Those Left Behind: Conclusion
Thursday, July 1, 2004

Safety and Epilogue


Chapter 11: Safety Chinese Glossary Fei hua – crap talk

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as they dropped the unconscious bodies gently onto the deck of the Expeditor. The other two shuttles had left safely under the fighter craft's watchful protection. The lack of additional targets had caused the boarding of the last party to be a bit more eventful. "Zoe, Monty, go see if Wash needs help getting this boat in the air," Mal ordered.

Cecil was already attending to his sister while Simon worked over Jayne's body. The kids stood eerily still wherever they'd stopped. Zoe and Monty had to push most of them through the facility's corridors during their hasty retreat. Hopefully all were accounted for because Mal had no intention of returning to look for secret passages.

"Any clues as to what in the hell happened back there?" Mal asked Simon quietly. Simon glanced up from his work briefly, shaking his head. "What about them? What's wrong with them?" Cecil looked up as he started to register the conversation around him.

"I won't know for sure until I can get them to the infirmary. Whatever it is, it's unlike what happened to the other men," Simon explained. "No evidence of aneurysm or hemorrhage in either. I'm starting to think he was just hurting them."

Cecil's face wrinkled in a puzzled expression. "But why would he want to hurt 'em? He wouldn't know them from Adam."

Mal was equally puzzled as he stared at the unconscious forms. He looked up when Simon spoke again. "Jayne went first. Sug went down only after she went forward to stop him."

Mal's eyes widened as he considered the implications.


In the cockpit, Zoe relieved Rusk of his position of co-pilot. "Having fun sweet cakes?"

Wash shot her a saucy grin. "Think we can get Mal to buy one of these babies?" he asked.


After landing on the asteroid that had been designated for the final rendezvous, Jayne and Sug were still unconscious. Simon refused to allow anyone else in the infirmary beyond the other crews' medics. As a result, Mal and Cecil were reduced to waiting outside and gazing through the windows. Everyone else was busy with getting the new arrivals settled in.

Eventually, Book felt able to leave the children in Kaylee's gentle hands and the mercenaries in Zoe's. He found both Cecil and Malcolm where they had been left. Neither man appeared to have moved or to have eyes for anything beyond the infirmary.

"They're all resting and accounted for Captain," Book informed them as he handed each man a cup of tea.

"How many?" Mal asked.

"Twenty-six total," Book informed him.

Mal looked toward Cecil. "That all of 'em?"

Cecil nodded. "Except for that one."

Mal's face clouded over at that statement. Book was still unclear as to what had occurred inside of the facility as the only people to witness it had been Simon, Sug, Jayne, and the captain.

Simon and the other medics exited the infirmary. "Sug is coming around, Cecil. You can go in and visit for a few minutes, but she needs rest." The larger man immediately slid past the doctor to see to his sister. Simon addressed his next statement to Mal. "They'll both be fine. Neither appears to have suffered any lasting damage."

Mal nodded and relaxed a little at the news. "Now if you'll excuse me, it appears I have quite a queue awaiting my services," Simon told them with a wry smile.

"Go on doc. Don't wanna hear the fuss that'll occur if you examine them after the tranqs wear off," Mal ordered with a wave.

The Captain finally sat down on one of the couches. Book debated whether to leave or not, but finally decided he probably wouldn't have the opportunity presented by their current privacy again. "Do you want to talk about it son?"

Mal sighed as he put his face in his hands. "Don't really want to think on it preacher, let alone talk about it."

Book sat down opposite the captain and waited patiently. After an event such as this, he'd found that wants and needs rarely agreed.

"He was just a kid, probably the same age as Kaylee," Mal finally added. "Ain't killed a man that young since the war and even then I never shot 'em in the back."

Book struggled to keep his surprise off of his face. He was well aware of Mal's code of ethics, antiquated though it may be. To commit an act such as that, even when forced, it would weigh heavily on the younger man. "From what I've been told, it would seem you didn't have a choice."

"Dunno rightly what I did have. Whole mess …," Mal shook his head, obviously at a loss for words.

"Captain, the words may seem trite, but you know as well as I do how easily a man can be pushed into a madness from which there is no return. Even if you could have disabled the boy in some other way, there would be no assurances of the safety of anyone else on this ship if he was beyond reason."

Mal nodded as he stood. "Someone a lot younger told me that earlier today already. Don't change anything though."

Book watched as Malcolm turned and left the room. The man continued to hold surprises. During the planning, the Captain had no qualms with giving the order for cold-blooded killing. Malcolm had a unique ability for evaluating dangerous situations and making the hard choices instantaneously. The fact that this decision struck at his core so deeply renewed the Shepherd's hope for his soul.

Book looked up as Cecil exited the infirmary. The Shepherd gave the boy a genuine smile. Time to see to the loose ends that the others had yet to consider, he thought.


Several hours later, Mal found Cecil in the Expeditor where the hacker was working on the files extracted from the Academy's computers. He was glad to see the hacker was alone as well; seemed that he'd spent all afternoon reassuring every gorram member of his crew that he was fine. Mal half expected for Wash to inform him that River and Inara were on the cortex to check up on him.

