Back Stories III: Chapter 1
Thursday, August 21, 2008

Zoe tries to free the ship from meddling parking officials, not aware of more serious dangers approaching.


Disclaimer: It belongs to Joss and all those business people. I'm just playing.

Links: Prequels: The Fish Job (FFF) (LJ), Easy Tickets (FFF) (LJ), Book I (FFF) (LJ), and Book II (FFF) (LJ). Timing, pairings, and canon blurbs are in my FFF blog.

Notes: I’m truly evil to do it, since more chapters won’t be coming any time soon, but I really really want to post this! Life has been full of hard work and stress and I’m hoping this chapter will earn me at least a little feedbacky love. Been out of the fandom awhile, and I miss it! :)

As I blogged on, I submitted this chapter to my novel writing class (with a full admission that it was fanfic and not my own, but I was too busy that week to develop my original stuff). The feedback was interesting, coming from nonfan types and, indeed, non scifi types. There’s more about that, and about this chapter in general, in my most recent FFF blog. Anyhow, you may note that this chapter has a bit more basic info than fics usually bother with, references to “husband” “pilot” “mechanic” etc, and basic descriptions. That was for my novel writing classmates.

Again, I apologize in advance for how long it's likely to take to get this thing fully posted. But then - it always does take a while, huh?

Enough yapping. Please – read and enjoy!

Back Stories Book 3 Chapter 1.



One source of oxygen, two sets of lungs. Four eyes tightly closed.

Doctor Simon Tam found that reality had been reduced to an endless cycle that repeated in the silent dark. He held a plastic mask in his right hand, pressing it against the skin around his nose and mouth as he inhaled deeply. Then he shifted it down to his sister River, finding her face without opening his eyes to look. It wasn’t difficult; her head was just below his chin. She was nestled into his left side, both of them sitting against the side wall of the lab in Victoria “Tori” Zhou’s medical clinic on a small settlement on the Border world of Highgate, locked in with no chance for escape. He had plenty of time to ponder the complete bizarreness of the situation. How in the world could his life have come to this?

He felt his sister’s frail body slowly expand as she took her turn with the breathing mask, and he timed his exhale to match, steadily blowing air out his nose and finishing just as her body hitched slightly, her inhale done. He returned the mask to his own face. And so it went on.

And on.

And on.

At odd intervals he’d lift his left hand to stroke River’s hair, then gently touch her face to be sure that her eyes were as tightly closed as his own. The airborne drug was still thick around them; he could taste the bitter tang of it on his tongue, though he tried to keep his lips pressed together when the mask wasn’t covering his face. This chemical could be absorbed into eyes, the inside of a mouth, the tissue of nasal passages. Only in small amounts, but over a few hours, it would eventually be enough.

It was happening already. Despite all his efforts, Simon knew that the toxins were creeping into his system. He could feel a sourness in his stomach, an increasing heaviness in his thoughts. But he couldn’t let it win. If he passed out, the next thing he saw would be the agents of the Alliance, called in by Tori – his classmate at MedAcad and one time girlfriend – to take him and River away from the relative safety they’d found with Malcolm Reynolds and the rest of the crew of Serenity, take him away from the unexpectedly budding relationship he had with the ship’s pretty mechanic. River would return to the Academy, to the medical experimentation that had already broken her mind. And his own fate? Likely, he’d disappear in some dark, unknown way, his knowledge of the Academy’s awful truth lost forever.

Tears wet River’s cheeks and the mask that passed between them, but she obediently kept her eyes shut. She must remember the words he’d said to her in those precious few seconds he’d had to act. Just after Tori locked them in this lab and sent the gas hissing into the air, he’d pulled River to the oxygen tanks under a ventilation hood. At first it’d been a struggle to calm his sister, to fight down her panic and make her breathe evenly from the mask. But once she’d understood what he wanted, she met his eyes and nodded, then settled down against him. The last words he’d said before the cloud of toxic fumes surrounded them were: “Don’t open your eyes, don’t talk. Exhale out your nose.”

That had been some time ago, hours maybe. Hours of darkness and no sound but the steady hiss of oxygen through the mask.

He could do nothing else, nothing but keep them breathing. They both had to remain still and calm; it was the only way to make this work. One source of oxygen, two set of lungs. They had to be efficient and patient. They couldn’t do anything more than that, nothing besides pray that Serenity’s crew came for them before the Alliance did.

