Masks - Part XXI
Sunday, March 14, 2010

Maya. Post-BDM. Freya confronts Flynn, Mal waits, and Kaylee discovers something very, very bad. NEW CHAPTER


Freya stared at Flynn, almost waiting for the gun to evaporate, for him to say it was a joke in very bad taste, that this wasn’t what she thought it was. Only he didn’t.

“Drop it, Frey. I don’t want to shoot you.”

She glanced past him, seeing the reason for the scuffle she’d heard a few minutes before. Saffron’s two bodyguards lay on the floor, face down, still breathing but unlikely to be waking any time soon. Blood oozed from the mouth of one of them. They must have arrived back at the same moment, walking into an ambush. Just like she had.

“Flynn, don’t do this,” she said quietly.

“It’s too late,” he whispered, barely enunciating. “Put the knife down.”

“Fine.” Carefully, not taking her eyes from his face, she bent forward, letting the blade fall the last few inches to the thick carpet.

“Pity,” the man said behind Flynn. “I’d like to’ve seen what happened next.”

Freya’s attention flickered to him, then snapped into focus. “Aiden Lau?”

He smiled without humour. “So glad you remember me.” He pushed past, his black hair shining in the light as if it was on fire, a gun in his hand.

“You know him?” Saffron asked, holding her belly, Inara at her side.

“I wish I didn’t,” Freya said bitterly. Matty and Jolene’s wedding on Ezra, and the crew’s decision to go treasure hunting whipped through her mind. Then the Laus, taking the gold coins from the Kugelmann hoard off them. They’d barely escaped with their lives. “He’s a crook. Him and his brothers.”

“Mrs Reynolds,” Aiden chided. “Coming from you that’s almost a compliment.”

“Believe me, it isn’t meant to be.” She stood tall. “What do you want?”

“Not you, if that’s what you’re wondering. Until a little while ago I didn’t even know you were on board.” His gaze swept her up and down. “It’s someone else entirely.”

She wanted to shower, wash away just the idea of his touch, but contented herself with rubbing the palm of her right hand down her pants. “Who?” she asked, although she was certain what the answer was going to be.

“The other Mrs Reynolds, of course.”

Freya didn’t turn, didn’t need to – she heard the sharp intake of breath from both the other women. Someone stood up behind her.

“You’re not taking her,” Inara said defiantly. “She’s in labour. She needs medical assistance, and I'm sure you’re not going to give it to her.”

For a moment a flicker of indecision clouded Aiden’s face, then he shrugged. “That isn’t a problem. I suppose that’s why he’s here.” He signalled someone still in the corridor.

His younger brother moved into the doorway, Dr Barkin wrapped in his arms, one hand across his mouth to stop him yelling. “He bit me,” Jarrett complained, and indeed they could see teeth marks in the pad below his thumb.

“So you can get a shot later.” Aiden didn’t care. All he could see what the money waiting to go into his pocket. “Doc, it looks like you have a patient.”

Jarrett pushed Barkin forwards, into the room. The doctor staggered, falling against Aiden, who thrust him away, snarling at the man.

Freya acted. She jabbed her fist into Flynn’s midriff, hearing his breath whoosh from his lungs as he doubled over. Grabbing Inara’s hand, she ducked under him, kicking out and catching Aiden on the knee as she went past. He yelled, more in anger than in pain, but fell backwards against the wall.

She pushed Inara into the corridor through the gap created. “Run,” she ordered.

Inara found her feet obeying even without her will intervening, and she started towards the stairs, hoping Freya was right behind her.

Unfortunately her friend was just a little too late. Jarrett grabbed at her, catching her arm long enough to slow her down, and Aiden swung, his gun hitting Freya on the side of the head. She collapsed to the deck.

In the same movement he’d used to stop Freya, Aiden brought his weapon around, aiming at Inara’s fleeing back. Only Flynn got there first. He pushed Aiden to one side, bringing his own gun to bear, pulling the trigger. The sound of the gunshot was very loud, the smell of cordite strong in every nostril, but the bullet hit the panelling a good two feet above Inara’s head as she turned the corner.

