Still Flying - Part V
Sunday, August 9, 2009

Next in the Keeping On 'Verse. Mal, Zoe, and company continue to adjust and keep flying, even as trouble appears to be brewing on the horizon. Part V: Things are reserved on Serenity, and Mal finds out that his flush new deal is a great deal more trouble than he originally thought.


Still Flying - Part V

Disclaimer: Firefly, Serenity, and all related characters are copyright 2002-2005 Mutant Enemy, Inc., Universal Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. This is a work of fanfiction. No copyright infringement is intended.


The journey to Bellephron proved to be monotonous indeed, after the thrilling action of Unification Day that had been spent with Monty. It had been wonderful to see him again, to see her old almost-but-not-quite crew again. She’d felt so welcome, when she’d first met Monty and started traveling with him and it was certainly a different feeling for Lilah to be on a ship where she’d been considered a threat at best, at first.

Still, she loved her job and she was growing to love Serenity, just the way that River had said she needed to. There was something about the ship, about the crew that made Lilah feel as though she’d wondered into a cozy home that was always meant to house her. She briefly wondered if Leaf had perhaps felt the same way. She thought of Zoe and smiled. Leaf had certainly found his warrior woman, along with a ship and family to call his own.

“May I join you?”

Lilah looked behind her to see Zoe standing in the doorway.

“By all means.”

“Is everything going okay?” Zoe asked.

“Everything is shiny, as far as I know.” Lilah answered. “How about you? Are you okay?”

“I’m…I’m better. I don’t blame you, you know. It was just…it was a real shock, finding that out.” Zoe said. “But I’m doing better with it. He must have had his reasons, even if I don’t know what they were.”

“He was a good man.” Lilah said quietly.

“The best.” Zoe agreed. “I was…I was wondering if I could look at your album of captures? I just want to see him, how he was, before…”

“You promise not to destroy them?” Lilah asked.

Zoe eyed down Lilah, who raised an eyebrow in response. Finally Zoe sighed and nodded.

“I promise. I’ll take good care of them.”

“Well then, I’ll go and get them for you.” Before Zoe could protest say she could fetch them herself, Lilah was gone.

Zoe looked at the console where the toy dinosaurs were sitting. She could remember the first time she saw them on the bridge. It had been the day after Wash had signed on. Mal had asked when they’d taken on a five year-old and Zoe had just stared at the toys, bewildered. Wash continued placing them where he wanted them as if it were the most natural thing in the world. And it hadn’t stopped there; the collection had grown as he continued crewing with her and Mal.

Lilah’s addition seemed to fit right in. Zoe instinctively knew that Wash would have loved it. He was always on the lookout for new friends for his flying companions. Zoe remembered the look of pure joy on his face their first Christmas, when he’d come down to their bunk to find her completely naked on their bed, a toy stegosaurus on her toned abdomen. “Oh! A new toy on top of my favorite toy!” He’d exclaimed. And then he’d shown her why she was his favorite toy and she’d shown him why he was hers.

I’m gonna figure it out, Wash. I’m gonna figure out why you couldn’t tell me.


Lilah sorted through her album as quickly as she could, making sure that a certain series of captures was still neatly tucked away in her top dresser drawer. Those captures wouldn’t be shared with anyone. The others she had no problem with the crew seeing, but the ones she had pulled out…the pain was still too fresh and too private.

She picked up the album and took it back to the bridge, placing it carefully in Zoe’s waiting hands. Zoe thanked her and Lilah smiled, hopeful that any lingering bad feelings between them were over with.


Dinner seemed to be quiet and not as cheerful as usual, for some reason, Mal thought.

It might have been that Zoe seemed terribly preoccupied with something that Mal had no right to intrude upon. Or it might have been Inara and the way she kept sequestering herself away in her shuttle (his, really, he corrected himself mentally). Possibly, it might have been the thundering tension that seemed to have permanently settled itself in the air around Jayne and River, who were still ignoring each other with open hostility. It could have been Simon and Kaylee, who seemed to be in the middle of some spat that had undoubtedly been caused by something that the not-so-silver tongued Doc had said. Lilah could have also been an option, given that things simply hadn’t been as simple and easy since she’d signed on.

Mal refused to believe that it was his cooking that was the reason, even if he himself could hardly stand to eat it.

He thought back to the days when Wash and Shepherd Book had been with them and recalled the jokes and stories that had flown between all of them, around the dinner table. And then Mal felt a deep pang of sadness.

He missed those days.


Mal was making a late-night round through Serenity when he noticed Inara down in the cargo bay. She’d open up the crates that contained the art they were supposed to be dropping off. The several paintings were spread throughout the bay and she was moving from one to the other, looking extremely suspicious.

“Inara!” He called. “Playin’ art critic?”

Inara spun around and looked up at him, a very worried look on her face.

“I think something is wrong with these paintings.”

“Do you think they’re fakes?”

“No, I think they are authentic, but something about them is just off.”

Mal hurried down the stairs, intent on finding out what she meant. She motioned for him to come to one of the paintings and he did so. She knocked on the large ornate frame a few times. It sounded hollow.

“What does this mean?” Mal asked, knocking on the large frame as well.

“It means that you’re smuggling, and that for once it’s not on purpose.”

“How did you figure it out?” Mal asked. “How did you know to look at the art?”

“I just wanted to see the art, and so I came down here to look at it. I was curious as to what would fetch so high a price. And when I took the paintings out, I couldn’t help but notice the frames.” She said.

