Episode 2: But Wash... Ain't you dead?
Monday, February 25, 2008

Trying to work together long enough to escape the Alliance, Mal and the Operative are stunned by the appearance of someone they both thought dead.


Episode 2 But Wash... Ain't you dead?


I woke up as my face hit the floor. I tried to stand, realized my arms were cuffed behind me.

“Get up,” an officer told me.

The cool, constant temperature and even blue lighting of an Alliance ship hit me. Not like Serenity, where you could relish the unexpected.

Next to me, the Operative waited, already on his feet.

“I'm sorry for your involvement, Captain,” he said.

“Yeah, yeah,” I muttered. “You're sorry for everything these days.”

“Hey,” an officer said. “No talking.”

The Operative and I walked out of the small carrier ship and onto the Alliance Cruiser. Ten of the Alliance's youngest, cockiest, and stupidest escorted us. Each of them armed and ready to fire.

I took a good look around. Made for a pretty close space. Wouldn't take much to disarm them, grab a 'chute, throw open a hatch--

One look out the window busted up that idea. The curve of Persephone's rim gave way to stars and inky black. We were already in space.

An officer jabbed me in the back.

“Go,” he said.

The trek through the ship took us past their infirmary. Some poor soul lay bare on the table, a bed of bandages pulled over his face. Their doctor, knife and needle in hand, worked on a deep gash through his chest. Looked like an old wound, though, a bunch of scar tissue bundled up. Beside them, overlooking the procedure, was Lieutenant Thompson. He glanced at us as we passed, frowned, and came outside.

He grabbed the officer that liked to jab me in the back. “What the hell are you doing bringing them through here?”

“Taking them to the brig, sir, like you ordered.”

“I didn't order you to bring them past the infirmary,” Thompson said. “He's not ready. We're not--” Thompson looked at me, looked at the Operative, growled. “We've put too much time into this to screw it up.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good.” He pointed to us. “Next time, take them through the south wing. And keep them away from here,” he said.

“Who's in there?” I asked, afraid it was one of my own.

Thompson stopped, smirked. “No one you know,” he said.

“Where's the rest of my crew?”

A blank expression came over the Lieutenant. He didn't seem to understand. “Your crew...” he said, “is where they belong. In a separate brig, on a separate level. Don't trouble yourself." I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "You'll never see them, and they'll never see you.”

It was unbelievable. This guy didn't know who the hell I was talking about.

“Suppose the Alliance wants us for questioning?” I asked.

“It's none of your gorram business what we want with you until we ask. We'll transport you to a facility where you'll be prosecuted for aiding a wanted fugitive. That and what a man of your talents is probably guilty of.”

“Ok,” I said, unable to keep from smiling. “I'm ready to see my room.”

“What the hell are you smiling about?”

I tried to wipe the grin off my face, but it just wouldn't go, so I did my best to just keep my mouth shut.

They got away.

Thompson growled, told the officer to keep moving us ahead.

With nine other men around us, guns armed and aimed, he shoved us down a narrow hallway lined with small cells. He picked a cell meant for one, opened the door and told us both to get inside.

“If it's all right with you, I'll take the one with room service,” I said.

The officer didn't laugh. He pushed me in. I fell on my face. Again. Come the opportunity, I would finally give Jayne the go to pop off a few rounds, assuming I hadn't shot this guy myself.

All the same, I couldn't stop smiling, even as they locked the door.

“You seem remarkably satisfied for an Alliance prisoner,” the Operative said.

“They got away,” I said. “He had no idea there was anyone besides us.”

“You're mistaken, Captain. We both heard shots from inside the Abbey.”

“Don't know what that means. Maybe the Shepherds fought back. Maybe my people fired, managed a getaway. But I do know if that guy Thompson had the Tams on this ship, he wouldn't be so comfortable. Hell, anyone that's managed to get them before has ended up dead or worse.”

“Then you know it's only a matter of time before Blue Sun finds out you've been captured and comes to find River through you.”

“Don't matter,” I said. I sat down, leaned against the wall. “Not if we get away before they show up.”

The Operative paused, decided he had to tell me, “I'm not coming with you.”

“Yeah,” I laughed. “You'd just stay on here and let them kill you.”

“They won't kill me,” the Operative said. “First they'll interrogate me, strip me bare of all my secrets. The process will leave me with massive injuries. Then they will leave me alone. Death will happen on its own.”

“Well, that makes a big difference. Except I can't get off this boat on my own. I need you to show me the way out of here. You know your way around this monster, don't you?”

“Yes. But Captain, it's too late for me.”

“What are you saying? You still got people to apologize to.”

“No. I do not.”

“No one?”

“Shepherd Eden was the last one. There is nothing left for me.”

“That ain't so,” I said. “It ain't. You made a promise to me you still got to see through. You promised to help me get my ship back.”

Perhaps he just exhaled, but it seemed a soft chuckle came from the Operative.

“So get up,” I told him. “Got a job to do.”

“You want to make me a thief,” he said.

“Man like you? That'd be a step up."

The Operative walked to the cell door. A small, circular window gave little view of the outside, but he seemed to take it all in. “There are guards at both ends. Four more on the outer perimeter, just out of sight.”