* * *

“Well, I must say,” Wash declared as he spun the pilot’s chair around, turning his back on the sunlit shipyard outside the wide ports of Serenity’s bridge. “Someone was looking particularly radiant this morning.”

The light pouring in the windows was more than bright enough to illuminate the back of the bridge, to show the small smirk that tilted the young mechanic’s mouth. Kaylee had to know that by someone he meant her, but she didn’t respond right away. She took her time twisting two wires together. The faulty connection she’d found in the port bulkhead of the bridge was nothing that’d keep Serenity on the ground, but clearly Kaylee needed something to do while they waited for Zoë.

Wash didn’t have the luxury of finding chores to busy himself. Zoë, his wife and second in command of the ship, was out there, doing Heaven’s knew what to release the landing lock and free Serenity to take to the sky. He had to be at the controls when that happened, ready to go. Not that he expected anything soon; it’d been only a little over an hour since he and Kaylee’d left the others in the settlement. They’d found this shipyard quicker than he’d expected, and had a surprisingly easy time sneaking past a small guard building, climbing the fence, and gaining entry to their impounded ship. But now they had nothing to do but wait. Wait, and be ready the second Zoë showed up or waved with orders.

Which meant that Wash’s butt would not be leaving his seat. It also meant that he had the perfect opportunity to get some juicy information out of Kaylee.

Eventually, the mechanic pulled her pliers back from the gap between pipes and tilted her head at Wash. She studied him, like she was trying to read the full meaning of his compliment.

“Now, Simon…” Wash went on, happy to clarify. “I wouldn’t say Simon was glowing exactly, because he looked a little worn out. Hadn’t gotten enough sleep, maybe. And I can guess why: it looked like some kind of pesky critter spent the night chewing on his neck.”

That did the trick. Kaylee’s face broke into a crooked grin and she made a full, if somewhat indirect, admission. “Folks back home never did call me a critter, but I was generally known to be pesky.” She grinned, her nose crinkling in a particularly cute way, before she grabbed an orange wire nut and got back to her task.

“I knew it!” Wash exclaimed, then he tempered his reaction, giving credit where credit was due. “Well… Zoë knew it.”

Kaylee looked over her shoulder, eyebrows raised. “Zoë? Y’all been talkin’ about my business?”

“What, you wouldn’t? Some folks have cinema, we have a crew.”

Kaylee snorted out a laugh.

“So…?” he hinted.

“So what?”

“What’s he like?”

Kaylee paused again, fighting off a grin before straightening her face and replying in a saucy and suggestive voice, “Why, Hoban Washburn, you’re married to a woman, and a very fine one at that. You really so interested in how Simon Tam handles himself in bed?”

“Wait – he had to handle himself?”

She shot him a ha-ha look.

“Yes, I’m interested,” Wash went on. “In a manly, hetero, purely curious way. I mean, Simon’s so uptight. So… doctor-y. Was he all clinical and cool with the sexing, too? Does he use scientific terms? Did you feel like some kind of a lab rat?”

“`Course I didn’t! It was… it was… ” She tilted her head and the golden light from the windows caught her auburn hair and hazel eyes, making her seem to glow all the more.

Wash broke into a cackle. “Oh… I see how it is. You got it. You got it all right. Must be something in the air on this world: the love bug is biting everyone. Zoë all over me last night –” Kaylee’s expression turned questioning and he gave her an Oh yeah nod. “– and you and Simon finally getting together, and then River with her mooning–”


“Oh… um, oops.”

He spun his chair back to the console, biting his lip. He’d promised River that he wouldn’t say anything. The girl’s little crush on Serenity’s captain was a secret – though River surely hadn’t called it a “little crush.” True undying love seemed more the way she saw things, and her feelings for Malcolm Reynolds had pushed her to take some pretty extreme actions. Oh yes, Wash knew why she’d broken into Tori’s medical clinic the other night: she’d wanted to get Mal his treatment as soon as possible. The girl wanted the captain’s head operating properly again so she could work her charms on him.

River saw the relationship as feasible, no matter that the man in her crosshairs was nearly twice her age and – as far as Wash could see – emphatically not interested. But, no matter how ridiculous Wash thought the whole thing was, River’d told him of her feelings in confidence. He meant to respect that. He hadn’t even told his wife.

Fortunately, Kaylee didn’t even suspect Wash’s true meaning. “Yeah ,” she said with a sad shake of her head. “Poor River. Just eighteen, and wantin’ all the things a healthy body wants. Too bad she ain’t got nobody around to take care of her right.”

