a bit, settling on the ramp to play watchdog. Inara, wrapped up in a dark blue hooded cloak, kept Zoë company.

Mal, Jayne, and Kaylee made their way through the small crowd, saying a few polite hellos, then they gained the road and followed it into town.

The place had character and charm enough to make up for the lack of modern comforts. The buildings were made of dark wooden beams edging walls of white plaster, and icicles hung from empty flower boxes beneath nearly every window. Snow-covered evergreens and maples filled the squares, but the streets were clean of snow down to large paving stones that had been carefully placed to allow carts to roll smooth. The people here cared for their town, and it showed.

Word of the visitors spread, and the residents gaped at the three strangers with avid curiosity, commenting unabashedly in a deep guttural language mixed with a scattering of English and Chinese.

The center of town was the area nearest the river junction, where a large open square led to a bridge spanning the main river. Buildings of stone lined the square; most were set up on blocks to keep them above the inevitable spring floods; hinged wooden staircases led up into the shops and eateries.

The rich, warm smell of roasted meat wafted out of one of the largest buildings. It was set on the river side of the square; a sign above the door displayed a mug with a foamy head sitting behind a joint of meat. Jayne peered in the door with an open mouth, and when three laughing young women in fur-lined coats climbed the stairs to go in, Jayne turned to Mal with a pleading expression.

It looked to be the biggest establishment in town and a suitable place to gather the news, so Mal nodded. “Okay,” he said. “But – Jayne?”


“Behave yourself. I need to do some talkin’ and get the lay of the land. If things go smooth then you can have your night of drunken sin. But later – not now, dŏng ma? I need you to stay with Kaylee, look after her.”

“But if I stay by Kaylee the gals’ll think I got a woman already – ”

“S’alright Jayne,” Kaylee said as she took his arm. “A taken man just makes a challenge to some womenfolk. You can come back later lookin’ for a mistress.” She grinned in hopeful anticipation. “And maybe I’ll find myself a mister.”

Jayne grinned back. “What the guĭ, could be fun.” They went arm and arm up the stairs behind Mal.

* * *

A half hour later, Mal yanked a half-full pint glass out of Kaylee’s hand. He set it on the wooden table heavily enough to splash a little ale toward the pair of strapping young bucks chatting with her. They responded to his interference with some ire, but when he pulled his coat back to show his gun, they made no more fuss.

“Where’s Jayne?” Mal asked Kaylee, but she was busy saying goodbye to her boys, her voice slightly slurred. Mal looked around, and spotted the mercenary across the room with the three young ladies they’d seen come in the door.

Mal didn’t spare much time for manners as he dragged his two crew members into the chill air outside, but he did at least try to keep his calm. “If you two are done makin’ friends,” he said, “how `bout we get some work done. I got directions to a fellow who plays with machines. Bartender says he could have somethin’ for us.”

“Tha’s fantastic, Cap!” Kaylee said, grinning as she hung onto Jayne’s arm.

Mal looked at her closely. “How much did you drink?”

“Not even two!” she said.

“Gorram lightweight,” Jayne said, seeming a mite unsteady himself. “No worry, Mal. I got a hold on her.”

“Noooo, ya don’t!” Kaylee said as she spun away from Jayne. He easily caught her by the waist and swung her over his shoulder.

“You drunk too, Jayne?” Mal asked

“Nahhhh. Only had three pints. M’just in a good mood.” He grinned wider and slapped Kaylee’s rear end. This got nothing more than a half-hearted yelp in reply.

Mal studied Jayne’s bright face with annoyance. “Uh-huh. Some crew I got. Put her down, Jayne, walkin’ll help. Kaylee, get your brain back on. We got shoppin’ to do.”

Kaylee wavered after Jayne set her down, then focused on Mal with a lazy smile. “Brain’s always on, Cap. It’s called nashural talent.”

Mal turned away with a huff and lead the tipsy pair toward the wide stone bridge, and they crossed over to the hillier side of town.

“Guess what I heard, Mal,” Jayne said eagerly.

“A gunhand who gets drunk on the job forfeits his cut?”

Jayne paused in confusion. “Huh? No, that ain’t it – listen: they ain’t got no bears this side of the world – folks `round here’ll pay lots for that skin.” Jayne threw his shoulders back proudly. “I got myself purchasin’ power.”

“Buddha help us,” Mal said under his breath.

“Just wish I’d a’ saved the balls, bet there’s big money for them.”

Mal threw a disgusted glance at Jayne. Kaylee was skipping over the cobblestones, avoiding the cracks, and didn’t hear.