“How do you know?”

“Standard procedure.”

“Well, don't sound too bad to me.”

“There are twenty more in the surrounding sector, waiting for any alarm.”

“Oh. Any suggestions?”

He came back to me. His cuffs dropped to the ground.

“How the hell...? You mean you could have gotten out at any time?”

“Until now, I had no reason to.” He produced a small pin, unhooked my cuffs as he had his own. Then he lifted his chin. “We have one way off this ship,” he said.

“About time. Start talking.”

“Hit me in the face,” he said.

I liked it already.

Chapter 1

An officer heard a loud noise from inside the cell.

He checked the door, then the sensors.

Again, a loud crash, a cry of pain.

Now he looked inside the cell. That got him talking.

“Jenny, get the hell over here!”

A second officer came running up. She took one look inside and cocked her weapon. Nodded to the first officer, a large guy, more fat than muscle, to open the door while she covered him.

“Shouldn't we alert the Lieutenant?”

“You want to be the one that bothers him to break up a fight?”

They opened the door. The fat one led in, his own gun leveled at me while the other came in behind him.

The fat guy shook his head. “How'd he get out of his restraints?”

The Operative lay still on the floor. I ignored the officers, pulled the Operative up and punched him in the face. His head smacked into the floor. His eyes hung lazily open, empty. I pulled him back up for another round.

The fat one poked the barrel of his gun into my back.

“Let him go,” he said.

“All right,” I said. I let go. The Operative's head cracked against the ground. He didn't even groan.

“Ok,” the officer said, pulling me up. “Jenny, check him.”

Jenny knelt down, inspected the Operative. She pressed her ear to his face, frowned, looked back at the first officer. “Sir, I don't think he's breathing--”

The Operative grabbed her arm, threw her into the ground. As I caught the Operative's movement, I slammed into the fat guy. Hell of a weight to push against. Instead of knocking him into the wall, we both fell down. I wasted no time hitting him in the face once, twice. The Operative put his hand on my shoulder, reached past me and put his fingers across the guy's neck. He pressed where it mattered, stopped the flow of blood, and in seconds the guy passed out.

We collected their guns. Sadly, they were only stun weapons. After all, the Alliance were decent folks that only killed when it served a greater purpose. That, or when it could be covered up.

I said, “Now we just have to make it out of this sector without setting off--”

The alarm shrieked loud enough to alert the whole ship. We were had.

Sigh. “Never without a gorram hitch,” I muttered.

We took position by the door, waited to hear footsteps, but either the alarm was louder than it seemed, or no one was coming.

“What the hell?”

We checked the hallway. No sight of anyone. We left the room. I followed the Operative to a console on the wall, where he punched in, told me, “It's not an alarm for us. It came from the medical wing.”

“Why would an alarm go off from the medical wing?”

“If a prisoner kept there for treatment escaped.”


“The man we saw sedated,” the Operative said. “I assume the guards from our area were pulled to find and recapture this man.”

“But they'll have left someone for us, right? They couldn't just leave us alone. We're too important.”

I was wrong. And the situation just made me feel gorram uncomfortable. The feeling got worse as we made our way through the ship to the docking bay and encountered nary a suspecting soul. Until we reached the docking sector, we came across only two officers and some unsuspecting personnel. We stunned them and continued on our way. We've never got away clean, and even if we was just me, I couldn't see things happening any different just 'cause I was without them.

But once we hit the docking sector, we saw why we hadn't come across anyone. Twenty of them surrounded the doors leading into docking bay. The Operative and I stopped at the corner, held back, noted the group kneeling just ahead of us, their weapons trained on the man trying to escape into the same docking bay we needed to get to.

I caught just a glimpse of him. The man, bandages falling off his face, a deep scar across his chest, hit the control pad that opened the doors to the docking bay. The doors opened, but the Alliance had no intention of letting him make it inside.

“Drop to the ground, now,” an Alliance officer told him.

He held up his hands, turned to the officer, a terrified grin across his face. A face I knew but never thought I'd see in the flesh again.

“I don't believe it,” I said.

“I come in peace,” he told the officers. They didn't find him funny.

I ducked back around the corner.

“What is it?” the Operative said.

I shook my head in disbelief, looked again at the man and whispered, “Wash... ain't you dead?”

Chapter 2

“Down on the ground,” an officer told Wash.

“I would, but see, that'll make it hard to get through the doors.”


Wash cringed. “I ain't goin' back," he said. "Rather just be dead." He took a quick glance at the docking bay, then back at the soldiers. He saw something behind them.

I scrambled to hide again, but too late. Wash had spotted me.

Wash dropped to his knees, suddenly drained of resolve.

"Ain't real," Wash said. "Can't be." He looked at the corner and shouted, "Mal, I know you ain't real!"

An officer followed Wash's gaze to the corner.

"Who are you talking to?"

Wash dropped to his knees. "Go away," he murmured. "Ain't real. You ain't real."

"Whoever you are, come out now, hands up," the officer called.

Sorry we couldn't oblige.