"How's Sug?"

Cecil looked up. "Says she hates having a headache that bad when she hasn't drained a still recently."

"Warn me if she has any plans along those lines in the near future. I want to be in another sector first!"

Cecil laughed at Mal's statement. "Yeah, I heard an interesting story along those lines once."

Mal glared at him. "Do me a favor and don't share it with no-one." Cecil smirked before going back to his work. "Can you find me a specific kid in all that yet?"

Cecil looked up. "Yeah, extracted their files for the doc first off. Need a description though…that boy?"

Mal shook his head. "No, girl. Around nine or so I'd guess, blonde. Didn't see her in the hold with the rest."

Cecil raised his eyebrows in surprise. "And if you didn't see her how would you know about her?" he asked as he began to scroll on the computer screen in front of him.

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"Dunno, Sug already told me some passing strange things."

Mal just remained silent as he waited. "Well, none of the ones we picked up were around that age, but here's a list of the girls that were placed in the Academy at younger than thirteen," Cecil told him as he turned the computer screen towards Mal.

Mal leaned forward and began to page through the profiles. Each file displayed a portrait photograph of the children next to another picture that resembled a mug shot. Shocked, he stopped when he found Sue's file. Her portrait showed her in a powder blue dress while in her mug shot she was wearing the same white hospital gown similar to the other children they had rescued. He didn't bother to read the file as he pointed to it. "This is her."

Cecil moved to examine the file. "Well you must have gotten hit on the head Reynolds, cause there's no way you saw that angel."

Mal pushed the computer away. "I know what I saw, now where is she? Another facility?"

Cecil leaned over and brought up another file. Pointing to it, he asked, "Look familiar?"

Mal glanced at it before taking a closer look. It showed a portrait of a young boy similar to Sue's age while the other photo was of the kid he'd shot. The boy had Sue's hair color and smile, but little else appeared the same. The mug shot showed an older boy with sandy blonde hair and no smile whatsoever. Looking close though, Mal realized that they were the same individual.

"Yeah," he replied thickly. "Doesn't have anything to do with the girl though."

Cecil shook his head. "They're twins Captain. Or were. The records show that the girl died two weeks after entering the program."

Mal sat down before he fell. Couldn't be. She had been there. Touched him. Warned him. And he'd failed her too.


Wash looked up when he heard Zoe start to descend the stairs. About time. He'd gone looking for her earlier only to find that she'd passed her duties off to Book so that she could go look after Mal. As usual, he grumbled to himself.

"Finally, alone time," Wash told her as hugged her from behind.

Zoe shrugged him off gently. "Not now Wash."

In his mind, he was yelling at her about not being able to relax if her gorram Captain was tense. In reality, he sucked it up and made ready to give his best impression of an understanding husband. During their marriage, he'd quickly learned that fighting with Zoe in the days following a stressful job was never a good idea. "What's wrong lambie-toes? Everyone's safe, no one's shot up too bad, and we're alone in our bunk."

Zoe joined him on the bed and cuddled into his side. Ahh, yes, understanding husband was definitely the right hand to play.

"He won't talk to me about it. The shepherd told me a little of what happened and I went to find him, but he won't open up."

Wash hugged her and rested his head on hers. "Give him time Zoe. He'll bounce back."

"Feels different this time Wash."

"It'll be fine. Once we get Inara and River back on the ship, his normally chipper disposition will return."

Wash looked down at his wife, fully intending to do something to restore his own chipper disposition. The soft snore escaping from her lips ruined his carefully crafted plans though.


Jayne awoke to a feeling of déjà vu. Mal was standing in the corner, staring at him all suspecting like. His head still hurt and to tell the truth, he wasn't altogether sure what Mal was judging him for. Ain't done nuttin' troublesome…Ta ma duh! River.

"Simon said you'll be fine. Probably have a headache for a while, Sug certainly still has one," Mal informed him.

Sug? Oh, yeah the dwarf Amazon, Sug. So no airlock in the future hopefully. Jayne just nodded carefully. Talking seemed like it would take too much effort right now.

"Wanna tell me how things got humped?" Mal asked.

Jayne gritted his teeth before the words 'Not particularly,' could escape. Mal didn't exactly look like he was going nowhere till he got an answer though. Jayne searched for a recollection of what happened. He remembered the doc griping about Sug's party favors and Sug griping about the doc's slow pace with the kids. Everything else was black with pain though.

Wait a second. The kids. There was this one creepy little fellow. Jayne licked his lips. "Well, came on this one kid surrounded by bloody bodies. Started to think how he was a bit smarter than the rest when I heard this voice, but it weren't the doc's or Sug's. Looked back to see if one of the little one's was raising a ruckus and I saw…"

"And saw what Jayne?" Mal prompted when the mercenary paused.

Jayne grimaced. Mal was gonna think he was losing it. "Well, saw the kid, the one standing in front of us, saw him standing over River. Was back in the hospital in Ariel. Told me she'd be punished for leaving, but not before I was dealt with for risking her. That she was more than I was and I'd learn what I'd missed before."

