Dead Man's Chest - Part XV
Thursday, February 19, 2009

Maya. Post-BDM. The Arc shuttle is explored, and the Laus meet up. NEW CHAPTER (and another cliffhanger!)


“Do you really think they’ve found something?” Jarrett asked, following his brother towards the tunnel entrance, the other men spreading out to cover them.

“Well, they’ve not come out. What do you think?” Aiden scanned the surrounding area. “There’s mines and all sorts around here. Maybe they’ve come across an untapped seam.”

“So what do we do?”

Something groaned in the darkness ahead of them, sounding all too suspiciously like a wooden prop shifting.

Aiden licked his lips and said, “I think we wait. They’ve gotta come out again.”

Jarrett nodded hard. “Yeah. I think so too.” He sat down on a convenient boulder, the sweat dripping from his straight black bangs to stain his yellow shirt.


The main access to the shuttle was open, but only just. Jayne tried to force it, but even his strength wasn't enough.

“Help me,” he said, and the other two men put their shoulders against the hatch. It squealed loudly, the sound filling the cavern, but its old metal couldn’t withstand their combined assault. It tore from its upper hinges, falling back and leaving enough room to get through.

“It doesn’t look like Ingleby got this far,” Simon said.

“Nope,” Mal agreed. “So maybe we’ll be in luck and find something. Maybe even beyond our wildest dreams.”

“I don’t know, Mal,” Jayne said, forcing his bulk through the opening. “I got some pretty wild dreams.”

“Thanks, but I don’t think I wanna know.” He followed, while Simon stood back to allow the River and Freya to precede him.

Their torch beams illuminated an airlock like that on Serenity, only smaller, but this time the doorway at the back was open. The inky darkness inside was complete.

“Okay,” Mal said, swallowing slightly. “Now I know I ain’t claustrophobic like Hank, but … everyone stay together.”

“You thinking there might be ghosts?” Jayne joked, but River silenced him with a hand on his arm.

“Always are,” she whispered, keeping as far away from the metalwork as she could.


“Shit.” Jarrett, who had been counting rocks in an abstracted fashion, sat up taller.

“What?” Aiden’s hand was on his gun.

His brother nodded back towards the town. “That.”

“Oh, cao.”

A hover mule was eating up the ground, getting closer with every passing second. They could already see the familiar bulk of a man sitting in the back, four other men with him.

“Can we run?” Jarrett asked.

“He’d probably take that as an invitation to mow us down,” Aiden said, his body language shouting annoyance. “And enjoy every second.”

Jarrett nodded. “Yeah.”

It only took another minute and the mule was pulled to a stop, showering them both with gritty sand.

“Did you do that on purpose?” Aiden demanded, brushing himself down.

Chester jumped from the vehicle. “If that’s the worst I do to you, you should be grateful,” he snarled. “What the hell do you two think you’re doing out here?”

“None of your business.” His brother stuck his chin out defiantly.

“I didn’t give you permission to leave the ship.”

“Permission?” Aiden almost laughed. “Since when do I need permission?”

“Since I run things.”

“Yeah, well, maybe that ought to change.”

“You think so, do you? You want to try me?” Chester asked, his voice low, making sure the other men couldn’t hear. “Because we can. Right here. Only don’t expect any of them to back you up.”

Wo diao.”

Si cui de.”

“Me? Heading for hell? Why, do you think you’re man enough to send me there?”

“No wonder our father despaired of you,” Chester said, shaking his head, a look of disgust on his face. “He always knew you would turn out to be weak.”

“Oh, I'm sure he’s spinning in his grave right now.”

Chester turned red. “Don’t you disrespect him.”

Aiden realised he’d gone a step too far but he couldn’t back down now. “And you think he’d be pleased if he could see you kowtowing to everyone?”

“I don’t kowtow. I weigh all the options.” He glared at his brother. “What makes you think you can go after Reynolds and his crew?”

“If you already knew, why did you ask?”

“Because I hoped I was wrong, and you’d only come out here for a pleasure jaunt.”

Aiden’s temper snapped. “They humiliated us!”

“I know.”

“And you don’t think they have to pay for that?”