His footsteps came closer. The barrel of his gun appeared around the corner--

The Operative moved like lightning, disarming the man before he could react. He pulled the officer behind the wall as the other officers got off several stun blasts, then moved in. He held the officer in front of him as a shield. They got off several shots. The Operative shoved the officer into their line of fire. The officer grunted once, then went silent and unconscious. He never even felt the impact as the blasts rocketed him off his feet and into the wall.

The Operative worked like a machine. In the second it took their guns to rearm, he moved in too close for them to get off a shot without having to fire on each other. They tried hand to hand combat, but they didn't stand a chance.

One by one they came after him, and one by one he took them out. The remaining officers took position around those in combat, hoping to get off a clear shot. I stepped out behind them, took one out, grabbed his gun and blasted the officer next to me off his feet and into the others. I shot again, stunning those still awake into a dead sleep. I saw the Operative take out the last officer. He nodded to me, then started for the controls.

Wash huddled against the wall, shaking his head.

"You got one second to explain who the hell you are," I said.

"Ain't real," Wash said. "You can't trick me. Not again."

I grabbed his shoulders and shook him. "Wash!"

He lifted his head and looked at me.

"Ship's about to leave," I said. "So start talking."

"I'm not stupid," he said. "Didn't work last time. Won't work this time."

The Operative finished hacking the controls, opened the docking bay doors. "Captain," he said. "We don't have much time. More officers are on their way."

Much as I wanted to solve the mystery in front of me, he was right. Didn't have time to argue. "We can sort out who's real and who ain't later," I told Wash. I hauled him to his feet and dragged him to the docking bay doors. He followed like a wounded dog, not quite sure what to do or who to believe. Ahead of us, a set of ships waited for us. Black would never look so good as when we were headed away from the Alliance. "Let's go," I told the Operative.

Wash's eyes lit up at the sight of the Operative. He grabbed his chest, then glared at the Operative. "You," he said.

Wash wrenched out of my hands and jumped on the Operative. They tumbled to the floor. The Operative rolled on top of Wash, pinned his arms to the ground. "I won't hurt you," he said.

"Wash, gorramit," I said. "We ain't got time for this!"

Behind us, a gun cocked.

It was Lieutenant Thompson. That was no stun-gun he had aimed at us. The stock cartridge held live rounds ready to pierce the thick and thin of a man.

“I'm a little curious how you got out of the infirmary,” Thompson told Wash, “but I think it's clear why you won't go back.” He pulled a second weapon, pointed it at the Operative. He fired.

The first shot hit the Operative in the shoulder. He staggered back. The second shot hit the Operative in the leg. He grunted, fell to one knee.

“In case you think you're going to get past me,” Thompson said. "As for you, Captain Reynolds."

I turned back to him as he fired. The shot went through my leg. I fell next to the Operative. I grabbed my leg, trying to stop the burst of blood, let out a string of curses.

“Don't try to escape,” Thompson said. He kicked the Operative in the gut. “Orders just came from high up to keep this disgrace and anyone helping him in custody until transfer. It says you must be delivered alive. But it doesn't say in what condition. Tempt me again and you'll wish they wanted you dead.”

Wash, or whoever the hell he was, leaped into action, but too late. He grabbed Thompson's arm, twisted it to release the gun, but Thompson was twice Wash's size and, much as the Wash I had known wanted to believe otherwise, he was not a man capable of much fight. Thompson shook him off like a rag doll and threw him to the floor.

They put us in a larger cell. This time, they didn't make the mistake of leaving us alone. Guards stood watch inside and outside the cell, which also meant there was no chance for secret escape plans.

Not that plans would have been much good. They left me with a bullet in my leg, no treatment. They returned the Operative to us shortly, bleeding stopped, bullets left in, and plenty of drugs pumped into him.

"Maybe I'm confused about a few things," Wash said, "but ain't he on their side?"

"Yeah, 'cause they always shoot their best men," I said.

"Yeah, that really made it more believable this time. Think it was a mistake to bring him, though. Kinda shot your credibility."

"What are you talking about 'this time'? I ain't been here before."

"Been a trick every other time you've shown up to rescue me."

"Well, Wash, hate to disappoint you, but this time it's really me bleedin' all over the floor. Besides. Ain't here to rescue you," I said. "Didn't know there was a corpse on board. Don't much care. I mean to get out of here. You want to come along, you got some explaining to do. Starting with who you are.”

"Who I am?" He yelled at me, surprising volume for a dead man. "How about you? What the fay-fay duh pee-yen are you doing on an Alliance cruiser with an Operative? And where the niou fun is Zoe?"

"Zoe ain't here. And we ain't discussin' her. We're discussin' why I'm staring a man in the face who I'm pretty sure I buried."

"Seeing as how I'm sitting here, pretty sure it wasn't me you buried.”

“You ain't Wash. Wash I know's dead.”

“What about this?” He pulled open his shirt, exposing the wide scar. “You think I got this some other way than a Reaver puttin' a spear through my chest?”

“I don't think it matters how you got it if you're dead.”

“Mal, didn't, still don't, make much sense to me. Last I remembered, you were leaving me for dead and taking Zoe and the rest out to escape from him.” He gestured to the Operative.

“Left you as you were," I said. "Dead.”

“Didn't bother to check, did you? Sure as hell didn't come back for me. I wasn't dead, Mal. You think I ain't heard you and Zoe talkin' about the war? 'Leave no man behind?' Well, someone got left. You said go, so she went. Shoulda known where her loyalties lay."

