Secrets - Part XVII
Tuesday, August 26, 2014

“Bored now,” River said and span on her heel. Her body moved out of the way of the bullet even as she lifted her leg, her foot connecting solidly with Linc’s jaw. [Maya. Post-BDM. While Inara's illness is no longer a secret, Mal and his crew go out to find Molly.]


Inara could hear voices, but it was so easy to stay in the darkness, even though she thought she recognised them. Movement of the air on her face … or maybe it was someone else’s face, she couldn’t be sure … being picked up, perhaps … not that it mattered. She wasn’t about to wake up.


Simon ran his portable scanner over her as she lay on the couch, his face carefully impassive. “Her blood pressure is low, she has a temperature, but I …”

“Her skin’s icy.” Freya moved Inara’s short hair away from her face. “But she’s wringing wet.”

“Yes.” Simon took another small machine from his bag.

“She’s really sick.”

“I think she might be.” He was staring at the tiny instrument.

“What’s that?”

“I … Inara hasn’t been to see me, not as a doctor. I don’t even have a recent sample of her blood. Not since …”

“Since what? Sam demanded.

“Since she asked me to find out why she wasn’t getting pregnant.”

Sam felt ashamed. “Yes. I suppose … And is that what that’s for?” He nodded at the small machine.

Simon nodded. “I have the feeling whatever’s wrong with her is more than just a physical examination would show.” He sighed and went to put the blood extractor back in his bag.

“Take the blood now.” Freya spoke firmly.

His head whipped up. “What?”

“While she’s still out. Take a blood sample now.”

“I can’t. That would be unethical.”

“And if you don’t I can guarantee when she wakes up she won’t let you.”

“Without her permission I can’t –”

“Simon, take it.” Sam spoke, his normally olive face pale and drawn. “Permission be damned. I need to know.”

For a long moment Simon gazed at him, then he nodded once and flipped out the needle on the small device.

The door slammed back and Mal entered. “Frey, we gotta … is she okay?” He was staring at Inara.

“Just exhausted.”

“You sure about that?”

Simon stood up. “I am.”

Mal was about to argue, to say he knew something else was up, but shrugged instead and said, “Frey. Sun’s gonna be coming up real soon.” He strode out.

Freya looked at Sam. “Are you going to stay?”

“Yes. I won’t be much use to you out there. I can wait here, in case Molly comes back.” He tried a smile. “And someone’s got to take the flak when Inara wakes up.”

Freya put a hand briefly on his shoulder then ran out after Mal.


Hank kept the shuttle speed low to minimise on the engine sound as well as coming in on a large circle, but it wasn’t going to take long to get to the area they thought Molly might be.

“You think it’s Philo Cobb?” Mal asked Freya, even as he checked his gun yet again.

“I don’t know.” She leaned back on the bulkhead and grimaced, trying to see but hitting a cotton candy wall. “Gorramit, even away from Inara I can’t …”

He put his hand on her arm. “It’s okay, xin gan.”

“You don’t think it’s that big cat Monty mentioned?” Hank called back over his shoulder.

“Be something of a coincidence if it was.” Mal shook his head. “Still, I really figured he’d be sensible.” He didn’t mean the cat.

“Not Philo,” River murmured.

“You sure?”

“If she says so, she’s sure,” Jayne grumbled.

Mal ignored him. “But if it ain’t Philo, then who?”

“Linc.” Kaylee fidgeted as nearly everyone turned to look at her, only Hank fighting the urge and keeping his eyes on the landscape outside.

Mei-mei?” Mal asked gently.

“That feller who … the one who tagged the mule.” She was still angry about that. “He … there was something about him. Fixed. Focused.” She shuddered slightly. “He made me … itch.”

“He tasted wrong,” River expanded.

“You don’t have to eat him, honey,” Hank joked, but nobody laughed.

“You think it might be him?” Mal asked his mechanic.

“I …” Kaylee looked around her friends, then her chin stuck out in that stubborn way she had. “Yeah, I think so. Like I said, something about him.”

Mal took a deep breath, then looked at River. “Can you feel him?”

“No,” the young woman admitted. “But I know what Kaylee means. And I agree with her. Linc took Molly.”


