...AND WHEN YOU CAN'T
(the Bring the Boys Back Home Remix)
from the original You
Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in
clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their
fruits. -(Matthew 7:15-16)
What a state we've reached, he thought, that
the worst part of dying from a sucking chest wound need be neither the
wound itself, nor even the dying of it, but rehabbing the pectoral
muscles. With each passing decade, it got ever harder to
recondition the parts of your body where gaping holes had been. He
dropped back to the floor for another set of push-ups. Not much else to
do while he waited upon their pleasure.
The lock on the
gymnasium door clanked open, and the colonel entered, boot heels
echoing between the bare walls. "We need you back with Malcolm
Not to be mistaken for a statement, the order was
given in the same manner as all the others: without any salutation,
preamble, name--not even rank. Not that it mattered; any name he was
known by here would have been false. That's the way they played it in
this covert branch. Were he sloppy enough to be captured alive, his
superiors would deny his existence.
Assuming anyone knew enough to contact this branch, which barely
it was this very isolation of agents that would prove to be the fatal
flaw of the Tam affair. Had 'Book' been able to receive new orders, the
scientists could have had River back in time for the next weekly update
on her progress. However, since he could not be contacted after leaving
the abbey, he could not know that the importance of the River, who had
quite serendipitously meandered next to him, far surpassed that of his
So, in an ironical Möbian twist, he became part of her
had always wondered if River had known this all along--if it was one of
her special, little jokes on everyone. If so, maybe they deserved it
for some of the things they'd thought of her when they thought she
Book sat up on a weight bench and wiped his face. "I thought Reynolds
was a non-issue."
From under his federal gray cap, the colonel cast a disparaging eye.
"We'll not be requiring you to think, just do."
Book revised his tone to one he knew pleased men in power. "I meant:
what's the mission objective?"
worked, of course. The colonel's chest filled out subtly. "It looks
like he's regrouping forces for some kind of a coup attempt. That
doesn't worry us, but we'd like to keep our energies and resources on
developing and building, not defense."
Translation: they were
worried. And they had every right to be. Since the exposure of Miranda,
support for the regime was at rock-bottom, whereas Reynolds was the
hero of the hour.
"If we take him out, he becomes a martyr, and
the independence movement grows twice as fast. We're sending you back
like the first time to track and report: act if needed to stop Reynolds
from instigating another war. Is that clear enough, or do you have
other 'thoughts' I should know about?"
Unless the keenness of
Book's peripheral perception was failing him--and it wasn't--the
colonel seemed to be studying him with particular deliberation.
ultimate secret of counter-intelligence--the one that separates the
professionals (and the long-lived) from the amateurs (and the dead) is
to never tell any lie you don't have to. And then find ways to never
have to. Refuse to tell all--hell everyone has secrets especially
nowadays; tell another truth unrelated to the one they're after. If
pushed into a corner, tell the truth and make it sound like such
outrageous hyperbole that they'll laugh right along with you at the
joke, then put it out of their minds.
Book chose the middle option. "Isn't the psychic still with them?"
It was a bit of a miscalculation, River being a sore spot with command
The response was clipped. "Which is why it has to be you. She didn't
see through you the first time."
why I live my cover. There's nothing to break." Book draped the towel
around his shoulders--mantle style--and his entire aspect became that
of the cloth.
"Yes." The colonel turned his back and paced the
boards. "We need a field agent with Reynolds. While River Tam is on
board, unfortunately, that agent has to be you."
Colonel," Book said, electing to misunderstand. "I accept the honor.
However, I hope you haven't forgotten that I'm dead. I'm fair sure
Captain Reynolds hasn't forgotten no ways." With ease, he morphed back
into the shepherd's dialect and body mannerisms.
thought of that." The colonel seemed pleased to seize the opportunity
to demonstrate being one step ahead. "Come with me."
led down the hall, past the clinic where he'd been resuscitated weeks
before. He recognized the number on the door. But the locked hallway
that they entered next was one he'd never been allowed access to
They stopped in front of the one-way viewer of an
interrogation room. Within it stood a woman in captain's braid with a
medical emblem upon her shoulder. At least it appeared to be a
woman--slight and lithe--but back to the viewer and head covered in a
surgical cap, it was difficult to tell.
The patient, however,
was strapped into a chair facing the viewer front and center. Face
drawn, pale and sweaty, he seemed barely conscious. Yet as blue-gloved
hands inserted the cerbrolance through his nostril, Hoban Washburne
wrenched his neck backwards and belted out an ear-splitting scream.
the time Malcolm Reynolds gets Mr Washburne back and discovers that we
have plenty of uses for his former associates revived and talking,
he'll not only be unsurprised to see you amongst the living, he'll be
expecting it. I'm not so worried about slipping you past the mind's eye
of one little girl again as I am six combat trained eyes. Unless
they've all gone blind, you'll hardly pass for a prisoner of war in
your current state." Now the colonel almost smiled. "So, let's get
started on making you look your part."
crew was bound tighter than ever after Miranda, but it wasn't
necessarily the good kind of tight. It was more the kind of tight like
muscles after they've been run too hard for too long when they ain't
made for that sort of thing. And the next day you can't hardly move,
them being all knotted and balled and they ache so bad every which way
After a situation like Miranda, no one wanted to go
nowhere but home, and above all else--beyond transportation or meal
ticket--that's what Serenity was.
No one talked about leaving, not even Inara. They were all too sore in
every which way.
tried to loosen up one night, the way Simon had done, all that
closeness having pushed pressures ominously near to some
yet-undetermined flash point where something was going to have to give.
Like too much kindling packed on top of yesterday's embers, they were
too tight for the purpose at hand.
although heat doesn't always equal passion--she knew that in her line
of work--oftentimes, if you just ran with it, feeling followed action.
When their eyes met, it was apparent to both that this was not to be
one of those times.
ran fingers through the lick of hair that never would stay put. "Well,
don't that beat all," he said. "We should have done this long time ago.
Woulda saved a world strain 'tween you and me."
Inara dropped her lashes as she pulled her robe up and over her chest.
Romance was the death knell of a Companion's career, and she had more
than enough chiming in her ears already. She must have been dai ruo mu ji to
let things get this far.
beneath hooded lids, she surveyed his haunted eyes, his wound tight
posture--his shoulders--so rigid, so tense--and wondered if that were
true: if the Mal she'd met before Miranda was the same man who stood
before her now, and if it would have been different if they'd tried it
But 'ifs' are as ephemeral as all the moments between
now and 'that will never be,' and his thoughts were shuttered and
closed off to her.
On impulse, she grabbed his face in both
hands. With all the passion that had been wanting in moments past, she
laid lips to his forehead and held them there. "If you remember nothing
else about today, remember that I do love you," she said.
She stepped behind the dressing screen to re-do the complicated upper
fastenings of her gown.
When she emerged, Mal was gone.
course, people aren't sore muscles; people have souls, and with the
psychology of Companion training, eventually Inara recognized this
phenomenon for what it was. "Cognitive dissonance" was the proper term.
