Old Habits - Part XI
Friday, June 13, 2008

Maya. Post-BDM. In which Kaylee reports on her findings, Mal tells a story, and Freya comes to a decision. But remember, things may not be as they seem ... NEW CHAPTER




“Can I come in?”

“If you want.”

River ducked her head under the doorway and walked into the engine room. Kaylee was sitting in her hammock, her legs drawn up under her, staring at a piece of the metal she‘d brought back from the remains of Road Runner. Her work bench was strewn with more bits, engine parts that had been eviscerated and damaged beyond almost all recognition.

“Are you sure?” the young psychic said.

“’Bout what?”

“That it was an accident.”

“Ain't said yet.” She sniffed hard, wiping at her nose with the back of her hand and leaving a stain of grease on her skin.

“But you’re going to.”

Kaylee’s eyes narrowed. She knew, like the rest of them, that her sister-in-law’s abilities weren't up to full strength because of the measles she’d had, but this … “You reading me?”

River shook her head. “Not really. But there’s a shape to the fog, edges, and I can guess at its meaning.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You’re going to tell Mal it was an accident,” River said softly.

“Nothing to say otherwise, least that I can see.” She didn’t have any more tears left to cry, but that didn’t stop the lump in her throat. “There ain't enough left of anything to work with, that’d tell me anything at all, so … Just a big old explosion that tore her apart.”

“Are you sure?” River took the object from Kaylee’s unresisting fingers, and gasped at the shock that ran up her arms like electricity, tightening her jaw, splitting into her brain.

“River?” Kaylee looked up in alarm.

“I … Kaylee, are you sure?”

“No, I ain't sure!” She felt a flash of anger burn through her. “But don’t you think I’d say if I thought it was deliberate?”

“I …” River couldn’t speak, the blood draining from her face. Images, piling one on another: Burton on the bridge, Yuki in the galley, Terry, Brogan, McFee … on and on and all screaming soundlessly.

“Are you okay?”

“I … no …” She held out the lump of metal, not physically capable of letting go, feeling the phantom heat bonding it to her skin.

The young mechanic pried it from her fingers, turning it over and over in her hands even as River was able to breathe again. “You think it’s different,” she whispered. “Seein’ something.”

River nodded slowly. “A bomb.”

“A –”

“I can taste it. The fragments. The last memories of those that were murdered. Seeing the explosion in the microsecond before death …” She stared into the spinning heart of Serenity and trembled.

“You mean someone did do that on purpose?”


Kaylee couldn’t have looked more horrified. “But how could they?”

“Can you prove it?” River asked instead. “Tell if I’m right?”

“I … I don’t know.” Kaylee stood up. “I got a lot of bits, like I said, but nothing that’d be from a bomb. They’re just bits of engine. And to do that to a Firefly, blow it up like that …”

“There has to be some way.”

“Maybe I can get Simon to help me analyse any residue on them, see if …” She swallowed hard. “But why would anyone wanna kill Burt? I mean, Yuki and Terry and –” She was about to burst into tears again.

River put her hand on her shoulder. “We have to find out.”


Freya was finally asleep. Mal had hold of her, lying on their bunk, and he’d done his best to make her rest. He knew she’d seen through his eyes, knew she could deal with it as well as Jayne or Zoe, but wished she hadn’t had to. She was his wife, and even though she’d called him old-fashioned, got angry with him about it, he felt in his heart he should be able to protect her from that.

They’d talked for what seemed like hours …

“It’s coincidence, Frey,” he’d said, wrapping her in his arms and pulling her closer. “You know what I think about coincidence.”

“About as much as you think of luck.”

“Damn straight.” He blew the air out of his lungs in a long, slow breath. “I wish you could see, ai ren. Tell me what happened, who … anything.”

“I'm sorry, Mal. I keep trying, but there’s nothing.” She shuddered, pulling back from the grey fog that surrounded her mentally.

“It’s okay,” he reassured her. “I know you’re doing your best.”

“Except my best isn’t good enough.”

