Old Habits - Part IV
Sunday, June 1, 2008

Maya. Post-BDM. Freya and Zoe attempt a little burglary. NEW CHAPTER


The main lounge of The Spa was something of a misnomer, being a hall nearly two hundred feet long and fifty wide. Mirrors were fixed to the two long walls, shrouded with gossamer gold curtains that moved in the breeze from passing patrons, while large majolica jardinières holding a veritable forest of tall plants were spaced at equal intervals, leading to a fountain that glittered at the far end. Above hung five huge crystal chandeliers, sparkling their light over the activities below as music played softly, just on the edge of hearing, and delicately perfumed air circulated across the floor.

And then there were people. A lot of people, playing idly at the gaming tables set up down the left side of the lounge, or sitting in the comfortable chairs on the right, or simply standing and talking. They were all dressed in their finery, jewels around necks and in ears, diamond stickpins in ties, and showing every colour under the sun. Waiters in more of the ubiquitous purple and gold darted in and out.

It put Freya in mind of a flock of birds of paradise, all showing off, dancing around trying to mark their territory. She really didn’t want to be there when they started the mating rituals.

Zoe decided that maybe her outfit was about right as her eyes swept the room. “Have to say, I can see a hell of a lot of Alliance out there. And I ain’t the only one - there’s a number of guards packing heat.”

“Mmn,” Freya agreed, equally quietly.

“Feds?” Mal said in both their ears.

“Even a member of Parliament or two.”

“Rut it.” His voice was bitter. “Better get the job done soon as you can.”

“I wasn't planning on dawdling,” Freya responded, then put her superior air back on as the flunkey from before approached them, another man at his side. “Game on,” she whispered.

The flunkey bowed low, then turned to his companion. “Sir, may I present Madam Romanov?” Looking back to Freya he added, “Madam Romanov, this is your host for this evening, Mr Gabriel Salazar.”

Freya extended one hand, only slightly limp at the wrist. “Mr Salazar.”

The man in front of her was middle-aged, his hair slicked back from a high forehead, and an evening jacket that hung so well on his frame that it had to be made-to-measure. His nails were well-manicured, his face clean-shaven and verging on the handsome, and in fact there was nothing specifically wrong with him, but something about him still made her cringe inside.

“Madam Romanov.” Salazar took her fingers in his and bent deeply over her hand, his lips just brushing her skin. “It is an honour.”

“A pleasure.”

The flunkey, his job done, vanished back into the crowd as Salazar stood straight, still holding on. “May I ask, your name … Romanov. Is it …” He let the rest of the sentence speak itself.

Freya allowed a small smile. “The family is very old. Of course, I can’t possibly say more than that.”

“Of course.” He inclined his head. “And your husband? I am surprised he has allowed you to attend unaccompanied.”

“I'm not unaccompanied,” Freya corrected, gesturing slightly towards Zoe. “And I am unmarried.”

“Forgive me, but your title … Madam …”

“An affectation of my family, I am afraid. All the women, whether married or not, are given that soubriquet. It is a sign of respect.” She put a lot of emphasis on the final word.

“Of course, Madam Romanov.” He glanced at Zoe, standing stoically behind, and wondered at her exact position with this disconcerting woman. “And is there anything we can do to make your visit more … relaxing?”


“One of our gaming tables, possibly.” He swept a hand towards the other end of the room. “We have roulette or baccarat. I believe there is also –“

“Perhaps a game of Tall Card. Later,” Freya suggested, and admired the way Salazar covered his slight surprise.

“Of course. I’m sure we can find one to your high standards.” He signalled to one of the waiters who hurried across with crystal flutes of champagne. “If I may?” He handed her one and took another for himself. “To your very good health.”

“And to yours.” Freya took a tiny sip, watching him as he swallowed half his glass. Unless he had an amazing constitution, the man was going to get paralytic before the night was over, she considered. “But if you don’t mind, I would rather like to wander a little. If I am to invest in your Spa, I have to see it as your guests would, not being accompanied by the owner.”

“Of course.” Salazar bowed once more. “Not that we are talking money tonight, at least not openly.” He twinkled at her. “However, your suite is available to you for the entire weekend, of course, so if you should wish to discuss business in the morning, I will be more than happy to oblige.”

“That is acceptable.”

“Then until later, dear lady.” He lifted her hand to his lips once more, this time pressing much harder, before turning on his heel and disappearing among the other guests, leaving behind a faint scent of hair oil.

“Can I take a shower now?” Freya asked, wanting desperately to wipe the hand he’d held down her dress.

