Secrets - Part XV
Monday, May 26, 2014

Monty stroked his beard. “Maybe they’re afraid of us for when the war’s begun, of what we’d be capable of. Considering we held the Alliance nearly to a draw last time.” [Maya. Post-BDM. Mal and Monty talk, Serenity takes a trip, but there's trouble on the horizon.]


“You sure about this?” Monty asked, staring at the list scrolling slowly down the small screen as he sat at the kitchen table, the light waning through the plexi-dome over the seating area.

“Pretty gorram sure.” Mal had gone over Simon’s discovery of the micro-programme on the Culver diamond, and what they had surmised about the people on it.

“’Cause there’s a few names I recognise on here.”

“Me too.”

“And they’re all due to be killed?” It wasn’t so much a question as a statement.

Mal swirled the rice wine around his mug, the subtle perfume of smooth and very expensive alcohol reaching his nostrils. “It’s the conclusion we’ve come to.”

Monty downed his in one gulp, welcoming the burn. “Tah muh duh.”


“Shit, Mal, why’re some folks such bastards?” He picked up the bottle and poured another slug into his mug.

“You’d need to ask someone brighter’n me to tell you that.” Mal nodded at the bottle. “And that stuff’s too good to be knocking it back like that.”

Taking a deep breath and exhaling noisily, Monty nodded. “I know. It’s just …”

“Yeah. But I got some gutrot in a cupboard somewhere if all you want to do is take off the inside of your stomach.”

Monty grunted half a laugh. “No, this is good.” He sighed. “We’ll get the word out, fast as we can. Soon as we’re away, don’t you worry about that. And Colby might only have the use of one arm at the moment, but he’s pretty good at underhanded Cortex dealings – nobody’s gonna know where it came from.”


“But I’m guessing I’m not the only ones you’re contacting.”

“No. Hank’s gonna look at a way of getting the info to Dillon, maybe to Theo Hawkins, Jez Thacker. Maybe he should talk to Colby, see if they can’t come up with something together. Then there’s Alex, Frey’s brother. He might be able to contact those who’re a mite higher up.”

“Freya know you’re planning on getting him involved?”

“Nope. And I’d be grateful if you didn’t tell her, not quite yet. I’d like to break it gentle.”

“Better have Simon ready with the weaves when you do.”

Mal grumbled, “Just keep it under your hat.”

“You got it, Mal.” They touched mugs, each taking a sip before Monty went on, “You think there’s gonna be another war? Over and above what Frey’s gonna do to you when she finds out about her bro.”

“I don’t know,” Mal admitted. “The names on that stone, the locations …”

“Sounds to me like a pre-emptive strike. Take out the ringleaders before they have a chance to garner support.”

“That’s what Frey thinks.”

“Only you ain't said if you’re on it.”

Mal looked at his old friend, at the air of general bonhomie and casual disregard for authority that hid a sharp mind. “No, I didn’t.”

“So are you?”

“No. But like you, I know some of ‘em, heard of others.”

“That’s kinda strange.” Monty twirled his mug, making it rasp on the old wood. “You being the hero of Serenity Valley n’all.”

“Not a hero.” But it was an automatic response.

“Kinda suggests there’s something else behind it all, don’t ya think?”

“Monty, truth is, I’ve been trying hard not to think about it.”


Mal sighed. “I don’t know. I got me a whole barnful of theories, but I can’t tell any of ‘em are more likely that another.”

“Want me to keep my ear out?”

“No. Not if it endangers your crew.”

“Wasn’t planning on asking questions. Just … listening.”

“Then okay. Thanks.”

“My pleasure.” He drained his mug. “So … I didn’t exactly read all of those names.”

Mal smiled faintly. “You mean, are you on the list?”

“Well, it did cross my mind. And I’d kinda like to know if I need to sleep with one eye open.”

“You thought I wouldn’t be telling you straight off?”

Monty had the grace to look sheepish under his chin hair. “Well, no. I guess you would’a said.”

“You don’t have to worry,” Mal confirmed. “You’re safe.”

“Safe. Right.” Monty tipped the bottle over their mugs once more, emptying it. “You know, it does strike me that maybe this ain’t the only list about.”

Mal paused, his mug halfway to his lips. “What’re you suggesting?”

“Well, if’n you ain’t on it, and I ain’t … maybe there’s another where we are.”

Mal lowered his mug. “That’s a highly disturbing thought.” Then he shook his head. “There’s over two hundred names on it. One of ‘em is pretty high up in the Alliance. You and me, we’re just small fry. We can barely make enough cashey-money to keep ourselves flyin’, let alone have the time to plot rebellion.”

“You know that and I know that. But I wonder if there’s others have different ideas.” Monty stroked his beard. “Maybe they’re afraid of us for when the war’s begun, of what we’d be capable of. Considering we held the Alliance nearly to a draw last time.”

