From Bad to Worse, chapters 1-10 (COMPLETE)
Monday, December 3, 2007

This is a re-post from before the BSR got hit a few weeks ago. The story takes place in between ‘The Train Job’ and ‘Bushwhacked.’ According to Inara, there is a three-ish month gap here, so I thought it would be perfect for this little story and its epilogue.


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Chapter 1

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Chapter 1 Chinese Translations:

qingwa cao de liumang (ching-wah TSAO duh liou mahng) – frog-humping sonofabitch

wo de tian, a (wuh de tyen, ah) – dear god in heaven

mashang (ma shong) – now

- - - - -

Mal stared out into the infinite Black, glad to be on the move. It had only been a week since the events in Paradiso, and his shoulder still hurt from where that qingwa cao de liumang Crow had thrown the knife and hit him. Chuckling to himself, he figured that he had gotten the better end of that stick, with his adversary being in millions of pieces after a trip through Serenity’s left thruster engine.

They were headed to Boros, finally making it to the destination they had planned to get to after leaving Persephone. Mal hoped the extra time it had taken them on Whitefall and in Paradiso hadn’t caused the elder Sanchez brother to go with someone else. Wash had cooking duty, so Mal was alone on the bridge. He sat in the pilot’s seat, flipping on the Cortex to wave his friend.

After a few moments’ wait, a dirty and darkly tanned face appeared on his screen.

“Ah, Malcom Reynolds, I was starting to wonder if you had finally gotten pinched, or if that lah-suh heap you fly around in had finally kicked. You still interested in a job?”

“Enrique, good to see you too. We’ve had no shortage of troubles since you and I last talked, but we are headed to you right now, assuming there is some work waiting for us.”

“Well, the original job I offered you is long gone, but I’ve always got work, and always seem to have a lack of good trustworthy folk to do said work. How’d you feel about some salvage instead of the smuggling you were planning on?”

“As long as there is some coin in it for me and mine, I’m game.”

“Now that’s the Mal I know. I am sending you coordinates for a moon base in the next system over from Boros. An independent supply chain ship, much like yours, crashed into the dark side of that moon. The crew and passengers died on impact, tragic I know, but there is substantial value in the cargo they were hauling. What I am interested in is a large box of gold bars. Here’s the deal: you bring me 25% of the gold from that box as a finder’s fee and you guys can keep the rest, plus whatever else you find of interest.”

“Sounds like a fine job with a big take, so what’s the catch?”

“The base on the moon is Alliance.”

Comprehension dawned on Mal’s face as Wash walked onto the bridge, announcing that dinner would be ready in five minutes and wiping sweat from his forehead as he took a moment to stare out into the Black.

“This gold wouldn’t happen to belong to that Alliance base, would it?”

Enrique Sanchez slowly nodded, a grim look on his face. He didn’t say anything as he waited for his friend’s response.

Turning to Wash and pointing to the coordinates, he asked “How fast can you get us there?”

Wash looked at the numbers, closed his eyes for a minute, then turned to Mal. “We can be there in 8 hours if we burn hard enough, so long as we get some coin very soon after the job so we can re-fuel.”

Turning back to the screen, Mal smiled and said “We’ll be there by the end of the day.”

- - -

Alec Graham sat across the dark table from his favorite mercenary. Having told her about the crashed ship and its precious contents, he leaned back to await her response, knowing she couldn’t resist a take this grand.

Claire sat casually in her chair, long red hair partially obscuring her fair face. She wore the same brown duster she always had on over a dirty green shirt that hardly did her slender figure justice. She leaned forward, her piercing emerald eyes coming into the light for the first time.

“We’ll take the job. Tom, Amos, let’s get moving. We’ve got some gold to find. Alec, we’ll be back soon with your 40%.”

She spun on her heel to leave, two gargantuan men leaving the shadows to flank her as she headed out the door and onto the street, donning her black cowboy hat as the sun mercilessly scorched the dry road beneath their feet.

- - -

The crew sat around the table, finishing the protein loaf that Wash had prepared. As everyone seemed ready to start clearing the table, Mal stood up and cleared his throat.

“We have a job.”

Zoe and Jayne turned to look at him, eyes brightening at the prospect of action and a payday. Wash continued with the clearing of his plate, having already heard the details from Mal on the bridge. Simon continued to look at his empty plate, lost in thought, though his head did turn slightly to listen to the Captain. Kaylee had been looking dreamily at Simon, and after sparing a quick glance toward Mal she resumed her quiet yearnings. Inara and Book both looked half interested, Inara knowing the type of work Mal had been doing lately and Book having just recently worked that out for himself. River was the only one who showed no obvious interest whatsoever in what he had to say as she balanced her plate on her cup, standing her fork up like a little teepee with her knife on top of that.

“The smuggling, er, transport of materials that we were going to perform has already been taken care of. We are going to Delphias, a moon on the next system from Boros’. There is a crashed transport ship there with cargo that is of substantial value, and we are going to retrieve it. Any questions?”

“Isshit gold?” Jayne asked, his mouth half full of his third helping of the meal.

“Actually , it is.”

At this revelation, Jayne’s eyes widened to the size of dessert plates. “Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s get there already!”

Resisting the temptation to chide Jayne for his impatience, Mal flatly stated “The moon has a base on it. An Alliance base.”

It was Simon’s turn for wide eyes and a slackened jaw. “Mal, uh, Captain, well, we need to avoid the Alliance, not get closer...”

“I know that we need to avoid the Alliance,” Mal interrupted edgily “which is why you and your sister will be staying on the boat and out of sight. The base is on the other side of the moon, but there is a good chance they are looking for this wreck too, or will be when they realize it didn’t break atmo. We should be there in a few hours, and really the only ones who will be leaving the ship will be myself, Zoe, Jayne, and Kaylee.”

“Shouldn’t we alert someone, maybe someone who is closer who can help any survivors?” Book spoke quietly but firmly. “Those people could be in real danger, and all you are concerned about is getting paid.”

At the Shepherd’s words, Mal, Zoe, and Jayne all turned to stare at him, tension in the room increasing rapidly. River even looked up, taking in everything with her big brown eyes before she softly spoke.

“Dead. All dead. Crashed and died in fire and metal.”

A silence filled the room, everyone turning to look at the small girl. It was the most that any of them besides Simon and Mal had heard her speak since she emerged from the cryo unit.

After a very pregnant pause, Mal finally spoke up, his eyes never leaving River. “Though it chills me to my core that she knew that, she is right. Scans show that there were no survivors, everyone aboard died upon impact. As for my concerns, they are for me and mine, which right now includes you preacher. If you’ve got a problem with the way I run my ship, you are free to get off anytime you like.”

Book pursed his lips, saying nothing but keeping his dark eyes focused on Mal, a fire burning within them. Mal scanned his crew, looking at everyone’s face in turn. Their visible emotions ranged from giddiness to anger to depression, no two being the same.

“Any more questions?”

Everyone stared at Mal, the room descending into a profound silence.

“All right, you all have jobs, go do them.”

- - -

The mule cruised over the dry desert road, kicking up dust clouds and dirt as the thrusters whined. Claire piloted the small craft, her mechanic Anya sitting shotgun, Tom and Amos in the back, clutching large automatic weapons.

‘Wo de tian, a’ Claire thought to herself. ‘How did it come to this?’ Less than six years ago she had been a sergeant in the Independents’ army, and now she was reduced to stealing spaceships to pick at the salvage of a wrecked ship. She absentmindedly thought back to her time in battle, thinking about one of her comrades in particular. Wondering what he was doing now, she hoped it was much more respectable than the life of crime she had adopted.

They reached the port shortly thereafter, searching for a small ship that would be fast enough to get them to their treasure and then far enough away to keep from being caught.

‘Ah, a Firefly. Perfect.’ She flew the mule past the ship’s open cargo bay slowly, visually reconnoitering any crew or guards that were around the ship. She flew the mule around a corner, parking in a temporary spot. The took a comm. unit, nodding silently to Tom and Amos, who took up flanking positions around the floating vehicle as Anya shifted to the drivers’ seat, in case a hasty escape was needed.

Claire moved quickly through the shadows, heading back to the ship she had picked. In days long gone, she would have held her cross and said a silent prayer for success, but that hadn’t worked on Hera, so why should it work here?

She approached the barker, a short Asian man, and began making small talk about the ship. She discovered that the Captain was out, and she could meet him in a few hours when he returned. She asked if she could see this ship, wanting to make sure it was suitable for her travel needs. The small man was more than happy to show her around.

Walking through the cargo bay, they headed past the infirmary, the small man spouting of details about how much it would be to travel with them and all of the stops they were going to make. He showed her to the passenger dorms, opening one to show her how much space she would have.

As he turned to open the door, she swiftly drew her gun, bringing the butt down hard on the back of his head. She dragged his diminutive form into the room, looking around to make sure that no one had seen her. She dumped his unconscious body in a corner, hastily closing the sliding door behind herself. She unmade the bed, ripping the sheets into long, thin strips. She tied his hands and feet, stuffing additional bedding into his mouth before blinding and gagging him.

She exited the room, looking around for any other passengers or crew. She was more than familiar with this ship, having spent almost a year on one with her old war buddy. She thought back to him again, remembering the stories he had told and the adventures they had together. The sex had been good too, she had to admit, but there was no way that could have ever worked out. The man was completely infuriating, getting angry if the slightest thing didn’t go his way. He could be very mean, and didn’t really care for anyone besides himself or his crew.

They hadn’t parted on the best of terms, and she was resentful of that. After all of the moments they had shared, both during the war and after, he had kicked her off of his ship without even ten words of explanation.

Shaking her head to clear the mixed feelings she felt, she quietly moved back to the cargo bay, hitting the control button to close the bay doors. She crept up the stairs, pistol at the ready, and headed for the bridge. After a few minutes of searching the rest of the ship, locking the crew quarters from outside to be as cautious as possible, she pulled the comm. from her belt.

“Anya, get Amos and Tom into the mule. We have ourselves a ship. I’ll be waiting with the cargo bay doors open, so get here mashang.”

Moments later, the flying transport roared up the ramp, the door closing immediately behind them. The engines had already been fired up, and Claire took the stairs two at a time on her way to the bridge as Anya followed her upstairs to travel down the hall to the engine room.

They lifted off, leaving Boros and the rest of this ship’s crew behind. She set a course for Delphias, sighing as more thoughts about Malcom Reynolds and his exasperating ways flooded her mind.

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Chapter 2

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Chapter 2 Chinese Translations:

yi da tuo dabian (ee da tuo da bien) – a big lump of shit

baituo, anjing yidian (BAI-tuo, AN-jing-eedyen) – we will enjoy your silence now

dong ma? (dong ma?) – understand?

hundan (hwoon dan) – bastard

- - - - -

“We’ll be entering atmo in ten minutes.” Wash called out over the comm. Moments later, Zoe and Mal had come up to the bridge, watching the approaching moon. “You’re sure you want to be here Mal?”

“Oh, I’m fair sure I don’t want to be anywhere near here, but since that yi da tuo dabian Niska sent us to steal the medicine that we returned, we need a job to get some coin. Gotta keep flyin’, and ain’t no way in the nine hells I’m gonna be left with nothing but Alliance handouts to keep me there. Plus, if this take is everything Enrique claims it will be, then we should have enough to take a little vacation, maybe get to a planet with a naked beach like you two want.”

Turning to face them, a smile on his face, he saw them exchanging a meaningful look, similar smiles on both of their faces. Wash was a damn good pilot, the best he had ever seen, and Zoe was all the first mate he could ask for and more. The two of them, hell, all of the crew could use a few days of rest. Finding a planet where it would be safe for the young doctor and his sister to do the same might be tricky, but it wasn’t impossible.

“Did I hear somethin’ ‘bout bein’ naked?” Jayne asked as he climbed the stairs to the bridge. “You guys always seem to have these conversations without me.”

“That’s because no one wants to see you naked, Jayne,” Wash quipped, flashing him a huge grin over Zoe’s shoulder.

“Well, just ‘cuz you don’ wanna see it don’t mean it ain’ gonna happen.” Jayne shot back, a smirk on his face.

“Baituo, anjing yidian!” Mal said coldly, looking at all of them in turn. “Let’s just do the job, then you can argue over what to do with the take, though I honestly don’t want to think about either of you being naked.”

“Sir, is there something else on your mind?” Zoe asked calming, the smile vanishing from her face. “Something you might have neglected to tell us?”

“I just don’t like being this close to that Alliance base, which reminds me: Wash, is there any chatter on the official 2-6-2?”

“Well, since it’s about twenty minutes ‘til we’re within spittin’ distance of an Alliance base, I’m gonna go with yes.” He pulled up the frequency monitor on a side screen, confirming his assessment.

“Well, what are they saying, smartass?”

“Sounds like routine babble to me, but I’ll keep it on in case they get wind of our little operation.”

“Good. Zoe, make sure the mule is ready. Jayne, arm yourself. There is no telling who or what we will find down there.”

Mal headed downstairs to check on the passengers as Wash gracefully descended into the moon’s atmosphere.

- - -

Claire’s unease at the simplicity of their getaway was soon overshadowed by the thrill of flying a Firefly again. Though this was not an -03 like Serenity, the lack of extenders causing it to shake a bit, it was still a joy to pilot. Leaving atmo had been bumpy, but out here in the Black she flew just fine. As she set the course for Delphias her thoughts strayed to the last time she had been in the pilot’s chair of a Firefly...

Claire sat in the pilot’s seat, flying through a small asteroid field. Loving hands carefully caressed her shoulders, easing the tension of dodging the huge chunks of rock. She turned to smile up at Mal, momentarily closing her eyes to savor the light massage. She had been glad for this chance to pilot the ship, and also glad that Wash and Zoe had been able to take a little vacation for themselves as a honeymoon.

