Masks - Part IX
Thursday, November 26, 2009

Maya. Post-BDM. Serenity arrives at Aberdeen to pick up Badger's crate, only there's a slight hitch. NEW CHAPTER (and I'll try to be more regular with the updates!)


“Mal, Aberdeen’s down below,” Hank said over the com, and wasn’t surprised to hear his captain’s voice at his elbow.

“Coming up somewhat fast.”

Man must be catching being psychic, the pilot thought, but said, “Not overly. And I still don’t think this is a good idea.”

“We need the work.”

“Oh, I get that you think that. Not agreeing, seeing that we have some cash put by, but I know how you get when you don’t have a job in hand.”

“And how’s that?” Mal was content to see just how much rope Hank would take.

“Grumpy.” Hank glanced up, seeing the other man standing with his arms crossed. “Exacerbated by the fact that Frey’s not here.” He warmed to his theme. “Yeah, that’s it. Captain Grumpy. Pretty much like when she makes you sleep on the couch. Although you’ve been better at that lately.”

“You do realise Zoe ain’t here to defend you, don’t you?”

“Which is why I'm not saying anything to Jayne.”

“You think he’s worse?”

Hank chuckled. “Oh, come on, Mal. You’re only likely to shoot me. Or toss me out the airlock. Jayne would tear my arm out of its socket and beat me to death with the wet end.”

“True. But you’d still be dead.”

“Nah.” He shook his head. “I could talk you out of it.”

“If’n I were you, I’m not sure I’d be putting that to the test.”

“You love me really.”


“And on that growl, I’m gonna stick my neck out even further. We don’t want to be here.” He gestured out at the planet as it filled the bridge windows, then adjusted their trajectory by a degree.

“Badger’s paying us good money to transport his samples. And more’n that, after the business with those New Browncoats, I don’t want anyone to get the idea we’re hiding.”

“No, I guess that would be bad,” Hank said slowly. “Only maybe you’d like to explain it to me in simple language.”

“Words of one syllable?”

“That would be preferable.”

Mal lowered himself into the co-pilot’s chair and stared at the dinosaurs still ranged on the console. “I ain’t under any illusion, Hank. Maybe Quintana was working alone, but maybe he’d told others what he suspected about Simon being the key to breeding a new race of super-psychics. The Alliance’ve never stopped looking for him and his sister, no matter what happened after Miranda, and I’d be a fool if I didn’t take that into consideration.”

“Then surely hiding would be good.”

“Except that would only signal to the fanatics among the New Browncoats that he was right, and we had Simon on board.”

“That’s crazy logic.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever said they were sane.”

“No.” Hank sighed, his hands flexing on the control yoke. “Guess not. So that’s what we’re doing? Hiding in plain sight?”

“Pretty much.” Mal stood up as the ship began to shake, and had to grab at the back of the chair to keep his balance. “And I’d rather we got down in one piece to be able to keep doing it.”

Hank grinned slightly maniacally as the muscles stood out on his arms. “I’ll see what I can arrange.”


The Dundee Correctional Facility was one of a string owned by private companies, catering for the dregs of the border worlds. The Alliance might make a show of wanting to rehabilitate, not penalise, but out here justice tended to be more of the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ variety. Capital punishment took care of the worst on the Rim, but those planets who were trying to be more civilised took advantage of the proliferation of family-run institutions, and the Alliance paid per head for each prisoner taken in. And, of course, if the owners thought they could turn an extra profit by encouraging the inmates to work for a pittance, nobody seemed to care much.

Hank brought Serenity gently to earth in the centre of the adjoining dock, the engine powering down until it was only purring, a light sprinkling of snow melting immediately it touched the entry-warmed hull.

Jayne, bristling as always with a selection of weaponry, glanced at River who was staring into nothingness. “You okay, moonbrain?” he asked.

She didn’t seem to notice, standing in the middle of their shuttle, a coat unbuttoned over her normal pretty dress.

“Honey?” Jayne prompted, walking in front of her.

Her reverie broken, she looked up at him. “Jayne.”

“Yeah, that’s me. Least it was when I woke up this morning. You okay?”

River smiled. “Thinking.”

“What about?”


“Masks.” He made the statement sound like a question.

“The masks we all wear, so nobody can see inside us.”

“O-kay.” He waited, knowing she would make it plainer if she could.

“Pretending to be what we’re not.” She put her hand on his chest. “My big, bad Jayne, pretending to be something other than a marshmallow.”

He bristled, but it was with a wry smile that he said, “I ain’t a marshmallow.”