“Not like you’ve got the doc, huh?” Wash swiveled back to face Kaylee again, happy to leave the slippery subject of River’s love life behind.

Kaylee’s face lit up again, her concern for River laid aside as she remembered her own romantic successes.

“It took you two long enough,” Wash teased. He meant it good-naturedly, but Kaylee’s eyes slid down to fasten on the metal grill of the deck, and for just a second her smile faded.

“Well…” she said in a subdued voice, “I guess times been busy, what with all that’s happened I kinda got…”

She was interrupted by a clang, a loud metallic sound that vibrated up through the hull. Kaylee looked up and Wash met her eye – both of them knew this ship too well to doubt the source of that sound. Someone was trying to force open the main doors of the cargo bay.

“It’s Zoë!” Kaylee exclaimed.

“But so soon?” Wash asked. He turned to check the time on the console; it’d been only an hour and a quarter since they’d left his wife and the rest of the crew in the settlement. Seventy five minutes wasn’t long enough, not with all she’d had to do in town – find a safe place for the sick captain to stay out of trouble, deal with the ship’s parking problems and release the landing lock, gather up Simon and River once they were done saying their fond goodbyes to Tori, then make her way out here. All without raising any settlement security hackles.

“But I guess it could be her,” he muttered hesitantly. “Maybe she got really lucky…”

Kaylee walked forward to the windows and leaned into them, trying to look down at the area around the cargo bay doors below. Wash followed, but the slant of the windows made it impossible to see anything useful.

Another loud clang made them both jump. Whoever was handling the doors, they weren’t being gentle about it.

“But it’s gotta be Zoë,” Kaylee said, her voice cautiously lowered now though the new arrival could never have heard from here. “Right?”

“Only one way to find out,” Wash replied. Given the tenseness of their situation here on Highgate, he’d grabbed a rifle from the weapons locker as soon as they got on board and left it tilted against the lockers behind the pilot’s seat. Now he picked it up and held it at the ready. Kaylee’s jaw set; she went to her toolbox and fished out a large, heavy wrench. Their eyes met once in understanding, then they headed down to the cargo bay.

* * *

Zoë checked her timepiece – it had been a full hour and a third since she sent Wash and Kaylee out into the desert, off to find Serenity in the shipyard outside town. Eighty minutes, and she hadn’t accomplished a thing, other than leaving Mal and Jayne at a bar to keep them out of trouble. She hoped. Jayne seemed to have found himself a mantle of dependability lately, what with his handling of the crew’s finances, but Mal certainly was nowhere near himself. Whether that meant he was more or less likely to find trouble… Zoë couldn’t even guess.

Either way, the two were squirreled away in a suitably dark and quiet pub, leaving Zoë and Shepherd Book free to attend to more pressing business. Try to, anyway. They’d done their best, starting by asking locals for advice on how to get the authority’s attention on a Sunday afternoon. They’d gotten directions to a dark little security office on a shady, unkempt side street, and what followed was a long spell of haggling with two apathetic men in grungy uniforms. One of them’d stayed in the building, the sickly blue glow of a viewscreen lighting his face as he bent over it, staring avidly. The other, a plumper man with stains on his uniform front, had seemed to take some delight in verbally sparring with Zoë and Book.

But it all’d been for nothing. The stained guard had finally admitted that he had no control over Serenity’s situation, since the ship had been impounded by security forces that came down from orbit. Nor did he have any suggestions as to what could be done.

Zoë’d gotten a little short-tempered at that, because there was no way the console in the guard room couldn’t be used to call those who’d been offended by the lack of parking fee payment and could be talked into releasing Serenity. She’d nearly forced her way in, but the plump, greasy guard just managed to slam and lock the door on her. She could see him now, just barely visible through the shaded glass of the front window. He was waving at her, a smirk on his ugly face.

She spent a long moment frozen in frustration before she noticed a rusty red button next to the door, a half curled-up label above it reading: FOR EMERGENCIES ONLY. She gave it a try, leaning close to the building to listen. A coarse buzzing sound carried through the wall, and through the shaded window she could just make out her nemesis, his hands over his ears and a pained scowl on his face.

She dug her thumb into the button and held it.

Eventually, Book interrupted her sport. “I don’t believe they’ll be coming back out. As in – ever.”

She turned and grinned at him. “Ah, but revenge is sweet.”