That had left Claire on the ship with only Mal and Bester, who seemed to interrupt them at the most inconvenient moments. At least half a dozen times when she and Mal had been just getting started, he just popped up. She couldn’t really blame him, as it must be lonely with only the engine to talk to for hours on end. She would be glad when they landed on Athenia and took a few days leave while waiting for the freight to arrive. Maybe Bester could find some prairie harpy to shack up with and she would have Mal and Serenity all to herself for a day or so...

Bringing herself back to the present, she looked back out into the Black. Claire could hear Tom and Amos pillaging through the kitchen, probably eating everything they came across. She picked up the comm. and called down to the engine room.

“Anya, can you make this heap go any faster?”

“Tryin’ to boss, but too much more and she’ll fall apart. I’d really like to get there in one piece, and have some way to get off that rock as well.”

“Ok, well, do what you can, but I definitely don’t want to be stranded, especially on an Alliance moon.”

Her fingers automatically ran down over her tattered brown duster, her eyes glazing over as she remembered all of the horrors that she had seen in the War. She watched the small moon grow as they approached, turning to yell down the hallway to the galley.

“You lunks find anything decent to eat? I’m starving.”

Tom’s heavy steps sounded in the hallway as he lumbered up to the bridge, a wooden bowl in one hand and a pair of chopsticks in the other.

“Sorry boss, I guess me’n Amos got carried away.”

“Take some to Anya before you guys eat it all, and it would be nice to have some for later, in case we can’t stop for a while. An’ don’t take forever, we’ll be planetside soon.”

Tom plodded off down the hall to the galley as Claire turned back to face the approaching moon, her mind on a meal consisting of real food and a decent shower and maybe even a chance to wash her clothes in a real washing machine.

- - -

Wash landed Serenity a hundred meters away from the wreck of a transport ship, right in the middle of a barren plain. Mal headed to the cargo bay where Jayne and Zoe were already waiting. Inara stood on the catwalk outside of her shuttle, and Book and Simon were talking in quiet tones near some crates. He thought he spied River lying prone on the opposite catwalk, though it was too dark to tell. He looked for his mechanic, not seeing her among the assembled crew.

“Anyone seen little Kaylee? I want to get this done as quick as possible.”

“Righ’ here capt’n, jus’ lookin’ at the engine to see what we need most.” Kaylee bounded in, her usual bubbly smile on her face. “It’d be swell if we could find a new catalyzer for the compression coil, since you don’t want to replace the whole thing.” She gave him a quick peck on the cheek before he could retort, hopping down the stairs as she said “I love my captain.” Mal followed her, smiling at the light she always brought to whatever room she was in.

Zoe was already mounted on the mule, its trailer attached. Kaylee jumped on the trailer, comfortably settling into a cross-legged lotus position. Jayne was carrying two different guns over his shoulder, with a pistol strapped to his waist, another strapped to his calf, and at least half a dozen knives in various places on his person. Mal hefted a shotgun on his arm, looking back at the rest of the crew.

“We shouldn’t be long, but you keep the door shut and don’t open it until you know it is us.” He knew the job probably wouldn’t go smoothly, and that he would probably be calling Wash to open the bay doors as they tried to make a quick getaway, but he could always hope.

Zoe drove the mule down the ramp and headed across the plain, the cargo bay doors closing behind them. Mal and Jayne walked beside her, scanning the horizons, guns at the ready for any kind of surprises, as they approached the still wreckage before them. Mal knew that they would undoubtedly find the bodies of the unfortunate crew, and he worried for a moment that it might be too much for his sweet little mechanic to stomach. He also hoped the cargo hold and engine room were intact enough to salvage what they needed.

They made their way to what appeared to be the cargo bay doors. After trying to open them with no success, Mal backed off as Jayne approached with a welding torch, already fired up and ready to burn.

- - -

‘This is quite amusing’ thought Commander Ryan Harley, looking at the viewscreen as purple-uniformed men wandered about. Two Firefly-class transports had entered the system in the past half hour, both seemingly headed for the same place. He had known the wrecked ship would bring the low-life scavengers, and he had purposefully kept the retrieval ships grounded to trap them. He had seen the bulletin about a Firefly carrying stolen Alliance goods and possibly two federal fugitives and thought only about his own promotion and advancement by re-capturing them. Now that they were both within the moon’s atmosphere, he clicked on a comm. unit to give the order.

“Lieutenant, you have clearance to deploy. Bring me all of the crew and passengers of both ships alive and intact, dong ma?”

- - -

Claire landed the ship behind a hill, keeping it out of site of the debris she had seen. Her heart rate had increased significantly when she saw the other Firefly parked near the ship. It couldn’t be, no way! There was no way that hundan could be on the same job that she was hired for, the odds were just too great. Maybe it was just coincidence that it was another Firefly. For a split second, Claire considered scrapping the job and getting off of this rock, but then she remembered that they were broke and flying a stolen ship, and they needed this job.

She briskly headed down to the cargo bay where her mule was waiting, hovering over the cold steel grating of the floor. Tom and Amos came up from their inspection of the passenger quarters, making sure the prisoner was secure, and Anya entered from above, coming from the engine room. Tom and Amos had their heavy guns over their shoulders, pistols and knives strapped to their hips and calves. The four boarded the mule almost simultaneously, in a hurry to get to their pilfering before the crew of the other ship knew what hit them, praying to whichever gods would listen that it wasn’t Mal Reynolds she would be facing.

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Chapter 3

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Chapter 3 Chinese Translations:

tama de (ta ma duh) – fuck me blind

lese (luh-suh) – garbage

mashang (ma shong) – now

jian ta de gui (jien tah-duh guay) – like hell

wo de ma (wuh de ma) – mother of god

- - - - -

“Gorramit, where is that ruttin’ gold?” Jayne grumbled after liberating and prying open what seemed like the hundredth crate. “You don’t think someone else got here before us, that Enrique is just running us around for missin’ that other job, do ya?”

“No, I don’t think he would do that. He is one of the most constant sources of work for us, and he knows that we’d probably want to get even for a stunt like that. Besides, there are still several crates to look through, not to mention the secondary hold.” Mal kicked through shin-high piles of splintered wood, headed for one of the remaining crates. “Zoe, any luck over there?”

“Nothing here sir. Seems like that kind of payload would be secured better than this lese is anyhow. Most of these crates are empty, or full of useless junk. I think we should go ahead and get to the secondary hold.”

Wash’s voice crackled over the comm. in Mal’s pocket. “Mal, it looks like the job got double booked. We’ve got company in the form of another Firefly, though they landed behind a hill, so I am not sure what their game is just yet.”

“Keep an eye on ‘em, and keep the engines hot. Looks like this simple job just stopped going smooth.”

At that moment, Kaylee bounded up from the engine room, grease smears and a smile on her face. “Found us a catalyzer Cap’n, though it doesn’t look to be in much better condition than the one we already got. Found us some other spare parts that’ll save you enough coin to be able to afford a new one though.” She smiled at him, her bottom lip barely protruding in a mock pout. “I’ma head back to Serenity, put some of these parts to use.” Kaylee headed for the cargo bay doors as Mal’s comm. sounded again.

“Uh, Captain? There’s some increased chatter on the 2-6-2, can’t rightly tell what they’re saying, but I am pretty sure they aren’t swapping brownie recipes.”

“Tama de!” Mal exclaimed. “One easy job, is that too much to ask for?” he asked sarcastically, looking straight up for a split second. He looked back down, meeting Zoe’s gaze. “Wash, I am sending Kaylee your way, go ahead and open the door for her. After she is there, lock it up and keep it hot. We don’t get this payload, we won’t have enough to fly outta this system. Jayne, you cover Kaylee, then come find me and Zoe in the second hold.”

Kaylee clutched her rough burlap sack to herself, fear in her eyes. Jayne moved to the door where she was standing, bringing a large automatic rifle from his shoulder to his hands. Kaylee waited for him to get a good view of her path, then turned and began to run toward Serenity. Mal and Zoe watched Kaylee go, then climbed through another doorway hurriedly, trying to find some sign that the cargo they were after was still in the wreckage.

- - -

The mule screamed across the barren plain as Claire urged it to go faster, knowing the crew of the other ship might already know that they were there. Hopefully they could surprise the ones already inside the wrecked ship, if there were any, and offer to spare their lives for a safe getaway.

As they got closer, she thought she could make out the cargo doors of the other Firefly opening and saw a long figure running towards them. The bag that the girl was carrying wouldn’t even hold five percent of the treasure they were looking for, which presented two possible scenarios: either she was carrying the first load or the last one. If it was the first, then Claire would be able to surprise them without much trouble, if it was the last one, then there would be no way to catch them in time in the mule, and it would have to be a space pursuit. Either way, she was determined to get paid.

She felt a cold void in her gut as she saw the markings on the side of the ship, instantly recognizing the one thing she didn’t want to see there.

- - -

“Mal, hovermule approaching from the other Firefly, will be on you inside of five minutes.” Wash replaced the comm. unit, turning to face Shepherd Book. “And I had really hoped that this one would go off without a hitch. I guess if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.”

Book looked down at him, his arms crossed. “It seems to me that Mal and the rest of you seem to get into these little, uh, situations, a lot, and it always works out one way or another.” Book paced back and forth, looking at the spectrum scanner every time he passed it, listening for anything that may tell him what was going on. “On a moon this size, that base has three or four patrol ships at best, a couple dozen at the worst. Still, it’d be tough to handle them in this one ship.”

Wash looked up at him, a surprised look on his face. Book cocked his head to one side, straining to hear what he could from the scanner. Suddenly, he hurried over to it, bending down until he was almost touching it with his ear. Wash could hear him mumbling to himself, and thought he could barely make out the words ‘Harley, you old sonofabitch’.

Looking over at him, Wash was about to ask who Harley was when Book pre-empted his question by saying, “Well, they are definitely headed our way. Six ships, if I am not mistaken, probably with a squad or two each of armed feds. We’ve got twelve, maybe fifteen, minutes before they are in visual range.”

“Do they know it is an illegal salvage operation, or are they just out on patrol?” Wash asked, knowing the answer before he had even finished the question. One ship, maybe two, would be a patrol, but six was definitely something to worry about. In an instant, he had the comm. in his hand again.

“Mal, we’ve got more company. Alliance patrol ships, headed this way, Book says it sounds like at least six of ‘em. You guys want to get back to the ship, mashang?”

“Jian ta de gui! Like I said before, we need this cash to keep flying. Take off once li’l Kaylee is on board, and fly some direction away from them. After a few minutes, drop the pulse beacon out the bottom cargo doors, then load the NavSat decoys into that bay. Actually, see if the good Shepherd and the doc can help Kaylee with both of those, I want you at the helm. Keep flying until you are sure that they have stopped here or wherever you drop the beacon. That other Firefly may work out to our advantage after all.”


“Yeah Wash? Somethin’ important on yer mind?”

“Be careful, and please make sure my wife makes it back in one piece.”

Wash looked out the front of the cockpit, seeing Kaylee almost at the open cargo bay door. He looked over to Book, questioningly. Book silently nodded his acceptance, turning to leave the bridge as Wash prepared Serenity to lift off as soon as her mechanic was securely aboard.

- - -

Jayne watched Kaylee run up the ramp into the ship, a confused look plastered to his face as they lifted off. ‘Did we just get left?’ He headed back to find Mal and Zoe and see if they had found the gold yet, or at least an explanation of why Wash was taking the gorram ship and leaving, kicking splintered crates out of his way as he climbed further into the ship.

He found Zoe standing guard outside of the secondary cargo hold. She motioned him inside, keeping her eyes on the passageway he had just come up. It was narrow and somewhat compact, and would make a good holding point when the crew from the other ship got here. Dealing with the Alliance squads would take another kind of finesse altogether, but they would cross that bridge when they came to it.

“Wo de ma, we’re rich!” Jayne’s voice rang out from the cargo hold, echoing down the small confines of the passageway.

“Jayne, shut yer ruttin’ mouth before I sew it shut.” Mal hissed. “We got no shortage of trouble ridin’ in on us and letting them know where we are on this wreck is just asking for the job to go south, well, more south than it already has gone.”

“You gotta plan, Sir?” Zoe asked stoically, her eyes still scanning the passageways for any signs of their adversaries.

“Yeah, and does your plan involve Wash flyin’ off with yer ship and everyone else aboard it?”

“Yes, I have a plan, and yes, Wash flying off is part of that plan.” Mal glared at Jayne before continuing. “While y’all are makin’ such a fuss, you could be shuttin’ up so I can tell you about it.”

Jayne sneered at Mal, and Zoe gave him a cold look, but neither said anything more.

“The idea is to figure out who exactly these other salvagers are, get the drop on them. Wash’s flying away should give us enough time to load the goods onto their ship, which is a Firefly, and to fly off in another direction, meeting up with Wash after we lose the feds.”

“Well, what if the ruttin’ feds don’t follow Wash? You got a plan for that one?”

“Well, if that happens, the plan is obviously right out the window.”

“Sir, can you even fly the Firefly?”

“Well, no, but I am sure I can learn it easy enough. Besides, maybe we can hijack their pilot, seeing as our Secretary of Public Relations can be very persuasive.”

Jayne smiled big at the mention of his faux title, looking down at the array of weaponry he was carrying.

“Jayne, find somewhere to hide yourself so you are covering us, I want them to think they have the advantage on us. Zoe, help me load this treasure into the bags.”

Jayne left, climbing up several bulkheads and rafters to find a point that couldn’t be seen except from the secondary hold itself while affording him a view of the entire passageway on both sides of the hold’s entrance.

Zoe and Mal began loading the heavy bars into large black canvas bags, working in silence for several moments, then Zoe looked up at Mal, breaking the silence.

“You really think this is going to work Sir?”

“Do you even need to ask?”

