"Shreeee!" River's wail pierced the galley. Her voice took on
that familiar, creepy timbre, but given that dinner had been delayed by
some excitement in port and that everyone was famished, no one paid her
much mind. She hung her head, making her hair seem even more
unkempt than usual and began to speak.
"They live with people and pose like people, but
they have faces of the subhuman and hearts of the primal
They walk among us and try to pass as us, but they're animals, animals
all!" Turning sideways in her chair, she dug her face deep
Simon's shoulder and shivered.
Mal popped a chunk of honey-ginger flavored protein into his mouth and
chewed. "Sister having a bad day?"
One hand on the back of her head, Simon turned his blank face up to
Mal. "No. Why do you ask?"
"....Kuuh!" At the head of the table, Book coughed hard and
banged emphatically on his chest, his eyes glued front and center.
"Are you all right, Shepherd?" Simon glanced over in concern
as Inara pounded Book on the back.
"Fine, Fine." Book alternately thumped his
hand against his chest and then out over the length of the table, index
finger flicking out towards the galley door. "I thought something
but it seems to have broken
loose." He put an odd
stress on the last two words.
Kaylee's eyes bugged out and she nearly jumped from
her chair. "'Scuse me, Cap'n. I've got to go
engines." She jogged across to the galley door, then stopped
peered out the window to the passageway beyond.
"Engines? We're in dock." Mal twisted towards her,
a quizzical expression on his face.
"You can never be too careful with engines,
Cap'n. They're the heart of the ship, you know."
tried to work up a smile, then pressed the door open and dashed down
the aft passage at full tilt.
"I should help," said Inara. She dabbed her lips on her
serviette and wafted from her chair.
"You're going to help with the engines?" Mal
couldn't have looked more shocked if she had just pledged her undying
love for him in front of all of Londinium.
"Kaylee's been teaching me. It's really
fascinating. You should try learning something useful about
ship sometime. Or something useful about anything." With a
backwards huff, Inara floated out of the galley.
Mal watched her go. "Hmmfph. Now that's more like
it." As the door slid shut, Mal relaxed and dug back into his
"You think she's done with her food?" Jayne reached across
table and palmed Inara's bowl. She'd left most of the good
"I should go check on them." Zoë stood up abruptly.
Mal looked up over his bowl, chopsticks pretty much
smack-dab in the middle between table and mouth, and stared at her.
"I'm second in command; freeing the captain from these minor issues and
allowing him to concentrate on more important things is part of my
job." Zoë offered the explanation with the emotion
in her delivery running the full gamut from A to A--like always.
Mal dropped his chopsticks into his bowl. "Okay, what the go-se is this
"Women. Who knows?" Wash waved his chopsticks in the air in a dramatic
"Pardon?" Zoë's tone--never much renowned
for its warmth to begin with--dropped to near absolute zero.
"I didn't mean, you buttercup," Wash tried. "I meant--"
"You meant women." Zoë finished for
him. Her voice reached zero and plummeted further to prove
negative temperatures can, in fact, exist on the Kelvin scale.
"Do I have any wiggle room here, sugarbuns?" Now Wash tried
the puppy eyes.
"Lemme tell you where you can wiggle it, bunnykins."
Zoë had never been big on puppies.
"Ooh!" Book sucked in his breath and
grimaced. Even a never-married Shepherd could feel that jab
where it hurt.
"I think I'll go check the Bridge," said Wash. He pushed back
his chair and headed forward.
"Best thing to come out of your mouth all
night. Or likely to be in it all night either, baby
Zoë shot the words out after him as he left.
River giggled. "Uh-oh. The fall from
grace may not be long, but it is far too steep to climb back up without
a charitable hand."
For a half-second, they all stared at her.
"Does she make that stuff up?" Jayne furled
his brow and reached for Kaylee's abandoned bowl. His T-shirt
read, "Kiss me; I'm Irish."