An awkward silence followed. Didn't know what to say.

Wash went on, "No way to tell how long it was after, but I woke up in an Alliance infirmary, strapped to the bed, big gorram bandage across my chest where I last remembered that big hunk of wood.”

“What about the body we buried?”

“I don't know,” he said. “Maybe a fake? Clone? Been illegal for a while but that hasn't ever stopped an Alliance trick before. How am I supposed to know how they did it? Like you said, I've been a dead guy. Ain't exactly been privy to Alliance plans to dominate the world, have I?"

“Why go to all the trouble of makin' the switch?”

"Because they're the bad guys and that's what they do?" Wash shot back. He looked angry, uneasy. Not sure of something. He hesitated, looked like he wanted to say more.

“They've been doing something to me,” he began. “I don't remember much of it. Hell, don't remember much of anything. They would leave me alone in a room. These two men would visit me. Don't remember their faces. Just remember blue. They had blue hands. Mal,” Wash said. “They...they just did things. Can't describe it. It was like I wasn't even the same person after that."

He's not ready, Thompson had said. We've put too much time into this to screw it up.

The Operative stirred, lifted his head. “Blue Sun,” he murmured.

I lifted my eyebrows. “Those folks after River?”

The Operative nodded, laid his head back down.

"You think they wanted to use me? Make me a crazy-ass weapon like River?"

“Maybe,” I said. "Maybe still do."

"Mal. It's me. I ain't a threat to you. Never would be."

I frowned. “Maybe.”

The officers touched their ears, listening to an order. They opened the door. Lieutenant Thompson came in.

“Well, much as I wished you had more time to give me an excuse to put you in line,” he said, “it seems your transfer has arrived.”

Chapter 3

Wash walked. I hobbled. We were led by six guards, two for each of us, four of whom looked dumb and loyal as bricks; the exaggerated, ordered, gorram predictable mind of the Alliance.

Thompson told us to drag the Operative along into a holding room, where we met the biggest, dumbest, most violence-loving Alliance officer I would ever meet. He put Thompson's earlier trigger-happy display to shame.

He stood, back to us, behind a long, metal table. “We've waited a long time for these two, Lieutenant,” he growled.

“Yes, sir. Now, if I may ask their importance, General Cobb--”

General Jayne Cobb spun around, slammed his fist onto the table. “I don't think that's any of your business,” he said. “Much too important for a low Lieutenant to know about.”

Lieutenant Thompson's nostrils flared. “Yes, sir. Of course not.”

Wash laughed. "Oh, Jayne's a General now. This must be real!"

Jayne stumbled at the sight of Wash, but this wasn't the time to ask questions. “Now, we'll be taking them on, now. Lots of bureau... bureau...”

“Bureaucratic,” Wash offered. Jayne looked at him, blinked, still not believing his eyes.

Tee wuh duh pee-goo. We were all humped, I knew it.

Jayne cleared his throat, stood up a little taller. “Lots of bureaucratic business to attend to.”

“I'm sure the High Office has much to attend to,” Thompson said. “If there's anything I can be of assistance with--”

“Best you can do is help me get these prisoners on their way.” Jayne smiled at me, avoided looking at Wash entirely. “We got something special planned for them. Real special.”

It killed Thompson to go along with the lug, but he did.

To be honest, it killed me, too. If it had been Simon here, masquerading as an Alliance General, I'd know we had a good chance in hell of getting out of here, even with the usual hitch or two. Hell, he'd done it before when he rescued his sister.

But Jayne? I couldn't help but wonder how many bullets we'd have to shed on the way out. I looked over, caught Wash's eye. Seemed like he was thinking the same thing. Kinda reassuring to see the dislike still there.

“My men will show you back to your ship,” Thompson said.

“Course they will,” Jayne said.

Jayne followed an officer out the door. I followed close behind Thompson, the Operative hobbling behind me. As we passed Thompson, he leaned in to an officer and whispered, “His papers check out?”

Officer nodded his head. “Yes, sir.”

“You ran it twice?”

“That's the funny thing, sir. First time it ran fine. But now something's jamming the comm systems, sir. Looked fine on the first pass but... No way to verify, sir.”

Ta ma de.

Thompson nodded, rushed to catch up with Jayne. “Excuse me, sir.”

“No time to talk, Lieutenant. Got to transport these prisoners lickity-split.”

“Sir, it's just so rare that we return to the inner cities. You did say you were from the Core?”

“Where else? Make your point.”

“So you know Colonel Peters?”

“Colonel Peters?”

“He ran Dispatch last I knew. You'd have had to go through him to receive priority clearance like this. Tell me, is he still trying to make it out of that dump to a proper ship assignment?”

Jayne glanced at me for help--

--but the recent blood loss made me woozy and I didn't feel I had it in me to be giving Jayne lessons in clever.

Somewhere in space Jayne had a brainwave. "Colonel's below me, Lieutenant," he said, doing his best Simon impression, arched eyebrows and folded arms and all. "General's got better things to do than chit-chat with Dispatch. Like gettin' folks their desserts."

