Masks - Part XXII
Sunday, March 21, 2010

Maya. Post-BDM. The man Saffron fears arrives, but Serenity doesn't have such a warm welcome. NEW CHAPTER


It was a locker, pure and simple, situated in the secondary cargo bay on board the Golden Dragon. About two feet by three, there wasn’t enough room to lie down, and barely enough to sit comfortably, particularly as the struts where shelves could be hung were digging into her back. The only light came through a grille in the door, about head height, but so far Freya hadn’t managed to get the strength together to stand up and look through.

The blow that had knocked her out had made her woozy, and try as she might she couldn’t send her senses beyond the door. The headache didn’t help, either.

Lifting her hand, her fingers touched a lump that felt the size of the Heisenberg volcano on Isis, although it was probably no bigger than the Caradoc foothills. At least it wasn’t spewing lava, although the sick sensation it gave her was all too familiar.

“Flynn, I am going to kill you,” she murmured.

“I’d really rather you didn’t.”

She looked up sharply, then had to wait for the ‘verse to stop spinning. “Flynn?”

“Yes.” His face appeared at the grille, peering down at her. “Sorry.”

“Sorry?” She managed to lever herself to her feet, holding onto both sides of the locker to keep her balance. “You’re sorry?”

“Yes?” He looked ... odd. “It was a job, Frey. I didn’t know you’d ... I didn’t know.”

“You work for the Laus!”

He knew that if she could have got to him, if she wasn’t locked up in the cage, she’d have hurt him by now. “They were hiring, Freya, and paying good money. And I ain’t above a little larceny. Neither are you.”

“Maybe not, but we’ve never kidnapped anyone,” she hissed.

“It’s just a job.”

“Well, not any more.”

Something passed by the thick plexiglass window, cutting out the light display from The Halo for a moment.


“I'm picking something up,” Hank said, his fingers flying across the console.

“What? Is it the Empress?” Mal leaned forward, trying to see over his shoulder.

“No. Or rather, yes, but not just her. The Empress has company.” He was staring at the display screen.

“Who is it?”

“More like, who are they.” Hank made a minute adjustment. “I don’t recognise the one that’s just arrived, but the one that’s already locked on ... that one I know.”

“Tell me.”

“It looks like the Golden Dragon.”

“You sure?”

“The Halo may be playing havoc with the instruments, but I never forget a ship.”

Mal swore under his breath. River had been right. Someone they knew. “Can you keep something between them and us?”

“For a while. We’re coming up behind a pretty big chunk of rock, but once we’re closer …”

“Just do what you can.” For once Mal kept the temper out of his voice, acutely aware it wasn’t just his own wife in jeopardy. “And the stranger?”

“An Interceptor. Viral class.”

Someone had an odd sense of humour, Mal considered, calling a ship after a germ. Still, it could be just as deadly. Coming up closer in size to a shuttle than his own Firefly, an Interceptor was small, fast and armed. Its only saving grace, as far as he was concerned, was the fact that it had space for only a limited crew, and was perfectly capable of being flown by one man. More than three and it became somewhat cramped.

“Has it seen us?” he asked.

“No indication. The angle they’re coming in at, we’re pretty close to the fragment and they’re not looking for us ...”

Yet. There was definitely an unspoken yet hanging out there in that sentence. “How long ‘til they are?”

Hank glanced up, looking unhappy. “Ten minutes?”


“You ever think we’ve bitten off more than we can chew?”

“You think we have a choice?” Mal’s brain had been working at speed, conjuring various possible plans of action and abandoning most of them. Now he lifted down the com handset. “Jayne, get your pigu to the bridge. We have to –”

“Already here.” The big man stood in the doorway. “What do you need?”

“Get shuttle one ready for launch. And lots of firepower.”

The ex-merc’s lips twitched. Now that was a phrase he liked. Still, better to be safe than sorry. “Grenades?”

Mal went to say no, then glanced back at the screen. “You know, what the hell. Yeah. Low yield, but they might come in handy.”

This time Jayne grinned. “No problem.”

“And one other thing …”


Freya shook her head, then wished she hadn’t. “Flynn, you have to do something. Stop this.”