“Well, it’s just that things never seem to go according to the plan. We aren’t just dealing with irritating middlemen here, these are squads of armed feds. You do realize what they will do to us, don’t you?”

“Tryin’ not to think about it, darlin’. We gotta do the job, everything else is just details.”

- - -

Claire left the mule on the far side of the wreckage, out of view of anyone on Serenity that may be watching. She led the way around the ship, hoping to use the same entrance Mal and his crew had used. Tom was following her, his eyes and automatic weapon constantly scanning for any sign of an opponent. Anya followed Tom, a heavy pistol in her hand, and Amos was watching their backs, creeping backwards along the crushed metal hull of the ship.

As she came around the corner, she turned to look at the other Firefly, her eyes opening wide in amazement when she saw that it was no longer there. She figured that they had either gotten the cargo, or that someone else entirely had also known about this and had gotten here before both of them. There was also the chance that some emergency had drawn them away and the treasure was still intact. That slight chance led Claire to believe that she should just at least make a quick scan of the ship and its cargo.

Making it around to the door, she peered inside, gun hand leading in case of an ambush. Several years in the Browncoat army and countless battles and skirmishes had made her cautious no matter what the situation was. As her eyes adjusted to the room, her heart plummeted into her stomach. There were dozens, hundreds maybe, of smashed crates scattered throughout the room. She entered cautiously, her sidearm and eyes still scanning for any possible threats. The rest of her posse entered, spreading out and taking flanking positions along the walls.

Claire kicked through the debris, cursing herself for not getting here sooner. She considered heading back to her ship, trying to follow Serenity, but they might be out of the system by now, so a few more minutes wouldn’t matter. Odds were good that their fence was on Boros, and a simple wave would make sure that they would be stopped as soon as they landed.

Claire and Amos headed up the stairs on the right as Tom and Anya continued to check through things on the cargo bay floor. Claire was glad that she had avoided seeing Mal, as she didn’t know how she would have taken it. She was also pretty sure that he would have gotten quite a shock at seeing her again.

Her ears perked up as they climbed the stairs, causing her to stop, putting a hand out to stop Amos. She could hear the soft sound of metal on metal, repeated over and over again. She crept up the stairs, Tom and Anya coming over and following to see what had gotten their leader so quiet. As she reached the top of the stairs, she looked around the corner, hoping that she had correctly determined the source of the sounds.

Her eyes confirmed her suspicions, and her heart began to race at the two surprises before her. She had never expected to see Malcolm Reynolds again, much less to catch him off his guard. She also hadn’t expected the gold to be still on the ship. Smiling to herself, she brought her gun to level with the backs of the two brown-coated figures, her smile growing bigger when he jumped slightly at the sound of her voice.

“How’s tricks, Mal?”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Chapter 4

- - - - -

Chapter 4 Chinese Translations:

meimei (mei-mei) – little sister

tama de (ta ma duh) – fuck me blind

- - - - -

“Keep your hands where I can see ‘em, both of you.” Claire smiled, happy to have the advantage on this infuriating man for once in her lifetime. “Now turn, slowly, and I’ll put a bullet in either of you if your hand goes anywhere near iron.”

Mal and Zoe simultaneously lifted their hands to shoulder level, both turning an about face to their left. They didn’t risk a glance at each others’ faces, not wanting to give away their relative advantage. Upon verifying with his eyes what his ears had already told him, his face broke into a toothy grin.

“Claire Jameson, how wonderful it is to see you again,” he said as he continued smiling, the sarcasm dripping heavily from his words. “To what do I owe this, uh, pleasure?”

“Seems to me you are having a pretty bad day, an’ I thought my presence might make it better.” She stated, the sarcasm in her voice equaling Mal’s as she loosely held her pistol on him. Tom and Anya had entered the room behind her both with weapons trained on the pair, and they could see Amos in the hallway scanning the area, oblivious to Jayne’s hiding spot. “Your crew’s up and left with your ship, you are still the same sad and lonely man you always were, and I just caught you red-handed packing up my gold.”

Mal winced a little, but kept the huge smile on his face. “You always were such a little ray of sunshine Claire, it’s a wonder you have been reduced to petty thievery. I suppose the people with you have personalities that are just as shiny?” Mal’s hands went from being halfway raised to being crossed over his chest. “So what now dearie? It’s your move.”

“Well, I think you and your first mate here are going to carry my gold out and load it on my mule, then lie down in the dirt like the snake you are as I fly off in the only ship that is still here.”

“Seems like you’ve got it all figgered out then.” Mal quipped, not taking his eyes away from hers, the smile on his face never wavering. “Except, what are you going to do about the half dozen Alliance patrol ships headed here right now, most likely locked on to the only ship that is still here?”

- - -

“Won’t make it back alive.”

“What River? What do you mean? Who won’t make it back alive?”

River and Simon sat in the comfy chairs of common room. He was pouring over some medical texts on a portable viewscreen as she was resting her eyes and mind, exhausted from the intense testing Simon had been doing all morning. So far, he hadn’t been able to do anything to make a difference in the way she was acting. She still had her lucid periods, when it was like talking to anyone else on the ship, but she would suddenly flip and be completely incomprehensible almost instantly. She was also still refusing to talk to him at all about what had happened to her at the Academy.

“River, who are you talking about?”

“He flies in, tries to be the hero, but he won’t come out of there alive.”

Simon closed his eyes in concentration, feeling another headache coming on as a result of trying to understand what was going through his sister’s mind. He thought about trying some more tests, but it was already hard enough to get her to go into the infirmary even once a day, and he was also running out of tests that he thought would give him answers.

They both felt the downward pull as the ship lifted off, Simon still becoming nauseated as he got used to Wash’s somewhat abrupt style of flying. He could faintly hear footsteps coming from the direction of the bridge, and a moment later Shepherd Book stepped through the doorway, making his way across the galley to where they sat.

“Good afternoon, Simon, River.” He spoke softly but with a sense of urgency. “Doctor, I wonder if you wouldn’t mind helping me with a little task?” Simon looked up at the older man, a confused look on his face. “It seems the caper has become more complex, and the Captain has requested some help so we are not run down and captured by the Alliance ships headed this way.”

Simon’s eyes widened as he turned to look at his sister, who was now counting the holes in the metal grating of a wall panel. “What can I do to help?” he asked, fidgeting furiously with the nail on his left index finger. “Anything to keep us safe, that doesn’t involve me killing someone that is, I will do.”

Book nodded, smiling slightly. “No killing involved, else I wouldn’t be doing it either, but there are a few things I could use your help lifting and operating in the cargo bay. I need to get something from the bridge, but I will meet you down there.” He looked at River for a second, then turned back to Simon. “I believe the floors there should have enough holes to keep her happily counting for a few minutes at least.” He turned and headed back to the bridge as Simon stood, turning off the viewscreen in his lap.

River turned to smile at him. “Eighteen thousand, four hundred and twelve holes,” she announced proudly. “I’ll bet I can count to ten million before you can.” She stood, gracefully half-skipping her way down the hall to the stairs that would take them to the cargo bay, Simon following her with a frustrated frown on his face.

- - -

“You’re bluffing. You are just stalling while you try to think of some foolhardy plan to get out of this mess.”

“You know that, do ya? Got a long range scanner under that coat somewhere?”

Pursing her lips and narrowing her eyes, she gritted out through clenched teeth, “Just pick up the bags, and carry them to my mule. NOW!”

The grin re-appeared on Mal’s face as he leaned back on the crate they had found the gold bars in, his arms still crossed across his chest. “I have a better idea. How about you and your man-apes carry my bags full of my gold down to my new mule?”

Her voice dripping with venom, her eyes narrowed to barely open slits, Claire lowered her gun to a very sensitive region below his naval. “Mal Reynolds, what do you think you are playing at? I can make you hurt like you have never hurt before, and I’ll sit here and watch you slowly bleed out from parts of you that would be better off never seeing the light of day again.” She drew in a deep breath, seemingly steeling herself to take the shot.

Still smiling, Mal said, “You do that, dear,” Jayne cocked his high powered rifle loudly, “And you’ll be breathin’ through a hole the size of a grapefruit for the last few seconds that you’re alive.” Tom and Amos turned their heads to look for the source of the sound, keeping their weapons trained on Mal and Zoe. Their eyes widened as they noticed the large gun that was pointed at them, the equally large man behind it looking very eager to use it. “Now, what was that you were saying about bleeding out?”

Knowing that firing her weapon now would only end in a bloodbath that included the deaths of herself and her posse, Claire reluctantly lowered her weapon, prompting the others to do the same. Mal and Zoe relieved them of the hardware, standing back to cover them as the two large men solemnly lumbered forward to heft the large black bags over their shoulders.

“Now, I know I should leave you in the dirt like the backstabbing bitch you are, but I have a way for all of us to get out of here without being in Alliance custody. We need to move, now.” He motioned to Anya with Tom’s large rifle. “You, sweetheart, lead the way. Everyone follow her in a line, and if anyone so much as twitches their hand toward what I even think is a weapon I will drop you where you stand.”

- - -

Book entered the cargo bay down the stairs leading from the crew quarters, moving quickly but not hurrying. He had a small black box in his hand, a pair of thick black wires protruding from both ends and a red blinking light in the dead center of it. Simon looked quizzically at it as Book headed toward the cargo door nested within the floor of the bay.

“It’s a pulse beacon, one way of tracking ships. The Captain wants us to get rid of it to try and give the Alliance cruisers a harder time in finding us.” He paused a minute before continuing. “It’s a good idea, and it should work, unless they have already visually spotted us, in which case we will have to rely on Wash’s impeccable piloting skills to get us safely away.”

He turned and lifted a small hatch, dropping the beacon into the space below the floor. He then walked over past the controls and to the comm., hitting the button to connect him to the bridge.

“Wash, I am dropping the pulse beacon now. Going to get Simon to help me load the decoys, then we will wait here for your mark to open the doors for the others.”

Wash made an affirmative noise of acceptance, then cut off the comm. Book reached over to the control panel, flipping a small metal switch. They could hear the doors below opening momentarily, then the hydraulics of re-closing as Book toggled the switch back to its original state.

Simon looked over to River as Book moved toward a collection of crates on the right side of the cargo bay. She was sitting cross legged on the cool grating of the floor, pointing at the holes as she counted them wordlessly, her lips slightly moving and her brow furrowed in concentration.

“Meimei, how are you feeling?”

“You can’t win by distracting me, Simon, it just won’t work.”

Simon gave her a puzzled look, an adequate response failing to come from his brain. He returned his focus to Shepherd Book and the crates he was prying open. He walked over, grabbing one side of a loosened top as Book set the crowbar down and grabbed the other. They lifted it and set it aside, returning to look into the large crate. There were 4 large cylinders in the crate, each having various transmitters and receivers attached to the white case. There were scratches over what were presumably serial or identification numbers.

“Wash said these were already configured to Serenity’s NavSat, we just have to physically load them into the lower bay so they can be used if need be for an escape.”

Simon reached in to lift one side of one of the decoys as Book took the other end. The devices were surprisingly light, their looks being very deceptive. Simon let Book lift it alone then reached in for a second one. They carried the pair of satellites to the opening doors, setting them carefully inside. Simon returned to the open crate as Book grabbed the crowbar and began to pry open an identical one right beside it. After a few more minutes they had loaded all eight satellites into the lower bay and Book had shut the doors.

“Now what?” Simon asked, turning to make sure River was okay.

“We wait. We pray. We hope that the feds act like feds normally do.”

- - -

Anya lead the group back down through the ship, Tom and Amos behind her carrying the heavy black bags filled with gold bars. Claire walked behind them, with Mal flanking her on the right side. Zoe and Jayne followed, their guns trained on the other crew and their eyes constantly searching for any signs of an ambush. The last thing they wanted at this point was another surprise. Claire cleared her throat, breaking the silence that surrounded the odd little group.

“How do you plan to get us out of this one Mal?” she asked sarcastically, keeping her eyes focused forward on the rest of her posse. “You gonna heroically fight off several squads of armed feds with a couple of gunhands? Sounds like you’ve been out here in the Black too long, the space dementia is gettin’ to ya.”

Mal couldn’t see the smile on her face, though he knew it was there. “Actually, you and your boys are gonna help out.” She stopped in her tracks, unable to believe what she had heard. Mal kept moving, poking the barrel of his confiscated rifle hard into her back. “It would seem to me that you haven’t got much choice.”

“So, if I don’t help you kill federal troops, you are going to kill us?”

“Actually, I was thinkin’ I might give you a cut of my treasure if’n you did. If not, well, we can certainly tie you up for the reinforcements to find you later.”

“What, like 50-50?”

“I was thinking 75-25.”

“How about 60-40?”


“C’mon Mal, I owe my guy the 40. If I get that I’ll be even, any less and I’ve gotta start killin’ folk.”

“Well I guess you’ll have to kill some folk. 70-30 is as low as I will go.”

They exited the ruined ship, following Anya around to where the mule had been left. After Mal’s last comment, Claire had become deathly silent. It wasn’t until they reached the idling mule that she spoke again.

“So, Mal, you criminal mastermind, how are we all gonna get to my ship?”

“Well, darlin’, since you asked so nice like, I’ll tell ya. Zoe is gonna fly you and me and one of your large friends to your ship, as well as one of the bags of my gold. Then Zoe’s gonna come back and get the rest of everyone while we sit and play nice.”

Claire nodded her approval, biting her tongue to keep a smartass retort from escaping. She climbed unto the mule, taking the passenger seat as Zoe settled herself into the driver’s position. Tom climbed into the back, hoisting the heavy black canvas bag in between the two rear seats. Mal turned to look at Jayne, who had slung his rifle over his shoulder and drawn two pistols, which he kept trained on the remaining members of the other crew. He nodded to Mal, who then turned and climbed into the mule, his pistol out in a relaxed right hand, the heavy automatic gun slung over his opposite shoulder.