Lieutenant paused for a moment, did a double take. I could see Jayne's wheels spinning.

"Their, uh, just desserts," he said quickly. "Punishment, torture. Good stuff for bad men. Best if you don't...interfere."

Thompson nodded, but I still felt mighty uneasy and whispered a silent prayer to any power in the 'Verse for Jayne to just keep his mouth shut and get us off this boat.

We entered the docking bay we had been so close to escaping from earlier. All that separated us from flying back into the black was thirty yards, the three guards, and the two Alliance flunkies in the far corner operating the station atmosphere control doors. They made sure the doors were closed when ships left the bay so anyone inside wouldn't be sucked out into the black with the ship. The Operative's ship, flown here only God knew how by Jayne, sat through those doors at the end of the bay, waiting for us.

My racing heart slowed down. We'd made it this far without having to kill anyone, and that was a lifetime achievement for Jayne. Maybe he could do this.

"That's a rather old-model ship for a General," Thompson said. "Outdated, isn't it? Doesn't even have any weapons."

"'Course it's old," Jayne said. "Undercover mission like this, best to fly under the radar."

"I've never heard of a General avoiding attention."

"Yeah," Jayne said, a quick look to me.

Come on, Jayne, I thought. Don't lose it.

Another brainwave hit him: he remembered Cobbs don't feel desperation.

Yeah, we were humped.

"You got somethin' you mean to ask me, Lieutenant," and he said the title like it meant a little jian huo, "then you best ask me quick. I got prisoners to transfer." He stared Lieutenant Thompson down.

Thompson swallowed, didn't say anything. He smoothed his collar, tried to remind himself how big and powerful he was supposed to be. Failed miserably next to the imposing General Cobb.

Satisfied, Jayne turned to us, threw a smirk at me.

"Better duck," I murmured to the Operative and Wash.

"There is just one question," Thompson said. "We're still waiting for your papers to verify--"

Jayne turned and swung his fist, connected with a loud THWACK into Thompson's jaw.

I ducked, grabbed for one of the guards and yanked him to the floor. I heard a nasty pop. The guard's arm hung at an awkward angle. Flunky that he was, he started sobbing.

Thompson stumbled back from the punch. The Operative, despite his injury, stepped out of the way and attacked the other two guards before they realized what had happened. He disarmed one, ripped the stun gun out of his belt and swept him to the ground. The Operative intercepted the other guard's punch, pulled him close and held the stun gun to his temple.

Thompson reached for his weapon, but the Operative warned, "I assure you, Lieutenant, a stun pulse to the brain is as lethal as a bullet. Drop the weapon."

He held the weapon out but didn't drop it. "We both know I can't let you leave."

"We both know what I was. What I'm capable of. I won't hesitate, Lieutenant. Drop the weapon."

"You're a disgrace to everything we are," Thompson said, but he finally dropped his gun.

"I already have enough shame for both of us, Lieutenant. Don't make me add your death to it. Tell your men to gather along the control station."

The guards looked to Thompson for confirmation. He nodded. "Do as he says."

I stepped close to the Operative and whispered, "All right, so we got a brilliant escape plan. Mind tellin' me what it is?"

"Let's just shoot'em all," Jayne said.

"That won't be necessary," the Operative said. "The three of you go to the ship. I'll remain to close the inner bay doors and prevent them from alerting the others to your escape."

"My vote's for the not dying plan," Wash said. "Let's go, everyone! Field trip's over."

"Go on, Jayne," I told them.

"Huh-uh," he said, shook his head. "I ain't going nowhere with a corpse."

"No time to argue the fine points right now," I told him, a mite angry at bein' disobeyed. "Just go." Jayne grunted, angry he hadn't gotten a single shot off in our escape, but he grabbed Wash none-too-gently and started for the ship.

"Go on, Captain," the Operative said.

"Gonna be hard for you to get on the ship with the doors closed," I said.

The Operative shrugged. "Then I'll have to find another way."

"Don't die," I said. He looked at me, probably puzzled I cared. "Can't help me get my ship back if you're dead."

"That won't be a problem," he said, and I swear he winked at me.

Ok, I thought, as I followed Jayne and Wash through the barrier doors to the ship. He's got a plan. Tyen-shiao duh that meant.

As I walked up the ship's ramp, Jayne asked, "Ain't he comin'?"

"Reckon' he's the only one that knows that. I asked and all I got for an answer was a wink. What the fan gui chou mu de yi he ma does that mean?"

Jayne nodded, looked at me like a child just realized he's getting candy for dinner. "Means he's got a plan!" Suddenly he seemed eager, assured of our escape. Wished I felt the same.

Chapter 4

We hurried to the bridge of the ship. Wash had already sat down and powered up the ship.

"Get up. Jayne, take the co-pilot's chair."

Wash got up, but said, "Mal, don't you think you ought to let the PILOT fly the ship?"

"Got no problem with lettin' the pilot fly the ship. Just got a problem with lettin' the dead guy."

"Dead guy flying is still better than the man-ape flying. If Jayne flies, we're all dead guys!"

"Quiet, you," Jayne said. "Corpses don't get to talk without permission. Mal, ain't he dead?"

"Still workin' on that one myself, Jayne."