None of it made any damn sense to him. 'Course he could be remembering it wrong too, it had been a tad hard to follow the kid's fei hua when his brain felt like it was being cooked inside his head. Looked like some of it made sense to Mal; Cap'n didn't look like it comforted him any though.

Mal just nodded and stayed quiet for a bit longer like he was talking to someone in his head. Jayne suppressed a self-congratulatory smile. He knew going to get all them loonies would be a bad idea. Looked like they were all rubbing off on the Cap'n already.

"Well, it all worked out smooth enough I suppose," Mal finally told him. "Get some rest, there's work to be done later on."

Jayne snorted. Smooth for Mal anyway. He weren't the one that had his brains mashed by an eerie ass kid.


Epilogue: Consolation Amid the Black

It had been several days since the return of Inara and River. Serenity had quickly made it's way back to the Rim in search of work away from the Alliance radar. Surprisingly, the destruction of the secret Academy had actually made the cortex as well as details about the missing children. No rewards were offered for the return of the children, instead several were simply declared as dead. Others were purported to have been stolen by the government and angry parents appeared to tell of their years of worry. Apparently Sal's underground had been as busy planning during the past weeks as the crew of Serenity had been. Unfortunately, all of this news was accompanied by a fresh warrant for the Tams. Some things just didn't change.

Zoe and Inara were still pestering him about what had happened at the facility, but they were slowly starting to mind their own after being on the receiving end of his temper a few times. No use in crying over spilt milk and he weren't going to be badgered into doing so. And well, Zoe had stopped speaking to him since their last conversation. She didn't take well to being ordered not to consider having kids. Didn't like being at odds with her, but at least it had gotten her off his back.

Mal cursed to himself when he heard footsteps on the stairs to the bridge. "Gorramit woman, I said I didn't want to discuss it," he yelled as he turned to face her. "Oh sorry River," he apologized upon seeing the teen.

"Milk spilled, no need to throw the bottle," she told him.

Mal blinked at her. "Uh-huh. Well you should be asleep 'fore your brother comes looking for you."

River smiled at him. "He's with Kaylee. Looking for something with her right now."

"K, more than I needed to know. Need something?"

River skipped forward to look out at the stars. He turned back to the black as well when she didn't say anything for several minutes.

"Danny always was too bossy you know," River suddenly told him. "Wouldn't let her go when she finished the story, didn't like the change in my plot."

Mal stared at her trying to understand her meaning. River sighed, apparently vexed with his confusion. She sat down across from him, frowning with her arms crossed.

"Don't know how that relates to anything River. Hell, don't even know how I saw her when she was dead," he told her.

River shook her head. "Danny didn't let her go. Kept her. I was supposed to replace her, but their experiment failed. Couldn't see she stayed. But he wouldn’t let go of me either."

"Doesn't exactly make me feel better to know I killed both of them."

"You saved her silly." River smiled suddenly, "She was the only one that would listen to Simon's story. Between the tests, we'd play when my head didn't hurt."

River stood and kissed his head before he could pull back. "You were her knight, sent her off to the night's journey finally. You didn't kill her Captain, you just let her go."

With those words of consolation, River left him alone. Mal sighed and stood. Time he stopped staring into space feeling sorry for himself anyway, he supposed. His crew was safe and they were out of the core. Not much more he could ask for he supposed.


A/N: Thanks to Neroli, my beta, for continual encouragement and help throughout this process. Also to cassie and Amdobell for hatching the bunny in the first place. And to everyone else who thought it was good enough to comment---really meant alot. Hope you enjoyed the ride too.


Thursday, July 1, 2004 8:45 PM


So... I want a sequel! Just pick up where you left off and take us off on a new adventure. You gave some nice set-up between Mal & Zoe, and Mal & the Shepherd, like to see where you take those.

Thanks for a very enjoyable story, well written, and well concluded.

Thursday, July 1, 2004 11:11 PM


BRAVO!!!! Love the added emotional/mental torture you piled onto Mal. Always saw him as someone who would pile things like that up. Hefting the world's or 'verse's problems on his shoulders and suffer it alone. I loved it through and through Jebby. Awesome work... keep em coming!!!

Friday, July 2, 2004 2:28 AM


This was so damn *meili* I didn't want it to end! Loved it from start to finish and was very pleased you gave Mal some closure from River. There does seem to be a wealth of unspoken, almost intuitive, understanding between them. Good also to see that Wash is learning how to be more patient with Zoe when she is worrying about her Captain. So very shiny, *xie xie ni*, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, July 2, 2004 3:33 AM


I, too, want you to write more. This was very rewarding, but then, how could I resist a good story with my favorite characters and a neat ship?

Friday, July 2, 2004 5:39 AM


everyone wants sequels while i'm basking in the doneness;) RL looks to be busy for a month or so, so don't hold your breaths waiting. Slightly considering the option of a sequel of some type, but well, also have 3 stories languishing on the boards still so may be a while.

Glad to know everyone enjoyed it so much though.


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