“You know, I ain't used to being ignored,” Zoe said quietly.

“But you’re doing it so well,” Hank said in her ear. “’Kay, according to the plans, the office with the safe is directly behind the far wall. You’re gonna have to walk the floor, ladies.” He sounded like he was laughing.

“Can I kill him soon?” Freya asked.


“Pity.” Putting the champagne flute onto the tray of a passing waiter, Freya straightened her shoulders. “No time like the present,” she murmured, and moved into the crowd.


Jayne had been designated babysitter, much to his chagrin, as it was pointed out to him that River was on the bridge and Kaylee was in the engine room, both ready to get under way as soon as was needed. The big man had tried to persuade Simon to take over, but the doctor had demurred, saying he had to be prepared to tend the gunshot wounds that were bound to occur. Jayne had argued that he had to be ready to go make the inevitable rescue, but Simon had simply raised one eyebrow and gone on counting dressings.

So the ex-mercenary was sitting in the galley at the table, Bethie and Ethan opposite him, Jesse in the seat beside him, Ben and Hope next to her. Caleb was in the sling across his chest, only slightly interfering with the cards Jayne was attempting to deal.

“See, you gotta know how to play. Far as I can see, there’s gonna be times when it’ll be your only way of making money, and if’n that’s the case, the only way of keeping this gorram ship in the air.”

“Uncle Jayne, you mustn’t swear,” Ethan said firmly.

“And this gorram ship is our home,” Bethie added.

“I know, short stub.” Jayne put down the rest of the stack. “And I … well, guess it was really more a term of affection than swearing.”

Maoli jumped onto the end of the table and strolled up, her sleek grey fur shining in the warm light.

“Gorram cat,” Ethan tried as the kitten head-butted him.

Jayne had to stop himself laughing out loud. “Now, you see, don’t quite come out right from you little’uns. You’d better stick to other words.”

Jesse had picked up the hand of cards in front of her and managed to fan them out, just like she’d seen others doing. “’Ncle Jayne?” She held them out.

He looked over. “Hey, that’s a good hand,” he said approvingly. “See, you got a natural run there. Ain’t no face cards, and they’re different suits, but that’s good. You could win with that hand.”

The little girl beamed, understanding maybe half the words but recognising his tone.

“What about mine?” Ethan asked, laying his face up.

“Good start, but your sis’d beat you. You got a pair, but you’d need another to make it worth anything.” He picked up the stack again. “Let’s see what you’d get next time round.” He dealt a further card to each of them except Jesse, whose face fell. “Aw, sorry, sweetie” he said, dropping another in front of her.

“Uncle Jayne, should you be teaching us to gamble?” Bethie asked, picking up the extra card and fitting it into her hand.

“Not gambling. We ain’t betting for nothing, so it ain’t gambling. Just … showing you the ropes.”

She didn’t look convinced, but laid her hand down. “Then are these any good?”

He glanced over. “What do you think?”

Bethie sighed. “I think I’d fold.”

He grinned. “That’s my girl. You ain’t got a dog’s dinner in that hand, and it’d take you too long to build anything worth keeping. You’d just put all your money in the pot and prob’ly end up walking away empty.”

“That’s what I thought,” Bethie agreed sadly.

“And me?” Ethan asked.

Jayne checked. “Better. You got that third you were looking for.”

“So I’d beat Jesse?” He glanced hopefully at his sister.

“Well, you would’ve, but …” He poked the card he’d laid down at the end. “If’n she had the balls to discard, and got that … no. See, she’s just got a Jack, and that makes hers a high natural, and she’d still win.”

“Oh.” Ethan glared at her.

“Now come on. It’s just a game,” Jayne said soothingly, gathering up the pack, except by now Hope had dropped her cards onto the floor, and she and Ben had clambered down to pick them up, only they’d got sidetracked into rubbing Fiddler’s belly. “Girl, I think you’re the only natural player amongst ‘em,” he added to Jesse who nodded hard in agreement.

Bethie pinched at her forehead, as if she had a headache. “Uncle Jayne, is Auntie Frey okay?” she asked, turning her wide brown eyes onto him.

Times like this, she reminded him so much of her mother it was uncanny, but he pushed the slightly uncomfortable feeling away to answer her. “Sure she is, short stub. Why’d you think otherwise?”

“Not sure. Just a feeling.” She rubbed harder.

His brow furrowed. He, like the rest of the crew, had come to trust these kind of feelings, coming as they did from any of the three Readers on board, and his hand crept down to rest on the butt of his gun.