“Then we’re gonna have to rely on good old intuition and detective work.” He glanced down at her. “I'm not gonna let this go, Frey. Not gonna walk from it, let someone get away with murder.”

“You wouldn’t be the man I married if you did,” she murmured, resting her chin on his chest so she could look into his blue eyes. “What are you planning on?”

“Got me some thoughts on the matter …”

They discussed options for some time, argued for a while, but eventually her breathing had evened out and she dozed, her eyelashes twitching occasionally as he watched. He hoped they were better dreams than he knew he was going to have in the days to come, and prayed his nightmares wouldn’t wake her.

The sound of the hatch opening made him stiffen.

“Captain.” It was River, for once being circumspect and not just dropping in.

“Gorramit.” Mal glanced at Freya as she lifted her head. “Sorry, sweetheart.”

“No problem.” She smiled tiredly for him, stifling a yawn.

He called, somewhat cantankerously, “What? What is it?”

“There’s something I have to tell you.”


“About Road Runner.”

Mal pushed himself around so he was sitting up. “You’d better come down.”


River and Kaylee stood at the foot of the table, looking at the crew assembled there. Even Becca was in the galley, sitting in one of the easy chairs. Only the children were absent, down in Bethie’s room. This wasn’t for their ears.

“What’s going on?” Hank asked, glancing between the young women.

“Can’t be as bad as what we’ve just had to do,” Jayne put in, leaning his chair back at an alarming angle.

River glanced at Mal, who said, “Go ahead. It’s your party.”

She nodded slowly, then said, quietly but distinctly, “It wasn’t an accident.”

“What?” Jayne’s chair hit the floor.

“Road Runner. It wasn’t an accident.”

Mal exchanged a fleeting look with Zoe, knowing the barely controlled rage on her dark face was reflected in his eyes. “Best explain it to the rest of ‘em, Kaylee.”

The young mechanic took a deep breath. “I thought it was an accident. They happen, cores blow ‘cause of bad maintenance, that kinda thing.” She held up a piece of metal, twisted out of all recognition. “It looked like the containment blew, mainly ‘cause of this. It’s the central convertor. Takes a lot to break one of these. Serenity’s never has, but if it did it’d mean a total engine refit.” She looked down unhappily. “And this is torn apart. ‘Cept if it was the containment, there’d’ve been some warning. Even if they didn’t know what had happened, it wouldn’t’ve …” She lifted her chin, in defiance of her feelings. “I wasn’t thinking straight, but after River and me spoke, I had another go. And it started not to make sense. Things that should’ve been vaporised weren't, and stuff like this that should’ve stayed whole, got damaged.” She stopped, looked at Simon.

“I ran some tests,” he said quietly. “Swabbed some of the fragments that Kaylee gave me and ran them through the analyser.” He paused, but it wasn't for effect – it was to gather himself. “There was trace on dozens of pieces. Dettonax.”

Jayne sat forward. “That ain't legal.”

“It doesn’t stop people using it.”

Hank looked between them. “Dettonax? Are we supposed to know what that is?”

“It’s an explosive,” Zoe explained, having to consciously control her breathing. “Incredibly powerful. A brick the size of my fist could blow us to hell.”

“How come I’ve never heard of it, then?”

“It’s the main destructive element of the Aurora mine.”

Hank’s face twisted into disgust. “Cao.” For a moment he was back in the war, hurrying to catch up with his comrades walking fifty yards in front of him, casually crossing an open space that they’d been told had been cleared by the sweepers. Next thing he remembered was waking up in the medtent, his blood-soaked clothing being cut off as the doctors worked frantically to find out where he was wounded, only to realise it was all that was left of his friends. “The Independents used …” He swallowed hard, then got up and strode to the cupboards, reaching up into the highest and taking out Jayne’s whisky. He poured half a mugful and downed it in one.

“Might be a good idea to bring that back to the table,” the big man suggested. “Think we might be all needing one.”

Hank nodded, dropping a handful of mugs onto the old wood, then refilling his own. He carefully didn’t look at his wife.

“We ain't proud of it, Hank,” Zoe said softly. “I can only say the Captain did what he could to stop ‘em laying the damn things, but it was war.”