When a group of people is forced to depend on each other for survival
through impossible perils, the mind idolizes the others. It has to, for
sanity's sake. Would anyone want to think that their life depended upon
a bunch of thieves, lechers and thugs? Of course not, and so the mind
plays tricks, works backwards: if you trusted your life to them, they
must be heroes. Your heroes.
Inara never would stand for
mind-games which she wasn't controlling, and so when she realized what
had happened, once again, she left.
lost people before: thirty-three or nigh on three thousand depending on
the reckoning technique. He'd come out of it all right--not the same,
but better, stronger, smarter. He figured he would this go round too,
but he'd forgotten what it'd took too get from there to here.
forgotten about all the pain that became potential energy boiling up
inside, and how with nowhere to go it burned you up from the inside
out. He'd forgotten how after the war, life in the POW camp had sapped
all his energy just to survive. There weren't none left to
Not for him nor for Zoë.
But within the confines of a ship, that energy had nowhere to go but to
back on itself--both for him and for Zoë.
paced the ship for hours, him with his boat grown too small and her
with her bunk grown too big. Heads together, they conspired, talking
jobs, the ship and war--talk no one else understood.
Never would there be a better time for a resurgence; they'd been turned
near to legend on some worlds.
worked. They did their jobs. They distributed pay. But alone together,
they were different. Their eyes were sharp and voices keen when they
spoke of killing, violence, destruction, and war.
Even Jayne let them alone when they got that way.
"Revenge?" Simon asked, every fiber of his civilized being bristling at
a reason as any, but no. If left alone, the Alliance will try again for
their 'new and improved' brand of people." Mal nodded in River's
direction. "And the time will never be better to move against them."
"The howling," River said, tilting an ear towards nothing anyone else
could see or hear.
"I won't be a part of it." Simon crossed his arms and leaned back
against the bulkhead.
"We're staying," said River. She pulled her knees up on the sofa and
wrapped her arms around them.
staying. Not done. This is where we're supposed to be." With a flop of
her hair, she hopped to the deck, dashed through the hatches and up the
stairwell to the bridge where she curled up in Wash's seat and promptly
went to sleep.
Jayne said he didn't see the
profit in fighting a war that was like to get him killed and not live
to spend his percentage. He said they could drop him off wherever they
dropped off Simon and River. When it became clear that that wasn't
going to happen, he said that since they were underway to meet with the
The Naga to get paid for the silkworm job, they
could drop him off at Inara's whorehouse when they took her cut to her.
The cut she had said she neither needed nor wanted.
on her world there was some kind of tussle over a Companion Jayne chose
who didn't choose him, and when it ended he was back on the ship--not
so much of his own accord--with instructions never to return and with
Inara streaming florid Chinese at him and Mal both via videoscope, none
of which likely translated to anything near as polite as 'farewell.'
then he said he would get off when they stopped at Beylix for supplies
and munitions, but there was some kind of disagreement about what the
price was as compared to what the price ought to be resulting in a
giant firefight. That also ended with Jayne back on board (having won
the firefight for them) saying he would get off when they stopped at
Santo for fuel and to repair the damage done in the firefight. But
departure from Santo also saw Jayne back on board, which given Jayne's
attention/retention span and the fact that it had been three weeks from
his original decision maybe shouldn'ta been such a big surprise after
Yeah, maybe that was it.
When Mal gave Kaylee the
choice, she said that she would stay. This left Simon feeling more than
a little odd. Having known what it was to give up a life for someone,
he never wanted anyone to do the same for him. 'course River could've
told him it wasn't him Kaylee was staying for, or even the captain, but
Serenity herself. Serenity she
would follow into the smelting scrap ovens at the edge of space if
there was any chance it might do some good.
Men can never understand a love like that, thought
River. She sat cross-legged on Kaylee's hammock watching her work, and
"Mei-mei." Simon stuck
his head in the hatchway of the engine room.
sorry," he said to Kaylee. "I don't know why she's started doing this.
In every other way, she's been so much better since Miranda."
"She's no trouble," said Kaylee. "Why, compared to some of the geese
honking back home--"
Simon cut her off. He turned back to River and held out his palm "Mei-mei,
it's late. Come to bed. I'll go with you."
"'Late' is a subjective term relative to rotations of planetary bodies
that's not applicable during interstellar transit."
No sex for me tonight, was the rueful thought that
River heard as he wrapped his arm around her and shuffled her off to
sat up beside her the whole night, wondering what to do next and
stroking her hair until he fell asleep in the cramped, little metal
The seeds of Reynold's Revolution
sown, Mal and Zoë spent their days strategizing how it would
into the nights. Into the long, dark, lonely nights.
too good a soldier to show weakness in front of men like Jayne. That
was the fast track to the afterlife, and whatever she might have been
looking for these days, it wasn't that. Alone with Mal, it was
different. Mal had seen her though places no one should have to go. Mal
knew she wasn't weak even if he saw her feelings every now and then.
Like when she couldn't hold them in one single minute more.
was never for himself. Never. Malcolm Reynolds didn't need anyone, but
he did need his ship to fly. To make her fly, he needed his crew.
He needed to give his crew what they needed.
night, high on setting a tactics for a full-out assault on Londinium,
Mal lowered Zoë to her bunk where he let her set the pace.
was surprised at the changes beneath her clothes and armor. He supposed
it had been a while since he'd looked at her--really looked at
her--though he could guess when the transformation had taken place. Her
body was no longer full and rounded. Not like when she was in combat
She was now all hard angles, wiry tendons and
chunky bone. Not that he worried about Zoë in a fight. She was
steel microcable that could tear through a man's throat in a second
without hardly being seen, wipe off the gore and then do the same thing
again all day.
On the night she first took him with all the
grief and loss and rage she'd harbored since Miranda, it used all Mal's
strength and concentration to remind himself he was just doing this for
"The howling." River quirked her head and listened where she sat
cross-legged on Simon's bunk.
Simon could hear them now in the captain's quarters next door. The
bulkheads might be fireproof, but soundproof, apparently not so much.
In the future, he'd have to remember to keep things more quiet when he
had private time with Kaylee.
"Wolf." River looked at him.
Simon blushed and returned to his electronic reader.
awoke with an urgent need to use the head. Finding Zoë's
curled around his, he discovered the cause: a heavily muscled thigh
upon his bladder. As much as he disliked to disturb her, some things
had to be.
"Zoë," he nudged her. Alert so instantly as to
cause him to wonder if she had even been asleep, she rolled to her side
of the bunk.
He got up and saw to business.
When done, he considered the prudence of making the short trek back to
his own cabin, but the deck was cold beneath his bare feet and about
all of toiletry things were here.
No sense in disturbing her to gather them. He could do it later.
He climbed back in.
twined herself back around him, and the deck chill dissipated straight
away. His hand went to her ass, and he noted that those curves he had
remembered were sure enough beginning to return.
She rubbed herself against him.
inside him something changed. He couldn't have named it if he'd wanted
to, and he wasn't at all sure he did. He draped one arm around her, and
the last person in the 'verse he would have dared called warm or soft,
he drew closer to his breast.
She kissed his collarbone and let him.