They traveled in silence, the wind whipping through their hair and clothes, making conversation impossible. As they reached the other Firefly, Mal hopped down, motioning for Tom and Claire to do the same. With a nod of his head, Mal dismissed Zoe to retrieve the others, turning to usher the two into the ship’s cargo bay with his pistol.

“Do you really think this is going to work, Mal?” Claire asked as they climbed the open cargo bay ramp, watching her mule disappear into the dust cloud it had just created. “I know how you are about Alliance soldiers.”

“You even have to ask?” he questioned, pointing Tom to the cargo hideaway near the right staircase. “’Specially knowing how I am about Alliance soldiers.” He flashed her a broad grin as Tom shoved the heavy bag into the dark space.

Two minutes later, Zoe pulled the mule up the cargo ramp, getting as close to the door to the passenger dormitories as she could. Jayne jumped down and covered Amos and Anya as they got down themselves. Zoe came down to Mal’s side as Tom helped Amos shove the other bag into the hole, covering it when they had them safely stowed.

Claire opened her mouth to speak, but whatever she had to say was drowned out by the roar of aircraft soaring overhead. They rushed to the exit looking skyward and shielding their eyes from the sun with their hands.

“Tama de!” Mal exclaimed, staring off after the ships that had flown over them. “There were six of them, and four kept on going. I hope Wash got that pulse beacon dropped far enough behind himself.”

“Mal, shouldn’t we be more concerned with those?” Jayne asked, pointing to the two patrol ships that had landed halfway between the wreckage they had just left and their current location. “They know we’re here, there’s no arguing that.”

Mal glared at his mercenary for his statement of the obvious as he watched a squad of ten armed feds disembark from each of the two ships. Shortly thereafter, one of the ships took off again and began to circle the area. Mal returned his focus to the twenty armed men that were now headed toward them, still working out the details in his head of exactly how he was going to get out of this.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Chapter 5

- - - - -

Chapter 5 Chinese Translations:

shuai (swai) – handsome

hundan (hwoon dan) – bastard

yao guai hu li jing – devil enchantress

xiongmeng de kuangren (shiong-mung duh kwong-run) – violent lunatic

- - - - -

Mal looked around at the little group, stunned into silence by the imminent confrontation that was much closer than he preferred it to be. Aside from Zoe, the rest of them seemed to be in the same state he was. Zoe was checking her weapon, making sure it was fully loaded, and moving up to the catwalks above the cargo bay floor. Gorram if that woman wasn’t as cool and precise as ever even under the stress of the coming gun battle.

“Okay, listen up.” Mal admonished, turning to face the rest of the assembly. “We’ll be in range to trade lead in a minute and a half, and I think we definitely have the advantage. We’ll close up the ramp, leaving only the airlock door open, and wait inside for their entry. I figure they don’t know exactly how many of us there are, so if we spread out through out ship in small groups we’ll have a better chance of taking more of them out before they are able to radio for backup. Claire, you’re with me. Jayne and Zoe will be another group, and the rest of you will be a third.” He paused, turning to face Amos and tossing the man’s gun back to him. He also tossed the man a little black box containing an earwig transmitter/receiver. Amos inserted the device into his ear as Tom walked over to the stairs where Zoe had left his gun leaning against a railing, picking it up and inspecting it to make sure it was ready for the approaching fight.

“There’s a crew member of this ship restrained in one of the passenger dorms,” Claire blurted out, her cheeks reddening slightly at the proclamation. Mal looked at her, one eyebrow raised in apparent admiration for her mercy for the original owners of the ship. She shrugged, looking down at her feet. “We will take the galley, so we have an exit down to the dorms or to the bridge or engine room if we need it. Tom, Amos, and Anya, take the infirmary and common area, that way they cannot get behind either of us.”

Jayne had already begun to follow Zoe up the stairs to the catwalks. “We’ll be on the bridge, plenty of hidin’ places and escape routes there.” He hefted his large gun over his shoulder as he disappeared through the doorway. Claire hit the controls to close the ramp, then nodded to Tom as Mal began to climb the stairs, she followed him toward the galley as the rest of her posse withdrew to the ship’s common area.

- - -

Kaylee entered the cargo bay, smearing a grease mark on her face as she tried to wipe it off. Looking down, she could see Simon and Shepherd Book talking idly beside the bay door controls, and River wandering absentmindedly around the floor, pointing at different spots on the floor as her lips moved silently. She bounced lightly down the stairs, turning her intoxicating smile on the young doctor as she approached them.

“What’s goin’ on?” she asked, cocking her head to one side as she continued to smile at Simon.

“Crime.” He stated plainly, a smile creeping at the corners of his mouth as well, proud to be able to use her expression and tone from the last time the lower cargo doors were utilized for a job. He desperately wanted to be relaxed and playful with her, and he figured this was as good a start as any. “We got the NavSat decoys loaded up and now we are just playing the waiting game.”

Kaylee’s eyes twinkled, remembering their interaction a few weeks ago when she had defended this shuai doctor that she hardly knew to the vulgar mercenary. “Ooh, crime, my new favorite passti...”

“She’s going to get a surprise that she’ll never see coming.”

River’s soft voice carried across the cargo bay, bringing a halt to the conversation. She was standing still, staring off into nothingness as she swayed in place. Simon hastily walked over to her, his features instantly becoming expressionless as his brain entered doctor mode. The incoherency of his sister’s thoughts and spoken words continued to trouble him, giving him both frustration in his inability to cure her and anger at the people who did whatever they did to her.

“River, who’s going to get a surprise?”

River turned to regard him with curious eyes, as if seeing him for the first time in months. “She misses him, and she’s jealous of all of us.” Simon, with a look of confusion on his face, continued to regard her in silence as she continued. “She wants things her way, just like he does, and she is more stubborn than he by far.” She smiled at Simon, turning again to look at the floor. “Six million, two hundred seventy thousand, four hundred twenty so far, how many have you counted, Simon?”

“Uh, well, only a couple of thousand River, I’ve been helping Shepherd Book load the satellites.”

She looked up at him, smiled, sticking out her tongue. “Told you I would do it before you.”

- - -

Ryan Harley walked briskly down the empty corridor, flanked by two pairs of elite commandos. They traveled in silence toward his personal craft, a small ship that was exceptionally fast and should get to the site right as they subdued his target. He had been looking forward to this bit of sweet revenge since the War ended six years ago. Now, within the hour, he would finally be face to face with her again, this time with the roles reversed and the advantage in his favor.

- - -

Mal and Claire headed to the galley, no words exchanged between them as they checked the room for vantage points. Mal decided on a spot behind the stove as Claire went to look behind the counter containing the cooking range. They both seemed content with their respective findings, and met in the middle of the room, near the large table.

“Whadda ya figure?” she asked him coolly, trying to keep her voice from betraying how she was really feeling about him. “Squads of five, two with radios, two without?”

“If’n they still do things like they used to, I’d say that’s a fair assessment.” Mal looked around for things he could move to create more cover, finally deciding on the dining table itself. He dragged it to the back of the room, flipping it on it’s side near the stove. “Good, solid wood table. Should block most of what they throw at us, seeing as they will most likely have sonic rifles and concussion grenades, try to take us alive so we can be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I assume you are still not opposed to killing the Purplebelly hundans.”

“Mal, you know for a fact that I will never be opposed to that, as long as I still have breath within my body. You got a plan, or do we just wing it like we used to always do?”

“The way I see it, they have to come in that door there,” he gestured to the door opposite of his fortification. “I’ll start shooting first, draw them into the room, then you can pop up and surprise them. We should be able to drop an entire squad before they really know what hit them. Sound good?”

“Works for me. Let’s get set.”

- - -

“I figger Mal and that yao guai hu li jing have a history, and I figger you know somethin’ about it, so let’s have it.” Jayne had partially hidden himself in the recess in the front of the bridge, the lower level being optimal for remaining unseen. Of the three groups’ stations, theirs was the most precarious, having a long hallway to traverse before an escape route would be available. “Or, dare I say it, has he known her longer than he has known you?”

Zoe fixed Jayne with a cold stare, re-checking her weapons one final time to make sure they were loaded and ready. “We knew her in the war, she worked special ops. If you think I can be icy and harsh, well, that woman would make me seem tame and cuddly.” Zoe worked herself into a little niche, using the walls to then brace herself for a short climb up to the open area above the bridge. From her vantage point, she could see anyone coming in the room without them seeing her. Satisfied with her position, she spoke once again, “She and Mal hooked up for a while a couple of years after the War, she traveled on Serenity with us for a while. I don’t know why, but one day Mal decided that he didn’t want her around anymore, so he tossed her out on her duff and didn’t look back.”

Jayne laughed to himself, his eyes continuously scanning for any signs of the approaching skirmish. “At least he has good taste when it comes to their looks.”

- - -

Eighteen federal grunts rushed into the cargo bay single file, spreading out along the back wall as they did and covering all of the visible doors with their sonic rifles. Two sergeants entered last, taking positions on either side of the door. The shorter of the two turned, motioning for five men to head up the stairs leading to the bridge. He then motioned to his remaining four men to follow him as he headed toward the rear door of the cargo bay to the stairs that would lead up to the hallway outside the opposite end of the galley.

The remaining sergeant motioned for five of his men to go to the lower door that led to the common area, staying behind with the remaining four men to provide backup when it was needed. His mouth curved into a sneer as he thought about the hefty bonus he would get for apprehending this Priority One subject and her worthless Browncoat friends.

- - -

“Shepherd Book, what did you do before you became a preacher?”

Book turned to look at the young mechanic, a genuine look of surprise on his face. Simon had wandered off to stand beside River, his brotherly and doctor’s instincts intertwined as he continued to attempt to assess what had been done to her in an attempt to help to make her well again.

“Well, Kaylee, that is a bit of a bold question, and the answer lies in many long stories that would be better told around the dinner table or a campfire on a beach. Suffice it to say, I lived and worked on several Core worlds in some mid- to high-level positions.”

“Yeah, but what’d you do?” She smiled her mesmerizing smile at him, eyelashes over big eyes fluttering to enhance the effect.

“Maybe someday I’ll get the chance to tell you,” he winked conspiratorially at her, smiling and continuing in his soft yet stern voice, “but that day is not today.”

Kaylee poked her lip out in a mock pout, then bounded over to where Simon was standing beside a sitting River, the sibling pair looking a bit more relaxed than before.

“Hey you two, how’s it going?”

“We’re counting holes in the floor, River is somewhere over nine million, several orders of magnitude beyond myself. You can, uh, well, you can join us if you’d care to.”

“I gotta get back to the engine room, Wash’s gonna need me there if we need to make a quick getaway for whatever reason. ‘sides, I would have an advantage, seein’ as I already done counted them all myself at least twice.”

Smiling at them, she headed back up the stairs toward the engine room, River’s eyes following her with an envious stare.

- - -

Mal heard the footsteps of the first Alliance squad as it made its way to the bridge. They weren’t exactly trying to be stealthy, but then again, that wasn’t their way. The second squad was making their way up the stairs and into the galley. The first of the group entered, sweeping the room with his rifle as he moved along the right wall. The second moved in and started for the counter that Claire was hiding behind. Mal aimed his pistol at the soldier’s head as their sergeant stepped into the room. Mal could see the comm. unit on his belt, and in a split second decision he changed his target.

Three shots rang out, almost perfectly in time with one another. The fed approaching Claire had a new hole in his throat, which he was clenching with the last fading bit of strength he had as he fell to the floor. Mal’s shot had shattered the comm. unit, penetrating the device, his belt, and into the pelvic bone of the surprised sergeant. The third shot rang out from the bridge, and Mal knew that either Jayne or Zoe had dropped another one. Mal squeezed off a second shot as the sergeant turned to face him, catching him in the dead center of his forehead and knocking his already lifeless body backwards into the hallway, spraying blood and brain fragments on the men that remained standing.

Immediately following the shots was a confusion of shouting from the surviving men that allowed Mal to dive behind the stove and Claire to re-situate herself inside the small pantry, firing a shot that pierced both lungs of the first man into the room. Several more shots rang out from both the bridge and below, as well as the telltale sound of the sonic rifles’ discharge.

Claire dove out of her hiding spot, a shoulder roll taking her to the opposite side of the room. She already had her pistol trained on another man, into whose chest she quickly fired three shots, one of which was stopped by his armor. The fifth and final man of the squad came into the room, aiming at Claire’s crouching form. Mal leveled his pistol at the man’s right ear, pulling the trigger as he turned his face instinctively to avoid the inevitable splatter of bone fragments and gray matter that would rebound from the opposite wall, though it would be too far away to even come close to touching him.

A muffled scream rang out from the passenger dorms below, followed by a soft thumping sound. Claire looked at the dead and dying men strewn about on the floor, then ran to the door through which they came at full speed, crossing the threshold as Mal realized where she was going. Mal heard a gruff voice in his ear as his body seemed to be operating in slow motion.

“Anya’s hit, and we are pinned down. Some help would not be unappreciated.”

“Oh no you don’t...” Mal stuttered out as he leapt over the table barricade, following on her heels as fast as his own feet would carry him. As he reached the cargo bay, he saw the other sergeant headed up the passage leading to the bridge as Claire hopped down the stairs three at a time.

“Jayne, you have more incoming. Try to get the comm. unit so we can call in an All-Clear and keep the reinforcements at bay.”

Mal heard Jayne grunt a response as he continued down the stairs after Claire, seeing her pressed against the wall and aiming into the common area. Mal stepped through the door, pistol in hand, and proceeded to quickly fire off four more shots, dropping the remaining three feds with a variety of injuries. Claire shoved her way past him, giving him a scowl as she headed for her mechanic’s side. Tom had already lifted her, carrying her into the infirmary as Amos continued to cover them, his eyes constantly scanning for any more hostiles.