Jayne looked out the window. "What the fan gui chou mu de yi he ma is he doing?"

The Operative cuffed the guards to each other and the piping along the bay wall. Last to go was Thompson. He threw up his hands, made a big show of resistance. Not necessary, 'cause the Operative just shrugged and let him be. Wasn't much he could do with a stun gun pointed at him.

The outer bay doors slid open.

Black never looked so good. Almost home.

Wash gulped. "Look, not that I'm overly concerned with the guy that almost got me killed," he said. "But if he doesn't close the barrier doors before he opens the outer bay we're ALL humped."

"Quiet," Jayne said. "Corpses don't get to make observations without--"

"Jayne," I said.

Without the atmosphere control doors closed, space sucked the atmosphere and everything else in the room out. Thompson waved his hands, seemed eager now to be with the others, cuffed to the wall. No go, though. Once the outer doors were open wide enough to let the ship through, I punched up the engines and put us aloft. Whatever plan the Operative had, he'd better get to it before he got sucked out.

Space wrenched anything unattached through the barrier doors. Bits and pieces flew past us into the black. Thompson ran to the controls in an attempt to close the doors. The Operative aimed and fired a stun pulse, more to distract him than stun him, I guess, because Thompson was able to avoid the shot by leaping aside.

The suction was so bad the guards along the wall lifted off the ground. Thompson scrabbled for something to hold on to as he dragged along the floor with everything else, dug his fingers into a floor grating. He pulled himself over to the wall and reached for--

A small red panel. One button later and a piercing alarm rang through the ship.

The Operative tapped in a command. The alarm shut off, but the damage was done. The barrier doors whirred, started to shut.

"Jayne, you better take the ship."

"What are you gonna do?"

"Open the airlock."

As I ran out of the cockpit, Wash yelled at me, "Tian ziao-de! If I die again, I'm holding YOU responsible!"

I dashed to the ramp, strapped myself to the wall and opened the airlock.

I glared at the Operative. Now or never.

The Operative hung onto the controls, steadied himself, then took off at a half-run half-flight through the barrier doors.

Thompson let go and leaped into the Operative's path. They slammed into each other, would have spun into space if I hadn't reached out and taken the Operative's hand. Thompson hung on for dear life to the Operative as I hauled them both in.

I opened the comm to Jayne. "Ok, let's go."

As the ramp began to close, the ship took off.

Thompson gasped, clutched the ship, grateful to be alive. "Oh, God, thank you. Thank--"

The Operative booted Thompson in the face, then kicked him in the chest and out of the airlock. Thompson gave one final shout before the black welcomed him.

The airlock whirred shut.

"Thought you were done with the shame of killing people," I said.

"Once Blue Sun found out we escaped, he'd have suffered much worse than a quick asphyxiation. Wouldn't have that shame on my head."

"My kind of guy."

Chapter 4

I started for the cockpit, saw the Operative turn the other direction.

"Action's this way. Where you going?"

"To pray for us," he said. "The Alliance won't let us go so easily."

"So maybe you ought to come do something that might help us escape."

"What do you want me to do, Captain? We don't have any weapons. I made sure of that."

He left me without waiting for a response. Hell of a gorram time for him to drop his murderous ways.

I stepped back into the cockpit. We barreled towards Persephone. No sign of an Alliance tail. Yet. I reached past Jayne and shifted the throttle up. No need to dawdle. They'd be along shortly.

"Not that I'm not entirely grateful for the rescue, Jayne," I said. "But you mind explainin' where you got the shiny disguise?"

Jayne cleared his throat, stared straight ahead. "Well, we had to make a couple compromises, Mal."

"Oh? Compromises?"

"Yep." Jayne looked away from me, stared at the oncoming planet Persephone. When he realized I hadn't moved, he said, "Zoe's idea. You better wait and ask her."

"Mal-" Wash began. I ignored him, kept on talking.

"So you let the woman make the decision? Thought you were the strategist."

Jayne turned to me, a hurt look on his face. "Mal, this ain't the time for words like them. 'Course it was my idea. Just... Decisions were made. And I ain't much for words. Besides, ain't you grateful to be alive?"

"Plenty grateful. Just wonderin' at the how. Couldn't have done this on your own. Who'd you call?"

"Mal, did what was necessary. Let's leave it at that. Oh, got a wave comin' in. Bet it's Zoe now."

Jayne opened up the comm. Badger's dirty face met us.

I pressed my hand over the screen. "Oh, this is gonna be one hell of an explanation."

"So you made it," Badger said.

I lifted my hand up, plastered a smile on my face. "Safe and sound, Badger."

"Well, you don't sound too grateful."

"Oh, plenty grateful." I shot Jayne an angry look.

"Well say thank you," Badger said. "Or I won't tell you somethin' very important."

"Uh, MAL-" Wash tried to cut in again, got ignored again.

"Tell me one good gorram reason and maybe I will."

Badger huffed. "Alliance is on your tail. And since you ain't so grateful for my help, let's see you get out of this without ol' Badger's help." He shut off the wave.

I took a look at the radar. Four Alliance ships closing on us fast. I swore.

"Yeah, uh, that's what I was trying to tell you. Might be a good time to let the Pilot have a try," Wash said.