“You call yourself a mercenary?” Aiden growled, nursing his knee.

Flynn collapsed back against the doorway, rubbing his belly. “Aim was off,” he said.

“Do you want me to go after her?” Jarrett asked.

“After who?” Chester appeared from down the other end of the corridor, striding towards them. “What the hell’s going on?”

Jarrett looked at Aiden, who said quickly, “Nobody. Just one of the woman’s companions.”

“Is she armed?”

“I doubt it.”

“Then don’t bother. She can’t do anything beyond tell the crew, and they’re going to pretty much know something bad is happening by now.” He cocked his head slightly as the sound of very distant gunfire filtered through, and a cold smile cracked his features. “The boys are already on board.”

Jarrett almost looked relieved. “Sure, Chester.”

The older Lau adjusted his gunbelt. “Where is she?”


“Mal, are you okay?” Simon was awkwardly trying to get down to the captain, who was sprawled on the deck at the bottom of the bridge steps.

“I'm fine.” Mal levered himself into a sitting position. “Don’t fuss, doc.”

“I've never seen you fall before.”

“I try not to do it when people are about.”

“Did you slip?”

“Something like that.” Mal looked up, seeing River in the doorway to the kitchen, the light behind her making her seem to glow. She nodded slowly, her eyes huge dark pools visible even in the near silhouette. “Something like that,” he repeated, getting to his feet. She knew, as he had, had felt that flash as Freya was hit, but not knowing by whom or with what. Just that she was down. Unconscious.

“You really should come to the infirmary,” Simon insisted. “Just in case.”

“I’m okay.” Mal brushed the young man’s hands away. “Nothing you can do about it. Nothing at all.” He kicked the hatch above his bunk open, quickly dropping down the ladder.

Simon half-turned, looked at his sister. “Freya?” he murmured.

River had to smile. Sometimes he wasn’t quite the boob she always likened him to. “Alive,” she promised.

“But in trouble.”

“They all are.”

Simon nodded. “I’ll get my gun.”


Chester stared at the woman on the floor, somehow familiar despite her back being to him. “What’s this about?”

“Another friend,” Aiden said, dismissing Freya. “That’s who we came for.” He pointed to Saffron.

Chester advanced into the room, looking down at her. “And this?” he asked, nodding towards the man at her side who was even now palpating her belly gently.

“The ship’s doc,” Jarrett explained. “Seems like she’s going to have the baby.”

“Really.” Chester took hold of Saffron’s arm, dragging her to her feet. “Is that right?”

Saffron wanted to play him, pretend to be the innocent, give him the eyes that would make him believe up was down and black was white. Trouble was, she was pretty sure he wouldn’t be taken in, so she did what she knew she shouldn’t. She spat in his face.

Chester didn’t touch the mucous rolling down his cheek. Instead a smile that resembled nothing more than a sneer, lifted his lips. “He said you were feisty.”

“Who?” Saffron demanded. “What do you want with me?”

“Not us, darling,” Aiden put in.

Chester nodded slowly. “And he’s going to be so very glad to see you again.”

“No …” Saffron went pale, all the blood rushing from her skin and making her as white as milk. She began to struggle against his grip.

Chester back-handed her, sending her staggering into Dr Barkin’s arms. “You’re a doctor?”

“Y … yes. And my patient needs to be hospitalised.”

“Isn’t going to happen.” Chester laughed. “You’re going to do your job and look after her. And that baby.” He glanced at his brothers. “Aiden, make sure the boys are having fun, and tell them they have an hour. Then we leave, with or without them.”

“It doesn’t give them long.”

“A minute more and they can take their chances with the rest of the crew and passengers and blow up. I think they’ll be back in time, don’t you?” He took hold of Saffron’s arm again. “I'm going to make sure our prize here is safely locked away.” He walked out, dragging her behind him, Barkin bleating along in the rear.

Aiden fumed. “The way he tells me what to do … one of these days …”

“I’ll do it,” Flynn offered. “Tell your crew to hurry.”