"I don't imagine you're going to just send him back," Book had said.
have I told you about imagining?" was the response. "But, no.
'Sergeant' Reynolds isn't the type to accept handouts. He only
treasures that which he fights for. Or steals. Preferably both."
the meantime, it's not too early to start dropping... hints. Where did
you say that whorehouse was, and don't some of Reynold's shipmates
still have family alive?"
"Yes," said Book. "The mechanic, the Companion, the Tams..."
"We'll need details." The colonel slid a comp-pad across the tabletop.
Book took out the stylus and pretended to think.
problem with living on the wrong side of the law is that it's hard to
tell when something is wrong wrong as opposed to just being normal
wrong. And with Mal and Zoë both having the better parts of
thoughts maybe left back on Miranda, and Jayne with his thoughts--well,
Jayne's thoughts-- Well, it maybe took longer than it should have to
figure it out, is all.
And River wandering around with her continual howling didn't help folks
think straight, no, not at all.
messages finally caught up with them: warnings from Jayne's family,
Kaylee's, and the Heart of Gold about strangers asking questions.
Federal comm chatter about a yellow-tufted duck, shot down, but
quacking loud. Near misses with Feds at ports where'd they'd never had
Kaylee was the one who first recollected them
hearing code 'bout ducks before, and where it was, and what it meant.
"Cap'n!" she blurted over River's co-pilot's seat quacking. "Don't you
see? It's gotta be Wash!"
River stopped quacking. She sort of
tilted her head to the black for a long time. Then she reached beneath
the instrument for a plastic stegosaurus, rested it on the console,
reared it up on its hind legs and roared.
had some contacts, and although Mal's reputable criminal associates
wouldn't touch something near that hot, a couple of the shady or stupid
(or both) ones would. With a little persuasion from Vera, the truth did
out, complete with the location of the holding facility and the basics
of the security set up. They even got hold of video of Wash--gaunt and
shaky, but very much alive--limping across the compound under guard.
Mal had said when it was confirmed as fact. Having been brought back
from the dead himself, it wasn't unprecedented news, but hardly
something he'd thought to think. They'd always assumed the Reavers had
eaten his body.
Zoë was near as glad to hear that wasn't the case as she was
of the rest.
the plan, Sir?" she asked, after viewing the evidence. Her voice was as
flat as any other time, but her cheeks were flushed with a ruddy glow,
and she fingered the leather thong around her neck.
"Same. We get him back, get away clean, then get on with business of
thieving and smuggling."
"Sounds good; I'm in." Tucking the vidcassete against her breast,
Zoë walked off.
any discussion of leaving Serenity River only howled louder, so Simon
saw no point in wasting breath by pointing out that they were
both--well, all three--clinically insane.
"Are there whores in this plan?" asked Jayne.
They all looked over at him.
Make that four, thought Simon, for all the good a
mental tally was going to do.
The rescue mission went off--improbably--without a hitch, and suddenly
Wash was there on Serenity,
alive and whole--if a great deal thinner--save for the shadows in his
face. However, the planning and execution had used all their resources.
Not that anyone was complaining, but the Rebellion coffers were drained.
they had him back, the last thing Mal wanted was a fight. Looking at
Wash's battered body reminded him too much of the days in and after the
POW camp, when all Mal had wanted for him and his was some food that
didn't look smell and taste like rabbit droppings, a few hours of
uninterrupted sleep, and a helluva lot of peace.
Somehow all that pent-up energy had just dissipated. It was like
setting down a physical burden not to have to ache for something all
Mal caught Zoë in the passageway outside of the
infirmary. He wasn't going back to her bunk. He'd already removed all
traces that he'd ever been there. No need to consult her; he knew
exactly what she'd say.
At least, he thought he did. Mal always thought he knew.
want me to tell him?" he asked. Situation called for it, she'd kill a
man--or a hundred--without blinking and sleep like a baby that night.
But hurt someone's feelings? That she didn't care to do. Ever. Mal
figured that's what separated men from women. That and the chuff-box
between their legs.
"Like you to stay out of my marriage. If it's all the same to you."
"Fair enough," said Mal with a nod of his head. "Night, Zoë."
"Sir--" she called to his backside. "There's no way we can thank you
enough. Either of us. For any of it."
looked to his boots, like some answer might magically appear down
there. Then he turned and gave her that odd half-smile no one had seen
since before Miranda. Before Haven.
She'd forgotten how young it made him look.
then, don't suppose there's any reason to try. Night." Hands in
pockets, he sauntered off towards his old captain's cabin.
sixty-eighty, sixty-nine, seventy. Never much of a push-up man, it
seemed to be what his body craved tonight, and so he went down for
another set. Seventy-one, seventy-two, seventy-three--
Mal startled and looked up. "I hope you have a good reason for sneaking
up on a man while wearing something like that. Or…not
things like that." Sweating and bare-chested, Mal sat and grabbed a
towel. He lowered his gaze to somewhere else. Anywhere else.
on board just over a week and out of the infirmary for barely two days,
Wash was mostly skin and bones. Now as he hung from the ladder of Mal's
cabin wearing Zoë's shortie Chinese robe and nothing else, Mal
getting a face load of both.
"If you want to punch me, go ahead,
but have the decency to come down below eye level first. And close that
robe." Wiping off his face and neck, Mal rolled up and onto his bunk.
a gingerness that was pitiful to watch, Wash climbed the rest of the
way down to the deck. "I don't want to punch you." If the statement
weren't so poignant, it would have been laughable. Wash could barely
open a jelly jar. He sat down beside Mal on the bunk. "Zoë
you were there for her when she needed it."
infallible leadership instincts, he thought he knew exactly where this
was going, but he hoped those instincts were as infallible as they had
been with Saffron. Or Inara. Or with all the other so-called romances
in his life.
"Is that what she says?" Mal slid a little farther away from Wash on
the bunk and tried for noncommittal.
she said a lot more than that. Enough that if I were a less confident,
less worldly sort of fellow, and if I hadn't previously measured
myself--both length and circumference--I might be prone to a certain
stripe of insecurity. But since none of those apply, and since she
tells me I more than, shall we say, measure up--"
"She does?" Now Mal sounded very committal.
glad--very glad that you were there for her. I know how I would feel if
I lost her, and to think about her going through that alone--" Wash
moved as to put an open palm on Mal's thigh. High on Mal's thigh.
Mal turned his head toward his gun belt, hanging over the chair no more
than three feet away.
wisely pulled back his hand and snapped the fingers and thumb together.
"Shadow puppets. Something I do when I'm glad. See?" He made crocodile
motions and set his hands back in his own lap.
Mal pursed his
lips. "Hoakay fine. You've been through a lot. You're glad. I'm glad
you're glad. I'm glad we had this little talk. Now why don't you--"
With the back of his hand, Mal made a swooshing motion towards the
"Mal, my wife is in our bunk crying herself to sleep--"
There was a moment of the kind of unearthly silence that is only
possible in outer space.
stammered. "Well...no. But work with me here, Mal. She promised she'd
hurt me--and not fun hurt, bad hurt, very bad kind of hurt--if I don't
bring you back. And woman tears are a great tool of persuasion. I know
this for a fact."