“Won’t get us the ship.”

She sighed and nodded, though she didn’t release the button quite yet. “Suppose not. Think there’s any more good to had around here?”

“It’s looking thin.”

“I agree. Guess we’d best try the shipyard.”

“You think we’ll find someone more helpful out there?”

“I think I’m done askin’ for help. Damned hour and a half wasted – we should’a just gone straight out there with Wash.” She finally gave up on her battle of wills, released the button, and turned to lead Book toward the northwest corner of town.

* * *

Junior Deputy Edward Pierce pulled his fingers out of his ears, but stayed bent over the console with his hands close to his head just in case. He listened to the silence cautiously and waited a few seconds, then a few seconds more.

“They give up?” he asked his pal and co-worker Franklin Web, who stood by the door. Frankie wore a uniform which would have exactly matched Eddie’s if not for the stains that his round belly always managed to catch on the shirt front, dark spots that showed plainly in the grungy light coming in the window he was pressed up against.

“Yeah, they’re leavin’,” Frankie replied, his nose to the glass as his watched them go.

Eddie dropped his hands and exhaled in relief. “About time! Damned buzzer could split a head open. Why’d you keep `em talkin’ so long?”

“Did you see that woman?” Frankie paused to sigh dramatically. “Long curly hair, big brown eyes, skin like a fancified cup of coffee, all dark and creamy and sweet…. I ain’t seen a face like that in a looong while…”

“Better hope you don’t see it again soon. She looked `bout ready to tear you in half.”

Frankie grinned. “Wouldn’t complain.” He lifted his chin and nodded toward the viewscreen that Eddie’d been fastened to for the past hour. “Anything new showin’ there?”

“Almost got a clear view,” Eddie replied. “Ship’s definitely headed here to Highgate. And she’s a big one.”

Frankie elbowed his way in to check for himself. The viewscreen was as old as the rest of this building, but the scanner worked well enough to show that the bird getting close to entering orbit was nothing this world had seen. Ever.

“Alliance?” Frankie asked.

“Gotta be.” Eddie shook his head, incredulous. “A warship. What the hell you think it’s comin’ here for?”

* * *

“Why the hell are we here?” Lieutenant Brady muttered under his breath. His frown deepened with every sweep of his ship’s scanner that brought Highgate into sharper focus on the bridge’s viewscreen. This was the second time in as many months that he’d had to deal with autonomous local security forces on crappy Border worlds, but at least on Niflheim he’d had some idea of what he was out to accomplish. All he had this time was an order to get his vessel – the warship Argent – to Highgate as quickly as possible. No other information had been supplied.

“Lieutenant,” the young woman handling the ship’s comm called out to him, “a wave for you. From Chancellor Westfield.”

Brady lifted his chin and straightened his uniform jacket before he gave the woman a tight nod. “I’ll take it in my office,” he said, and he hurried to the door. Perhaps he was finally going to learn the reason for his sudden trip to Highgate.

* * *

Chancellor Richard Westfield folded his hands in front of him, squeezing his fingers together. He allowed this outward sign of excitement only because he knew it couldn’t be seen by man on the viewscreen.

“I have received word,” Westfield told Lieutenant Brady, “that the targets have been neutralized by some kind of knock-out gas. They are locked in a colony’s medical clinic and await pick-up. You are to contact one Doctor Victoria Zhou.”

Lieutenant Brady arched one brow ever so slightly. “The Argent is on Highgate merely to apprehend fugitives?” he clarified, the barest note of disapproval in his voice.

The chancellor narrowed his eyes. He knew that his round, bespectacled face, balded forehead, and edging of neatly trimmed white hair belonged more to a kindly grandpa than to one of the most powerful men in the Alliance government. He sometimes rued his own appearance; it had helped him gain this position by earning the trust of those he advised, but at times he wished he had the kind of imposing looks which would make an inferior like Brady just shut up and follow orders.

“They are very, very important fugitives,” he told Brady in a steady voice, not betraying his annoyance. “So important that you must keep them unconscious while in your custody. Let no one speak to them. Be sure that as few people as possible even get a chance to look at them. A ship is en route from Londinium now, and will rendezvous with you in approximately sixteen hours. The two men on board are the only ones authorized to converse with the fugitives. The only ones. You understand, Lieutenant?”

Brady nodded. “Yes, Chancellor.”

“And you are to discuss this with no one but me and the two men I sent.”

“Of course, Chancellor.”