“You will?” Aiden looked surprised.

“Sure. Maybe there are a few trifles I can pick up on the way.”

“Just don’t let Chester see ‘em,” Aiden warned. “He’ll take ‘em off you, and likely your hand as well.”

“He won’t.” Flynn slid out of the room.

“What about her?” Jarrett asked, looking down at Freya lying unconscious at their feet.

“She comes with us.”

“Chester won’t like that.”

“We’ll put her in the hold. He won’t know until it’s too late. And I’ve got a few ideas I want to try out before we sell her.”

“And that pair?” Jarrett pointed towards the unconscious bodyguards.

Aiden smiled.


Watching Cho work, Kaylee realised he had earned his title of Chief Engineer with good reason. Not only did he know every inch of the workings of the Empress, but he was able to manage more than half a dozen jobs at once, giving help where it was needed, disembowelling useless display stations to cannibalise their innards, as well as rewiring some of the trickiest and smallest units she’d ever seen.

“We’re lucky,” one of the other members of the crew said to her at one point as they swallowed a hasty cup of warm water, keeping his voice low. “Most liners don’t have anyone like him on board. They mostly have a skeleton crew, and rely on when they dock for any repairs.”

“That’s crazy,” she’d whispered back. “What if something goes wrong?”

“Small stuff, we’re trained to deal with. But most liners have so many back-ups and redundancies now, it takes a bomb going off to pretty much dent anything.”

“Like now.”

“Yeah. So the Chief is considered a dinosaur. The only reason he’s not been put out to pasture is because of his reputation with some of the members of the board.”

“Well, I for one am glad he’s here.”

The man had grinned. “Me too. Come on. I need some help with the stabilisers.”


Zoe stared at the room, very definitely and most defiantly empty. She swore under her breath.

“They must have taken Freya too,” Inara said from the doorway.

“Yeah.” Her eyes narrowed. “’Nara, can you go check the other level?” she asked. “I'm not holding out any hope, but they might by hiding.”

Inara nodded, gathering her courage back around her. It had almost deserted her only a short while ago as she’d panted out what had happened to Zoe and the girls.

“I didn’t know what to do,” she’d said, tears stinging her eyes.

“The right thing,” Zoe said. “You did the right thing. If you’d gone back, they’d’ve taken you too, you know that.”

“Yes, but –”

“No buts.” Zoe glanced at Val and Phoebe. “You stay here,” she ordered. “Lock yourselves in your rooms and don’t come out, okay?”

“But Flynn wouldn’t do that,” Val insisted, tears sliding down her already reddened cheeks. “I know him, he wouldn’t –”

“We don’t know him,” Zoe said, sharper than she had intended. Tempering her tone, she added quickly, “But we’ll ask him. When we find him. For now, do as I say.”

The girls nodded, clinging onto each other as the two women left the suite. It was only outside that Zoe let loose with a series of inventive Chinese curses.

“He didn’t seem happy about it,” Inara said, wondering why she was defending him. “I don’t know why he did it.”

“Money,” Zoe answered shortly.

Inara hadn’t known what to say, and now did as she was asked, and hurried up the stairs to the upper rooms, leaving Zoe on her own in the main salon.

Zoe waited until she was out of sight before taking a step back and dropping to her heels, lightly touching the carpet where she’d stood. Her fingers came away wet, almost greasy with something horribly familiar. The redness didn’t really show in the emergency lighting, but at least she now understood why the floor had felt wrong. It was virtually invisible on the dark pile, but she could just about see a trail leading to the closet in the corner. Taking a deep breath, she stepped closer and opened the door, steeling herself to what she might find.


“You’re staying put,” Chester said, pushing the door closed. “And this will be locked to make sure.”

“No, wait!” Saffron pleaded. “I'm claustrophobic! You can’t do this! I’ll have a panic –” Her protestations were cut off by the metal clanging shut, a final punctuation mark being the lock engaging with a near-terminal click. “Cao ni zi zhong shi ba dai!” she shouted impotently. Suddenly all the anger drained out of her, and she slumped back to the deck. “Damn.”