Chester was suddenly in his face, barely an inch between them. “If I do, it’ll be because I decide it. When and where. Not you.”

“You let that judge walk all over you.”

“And you’ve already nearly been in jail. It was only luck and Riley’s good sense that got you out of that bar before the Sheriff arrived. You really want to be bound for murder?”

Jarrett shifted uncomfortably. “Chester, we were only going to hurt them a little.”

His brother turned on him. “And you should know better! Hasn’t Aiden got you into more trouble than you can afford, before now? I've had to bail the both of you out more than once, and believe me, it’s getting monotonous.”

“Oh, and you’re so law-abiding?” Aiden put in, getting Chester’s full attention back. “I've seen the things you do to people you don’t like. At close hand. Not exactly lily-white, are you?”

“I do what’s necessary. And you don’t get to cross me like this.”

They were toe to toe, and Jarrett was holding his breath, waiting for the next moment to see who was going to survive. That moment stretched, until it was so thin and tight he knew it was about to snap, and he couldn’t take it any more. “They’re up to something,” he said finally.

Chester didn’t blink. “Who?”

“Reynolds. His people. They’ve been searching. Now they’ve gone down that tunnel, and …” He picked up the backpack they’d discovered at the entrance. “I think they might have found something.”

“Something.” Chester took a single step back, turning enough to look at his youngest brother. “What kind of something?”


The interior of the shuttle was divided into three, with a tiny engine room at the back, barely enough space for anyone to work, let alone swing a cat. The bow had a small cockpit, and dust lay thick on all the controls, filtering in through the broken window. But it was the central section that drew their attention. Obviously a cargo bay, it could hold an impressive amount of goods or equipment, if packed right, but was now virtually empty. Apart from the spacesuit and the chest.

All torch beams centred on the odd tableau, and the already cool temperature inside the room seemed to drop another ten degrees.

The spacesuit lay against the open chest, the head turned away, but with one arm draped inside, as if reaching for something. For a moment it seemed the occupant might stir, maybe even get up and harangue them for taking so long, but Freya stepped forward, turning the helmet so they could see inside.

Yo ho ho,” River sang quietly as the faceplate came into view, framing the mummified skull within.

“Any idea who he is?” Mal asked.

Freya shrugged. “He’s probably Agincott, at least if the stories are to be believed.”


“Basil Agincott. The last curator of the Kugelman collection.” Simon wiped the back of his hand across his forehead. “I finally remembered the man’s name.”

“You looked it up,” River said faintly.

Mei-mei,” he admonished, knowing he could never get anything past his sister. He sighed. “And yes, she’s right. I looked it up on the Cortex while you were with the Sheriff,” he added. “He disappeared at the same time as the collection. It was a huge scandal, apparently.”

Jayne headed for the cockpit, but nobody else noticed.

“Well, he’s been here a while,” Mal said unnecessarily, then went down onto his heels. “Looks like he had some trouble, too.” He pulled the dull fabric taut, showing a slit in the left leg of the spacesuit. The man inside had obviously tried to tie a tourniquet around it to keep the air inside, the wire he’d used still visible, but even if it worked there’d been little point to it. Broken, yellowish bone showed through the gap, low down on the thigh.

“Compound fracture.” The young doctor couldn’t help himself. “Quite probably involving any number of major blood vessels, considering its position.”


“Mal, the man’s been dead for nearly three centuries. But yes, he would quite possibly have bled out from such an injury. I imagine that’s partly why the tourniquet, as well.”

“What do you suppose he intended doing?” Mal asked quietly, keeping his tone low. Something about this place had that effect on him. “I mean, he must’ve known he wasn't going anywhere.”

“Beacon’s deployed,” Jayne said, coming back in from the small bridge. “Maybe he hoped someone’d hear.”

“Yes, but he would’ve been bleeding pretty bad.”

“Everyone wants to survive,” Simon said. “It’s part of the human condition. Every day we make bargains, just to live that bit longer. Mostly we win.”

“He didn’t. And he knew nobody was gonna come rescue him. Not this far out. Hell, I ain’t even sure why they were in this sector in the first place.” Mal stared at the body, his thoughts back to when this was a walking, talking human being, with all the frailties that entailed.