His wife stirred. “I …” She shook herself. “My gut says they’re right.”

“Mine too.” Mal turned to Zoe. “You got anything you want to say to me, afore we go in and maybe get me shot?”

“You don’t think he’s here on Cobb’s business, sir?”

Mal shook his head. “Old Philo could’ve come in heavy-handed any time he wanted, taken Molly out from under us, or at least tried, but he didn’t. And I think Hank’s right, they haven’t come back. Nope, whatever Linc’s up to it’s off his own back. Or someone else very specific.”

His first mate lowered her voice. “Sir, I don’t like the way your mind is running.”

“Me neither, but I can’t see another possibility.”

“Uh, Mal?” Hank’s tone was hesitant. “I’d ask if you want to explain to those of us who aren’t quite so quick on the uptake, but I’m about to put us down.”

“Shiny. Keep the engine running.”


Molly sniffed hard, trying to stop the tears that were still making their way down her cheeks. “Just let me go,” she pleaded. “I won’t tell anyone.”

Linc gestured with the gun in his hand, and she shrank back a little. “Do you want me to gag you?”

“No.” She swallowed. “Don’t hurt me.”

He looked at her, and the lack of any compassion chilled her to the bone. “That won’t be my decision,” he said, shrugging. “It never was.”

“Then what do you want?”

Shaking his head, he pulled a red bandana from his pocket. “I warned you.”


In the grey light of the false dawn, Mal could hear the odd ticking noises of insects waking up, and something scurried away from him into the underbrush.

They’d split up, better to cover the ground. Kaylee was staying with Hank, attempting to adjust the sensors to pick up any sign of a hurt or unconscious Molly amongst the boulders and rocks, but without much in the way of hopes of success. Still, Mal had smiled and encouraged her to try, knowing full well that Monty had been right, and they could pass the girl by within a few feet and not know if she wasn’t capable of calling out, so anything was better than nothing.

This time making sure everyone had a comunit, Serenity’s crew had spread out, although Mal was fully aware he was going to rely on Jayne in particular with his tracking skills as soon as the sun came up enough for him to see, and his two psychics to use other talents.

A ladybird, as bright and shining as the best and rarest of rubies even in this low light, pattered across a leaf and disappeared. Two spots – two years old, at least that was Lyle said once. Except Ms Gringrich had wrinkled her nose under those glasses of hers and said it wasn’t age, but nature that decided how much decoration each lady bug had.

Times like this, Mal found himself getting thoughtful, his mind somehow divided into the majority dedicated solely to the job in hand, but a small portion playing on other things. He wondered about the moment the terraformers had opened the great glass domes and let all the flies and spiders out. Although they probably had different domes, otherwise there’d be nothing flying and the spiders would have been fat and self-satisfied. And the cockroaches. What about them? Who’d decided it was a good idea to include them in the environmental basket?

Although, again, maybe it was other factors. People were people, and from what Ms Gingrich had taught, they were crammed in real tight in the generation ships, least those who couldn’t afford the luxury of someplace to walk about, over the sanctioned exercise breaks. Maybe they’d taken food with them, and the roaches had hitched a ride. After all, he’d heard they could probably survive a nuclear war, so what was a hundred years on an interstellar ship?

The ladybird reappeared, cracked open along its back and spread tiny wings. Two beats, just to test things, then it took off, whirring into the dawn.

If he’d been facing the other way he wouldn’t have noticed it in time, but as it was he saw it a fraction of a second before the sound registered. In the half-gloom he couldn’t be sure, but as the small ship zoomed overhead there was something about the swept-back extenders and sleek underbelly that suggested it might be a new Morell. He and Hank had commented on the specs when they were both bored and recuperating and searching the Cortex for something … anything to make the hours go quicker. These personal carriers were fast, armed and very, very expensive.

“Mal!” It was his pilot, whispering urgently over the comm as if someone might hear.

“I know. I saw it. You got where it landed?”

“Just over a klick from you. Due east.”

Into the rising sun.


Linc had heard it too, directing the pilot to a small clearing miraculously free of the boulders and rockfalls this area was prone to. Barely five minutes later someone made enough noise stepping on twigs to waken the dead, but Linc merely exhaled heavily through his nostrils and kept his gun trained on the sound.