As they reached the center the bridge, Jayne looked back to study the shops in the main square. “Ya think they got a cat house in town?” he asked.

Kaylee heard that. “O-ooh!” she cooed. “Just what Serenity needs – a kitten! Gotta get two, Jayne, so the one don’t get lonely.”

Jayne only heard what he wanted. “Two instead a’one?” His eyes lit up.

“He ain’t talkin’ about felines, Kaylee,” Mal said.

“A black one and a’ orange one,” she continued. “I’ll hafta rig a way into my bunk so as they can climb down n’ nap with me.”

Jayne’s were glazed over. “Two, huh! Ain’t done that in a while…”

Mal gave up and let them both rattle on as they saw fit.

The house was a ten minute walk up a broad snow-covered lane that wound through the trees. Mal was keeping a lookout for the landmark the bartender had told him about: a large bunch of rocks with a number painted on it. But, even in her state, Kaylee managed to recognize their destination first. A large green tarp was tied between the trees in front of a dark brown wooden house; under the tarp was an impressive collection of machines and parts. Kaylee plunged through the snow to get to the pile, then wound through the junk like it was a candy store.

“Don’t hurt yourself!” Mal called, eyeing the many rusty edges and sharp pieces of metal sticking up out of the heap.

“But Cap – looky here…” Kaylee started, but then she froze, staring toward the far side of the pile. “O-ooooh…” she made another sound like the one she’d made over the idea of kittens, but this coo was longer and more heartfelt. She backed off the pile and jogged around to the back of it.

Mal noticed a bearded man coming out of the front door of the house, watching Kaylee with obvious amusement.

“Something I can help you folk with?” the man asked.

“As a matter of fact, there is,” Mal replied, walking toward the house with a friendly smile and an outstretched hand. “Name’s Malcolm Reynolds.”

“Hans Grün.” The reply came with a friendly nod and handshake.

“If you’ll give me just one second,” Mal said pleasantly, holding up a finger, then he went to Kaylee and pulled her away from the large machine she was fondling. It was a beastly metallic frame with four seats mounted under a steel canopy roof. Mal thought it didn’t look to be in bad shape, other than not having any wheels.

“Kaylee. Grav drive, remember?”

“But Cap….” She pointed back toward the transport. “Xiù lì!”

“Greasy spots, Kaylee. We’ll all be greasy spots.”

Kaylee whined one more time, but obediently let Mal lead her to Hans.

“I gotta apologize,” Mal said, “Kaylee here’s not normally so…” He paused at the sound off to his side, then sighed when he recognized it. Slowly they all looked over to see Jayne, back to them, stance visibly unsteady as he whizzed on a tree.

Kaylee broke down in giggles while Mal tried to think of something to say to Hans. Nothing came out but, “Uhhh…”

“I will guess you stopped at the Pint and Joint?” Hans asked, scratching his chin.

“That we did.”

“Scotch ale?”

Kaylee leaned against Mal as she replied happily, “Mmmm, scotch ale.”

“Yes, mädchen, sehr gut ale, but one pint equals three pints of other ale for making drunk, ja?”

“Nice goin’, Jayne,” Mal said with a sidelong glare at the mercenary.

Jayne was still busy yellowing the snow, but he looked over his shoulder. “What’d I do?”

“Maybe you come in for tea before we make business?” Hans offered.

“Much obliged,” Mal said. He glanced at Jayne. “I’m guessin’ he’ll just join us when he’s done, if, uh, he ever is.”

* * *

Mal had a fruitful conversation with Hans while he waited for his mechanic to sober up. It took a few sips of tea, one sudden and hurried trip to the outhouse with a hand over her mouth, then a good deal more tea and some hearty bread and cheese before she more or less came round. She went back out to the front yard and picked through the pile, only throwing a few covetous glances at the big machine behind it. When she came back in, Mal was looking somewhat hopeful. Jayne, on the other hand, was sitting in a corner holding his head.

“Sorry, Cap’n,” she said sheepishly. “Didn’t see nothin’ that’d help.” She didn’t ask about the thing she really wanted, and Mal didn’t have the heart to tell her that he’d already asked the price. It was more than he could pay.

Out of appreciation for the man’s news, as well as his patience and help with the sobering up process, Mal left a few coins with Hans and they went on their way.

* * *

It was late afternoon and already getting dark when Mal, Jayne, and Kaylee returned to Serenity. Mal sent Kaylee to her bunk to nap off her headache, then turned to Jayne. The mercenary was intent on bundling up his bear fur, which had been hanging on display in the cargo bay. But Jayne couldn’t move fast enough to escape a scolding.

