Slender Thread - Part V
Monday, January 28, 2008

Maya. Post-BDM. The crew speculate on the use of the derelict, and there's the hint of trouble to come. NEW CHAPTER


Blue Sun. Even as Mal stood talking to River on the Cortex link in his bunk, his mind kept playing that corpse wearing the uniform of a Blue Sun employee. Hand in hand with the Alliance, Blue Sun always seemed to have the money and the influence to do whatever it wanted. And now those hwoon dahns had been experimenting with something out in the black. His black. And it galled him somewhat.

Still, it wasn’t something he could discuss over an open wave.

“Be just a day or so more,” he said instead. “Then I can tell you all about our adventures.”

“Are they that good?” River asked, smiling, even though he could read in her eyes that she was aware of his reticence.

“Well, let’s just say they’re … interesting.”

“The kind of interesting we experience a lot?”

“That’s the kind.”

“Then I’ll look forward to hearing about it.”

“How’s Jayne? Any better?”

River’s smile faded. “Since the funeral he’s been very subdued. He’s spent a lot of time with Mr Gilford and Matty. Talking about his Ma.”

“To be expected, xiao nu.”

“I know. I just feel …” She stopped, biting her lip.

“Excluded?” he suggested gently.

“I know I shouldn’t. Jayne is my husband. But -”

“It doesn’t help.”


“No need to feel guilty about it, albatross,” Mal said. “Felt the same way myself when Ethan was born, then Jesse. Frey spent so much time with them, feeding and the like, I kinda felt left out, even though I knew she wasn’t doing it deliberate. And she managed to find ways to bring me back in.”

“Bath time?”

“And diaper changing.” He had to grin. “Just glad Jesse’s growing out of them now.”

“Jayne’s good at that,” River said, her smile returning as she stroked her hand down her belly.

“So I’ve heard.”

“I’ll try not to do it with him. Leave Jayne out.”

“Doubt he’s gonna let you, little one.” He leaned forward a little, as if imparting a confidence. “And tell the big guy that if he’s good, there might be something for him from Achaeon.”

River‘s eyes widened. “Not …”

“Can’t be specific. Just mentioning it.”

She laughed. “I’m sure he’ll be more than …and make … best way …” Her voice broke up, as did the picture.


She appeared briefly, bending forward, her arm outstretched. “I can’t hear …” Then there was nothing but static.

Mal fiddled with the controls, but he couldn’t bring her back. Sighing heavily he climbed the ladder and headed for the bridge.

“Hank, what the hell’s wrong with the com?” he asked, climbing the steps two at a time.

The pilot turned in his seat. “Wrong?” He looked surprised.

“I was just talking to River and the link went down.”

Hank scanned the panel in front of him. “Can’t see anything … oh.” He started checking the systems.


“It was fine a little while ago,” Hank insisted. “I was running through the Persephone Fed channels for any potential problems we might encounter, and it was okay then.”

“It was okay up until three minutes ago when it died, right in the middle of a conversation.” He watched Hank for a few moments. “Well?”

“I can’t see anything wrong. Least, nothing I can put my finger on.” He glanced up. “Maybe there’s something up with a relay somewhere. I’ll look into it.”

“See that you do. Not that I like talking to people, but it could make life a little too exciting when we‘re coming to land.” Something crawled up his spine, and he shivered a little, and the image of the dead body, bone showing whitely through the fractured skin, leapt into his mind again.

“You okay, Mal?” Hank asked.


“Only you look kinda off.”

“That ship. Still got a bit of the hair raising on the back of my neck, if truth be told.”

“I know what you mean. Creepy.”

“Another reason I don’t like having communications problems.”

Hank nodded. “On it, Mal.”


Freya was sitting at the dining table with Kaylee, studying the schematics Hank had managed to download from the derelict before they got away half a day before.

“Mal won’t like it if you’re sitting and his ship blows up,” Simon said, stepping down into the galley, grinning widely. “I imagine he’ll have some choice words to say.”

“Serenity ain’t gonna blow up,” Kaylee said, smiling up at him. “I put the part in soon as we got back, and it’s working fine.”

“I’m sure Mal will be glad to hear it.” He looked over her shoulder at the plans. “Don’t tell me,” he teased. “You’ve got it all figured out.”

Freya was still staring at the diagrams. “Some. Not all.”

Simon’s eyes widened. “You’re joking.”

Freya released a long slow breath. “You know, I don’t think I am.”

“Honey, sit down. We’ll show you,” Kaylee said, pushing the chair out next to her.

Simon quickly did as he was told. “So, tell me.”

“Frey, you wanna …” Kaylee asked.

“No. It was you figured it out.”

“Your idea.”