“You are to me.”

“Yeah, well, that’s ‘cause you got to me.”

“Saw inside the mask.”

He covered her slim hand with his own much larger one. “Riv, is there something going on we need to tell Mal about?”

Her nose scrunched up. “Not sure. Old faces, new names …” Her voice trailed away.


Her eyes focused on him again. “Not yet. We have to deal with this first.” She quickly turned, picking up her rifle. “And I have to sort out the lessons for the children for tomorrow. Freya was very particular about them continuing to learn.”

Jayne shook his head. If there was something he needed to be worried about, she’d tell him in plenty of time. This fuzziness of hers just meant she was having a bad day, and this he could handle. “Think I’m gonna be able to shoot anyone today? It’s been a while, and I’m getting antsy.”

She laughed, like her namesake running bubbling over a bed of pebbles, and it warmed him through. “That is my Jayne.”


Mal had told the children in no uncertain terms that they were to stay in Bethie’s room while they were down on the ground, the door locked from the inside.

“But I can help,” the little girl insisted. “I can tell you if they’re lying.”

He had to smile. “You wanna take your Aunt River’s job away from her?”

“No,” Bethie admitted. “But –”

“No buts, short stub. And you’ve got a job, looking after all your siblings.” He glanced at the other children. Ben and Hope were sitting on floor, leaning against the bed, together as always, his dark head next to her blonde one, giggling as they looked at pictures in one of the new books Kaylee had bought on Beaumonde. Jesse was lying on her front on the covers, Caleb next to her, tickling David Gabriel so he gurgled with laughter. Ethan, though, was standing next to Bethie, his blue eyes fixed on his father. Mal went on, “The both of you’ll know if anything goes wrong, so you can make sure the others are safe, dong mah?”

Bethie sighed, but Ethan said, “Yes, Daddy.”

“Not that I'm thinking anything’s gonna go wrong, but we have to be careful.”

Now he was wondering if maybe he’d not been careful enough. The cargo bay ramp was almost to the ground, and somehow he wished he was more surprised to see a dozen men with guns, all pointing at him. He shivered, and could only partly put that down to the cold air that swirled inside.

“Captain Reynolds?” A man stepped forward, very tall but on the skinny side, as if his height had grown up through his natural body. “I'm Neil Fogarty.”

“Fogarty.” Mal nodded towards the armed men. “Why all the guns?” he asked, trying to maintain an aura of unconcern, while feeling the lack of Zoe at his side, even though he knew Jayne was at his back and River was up on the catwalk.

“We had a break-out last night,” Fogarty explained. “Half a dozen prisoners.”

Mal’s eyebrows raised. “And you think we’ve got them?”

“No. This is for your protection. In case they try to highjack you.”

“Well, that’s nice, but you’re kinda pointing them at us.”

“That’s in case you’re here to spring ‘em.”

“And exactly how would that have been arranged?”

“There are ways.”

Mal half-smiled. “You mean you’ve got someone on the inside who was bought.”

Fogarty looked pained. “It’s been suggested.”

“Then at least let me take that worry off your shoulders. We’re here for the samples crate for Badger as arranged. That’s all. We don’t plan on taking on any passengers, welcome or otherwise. And my people are more than capable of repelling any borders.”

Running his eyes over Jayne’s imposing presence, and possibly counting the number of weapons he could see and multiplying it by the number he couldn’t, Fogarty finally nodded. "Shiny.” He indicated to his men that they should stand back.

“So how do you figure they got out?” Mal asked, curious, watching the guards step away, but noting the guns stayed visible.

Fogarty squirmed. “We almost had a Reaver attack a while back, and we armed some of the more trustworthy prisoners so they could at least fight for their own lives. The Reavers somehow passed us by, but ...”

“One of your prisoners wasn't as trustworthy as expected?”

“Someone managed to clone the armoury key. Why they waited until now to use it, I'm not sure. But some twenty or so made a break for the wall gate, shot some of my men.”

Simon stepped through from the common area where he’d been listening. “You have injured?”

Mal silently damned his crew’s propensity for eavesdropping. “I'm sure their own medic’s taken care of –”

“You’re a doctor?” Fogarty interrupted.

“I have some medical experience,” Simon fudged.

“Ours quit, a month back. They keep promising to send us someone new, but so far we’ve seen squat.”

“I’ll get my bag.” Simon hurried through the back.

Fogarty relaxed, just a micron. “I’d surely be grateful if he could patch them up.”