“You can’t be doin’ crap like that, not out here,” Mal told him. “We don’t know these worlds or these people.”

Jayne didn’t reply, and he kept his back turned, so Mal continued.

“When I tell you to do somethin’, I need to know you can do it, `specially when it’s watchin’ over Kaylee.”

Jayne grumbled something under his breath, which didn’t please Mal at all.

“Gorramit, Jayne, you look at me if you got somethin’ to say.” Mal grabbed Jayne’s arm to pull him up and look him in the eye. “Kaylee’s just fine,” Jayne said defensively. “I was watchin’ her.”

Mal grabbed the front of Jayne’s shirt. “Only thing you were watchin’ was the local tail.” Jayne exhaled with a humph and tried to pull free, but Mal’s grip on his shirt tightened. “You need to stop thinkin’ with your John Thomas. Kaylee trusts people. What if those fellas you left her with had smooth-talked her out the door? Would she be just fine then?”

“She was just talkin’, Mal. She ain’t stupid.”

Mal held on for a few more seconds before he realized that he’d gone too far. He pushed Jayne back and turned away, clenching his hands in an attempt to control his anger.

Jayne threw his bundled fur over his shoulder. “You done?” he asked. Mal didn’t answer, so Jayne started toward the ramp. “I got business to take care of,” he mumbled.

Mal looked after him. “If you end up in a drunk tank tonight, you’ll be stayin’ there for good. We’re leavin’ as soon as we get loaded up.”

“We got cargo?” Jayne turned to ask, but Mal was stalking away.

* * *

Mal knew where his anger had come from, and he had to stop on the stairs behind the infirmary to swallow it down. Near a month it’d been since they’d left Oeneus. Most of that time he’d been all right, even feeling pretty good. He’d managed to stay out of trouble and avoided the Alliance. What’s more, his crew was still with him, though there wasn’t much good to be seen on the road ahead. That was a blessing which, truthfully, he wasn’t sure he deserved. But he had to admit it was a comfort.

What had happened in the village had blindsided him. Kaylee talking with a few flirty locals was completely innocuous, and he knew it. But no happy pill in the `verse would make him forget the things he’d seen while getting the brain fry on Oeneus. The memory of Kaylee in the arms of a violent thug, and then under the knife of Alliance torturers, was burned into him. He could tell himself again and again that it hadn’t been real, but that didn’t quench the fear that it could happen. Any time he let his guard down, it could happen.

Mal pressed his hands to the bulkhead, remembering how physical contact with his ship had helped steady him when he hadn’t been able to trust his other senses. He could always trust his ship. If she ever hurt him, it was because he had let her down first. Like when he hadn’t fixed that compression coil. And now it was the grav drive.

He dropped his hands and continued up the stairs. There’d be time to worry over Kaylee and Jayne – and Inara – later; he had to fix his ship now. And that meant money, and that meant a job. Thankfully, good fortune hadn’t completely abandoned him yet.

He found Zoë in the dining room with Wash, Inara, and Book.

“We got us a job,” Mal announced.

“Here?” Zoë asked, perplexed.

“Apparently there’s a world close by that’s hurtin’ bad for basic foodstuffs, which they got plenty of right here. There just ain’t many transport ships out this way.”

“If it’s fish I’m getting off now,” Wash said.

“You and me both,” Mal replied. “It ain’t fish, just grains and such.” Mal glanced at Book and Inara. “Any of y’all ever been to Niflheim?“

“Gesundheit,” Wash said proudly.

Zoë patted her husband’s hand with a condescending smile. “Very funny, sweetie,” she whispered.

Inara shook her head at Mal. “I’ve heard of it, but it’s so far from the Core that no one from the Guild has even screened clients there.”

“Book?” Mal asked.

“As it happens, I did spend some time on Niflheim once,” Book said.

“Uh-huh.” Mal wasn’t surprised, Book often proved a fount of knowledge. Mal folded his arms and sat back. “And?”

“It was about six years back, just after the war. The terraforming process had begun to fail, and we helped our brethren move to a different world.”

“The terraforming failed?” Wash asked. “I thought that didn’t happen anymore.”

“It didn’t completely fail. The world is still habitable, but nothing much grows on it.”

“People still livin’ there?” Mal asked.