She looked into Kaylee‘s eyes, then pushed a film across to Simon. “What does that remind you of?” she asked.

He picked it up, his eyebrows raising as he studied the multi-coloured graphic. “Well, it almost looks like a … a brain.”

“And these?” Two more followed.

“Linear transcriptions of brain scans,” he said without hesitation.

“That’s what I thought.”

He flicked through them again. “What are these? Since I take it that they’re not actual scans.”

Kaylee tapped her fingers lightly on the films. “The first is a connection diagram of the main bulk of that ship. The second, saved records of diagnostic runs.”

Simon looked down sharply. “Are you saying –“

Freya interrupted. “When I was young, my father told us a story once at dinner about how one of the companies he dealt with was experimenting with artificial intelligence.”

Simon looked from one woman to the other. “You mean robots? Computers?”

Kaylee shook her head. “No. We mean intelligence. Not just analysing and deducting, but thinking, creating … taking those leaps that only a human can do, coming up with things from scratch.”

“Alex scoffed at it, of course,” Freya went on. “Said it was pure science fiction. I remember him asking why anyone would need something like that, when there’s more than enough people. I said something about how I was sure it was possible, and wondered what it would be used for. My father, of course, agreed with Alex. But there was something in the way he spoke …” Her eyes unfocused a moment, seeing her father at the dinner table quickly change the subject, his eyes hooded, thoughts hidden, then she brought herself back with a jerk. “Anyway, when I saw those, it all came back.”

“And you think that’s what the ship was,” Simon attempted to clarify. “Some kind of attempt to build a consciousness.”

“Could be.” Kaylee shrugged expressively. “Got no proof, of course. We might be totally wrong, and it’s just as likely to be an experimental propulsion system, but … it just seems …” She stopped, her brow furrowed.

“Too much like coincidence.”

“And I‘m not a fan of coincidence,” Freya added.

“Thing is,” Kaylee went on, “if we’re right, and that ship was a brain, it’s far bigger than it needs to be. And with a lot more power. Computers function like proto-brains, doing a lot of the day-to-day work in the background … I mean, without one in Serenity we wouldn’t be flying at all. But they’re small, tiny in comparison to the ship.”

Simon nodded. “Like you said, though, they’re proto-brains. Doing what they were programmed to do. Responding to a set of commands, a series of circumstances … but that’s not really thinking. Not the kind of thinking we do, every day.”

“Some of us more’n others,” Mal said, stepping down into the galley.

“You were listening?” Freya asked, looking up at him.

“Some.” He headed behind the counter. “We fixed, Kaylee?”

“Up and running, Cap,” the young mechanic said brightly.

“Then maybe you’d like to go and help my erstwhile pilot to figure out how come we ain’t got an external com system at the moment.”

“Coms are down?” Kaylee sat up straighter.

“I believe I just said that.”

“On my way,” she said, and jumped to her feet, running out of the room.

“How much did you hear?” Freya asked.

Mal smiled briefly. “Enough. Is that what your intuition is telling you? That it’s a brain?”

“It was just an idea.”

“Actually,” Simon said slowly, “that’s a thought.”

Mal poured two coffees. “What is?”

“Intuition. A computer has never been able to come up with intuition. Nor any other form of psychic ability.”

Pausing a moment, the mugs in his hand, Mal stared at him. “Are you suggesting they were building a psychic?” He continued to the table, putting one coffee down in front of his wife before sitting down next to her.

“Why not?” Simon spread his hands. “If we’re talking the realms of extreme possibility here, that’s one of them. Build a psychic brain, and you’d have total control over it.”

“Is that possible?”

“Up until a few hours ago I would have said it was impossible to make a ship that was almost undetectable.” He leaned forward, youthful eagerness in his voice and face. “Which could explain why it was built that way.”

“Go on,” Mal said, coffee forgotten.

“You’d need to make sure that outside radiation, whether it was light, communications or thought, didn’t interfere with the mainline systems.”

“Hang on … are you saying thought is a radiation?” Mal interrupted.

“It’s just something Freya and I were discussing.” He dismissed it with a wave of his hand. “But that’s not the point.”

“I’d take it as a kindness if you’d get to it sometime this century, doctor.”

Simon raised one eyebrow at him but didn’t rise to the bait. “If you wanted to reach out, you’d need to dampen down anything else that might interfere.”

“I see. I think.” Mal shook his head. “But what’d they use it for?”

Freya stirred. “Reading minds,” she said. “Perhaps worse.”

Mal looked at her. “Are you talking about a weapon?”

Simon jumped, remembering the time River had threatened Jayne that she could kill him with her brain, but luckily neither of the other two appeared to have noticed.

“I’m not sure what I’m talking about,” Freya admitted, a rueful smile on her face. “Maybe we’re reading a lot more into this than is the case.”