Mal heard a few more gunshots and sonic rifle blasts, then a loud curse through his earwig from his mercenary.

“Gorram xiongmeng de kuangren has a real gun, shot me in the ruttin’ hand.”

Jayne aimed and fired, returning the injury to his assailant and effectively ending the firefight. Moving himself from his cover, he was on the man faster than a man his size should be able to be. Using his uninjured hand, he grabbed the comm. unit off of the man’s belt, tossing it aside as a murderous look flashed behind his cold, dark eyes...

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Chapter 6

- - - - -

Chapter 6 Chinese Translations:

niao shi de dugui (niao se duh DOO-gway) – piss soaked pikers

lese (luh-suh) – garbage

tama de hundan (tah mah duh hwoon dahns) – mother fucking sons of bitches

- - - - -

Jayne grabbed the man’s bloodied and useless hand in his own good one, squeezing relentlessly as he forced the air from his lungs with his massive knees. The scream that escaped the sergeant’s lips turned into a rushing exhale of air, followed by a slight gasp as no air was allowed back in. The massive weight of Jayne on his chest was causing immense strain on his organs and ribcage, his eyes bulging out of his skull due to lack of oxygen. As little black dots began to cloud his vision, he felt the instantaneous relief as his lungs automatically drew in breath when the weight was removed from his chest.

The side of the large mercenary’s wounded hand came down hard on the prone man’s throat, immediately bruising and dislocating the majority of the cartilage and muscles used to output sounds. The hand itself was mostly covered in blood, a large hole through the flesh and bone at the base of the thumb. Jayne then made a fist with the hand, slugging the man across the face with a left hook.

“Jayne, what the hell are you doing?”

“Just...” he brought his right elbow down hard into the sergeant’s stomach, causing him to reflexively curl into a fetal position, “teaching…” his right fist slammed into the man’s back and left kidney several times, resulting in an arching of his back against the pain, “him...” Jayne stood up, stretching out the other man’s leg before bringing his heavy booted foot down on his calf, easily snapping the bone there, “some...” using his good hand, he pounded on the man’s torso several times, crushing the man’s ribs and organs into the cold deck of the bridge, feeling several ribs crack as he did so, “manners...” Jayne balled his injured hand into a fist once more, throwing several punches across the man’s face, breaking his nose and knocking several teeth loose.

Zoe had climbed down from her vantage point, still covering the doorway to the bridge in case they had a straggler that decided to try to be a hero. She counted nine kills, with Jayne slowly working on a tenth. She knew there was no way the sergeant would survive Jayne’s assault, and frankly, she had no remorse for letting it continue. The idiot had made his choice, joining the Alliance forces as soon as he reached 18 most likely. She did feel a little sorry for the 18 year old version of this man, being duped by promises of a ‘better’ universe, everyone united under one oppressive, cabalistic ruling body. Watching him out of the corner of her eye, she gained a little more respect for Jayne, both for the fact that he was doing this to an Alliance officer and because he was doing such an impressive job with only his bare hands.

“Sir, I count ten down up here on the bridge.” Jayne held the man’s left arm straight, forcing his good hand into the elbow with enough force to turn the joint inside out. “Jayne’s injured, but not incapacitated.” Jayne stood again, stomping a heavy rhythm into the sergeant’s midsection and sternum. “What’s our next move, sir?” Jayne straddled the semi-conscious man, knees on either side of his chest, causing his erratic breathing to increase in intensity as he struggled to take in enough air to keep himself conscious. Jayne, clenching his hands into tight fists once more, proceeded to pummel the man’s bruised and bloodied face, unrelenting in his assault until the blows no longer caused even a twitch to travel the length of the limp and lifeless body.

“Good work Zoe. I want you to go to the cargo bay, keep an eye on the stash without appearing to do so. One of theirs was hit with a sonic rifle, trying to fix her up now, but you and I both know that Claire can’t be trusted not to double cross us, especially after turning the tables on her. Jayne, get down here and we’ll see to your injuries as best we can, though I must admit I am no top three percent doctor.” The light tone in his voice told them both that he had taken care of things on his end, though Zoe and Jayne were both concerned about the safety of their hidden treasure.

- - -

Book felt the hard banking as Wash changed trajectory once again, taking a roundabout path to return to pick up the rest of the crew while still managing to avoid the fed patrol ships that were no doubt on their tail. Kaylee had returned to the engine room, her happy disposition not sullied at all by his refusal to divulge the details of his past. Simon had escorted River back to their quarters, wanting her to rest after the morning of counting and wanting to get some rest himself for whatever was in store for them next. Having the Alliance so close on their trail was a bit unnerving, and he was sure that Mal or Jayne or both of them would come back with a new hole or two for him to patch up.

Focused inwardly as he stood a vigil beside the cargo bay controls, Book didn’t notice Inara until she was almost beside him. He bowed his head slightly to him as she approached, a semi-casual robe covering her lithe form.

“Good morning Shepherd, I hope that all is going well with the job?”

“Well, I, er, that is to say, uh, yes, it is going as well as it can be at the moment, I suppose.” Book had been attempting to contain his inner turmoil at the life of crime he was still adjusting to, and the fact that he was still nervous about it even when talking to the open-minded Companion told him that his convictions might be stronger than he had believed them to be. “How about your morning?”

“Boring and routine clientele pruning. Downloading the latest news from the Core, looking for any business that might be available out here, though it is usually pretty rare and they can be a bit sub-par.”

Book smiled at her, thinking back to a time long ago when he might have patronized fancy women like Inara Serra. Kaylee had brought thoughts and memories to the surface that he hadn’t dealt with in a long time, and thinking about them brought a palpable sadness to his features.

“Penny for your thoughts, Shepherd?”

“Oh, just worried about the eternal salvation of the souls of everyone on this ship, same as usual.”

Inara smiled, knowing Book’s explanation to be an outright lie but not wanting to push the issue or cause more tension while everyone was already stressed enough. She excused herself to return to her shuttle, and he became engrossed in thoughts of the distant past once more.

- - -

Wash stared at the display as he routed himself toward the wreckage where he had left the rest of the crew, not quite believing what he was seeing. The four other Alliance ships had split off into two pairs, each heading in a different direction away from the pulse beacon and thankfully away from the action he was returning to. That part was completely believable, as simple tricks always seemed to confuse the niao shi de dugui. The unbelievable part was the speed of the ship that was approaching him as he circled his destination, continuing the attempt to throw off any pursuers. He was now roughly in-between the Alliance base and the wrecked ship, and it appeared that this new ship was headed from one to the other. The ship moved faster than anything he had ever seen or flown, and even if he turned right now and headed directly to his destination, the other ship would beat him there with no problem.

He also knew that the ship had most likely noticed Serenity on their radar, and he prepared his mind for evasion. Whether it would be this ship or another one they called, the job had definitely taken another wrong turn down an already rough path. Hoping that the little ship wasn’t armed, he banked hard to the right to follow in the path of the faster craft. He pulled the ship’s comm. down, thinking he might be able to pre-empt an engagement.

“Mal, Mal do you read me?”

“You’re ... in and ... Wash, must ... some ... ... interference. ... channel 4.”

Switching the channel, Wash tried once more. “Mal, there is another ship headed your way, moving faster than anything I have even seen. Looks like more trouble to me. I am headed that way as well, though it would probably be best if you guys can get that other bird up and moving.”

“Well, ain’t that just shiny. You keep comin’ this way, we’ll see what we can do about gettin’ airborne.”

Wash replaced the comm., flipping three switches above his head to try and engage a little power boost that might get them back to the rest of the crew before anything else went awry.

- - -

Zoe had taken a perch on the catwalk above the door leading to the infirmary, alertly but casually leaning on the railing so that she could see both the door below and the cargo bay door, still open from the feds’ entry. Zoe had worried that they might send in more people, but Jayne had taken the sergeant’s comm. with him to give to Mal, and hopefully the pilots of the patrol boats would be neutralized soon.

Mal stood outside the infirmary in the common area with Claire and Amos. Tom had seen to Anya, monitoring her vitals as her body recovered from the sonic blast, then helped Jayne get a wrap on his wounded hand to stop the bleeding and prevent infection as best as they could with the rudimentary supplies. Bringing the comm. out of a pocket, he made his attempt to finish getting them out of the situation.

“This is Sergeant Wilkins, we need MedEvac down here. Bring both patrol ships down and come in and help us carry these guys out of here. Over.” Mal was thankful to whatever anal retentive bureaucrat it was who decided to inscribe officers’ names on their issued equipment.

“Roger that Wilkins. What about the Browncoat scum?”

Mal bit back a scathing insult, not wanting to jeopardize in any way their slim chance at getting this to work. “All dead or dying, we are searching for the stolen property now.”

“Is the target restrained? To what extent is she injured?”

Mal froze at this question. Logically, there was only one person they could really be talking about, who he now turned to face. The common area being small, she had heard the entire conversation up to this point. When he looked at her, he noticed a slight blush, and she wouldn’t meet his gaze. Upon clearing his throat, she nodded her head, reminding him to respond to the pilot.

“Yes, she’s here, only some minor injuries. Fought like a devil cat, but in the end we overcame.”

“Good to hear, the Lieutenant and the Commander will also be glad to hear of this. He’s on his way now, and Lieutenant is still off chasing the other lese junker that fled the scene. We’ll be landed and inside in a few. Over.”

Mal turned to Claire, making sure the comm. was turned off. “Now, who do you suppose he was talkin’ ‘bout when he mentioned ‘the target’?”

She brought her face up to look at his, her green eyes aflame. “Do you remember what my duties were towards the end of the war?”

“I seem to ‘member you really liking your job, and that you weren’t allowed to talk about it. Word among the troops was that you special ops folks were workin’ some fed officers over pretty hard.”

“Yeah. It was torture, plain and simple. We were pretty ruthless too, though none of us felt bad for it at the time. Hell, I still don’t. Those tama de hundans deserved everything we did to them and more. Anyhow, the person I suspect is behind this is one who I never got to finish working on, due to some very motivated Alliance commandos. My partner and I escaped with our lives, but they were able to retrieve the man we had in captivity. Ryan Harley. It sounds like he is a Commander now, which doesn’t surprise me. Very ambitious man, that one. Dangerous too, at least he can be. Ordered the gassing and other cruel deaths of hundreds of our Browncoat brethren.”

“Right, well as much as I’d love to stay here and reminisce with you about this guy, I have an ambush to pull off.” Mal turned to head up the stairs to the cargo bay when he felt her strong grip on his upper arm.

“Mal, you look me in the eye and tell me you don’t miss what we had.”

Completely taken aback, the look of shock on his face was only momentarily displayed before the stoic mask replaced it. “Claire, you know I’m not one to talk about things in the past. You’d do well the do the same.” He shrugged off her grip, hurrying up the stairs to inform his first mate of the plan. Claire stared after him, lost in thought for a moment, then headed for the infirmary to check on her mechanic.

- - -

“Commander, our men have the target in custody. We are currently moving the ships to perform a MedEvac on our wounded. We will wait here for your arrival, assuming the men are not too critically injured.”

“Good, see that you do. Any word from Lieutenant Graham?”

“No sir. Alec, er, I mean , the Lieutenant still hasn’t checked in, and the last any of us saw of him was when he flew off in pursuit of the scum that are trying to get away. I am confident that he will catch up to them and report in soon.”

“I guess I will have to accept that, for now. Stay vigilant and make sure the target is ready for my reclamation. Thank you for your report, Private.”

Cutting off the comm., the pilot landed his ship next to the other one outside the Firefly-class transport, seeing the other pilot awaiting him at the outer door that would take them into the cargo bay.

- - -

Mal and Zoe took up positions on the catwalks, Mal being directly over the entrance and Zoe on the opposite side covering him. He heard heavy footsteps coming up through the airlock, accompanied by loud talking and laughter. These morons really had no clue about combat situations, trusting the word of a superior officer as if it were divine law passed down by the god of all the heavens himself.

The men entered the cargo bay, looking around casually for their compatriots. As one opened his mouth to call for the men he was looking for, two gunshots rang out almost simultaneously. Both men slumped forward, blood leaking out from two perfectly precise holes through the backs of their heads.

Mal and Zoe climbed down quickly as Jayne came back up from the infirmary, hand covered tightly in a clean bandage. “Awww Mal, you didn’t leave one for me?”

Mal shot his mercenary a quick grin, then returned to his task. He and Zoe lifted one lifeless body, carrying it behind a large stack of heavy crates. After moving the other body, he turned to address them both.

“We need to get moving, there are more reinforcements on the way. You guys get the bags out of the hiding place, I will go gather our newly made acquaintances.”

Mal headed back down the stairs, seeing Anya getting herself down from the infirmary table. Claire stood talking to Amos as Tom was returning from the passenger rooms, presumably checking on the captive crew member.

“We need to get out of here now. How attached are you to this new ship of yours?”

“No enough to be captured for it. We are just as ready to go as you are.”

Mal turned to lead them up the stairs to the cargo bay, oblivious to the scowl on Claire’s face. He walked over to where Zoe was struggling with the second bag, which was snagged on a rough edge inside the secret compartment. Jayne had already taken the first one outside, loading it into one of the now empty patrol ships. Claire emerged from the doorway, Tom and Amos directly behind her with their guns out, covering Mal and Zoe once more. A single shot rang out, causing Mal to turn around. He saw the smoke drifting away from the end of Claire’s pistol just as his brain registered the stinging pain of a bullet wound.