“There are several wealthy Cartels that won’t be leaving anytime soon.” This drew questioning looks all around. “It’s the planetary rings,” he explained. “They’re full of certain valuable minerals, floating around in small easy-to-get-to chunks. There are several mining Cartels making their fortune there. And as long as there are rich folk …”

“… there’ll be poor folk to do the dirty work,” Mal finished, “no matter how hard it is to keep `em fed. That jives with what Hans was tellin’ me.”

“Hans?” Zoë asked.

“Fella I met in town. Used to do trade with Niflheim up till a few years back, when the ships stopped comin’. He said that if we load up on foodstuffs here we’ll be able to unload `em over there for a big take.”

“You mean to profit off of starving people?” Inara asked.

“I mean to do the only job I got in front of me,” Mal said without looking at her.

“But… I’m sure there’s some way to go about it without taking advantage of these people.”

Mal was in no mood to argue morality. He looked up at her. “We’ll sell our goods at the going rate,” he replied tersely. “You should know all about that.”

Inara blinked like she’d just been slapped, and Mal looked away quickly.

“They got Alliance?” he asked Book.

The Shepherd glanced between Mal and Inara before he replied. “Not when I was there; it’s too far from the Core for permanent occupation. The Alliance pays the Cartels to deliver the raw materials needed to build and maintain their empire. The government gets a good price, but doesn’t need to worry over local security or domestic issues. It’s a good arrangement for them.”

“Sounds like a good deal for us, too,” Mal said. “If they got mining operations, they got machinery, and that means tech shops. If we can just get there without blowin’ the grav drive, we ought’a be able to get Serenity fixed up, then sell the goods and be on our way.”

“Hmm, and wring those starving people dry,” Inara said with a plastic smile. “Have fun with that.” She stood up to leave.

“Always do,” Mal called after her. “Got a special talent for sellin’ to the poor.”

Inara didn’t reply, didn’t even turn back to him as she swept out of the room.

Zoë fixed a steady stare on Mal. “What a wonderful mood you’re in, sir.”

Mal glanced at her but ignored the comment. “Hans told me where we can buy some stuff. Let’s go.”

* * *

Buying grain direct from farmers with plenty to sell was an easy transaction, and Mal and Zoë spent damn near every cent they had left. The goods were set to be delivered that night.

On the way back, they ran into Jayne. He had his back braced against the back end of a cart, his feet slipping on the slick paving stones as he tried to help two miserable donkeys move a load that was far too heavy for them. Kaylee’s giant piece of machinery was balanced on the cart, and Hans walked alongside looking extremely cheerful.

“Cap’n, Zoë, good,” Jayne called out as took a break to catch his breath. “I could use some help. Gorram thing’s heavy!”

“Did I tell you to buy that?” Mal asked.

“Well, no,” Jayne replied, on the defensive. “But ya asked the price of it. I figured you must’ve been interested.”

“Actually, Kaylee was the interested party,” Mal said, and saw how Jayne looked away like he was embarrassed. It occurred to Mal, a little late, that Jayne had likely used up all of his precious purchasing power on something useful to the whole crew, and something that Kaylee wanted. The realization finally served to douse his bad mood. He stepped up to the machine and gave it a long look over.

“Jayne, if Kaylee can get it runnin’, it’ll sure be a good thing to have.”

Jayne nodded, his shoulders relaxing, but his voice was still petulant. “You gonna give me some help then?”

Mal nodded. “Yeah, we’ll get it home.”

The three of them shouldered up to the cart and got it rolling along the slippery cobblestones. It took some doing, but they finally maneuvered the monstrosity onto the ship and settled it in a back corner of the cargo bay. Hans took his tired donkeys and departed with many happy words regarding his new bear rug.

Mal was just closing the door to keep the cold out when Kaylee’s shriek sounded from above. She chattered ecstatically as she clattered down the stairs.

“Oh my… wow! All she needs is a little wirin’ work.... gotta check the shaft, kind’a old, may need to rebuild… got some parts somewhere… clean up the anti-grav thrusters, they’s a little rusted. Oh Cap!... A new fuel line. Maybe I can piece one together… put some harnesses on, baby’s gonna corner tight… gonna be jiàn měi chē, kuài too! …gotta get some paint, gotta be yellow… bright shiny yellow… happy Buddha!… fix the hitchin’ hook, put on some wind screens… roof’s gotta go, no need for a roof…”

Wash soon joined Kaylee in her animated admiration of their new toy. Mal let them go on for a bit before he interrupted. “Okay, Christmas is over. Kaylee. Hey - Kaylee!”

“Wha’?” She looked up from where she was sprawled on the deck at the front end of the hovercraft, hands already worked deep into its complicated innards.