“Jayne, keep him out of the way.”

“Mal,” Wash said. “Since when has somebody else ever done the flyin' when we got a do-or-die escape to make?”

"Listen, whoever the hell you are," I said. "I don't want you to fly. I don't want you to talk. Far as I'm concerned, you can just sit there and behave like the dead guy you are."

I arced the ship up as we dropped into atmo.

Alliance dropped down just as fast. Soon as we cleared reentry, I dove the ship down. Behind us, the Alliance ships burst through the clouds, straightened, and came after us.

Two of the Alliance ships dropped down in front of our ship. The other two hemmed us in on both sides. They sent us a wave, an officer telling us, "We have you surrounded. Land immediately."

I tried lifting up, darting side to side, but their pilots were gorram good. They adjusted notch for notch, didn't give me an inch to maneuver out of their wedge.

I looked over at Wash. Here it is, Mal. Now or never. "So you gonna fly this thing or what?"

Wash just about jumped in the air. "Why, I'd be honored, if it's not too much for a dead guy to ask -"

"Just do it! Now!"

Wash scrambled into the pilot's chair.

Slowly, he let his hands lower onto the controls. "I am a leaf on the wind," he murmured.

A shiver rushed through me, but I'm not sure if it was the sight of a man I never thought I'd see again. Thinkin' it was probably the Alliance taking new formation around us. Or maybe it was probably the bullets they started shooting.

Chapter 5

"Uh, if somebody could make them stop shooting at us, that would be great," Wash said. "How come they start shooting as soon as I take over?!"

Jayne grabbed Wash on the shoulder. "Nothin' a great pilot like you can't handle. Just don't you go getting panicky and kill us all."

"Hold on to something," Wash said.

Before we could, he dove the ship so close to the ground the belly of the ship scraped the rock and blew up a cloud of dust. Alliance tried to follow us, but gorram it whoever this guy that looked like Wash was he knew how to fly. One Alliance ship flew too low, hit the ground and spun out of control. Another got caught in the crossfire of the third ship.

A few bullets tapped our hull, but Wash avoided most of'em. Wasn't nothing different about the engines, but the whole ship seemed faster in his hands.

I lowered my hand to pat Wash's shoulder. It was good work--

"Might have a problem," he said.

I took my hand off his shoulder.

"Think it's safe to say they know how to take out one of their own ships. They just hit the fuel tank."

"How much time we got?"

"Few minutes. Maybe more."

"You ain't shook'em yet?" Badger's face had popped up again on the wave. "How are you supposed to pay up if you can't shake a li'l ship?"

"Badger, now ain't the time for barter, got a bit of a problem on our tail."

"Jayne, you might want to teach your Captain some manners. You ain't gettin' back 'ere without some 'elp."

Jayne pulled me aside, put his hand over the comm. "Mal, hate to say it, but Badger might be our best shot at gettin' out of this."

"I am not puttin' us further in debt to that liu kou-shui de biaozi he hou-zi de ben er-zi."

"Ain't nice to name-call, Cap'n," Badger murmured.

I turned off our side of the comm.

"Also, Mal..." Jayne hesitated. "You know he's got the rest of the crew. Be a bad time not to make good on your --"

I cut him off. "Next time you're afraid I might not make it out alive unless you ask for Badger's help," I told Jayne, "just let me die." I pulled Badger back up on the comm. "Be much obliged for any help."

"That's more like it! Got an 'angar not far from where you are now. Send you the coordinates soon as we make sure I'll get what was promised me."

At the time, that last phrase didn't mean much to me, and I sure didn't notice how it changed Jayne's tune. "Sure a fair compromise can be arranged, Badger," I said.

Jayne pulled me back over. "Uh, Mal, maybe you oughtta think about what you're agreein' to--"

Another round of bullets shot past the ship. Wash spun the ship sharp.

"Just give him what he wants!" Wash yelled. "We're not making it without help."

I grabbed the chair, waited for the ship to right itself. "Jayne, I ain't got time for you to flip-flop while I got a whole chain of bullets coming at us! You think I care about how much he wants?"

Badger threw in, "Ain't about how much I want, it's about--"

"Badger, just do it!"

"Take that as a yes," Badger said. "Put yerself down nice and easy right 'ere." He sent us the coordinates.

"Ok," I said. "What do we do when we land?"

"Not to worry. See you there," Badger said. The comm cut off.

"We'll make it?" I asked Wash.

"Burning more fuel than we can spare dodging those guys," he said. He looked back at me, sighed, said, "We'll land on fumes, but I'll get us there."

A bit further in, more holes in the ship, we spotted the hangar: dirty, rusted metal in the middle of dusty nothing.

We opened the comm to the Alliance. "You got us," I said. "We're coming out."

Wash set us down next to the hanger, ship shuddering a bit as we touched down.

"So we're just givin' up?" Jayne said.

Wash looked a bit panicky. "We can't give up," he said. "I'm not going back there."

I looked around. Whatever Badger had planned, it'd better happen soon.

"We're not goin' back," I said.

We stopped by the Operative's room.

"We're surrendering," I told him.

"Of course you are," he said, not believing us for a second. He got up and followed us to the cargo bay.