"You know about woman tears?"
"Well...not from Zoë, but from other women. Before we were
married. Long before we were married. Woman tears win arguments."
"Not in this bunk they don't."
"She'll hurt me, Mal." Wash dropped his voice as he began to wax to his
performance. "The bad hurt. And I'm not a well man."
raised a finger in the air. His trigger finger, actually. "That's the
first gorram thing you've said so far that makes any sense."
ignored him. "It might kill me. My wife could give the Alliance lessons
on how to inflict pain. One handed. Without even trying. Now that I do
know for a fact. You rescued me. You don't want to see in pain or dead
again, do you?"
"Oh, si lang kow!"
Mal jumped up and began to pace the tiny space. "You really don't want
me to answer that right now." He was starting to sound just like he did
moments before some unfortunate on rotation got stuck having to clean
body parts out of spaceship engines.
Wash dropped the comedy
routine. "Mal, Zoë and I both know what it's like to be alone
pain. And neither of us sees any reason why you should be. Please. It
hurts us to be impotent to help a friend."
Wash held out
his hand. There was an apologetic twinkle in his eye. He never could
hold the comedy at bay for long, but it might have been just the right
amount to take the edge off. "Please, Mal, don't make me impotent."
Mal sank back down on the bunk and rubbed his forehead.
Wash slid nearer, this time leaving a gentile gap between their thighs.
"I don't know, Mal. I know don't want to pi
gu de cao dan you, and I don't want you to pi gu de cao dan me. At least I'm
pretty sure I don't want you to pi gu
de cao dan me...." A look of cross-eyed confusion settled on
"Oh, ti wo! !" Mal rolled
his eyes. "You
he bi zhao wo zheng qi de gou pi dui ne?"
There went that trigger finger again. Except now it was more like a
whole trigger palm. "Okay, I'm going to sleep on the bridge. With the
beeps and controls and flashing lights and things. Where I can get some
"Mal, wait. When you pitched me a job--a life--out here, you said, "Wu fa; wu tien." Freedom
Freedom to make our own rules.
is not wrong. Torture: that's wrong. There's nothing shameful in
holding onto each other. Don't tell me I lived through hell to come
back to friends who think that there is."
we know." Wash grinned. "And boy, has it been fun getting reunited with
our vows. If that somehow factors into some newfound parochial credo of
yours, bear in mind: so are you."
Saffron. Like most
things on the outer worlds, interplanetary covenants on polygamous
marriage were a gray area, at best. And like most troublesome things on
the outer worlds, when fortunate enough to have something fall out of
sight, mind and weapons range all three, it was generally best to leave
it there. The black is big enough that trouble don't typically run into
you by chance.
Unless you advertise yourself and your guns for hire, that is.
wife asked me pretty plain to stay out of your marriage," said Mal.
'Told' would have been a more correct term, but it wouldn't have been
fitting for a captain to admit taking orders from a first mate, so Mal
fudged a little.
"Which is why she sent me to ask you back in.
Considering all the history, I don't think she thought you'd believe it
coming from her."
Mal snorted. "A gorram lot sooner than I believe it coming from you."
chuckled. "Yeah, well, I don't know how any of this is going to work
either, but I do know that no one else better in the 'verse at taking
an insane idea and pulling it off."
"That would be me," said Mal.
would be you," Wash agreed. He thumped Mal's knee, this time with the
heel of a closed fist, then pulled it discreetly back.
took a deep breath. "Tell your wife some of us got work to do before
planetfall and can't be lolling about in our bunks all night. If
she--you both-- are of still this wacky notion after we move those
cigarettes tomorrow, well I reckon we can see where it goes from there."
Wash stood up with a smile and a sloppy salute. "Yes sir, Captain, sir."
watched him go. Then he rummaged through his drawer for a measuring
tape. Push-ups forgotten, he tossed it onto his bunk. He had some
important quantitative data to discuss with his first mate later.
the bold ideals and pretty words, at first it was awkward all around.
Wash was still too weak for anything you'd really call sex, which
suited Mal just fine. And if Zoë thought otherwise, well, she
to herself, at least when Mal was around.
By the time Wash had
recuperated, they were all more than ready after the days and nights of
holding and touching and kissing and such. Mal had come to terms with
his uncaptainly part in this and was prepared to give aid and comfort
to his troops as required.
What he hadn't come to terms with was how desperately he needed to let
crammed into the pillow so his crew couldn't see his yearning, he was
never sure which one it was--or both--who did him from behind. But he
heard every word they whispered into his ears--greeting card sentiments
that sound like banal pap until they're meant just for you. And he knew
that both held one of his hands from the very beginning all the way
until the bitter end, even as he choked on his tongue and finally gave
it up deep into the twisted, sweat-soaked sheets.
colonel gave orders through the videoscope. "As much as possible, put
scars from the same type of devices as were used on Mr Washburne. We
want a connection to be clear in their minds."
to the pain sensations, Book still winced as the physician-captain
applied the burner to his chest. The smell of burnt human flesh was
something to which he had never become accustomed. He felt his newly
repaired heart skip more beats than it had in sessions past as the
tetany of the electrical contractions rippled through his body. It
occurred to him that he might have grown too old for this sort of thing.
she lowered the table. Replacing the burner back on the rack, a
blue-gloved assistant handed her a thick-bitted drill. With a pair of
forceps, she withdrew an electrical device from a package. As she held
it up to the light for a final check, it emitted a high-pitched,
So did the drill, as she pressed the bit to Book's anesthetized
she poked the chip through the burr-hole. But only the skull was numb,
not the lining of the brain. Through his nose came the muffled scream
that Book could not quite suppress.
Grown too old for, or out-grown one might say, Book
thought, as the doctor pulled the chip out again and, mercifully, the
pain eased off.
still; this will only take a moment." Not quite true. The dura and
cerebral surface having been scarred from the several chips he'd had
before, she realized that this insertion was not going to be easy. The
doctor forced the chip back through the burr-hole.
screamed. Finally he fainted as, without any hesitation this time, the
doctor adjusted the chip until she had it jammed in exactly where she
It wasn't that there
was ever any decision made, it just never seemed to work out to get any
coordinated assembly of brigands, ne'er-do-wells, rebels, and
blackguards together. And jobs too good to pass up kept falling into
his lap now that he was a bona fide folk hero. And
falling off the ship that needed putting back on before they could do
much else. No one saw any need to remind Mal of his previous death-wish
when things were going along so swimmingly, with nice, normal
day-to-day crime. So somehow Reynold's Rebellion ended up on the back
And as for the other, well, no one thought much of it
really, 'specially after one morning when, last out to breakfast, Jayne
threw it all into perspective, settling everything, though not likely
in the way he meant to.