“He’ll do his best.” Mal nodded out towards the squat, grey buildings, and the mountains ringing the world behind them. Snow might have fallen on the slopes, but it didn’t improve the view all that much. “Odd time of year to be breakin’ out, it seems to me. It’s pretty inhospitable out there.”

“I agree, even at the best of times.” Fogarty nodded. “And the truth is, we’re not too concerned with them getting all that far. Time comes, they’ll be back, hungry and cold.”

“You planning on lettin’ ‘em back in?”

“I’ll probably consider it.” He smiled. “Yeah, I’ll be welcoming them with open arms. I hate having to fill in the paperwork.”

“Just in case we see ‘em, they all bad guys?”

“Captain, there’s not a man incarcerated here who’s a good guy.”

“But I bet they all say they’re innocent.”

“I wouldn’t be contradicting you. We just don’t want them to be hitching a lift.”

“Well, like I said, we’re not planning on taking passengers this trip.”

“Good to know.” He straightened a little. “And in the meantime …” Fogarty beckoned outside, and a huge forklift truck trundled into view. “You’ll be wanting your pick-up.”

The truck moved forward, a large container, some ten feet wide by eight feet high, balanced on the supports.

Mal stared and put up his hand. “Whoa, there. What the hell is that?”

“The samples. There’s another three still in –”

“No. We were told it was a small crate. Nothing more.”

“It’s what Badger asked for.” Fogarty’s lips twitched. “What, didn’t he tell you we don’t have the facilities for processing the raw materials?”

“No,” Mal bit out.

“Well, it’s a case of take it or leave it. It’s up to you.”

“How much does it weigh?”

“Well, let’s put it like this. The thing’s full of rocks. So what do you think?”

“I think I’m gonna be stringin’ Badger up by his thumbs.”

“Couldn’t happen to a nicer feller.”

Mal lifted an eyebrow. “You know him?”

“For my sins.”

“You done something that bad?”

“You wouldn’t have thought so.” Fogarty smiled. “But if you manage to get a capture or two of Badger hanging by any of his extremities, I’d be grateful for a copy.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” Mal glared at the truck still waiting at the bottom of the ramp. “Better load up ‘fore I change my mind.”

River, above them on the catwalk, stepped to the edge and lowered herself elegantly until her legs were over the edge. She laid her rifle across her knees, her hand still on the stock, close to the trigger, but her gaze was on the first of the crates. Something was tickling her mind, but so far she hadn’t been able to get hold of it. Every time she tried, it was like smoke through her fingers, or perhaps photons of light through a window, or even sand through a sieve ... one way or the other, if she concentrated it just got worse.

She sighed. Jayne had been right. It was a bad day, and the collective mental energies of the men locked up in the prison just a few hundred yards away was like a wall of anger.

Perhaps that was it. They’d dug these rocks out of the ground with little in the way of technology, swinging picks and drilling holes. Only the worst of the vein was broken up using explosives, since nobody trusted the diggers. And if one or two of them died in the process from cave-ins, then who was around to complain?

She glanced at Fogarty, supervising the unloading. He was essentially a good man, if tarnished a little by the people around him. He was trying to do his best in a bad world, working for the owners who took every penny they could without thought or care for those left behind.

She saw Jayne look up at her.


She had to smile. It had become so much easier for him to initiate their mental conversations, without having to wait for her to make the connection.

I’m all right.

Be gone from here soon enough.

My brother will want to stay longer.

Mal won’t. Me neither. Never did feel happy ‘bout being this close to bars, even if I am standing on the outside this time.

I’ll keep you safe.

You promise that? Jayne gave a low growling chuckle, turning it into a cough when he saw Fogarty look at him strangely.

I do.

Guess I’m just antsy, Jayne admitted.

Missing wives and friends.

The big man nodded slightly. Got that right. Only I ain’t never gonna admit it.


“Ready,” Simon said, hurrying out of the common area, his medical bag clutched tightly in his hand.

“Gibbons, see the young doc here gets to the infirmary, dong mah?” Fogarty said to a man who was almost as wide as he was tall.

Gibbons nodded, gesturing towards a doorway into the facility. Simon strode forward, wrapping his coat as tightly around him as he could and blinking snowflakes from his eyes. The guard followed, his massive girth making him waddle.

“Jayne, you go too,” Mal ordered. “Don’t let the doc out of your sight.”

“You got it.” The ex-mercenary jogged after the others.

Mal sighed as he stood back to watch the fork lift trundle slowly up into his cargo bay, wincing slightly as the ramp groaned beneath the weight. It would be just his luck if it bent something out of whack, and him with no mechanic to fix it.