“Are you really claustrophobic?” Barkin asked, going down on his heels next to her.

“No. I just thought it might help. Maybe he’d leave us somewhere else.” She let her head fall back against the wall and sighed mightily.

“Are you okay?”

“You mean apart from being pregnant, kidnapped and locked up with a moron? Oh, I'm peachy.” Sarcasm dripped from every word.

“I'm only trying to help.”

Saffron looked at him, realising it probably wouldn’t do to antagonise him, since he was the only assistance she was likely to get. “I know,” she said, managing a small, hurt smile.

A faint red tinge coloured his cheeks. “That’s all right. I expect it’s your hormones.”

“I expect so.”

“Although what those men think I can do without my equipment, I’m not sure.”

“I think they’re expecting you to hold my hand.” A contraction started to build. “How many babies have you actually delivered?”

“Actually? You mean as primary?”

“That would be my question, yes.”

“Actually … not many,” Barkin admitted. “Mostly I just stood by as the midwives did the actual work. But women do this sort of thing all the time, don’t they? I mean, it’s encoded into their DNA, in their genes, being able to – ow!” The yell at the end was caused by Saffron grabbing his hand and squeezing so hard he could hear the bones grate.

“You have a whole lot to learn,” she managed to pant out.


Zoe almost breathed a sigh of relief as the red light fell on the bodies of two men, tossed like trash against the back wall. One was turned towards her, and she could make out the bullet hole in his forehead, centre and just above his eyebrows. He stared at her accusingly. The other faced away, but was no less gruesome, half the back of his head missing.

Not even a twitch showed on her face. She’d seen too much death, too many bodies mangled far worse for it to affect her, but she said a silent prayer over them, as she had always done, despite the fact that neither of them were known to her. She could hear Inara coming back and closed the door quietly, taking a pace away so it wasn’t obvious what she’d been doing.

“Nobody up there,” Inara reported, more in control of herself now. Her poise was back, if a little dented.

“Didn’t think there would be,” Zoe said. “But we had to check.”

“I know.” She looked around. “Did you find anything down here?”

“Nope.” It wasn't really a lie, and if it was less than the truth, at least Inara wouldn’t know what she had been treading in, or wonder what other matter might be hidden underfoot.

Suspecting no dissembling Inara asked, “What will you do? Look for them?”

Zoe considered for the space of two heart beats. “The Empress is too big. I could pass by within a couple of feet and not know.”

“She said a ship had locked on.”

“Probably the Golden Dragon, if you’re right and it’s the Laus.”

“That’s what Freya said. They’re probably heading back there.”

“We’ve got the girls to protect.” But Zoe was wavering.

“I’ll stay with them,” Inara offered. “You try and find Freya. And Saffron.”

“That woman probably has Chester Lau eating out of the palm of her hand by now, but …” She nodded, just once. “I’ll see you back. Make sure you’re locked in.”

“I can …” Inara was about to say she could look after herself, but the evidence from the evening seemed to be against it, so instead she finished, “Yes, Zoe.”

Opening the door to the corridor Zoe ushered the other woman out, only glancing back once at the closet. Inara was right – she had to at least try and find Freya. It wasn’t often that the psychic talked mentally to anyone other than Mal and River, but she had been known to at least drop hints into the rest of the crews’ minds, and now the silence was ominous. The Laus had a bad reputation, and if they were already cleaning up after themselves … She hurried out after Inara.


“I can’t see it.”

“Where are you?”

“By the exchangers.”

“A bit further. About ten feet or so.”

Kaylee walked on, then realised she should have seen it. “Got it,” she called to Mullings, the sub-engineer who’d been detailed to work with her.

“Shiny.” He sounded like he was inside the transducer array, which he probably was, since he had to reset the meters before she could do her bit.

“Just give me a sec and we should be able to flush the system.”


It was only the work of a moment to remove the front panel to the fuel converters, the screws coming free surprisingly easily. Setting the cover against the wall, she picked up the torch and shone its powerful beam inside. Her body stilled.