“I hope you weren’t planning on shooting me.”

“No,” Linc admitted. “That would make it hard to get paid.”

“Good. I can’t say it would have improved my day, either.” He turned and looked down. “Although this has.”

Molly scrabbled backwards until she was jammed against the cliff face.

Randall Lecomb looked like what he was: a spoilt rich kid with nobody to tell him he couldn’t do things, and even if they tried he went ahead and did them anyway. His features were pleasing, with dark blond hair that had waves to it and kinked just above his shirt collar, and violet eyes, unusual in a man. He was medium height but fit, muscles on long, lean limbs. With his easy smile and charming manners, he could have coasted through life, not hurting anyone. Instead, all it took was looking past the smile and those eyes, and the real Randall stared back, the sociopath who had no empathy, and cared less.

Even Linc, a man who had no compunction about killing, was uncomfortable around him. Still, he paid well.

Randall gazed at Molly, her bound hands drawn up against her chest to protect herself, noting the red linen thrust into her mouth. “Did you have to?” he asked, but with no real concern.

“She wouldn’t shut up.” Linc leaned over and tugged the bandana down.

Molly tried to lick her lips but her mouth was dry. “Hwoon dahn,” she managed to croak out before swallowing hard.

“Nice to see you again, too,” Randall said, and it was as if he was inviting a welcome guest into his home.

“You just let me go.” Despite her fear, Molly threw back a little fire. “You let me go right now.”

“Why would I do that?” He went down onto his heels, reaching up to cup her chin. “When we’re just about to get reacquainted.”

She pulled her face away from him. “Qiang jian fan,” she spat.

“Now that’s not nice.” He ran his fingers slowly around the neck of her dress. “I don’t recall you saying no that night after the party.”

Molly shuddered involuntarily. The ball Harper Lecomb had held for most of the gentry on Greenleaf, at least those he considered suitable, with a number of high-up Alliance as privileged guests. “I thought you cared about me.”

Randall laughed. “A little no account like you? Seriously?”

“You’ve got the jewels back. Why did you do all this?” Molly’s face was streaked with fresh tears through the dirt on her cheeks and she sniffed wetly.

He looked down at her with something like disgust. “Stop snivelling,” he demanded. “And it’s got nothing to do with my mother’s bits of folderol.”

“Then …” She hiccupped and tried again. “Why?”

“My father’s getting me into the Legislature.” He glared at her. “You still don’t understand, do you? Huangmao ya tou. This is a stepping stone for me. Do you think I want to stay on Greenleaf all my life? I’m destined for bigger things. Parliament. The Senate. Maybe even First Minister.”

“You’re mad,” she whispered.

In a moment he was on his knee next to her, holding her chin again and leaving bruises. “Not really. Ambitious, I’ll give you.” He smiled, but it wasn’t pleasant. “And I can’t have anyone telling tales out of school.”

“I wouldn’t … I won’t say anything.” She tried to look sincere. “I promise.”

“I am sorry, Molly. But I don’t believe you.” He squeezed, then stood up and turned to Linc. “Are you sure nobody’s around?”

Linc shrugged. “That Leviathon is still here, but they’ve been looking in all the wrong places. As if we were going to stay put and wait for them to come to us.”

“That wasn’t what I asked.”

The bounty hunter fingered the knife at his belt. “No. Nobody’s about.”

“Good.” Randall turned back and drew a small laser pistol from inside him jacket.

“I can do that.”

“I know. But I want to be sure.” Randall gave a bark of laughter. “Besides, I’ve never killed anyone, and I want to know what it’s like.”

“Same as stepping on a bug.”

“Perhaps. But I want to experience it. To be the boot.” His back stiffened. “What was that?”

Linc had already lifted his gun as the noise came again on their left, all his senses on alert as he peered into the bushes.

Something else, to the right. A trickle of pebbles.

Tah muh duh.” Randall glanced at Linc, then motioned with his head. You go that way, I’ll take this side, he was clearly indicating.

Linc nodded and melted away like he’d never existed. For just a moment Randall wondered where he’d learned his skills, or if they came naturally, but dismissed him just as easily. Leaning over Molly he pulled her gag up again over her mouth. “Sshh,” he whispered, running his fingertip along her jawline. “Just wait.”