“You take care of Serenity’s grav drive before you even look at this again, dŏng ma? Greasy spots don’t go for rides in even the shiniest of hovercrafts.”

“Oh, Cap!” Kaylee jumped up and, before he could stop her, she hugged him tight.

“That is nice of you, Kaylee, but I didn’t buy it. That’s Santa over there.” Mal nodded to Jayne, who was lifting two large ceramic growlers out of the back of the hovercraft. He saw Mal pointing at him and lifted his lip in a confused sneer.

Kaylee gaped for a second, then she ran to the mercenary to say thank you as only Kaylee could.

Jayne stood still, his arms weighted by the bottles he was holding and his head pulled back uncomfortably, and Kaylee hung from his neck with her feet kicked up behind her.

“Well, hell,” Jayne said uncomfortably. “If I go out whorin’ Mal’ll leave me here.”

“Don’t you deny it, Jayne. You did somethin’ nice!” Kaylee told him, and she kissed him on the cheek before she dropped back to the deck.

“I had enough left over to get these.” Jayne held up the two growlers like they were evidence of his true nature.

“Scotch ale?” Mal asked in a worried tone.

“Uh-huh. And I ain’t sharin’ a drop of it.”

“You don’t fool me, Jayne Cobb,” Kaylee said, still looking at him with a proud smile. “You’re gettin’ to be a real gentleman.”

“No, I ain’t,” Jayne said in disgust, and turned away to take his beer to his bunk. He muttered on his way out. “Gorram, already wish I hadn’t bought the thing.”

“All right, the rest a’you folks!” Mal broke off the debate over Jayne’s character. “Let’s clear some space in here. We got goods comin’ in a few, then we’re movin’ on.”

* * *

Simon sat with an unusual slouch; he was tired. It had been a chore to keep River in check that day. She’d been so calm the past month that her sudden mood swings had caught him by surprise. When she’d finally settled down on the catwalk over the cargo bay doors, laying on her stomach and watching the crew come and go below her, he’d stayed beside her, thankful for the rest.

She didn’t stir during all the hubbub of the hovercraft’s arrival, so Simon didn’t either. He smiled fondly as he watched Kaylee patter down the stairs on the far side of the bay, babbling about the hovercraft. His smile broadened when she give her thanks to the Captain, who’d been increasingly moody lately and could probably use the kindness.

But when she flung herself onto Jayne, Simon felt a rush of irritation that he didn’t understand. “It’s inevitable,” River said softly. She was watching, too.

“What’s that?” Simon asked, still distracted by his own thoughts.

“Have to make a move, or the chance goes away.”

Simon glanced down at Kaylee again. “Chance?”

“Chance to be happy.” She rolled onto her back to look at him; her eyes were sad. “People like being here because they know what they want. Don’t need to go looking.” She closed her eyes. “Feels good.”

Simon used to do what he could to distract her when she was in this mood, but lately he had been taking a different approach. The events on Oeneus had shown him that her ramblings contained more insight than he had previously imagined, so he’d been trying to find the meaning behind the things she said. Even when he couldn’t understand her, it seemed to make her feel better that he tried.

Today, she was going in several directions at once, and he had a hard time keeping up.

“People don’t go looking?” he asked. “Which people?”

“Ones who live here.”

“You mean the crew?”

“No,” she sounded impatient now. “The ones outside. Know what they want. Don’t need to go flying everywhere. Have a place and all they need.”

“Like the raspberry bushes,” Simon said softly.

“Know who they are. Wish I knew, so I could be happy too.”

“You’ll be happy. I’ll make you happy again, I promise.”

She shook her head. “Not `till I know.” She sat up and looked down into the bay, where Mal, Zoë, and Wash were piling a few empty canisters to the side and Kaylee was still inspecting the hovercraft. River watched Kaylee for a few seconds before she turned to Simon. “Need to know what you want, or you’ll never have it,” she told him. “It’ll go somewhere else and you’ll drift. Forever. Alone.”

He thought about what she was saying, then he nodded. “I think I understand, mèi mei.” He smoothed her hair back and kissed her forehead before he pulled her to him for a hug.

* * *

Later that night, Kaylee sighed impatiently and shifted inside a folded up mattress. Mal had helped her wedge it into the engine room, building a cushioned nest right next to the open panel under her hammock. Her eyes were on the small system that was causing them such trouble, but her mind was down in the cargo bay, imagining repairs to the battered hovercraft. It was now surrounded so tightly by bins of dried grain that if Mal ever allowed her to work on it, she’d barely have room to maneuver.