Taking a large mouthful of alcohol Mal forced it down, despite what he’d said earlier, the liquid warming his stomach into fire as he gathered his thoughts. “Well, maybehaps you’re right. Makes me feel my idea of finding somewhere quiet and setting roots for a spell ain’t such a bad one.”

“You?” Monty slapped him so hard on the back that some of the booze spilled. “There ain’t no way you’re gonna get tied to the dirt. Not ‘til they plant you in it.”

“Which could be sooner rather than later, you keep doing that.” He rolled his shoulders, trying to get rid of the sting.

Monty laughed, a deep guffaw that filled the kitchen and rang through the pipes. “Take a bit more than that, I’m thinking.”

“I hope so,” Freya said from the doorway.

“Come and join us!” the huge man said, waving a hand magnanimously at the empty chairs. “I’m sure we can find another bottle.”

“Maybe later.”

“Then to what do we owe the honour?”

Freya smiled. “Mrs Boden, Simon and your wife have finished comparing recipes, and decided not to duel with soup ladles at dawn.”

“Good to know.”

“So instead it’s time to eat.”

“Shiny,” Mal said, standing up. “Means I might actually survive this evening.”


Everyone was fragile, and Simon was busy handing out little pills or, in the case of Hank who insisted he was dying, a hypo.

“Nobody said you had to eat that much. Or drink quite so freely,” Simon said, pulling the trigger.

The hiss of gas made Hank wince. “But it was there. And it tasted so good. I mean, the three of you put together a feast for the eyes. And stomach.” He swallowed quickly. “’Cept I think Monty’s wife was trying to kill us all.”

Inez had turned out to be small, dark and slight, her tilted almond eyes warm and happy. Her size suggested she should be quiet, and while she barely raised her voice, it was clear she ruled Monty better than a whole platoon of Alliance purplebellies. Not in a severe fashion, though – from the expression on her face when she looked at her husband, it seemed to be true love.

“You didn’t have to try the curry.”

“I had to,” Hank opined. “To be polite. And it was delicious.”

“It was hot enough to take the varnish off the table.”

Hank sighed happily. “Perfect.”

Mal leaned in the infirmary door. “My pilot fit to fly? ‘Cause there’s a coupla others would like to take his place.”

Hank slithered from the medbed. “Ready, willing and able,” he said, saluting, barely able to focus.

“Just get us ready to leave atmo.” Mal shook his head in disgust and strode away.


In the house, in the room that was still called the nursery, Freya was spending a little time with her son.

“Do you mind?” she asked Ethan as she tried to brush his hair, the cowlick at the top refusing to co-operate, as usual. “That all the children are staying behind?”

Ethan shrugged expressively, using most of his little body. “S’okay.”

“Only I think Uncle Sam might need some help keeping Auntie ‘Nara from doing anything silly.”

Ethan giggled. “She cut her hair.”

“I know.”

They shared a conspiratorial smile.

“Maybe … if mine grew … it wouldn’t need brushing.” Ethan looked hopeful.

Freya smiled. “I think that’s why she cut it. Too much brushing.”


“So you’ll look after everyone? Be in charge?”

“Uncle Monty’ll be here,” Ethan pointed out.

“Yes. But your daddy is captain of Serenity.”

A wide grin made him look even more like his father than ever. “Can I tell Bethie what to do?”

“You could try. I’m not sure it would work, though.”

“Me neither.” He sighed deeply, making it sound as if the ‘verse was coming to an end. “She’d get her own back.”

“No fighting.”

“No, Mama.”

Freya’s eyes narrowed but she didn’t have time to ask why that sounded a little too false to be true, as Mal shouted up the stairs, “Anyone not on board in five’ll get left behind!”

Freya sighed as Ethan giggled again.


The trip to Magdalene was a short haul but took the best part of a full day since Kaylee didn’t want the engines to exceed 40%, meaning they were meandering rather than powering through space.

While the children were staying, happy to play outside with the dogs, or run the Bodens ragged demanding picnics and the like, knowing Monty was on Lazarus, and would stay there at least until they got back, gave Mal a feeling of ease, and probably led to the unusual prospect of him offering to pay for dinner out on the town.

“Are you sure?” Simon asked, knowing his wife was bouncing in her seat. “It isn’t likely to be cheap, not with all of us.”

“Well, the kids ain’t gonna be eating me out of ship and home, and as long as River keeps Jayne in check, I think I can manage.”

Delivering the bull was easily accomplished, and the rancher was pleased with his purchase, handing over a bag of coin that Mal locked in his safe, ready to pass along to O’Higgins on their return. It would have been easier to do it by money transfer via the Cortex, but neither man suggested it, as the powers that be didn’t look kindly on inter-world trading without a whole mess of additional export and import licences, plus all the fees that went with it. That kind of red tape had made many an honest man break the law.

Mal stood leaning on the corral, watching the bull being led nonchalantly towards half a dozen fenced cows. “But you won’t be able to advertise any calves heritage,” he pointed out.