“I can’t.”

“Flynn ...”

The Golden Dragon shuddered.

“Gorramit.” Freya recognised the tremor. “Another ship’s locked on.”

Hissing indicated air equalising somewhere close.

Flynn nodded towards the airlock sitting unnoticed in the corner. “The General.”


“The man ultimately paying our wages.”

She leaned her head against the grille. “Flynn, I have a headache. Can you explain in words of one syllable?”

“He’s bought the woman. Chester said he’s her father.”

Freya’s mind flashed painfully to the day of her wedding, or rather the night following the ceremony, when Saffron had had Mal arrested on charges of bigamy and tried to make him the fall guy – again. Inara had been tasked with finding out what she could about the redhead ... “He’s here?”

Flynn nodded. “He wanted to take delivery in person.” There was no discernible expression on his face, but somehow he gave the impression of being very uncomfortable about the whole thing.

Cao.” It hadn’t been much, just Saffron’s real name, and the fact that her father had commanded the Alliance forces on Hera, making the bare handful of Browncoats who survived wait for two weeks while he discussed ‘terms’. He was General Sean Harrington, and his daughter, despite the many names she’d gone by since, had been born Erin Rhiannon. Freya had never told Mal, unsure of what his reaction might be, but it had been enough to persuade Saffron to drop the charges against him. “So he’s come for his daughter.”

“No. His grandson.”


“According to Aiden Lau, he doesn’t give a shit about Saffron. He disowned her a long time ago. But this kid ... he paid a lot of money to get proof of a boy, and he intends to take the child, raise it his way.”

She grabbed the grille. “Flynn, you can’t allow this to happen. Whatever I think of Saffron, what she’s done in the past, she’s the baby’s mother.”

“Freya –”

“You can’t let him do what your grandfather did to you.”

His face finally showed some emotion, his face paling beneath his tan, anger colouring his voice. “That’s low.”

“Your mother was forced to give you up against her will. Do you hate her so much that you’re willing to let someone else do the same?”

“Frey, I –”

Then it was too late.

The door opposite the window slammed open and Chester Lau strode into the small bay, two men at his back. He was surprisingly light on his feet for a big man, but he jerked to a halt just inside the door. “What the diyu are you doing here, Youngblood?”

Flynn kept his cool. “Talking.”

“Who to?” Chester took another step forward, and his face darkened with anger as he saw who was inside the locker. “You.” Realisation dawned. “You were the woman in the suite. On the floor.”


Mei you muqin de xiao gou.”

Freya smiled slightly. “The feeling’s mutual, believe me.”

“How did you ...” He stopped, the answer laying itself fully out in his mind. “Aiden. That hwoon dahn. One of these days he’s going to do something really stupid and I’ll shoot him myself.”

“Such brotherly love. It’s a joy to see.” Sarcasm dripped from every word.

The airlock in the corner interrupted them, groaning slightly as it slid open.


Kaylee was on her knees inside the console, letting her senses listen. It’s what she did sometimes with Serenity, late at night, when she knew something was wrong but her girl wasn’t telling her what. She’d dawdle finishing the washing up, until everyone had gone to bed, then stand in front of the turning heart, and just wait.

River always said she was a potential, that it came out in her gift with technology, that while her mother had a talent for foretelling the future in a teacup, Kaylee herself could hear anything mechanical.

Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, and just occasionally Serenity lashed out and bit her. This time, though, it was like finding a bad tooth. She could feel it, touch the shape, even make it hurt by wiggling it, but it wasn’t letting her know what to do about it. So, time to use more conventional methods.

She reached out, her fingertips tracing the metal bands holding the main tube secure. They seemed solid, possibly cold-welded into place. It would take a lot of force to pry it free, and since she was sure there was an anti-tamper mechanism in place … She moved to the tube itself. Apart from the numerical display – already a lot closer to zero – the device was featureless, although there was an indentation on the left end, suggesting some kind of tiny receiver, so that meant that it was probably remotely activated. It might also mean it could blow at any time if someone chose, although that sort of made the timer redundant.