Jayne stepped back to lean on the bulkhead, having been around so many different kinds of death all his adult life that a man sucking on a vacuum just didn’t hold his attention. “Comin’ out all this way,” he muttered. “Just to die on this rock. Must’ve been plumb loco.”

“Driven.” River drifted to his side.


“For a given value of sanity, yes.”

He looked down at her. “So what happened? Do you see?”

She nodded slowly. “Agincott believed the Alliance would break up the collection, sell it, give it away for favours to stay in power.”

“I can believe that,” Mal muttered.

“You can read that?” Jayne asked his wife softly.

She shrugged. “It’s very strong here.” She glanced back at the corpse. “They were out of control, landed on an unterraformed moon, and knew they would never get anywhere again. Called for help, but no-one came.” She shivered, the skin on her neck puckering as someone walked over her grave. Quickly she turned and walked out of the shuttle.

Jayne went to follow her, but Freya shook her head. “I’ll go.”


Mal watched his wife head out of the door, then turned back to Simon. “So what happened to it? Plain to see it ain’t here, and unless we missed something outside, it’s not there either.”

“There’s lots of other caves around,” Jayne pointed out. “Could be in one o’them.”

Mal shook his head. “I can’t see men who’ve just survived a major crash being all that bothered about hiding a load of art.”

“Agincott would.” Simon took a deep breath, the stale air almost making him gag. “All indications are that he was driven.”

“Like my moonbrain said,” Jayne murmured, glancing at the door.

Mal swung his torch beam towards the small bridge. “Well, maybe we can find out.”


“Honey?” Freya caught River up by the mute flag. “Are you okay? Is it the emotions inside?”

“No. Not entirely.”

“Then what?”

“I felt something. Before. Outside.”

“That was a while ago, River,” Freya said gently. “And Jayne said there are cats –“

“Not cats. At least, I don’t … I can’t …” River shook her head, trying to clear it. “I think someone is out there,” the young psychic murmured.

Freya glanced sharply at the dark mouth of the tunnel. “Right now? Waiting for us?”


“Any idea who?”

River bit her lip in consternation. “No.”

Freya concentrated, trying to see out beyond the heavy thoughts of the others, even those of the woman next to her. “Gorramit,” she whispered.

“I know.” River sighed. “It’s Jayne. He’s so focused.”

“On the prospective wealth.”

“Yes. Even Mal and Simon are projecting, but that’s more extreme curiosity than greed.”

“You think Jayne’s greedy?”

“Of course.” River gazed into the older woman’s eyes. “But it’s more. The memories of those on board as they crashed, knowing they were going to die and trying to leave, to see the sky once more, and Agincott following, killing them.” She glanced towards the rock fall. “He dragged them back inside, but the walls came down on the bodies. Broke his leg. Knew he was going to suffocate or bleed to death so he crawled into the shuttle. So determined …”

Freya put her arm around her surrogate daughter. “It’s okay, River. Just let it go.”

“But it’s still here. I can feel it. The anger, the fear, the … don’t you?” She fixed Freya with her dark eyes.

“Yes. I do,” Freya admitted. “But you have to control it. Like we practised, dong mah?”

“I’m … trying.”

“Do you want me to get Jayne?”

“No.” She laughed unexpectedly. “It wouldn’t help. But all the memories … they make me feel … cotton candy.”

“And you think we’re not alone.”

River sobered immediately. “No.”

Freya fingered the butt of her gun. “Maybe I should go out and take a look. Just to make sure we’re wrong.”

“I’ll come. If we need to –“

Mal’s voice interrupted them as he came back into view. “Are you two okay?”

“Shiny,” Freya said, trying a smile.

“Only we’re gonna try and access the logs, see if we can’t figure out where the rest of the Hoard is. Might need River’s help.”

Freya looked down at the young woman. “Are you going to be okay going back inside?” Don’t worry. I’ll sort the other thing, she added mentally.

River nodded. “Yes. I'm fine.” She squared her shoulders and strode around the shuttle.

“Ain't you coming with us?” Mal asked, surprised that Freya hadn’t followed.

“We have company,” Freya said shortly.