The rancher, a lean, rangy sort of man whose appearance reminded Mal somewhat of Indigo MacCready, shrugged. “Not why I’m buying ‘im. It’s what they don’t understand, the fellers that run things. A man needs to bring in new blood, whether it be in his herd or his family, else you get more than your fair share of back-births.” He fixed Mal with a stern eye. “I’m thinking you know what I’m talking about.”

“I certainly understand how the Alliance likes to get in a man’s way.”

The rancher nodded as if Mal had agreed with everything he’d said. “Anyhow, this bull’s gonna inject that new blood, improve the quality of my steers and make ‘em more purchasable, even if I can’t say who their sire is.” He glanced over to where Jayne was sluicing out the cargo bay. “You and your crew are welcome to stay to supper, if’n you want?”

Mal smiled. “Thanks, but we’ve got plans.”

So, as the sky darkened and stars began to prick out the Prussian blue velvet overhead (Mal was feeling a trifle poetical), he led the way towards a restaurant the rancher had recommended, where gold light spilled out onto the sidewalk and music filtered into the air.

For once the ubiquitous Cortex screen was discreetly hidden behind a row of jardinières, tall plants obscuring all but the very top of the large room. A small five piece orchestra was playing on a small dais at one end, and there was a space for dancing before the white linen-topped tables began.

They were shown to their seats by a smiling waiter, and Mal mentally counted the cash in his wallet.

I have money with me, zhang fu. Freya’s voice wrapped itself around his brain.

He glanced at the woman herself and smiled. Am I that obvious?

She gazed at him, her eyes soft. It’s a lovely gesture.

But I ain’t gonna have to wash dishes?

Not this time.

Pity. I kinda enjoyed it that day on New Hall.

She tried to stop her lips curving. That was your own fault.

For getting my pocket picked?

I got the money back. This was River, who was sitting in her seat, swinging her legs under the table.

Xiao nu, have a conversation with your own husband, Mal thought hard.

River winced and glared at him.

The food was good, and there was plenty of it, even when Jayne asked for a second plate of potatoes.

“Not as good as Mrs B,” Hank observed. “Or Inez, for that matter.”

“Simon’s is better, too” Kaylee said quickly.

“I still say the rota’s rigged,” the young doctor added.

“No idea what you mean, doc,” Mal said, standing up and holding out his hand. “Frey, would you do me the honour of a turn around the floor?”

“I’d be delighted,” Freya said, rising gracefully and allowing him to lead her out to join the slow dancing.

“Riv?” Jayne asked.

“My Jayne.” They squeezed onto the dance floor.

“Oh, come on,” Zoe said, hauling Hank to his feet and dragging him forward.

Simon simply smiled and put his arm around Kaylee, holding her close as they joined the others.


One of Magdalene’s two moons was high, casting deep shadows to contrast with the pale light as they walked back towards Serenity, arm in arm, couple by couple, although two of them were arguing.

“You don’t mix red and white wine,” Simon was saying.

“Why not?” Jayne’s voice grumbled in the darkness. “All goes down the same hole.”

“Yes, I suppose it does. But you shouldn’t top up a fairly decent Andalusian with a white Nefiri that tastes like it should be used for degreasing Serenity’s engine, let alone in the same glass.”

Jayne smirked. “Comes out the same way too.”

“Please. I’ve had to use the shower after you.”

As they approached the Firefly, silver-gilt and shining, Mal tightened his arm around Freya’s waist. “You think if we walked faster maybe we can close up ‘fore they get home?”

She laughed. “You really think Kaylee can’t open any lock you’d care to set?”

“Guess you’re right.” Freya missed a step, and he said, a chuckle in his voice, “You had too much to drink, ai ren?”

“I …” She shook her head, her brow furrowed.

Concern flashed through him. “Are you feeling okay?”

“It’s not me. Something else.”

“Can you be a bit more specific?”

“No, I … gorramit.” She couldn’t pinpoint it, and it was making her annoyed.

“Mal?” River had also stopped, and even in this light he could see her face had lost its colour. “I think … a wave …”

Mal grunted a curse, then ran for his ship, stabbing at the keypad and willing the lock to disengage quicker. There was a click and a whirr, and he was able to tug the door open, pounding across the cargo bay and up the stairs to the bridge.

A light was blinking urgently on the console.

He flipped the switch even as he slid into the pilot’s seat. “’Nara?”

The ex-Companion’s white face appeared on the screen. “Where the diyu have you been?”

“Out. And we’re back now. So what’s put a burr under your bustle?”

“Molly’s gone.”

to be continued


Tuesday, May 27, 2014 2:44 PM


Thanks, I've missed this story

Tuesday, May 27, 2014 2:44 PM


Thanks, I've missed this story

Saturday, June 14, 2014 7:52 AM


*Goushi, I just knew Mal taking the crew out for a meal would have a down-side. But what happened to Molly? And why in the nine hells didn't Inara know anything was wrong until it was too late? Good to see another chapter as always, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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