Westfield held Brady’s eye for a second to be sure that the Lieutenant had gotten the message – these were indeed important fugitives – then cut the connection. He briefly let himself study a sheet of paper on his desk, taking in the by now familiar images of the girl and her older brother, both dark-haired and pale skinned, attractive young people who’d grown up with every benefit of upper class Alliance society, and yet they’d chosen to throw it all away. And now they posed a grave threat to the stability and security of the entire Alliance. Their complete lack of gratitude and respect disgusted him.

He threw the paper down, rose to his feet, and went to the door of his office, but paused with his hand on the knob. The knowledge that he might have the elusive Tams in military custody within a few hours made him as near to giddy as he ever got, and it took a strong effort to shift his focus to the far less interesting business waiting for him on the other side of this door.

“I apologize,” he said when he finally entered the conference room. “Something came up, an urgent matter of Alliance security.”

The three people waiting at the large wooden table all murmured polite denials that he’d inconvenienced them at all, and stood to greet him with firm handshakes. The woman and one of the men was familiar to Westfield; he’d worked with these two before.

“Agent Kain, Agent Alvarez,” he said with as much of a smile as he ever wore during working hours. “Always a pleasure.”

Of course, he was lying.

A flash of amusement passed across Alvarez’s face, as if she knew it. He wouldn’t be surprised. He’d never trusted this woman; she seemed to know exactly how much he hated dealing with the kind of matters she brought to his door. It was almost as if it pleased her to make him suffer through all this red tape. The organization that employed her and Kain – the Office of Professional Responsibility – was a part of the government that Westfield would disband if he could. These people did nothing but waste his time and make his job difficult.

With the two OPR agents was a man Westfield knew only from the dossier he’d studied as he prepared for his day. Trevor Marone was an upstart, nothing but a fish from a small pond who’d suddenly found himself wandering a big ocean. He’d earned his law degree at a reputable enough university on Sihnon, but spent most of the rest of his life as a minor politician on Oeneus, an isolated and predominately rural planet where nothing of any import ever happened.

Marone couldn’t have ever been involved in any business as monumental as that which brought him here today, to the Parliament houses of Londinium, but he didn’t appear to be intimidated by either the setting or the company. He smiled warmly as he shook Westfield’s hand, the charming smile of a born lawyer and player of people.

“Greetings, Chancellor. It’s certainly an honor to meet you. I’ve been a admirer for some time.”

Westfield nodded and mumbled a hurried, “Glad you could make it.” He himself wasn’t a charmer of people, and had given up any pretense of trying long ago. He made better use of his energy by studying the newcomer.

Marone might have spent his free time on Oeneus working out, having his hair tended to, and consulting with wardrobe specialists brought in from some kind of inbred retirement home on whatever part of the settled `verse currently substituted for the ruined Florida beaches of Earth–that-was. The final product of these influences, the man who’d just released Westfield’s hand, looked like something of a joke. He flicked his head back as he turned to his chair, swinging his blond and slightly wavy hair off his forehead, then he carefully lifted the loose cream linen of his pants before he sat down, as if creasing those pants would be a momentous problem. He lifted a cup of tea which might have looked precious in his hands, except that the hands were so very large, radiating strength. The hair and the outfit didn’t match the man’s excellent physical condition. Marone was certainly an odd mix, one that Westfield was uneasy with.

“We know you must have a tight schedule,” Alvarez said, ending Westfield’s study of Trevor Marone. “Shall we get to business?”

* * *

Trevor Marone didn’t take much part in the discussion. Alvarez was a forceful enough personality to take control, which he was fine with. He’d prefer to study the chancellor anyway.

Though Westfield wasn’t a policy maker for the government – the Cabinet of Chancellors served mainly as advisors and organizers to the elected Parliament members – this man carried a great deal of power and influence. Much more than the general population understood, perhaps. If one searched the cortex long enough (as Marone had), a multitude of conflicting opinions could be found regarding this particular chancellor. Not often discussed in the headline news were the early years of Richard Westfield’s career. He’d worked his way up through the management ranks of the Blue Sun Corporation, securing a huge fortune and a web of business and political contacts. Certain watchdog groups, though certainly not those which captured respectful primetime attention, didn’t think much of his connections. They had no solid proof of wrong-doing by Westfield; in fact, Marone found that at least half the criticisms were pure political gamesmenship. But the other half…

Marone couldn’t help wondering if the conspiracy theorists were onto something. Dick Westfield was often lurking on the edges of the government’s more questionable practices, and on the few occasions that an interview with him hit the public airwaves, his kind and placid demeanor just didn’t sit right with Marone. Trevor was glad to have a chance to study the man in person.