Jayne. It’s starting, he heard in his mind, and he glanced towards the bridge.


They’d finally reached Salazar’s office, although the going had been tough. More than a dozen people had claimed acquaintanceship with Freya, all wanting to make her stop and talk, and every single one of them a man. In the end she had turned up the arrogance, and strode amongst them, ignoring them all. At the fountain she paused, allowing the sweet noise of the water falling to calm her.

“You okay?” Zoe asked.

“It’s just …” Freya shook her head. “It’s been a while since I was surrounded by quite so many people.”

“You were out in Eavesdown just a few days ago.”

“Not the same. At least they’re honest in their deceitfulness. These people, though …” This time she did wipe her hand down her dress.

“Then let’s get the job done.”

Freya nodded and they slipped down the short corridor and tried the door, finding it opened easily. “Unwise to keep it unlocked.”

“All the better for us, though.” Zoe smiled slightly, then reached into the silver case, withdrawing a slim cigar-shaped device. Pressing the end and watching lights skim up and down one side, they slid into the room, closing the door behind them.

“Mal, you still there?” Freya asked.

“Still here,” he acknowledged, his voice now more tinny, with an echoing that hadn’t been there before. “Hank says the jammer’s working fine, but you ain’t got much time. Someone’s gonna notice they ain’t getting the security feed before long.”

“Then let’s get to work.” She pulled on a pair of fine latex gloves and went down onto her heels, opening the silver case up fully. Lifting out a small black box, wires with connector pads coming from it, she placed it securely under the tumbler mechanism.

Zoe, from her position at the door, keeping an eye on the corridor, asked, “So, how does this thing work again?”

Not stopping her work in fixing the device, Freya answered, “According to Kaylee, it echoes back the telemetry of the last person opening the safe. Fools it, you might say.” She looked up and grinned wryly. “I don’t know, Zo. But Kaylee says it’ll work. Which is one of the reasons we keep her around, after all. So we don’t have to understand.”

“And also ‘cause she doesn’t do so much of this shilly-shallying,” Mal observed somewhat icily in their ears. “Move it!”

“You want this done fast, or you want this done right?” Freya asked, one eyebrow raised. He paused, and she could imagine the look on his face, and had to smile.

“Just … stop talking quite so much.”

“Aye, aye, Captain, sir,” Freya said, bending back to her work.

“What about the voltage if you get it wrong?” Zoe’s voice had dropped to a whisper.

Another, somewhat messier device joined the first, sitting directly over the tumbler. “Let’s hope Kaylee’s as good as we think she is.” She checked the connector pads. “Okay. We’re good to go.” Licking her lips, she pressed the activator on the side of Magpie’s device, then flicked the switch on Kaylee’s combination reader. It hummed into life, and she released the breath she was holding. “Well, at least I’m not fried.”

“How long, Frey?” Mal asked.

“No idea. How long does it take to go through a billion combinations?”

Zoe stiffened as she saw someone pause at the end of the corridor into the lounge, but they didn’t come down.

“And if someone finds you in there?” Mal sounded anxious, probably because he wasn’t in the thick of things. He’d always been like that, ever since he was a mere Sergeant, ordering men to go and tackle something when he couldn’t.

“Then I say I’m waiting for Salazar and that I want to invest.” Freya shook her head, “Give it time, Mal.”

“Not sure we’ve -”

There was a rumbling noise from the safe, and then a loud click. Freya went back down and pulled on the handle. The door opened silently. “We’re in,” she said softly.

“Mal, an alarm just went off somewhere!” Hank said urgently.

“Zoe.” Freya nodded towards the two devices, and the other woman left the doorway to pull them free. Freya herself reached into the safe, moving aside what looked like deeds and other documents, before finding what she wanted. A box, made of wood, with a carving of an angel on it. Lifting it out, she slid it into a black fabric bag. “Done?” she asked.

Zoe nodded, clicking the case closed. “Done.”

“Then get the hell out of there.”

They hurried to the door, Zoe looking out first, then left the office, switching off the jamming device as they went. No-one noticed them stepping back into the main lounge, but Freya could see Salazar heading towards them, a thunderous look on his face, two of his flunkeys at his back. “Zo, get going. I’ll delay him.” She handed her the bag.

“Frey -”

“Just go. I’ll be fine.” She smiled. “And don’t forget our things, Mills.”

Zoe glared at her, but stepped between two groups and melted into the crowd.