"We're in dock," Mal called to Wash. "What's to
"Let him go, sir. It's for the best. Be a shame for
have to kill him in port with Alliance all around. That just
asking for trouble." Zoë tugged
down her vest
and headed for the aft passageway.
"Now where are you going?"
Mal stared at her like she had three heads.
"Just to check?" Mal might not understand women, but
following patterns was one of his fortes.
"Something like that." Zoë waited for Mal's nod to
permission to do exactly as she wanted, them headed out the galley door.
"You know, I think I'd better check you out,
Shepherd." Simon eyed Book with not terribly subtle intensity.
"Huh?" Book's hair kind of slid forward on his skull as his forehead
"Choking can cause rebound airway oedema. Very
dangerous." Simon cleared his throat.
"Oh, right. Now that you mention it, I am
feeling a bit wheezy." Book gave two dramatic
River's eyes rolled back in her head. "This life of mortal breath is
but an annex of the life Elysian, whose portal we call death."
Jayne, Book and Mal all stared at her. "Could just be a
hiccup," she amended with a shrug.
"Doc, you've got to do something about her," Jayne said.
Simon spread his hands in a helpless gesture. It wasn't like
anyone else had a better idea.
"Let me guess: you're going to the Infirmary."
Mal directed it at Simon. Patterns really were Mal's
"That is where one generally treats the infirm, Captain."
Book gave another unconvincing wheeze. It was
not...smooth. Mal fixed him with a perplexed gaze.
"Ooh, that's sounding much worse," Simon grabbed his patient by an
arm. "Elysian portals and all: better
hurry." Before Mal could get off another word, Simon hustled
out the door with River in tow.
Unfazed, Jayne slid Simon's bowl over beside his stack of empties and
started in on it with gusto.
"You're not going too?" Mal asked.
"No; why?" Arms thrown forward around the bowl
like a fortress, Jayne launched himself into Simon's ex-food and
Mal shrugged. "I just--"
"Jayne!" Book stuck his head back in the doorway.
Mal threw his hands up in the air.
"What?" Jayne protested. "He was
finished with it." Jayne gestured at the
least he never said otherwise. Possession is nine
Ten tenths if there are no gorram Feds around."
Mal's eyebrow shot up. He hadn't known Jayne could count that
"Jayne," Book's voice was carefully patient, but
with an iron aftertaste--like one might use with a disobedient but not
bright child...or dog. "I need you, now."
Eyes rolled in resignation, Mal motioned Jayne toward the
"Please, don't let me hold you. I'm only the
Leastwise, I think I still am. You'll be...?"
Jayne stopped and percolated a look startlingly like severe
constipation--or as if the process of trying to come up with an answer
was an equal strain. "In my bunk."
It would be a toss up to decide who gaped the most. "What?" asked Book?
"Book needs you in your bunk?" Mal blurted
Jayne stomped his way out of the galley. He grunted to Book as they headed down the
passage, "It was the best I
think of on the spot." He added under his breath,
"Why do they always give
me the hard questions?"
Alone in the galley, Mal shook his head. They may not be the
sanest crew in the verse, but they were all his. Not that
was necessarily a good thing....
He slid Simon's bowl over to his own place and
cocked his eyebrows. Not bad. If nothing
least Jayne and Simon both had excellent taste in food, and Kaylee was
not a half bad cook.
"Are you sure he's in here?" Simon asked as they entered the cargo bay.
"He's got to be. Everything has to be somewhere and we've
looked 'bout everyplace else," said Kaylee.
"You're going to have to tell Mal, you know." Inara tried for the
soothing voice of reason, but mostly she just sounded snooty.
"Don't see why," said Kaylee. She poked around the few
containers in the bay.
"Because it's his ship, and he gets the say of what's on it."
Zoë pushed into a pile of spare parts with a rifle barrel.
Kaylee protested. "Jacob is a 'who', not a 'what.'"
"I'd like him better as a dinner," said Jayne. He wandered
catwalk with River prancing along behind him, shadowing him in
pantomime as well done as it was disparaging.