In his well-worn Uncle Kit-Kat
T-shirt, Jayne come out to the galley and sniffed the air. "Ew. Smells
like a rot lot of fresh squeezed genital juice in here." Barely slowing
down on his way to the food, he gave River a crude once-over. "How
'bout it, l'll girl?" He whacked off a slab from the block of protein
gel on the cutting board. Centering the slice onto the flat of his
knife blade, he began to slurp it into his mouth. Whole and raw.
about what?" Simon asked, deciding that although he likely did not care
to know, asking was better than the alternative. For Jayne was one of
the best examples in existence of how ignorance is not, in fact, bliss
and of how a little knowledge is, in truth, a dangerous thing.
responded, still chewing, in River's direction. "Seeing as me and you
are the only ones on this bucket not getting juiced, let's say you and
me squeeze our sexes together and see what kind of sloppy comes out the
Simon coughed and tried to simultaneously force down
both a bite of bao and a wave of nausea to champion River's honor in a
timely manner, but he never got the chance.
River was already
at Jayne's side, mouth to his ear. She pressed the tip of her finger to
the handle of the knife, but at an awkward angle, so it sort of pointed
down towards Jayne's fly. If one were prone to notice such things.
Speaking in that creepified tone that was just loud enough to be heard
by everyone in the galley she said, "You wouldn't like it; mine's
That promptly ended both breakfast and any further
general and public discussion of inter-personnel intimacies, and for
once, Jayne left without finishing his meal.
"So, he's not going to be rescued like Washburne?" the major asked as
they watched Book through the view screen.
"No. I think he might try to escape."
"It's a big universe to run into one wandering sheep."
"It is. What--or whom--do we have to use as bait?"
The major saluted and sat down at a computer, rapidly running through
One day, after knocking over a liquid vitamin tanker that should pay
their bills for the next few months, a wave came in.
"Isn't that Inara's world?" Wash asked as he keyed in the transmission
"Reckon it is." Mal cleared his throat and slicked back an unruly lock
River toggled an intercom button. "Simon, Inara needs you on the
having long since given up worrying about the peculiarities of his new
co-pilot, just as long as she wasn't howling in his ear, didn't ask. He
just punched the wave through.
"Inara. You're looking
wonderful." Actually, she looked terrible, but Wash had been married
far too long to fall into an easy trap like that. Before Mal could say
otherwise, Wash elbowed him. The poor boy hadn't been coupled long
enough to know all the tricks. Needed an old hand to show him the
"What's going on?" Simon asked from the hatchway.
"Hello, Wash. Mal. Simon, I'm glad you're here." Inara's tired voice
spoke from the screen.
Mal did an exaggerated double-take. "Glad he's
"I need to ask you and Mal both about something," she continued.
this was going where Wash thought it was, he was the luckiest man in
the entire 'verse, but their bunk wasn't going to be near big enough.
But could he possibly be that lucky?
"River," Wash whispered over to his left. "Tell me: does Zoë
River tilted her head to him. "You don't have a clue, do you?"
"Women? Never have. Not a one. I suspect man is happier that way."
"Simon says it's not polite to read and tell."
secret," Wash whispered. He looked right to where Simon and Inara were
making arrangements for a pick up. "Just this once. I won't let on how
I got smart."
River tossed him a disgusted look. "I'll be in my
bunk." Leaving him all the dinosaurs, she tossed her hair and traipsed
down the stairs.
When Mal announced the change in job and
destination to the crew, Jayne took it badly. He'd been backwashing the
carbon scrubbers to vacuum, but stopped, leaving filters scattered
around the cargo bay.
"I'll be in my bunk."
where he stayed until they had lifted off again after getting Inara
aboard, and Mal had assured him that not only did the young lady in
question consider him not particularly memorable, but that Inara had
asked for him special. Said that although the doc had confined her to
the infirmary for the duration, she wanted Jayne to know that she
thought this job would be right up his alley. Told him to leave the
grenades but bring a great, big knife.
"I'll get it," River offered with an ingenuous smile.
Jayne eyeballed her. "Women on boats are just plain bad luck," he
grumbled. "Any more like these ones, and I'm
gonna think about going rear seat gunner." He kept one eye on River as
she danced up the stairs, but he did go back to the filter job.
Wash and Mal considered his retreating form. "Huh," they said in
slapped Wash on the ass. "Forget it, Lovemuffin." Somewhere along the
line Zoë'd added a third dangle to the leather thong around
At the dinner table once, Kaylee'd said it looked nice that way.
said thanks, and that was all the commenting on it that had happened or
that was apparently going to happen.
Mal turned to Wash. "Yeah, what she said. I saw him first." Mal batted
Zoë smacked Mal on the ass. Harder. Much.
"Ow!" Mal rubbed his ass, mostly for effect.
did that thing she did, that strange mix of happy to see people having
fun and yet still worried. She looked to Mal. "It's going to be all
right though, Cap'n? We're gonna get to him in time?"
worry little one; I have a plan." Mal patted her shoulder as he loped
from the cargo bay, looking mighty pleased with himself.
Wash and Zoë groaned, looking not near so much.
"It'll be alright," said Zoë, when Mal had left the room.
"Your doc's got it under control. Said so. Heard him myself."
good," said Kaylee. "That's real good." She took one handle of one of
Inara's three steamer trunks. Zoë grabbed the other side.
carried it up the stairs to what they had always thought of as Inara's
"You think maybe she'll even stay?" Kaylee asked. "Now that the cap'n's
not so...you know...."
Zoë looked at her.
Kaylee spun a finger beside her ear.
Zoë shrugged one shoulder and hefted her end higher. "People
don't pack like this for overnight."
"All right, you'll feel some pressure. Try to relax your
hip and thigh muscles, and it won't be as bad." Over his instrument,
Simon looked down at the expanse of Inara's skin laid bare below him.
"I wish you'd been there on Ariel," Inara said as she settled her hips.
was on Ariel. Big stick." Simon jabbed the trocar into her iliac crest,
and despite the Algliocaine, she winced. "Try to keep the muscles
loose. Contracting them makes it worse for you."
She closed her eyes, her pinched face smoothed out, and Simon's syringe
began to fill with red marrow.
"Good," he said. "Almost done."
mean with me--for the evaluation last year. The Alliance doctors were
not only disheartening, but painful and dehumanizing as well."
know what you meant. I had other things on my mind that day, but I do
wish that you'd told us sooner. As it was, it was almost too late."
Simon kept his eye on the level rising against the syringe barrel
Careful not to move, Inara made a rueful sound.
"What was it that they used to say with their friend--Tracey? 'When you
can't run anymore, you crawl, and when you can't crawl anymore you find
someone to carry you.' Perhaps the proudest amongst us are unwilling to
be carried until they are entirely unable to crawl."
Simon pulled out the trocar and slid a gauze pad over top of the
puncture wound. He held pressure with a white-gloved thumb. "As one of
the formerly too proud to ask for help, I feel obliged to warn you: if
you're going to stick to the hard line, you'd better count on a lot of
He smiled at her. "Hold this."
She replaced her thumb where his had been, and he moved to place the
marrow sample in the processor.
it'll be almost six months until the transplant graft matures. Until
then, you'll need to be under relatively continual medical care and
observation. What are your plans for that?" He turned back around and
crossed his arms in front of his chest.
"I assume any of the core worlds would have adequate facilities."
"Oh, more than adequate," Simon agreed.