“The frames?” Mal asked, still confused.

“Yes, the frames. No one who knew anything about art would have ever fitted these frames to these paintings. A frame shouldn’t overpower the work; it should complement it and bring out its best features. These frames are so large and ornate and the paintings are so simplistic that no real artist or art critic would ever match them up. And smuggling illegal goods in art frames isn’t exactly a new and exciting way to do crime.” She smiled up at him.

“Wanna help me find out what we have the misfortune of smuggling?”

“Of course; I’m starting to like this life of petty crime.”

Mal gingerly started to take the frame off of the painting and pulled away an inside strip on the wood, revealing a hollow area. Numerous tiny, little clear bags fell out as the strip was removed. Mal picked one up, surveying the red liquid inside.

“What are they?” Inara questioned.

“On the black market they call them sleepers.”

Mal and Inara turned around to see Simon standing behind them.


“Yes. Just a few drops of that liquid is enough to send anyone into a fast, quiet, painless death, as if the victim just fell asleep and didn’t wake up. It’s almost impossible to trace and it’s extremely illegal. The penalty for just being linked to this stuff is a minimum of 15 years on a penal moon. The Alliance didn’t take well to its medical secrets being stolen.” Simon explained. “I’m actually surprised that the buyer is paying so little. It’s notoriously expensive on the black market.”

“We have to get rid of this stuff.” Mal said seriously. “I don’t deal in drugs.” He paused. “’Cept for that time we stole the healthful, wholesome drugs from that hospital.”

One by one the trio opened the frames and released the illegal goods onto the cold metal floor. Mal was furious with himself for trusting Badger and even more furious with the buyer on Bellephron. This job had seemed flush at first, and now he was regretting taking it on with every second that passed.

“That buyer asks, ain’t a one of us knew anything about it. We’re gonna dump these, put those wood strips back on the inside of those frames, and we’re gonna re-frame those paintings. And then we’re going to make the deal. Buyer won’t be able to say a word, because all she ever mentioned was the art. She can’t admit to smuggling drugs, and neither can Badger. He ain’t a good man, but he don’t deal in drugs; it’s one of the very few reasons I still do business with him.”

“Agreed.” Simon said. “But we can’t pour it down our drains. It’ll mix in with our water supply and it’ll kill us all. We space it, the same way we spaced those pirates.”

“Why can’t things ever go smooth? Finally get a flush job and it turns out to be a drug smuggling trip.” He kicked a nearby crate and ran a hand over his face.

“It wasn’t your fault, Mal. It’s the artist’s fault and the buyer’s fault, most likely. Badger wouldn’t have dealt with either of them if he knew that drugs were involved, and neither would we. This is just an unfortunate mishap.”

“Drugs that can kill with just a few drops? Where does that get fun? Putting folk down like dogs ain’t right.” Mal said wearily. “It’s…”

“I’m wondering if it’s related to the Pax that they pumped into the atmosphere of Miranda. It’s not entirely unlikely that it could be highly concentrated liquid form of it.” Inara said. “The Alliance created that too and it would explain why they impose such harsh penalties for simply being connected to it.”

“I am not liking this situation at all. Be a damn relief to get these damn paintings to the buyer on Bellephron. Why did it have to be drugs?” Mal didn't want to contemplate a drug even worse than the Pax - it was simply too horrifying.

“You have to stop blaming yourself, Mal.” Inara said, taking the frame off of another painting and removing the smuggled drugs from the hollow areas.

Simon followed Inara’s example and got to work on another painting. More and more little bags of drugs fell out. Some had powder and others had little caplets. They finally had a little pile of the extremely illegal drugs on the cargo bay floor and Mal began sweeping them over to the middle of the floor, where they usually dumped useless scrap that Kaylee deemed unusable. He opened up the panels and swept the numerous bags in, before sealing the panels back up and then moving over to the main airlock to open the second airlock on Serenity’s belly and rid them of the items that his crew just didn’t deal with.

“There had to be an absolute fortune in those frames.” Simon said. “Enough to have set anyone on their own little private moon with all the luxuries they could ever imagine. Good thing it’s not worth it, sinking down to that level.”

“You ain’t wrong, Doc.” Mal said wearily. “You ain’t wrong. We’d better get these frames back in order.”

They got back to work re-framing and putting the paintings back into their crate. Mal was grateful that it was impossible to tell that the goods had been tampered with.

It was with heavy hearts and worried minds that Mal, Inara, and Simon went to bed. Each couldn’t help but wonder why it was that the worst situations always seemed to follow them wherever they went. Just when things had started to look up and seem smooth, a wrench was thrown into the cogs and everything threatened to come crashing down.


I hope you enjoy! Questions, comments, and constructive criticism are greatly appreciated!



Sunday, August 9, 2009 4:55 PM


Glad to see more of this story. Glad that they didn't end up pedaling drugs and loved how they wouldn't be fingered by either end of the dealers. Life may be hard, but they still have the freedom to do the right thing.

Sunday, August 9, 2009 7:01 PM


I had kinda forgot about this story. Took me a moment to remember it.


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Mal, Zoe, and company continue to adjust and keep flying, even as trouble appears to be brewing on the horizon. <i>Part V</i>: Things are reserved on <i>Serenity</i>, and Mal finds out that his flush new deal is a great deal more trouble than he originally thought.

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