She flinched away.

Randall smiled and walked into the trees. He wasn’t worried about it really being an intruder – after all, who on this measly excuse for a planet would ever consider going against him?

Molly watched him go and desperately tried to free her hands. Linc had tied her ankles so tight she already couldn’t feel her feet, but if she could loosen the bands at her wrists she might be able to pull herself away. Do something to defend herself. She knew Randall was going to do what he said, and –

A hand dropped lightly to her shoulder and she screamed behind the gag.

“Hush, child.” A woman slid into her line of sight, tall with short brown hair. Her sandy coloured shirt and pants made her almost blend into the scenery, and it was with a shock that Molly recognised Freya. She produced a knife from somewhere. “I’m going to cut you free. Sit still.”

Molly nodded, her eyes on the blade.

Freya sighed internally, at the same time keeping an ear out for Lecomb or Linc returning. Molly was clearly terrified, and her hands were shaking. “It’s all right,” she whispered, reinforcing it with her mind but only as a feather touch. “You’re safe now.”


Zoe knew she wasn’t far from Randall Lecomb. She’d heard him swear softly as he stumbled over something, a tree root or a rock perhaps. She almost smiled – he was no good at being furtive. Whereas she’d made a name for it during the war, her chain mail and her cold shoulder and her long curly hair tied back in a red scarf being instantly recognisable. Not that most people she’d crept up on had long to take in her appearance.

She skirted a twisted tree and stepped into open ground, her Mare’s Leg up and aimed. “Lecomb.”

Randall’s jaw dropped. “What the …” Recognition blossomed in his eyes from the times he’d noticed her when they’d worked for his father. “You? You’re Reynolds’ first mate. How did you find me?”

“You should have left your ship at the docks and walked in.”

Linc had said the same thing, but it seemed like too much hard work, so he’d ignored it, just like he ignored her comment now. “Just get back to wherever you came from and stay out of this.” He gestured with the laser pistol.

Zoe shook her head minutely. “You’re really not very good at this, are you?” she said quietly. “You should have shot me straight away.”

“There’s still time.” Something moved in the corner of his eye and he quickly glanced to his right. Nothing. Just nerves.

Then another voice made him jerk forwards again.

“Sorry to say, that’s run out.” Mal stepped out of the shadows to stand three paces from Zoe, his own pistol pointing directly between Randall’s eyes.

They seemed to pop even more, staying inside his head only by a miracle. “Do you have any idea what my father will do to you if you try and stop me?”

“Can’t be helping that. You’ve taken Molly, and that’s kidnapping.”

“Her?” He jeered, his handsome face transformed into ugliness, anger overcoming any surprise or anxiety. “She’s not worth anything.”

“She is to us.”

“I never have seen why my father employs you. You’re just a pain in the pigu.”

“Yeah, well, I try harder.”

Molly is safe. The unique flavour of his wife’s mental voice slipped into Mal’s mind. Jayne’s taking her home.

Thanks, ai ren.

Zoe felt Mal relax a little, and a small smile creased her lips.

Randall suddenly shouted, “Linc!”

Mal shook his head. “Not clever. Say you take us both on, and by some miracle you win. You think we’re the only ones out here looking for you?”

A shiver of apprehension ran up Randall’s spine, making the hair on his neck stand on end. He went to make a snide comment, some witty comeback, and it was that moment the big cat attacked.

It had been a game at first, after the terraforming. The inner planets got the hummingbirds, the big butterflies, while the Rim got the mosquitoes, leeches and all the other goushi that made life so interesting. And someone thought wild cats would be fun. Okay, so maybe they didn’t turn out to be fun, but they were successful, preying on cattle and horses, and, in this case, Randall Lecomb. The result of someone on the generation ships from Earth-that-was tinkering with DNA and crossing a bobcat with a tiger, just to see what was produced, it turned out to be big and powerful, with faint stripes in its tan-coloured fur, and a bloody-minded attitude.