“I know.” Hank pushed the memories back under the surface, watching Jayne pour alcohol for everyone. “Any idea where it was? On the Road Runner?”

“The cargo,” Mal said shortly. “I figure it was in one of those crates we picked up.”

Zoe turned dark eyes on him. “But that means … us or them?” She leaned on the table, glaring at him. “Sir. Us or them?”

“Neither. Kendrick.”

Freya’s head whipped up.

“Who?” Hank looked confused again. “Who the hell is Kendrick?”

“Badger’s client. The hwoon dahn those crates were meant for.” Mal leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes.

“I don’t understand.”

“Neither do I,” Freya said, her voice dangerously quiet. “What does Anton Kendrick have to do with this?”

“We were late,” Mal said, not answering her. “Near a week. If Badger’d got our cash we’d’ve offloaded and been gone. We’d never’ve known.”

“A timer?” Zoe asked quietly.

“I guess.”

“But there weren't –“ Kaylee stopped at Mal’s look, confused. She’d told River there was no sign of any such device, but he was acting like … She didn’t understand.

Zoe took a deep breath. “You don’t have a choice anymore, sir. You have to tell everyone.”

“Tell everyone what?” Freya demanded. “Mal, what the hell is going on?”

Becca interrupted. “Oh, this is too good. You mean they don’t know?” She got up from her chair and gazed at him. “That big piece of your life and you haven’t told them?” She gave a burst of laughter. “Mal, you’re a hoe-tse de pigu.”


“No. I'm not going shut up just because you –“

“Enough!” Mal was on his feet, hands in fists on the table. “You don’t get to do that. Not now. Not ever again.”

“You can say what you like. Still doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to brush this back under the carpet, my darling.” She put her hands on her hips. “Not now.” She was smirking.

Mal wanted to wipe it off her face, put her down until she was crawling, but he knew he couldn’t. Not yet.

“Sir.” Zoe looked at him. “I hate to admit it, but she’s right.”

“Gorramit.” He closed his eyes momentarily, then looked around at his crew, the varying expressions on their faces. He lingered on Freya, and apologies wordlessly. “Badger let slip who his client was, said he didn’t like folks that wore brown. He was right. Anton Kendrick was Alliance. High up, too, something like a major-general by the time the war ended.”

“But the war’s over,” Simon said softly. “You keep telling us that.”

“Maybe I do. But for some maybe it ain’t.” Mal exhaled loudly. “And Kendrick had a hand in the worst atrocity of it.”

Simon’s jaw dropped. “You don’t mean –“

Mal nodded slowly. “It was his plan. He was the one decided to make an example. Got together the experts, everything he needed. Decided which planet was the one gonna be that example. My home, Simon. Shadow.” He swallowed, trying to clear the lump in his throat. “Everyone knew about the scorching. The guards were more’n happy to rub it into our faces.” He knew he sounded bitter, but it was too deep, too ingrained to be anything else.

“Mal, I –“

He wasn't listening. “Soon as I got out of the disbursement camp they approached me. Never did know their names, but they told me who had ordered it. Asked if I wanted to make it right. Handed me the place he was gonna be, gave me a gun, set me loose.”

There was no sound in the dining area. Not even Serenity seemed to be breathing. Zoe was sitting staring at nothing, but all other eyes were on Mal.

“You were a dust devil?” Hank asked, almost in disbelief.

“No. But then, neither were they. Just some men who’d been left empty by the war, and wanted to feel something again, even if it was only hate.”

“That’s not you, Cap’n,” Kaylee put in.

“No?” He gave her half a sad smile. “When I wanted to kill him so badly? He’d destroyed my home, taken everything I held to be right and just and trampled it into the dirt.” He barked a hollow laugh. “Every little bit of hate and resentment I felt at those purple-bellied bastards I laid on him.” He stopped.

“What happened?” Simon asked when Mal had been silent for a few seconds.

“I went hunting. They were right. He was there, and he was waiting. Knew someone was gonna be coming for him, just didn’t know who. And I looked at him, in that armchair, his eyes begging me to shoot him, and … I couldn’t.”