The Alliance officers, three from each ship, stood outside, their weapons pointed at us as we came down the ramp.

"Keep your hands up! Do not make any sudden moves!"

"Oy!" came Badger's voice from inside the hangar. He stepped out. A big pistol hung from a belt at his waist. "Nice of you guys to drop by. Time to run along, now, though. This 'ere's my territory."

"Badger Rose, you are hereby bound by law for aiding known fugitives. Drop your weapon!"

Badger shrugged, laid his gun on the ground. "Well, that's where you're wrong, there, mate. See, I ain't 'ad an opportunity like this in some time. Best for us all if you just go on your way. Be just awful if I 'ad to spoil them fine uniforms."

Officer in charge looked at Badger funny. Probably not used to having people stand up to him. He cleared his throat and raised his voice a little to say exactly the same damn thing. "Badger Rose, you are bound by law. Stand down or you will be shot down."

Which was the wrong thing to say.

"'Ave it your way, mate," Badger said, shrugging. He looked behind him, nodded.

A line of his men appeared on the roof of the hanger, weapons drawn. Before the Alliance could get a single shot off, Badger's men shot them down.

Badger picked his gun back up, walked over to the officer that had threatened him, and smiled. "Next time be a li'l more careful when you're a guest in my 'ome, eh?" He shot the officer in the chest, then turned to me. "That bit about my surname, let's keep it just between us, eh?"

"Ain't you just a little worried about the attention you're drawing?" I asked.

"Nah," Badger said. He leaned in, whispered like it was the cleverest thing he'd ever thought of. "Jammed their comm systems. Boys'll scavenge their ships. Be like we was never here." He waved to his men to come down from the roof. They opened the hangar doors, revealing Badger's ship.

"Just need a bit of fuel and we'll meet you at your place," I said.

Badger laughed. "And give you a chance to skip out on me? We'll come back for your ship after we've finalized our arrangements." He gestured to his ship with a flourish. "After you, Captain."

We started for the ship.

Jayne whispered to me, "Told you not to take the deal."

As Wash walked past, Badger grabbed his arm. "Ey!" He looked him up and down. "Ain't you dead?"


The hatchway to the ship lowered.

Kaylee, Zoe, Simon, and River all looked relieved to see us. Simon cradled his hurt arm in a sling. The whole left side of his face looked a mess, purple and bruised, but all in all, looked like the Shepherds had done an all right job on him.

Kaylee jumped up, clapped her hands. “Captain, you ain't dead!”

Jayne walked out, the Operative leaning on his shoulder. “Doc, don't be too careful. Figure you could leave the bullet in at least a day before he has to worry about losing the leg.”

“I'll show him the same care I would you,” Simon said.

“That's all I'm asking,” Jayne said. He punched the Operative in his uninjured arm. They followed Simon into the building, trailed by Kaylee.

Zoe patted me on the shoulder. “Nice to have you back, sir. What's next?”

“Ai ya, hwai leh,” Wash whispered from behind me.

Zoe looked up the ramp and stopped dead. “No,” she said. “No, it ain't.”

“Zoe, honey...”

“Picked up a stranger on our way home,” I said.

“Who is that?” Almost as much an accusation as a question.

I wanted to tell her yes as much as she wanted to hear it, but it just didn't make sense.

Wash started down the ramp, tears running down his face. “I never thought I'd see you again. Look, I know this looks -"

“Who the hell are you?” Zoe shot at him, arms folded across her chest.

"The human body can survive without oxygen for four minutes and forty-seven seconds," River said, looking at him in her crazy-girl way. "You're hollow."

“'Ate to bust the tearful reunion short,” came Badger's voice. He leaned against the doorway, his thumbs tucked into his pants. “Getting all you back safe and sound just makes me anxious to get what's mine and send you along.”

“Imagine we can get a pretty penny for you from all that product we carried with us,” I told him, eager just as well to be rid of him and off to find my ship. "We'll pay you fair."

“Don't want money,” Badger said.

Fei fei de pi yan. But I smiled.

“Then what do you want?”

“Not a what,” he said. He removed his hat, ran his hands through his greasy hair, and smiled. The prick managed to sound magnanimous. “Who.” He looked at River. “Been a while since I 'ad a date.”

To be continued in Episode 3: First Date


Wednesday, February 27, 2008 5:23 AM


MORE! NOW!!!!!

Accurate character voice, solid writing, engaging plot - keep it up.

Friday, February 29, 2008 3:49 PM


Awesome. I'm so happy to have Wash back!


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Episode 6: R&R
Simon goes on vacation only to find more trouble than he left behind.

Episode 5: The Training Job
The crew may have found Serenity, but the real trouble will be getting it back from the Alliance.

Episode 4: First Kiss
A date with River brings more trouble than Badger asked for.

Episode 3: First Date
The other side of Episode 2:

To rescue Mal from the Alliance, Zoe must remember a lesson from the man she loved.

Episode 2: But Wash... Ain't you dead?
Trying to work together long enough to escape the Alliance, Mal and the Operative are stunned by the appearance of someone they both thought dead.

Episode 1: Crash!
After a botched heist that causes Serenity to crash (again), the crew looks to an unexpected source for help, and finds a few surprises in store.