“Claire, you shot me! You shot me in the ass!”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Chapter 7

- - - - -

Chapter 7 Chinese Translations ( from ):

bu huihen de pofu (BOO hway-HUN duh PUO-foo) – remorseless harridan

bizui (BEE-jway) – shut up

ben tiansheng de yi dui rou (BUN tyen-shung duh ee-DWAY-RO) – stupid inbred sack of meat

wangbadan de biaozi (wahg-ba DAN duh biao-tze) – whores of sons of bitches

he chusheng zajiao de zanghuo (huh choo-shung tza-jiao duh tzang-huo) – filthy fornicators of livestock

goushi (go-se) – shit

- - - - -

Tom, Amos, and Claire still had their guns trained on Mal and Zoe as Zoe turned to face them, her sidearm already in her hand. Mal’s hand rested lightly on the butt of his pistol, though he hadn’t drawn it.

“Better tell your first mate to stand down, Mal. Ain’ no way she can drop more’n one of us before we drop both of you.”

Mal stared into her fiery green eyes with his cold grey eyes, his face devoid of emotion. He was determined not to let her see any sign that he was disappointed in himself for letting her get the better of him. Looking over at Zoe, he let her know that they had no choice with a nod of his head, causing her to lower her weapon but not holster it.

“Ya see Mal, two can play at the game of turning on someone when it is least expected. Now I’d call us even, though I should find some way to charge you interest for the three years it took to run into you again.”

“This is nowhere near the same,” he exclaimed angrily, his voice rising but barely contained. “I saved your ass today, so you decide to rip me off in return, not to mention a bullet in an uncomfortable place?”

“It sounds exactly the same to me,” Claire snarled, not backing down an inch. “There I was, working to get the feds off of your trail, and what did you do? You tossed me out on my ass, no explanation, no apology, nothing. I figure you owe me the difference in the money, so I think I’ll keep it.”

“Getting the feds off my trail, Claire? You were talking directly to them! Seems like quite the opposite...”

“He was a Browncoat sympathizer, you moron!” She was practically yelling her arguments at him, the rage evident in her face. “Which I told you a countless number of times, you are just too stubborn to listen. He is a Browncoat I knew from the War, and had gotten a fed job to infiltrate their ranks, in order to help people like you!”

Mal opened his mouth to retaliate, stopped to think for a second, then closed it without making a sound, continuing to stare at her with venom and cold steel in his eyes.

“I think that you had better leave,” Claire bit out through clenched teeth, “before I change my mind about letting you live.” Mal could see the barely contained anger fighting to get out and decided to cut his losses before they became worse. Motioning for Zoe to follow him, he limped backward toward the open door, his hand continuing to rest on his pistol. Zoe backed away as well, keeping her gun in her hands.

Once outside, Mal let his mask melt away as the pain from being shot reminded him that it was still there. Zoe, keeping her eyes on the door, broke the silence.

“Is it true Mal? Is that why you kicked her off the boat so quickly?”

“Graham’s a double agent, been so since the War, I just can’t prove it. He worked in the same labs she did, and was present when Harley was a captive. I think that is when he was turned.”

“Did you ever bring that up with her?”

“Yes, several times. She wanted proof. She has known him since the War, worked with him, and even considers him a friend. Wouldn’t surprise me if he were behind this whole job, him or his superior. That reminds me, we need to move, those reinforcements are still on the way.”

Mal turned to face the ship they were not using, drawing his pistol. He fired several shots into a metal box just below the window of the cockpit, causing a small explosion there. He fired several more shots into various components of the ship as Zoe climbed aboard the remaining one, heading to the front to warm it up.

Jayne poked his head out of the side door as Mal limped around to it. “Where’s the rest of the ruttin’ gold? Zoe says this is all we get.” His hand had begun to bleed through the bandage Tom had wrapped it with, and Mal was sure that it hurt Jayne more’n a little, though the giant mercenary would never admit it openly.

“That’s all we are gettin’, double-crossin’ bu huihen de pofu. Let’s move before we get away with even less than we got, or don’t get away at all.”

Jayne hadn’t noticed Mal’s limp until he started walking toward the door to the little ship. As he opened his mouth to ask, the engines roared to life, causing Mal to quicken his pace. Once he was inside with the outer door shut, he felt the ship lift off of the ground, the unsteady tilt almost taking his feet out from under him as he and Jayne both stumbled to keep their balance.

“Gorramit woman, can’t you keep this thing level?” Jayne yelled, leaning against the back wall as the ship began to accelerate.

“Do you wanna try flyin’ this thing, or are you going to just keep making noise? Next time, maybe I’ll open the back doors before accelerating.”

“Bizui! We aren’t in the clear yet. According to Wash, there is another ship headed this way, and there are still the other four patrol boats out there. We need to head toward that base until we pass the approaching ship, gotta look like we are taking wounded troops back to base.” Mal limped forward to the cockpit, reaching for the control that would turn on the scanner and give him access to the 2-6-2.

“Mal, what happened to you? Yer walkin’ like someone stuck a lead pipe up your...”

“That’s enough. I got shot, that’s all. Crazy woman shot me in my ass.”

Trying her best to conceal her smile, Zoe asked, “Is it bad, sir?”

“Is it bad? I got shot in the ass!” Mal smiled, picturing Simon’s response. “Prissy doc’s gonna have a fit when I tell him where he has to take the bullet out.”

Jayne, who had been laughing aloud since Mal mentioned the wound, calmed himself slightly, moved to the front of the ship to talk to the other two. “So, how much’re we gettin’ paid for all our troubles?” He gestured to the large bag full of gold bars. “If’n that’s all ours, I am gonna be one ruttin’ happy man.”

“You might not get to be a ruttin’ happy man,” Mal winced as the pain in his rear reminded him that it was still there, “But you still might be a happy one. Half of that is ours, which makes your ten percent equal to two and a half of those gold bars. If that don’t make you at least a mite happy, I am sure I can find other uses for it.” Mal shot the larger man a smile, knowing that the payment would definitely make his disposition a bit brighter.

“Hell yeah that makes me happy, Mal,” Jayne exclaimed excitedly, the prospect of such a payday helping him to ignore the pain in his left hand. “We gonna go somewhere decent where we can spend some of it?” Jayne opened the zipper of the bag slightly, pulling out one of the heavy metal bars. He held it up in front of his eyes almost reverently, weighing the heft of the solid block in his uninjured hand. “Yeah Mal, this’ll do.”

“Glad to hear it. Zoe, keep us at a constant speed until we are within range of the oncoming ship, and listen up for them to hail us. I’ll talk to him when he calls. Jayne, you make ready in case he is less than convinced by storytelling.”

Zoe rolled her eyes as Jayne attempted and failed to hold in a laugh. Mal turned to the viewscreen, a determined look on his face. He punched in the commands to access the 2-6-2, getting right through on his first attempt.

“Still no sign of them Lieutenant, we don’t know where they could have gone.”

“You guys split up, and I will split with Wedge. I need to meet the Commander, as it seems the others managed to capture the target, and he needs me there. Carry on with the search until you find those Browncoat scum, and bring them to me. Alternatively, you can just kill them, avoid the paperwork and labor from having to process them. Over.”

“That voice was the voice of Lieutenant Alec Graham, former Sergeant of the Browncoat army, now apparently a Lieutenant for the Alliance. I’ll bet you my share of that gold that the Commander he is talking about is Ryan Harley.”

Mal looked up from the screen just in time to see the small blue ship appear on the horizon in front of them.

- - -

Amos lifted the heavy bag onto his left shoulder, his large gun still clenched tightly in his right. Claire and Tom had already moved toward the exit with Anya ambling along behind them, still a little shaken up from the attack. When they were fifteen yards away from the door, they could hear multiple gunshots outside, and by the time they reached the door, the sound of the other ship’s engines filled their ears, gradually lessening as the other craft flew away. Amos could hear Claire’s cursing from outside the cargo bay.

“Ben tiansheng de yi dui rou! Wangbadan de biaozi! He chusheng zajiao de zanghuo! Why the hell didn’t I kill him?”

“Claire, what’s wrong?” Tom asked her, keeping his distance so he didn’t become a target for the physical eruption of her rage.

“Oh, I should have learned the first time not to ever underestimate Mal. I should have either shot him dead on the spot, or at the very least covered him until he got into the ship. Now we have to fly the Firefly, he disabled the other Alliance boat.”

Tom, sensing the urgency in her voice, headed back inside, filling Amos in before heading immediately up to the bridge, Claire following closely behind. Amos slung his gun over his shoulder, hit the button to close the airlock doors, then returned to Anya’s side to help her get to the engine room.

Once on the bridge, Claire began the powerup sequence, strings of unintelligible curses flowing freely from her as she thought of all sorts of horrible things to do to Malcolm Reynolds.

- - -

“2-7-3-Echo-Tango, what’s your destination? Jerry, where’re you going?”

The voice was crisp and clear as it emanated from the comm. on the main console, startling Mal slightly. He quickly turned and grabbed the device, calming his mind to keep his voice steady for the forthcoming storytelling.

“Sir, some of our men are more wounded than we previously thought, and need more immediate medical attention. We left the able-bodied there with the target. She’s a fiery one, ya know?”

“Yes, I am more than aware of her fervor. After you get the wounded settled, prepare your report for me. Over.”

The small blue ship that had been approaching them flew past a moment later, and Mal had to agree with Wash’s assessment that it was one of the fastest he had ever seen.

Replacing the comm. on the console, Mal poked the tiny activator button on the transceiver in his ear. “Wash, we’re clear.” He looked at a terrain map on a side viewscreen. “About forty klicks south of us is a decent canyon where we can meet up, leave this ruttin’ ship and get off of this gorram rock. Coordinates are nine point seventeen point six by eleven point twenty-four point one.”

“We’ll see you there Mal. Do I need to tell Simon to get the infirmary ready?”

Grinning to himself at what the doctor’s reaction would be when he saw the wound, Mal responded, “Yeah, me and Jayne might need a little patching up.”

- - -

Claire continued to curse as the Firefly’s thrusters struggled to power up. Tom watched helplessly, his frustration growing as hers did.

“Anya, is there anything you can do to make this pile of goushi warm up any faster?”

“It should only take a minute more Claire. I am doing all that I can.

The silent moments stretched on to an eternity as Claire watched the indicators that would tell her when the engines were ready. Finally, the LED blinked green and her hands were instantly on the controls. She pulled them toward herself, feeling the ship rise a few meters, then a sudden impact as the ship dropped back to the ground. Looking out the front windows, she could see the green glow of an electromagnetic net. She stood, instinctively reaching for her gun as she realized that it was a futile reaction. The doors slammed shut as the magnetic field began to lock the ship down, a look of abject terror spreading across Claire’s face.

- - -

Zoe landed the stolen Alliance patrol boat in the canyon beside Serenity, Wash, Book, Kaylee, and Simon awaiting them expectantly outside the open cargo bay doors. As Zoe exited the ship, Wash practically ran to her, enveloping her in a large hug. Jayne followed Zoe down the stairs, the large black bag slung over his right shoulder, the bandage on his left hand soaked through from his wound there.

“Jayne, what happened to your hand?” Simon asked, concerned both that it was a severe wound and that he would have to operate on this hulking man-ape. “And who did such a piss-poor job of wrapping it?”

Laughing to himself, Jayne replied, “All I got was this hole in my hand, the Captain has the interesting one. He won’t be sitting down comfortably for a little while.”

Simon replied, trying to keep a straight face. “So, he took one in the ass?”

“Yeah, but it wasn’t the first time.” Wash chimed in, his arm still around Zoe’s waist. Upon seeing Simon’s confused look, Wash explained further. “That’s the same place Patience shot him about a year back, s’the reason Zoe didn’t want to deal with her.”

As if on cue, Mal began his descent down the stairs, turning to look at the assembled crew. The all had expectant looks on their faces, their tight pressed lips barely able to contain their laughter. He limped over, daring them to laugh with the fire in his eyes. “Doc, you get to work on patching up Jayne. Wash, take us up and outta the world. Zoe, you and Book stash the gold, just in case we have any more surprises coming our way.

They all stood staring at him as if he hadn’t said a word. Turning and limping up the open cargo bay ramp, they heard him angrily bark over his shoulder, “You all have jobs to do, go do them.”

- - -

“Claire Jameson, if you present yourself at once I will guarantee that you and any who are with you will be allowed to leave this ship alive. Otherwise, you know I can send a current through the ship and fry you all from the inside out. Make sure you keep your hands where I can see them.”

Conceding to the fact that she was backed into a corner, Claire decided to go along with his demands. She and Tom entered the cargo bay from the bridge, keeping their bare hands in plain sight. She could see him standing alone in the middle of the room, though she knew there were several men stationed around the room, keeping themselves well hidden.

“Come on down here Claire, aren’t you glad to see me? I figure we have a lot of catching up to do, so we can start with you telling me where my stolen gold is.”

Peering down into the room from his perch on the stairway, Amos watched the exchange, knowing that their chances of getting out of this were becoming slimmer by the minute. He retreated up the stairs, activating the earwig he had kept from the previous skirmish.

“Mal. Zoe. Jayne. If any of you can hear me, we need help. I will get you the other twenty percent that Claire neglected to share with you if you come back and help us.”

Mal heard the call, leaning on a crate in the cargo bay as Simon worked on Jayne’s hand. “Why the sudden change of heart? And does Claire know you are making such an offer?”

“If we don’t get some help, we won’t have any of that treasure for ourselves. I figure it’s only fair to get you what you were promised. Claire will see it the same way after it is over.”

“If you say so. You guys try to double cross me again and you’ll wish the Alliance goons had taken you in.”