The truck manoeuvred carefully, lowering the container almost lovingly, but at the last moment making the deck ring as it dropped the final inch.

“Be careful with my ship!” Mal protested.

River didn’t hear. She was staring at the crate, wondering why it seemed quite so interesting.

to be continued


Thursday, November 26, 2009 1:29 PM


I'm wondering what's in the crates. And I don't like Simon off the ship with prisoners loose. Can't wait for more.

Thursday, November 26, 2009 2:36 PM


I agree. This does not bode well.

Thursday, November 26, 2009 3:33 PM


Marshmallow....i liked for the crates, one must wonder what's in them with River curious. More more more please...

Thursday, November 26, 2009 4:59 PM


More questions than answers in this one. Which way are you going to go? For the prisoners? For the danger to Simon? River's curiosity or the reason for her fogginess? Loved the scene with Hank.

Friday, November 27, 2009 7:14 AM


Hmm. Something tells me those are a bit more than rocks. But I guess you can't exactly open up to check with a dozen guns pointed at you.

Friday, November 27, 2009 10:09 AM


I bet Mal's last credit that those escaped prisoners are in the gorram crates. Surprised Mal didn't insist they open the first crate to check before having it on his ship especially as Badger's one small crate has turned into three great big ones. And how come Fogarty wasn't suspicious? I smiled at Hank, he sure is getting brave. As for Badger being strung up by his extremities, have to say it's been a long time coming :~)
Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, December 21, 2009 9:43 AM


Uh...OOOO... can things get more tense?? Great so far.. :) Loving it..


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Now and Then - a Christmas story
“Then do you have a better suggestion? No, let me rephrase that. Do you have a more sensible suggestion that doesn’t involve us getting lost and freezing to death?”

[Maya. Post-BDM. A little standalone festive tale that kind of fits into where I am in the Maya timeline, but works outside too. Enjoy!]

Monied Individual - Epilogue
"I honestly don’t know if my pilot wants to go around with flowers and curlicues carved into his leg.”
[Maya. Post-BDM. The end of the story, and the beginning of the last ...]

Monied Individual - Part XX
Mal took a deep breath, allowing it out slowly through his nostrils, and now his next words were the honest truth. “Ain’t surprised. No matter how good you are, and I’m not complaining, I’ve seen enough battle wounds, had to help out at the odd amputation on occasion. And I don’t have to be a doc myself to tell his leg ain’t quite the colour it should be, even taking into account his usual pasty complexion. What you did … didn’t work, did it?”
[Maya. Post-BDM. Simon has no choice, and Luke comes around.]

Monied Individual - Part XIX
“His name’s Jayne?”

“What’s wrong with that?” the ex-mercenary demanded from the doorway.

“Nothing, nothing! I just … I don’t think I’ve ever met a man … anyone else by that name.”

“Yeah, he’s a mystery to all of us,” Mal said. “Even his wife.”

[Maya. Post-BDM. Hank's not out of the woods yet, and Mal has a conversation. Enjoy!]

Monied Individual - Part XVIII
Jayne had told him a story once, about being on the hunt for someone who owed him something or other. He’d waited for his target for three hours in four inches of slush as the temperature dropped, and had grinned when he’d admitted to Hank that he’d had to break his feet free from the ice when he’d finished.
[Maya. Post-BDM. The Fosters show their true colours, Jayne attempts a rescue, and the others may be too late.]

Snow at Christmas
She’d seen his memories of his Ma, the Christmases when he was a boy on Shadow, even a faint echo of one before his Pa died, all still there, not diminished by his burning, glowing celebrations of now with Freya.

[Maya. Post-BDM. A seasonal one-off - enjoy!]

Monied Individual - Part XVII
Jayne hadn’t waited, but planted a foot by the lock. The door was old, the wood solid, but little could stand against a determined Cobb boot with his full weight behind it. It burst open.

[Maya. Post-BDM. The search for Hank continues. Read, enjoy, review!]

Monied Individual - Part XVI
He slammed the door behind him, making the plates rattle on the sideboard. “It’s okay, girl, I ain't gonna hurt you.” The cook, as tradition dictated, plump and rosy cheeked with her arms covered to the elbows in flour, but with a gypsy voluptuousness, picked up a rolling pin.

[Maya. Post-BDM. Kaylee finds the problem with Serenity, and Jayne starts his quest. Read, enjoy, review!]

Monied Individual - Part XV
“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!]