"But they wouldn't know my case."
provide records. Stem cell transplants are routine. The only catch is
finding a donor. It usually has to be a first degree relative." Simon
peeked at the processor. "If this layers out as well as it's beginning
to, I'd call you stable for transfer as soon as three days."
didn't lie; he really wasn't very good at talking to women. Inara knew
she was being manipulated, but she also got the message. And her own
nose was getting pretty sore from as many times as she'd bitten it off
for the spite of her own face.
"Or," she said, giving almost
as poor a performance as Simon had, "I suppose I could stay for a
while, if I weren't too much of an inconvenience to your other work."
You must be joking. Most fugitive, unlicensed physicians only dream of
one day being put on retainer to the upper social echelons."
She gave a gentle laugh. "Then, I thank you. And I accept. At least for
a few weeks. We'll see how it goes."
Simon gave her an odd look. "Weeks?"
"To be frank: I'm not sure that Mal is comfortable with me here. Things
could become awkward again. None of us want that."
Simon put a pressure plaster on the biopsy site and pulled the brocade
shrift down to cover her pelvis and legs. "Having a critical illness
often gives one tunnel vision: the sense that everything does or should
revolve around us."
She flipped over on the table and gaped at him in a rather impressive
display of indignation, considering the circumstances.
just shrugged. "Mal hasn't been comfortable since I've known him. With
you on board or off. Zoë told me some things from the war, but
wondered if it doesn't go further back than that. I hear that he was
raised by single mother, who ran a veritable black-market cattle
"I shouldn't be surprised. Leaf--tree. Dung--sow." Inara made a dry
noise and a dropping gesture with her hand.
Simon continued, "there are certain theories about
children--particularly male children--of absent fathers and domineering
"Yes, I've heard them." Inara gave him a sly smile.
often thought that might have something to do with why someone like
Mal, who could succeed at any life he wanted in conventional society,
would choose the counter-culture in the first place. Join the
Browncoats. Turn his back on everything. Fight everything and everyone
"Did you ever ask him?" Sarcasm gone, her tone was one of raw curiosity
Simon chuckled. "Although my tastes have broadened considerably out
here, I've yet to develop one for being punched in the nose. The point
being that Mal's not comfortable, period. You might consider something
that uncommonly beautiful women seldom do: his discomfiture has
absolutely nothing to do with you. He's not comfortable in his own
skin. If it's any consolation, recently he's been better and better
each passing week. Especially since you've been back."
Inara still looked unconvinced.
The processor dinged and broke the moment.
Simon turned and scanned the report. "A-plus. You can go. See you for a
blood sample on Wednesday."
slid from the table and gathered herself. She paused quite deliberately
at the infirmary hatch, causing Simon to cast clinical eyes over her
again. He saw nothing new.
"Can you keep a secret?" she asked.
"I hope so. I took an oath saying I would. Of course, they made us
recite it aloud from a Hanyu
text, so who knows what I actually said?" It sounded flat to his ears,
like the all-purpose bedside manner joke that it was.
She ignored him. "I love this ship." Under long lashes, she stroked the
blinked at her intensity. "That's not an uncommon reaction to a
terminal illness: to have everything seem unusually precious and
Inara shook her head. "That's not it. 'Zi zhi zi ming.'
That's one of the first tenets of Companion training."
Simon drew in a huge breath and blew it out. He plucked the plastic
cassette of marrow results out of the analyzer and turned it over in
his hand. "Apparently you're no longer dying, so if you stay, you'll be
able to find out which of us is right."
She drew a billow of fabric around her shoulders and gave him a sweetly
supercilious smile. "Why, I am, of course."
He chuckled softly. "Wednesday. Same time, same place. Don't forget."
"Not if I have to crawl." In a swirl of silk, she swept from the room.
The door unlocked with a click. Two officers and two privates in full
uniform with caps and side arms came to escort him.
"Always." He was dressed in only a lab/infirmary robe and geta.
The physical sensations of it reminded him of the abbey garb. How easy
that was to become accustomed to. The physicality of it brought back
more. There was something very powerful behind the idea of
uniforms--dressing for a mindset. How easy it was to convince the brain
that if your being is outfitted one way, that's the way you must feel.
And be inclined to act.
They led him down the hallway and out to a hangar bay.
The major ripped the two I.V. catheters from his arms. Blood began to
spew forth, and Book whirled into an attack stance.
The four armed men stood appearing amused, but at ease.
"Press your sleeve to it," said the colonel. "We need your 'escape' to
Book did so, willing his mind back to the matter at hand. "Wait," he
said. "I'm going to need fruit."
"You'll be in hibernation." The major shot a meaningful look to the
No, they didn't trust him.
Of course, they didn't trust anyone, so that didn't necessarily mean
not for me. Like you say, I know them. I need this." For some reason,
this tiny detail of the double-cross meant the most to him. Enough to
risk pressing his luck. "Bait," he added calculating the effect of the
word on such men.
"Type?" the colonel asked.
"Whatever's fresh, plentiful and appealing."
what kind of way is that for a shepherd to talk?" The colonel gave a
vulgar laugh, but seemed to relax and sent an underling off.
lay down in the tube and shifted the padding under his head. It was
still tender at the surgical spot. He positioned himself on the
egg-crate padding as to avoid cramps and pressure sores. It felt odd,
there was so much less of him than there had been two months ago. He
could only hope it was the correct parts that he had chosen to leave
The private returned with a large sack. "Asian pears?"
He nestled the bag careful in the folds of his gown so the fruit would
neither bruise nor be smeared with the bloody ooze. He filled his head
with the thoughts of the nine sitting around the galley table, passing
around slices and stories.
He'd done this enough to know that like most things in life, Bifidan
dreams were mostly what you decided to make them.
"Ready?" the medic asked.
The hypo hissed into his neck, and Book's body crumpled, exanimate.
past two days had been more exciting than average, largely due to some
poorly guarded credits of previously disputed ownership that now lay
secured in one of the more difficult to find cargo bins. Things had
settled down to smoothish sailing, and now some compensatory bunk time
for Mal, Jayne and Zoë had begun.
"Captain," Wash called down to
their bunk. Mal answered. From long experience on the other side of
this equilibrium, Wash could imagine Zoë, eyes closed and
sleep but listening and marking every word. "I'm picking up something
between us and an outer moon."
"Care to be more specific, or are you thinking I've suddenly turned
Mal looked so cute with bed hair.
"Working on it. But here's a xiao
kuai le de jin zhan worth getting up for: whatever it is has
homing nav software set for Serenity's specific
"Qiu!" Mal swore. "I'll be
what do you know?" Mal leaned over Wash's shoulder, his face and neck
smelling of Zoë's sex. Sweet Pete, that turned him on, but now
neither the place nor the time for that.
In the co-pilot's seat beside him, River giggled.
"Mind your own business," Wash and Mal both said in unison.
forced all thoughts back to the console readings. "Tiny. A suit or an
escape tube. Minimal life support's active; it's on course for us. I
still can't figure how they managed to track us. I don't think I could
have programmed that. Kaylee, I'm sure, could have figured it--"
"Wake her up."