The only response Mal got to his last threat was the garbled static as the tiny unit went dead.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Chapter 8

- - - - -

Chapter 8 Chinese Translations ( from ):

gen houzi bi diushi (gun HOE-tze bee DIO-se) – engage in a feces hurling contest with a monkey

hundan (hwoon dahn) – bastard

gou cao de (go tsao de) – dog-humping

mashang (ma shong) – now

- - - - -

Ryan Harley knew the instant that he stepped inside the junker that he had been lied to. Though he couldn’t see the bodies, he knew that both squads and their pilots were dead. He had briefly examined the ship that was left outside, noting the scorch marks where the power systems had been disabled. He had silently cursed himself for letting whoever was in the working patrol ship fly right past him, making a mental note to send his favorite Lieutenant after them. He knew the occupants of that hijacked ship were at least partly responsible for the slaughter, and vowed to repay the dept upon them tenfold. He also knew that the gold, or at least most of it, was most likely aboard that ship.

Claire Jameson stared into his face, eyes burning with rage and hands in fists on her hips. Tom stood behind her, leaning on a crate. Aside from being stripped of his weapons, he actually looked bored with regard to what was going on with Claire and Harley.

“I’ll ask you one more time, where is my gold?”

“And I’ll tell you one more time, my accomplice flew off with it. Why is that so hard to believe?”

“Because I know you, Claire, and I know that you wouldn’t let anyone in the ‘verse leave with your share of the loot. I know you’ve got to get some back to your fixer, but I am also positive that there is still some on this boat. You can tell me now, or you can wait until after we get through with the reciprocation I owe you for my treatment six years ago.”

“You can gen houzi bi diushi, you purplebelly hundan.” She spat at his feet, hands still on her hips.

“Language, Claire. You shouldn’t be so rude to people who are able to determine the level of pain that you will feel for the last few days of your miserable life. Now, tell me where the gold is before I start removing finger joints.”

Claire stared back at him, fury still burning in her eyes and her mouth a thin line.

- - -

Inara glided gracefully down the stairs to the floor of the cargo bay where Mal continued to lean on a crate, keeping his injured cheek from any sort of unnecessary contact. Walking over to him, it took all of her resolve to keep from laughing out loud, though she did have a formal looking smile on her face.

“So Captain, I hear you got a new wound in the pursuit of crime.”

“Yes, and before you ask, it was indeed in a very sensitive area. Wanna see?”

“No Mal, I don’t wanna see it. No one needs to see that.”

“Not sure that you could handle such a fine specimen?”

“Please, I have seen them in all shapes and sizes, and judging by what I have seen of you, I have seen better.”

Mal got quiet, his eyes locking on to hers and they continued their banter in silence, the fiery looks passing between them saying more than any words could.

“Mal, we’re warmed up, headed out of the world, should be breaking atmo in five, maybe six minutes.” Wash’s voice rang out over the cargo bay, causing Mal to finally avert his gaze from Inara’s. Walking as quickly as he could without aggravating his injury, he moved to the comm. on the wall beside the cargo bay controls.

“Hold on a sec Wash. I got a message from Amos, he says they are in danger. He also offered us the rest of our share of the gold. As much as I want to get her back for the shot I took, I like to take any chance I can to hit those gou cao de purplebellies where it hurts. The loss of a Commander and possibly one of his Lieutenants would most certainly hurt, and as a side note the extra money wouldn’t be bad either. Zoe, you up for it?”

“Well sir, we will have the element of surprise on our side, and I agree, we can use the money. However, I just want it to be made known that I think it is a bad idea to do anything for her, especially after today’s events.”

“Your opinion is duly noted. Wash, how fast can we back there?”

“Should take us 10 minutes, twelve at the most. You gonna get yer ass patched up?” Wash made no attempt to hide the laughter in his voice, and Mal was sure he could hear Zoe snickering as well.

“Just get us in the air, mashang!”

Mal pushed the button to cut off the comm. unit, turning to look at Inara. As his eyes scanned the room, he realized that she had left while he was talking to Wash, the lingering scent of her perfume being the only indicator that she had even been in the room.

- - -

Lieutenant Alec Graham stood in the cockpit of his patrol boat, watching with arms crossed as his pilot pushed the ship onward toward the wrecked transport. He was barely containing his anticipation at seeing the look on his old partner’s face as he walked in and stood beside Harley.

“Pilot, how long until we’re there?”

“Seven or eight minutes sir.”

“Any word from the other ships? Have they found the runaways?”

“No news on that front Lieutenant, but I will let you know the instant that changes.”

Graham nodded his approval, continuing to stare at the terrain as they passed over it at top speed.

- - -

Ryan had marched Claire and Tom into the Firefly’s common area, two of his commandos continuously moving in the shadows throughout the cargo bay. Using metal cuffs, he attached Tom to a thick section of the ship’s bulkhead, his stare never breaking from Claire’s face.

After the restraints were on, he motioned her into the infirmary. He pointed to the exanimation chair as he pulled more restraints from his belt. He tied her wrists and legs to the chair, smiling with a sadistic delight in his eyes. He stepped over to the drawers in the countertop, rummaging amongst various metal and plastic objects inside. Claire heard metal scrape on metal as he turned around to face her.

“Do you remember the time we spent together before?” He asked in a light voice, brandishing the scalpel casually. “You seemed to really enjoy you job back then, and I think I will get just as much enjoyment out of repaying you the same attentions.”

“You don’t have it in you Harley, you sorry excuse for coward of a man.” She spat at him, hitting his left cheek.

Smiling evilly down at her, he remained silent as he wiped his face on his sleeve. He lowered the sharp instrument to her bared arm, watching her pull uselessly at her restraints with pleasure as the slender blade split the skin, causing her red lifeblood to spill onto the rusted metal floor.

- - -

Alec could see the dark blue ship that belonged to his Commander as he approached, the bright green electromagnetic net visible from even farther away. Still smiling to himself about the look he was expecting to see on Claire’s face, it took several tries for the pilot to get his attention.

“Sir, they have found one of the other patrol ships. It was left in a canyon, the power supplies disabled. We think that escapees from the wreckage were able to hijack it and rendezvous with the other runaways that were being chased, though we are not sure where that ship is due to the pulse beacon trick they pulled on us.”

“Tell them to keep canvassing the areas, starting from that canyon. Maybe they’ll decide to come back for their wayward friend, then we will have them all. Let them know to stay alert, as we may need assistance if they return to the wreckage after we are there.”

Alec crossed his arms, looking out the front windows once more as they approached, landing well away from the base of the net to keep from being affected by it. He led the way out of the ship, his squad following close behind him. At various points, they broke off in pairs, the first stopping at the exit of the patrol ship to stand guard. The next two pairs broke off as they entered the narrow airlock door, one staying outside and the other posting themselves inside. The remaining six followed his brisk walk across the cargo bay, two more splitting off to flank the door to the common area. As he approached the infirmary, the other three men in his squad took up casual observation positions around the room, keeping an eye on the restrained form of Tom and all other entrances to the area.

Alec Graham entered the infirmary, a twisted grin on his face. He looked down at Claire, his smile broadening as comprehension dawned on her face as to the true nature of why he had selected her specifically for this job.

- - -

Amos and Anya had both taken defensive positions inside the engine room. They knew that going out into the cargo bay was suicide due to the probability that more troops were on the way. Amos knew they were cornered, but at least they could see and hear anyone coming toward them. Anya had taken a concealed position almost completely underneath the engine itself, while Amos was in a corner of the room that was tangent to the door, so he could see anyone coming in as soon as they crossed the threshold.

The sound of padded footsteps was barely audible as the figure approached. It kept to the shadows as much as possible, keeping Anya from having a clear shot. As the figure stepped over the bottom lip of the doorway a single gunshot instantly rang out, the splattered blood and brain matter sliding down the wall as the body collapsed, face up, revealing it’s identity.

- - -

Wash and Zoe both spotted the bright green net before they ever saw the little blue ship it was radiating from. Zoe recognized the ship, reaching for the button to activate the comm. above her head.

“Sir, we are approaching the wrecked ship now, there is some sort of electrical net coming from the commander’s ship. What do you want us to do?”

“Have Wash give them a quick flyover with the engines pointed down, should give them the right idea.”

As Zoe released the comm. switch, Wash increased Serenity’s speed slightly, a look of determination on his face as he tried to gain the necessary altitude.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Chapter 9

- - - - -

The lone commando noticed Serenity approaching, though he could do nothing to speed up his escape process. The net contained a very strong current, and once it was grounded it took a gradual decrease to release the connection to the land. He started the de-activation sequence, attempting to force it to move faster by increasing the power to the engines. As he felt the ship slowly begin to pull away from the ground, he realized too late what the approaching vessel planned to do. Releasing his restraining harness, he bolted for the side door, grabbing a parachute pack and breathing mask before throwing himself out of it.

Wash continued to fly Serenity over the smaller ship as he saw the man jump out from the side of it, turning the side thrusters downward toward it. The expulsion from the thrusters forced the ship downward, the resulting tangent with the fading net pulling it forward. The ship continued downward on a parabolic collision course with the ground five yards away from the parked Alliance patrol boat, causing the two guards stationed there to dive for cover.

Wash expertly landed Serenity on the opposite side of the other Firefly from the patrol ship moments later, with Mal, Zoe, and Jayne at the sides of the cargo bay ramp, guns drawn as they scanned for the guards outside of both ships.

“Gorramit, they all got real guns this time,” Jayne half-whispered, dropping the binoculars from his eyes. “Gotta take ‘em down fast.”

Mal nodded to him, signaling him to move out of the front door toward a medium-sized rock for cover. Several shots ricocheted off of the rock and the outer hull of the ship as the four Alliance guards charged towards them. At the first break in their fire, Jayne popped up, firing as soon as he could see his target. The foremost guard’s head snapped back as he fell to the ground, Jayne’s first shot finding its mark with lethal precision. He took aim again as shots rang out from behind him.

Mal had taken out the knee of another guard while Zoe knocked another on his back with a shot to the chest. Mal ran down the ramp toward another rock, dropping himself into a shoulder roll to avoid a bullet that was aimed in his direction. Jayne, seeing the guard distracted by Mal, took the opportunity to put a bullet into his side in the area devoid of armor under his arm. Knowing the shot would pierce at least one of the lungs, he turned his attention to the other two downed guards.

Zoe took a chance during Mal’s distraction to fire several more shots into the chest of the guard that she had knocked over, pausing only to make sure that at least one of them had penetrated the armor. As Mal got to his feet, he peered around the rock just in time to see Jayne fire several shots into the man whose knee he had hit.

Without any exchange of words, Zoe moved down the ramp, covering the entrances to both ships as she moved closer to the Firefly’s open airlock door. As Jayne stood to move a shot rang out behind him. His left arm flew forward, forced into position by the force of the bullet connecting with the flesh of his shoulder. As he dropped himself to the ground, he turned in time to see the parachuting commando landing, his feet running out the extra inertia. As Jayne watched, preparing to take aim at the man, his neck exploded in a shower of blood. The parachute dragged his dying body into one of the idle thrusters of the Firefly, snagging and tearing on idle blades. Zoe, smoke still actively rising from the barrel of her gun, ducked for cover around the side of the thruster. Jayne ducked back behind his rock as Mal moved to a vantage point behind the rear left leg of the landing gear.

Seconds after Mal was in position, the four troops that had been stationed inside the cargo bay came running out the door, guns at the ready and covering each other. Mal waited until they were in a line along the outside of the cargo bay, then leaned out and fired a shot, hitting the lead guard’s nose and driving it through the rest of his head. As all three remaining men turned to look, Jayne half stood behind his rock, unloading half a dozen shots into the arms, legs and lower torso of the last one in line. The remaining two turned so their backs were to each other, dropping to their knees to take aim. One of the guards was able to squeeze his trigger, firing off a few rounds in Mal’s direction before the blast from Zoe’s gun hit them both in the shoulder, the three following blasts knocking the weapons from their hands in addition to the multiple entry wounds on their arms, face, and side. Mal moved in, kicking the guns away from the dying bodies. Zoe went to check Jayne’s wound, which turned out to be a flesh wound than entered and exited very cleanly.

As the trio moved toward the cargo bay door, the patrol boat began to lift off. Mal turned, squinting for a split second before firing a bullet into the main conduit from the power controls into the cockpit. Rocking on its axis, the ship crashed back down the ten meters it had risen, throwing the surprised pilot through the broken glass of the front windows. Mal turned, scanning the entire vicinity before backing toward the ship, keeping watch as Zoe slowly poked her head inside.

- - -

After dragging the body of the dead commando inside the engine room, Amos and Anya had slowly headed toward the engine room, stopping in the galley when they heard the gunshots outside the cargo bay. Upon hearing and feeling the impact of the patrol ship, Amos decided that whoever was outside would have the cargo bay covered, so they doubled back and headed down the stairs that would take them to the passenger dorms. Halfway down, they stopped on the landing, hearing the remaining guards moving around below them.

Before she realized what was happening, a figure dropped from the ceiling, kicking Amos back up the stairs as he moved to get behind Anya, his knife already drawn. As he landed, he raised his arm to slice her throat. Before the knife made it to its destination, his arm went limp, mirroring the rest of his body. Anya’s long, thin knife slid out of his chest as the body sunk to the floor. Standing up, Amos gave her an appraising look before motioning her to lead the way further down the stairs.

- - -

Ryan continued to drag the fine blade down Claire’s arms, each line of fresh blood bringing a more sadistic smile to his face. Alec watched on approvingly, his arms crossed across his chest.

“So, since we have both now experienced both ends of this equation, I have to ask you: Do you prefer being the one to be cut on or the one doing the cutting?”

She spat into his face once more, gritting her teeth as fresh pain was inflicted on her body. She wasn’t going to let the sick bastard have the pleasure of getting a response from her. She stared up at him, remaining silent as she forced a smile in his direction.

“Aww Alec, she doesn’t want to talk to me. I am so hurt. Maybe we can play with her face next, I have always wanted to try giving someone a new nose.”

- - -

Mal, Jayne, and Zoe crept quietly and swiftly across the cargo bay floor, moving between various crates for cover as they approached the door. Mal could see one of the men in the infirmary, apparently watching what was going on on the exam table. He could also see several of the remaining guards sitting on the couch.