“What about the logs?” Simon asked. “Don’t they tell you what was going on?”

“Most of them are corrupt, datasets missing, and those that Hank’s been able to open don’t make much sense.” Freya shrugged. “Even the date info’s gone.”

“So we’re still no closer to figuring out when or why.”

“Afraid not.”

Mal picked up his mug and stared into the dark liquid. “You know, there’s another problem with creating a brain, doc. Might end up with one that’s psychotic.”

“Psychotic? “ Simon stared.

“There’s hardly anyone sets out to breed a human psychopath, is there? But they turn up, and we’ve had more than our fair share of bearing witness to that.” Mal took a mouthful of coffee. “The way I see it, you try and build a brain, build an intelligence to rival a man’s, to have his abilities to adapt and learn, maybe to be psychic … your run the same risk. Then what do you do? Not like you can lock the ship up somewhere and medicate it. Lobotomise, maybe, but there’s no guarantee that’d work. Your only option would be to destroy it.”

“Do you think that’s what happened here? They brought that ship out to get rid of it?”

“Maybe it fought back.” Mal lifted his head and gazed at the young man, an odd look in his eye. “Survival, Simon. There ain't much that’s intelligent don’t want to survive.”

“But there’s so much money invested. Wouldn’t they simply try to salvage what they could first?”

“Maybe they tried.” He leaned forward. “Something blew that hatch. Might have been the crew, might not. Maybe the ship decided it was in danger and decided to make the first strike.”

Freya sat listening, feeling the chill building up inside her again.

“But you’re making it sound almost human,” Simon argued.

“If Frey’s right, then that’s what they wanted. And maybe they succeeded.”

“Then why is it still here? Why is it dead?”

“Not dead,” Freya put in. She held out the last flimsy she’d been staring at. “Not dead. Kaylee was right – there’s enough power to take her from one side of the galaxy to the other, the way they’ve got her configured. No. I think it’s a more fundamental problem.”

Mal took the sheet, but the lines on it meant nothing to him so he handed it to Simon.

The doctor’s face tightened. “A stroke?”

“Or whatever the equivalent is for a machine.” She took a deep breath. “Kaylee picked it up. There’s connections gone. Links between systems, just like in a human brain when a stroke knocks out maybe the speech area, or motor control to a particular limb … It’s just sitting there, metaphorically staring at the daisies, waiting for someone to wheel it in to supper.”

“Then I’m more than a little glad we’re away from there,” Mal said, leaning back in his chair. “No way of knowing what might’ve happened if we’d stayed.”

“Shouldn’t we have let someone know? About the ship, I mean?” Simon glanced down at the schematics. “If this is a danger to shipping, someone needs to be told.”

“It’s off the beaten track, Simon. And it’s not like she easy to find.” Mal could see the young man winding up to argue, and said quickly, “But you’re right. Soon as Hank’s got the com up again, we’ll put in an anonymous call to the Alliance. They can come out and take a look, or just put up a quarantine beacon to warn other vessels.”

“And if someone unsuspecting comes along in the meantime?”

“Not our affair, doctor.”

“I’m not sure that’s good enough.”

“Good as it gets.” Mal stood up. “Ain’t it your turn to entertain us with your culinary skills?”

Simon got to his feet. “If you mean is it my turn to cook, yes it is.”

“And what delights are on the menu tonight?”

“Caviar and lobster bisque,” the young man said dryly.



Mal smiled. “Well, since you’re better at it than most on board, I’ll just say it’ll probably be tasty, whatever it is.”

“Thank you for that generous compliment. And since I assume you want to eat at the usual time, you’d better leave me to it so I can get on.”

Freya smiled, relieved at the tension dissolving. “You sure you don’t want a hand?” she asked.

“No, no, I’m fine.”

“Come on,” Mal said quickly, pulling her up. “The young doctor says he doesn’t need any help, so I think we’d be best making ourselves scarce. ‘Sides, it means we’ve got a little while to be alone.”

She lifted her eyebrows at him. “Oh? And what were you planning on doing with that time?”

“I’m sure we can think of something.”

“I should really go and help Kaylee. See if there’s not something I can do about the com.”

“Later,” Mal urged.

“Just go,” Simon implored. “This ship gets worse.”

“Not sure that’s possible, doc,” Mal said, pushing Freya out into the corridor in front of him.

The lights dimmed for a microsecond then came back, unnoticed by any of the crew.

to be continued


Monday, January 28, 2008 3:06 AM


Serenity possessed! SOunds like a movie title, don't it? I can't wait to see what you've got in store here, it sounds spooky, creepy, and downright fun!

Monday, January 28, 2008 4:33 AM


Oh, those pesky AI ships! Always causing problems. Where's Sarah Conner when you need her?