River had already opened the call down to Kaylee's cabin.
"If it launched from that moon with constant acceleration, it's been
traveling for three days."
"With no independent propulsion and only minimal life support, that
would take a lot of gorram faith," Mal said.
At the last word, they all exchanged glances.
"The Israelites wandered the desert for forty years on faith," River
They blinked at her.
"'course, that's only a story."
"You don't think--?"
"I'm here." Wash rubbed his chest. "Why not? The preacher started out
with more faith than me. Only seems fair."
"Bring it on board," Mal ordered. He started down to the cargo bay.
up, Cap'n?" Wearing Simon's extravagant, tailed silk pajama top and a
pair of bunny slippers, Kaylee crossed paths with Mal on the stairwell
to the bridge.
"That's a good question, little one." Mal tousled her hair.
"Aaaaooooooooooooo." Face pressed to the porthole, River howled at the
was indeed a transport tube. Insulated and warmed to 34°C,
supply for about two hundred hours, Alliance markings on the side.
"Matthew," River pronounced.
the name, Wash creased his face. "Was there another man when I was
dead?" He tried to get Zoë's attention, but she just brushed
ran a scanner over the tube. "Nothing, but if someone's been put into a
proto-coma or given a hibernetic, I wouldn't be able to get a reading."
"River?" Mal looked to her.
She ran her hand over the markings. "Wolf in sheep's clothing," was all
Mal combed a hand through his bed hair and winced. "Jing tsai
de huangyu nao dai! I've been up for two days straight--"
they gave him a drug that shut down his higher cortical functions, she
couldn't read through it either, Captain," Simon volunteered.
cocked his weapon and trained it on the tube. "I say, let her rip. If
his brain's asleep, his trigger finger's asleep too."
"Ain't always been proved so," said Zoë.
"Shepherds separate sheep from the wolves," said River.
From up on the catwalk, Inara looked down on them, her robe clutched to
Mal glanced around the bay. Seven faces looked to him where once there
had been eight. Where there should rightly be eight.
"Open her up," he said.
Kaylee and Wash set to it.
Jayne raised the weapon's sight to his eye.
hatch released with a pop, and the gasses equilibrated and shut off in
a hiss. There Book lay in a terry-white medical robe, his shock of
hoary hair fuzzier and more unruly than ever.
From up on the catwalk, Inara pulled her robe over her chest.
"Sheep's clothing," River mumbled, but her words were lost in the
"I'm pretty sure he's alive," said Simon. "He's been given something
ran slender fingers through kinky shocks of hair. Almost immediately,
she hit the surgical depression in the skull. She threw her head back,
and she howled.
"River." Simon restrained her at the waist. "It's all right.
It’s just hair." Simon tried to explain, "It's his orders--"
"His orders," River repeated, with a slightly demented sounding giggle.
"That's right, mei-mei,"
Simon soothed. Although she now sounded more hysterical than
frightened, anything was better than that wail. Tentatively, he let her
He had a worse off patient to tend to.
attentions back to the tube, Simon hefted Book by the ankles. "Help me
get him into the infirmary," he called to the rest of the group.
River walked with them, her hand on the matted and discolored sleeve.
"Blood of the lamb," she mumbled.
Although, all their attention given to Book, no one paid her any mind.
the hibernation drug was simple. Much simpler than bringing someone
with those kind of injuries back to life. Trauma medicine had advanced
much in the year since he left, Simon thought.
Either that or the Alliance was keeping more alarming secrets from the
populace. Perhaps River was right about their job on Serenity
not being done.
Simon didn't have time for that train of thought now. Not all the scars
on the Shepherd's body were ones he remembered from the Haven attack.
Many were much fresher. And they appeared to have been inflicted in a
deliberate pattern. Simon traced the arms of a stellate one out from
the xiphoid where they radiated like some subcutaneous, radioactive
starfish and wondered what the hell could have done such a thing.
Mal said. He recognized all the marks. Many he bore himself, but the
latest and greatest advancements--the ones he didn't sport--he'd seen
on Wash's body and left their bunk for his old cabin when it looked
like his friend might need to cry in his wife's arms.
Butt-fucking is one thing, but some things real men just don't do
Eventually he'd heard the story behind all of them--when the time
I told them a good bit about what I knew of your operation. And your
plans." Book met Mal's eyes, and the infirmary went silent but for the
clinical beeping of Simon's machines.
"Hell, I told them
everything I could think of," Wash burst in with clearly strained
cheer. "From my childhood best friend's hiding place for his allowance,
to the way Zoë likes her tea, to the exact plan for getting
the news of
Miranda out. Except that we didn't have one, so there wasn't so much
there to tell. Then things I just made up. Anything I could think of.
Anything they wanted to hear. I would have told them anything at all to
make it stop."
"Yeah, like that," said Wash, rubbing his nearer ear.
not his fault, Captain," Simon said. "With the drugs they have, the
mind control, they can induce about anything. Look what they did to
River. You don't need me to convince you it's no one's fault, do you?"
"It's someone's fault all right," said Mal through tight lips. "But no
one in this gorram room."
"Woulda been their only reason to bring you back." Zoë said it
looking at Book, but Wash moved a little closer to her.
it was worth it," said Kaylee brightly. "I mean, the secrets, not the
torture." From her seat near the infirmary table, she offered Book a
"I've heard tell of much worse." Book squeezed her hand.
you reached Miranda, they lost interest in me." Book continued with his
tale. "Seemed to have more important things on their mind. I wasn't
under much guard. Seemed to think a preacher wasn't much of a security
"--so I had fair little trouble getting out."
they teach at the abbey?" Jayne snarked, a 10-kilo dumbbell in his
hand. After taking more than his share of upper body hits on Miranda,
he'd bought a fancy set to build back up. Like a kid with a shiny new
toy, he sat on a folding metal infirmary bench as if waiting for Book
to get better to come out and play.
"Lions' dens and such," said Book. "You never know what will come in
handy when. Speaking of--" Book reached under his robe.
"Whoa, now!" Jayne backed off. "If you're goin' all 'rods into
serpents' on us..."
of the sort. But I do intend to pay my passage." From an inside pocket,
Book pulled out a burgeoning cloth sack and passed it to Kaylee. "As I
remember your terms, this should be a fair start."
She opened it. "Pears! Xing fu!"
With ecstatic abandon, she sniffed the sack and tossed the most perfect
one to River.
pay before they get off," Mal said. "Crew stay and earn their keep.
Soon as they're able. Doc, let me know when that is. There's important
crime to be done, and we'll need all hands. Bad enough we got one too
worried about her fingernails to pitch in.
"Wash, you have the
bridge. I'm going back to my bunk." Mal grabbed a pear, yawned, and
sauntered out of the infirmary with Wash not far behind.
"Me too," Jayne announced. "Back to my bunk, that is. Alone. Not
his...theirs. Whatever, I'm not."
All eyes were on him.
"Gorram it!" Jayne blurted. Cradling his dumbbell, he stormed out.
what else did I miss while I was out of the world this time?" Book
elbowed himself a little farther up on the infirmary bed to watch
Kaylee make goo-goo eyes over the fresh fruit.