“Why not?” Jayne stirred in his seat. “Just pull the trigger.”

“Because it would’ve been murder.” Mal sat down again. “And maybe I realised he was only a soldier. Least, that’s why I didn’t kill him at that moment.” Clasping his hands tightly together in front of him on the old wood, he tried to stop the trembling that was trying to break out. “Can’t say I didn’t want to. I did. I wanted to blow off his kneecaps, his elbows, and while he was screaming from the pain I wanted to gouge out his eyes.”

“But you didn’t,” Kaylee whispered, hoping as hard as she could.

“No, mei-mei, I didn’t. I still wonder why I didn’t just shoot him from the doorway, get it over with, but I let him talk instead.”


“He apologised. Asked where I was from, and apologised. Said he knew it was the wrong thing to do, and that he wished with all his heart that he’d never signed the damn order, never come up with the plan.” His eyes unfocused as he looked back all those years. “Can’t’ve been much older’n I am now, yet he’d slaughtered so many …” Mal swallowed hard. “He said, if I wasn’t gonna kill him right there, then maybe I’d let him explain. Something like being a confessor. Told him, I didn’t believe anymore, but he said that was all right. It wasn't the belief that was important. Just the listening.” He could still hear the man’s voice, aching with pain, almost begging to be understood. Almost begging to die. “Talked ‘til the sun came up, and by then I couldn’t kill him. Pitied him, yes. But couldn’t kill him.”

“You left him?” Hank asked.

“Yeah.” Mal took a deep breath. “Alive and kicking.”

“A good man.” River’s voice surprised them all.

“Can’t say he was that –“

“Not him. You.”

He looked at her, as much trust and love on her face as he had ever seen. “Nope, xiao nu. Not me either.”

“Course you are,” Kaylee agreed. “Couldn’t murder him. Not even then.”

“So you let him walk,” Becca said scornfully. “The man who’d taken your life, and you let him live.”

“Not your decision.” Mal stared at her.

“I would’ve ripped his heart out.”

“Except they didn’t ask you.”

“They should have! I was willing, I’d have left him in pieces!”

“So you told me. In gruesome detail.” He leaned back in his chair. “Saw the real you that night.”

“And I saw the coward inside the man.”

They glared at each other as the rest of the crew watched, growing more uncomfortable by the moment. Now they understood the real reason Mal had left this woman.

“But what now?” Simon finally asked. “If Kendrick was the target, are you going to warn him?”

Mal tore his eyes away from Becca, surprised. “Why should I do that?”

“Well, because we’re heading for Persephone. And Badger.”

“Maybe I want to finish what I started.”

“No, that’s not –“ “You can’t mean –“ “It’s nothing to joke –“

“Mal, that would be murder.” Freya spoke for the first time.

“You saw, Frey. You saw what was left of Road Runner. Of our friends. He’s responsible.”

“He didn’t blow her up.”

“No, but he was the real target. They just got in the way.”

Disgust warred with amazement on her face as she stood up slowly. “So this is it?” Freya stared down at him. “Your grand plan? Make Badger give you Kendrick’s transponder code and you go kill him?”

“Not kill. Talk. Find out who wants him dead and why. Then go kill them.”

“Mal, that’s crazy!”

He was on his feet in a moment. “You want Burt and the others to go into the night without someone doing something?” He crossed his arms, a barrier between them.

“Cap’n –“ Kaylee began, her manner more than nervous, but Freya interrupted.

“Of course I want to know why. But this isn’t the way. We don’t just go barging in. We talk to people, ask questions.”

“That’s what I’m gonna do with Badger,” Mal said obstinately.

“And then waltz off to Kendrick, and probably get yourself killed!” Her voice was rising, as was the colour in her cheeks. “You know what Badger said, what Burt said … Kendrick hates Browncoats, won’t deal with them. He’s just as likely to shoot you first, and never bother to find out why you were there!” She took a deep breath and touched his arm. “Mal, this is irrational.”