“I don’t understand,” Westfield told Alvarez in the placidly direct and no-nonsense way he was known for. “Wasn’t a settlement reached? Wasn’t this all finished weeks ago?”

Alvarez took in a deep breath. “Well, sir, we haven’t found all the subjects yet.”

Westfield’s soft face didn’t hide a slight clenching of his jaw. “That task was your organization’s responsibility.”

“And it has been carried out as quickly as possible,” Kain replied. “Only one subject remains at large: the captain of a Firefly operating out on the Border worlds. Probably a low level smuggler. Not easy to locate, but I believe we’re close. Trevor Marone has been handling the search…” Kain turn to Marone, a clear cue.

Marone slid his ankle off his opposite knee so he could sit forward and join the discussion. “Using the authority granted to me as lead prosecutor and executor of the agreement,” he said, delivering the legalese without dimming the politely pleasant expression on his face, “I’ve assigned a few military operatives with the task of tracking Captain Malcolm Reynolds down. I’ll spare you the details, but I expect to have him in custody within the next day or two.”

Westfield nodded. “I hope so. This has gone on too long. The settlement you made with the Ànshuĭ Firm hinges on secrecy. If all this becomes public–”

Marone interrupted in a tight voice: the secrecy clause of the agreement was one he had fought, but he’d lost. “All parties understand, Chancellor.”

Westfield fixed Marone with what might have been a disapproving stare, but his round, pink face looked sullen more than frightening. It might have made Marone smile, but just then a buzzing sounded from his own pocket. He had programmed his uTex: only one caller was allowed to interrupt this meeting.

“Pardon me,” Marone said, earning frowns from everyone in the room until he added, “It’s the agents carrying out the search. Hopefully, good news.”

Westfield nodded and waved a dismissing hand, and Marone left the room so he could answer the call in private.

* * *

William Cantone nodded emphatically to the man on the ship’s cortex screen. “Yeah, Captain Reynolds has got problems,” he told Trevor Marone. “Gone damned near psycho!” He stopped and glanced toward his partner Ginger’s bunk: he hadn’t seen her since they’d got back from the disastrous encounter with Malcolm Reynolds at the Salty Tongue Saloon. She was probably still passed out, as drunk as she’d been, but he really didn’t want her coming out here to interrupt this call.

“Psycho?” Marone asked.

Will kept his voice low but emphatic. “I could’ve been killed! I met up with him, bought him a beer–”

“You bought Captain Reynolds a beer?”

“Hey – I’ve been working undercover on Border worlds for over a decade, I know how things work out here. If I had tried to drag him out, we’d have had an all-out riot. These crazy hicks don’t go anywhere without a gun and they’ll jump into a brawl with any excuse. I know we got to keep this quiet.” He sat back and added nobly, “Besides, I didn’t want any bystanders getting hurt.”

Marone clenched his jaw and replied in a neutral voice, “That’s very proper of you.”

“Thank you. So I bought him a beer, tried to trick him into coming with me quietly, or at least get him alone where a big fight wouldn’t happen. I didn’t count on him being insane!”


“Damned straight! See this?” Will held up his right arm – his wrist was already swollen and turning purple where the captain’s lady friend – nothing but a whore, in reality – had kicked him. Of course, Marone didn’t know who’d done it, so let him assume Reynolds was the guilty party. The man sure was crazy enough. “I got attacked, for no reason at all!”

Marone looked thoughtful. “That’s odd. They usually don’t get violent…”

They? Usually? What the hell – you knew? You knew he was off the edge, and didn’t warn me?”

“I didn’t think you’d be trying to make friends with him. In fact, I specifically ordered you to keep your distance, didn’t I?”

Will sat back and scowled. If only he’d managed to knock Reynolds out and drag him from the bar, he’d be on his way in with the job done and Marone would have no grounds to be getting critical. It was that whore’s fault, Reynolds’s woman, for coming in and interrupting his play with the mentally messed up captain.

No, it was Ginger’s fault. If she hadn’t gotten all dressed up and played the tramp with Reynold’s thick-headed mercenary, they could have put up a fight...

“Do you know where Reynolds is?” Marone asked.

“Still on the world, and not leaving. He’s lost access to his ship.”