"Would you stay
still flat, please, Shepherd?" Simon called the order over his shoulder
as he reviewed some tests. "There's something on your head scan I don't
understand. I think it would be better if you lay still."
Obediently, Book slid back down.
not much," said Kaylee with her trademark cheerfulness. She took a bite
and waited till it was almost down to go on. "River's a full-blown
reader, but other'n that, she's all better." She looked over to the
corner where River was studying the stem of the Asian pear through an
anoscope. "Well, at least most days. Wash was dead, but he's better now
too. 'course, I guess you know how that is."
"Might've heard a story like that before."
If Kaylee caught the double reference, she skipped right over it. "The
cap'n and Wash and Zoë are sexing--"
"Pardon?" Book started to jerk his head up before he remembered.
really it's more the cap'n, Zoë and Wash." In deliberate
played connect the three dots in the air with her fingertip. "If you
know what I mean. At least I think that's how it works. Tho' with the
cap'n, you can never be sure."
"Had it right the first time,"
River mumbled from her countertop perch. She put down the anoscope and
slid the pear down her shirt like a lopsided breast implant.
all right." Book raised a palm in the 'versal gesture of 'enough.'
"I've either been out of the world a little too long or not quite long
enough to care for exact details on that one. Next?"
"Well, Simon and me are sexing too. Oh, and the big one!" Kaylee
brightened. "Inara was dying, but the cap'n tracked down her mei yong de selang
of a father, Jayne cut off one of his testicles and Simon put part of
it in her to save her life."
"Really?" Book rolled his eyeballs toward Simon.
"Stem cells," Simon muttered absently, still looking at the scan, not
his patient. "Please, hold still."
that just goes to show that everyone is good for something after all.
'tho he wasn't what you'd call real happy 'bout the forced donation.
But the cap'n convinced him to see it his way."
"I think Inara has a little crush on Jayne after the way he fought for
her against that se mi mi de ren
so-called father of hers." Kaylee leaned her head down to Book with the
"Really?" Book's eyes widened.
From the distance came a crash that sounded a lot like a full barbell
rack and a muffled "Gorramit!"
very little crush," said Kaylee. "But, little things do grow, don't
they?" she said, with a flicker of the eyelids in Simon's direction.
River looked down her shirt.
Kaylee wiped pear juice from her chin and continued in a different
tone. "What else? Serenity
got a new ion conversion pump. The cap'n was gonna start a suicidal
revolution against the Alliance with the five of us and a few friends
but changed his mind and decided to become an agricultural blockade
runner instead, and I think that's about it."
Book closed his eyes and chuckled quietly. "Sounds like I landed on the
"Clever your using Serenity's
Chou wave output to do that. None like it since I jury-rigged the
compression coil. No one else woulda known that, 'cept someone who'd
been on her. Good thinking." She punched him in the arm.
turning, Simon pointed to a head scan. "Shepherd, there's a metal thing
in your skull. On top of your brain. I don't know what it is."
"Likely from the Alliance attack on Haven, I reckon. Can you get it
Eyes to his tests instead of his patient, Simon missed the curiously
nonchalant tone "Whatever it is, it's not shrapnel. It looks
electronic. And intentionally implanted."
River rolled her eyes. "My brother is such a boob."
Book made his tone firm, deliberate now. "As I said: likely from the
enemy attack. Can you take it out?"
Now Simon turned.
Kaylee had ceased eating. Her gaze darted between them both.
"I think I should wake the captain," said Simon.
is palindrome: it appears the same from either direction." River shoved
the pear to the other side of her chest, but it rolled out of her
chemise, onto the floor, and under the infirmary bed. No one bothered
to track where it landed.
"Do whatever you think is right, of
course," said Book. "But I suspect that getting it out sooner instead
of later would be best for us all. And happy as I am to be here, don't
care to spend the rest of my days laid out on my back. So, can you
Simon wet his lips. "Easily. The insertion burr hole
is still open, and it's only gelled to the surface of the cerebrum, not
"Might want to drop it in some strong acid or oxidizing solution
straight away when you get it out."
"I've got a jar of carbolic in the stern," Kaylee volunteered, the
half-eaten Asian pear long forgotten.
"That'll do," said Book.
Kaylee jogged off toward the engine room.
took a hypo of Algliocaine and pressed it to the occipital nerve. "One
day I'd love to hear the whole story." He parted the shepherd's unshorn
hair over the area of the foreign body.
"And one day I'd love to forget it," said Book, just before Simon
paralyzed him with a second hypo.
hopped down from her seat and tip-toed over to Book's other side. She
folded one thick, gnarled hand in her thin pale one. With her other
hand, she combed searching fingers though his hair. "Sheep's clothing,"
she murmured to no one in particular.
Simon stopped and turned
to her with irritation. "River, please, the sterile field--" But where
her fingers displaced the thinning hair, he saw the scars where other
surgeries had been done.
"Don't ask him. You don't want to know." Silently, she held Book's hand
through the rest of the procedure.
removed a thin computer chip. It made a terrible screech when removed
from the body. Simon held it to the light to study it, and the noise
became louder. He had never seen the like.
"The howling's stopped," said River. She beamed a radiant smile and
began to hum a Chinese tune.
Simon dropped it into the jar of acid and quickly closed the lid.
operation was a complete success," said Simon when Book came around
again. He held up the little jar. "I'd give you the souvenir, but it
dissolved completely. There's nothing left to see."
"Suits me fine that way," said Book. "May I--?" He gestured to the
floor and the pile of clothing Wash had scrounged up.
"Sure. I pronounce you ship-shape." Simon crossed arms.
"So, what's our first crime?" Book asked Kaylee as he slipped pants on
under the gown.
and slugs. Big fat ones to develop soil. Athens and all its moons are
desperate for 'em, and we fell into news of a huge stock of 'em on
Hera. We were on our way there when we ran into you. I hope we've got
time for some fishing 'fore we make Athens. Back home, we used to dig
up these night crawlers and--"
Book stopped, mid-leg.
"Bait," said River.
"You bet," Kaylee agreed. "Best this side of Sihnon. We used to catch
gigantic bass and trout with 'em. I'll take you. If our ju tou of a captain lets us have
"We're en route back there?" Book asked.
"Uh-huh. Wash says planetfall in less than thirty hours, lessen we run
into any more transport tubes long the way."
I think you were right. I think we should talk to the captain right
now." Book fastened the trousers and slipped into his pair of geta.
"No fishing," said River, with a wistful glance to Kaylee.
Such is the life of crime." Kaylee sighed. Not unpredictably, she
brightened almost straight away. "At least we'll always have pears! We
didn't; but now we do." Slopping a pear-flavored smooch on Simon's
cheek, she picked up the sack and skipped off towards the kitchen.
Simon shook his head. "Definitely the right ship."
"Yep," Book agreed. He pushed the jar of acid to the back of the
River picked another pear and slipped it into the front of her panties
this time. With an odd dancing shuffle, she drifted out of the
Running into her into the passageway, Jayne did a
double-take, veered into his cabin, and sealed and bolted the hatch
from the inside.