"You're no better than the street vendors I rescued
him from." Kaylee pouted. She pulled the lid off a
container and peeked in. "Being sold complete with roasting pan and
recipes. It ain't human, I say."
"Exactly," said Simon. "Neither is he."
"Stop that!" Jayne exploded. He whirled around with Vera
at the ready only to find River standing stock still behind him, hands
innocently by her side.
All the searchers looked up at them.
"Stop what?" asked Simon, deadpan. The pause
thickened in the air.
Jayne readjusted his grip on Vera and proceeded forward.
"Gorramit, that sister of yours will never have one of my guns named
after her, that's for goram sure." Silently, River mouthed
same words as he said them and started again on her burlesque behind
his back. It was a perfect Jayne, just...sillier.
"Her loss, no doubt." Simon rolled his eyes.
Kaylee's face skewed around with that look it got when she was thinking
hard, but nothing particular was destined to come out. "I was
thinking maybe I would tell him after we were in flight. You
know, when it's too late to put him off ship." She stuck her
hands in her pockets and tried for cute.
"Might want to reconsider. Ain't too late to
put it off," said Zoë. "Serenity's got airlocks, you
know." Zoë had never been much on cute either.
"The captain would never do something that cruel."
Kaylee sounded sure enough for three people. If only she
will Mal to be one of those three, she'd be set.
"Don't bet on it," Jayne mumbled.
"You should know about airlocks," River chanted
sing-song. She grabbed her own neck and made
sounds in Jayne's direction.
"Stop that!" Jayne whirled, but of course River was
already still and silent as marble by the time he had pivoted around.
"You can't hide him for ever, mei-mei."
Inara sat down on a cargo container and swathed her skirts around her
legs. "Or do you think a two-hundred pound orangutan can go
"Hey, quit talking about me behind my back in front of my
What did I do, anyway?" Jayne looked down from the catwalk in
River giggled. "Two thirty-seven."
"Two-twenty," Jayne mumbled to no one in particular.
"Gosh!" Kaylee's face lit up. "That's
not a bad idea! I could hide him in Jayne's
captain never goes in there."
Inara considered. "Same smell, same manners, same vocabulary:
it could work." She nodded in approval.
"Oh no, you don't. I ain't sleeping with no
gorilla." Jayne patted Vera almost tenderly.
"Orangutan." Simon, Inara, Book and Kaylee
corrected, repeating the word in perfect harmony. River just
chimp motions under her arms.
"What if he snores? I'm a very delicate sleeper."
Jayne appeared to be genuinely concerned.
Simon rolled his eyes. "The matter is moot if we don't find
him. "How did he get out anyway?"
"Gorramed if I know," said Kaylee. "I had the cage
double secured. "
"They are very intelligent animals," said Simon. "He could
have figured out the mechanism. "
"No way," said Jayne. "I saw those locks; I couldn't have
gotten out of them myself."
"My point exactly." Simon resumed his search.
"Yeah," said Kaylee. "I see what you
mean." She plopped down on the storage bin beside Inara and
sighed. "We've looked everywhere back here. Are we
sure he ain''t up forward?"
"Wash is searching the Bridge," said Zoë. "He'd've
let me know if he found it."
Kaylee stressed the word again. Inara patted her knee.
Jayne rolled his eyes.
Kaylee's face brightened. "What about the
captain's quarter's? We haven't looked
Zoë shook her head. "No way. The captain
keeps 'em locked. Nothing could get in."
"Right," said Jayne smugly. "I tried once. It's
sealed tighter than Simon's ass."
Just them a stream of excited Mandarin streamed in
through the corridor from the direction of the captain's
berth. The acoustics muffled some of the
but Mal's voice and the general idea were clear enough--and something
about teriyaki satay. The crew all looked at one
another, then finally back at Zoë.
"Huh," she said. "Or it could be I'm mistaken."