“Good. I’m in a meeting now, but this is the last official business. I’ll be heading out your way this afternoon. Keep an eye on Reynolds – are you listening this time?”

“Yes,” Will replied; he couldn’t help but sound a bit sullen.

“Keep an eye on him but stay back. If he does gain access to his ship, follow him and let me know where he’s going. For god’s sake, don’t be having any more happy hours with the man!”

Will nodded. “Oh, I guarantee you, there’s no danger of that. Me and Malcolm Reynolds – we’re not pals.”

Will shut off the connection, then he added to himself: “No, we’re not pals, and I’ll make sure he knows it.”

* * *

“You better get this straight, Malcolm Reynolds,” Jayne Cobb said through clenched teeth, his eyes narrowed to give his words a tasty hint of menace. “You and me, we ain’t friends, and I ain’t gotta explain nothin’ to you.”

The threat didn’t work so well as he’d have liked, because Malcolm’s reply was quick in coming and voiced with an annoying edge of reasonableness. “And we ain’t ever gonna be friends if you won’t even try havin’ a few words. First you won’t drink a pint with me, which left me with nothing to do but talk to that crazy William guy, and now you won’t even explain about the lady.”

As if to make his meaning clear, Malcolm tipped his head toward the dark-haired, bronze skinned beauty who’d left them standing in the shadows of a dark grey space ship in the middle of a dusty shipyard. Inara was going back to her own little transport to get her things.

Jayne’s lip curled as he watched her walk – pleasing, even under those uncharacteristically heavy and dull clothes she’s disguised herself in – and considered what her “things” might include. A Registered Companion, a woman schooled from childhood to be a hired entertainer of men (and occasionally, women) had to travel with some interesting gadgets. And not just fancy tea pots and calligraphy quills – this woman was trained in all kinds of arts.

Yes indeed, Jayne wouldn't mind having Inara’s silk dresses and fine perfumes back on board Serenity, even if there wasn’t a chance in hell she’d ever service him. Him being crew and all. Well, and not being anywhere close to able to afford her. And her being, sort of, at one time, involved with the captain…

“I’m just wonderin’,” Malcolm said, breaking into Jayne’s train of thought, “how it is you know this Inara person. I mean—” He snorted out a half laugh. “—she don’t seem the type to spend her spare hours with a half literate antisocial mercenary primate like you.”

Jayne drew himself up and glared at his captain, who was about an inch shorter and, according to Mal’s broken brain, nearly two decades younger. Whatever sickness Mal had, it’d eaten away at his memories until he was left thinking he was maybe 19 instead of someplace in his early thirties. This Malcolm hadn’t yet left his mama’s ranch on the dusty world of Shadow, hadn’t fought and lost a war against the Alliance, wasn’t the owner and overbearing dictator of a Firefly freighter running whatever smuggling job he could find. This Mal had no memory a slow-to-start but quick-to-end romance with the very same woman he was currently so curious about.

“What?” Mal asked when Jayne didn’t speak. “You telling me you ain’t a half literate antisocial mercenary primate?”

Jayne shrugged; it all applied, and he didn’t feel a need to argue. Anyhow, he wasn’t much in the mood to bully the brain-sick captain. He was more interested in Inara at the moment, curious as to how she’d turned up here on this Border world when she was supposed to have left Serenity for good, taken up her place in some wealthy Companion House in the Core. He was wondering how she was dealing with not even being recognized by the captain.

“I know her is all,” Jayne finally said, still looking after Inara though she was gone from view. “She used to fly with us. Rented herself a shuttle and used it to do her business.”

“Her business?” Mal asked.

Jayne wasn’t about to try explaining; he turned back to the ship they were trying to get on board. He wasn’t good with mechanical things, even when he had little Kaylee around to tell him what to do. Ship’s workings just weren’t his forte. But he’d seen Serenity’s young mechanic manage what he was hoping to figure out now, and he knew the door release was somewhere in this panel he’d pried open. He reached in and grabbed a lever he hadn’t yet tried. It gave a loud screech as he forced it to pull back.

Suddenly, the ship’s entry swung open beside him. But it wasn’t the lever that’d done it, the port had been pushed open from inside. A head of spikey blond hair atop an orange and khaki Hawaiian shirt leaned out; Serenity’s pilot was holding a gun, but pointed it safely at the sky as he glared at Jayne.