As the man reached her, Freya stepped forward, blocking his path. “Mr Salazar, I had hoped I’d be able to see you,” she began. “I’ve been taking a look around, and I’ve -”

The man gathered himself enough to look at her. “My dear lady,” he interrupted, sketching an impression of a smile. “I would dearly love to talk with you right now, but I have a pressing engagement.”

“But I wish to invest. I believe you have a thriving concern here, and with just a little more thought it could become one of the major venues on the Core circuit. Of course, it would need a woman’s touch to remove some of the vulgarity, but -”

He glared at her. “Vulgarity?” he asked, despite himself. “You consider this vulgar?” He swept his arms around, taking in the entire room.

“Of course. But it only needs a minor adjustment to make it attractive to the more discerning client, and that would -”

“Madam Romanov, forgive me. But I cannot talk right now.” He took hold of her arms, moving her aside. “Later, dear lady.” He hurried towards his office.

“Not if I see you first,” Freya whispered, heading in the other direction. Weaving her way through the crowd, she came in sight of the main doors. “Tzao gao.”

“What? What is it? Frey, what’s going on?” Mal’s voice was loud in her ear, and she lifted her hand to cover it in case anyone heard.

In response she thought, Guards. At the exit. I don’t think I’m going out that way.

“You need help?” He sounded more than anxious now.

Not yet. Zoe’s on her way with the box. I’ll be right behind her as soon as I can.

A loud noise had her turning back, staring down the lounge. Salazar was on the dais by the fountain, clapping his hands. Everyone turned to look.

“Ladies and gentlemen, forgive me, but I must ask you to remain where you are,” he called, his voice carrying easily in the sudden silence. “There has been a theft from my office, and I believe the miscreant is still here.”

His guests looked at each other, and a murmur of conversation broke out, some a little louder than others.

“How ridiculous,” a woman said.

“I didn’t come here to be accused of being a common thief,” a man added.

“An outrage,” said another.

Salazar held up his hands. “Please remain calm. While I do not believe that any of our guests would be involved in this, it is essential that we check everyone’s ID, just to make sure you are all who you say you are. And please accept my apologies in advance. We want this over as quickly as possible, and I know you will co-operate fully with our security team.” Salazar smiled at the assembled crowd, but it wasn‘t helping.

Freya tried to breathe normally, looking around. Mal, I could do with a little advice here. She heard muttering in the ear-piece.

“Frey, I’m coming to get you.”

NO! she thought firmly. That wouldn’t help. Just get me a way out of here.

There was more talking, then Hank’s voice. “There’s a door halfway down the hall, on the left as you face the office. Can you see it?”

She scanned the wall, about to say she couldn’t see anything, then realising a waiter had just come out from behind the gossamer drapes. Yes.

Mal must have passed on the message, because Hank went on, “It leads to the kitchens. You should be able to get out that way.”

You sure?

Frey, I don’t think you got a choice, Mal thought softly in her mind.

On my way. She moved slowly through the mass of people, dropping a word here and there, doing her best to wind people up in the hope that it would distract from her. She’d almost reached the doorway when someone touched her on the arm.

“I don’t know about you,” a soft female voice said, “but I have no intention of those idiots checking my ID.”

Freya looked across, seeing a slim blonde woman, dressed in black, smiling slightly at her. “Excuse me?”

“Forget the act. I saw. You and your friend. You just got to the safe before I could.”

“I don’t know -”

“We don’t have time, sister. Do you have a way out of here or not?”

to be continued


Sunday, June 1, 2008 1:56 AM


Very exciting stuff here! So much easier to steal from people who make your flesh crawl. Excellent use of details and the suspense was perfect. Who is the new thief? Do we know her?

Sunday, June 1, 2008 5:41 AM


Oh please tell me that the woman that caught hold of Freya's hand was not Saffron? Apart from that this is a rip roaring chapter, plenty of tension and such. Hope Zoe got out with the box. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Sunday, June 1, 2008 2:11 PM


A mysterious woman?! ;) Wonder what part she has to play?! Great work here as always.

Sunday, June 1, 2008 5:13 PM


Excellent chapter! As always, I'm intrigued.

Monday, June 9, 2008 4:44 AM


“Forget the act. I saw. You and your friend. You just got to the safe before I could.”

“I don’t know -”

“We don’t have time, sister. Do you have a way out of here or not?”

AI YA! of course i look forward to you proving all theories bout who this is WRONG:)
fab chapter!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 2:09 PM


I go away for a little while and forget the family... Love Jayne playing with the little ones. Love that Freya can handle her business.


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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!]