It seemed like a lifetime but was probably only a couple of minutes when Mullings walked up behind her. “Miss Kaylee?” he asked. “We’re all ready to go if you’re … are you okay?”

She didn’t move. “Go get Mr Cho.”


She half turned, really slowly, her eyes seeming huge in the dim light. “Go and find Mr Cho. Bring him back here, as soon as you can.”


“Just do it.”

She hadn’t raised her voice, but it was as if she’d shouted as loud as she could. Mullings felt a frisson of fear drip down his spine like ice water. “Yes, Ms Kaylee,” he said, already running.

Kaylee turned back, the torch still illuminating the large grey tube attached to the relays, a small, internally lit display counting down, seeming to gain speed as she watched.


Mal strapped his gunbelt around his waist, tying the strips of leather about his thigh. With the ease of long practice he drew the firearm, sighting down the barrel. He swung around, stopping as he realised he was facing the nursery, Jesse’s domain now that Ethan had moved to his own room. The children were all with Bethie, each giving the other the support they needed, while here he was, without the support he needed. He slid the gun back into its holster, with just the whisper of leather on metal.

His eyes fell on a capture sitting on the table and he reached out to touch it, but drew back at the last moment. He knew what it contained, the images that would always be burned on the back of his mind. His wedding. That red dress she wore. Him in that ridiculous suit. Before Ethan, before Jesse ...

Closing his eyes he leaned on the table, every ounce of his strength of will behind the thought that he sent out. Frey.

He waited.

Was it just his imagination, or did he really hear it? One word, just the sensation of his beloved wife’s voice saying his name.


Whatever it was, it seemed to fill him with a new sense of purpose. He stood up, opened his eyes. We’re coming, xin gan, he sent into the infinite. We’re coming.

The com crackled, then Hank’s voice filled the small room. “Mal.”


“It’s what I think it is, ain’t it?” Kaylee was standing a pace away, letting Cho examine the device for himself.

“Pretty much.”

“It’s bad.”

“Yeah.” He backed out. “The fuel cells sit right behind that wall. Whoever set this knew what they were doing – if it goes up it’ll take most of the gorram ship with it.”

Kaylee’s imagination threw up a far too accurate picture, tinted with still-fresh images of Road Runner, and she had to swallow. “Yeah,” she murmured.

“Can we move it?”

“No,” Kaylee said quickly. “I took a look. There’s some kinda device looks like it might have an inertia switch inside. We try and shift it, it’ll blow.”

“You know something about bombs?” Cho was surprised.

“I’ve had some experience.” Another series of memory flashes whipped through her mind, from helping Freya construct aerial mines all the way to blowing up an entire AI ship, but she pushed them away. “But I ain’t an expert.”

“Well, you’re about all we’ve got.” He gazed at her. “Can you defuse it?”

“Who, me?” Her voice squeaked unnaturally.

“You. Kaylee, I ain't got anyone else knows a damn about this kinda thing. I can go rummaging around inside it, and I’ll gladly stay and help you, but if I try to do something on my own I'm as likely to send the ship into hell.” He glanced at the numbers. “And time’s ticking.”

to be continued


Sunday, March 14, 2010 9:53 AM


Freya and Saffron captured. Saffron having her baby, Flynn gone to the other side and a bomb on board.

What haven't you left out to make this exciting?

Sunday, March 14, 2010 9:53 AM


Freya and Saffron captured. Saffron having her baby, Flynn gone to the other side and a bomb on board.

What haven't you left out to make this exciting?

Sunday, March 14, 2010 12:11 PM


You haven't told us yet who the Big Baddie is that even has Saffron afraid. Wow, no shortage of action in this one. Hope Flynn finds his humanity and redeems himself before Zoe finds it for him. Great suspense and wonderful pacing in this one!

Monday, March 15, 2010 3:11 PM


When you said you would be pulling out all the sops, you sure weren't kidding. Damn! Well done and I am ready for the rest of the fighting and baby birthing to get underway!!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010 11:37 AM


Such a good story line but I have to re-read so many times to understand who is saying what.

I liked the "whisper of leather on metal."


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