Mal didn’t question her, or ask how she thought she knew. Instead he drew his gun, whispering it from the leather. “Jayne needs to stay. Make sure Simon and River don’t come to harm.”

Freya had to smile, warmed as always that Mal tended to see their crazy lunatic assassin as the young girl she appeared. “Just us, then.” Her own weapon appeared in her hand.

His lips twitched. “Best way, darlin’.”

They headed for the tunnel, dust sifting down to touch their shoulders.


“Wait a minute,” Simon said, leaning over his sister as she tried to access anything that might be of use on the shuttle’s bridge. “Mal said something about there being stories of explosions. If there was no-one here to see it -”

“Does the tree make a sound if no-one hears it fall?” River didn’t look up from the board.

Xiao mei-mei …” Simon prompted, wishing she still didn’t fall back on the incomprehensible once in a while.

Jayne, back in the cargo area, called out. “Fuel cells. That part’s split like a grape.”

River nodded. “They didn’t burn up in the crash. Why it’s still more or less intact. Broke off on impact.”

“Are you saying they blew later? When people were around to see?” Simon asked.


He shook his head. “So this was here, all the time they were terraforming.”

Despite his input, Jayne wasn’t taking much notice of the conversation. He’d been checking all the storage areas in the shuttle’s bay, and something had caught his eye, stuffed into the back of one of the lockers along the back wall. Glancing around at the other two, he reached inside and picked up a statue.

It was a horse, made of some dull metal, so small it almost fit into the palm of his hand. He ran a finger down its mane, then along the back to the tail. Whoever had made this, knew his horses. The strong neck, powerful flanks … maybe even meant to be a specific animal. Glancing again at Simon, he opened the flap on the pocket of his pants by his right thigh, and slid it inside. It wasn't gold, but maybe Caleb’d like it.

“No-one came to look,” River was saying. “And when the fuel cells finally ruptured, creating day from night, the stories kept people away,” she added. “Quiet as the …” Her head snapped up, her eyes widening. “Grave.”

to be continued


Thursday, February 19, 2009 1:14 PM


Uh oh, don't like the way River's head snapped up at the end. Just hope Frey and Mal are really quiet and careful as they go to see who is waiting for them outside. And where in the nine hells is Dan? Did the Sheriff get waylaid AGAIN? Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Thursday, February 19, 2009 1:41 PM


GRAVE? :O No no no no no no no no ... that sounds bad. :S
Irrevocably hooked now.

Thursday, February 19, 2009 3:33 PM


Mumble mumble gorram cliffhangers. Really wondering what's coming next. Really don't like this set of bad guys, but your description of the power play between the brothers was intense and very believable when sibling rivalry is an issue. Very well done.

Thursday, February 19, 2009 3:54 PM


Oh goody, the bad guys are squabbling, the crew is divided and River is going on about graves. What a good cliff=hanger.

Thursday, February 19, 2009 4:55 PM


The 'Queen' is at it again....So drop us off that proverbial cliff again and leave us hangin by a thumb nail....

So we have graves, a crew split, and 'pirates' fighting...sounds like the perfect treasure story, just waiting for the Black Pearl...oh, wait that's another story, but it had hot men in it, too...well, I'm ready for the next bit and hopefully, my thumb won't break before then....


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“Did we …” “We did.” “Why?” As she raised an eyebrow at him he went on quickly, “I mean, we got a comfy bunk, not that far away. Is there any particular reason we’re in here instead?” “You don’t remember?” He concentrated for a moment, and the activities of a few hours previously burst onto him like a sunbeam. “Oh, right,” he acknowledged happily.

[Maya. Post-BDM. A little with each Serenity couple, but something goes bang. Read, enjoy, review!]

“Did we …” “We did.” “Why?” As she raised an eyebrow at him he went on quickly, “I mean, we got a comfy bunk, not that far away. Is there any particular reason we’re in here instead?” “You don’t remember?” He concentrated for a moment, and the activities of a few hours previously burst onto him like a sunbeam. “Oh, right,” he acknowledged happily.

[Maya. Post-BDM. A little with each Serenity couple, but something goes bang. Read, enjoy, review!]