Mal’s voice came through the comm. “All set, Kaylee?”

“A-OK, Cap’n,” she replied, and her attention focused on the grav subsystem that began to spin as Wash powered up the ship.

She’d do what she could to make sure the weakened axle kept spinning. If it broke, it wouldn’t affect the ship’s maneuverability, but the artificial grav that kept everyone and everything inside the ship sticking to the floor would go out. Not a big deal if the engines weren’t firing. Actually, she thought with a wistful sigh, zero G could present opportunities for a certain kind of fun, if only the doctor would kindly take part. A dreamy smile spread across Kaylee’s face as her mind wandered.

She felt a slight bump in the ship’s motion when Serenity distanced herself from the planet enough for the artificial grav to kick in. Kaylee wrenched her mind back to the open panel in front of her. It was no time for daydreams, no matter how lovely they might be.

* * *

Wash and Mal were buckled tight to the seats on the bridge. It wasn’t as safe as being rolled up in a mattress, like the rest of the crew was, but someone had to do the flying. There had been some argument about whether two people were needed, but in the end Mal had pulled rank and insisted on staying on the bridge, where he was annoying the hell out of Wash.

“Easy, easy,” Mal said, holding a placating hand out toward the pilot.

“I am easy!” Wash countered. “Easy as Jayne on scotch ale. Would you relax?”

“We can’t be going past ten Gs now,” Mal reminded the pilot. “Just in case – ”

“Really? Ten Gs? I thought it was ten Gs, like you told me five seconds ago. Or ten Gs like you said fifteen seconds ago. Or…”

“Pay attention!” Mal said. “You gotta keep her lined up – ”

“Captain. Sir. If the grav fails while you’re speaking, you could tragically bite your tongue off.”

Mal opened his mouth to reply, then snapped it shut and glared at Wash instead. He settled on watching the ship’s course on the co-pilot’s console and tapping his foot impatiently if it strayed at all.

The ship cleared atmo and Wash plotted the course to Niflheim, carefully setting the acceleration curve to stay within non-grease spot forming limits. When he finished he switched on the comm. “Fair passengers and crew,” he said in a gentle voice, “it will be safe to get up and move about the ship in approximately… four hours. In the meantime, please enjoy your journey with slower than hell enterprises.”

Wash switched off the comm and settled back in his seat. There was nothing to do now but watch the controls and wait until the engine finished firing.

“Mal, it really would be safer if you went to your bunk,” Wash said.

“We’ve been over this, Wash. She’s my boat, I’m stayin’ here to keep an eye on her.”

Wash shrugged. “Sure.” He made himself more comfortable in his seat, then glanced at Mal. “Guess this gives us a chance to chat,” he suggested.

“Yeah. We should… catch up,” Mal replied with a nod.


Mal cleared his throat, then shifted in his chair.

Wash idly flipped a switch that appeared to do absolutely nothing.

Mal adjusted the harness holding him to his seat.

Wash picked up a blue plastic dinosaur.

Mal noticed. He nodded at the toy in Wash’s hand. “So that one there is a… um…”

“Stegosaurus,” Wash filled in.


“Usually,” Wash explained, “a stegosaurus only eats plants, but this one here is different. This is Seeber. Seeber switched brains with Queen T. Rex,” Wash held up a second dinosaur, a vicious-looking orange beast. “That was when the herbivores were experimenting with hallucinogens during a freak lightning storm. So, then Seeber started chewing on the triceratops.” Wash’s snort clearly said can-you-believe-that-crap? “And of course the herbies had to lock him up. And Seeber’s brain in the Queen’s body didn’t work out so well either, because… the… uh…

“Captain? Where are you going?”

* * *


dŏng ma: understand? guĭ: hell xiù lì: pretty jiàn měi chē beautiful, strong vehicle kuài fast mèi mei: little sister

* * *

On to Chapter 4.


Thursday, May 25, 2006 5:11 AM


I told you these chapters get long!! This is almost 7000 words – and my very longest FJ chapter was less than 5000 – most were in the 3’s!

Monday is Labor Day, so Chapter 4 won’t be out till Tuesday. Pout all you want 2x2! :)

Thanks for the encouragement, squish! I understand people don’t want to waste time on a fic that goes places they don’t want to go, but isn’t not knowing part of the fun?

Thursday, May 25, 2006 6:02 AM


OMG! The talk about kittens/cats and how Jayne and Kaylee were thinking two different things! Oh GOD that was great!

Good to see Simon is finally understanding River a little more.