Monday, January 28, 2008 8:01 AM


Love the little technical details. Should be fun once River is back on board.

Monday, January 28, 2008 10:21 AM


Actually the AI notion makes a lot of sense and sounds like the kind of diabolical idea the Blue Sun would come up with. Reminded me of Hal in 2001, and Mal is right (don't faint, he is more times that you'd imagine from the flak he gets from certain crew members) all intelligent lifeforms want to survive. They can't complete their purpose (whatever it may be) if they allow themselves to be destroyed or taken off line. I'm thinking this is a rogue AI, and if that is the case the nasty party hasn't even begun yet. Gulp! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, January 28, 2008 5:20 PM


AI,blue Sun, what a combination. And it looks like it may have invaded Serenity...Gulp.

It would be fun though to have Serenity tell her own tales. I'm sure she has a lot of them.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008 3:16 AM


That's quite a bag of worms you've opened up in Serenity. Wow - great stuff!


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Now and Then - a Christmas story
“Then do you have a better suggestion? No, let me rephrase that. Do you have a more sensible suggestion that doesn’t involve us getting lost and freezing to death?”

[Maya. Post-BDM. A little standalone festive tale that kind of fits into where I am in the Maya timeline, but works outside too. Enjoy!]

Monied Individual - Epilogue
"I honestly don’t know if my pilot wants to go around with flowers and curlicues carved into his leg.”
[Maya. Post-BDM. The end of the story, and the beginning of the last ...]

Monied Individual - Part XX
Mal took a deep breath, allowing it out slowly through his nostrils, and now his next words were the honest truth. “Ain’t surprised. No matter how good you are, and I’m not complaining, I’ve seen enough battle wounds, had to help out at the odd amputation on occasion. And I don’t have to be a doc myself to tell his leg ain’t quite the colour it should be, even taking into account his usual pasty complexion. What you did … didn’t work, did it?”
[Maya. Post-BDM. Simon has no choice, and Luke comes around.]

Monied Individual - Part XIX
“His name’s Jayne?”

“What’s wrong with that?” the ex-mercenary demanded from the doorway.

“Nothing, nothing! I just … I don’t think I’ve ever met a man … anyone else by that name.”

“Yeah, he’s a mystery to all of us,” Mal said. “Even his wife.”

[Maya. Post-BDM. Hank's not out of the woods yet, and Mal has a conversation. Enjoy!]

Monied Individual - Part XVIII
Jayne had told him a story once, about being on the hunt for someone who owed him something or other. He’d waited for his target for three hours in four inches of slush as the temperature dropped, and had grinned when he’d admitted to Hank that he’d had to break his feet free from the ice when he’d finished.
[Maya. Post-BDM. The Fosters show their true colours, Jayne attempts a rescue, and the others may be too late.]

Snow at Christmas
She’d seen his memories of his Ma, the Christmases when he was a boy on Shadow, even a faint echo of one before his Pa died, all still there, not diminished by his burning, glowing celebrations of now with Freya.

[Maya. Post-BDM. A seasonal one-off - enjoy!]

Monied Individual - Part XVII
Jayne hadn’t waited, but planted a foot by the lock. The door was old, the wood solid, but little could stand against a determined Cobb boot with his full weight behind it. It burst open.

[Maya. Post-BDM. The search for Hank continues. Read, enjoy, review!]

Monied Individual - Part XVI
He slammed the door behind him, making the plates rattle on the sideboard. “It’s okay, girl, I ain't gonna hurt you.” The cook, as tradition dictated, plump and rosy cheeked with her arms covered to the elbows in flour, but with a gypsy voluptuousness, picked up a rolling pin.

[Maya. Post-BDM. Kaylee finds the problem with Serenity, and Jayne starts his quest. Read, enjoy, review!]

Monied Individual - Part XV
“Did we …” “We did.” “Why?” As she raised an eyebrow at him he went on quickly, “I mean, we got a comfy bunk, not that far away. Is there any particular reason we’re in here instead?” “You don’t remember?” He concentrated for a moment, and the activities of a few hours previously burst onto him like a sunbeam. “Oh, right,” he acknowledged happily.

[Maya. Post-BDM. A little with each Serenity couple, but something goes bang. Read, enjoy, review!]

“Did we …” “We did.” “Why?” As she raised an eyebrow at him he went on quickly, “I mean, we got a comfy bunk, not that far away. Is there any particular reason we’re in here instead?” “You don’t remember?” He concentrated for a moment, and the activities of a few hours previously burst onto him like a sunbeam. “Oh, right,” he acknowledged happily.

[Maya. Post-BDM. A little with each Serenity couple, but something goes bang. Read, enjoy, review!]