He pulled away. “I think you might want to reconsider that remark. If you’re insinuating I ain’t in my right mind –”

“It’s because of Shadow. I understand that. I’ve heard of Kendrick; hell, everyone in the camps did. But Mal, this man … if you’re right then there’s too many others might be wanting him dead. He won’t know which one destroyed Road Runner. And you might get hurt. Leave it.”

He glared at her. “You telling me what to do again, Frey? On my own ship?”

“Better than you not telling me anything!” she shot back.

“What, you bleating again because I didn’t tell you about Kendrick now? You think you got the right to know every little detail of my life ‘fore I met you?”

“Some of it would be nice!”

“Mal, this isn’t –“ Simon tried to get between them, but he was pushed aside.

Becca stood back, surveying the argument, her lips twisted into a fierce smile.

“And I've told you it ain’t.”

“You’re obsessed!” She stepped closer, feeling the heat from him burning into her. “And you just want an excuse to go and finish what you started.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” He’d dropped his voice, almost too low for her to hear.

“Don’t I? Me? Of all people? I don’t know?”

“Drop it, Frey.”

“No, I won’t. You’re going to get yourself killed, Mal. Please, don’t do this.”

“I have to.”

“You are so rutting stubborn!” Anger was now winning the battle. “You’ve got these gorram blinkers on, and you won’t see anything else. Someone did something you don’t like, and now you’re getting into the middle of something you can’t control. For God’s sake, Mal, think. You’re a family man now.”

“That old one?” he scoffed. “And I am thinking, Frey. Maybe clearer than I have been all along.”

“And it doesn’t matter to you if you die? If we lose you?”

“I’m gonna avenge everyone on Road Runner. You don’t like it, well, that’s your problem. And if it happens, it happens.”

She stepped back. “Then we won’t be around to see it. This is the last straw, Mal. You’ve lied to me for the last time. I’m not going to stay here and watch your bleed out in the infirmary, Mal. Or be told you’re lying somewhere with your throat cut. I'm taking the kids so they don’t see you commit suicide. We’re leaving. As soon as we touch down on Persephone I’ll contact Dillon, maybe he can arrange somewhere for us to go.” She looked into his blue, icy eyes. “We won’t be back.”

“If you think I'm gonna let you take Ethan and Jesse away from me –“

“Try and stop me.”

He stared for a moment, then let loose and slapped her, palm open across her cheek. “Puo foo.“

She didn’t move, didn’t flinch, ignoring the small trickle of blood from a split lip. “Well, that makes it easier.” She turned and walked away, not even glancing back.

The others were in shock.

“Cap’n –” Kaylee began, but he cut her off short.

“Any else of you feel like leaving, go ahead. I got me a job to do.” He strode off in the opposite direction.

to be continued


Friday, June 13, 2008 3:01 AM


How come with two Readers on board no one noticed how much Becca was lapping this up? Not a one of them with a suspicion of her hand in any of this? Or is Mal playing out the scene to draw her out? I surely hope the last line is what is happening because the thought of Mal throwing away his happiness, the wife and family he adores, the crew he would die to protect, for something as poisonous as revenge is like pressing a self distruct button with no thought of who else will be caught up in the explosion. I am just hoping that River is staying sharp and picks up on what Becca is thinking, can trap the evil witch before too many other good people get hurt by her. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, June 13, 2008 3:46 AM


Wow! Becca is one twisted girl. She makes an awesome villian. What is here next move and who will it effect?! You are a very talented spider, who weaves a very intricate web....keep spinning!

Friday, June 13, 2008 6:56 AM


I have to agree with Amdobell. Only time will tell if this was a show for Becca's sake.

Friday, June 13, 2008 3:26 PM


Wow! What an intense chapter! Ruthless, headed down the warpath Mal...a sight to behold.

Friday, June 13, 2008 3:41 PM


I smell a scam going on with River, Mal and Freya.

Sunday, June 15, 2008 10:54 PM


i'm wondering if Becca is some sort of shielded reader herself...

Thursday, June 19, 2008 3:16 PM


This is something I can see the 'old' Mal doing. Don't know about the 'new' Mal. But I really want to see where it goes...



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“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.

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“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.

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