And Mal's little dig at Inara about selling goods at the going rate made me wish she'd reach out and slap the ass.

Great long chapter! Loved it! But - now wew have to wait until Tuesday for more? *whimper*

Thursday, May 25, 2006 7:25 AM


Great Chapter! Here are my fav lines-
“But… I’m sure there’s some way to go about it without taking advantage of these people.”

Mal was in no mood to argue morality. He looked up at her. “We’ll sell our goods at the going rate,” he replied tersely. “You should know all about that.”

This line made me suck in my breath! That is some mean Mal!

Kaylee heard that. “O-ooh!” she cooed. “Just what Serenity needs – a kitten! Gotta get two, Jayne, so the one don’t get lonely.”

Jayne only heard what he wanted. “Two instead a’one?” His eyes lit up.

“He ain’t talkin’ about felines, Kaylee,” Mal said.

LOL! Aww Kaylee wants kitties and Jayne wants tail. I love it when the crew is sloshed!

“You and me both,” Mal replied. “It ain’t fish, just grains and such.” Mal glanced at Book and Inara. “Any of y’all ever been to Niflheim?“

“Gesundheit,” Wash said proudly.

Love it, so Wash!
And I loved Simon and River's conversation!! I just adore this series!, Can't wait for your next post!

Thursday, May 25, 2006 7:57 AM


Oh, okay - so if I am perpetually lost, I should be having fun?!?!

Thanks once more for another fun chapter. This is really more enjoyable than I deserve!

You got me hooked with your Mal and Inara. "Oh, angst, sweet angst"

...which reminds me, any hope of a post-Serenity fic from your active and accurate imagination? soon is graduation?

Thursday, May 25, 2006 8:05 AM


Drunk Kaylee is so cute!!!

Loved this line...

“Captain. Sir. If the grav fails while you’re speaking, you could tragically bite your tongue off.”

Thursday, May 25, 2006 10:50 AM


Finally! All I got to say is if I was on that ship, I'd get drunk on a regular basis too. Good story, but now I have to wait till Tues (I'm with 2x2 on this one) to see how the Ginger thing plays out. Picture me pouting...

Thursday, May 25, 2006 11:17 AM


Caper - after the BDM scares me. No Book, no Wash, and the whole 'verse is different! I need just a few hints from Joss as to what the hell is happening...

Maybe, when this is played out, I'll put some thought into it. wee!

Glad you all enjoyed the fun!

Thursday, May 25, 2006 12:21 PM


I really liked this and Jayne and Kaylee getting drunk made me howl. Loved Jayne selling his bear skin and buying the hovercraft, - he is a big old softie deep down, just like that gorram bear skin. As for Inara slapping Mal for his comment, I'm in the other camp. The day Inara does voluntary work she can carp and criticise to her heart's content. The Captain wasn't going to rob those poor folk just do some honest trade selling goods they really need, everyone has to eat and that includes Serenity and her crew, which my goodness, includes Inara. I am also hopeful that Simon has now got a clue from River about making a move to show his interest to Kaylee before Jayne beats him to it. She may think he's wonderful but she won't wait forever. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Thursday, May 25, 2006 3:29 PM


Mal4Prez said:
Monday is Labor Day, so Chapter 4 won’t be out till Tuesday. Pout all you want 2x2! :)

Huh.... well, it ain't a bit as much fun poutin' if I ain't gettin' no sympathy for it! Huh... s'pose I could pout about that, though... but... gorramit! that ain't no fun!

*pouts about pouting*

Oh, and I'll be the one sittin' here paitently waitin' for tuesday ;o>

Thursday, May 25, 2006 3:58 PM


Took me awhile, but this story was recommended to me, so I've back read some and I have got to say I am *really* enjoying it. Love drunk Kaylee and Jayne. Whichever way you choose for Kaylee, I'm alright by. I guess you could say I ship Jaylee, but I'm interested to see your take on this love triangle.

Thursday, May 25, 2006 4:35 PM


Great chapter! Loved the dinosaur talk, that's one way to get Mal to leave you alone! :)

And yes, not knowing where the story is going is what it's all about! That's why I love to read fic, to see what someone else comes up with. I like where you're going with this so far and I like that you clearly have such a fondness for all the characters.

Loved the kittens/cathouse conversation, I cracked up at that!

And I love it when fics mention how they got the hovercraft (just like I love it when Monty shows up, it's such a little thing, but it makes me happy)!