Leaping from the shadows, it fastened its huge white teeth on Randall’s shoulder, just below his neck, and bit down hard. Its weight pulled him backwards to the ground, and huge muscles started to tug him into the undergrowth as if he was a bag of feathers. The shock was so great Randall barely had breath to scream.

Mal and Zoe stared at each other. “You didn’t shoot it.”

“Neither did you, sir.”

The screams were more bubbling now.

“Think we should go after him?”

“Probably a good idea, sir.”

“You’re calling me ‘sir’ a lot.”

“Yes, sir.”

Mal sighed and headed off after the big cat, his oldest friend at his side.


A hundred yards away Linc heard the scream, choked off into something far more horrible. He’d already heard Lecomb yell his name, but this seemed a little more permanent, and with a sigh he turned to try and at least get his money off the corpse. Except someone was standing in the way on the path, looking like one of the hamadryads from the myths of Earth-that-was his nanny told him once, one of the wood nymphs from long ago stories.

“Leave,” River said. “Go now. There is no pay day.”

“You think?”

“I know.”

Linc’s gaze looked her up and down, from the guns on her hips to the crossed bandoleers of ammunition over her chest, wrapping around her slight figure to her bare feet. “Ain’t you cold?”

“Frost bite is a state of mind.” River tilted her head a little. “Do you want to die?”

“You’re not that fast,” Linc sneered.

“I don’t have to be.” River was supremely aware of everything, from the smell of ancient pine needles crushed underfoot to the taste of autumn bright on the breeze, to the feel of her dress as it moved against her knees to the sound of someone dying close by. “Give up,” she added, almost as an afterthought.

“Now, you and me both know that ain’t gonna happen. I intend walking away from here, and from the sound of it I’m gonna have a sweet little ride to do it in.”

She gazed at him, her head tilt becoming more pronounced. “Sihnon. Caspian City.”

His glare should have turned her to ashes. “So. My accent isn’t quite as good as I assumed.”

She didn’t say it was at the front of his thoughts, and always was. She didn’t say that now he was in front of her she could almost pick his brain apart. Nor did she say she could still hear it in his voice, no matter how hard he tried to hide it. Instead she just shrugged and let him infer it. “No.”

“Step aside.”


“You’re in my way.”

“It’s talent of mine.” Her eyes narrowed a little. “Why weren’t you tested?”

Her words threw him for a moment. “Tested?”

She could feel his talents, his inclinations, and briefly wondered about the 10th of one percent they knew of the ‘verse to be potentials. Perhaps that figure was wrong, considering how many they’d met. She would have to do the maths and see if her calculations were off in any way. But not right now. “You understand.”

“Perhaps I do.” He laughed like a grave settling. “I knew better than to be caught.”


“That I am. And I’m also not above killing someone as pretty as you, even if I’m not getting paid for it.” He raised his gun a fraction of an inch, his finger tightening on the trigger.

“Bored now,” River said and span on her heel. Her body moved out of the way of the bullet even as she lifted her leg, her foot connecting solidly with Linc’s jaw. He dropped the gun and staggered back, but her aim must have been slightly off as it wasn’t the killing blow she’d intended. As he gathered his wits and reached for his knife, she let her momentum carry her around and this time kicked out at the right moment. His cheekbone shattered, the eyeball turned into a glutinous mess, although he wasn’t aware of it. The contact had driven slivers of bone deep into his brain, and he was already dying as he fell backwards. His last breath was forced from his lungs as he hit the ground.

She looked down at him, knowing that she should feel something other than satisfaction, that she should mourn the passing of another human being. But she’d Read him in those last moments, seen the things he’d done and people he’d killed, and for once decided not to let Mal’s humanity make her feel guilty. She turned on her heel and began to run towards the commotion.

to be continued


Wednesday, August 27, 2014 4:24 PM


Couldn't happen to a nicer pair of fellers.

Nice to get a small resolution, and a big trigger for a real bad guy having it out for Mal and our BDHs.

Good little reminder about the testing and psychic issues too, very nice chapter :)

Saturday, August 30, 2014 4:29 PM


Three cheers for River! Those two were absolutely horrible excuses for human beings, and I am glad the cat got Randall. So good to have a happy outcome for our BDHs with Molly rescued and all of them in one piece. Very shiny, Jane0904. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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