A sudden noise at the other end of the room got their attention, two of them moving away towards it. Mal took the opportunity to move inside the room, staying crouched in the shadows as he fired at the guard left on the couch, his shot passing through the left eye of his target. Zoe leaned in, firing twice more to take out the man sitting next to him. Mal moved down the stairs, watching the two remaining guards move toward the other end of the room.

- - -

Amos threw the dead commando’s knife to the floor below, trying to get the attention of any other guards in the room. They backed up the stairs as the guards came over. One bent over to inspect the knife, the other remaining standing and scanning the area. Several quick bursts exploded from the barrel of Amos’ gun, taking down both of the men before they could even look up to find where the shots came from. They waited a moment for any other surprises from the lower floor, then continued down the stairs, guns ready.

- - -

Mal saw motion on the other side of the room, watching with a bit of admiration as Amos and Anya took out the last two guards. They saw Tom still cuffed to the bulkhead, crouching so as to protect himself from any stray bullets. As he moved to get a look inside the infirmary, the door was shoved open, and a dark haired man pushed the bleeding and limping form of Claire before him, a scalpel held tight against her throat.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Chapter 10

- - - - -

Chapter 10 Chinese Translations:

goushi (go se) – shit

hundans (hwoon dans) – bastards

aiya, tian a (ai-yah, tyen-ah) – merciless hell

- - - - -

Time seemed to stand still as everyone became aware of their surroundings. Amos had been trying to open the cuffs holding Tom to the bulkhead as Anya covered both of them, but each of them stared on in surprised silence when they saw Commander Harley exit the room with their leader and friend at knifepoint. At the opposite end of the room, Mal had a similar look on his face as Zoe and Jayne looked on stoically.

"You're all in some pretty serious goushi, you know," Harley bellowed, the tip of the fine blade piercing the skin of Claire's jawline. "Assaulting and murdering thirty federal soldiers, not to mention theft, embezzlement, and treason. As of right now, you are all bound by law to stand down."

"You can't honestly think you're walking away from this, Ryan," Claire gritted out through clenched teeth. "The longer you hold me here just gives my friends more chances to find their shot."

"No, the longer I hold you here, the less time there is before my other three patrol boats arrive to take us all for a nice ride back to my base." At this revelation Zoe and Mal exchanged concerned looks, each returning their gaze to the situation in from of them as their brains scrambled to form a viable plan. "I imagine, however, that it will not be as pleasurable a flight as the one that brought you here."

Mal looked from the Commander and Claire over to the other end of the room. Amos had taken the slight distraction Claire had created talking to Harley to free Tom, and now all three of them had guns trained on them. Mal's eyes widened at the efficiency with which they attempted to turn the tables, looking out of the corner of his eye for his own mercenary, who had taken up a position at the top of the stairs, covering both the cargo bay and the side of the infirmary.

"Commander, it doesn't have to end this way," Mal spoke up, hoping to continue the distraction. "You know that none of us will be going with you peaceably, and that if things continue along these lines you and your turncoat lieutenant will be dead long before any help arrives to take you anywhere."

Harley turned slightly to face Mal, a sneer coming to his lips. "You're Browncoat scum, all of you. Your lives are worth even less than they were before, though we should've killed you off of every world spinning, that would have ended the war and your pathetic broken existences for certain. As it is now, I get to have the pleasure of making sure every one of you cowardly inbred pisspots has a miserable existence before offing you."

Mal returned his sneer with a smile, seeing Claire's posse taking aim at Harley's distracted form. He could also see Graham in the infirmary behind him, the barrel of his gun centered on Mal's torso somewhere. He knew that even if someone got a shot into Harley, he could still slice Claire's throat before he died. He also knew that Zoe and Jayne had taken aim at what they thought was strategically important. Mal squinted his eyes, making sure his aim would be true, and a split second later seven shots echoed through the cramped confines of the ship's common area.

- - -

Wash paced the bridge anxiously, looking out the front windows at the carnage before him. He had seen Mal, Zoe, and Jayne take out the Alliance guards with cold precision, and had watched the other ships come crashing down. Book stood in the doorway, keeping his thoughts quiet as he watched the youthful pilot agonize about his wife, knowing there was nothing he could say to ease his anxiety.

At the other end of the ship, Kaylee sat on the floor of the engine room, tinkering with some minor repairs to the auxiliary life support system. Inara stood in the hallway just outside, silently watching the skilled young mechanic with a bit of envy. Sometimes she had laid awake in bed, wondering what her life would be like if she hadn't began training for her adult career when she was twelve. She stepped into the room, her trademark smile re-appearing on her face almost instantaneously.

Below them, Simon sat in the passenger dorm that River slept in. She had awoken from a light nap screaming and drenched in perspiration, and he was checking her vital signs and trying to calmingly talk to her about what had been in her dream. River let him do his duties as a doctor and big brother, though she stared off blankly when he continued to ask her about what she had seen.

- - -

Mal, in an attempt to gain the upper hand by shooting first, raised his gun, firing his first bullet over Ryan's shoulder to make a solid impact with Alec. As he heard the shot, looking down to see where he was hit, three bullets hit him from behind as Amos, Tom, and Anya all fired. One went through his stomach, another through his left lung, and the third through the spine at the base of his neck. A fourth shot from Zoe also hit him directly in the face, snapping his head back as he quickly fell to the floor. Mal's shot knocked Alec's gun hand off balance, causing his shot to go into his left arm instead of his chest. The seventh shot came from Jayne's gun, piercing and shattering the Lieutenant's right kneecap. As he fell to the floor, Mal and Zoe converged on him, kicking his gun away and covering him with theirs.

Claire stood slowly, shrugging off the limp body of the man she once tortured for hours. She looked like she had been through hell. There were long, deep cuts down both of her arms, blood had started to soak through the lower part of her shirt, and the wound on her throat trickled blood down her neck. She first looked up at Mal, a curious look on her face. Before she could ask the obvious question, he decided to speak up.

"Amos radioed me, said we could have the rest of the agreed upon share of the gold if we came and got you guys out of the fix you had gotten into." Mal's face was cold end expressionless, and there was a sadness in his eyes as he regarded Claire. "In any case, I want to get on with it. There are still several patrol boats and one could be along any minute."

They looked down at the prone form of Alec Graham as he attempted to crawl to his weapon. Claire drove her boot heel down hard on one of his hands, causing him to howl in pain. "I suppose you can have the rest of your share of the gold, seeing as I won't be owing this snake the forty percent he wanted. Instead, I think I will show him just how much I can make him hurt before his miserable little life is over. I know I don’t deserve it Mal, but can you do one more favor for me? I’ll give you half of the gold I have left, which means more for you and your crew.”

Jayne looked between Mal and Claire, a familiar glint in his eyes. Zoe’s eyebrows rose as well, which Mal knew to be her skeptical ‘this-is-too-good-to-be-true’ look. Looking from one to the other, he finally returned his gaze to Claire. “Ok, I’ll bite Claire. What do you want me to do?”

She looked at him, tears threatening to flow freely down her blood stained face. “Fly off and draw the other three patrol boats away. You can get on the comm., pretending to be one of these hundans, and tell them that all of us fugitives are escaping on one ship. I just don’t think I have it in me to lead a high speed chase right now, plus if anyone finds the multitude of dead Alliance grunts and officers on this ship I am done for. Would you do that for me, for the extra pay?"

Mal looked thoughtfully off into space, weighing his options. If he refused her request, it would make the efforts they had just put in worthless. He was very confident in Wash's abilities and flying skills, knowing that he would get them safely away. Mal took a moment to consider all of the factors, deciding that doing her the favor was the best way to avoid any other repercussions that resulted in bullets in uncomfortable places.

"Ok, we'll do it. Jayne, go with Amos, get the rest of our share of the gold. Zoe, get a message to Wash, let him know the plan." Mal walked over to the cringing form of Alec Graham on the floor just outside the infirmary. He leaned down, grabbing the comm. unit off of his belt. Alec let out a string of unintelligible Chinese, causing Mal to smile a little as he righted himself. "This is Lieutenant Graham, what is your E-T-A?"

"We'll be there just inside of five minutes Lieutenant, ready for whatever you need."

"What I need is for you not to land. The scum disabled our ships and took off to the north in one of the Fireflys. I need all three of you to pursue and engage them as swiftly as possible to keep them from making an escape."

"Copy that, sir. Activating reserve thrusters, we should have double velocity in a minute and a half, then there is no way they can get away from us."

"Good hunting. Over."

As the comm. went dead, Zoe returned from the cargo bay, heading straight for Mal. "Wash says he has the ship ready, once we are aboard we will make for deep space as fast as we can."

"Got the rest of our gold here," Jayne proclaimed, an almost boyish grin on his scarred face.

Mal turned to face Claire, who had focused her attention on her ex-partner. "Darlin', we've gotta go. It was nice seein' you and all, but next time, why don't we just exchange letters?" He smiled slightly, looking down at the bloody remains of the earlier fight, then at the restrained body of Alec that was being forced onto the exam table in the infirmary. "Don't take it easy on him, no matter what he says. Also, you should get some of those wounds looked at before they get any worse." He turned to leave, hesitating slightly when he reached the stairs. "It was, well, it did me good to see you. Remembering that times have been worse for all of us certainly puts a different light on the present. Goodbye, Claire Jameson." Without another thought he turned back to the stairs, swiftly stepping up and into the cargo bay to follow his crew members back to their home.

They were back on their own Firefly within a minute, taking off as soon as the doors closed. Wash turned the ship north, intending to get the attention of the patrol boats before evading them and getting off of the moon that had almost caused them more trouble than it was worth. After several minutes, the three patrol boats appeared on the horizon in the front left of the viewing window. Wash made a hard bank right, aligning himself close to perfectly with their current trajectory. Flipping on the rear video feed, he could see the ships swiftly approaching.

"Mal, get up here, we might have a problem."

A moment later, Mal half-limped onto the bridge, looking out the windows for a sign of whatever had gotten his pilot worried. Wash continued to look forward as he pointed Mal's attention to the video screen displaying the feed from the rear cameras.

"Aiya, tian a!" Mal exclaimed, instantly recognizing the signature engine flare of the Alliance ships' afterburners. "They'll be on us in less than a minute at this rate. You think you can manage to evade them?"

"I dunno Mal, they have us beat hands down in speed, and I am pretty sure that those boats are just as maneuverable as Serenity."

"Let me tell you a little about the Alliance's thruster technology. When they have those high powered boosters on, their handling goes all to hell. No matter how good the pilot is, they cannot do anything more than a wide circle to come around. If we can somehow get behind them, it should be no problem to get us into space. Think you can do it?"

"Watch me." Wash reached above his head, flicking three adjacent switches. He grabbed the comm., keeping one eye on the rear video feed. "Kaylee, set us up for full burn, we are gonna need to make a fast getaway. Book, if you don't mind returning to the cargo bay to let loose our decoys on my mark." His voice echoed throughout the ship, bringing everyone to an even more alert state of mind, though the abrupt takeoff had definitely helped in that area. Almost as an afterthought, he added, "Oh yeah, you all might want to hold on to something."

As Wash saw the ships closing in, he turned to face Mal for a second, a serious look on his face. "Captain, you may want to strap yourself into something. I am gonna pull a Screamin' Nazi in about ten seconds, and I would hate for you to be thrown all about."

Mal, not doubting Wash's assessment or his lack of humor, threw himself into the co-pilot's chair, pulling the restraining straps around himself as rapidly as he could. Seconds later, he felt the entire ship lurch as the ship changed from going forward to going straight up, turning a rapid one-eighty as it did. The first patrol ship, unable to slow down or change position enough to avoid the blast from the thrusters, was knocked to the ground, skidding several hundred meters as the other two coasted by overhead, their pilots desperately trying to avoid the wreckage as they attempted to slow down and turn to continue the chase.

As Serenity turned around to fly away from their pursuers, Wash grabbed the comm. once more and yelled "Now, Kaylee!" She pushed a few switches, then threw her body into the large lever that would activate the burn they needed. The blast from the back of the engine pushed the rapidly departing patrol ships even farther away, making a turnaround nearly impossible. The blast took them into the thin layers at the top of the atmosphere, and as they broke through into the vacuum of space, Wash activated the comm. once more. "Book, release the decoys." He heard the lower cargo doors open as he set a course to take them back to Boros, watching with glee as the little satellites flew off in eight different directions.

"So, what were you saying about a naked beach, Mal?"

- - - - -


- - - - -



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From Bad to Worse, chapters 1-10 (COMPLETE)
This is a re-post from before the BSR got hit a few weeks ago.

The story takes place in between ‘The Train Job’ and ‘Bushwhacked.’ According to Inara, there is a three-ish month gap here, so I thought it would be perfect for this little story and its epilogue.

From Bad to Worse, pt 10
Thrilling heroics ensue.

From Bad to Worse, pt 09
Mal, Zoe, and Jayne come to the rescue, and backup from the engine room arrives.

From Bad to Worse, pt 08
Claire is put to the ropes, though the cavalry is on the way.

From Bad to Worse, pt 07
Mal, Jayne, and Zoe make their way back to Serenity, and Claire and her posse run into even more troubles.

From Bad to Worse, pt 06
The fighting is ended for now, though revenge is on more than one person's mind.

From Bad to Worse, pt 05
The feds arrive, a shootout involving the BDHs and Claire's posse ensues.

From Bad to Worse, pt 04
The gold is recovered, and a getaway is planned.

Sailing Beyond the Sunset, pt 17
Several crew members dwell on things past while one reunion is made and a wave from an old aquaintence is received.

From Bad to Worse, pt 03
The crews search the wreckage for their valuable treasure as Wash and Book attempt some thrilling heriocs.