Thursday, May 25, 2006 9:16 PM


Another bang-on chapter, m4p! Mainly loved the BDH scences...though your OCs are pretty cool too;)

On the Mal/Inara snipe melee? I would have to fall somewhere in the middle. Mal's getting snarky again, but Inara's moving a bit too much to the harsh side. Mal & co have traded with a wide variety of people, and the Captain has never screwed anyone over who hadn't tried to do the same to him first. The whole situation with Inara pulling back just makes me shake my head at how Mal and Inara are basically the same type of person, but with different facets to the same aspects.

Oh...and I am glad to see Simon's finally getting a fricking clue about River's remarks about things. The schmuck needs a lot more counselling than I would want a surgeon to need;)


Tuesday, May 30, 2006 9:09 PM


Holy crap, I'm enjoying this. Thank you so much for writing!

Yet another fully realized OC, with additional insights to the others... I am so looking forward to how this unfolds. You're killing me with the mini cliffhangers at the beginning! Made me want to skip to the next chapter (since I'm behind one), but sure enough I got sucked into the story with our crew. The *funny* story. Balancing tension and humor. Jayne's crassness, Kaylee's cheer, Mal's haunts, Zoe's dryness, Wash's high opinion of his own humor, and of course, the Mal and Inara Show (the 9:30 show is completely different from the 7:30 show). I could go on...

I will say, the 60 meters thing struck me, too. Translated into American, that would be just over half a football field, which seems pretty close (though I was thinking in terms of being seen by the crew, rather than close for a scope).

But I'm digging the full chapter thing... I like the flow.

"I mean to do the only job I got in front of me.” - *So* Mal.

"What a wonderful mood you're in, Sir." - *So* Zoe. Cracked me up.

Damn, I'm having fun. Thanks again.

Saturday, July 8, 2006 12:58 PM


I laughed, I cried... wait no i don't think i cried but I laughed enough to make up for it. I like how Mal has a reason for being super protective.

Inara sort of made me want to smack her, these people need food, and he is providing them a service there in desperate need of. Can we say... bitch? Inara's my least favorite character in the series so I'm probably biased to wanting to pitch her off the ship. You wrote her very true to form. Typical Inara not understanding life "out in the black"

Have to say I adore how you've thrown in a realistic Jayne/Kaylee bit. So many fics go straight to Jaylee "oh i never had feelings for simon" or Kaylee wouldn't touch Jayne with a 10 foot pole. It's realistic and I enjoyed reading it.

Thanks Mal4prez and I'm so annoyed I don't get to sit around for the rest of the day reading your fic. Damn responsibility!!!

Thursday, July 13, 2006 4:37 AM


I love Ginger's comparison of her sniping to the hand of the Almighty.

The signal between herself and Aunt Betty could be tracked and logged by interested third parties, if they knew what to look for.
-Methinks someone's been less than truthful as to her purpose for her involvement.

People in colorful homemade clothing pushed homemade carts through the slush.
-At the mention of homemade carts, my thoughts immediately went to Monty Python. 'Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead!'

Drunk lightweight Kaylee was very funny.

“Mmmm, scotch ale.”
-I agree. Need to make some of that myownself.

It kicks ass that you introduced the hover-mule here, and Jayne trading for it kinda shows he does have a little heart in him, even if he won't admit it.

“Captain. Sir. If the grav fails while you’re speaking, you could tragically bite your tongue off.”

LO-FREAKIN-L @ the dinosaur description at the end.


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Back Stories Book 3, Chapter 25
Zoë nodded. “I’ll bet there’s a little committee of suits back there trying to figure out how best to lie.”&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp

“Or how to tell some horrible truth,” Inara replied softly.&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp

“Or how to make the most effective use of medical waste incendiaries to get rid of our bodies,” Wash chimed in.

Back Stories III, Chapter 24
Mal returns to a few familiar places.

Back Stories III: Chapter 23
The BDH’s find themselves enmeshed in too damned many OCs. But hey, they’re necessary. Plottiness and all.

Back Stories III, Chapter 22
Inara tells the story of why she left the Core. Well, half of it anyway.

Back Stories III, Chapter 21
The battle with the Reavers continues, and Mal makes a choice. All decisions have consequences.

Back Stories III, Chapter 20
Finally a little Mal POV, but it doesn't last long.

Back Stories III, Chapter 19
The trials and tribulations of an older, wiser River Tam.

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 18
The aftermath of an unexpected encounter. Except—not all of the crew are accounted for…

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 17
A lovely day in the mountains: friendly locals and fresh air under a clear blue sky. What could possibly go wrong?

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 16.
Zoë tells of her soiree with terrorists on Oeneus.