Before Wash could speak, an auburn haired young woman in a light green jumpsuit hurried around him and went straight to the open panel, dropping a heavy wrench at her feet so she could push Jayne aside and lovingly caress the slightly bent levers.

“What’d you do?” Kaylee said in a keening voice. “You broke her!”

“My god, Jayne,” Wash added. “Can’t you just knock like a normal person?”

“More friends… um, non-friends of yours?” Mal asked.

Jayne looked around at each of them in turn, not sure who to reply to. He settled on Mal as the most ignorant. “Like I could’a been sure they was on board!” he protested.

“Where’s Zoë?” Wash asked.

“Got no idea,” Jayne replied.

“Simon and River?” Kaylee asked.

“Still visitin’ with the lady doctor, I’d guess.”

Wash walked out into the shipyard, holding his gun in front of him. He squinted against the hot, dusty, dry air and the bright sun as he turned a slow circle and scanned the horizon, then he nodded thoughtfully.

“They’d all better get back soon,” he said, worry thick in his voice. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this place. We’ve stayed too long already, and danger could be lurking—” He jumped and leveled his gun at a shape that suddenly rounded a leg of the ship, then just as quickly lifted the muzzle to the sky.

“Inara?” he muttered in surprise.

Jayne had to put both fingers in his ears as a brain-splitting screech started up beside him, quickly rising in both volume and pitch. Three syllables barely could be made out in it:


Kaylee tore down the ramp to joyfully throw herself into the Campanion’s arms.

Wash looked up at Jayne, then at Malcolm, then back at the hugging women. “Right,” he said. "Of course. Inara. Here. Now." He raised a hand to his forehead and whimpered in confusion.

* * *

Previous chapter | Next chapter


Thursday, August 21, 2008 12:03 PM


Almost fell out of my chair when I saw this unexpected nugget!

Excellent as usual, though I thought Zoe buzzing that horn was a nice touch.

Thursday, August 21, 2008 1:11 PM


Nice to see you posting again and right in with the intriguing story. I am very worried about Simon and River as well as the Captain. Seems the deck is really being stacked against our band of benighted heroes. Hope it won't be too many months before the next part. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Thursday, August 21, 2008 5:14 PM


Please tell me that you arent't as cruel as I think you are and you are not going to leave us hanging with this little nugget forever and wondering what's going to happen next. The next time you decide to change careers in mid stream, you finish up your fic first. Or post a synopsis. Or write faster. Or write more often.

You've unraveled some of your loose ends in the form of the Alliance and its agents. Now there's a deeper mystery and the chance of more action and much more personal interaction of the Mal/Inara type and the school year is starting. Yes, you are indeed the new standard of cruel and evil. Whatever, I'll wait .... patiently... just can't get enough of this story!

Friday, August 22, 2008 2:12 AM


Very cool!! I think in that last bit you really got Kaylee, I could hear the screech!LOL!

Very worried about the Tams, and you gave us almost nothing. AND you are going to keep us hanging at this point for ever so long? You, person, are a sadist!

Friday, August 22, 2008 6:31 AM


Adding to the suspense, does that fact that you are ignoring the BDM, and that this is the finale mean that no one is safe?

I wonder which one(s) you'll go all Joss Whedon over... :P

(can we make predictions? or do you think that will ruin the story writing/reading for others?)

Friday, August 22, 2008 5:47 PM


Great job on another awsome chapter. The only problem is that now I am yearning for more and I know none will be waiting for me when I turn on my computer tomorow.

I really liked how you did your transistions. Giving us a hint of where the next sceene is placed before you switch really makes it easy to read. I never have to stop and wonder where I am and whom I'm with. Awesome job.

How did your writing class respond to fan fic in general and your fic in particular? did they give it all the kudo's you deserve??

Saturday, August 23, 2008 9:58 AM


Sorry for the late comment, back to school time.

As others have said, I was ecstatic to see this posted.

I liked everyone's reaction to Inara's return, can't wait to read Zoe's. And, yeah, I always thought Jayne appreciated leering at Inara, sort of like a fringe benefit for him.

Even though portions of this are heavy on OCs, you've managed to intertwine quality crew interaction moments...I especially enjoyed Wash and Kaylee, and Wash's knowledge of River's crush on Mal and how he almost divulged her secret.

Things aren’t going so well for Simon and River, but then they never do. Mal needs to get better and help them.

Great start and I'm glad your teacher appreciated your work. I hope you’re not a stranger to the BSR for very long.


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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.