Wires ran from the tube itself through the cabling to another grey box just to the left, also fixed firmly to the back wall. That at least looked like it might have an access panel, but she was also pretty sure a motion sensor was inside.

Mullings panted up. “Here,” he said, eyeing the open panel and Kaylee’s feet sticking out from inside.

“Shiny.” Kaylee scooted out and grabbed the device from his hand, switching it on and feeling it power up.

“What did you send him for?” Cho asked, curiosity itching at him.

“Passive scanner from the infirmary.” She grinned as the screen lit up. “It might see deep enough to let me figure out what we can do without trippin’ anything nasty.”

“And if it does? Trip something nasty, I mean.”

Kaylee gave a brief if slightly nervous laugh. “Well, we’re so close to the bomb, I guarantee we won’t know anything about it.”

Cho swallowed. “I guess not.” Still, he was impressed by this young woman’s inner steel, her enthusiasm even in the face of a possibly painful and certainly fiery death. “And you thought of this ... how?”

“My husband’s a medic,” Kaylee said, most of her attention on the tiny calibration bar. “I said, right?”

“That you did.” And about her kids, her friends, her captain ... all in all little Ms Kaylee had talked for what seemed like hours, but had very carefully not used any kind of description that might alert anyone to them, which suggested to him that sometimes they trod the grey line between legalities. For which he, for one, was pretty glad. No matter that he had experience of over a dozen ships, he knew nothing about bombs. “You just carry on,” he said quietly.


There was no ceremony, no piping aboard – although Freya could swear someone, somewhere was imagining just that – not even any guards, just a supremely confident man stepping through the airlock, tall, upright, his buzz-cropped red hair turning steel grey at the temples, his dark blue suit expensive and handmade. Even if Freya hadn’t known his rank, his military bearing shouted that this wasn’t a mere private. Even a sergeant wouldn’t have had quite such a look of disdain either, nor a lieutenant the almost permanent sneer. “Lau.”

Even from her disadvantaged viewpoint inside the locker Freya could see Chester bridle slightly at the use of his last name and no honorific, but he kept it to a minimum.


“Where’s my daughter?” He made it sound as if she was of little account, which to him she probably was.

“Where’s the rest of my money?” Chester countered.

A tight smile, totally devoid of humour, threatened to move Harrington’s lips. “Always business?”


Harrington reached into his jacket, as the men at Chester’s back stiffened. “It’s all right,” the General said, pausing. “I'm assuming your boss would prefer cash and not a funds transfer.”

Chester nodded, and his men lowered their guns an inch. “All too easy to cancel,” he agreed.

“Indeed.” Harrington completed the move, drawing a finely tooled notecase from his inside pocket. Holding it out, he added, “And of course I could kill you all, if I so chose.”

“Yet you don’t have any guards with you.”

“I don’t need guards.” This time Harrington allowed the smile to show, and the air temperature seemed to drop, something more than just a threat in his words. “Still, nobody’s threatening anyone else. Are they?”

“No,” Chester agreed. He took the wallet, feeling the smoothness of best quality leather beneath his fingertips. Flipping it open, his eyes gleamed at the number of very high denomination bills folded inside. He riffled through their corners, counting quickly.

“Don’t you trust me?” Harrington asked, amused.

“No.” Finally satisfied that he held a small fortune in his hands, Chester slid the notecase into his own pocket.

“That’s mine,” Harrington pointed out.

“I'm sure you can afford another one.”

“Probably.” The General squared his shoulders. “Now, your side of the deal.”

“Of course.” Chester signalled, and a young woman was pushed into view, a man at her side, supporting her.

Harrington looked her up and down, the great swell at her belly, the staining on the floral dress she wore. “Erin.”

“Father.” Saffron almost spat the word.

“And in just the position I expected of you.”

Liou kou shui de hou zi.”

“Ah, still the sweet little girl I remember. I think I’ve come just in time.” He looked at Chester. “Put her on board.”

“No, look, she needs medical attention,” Barkin insisted, feeling his charge pulling back.

“Who’s this?” the General demanded.

Chester shrugged. “Her doctor. Your daughter’s in labour.”

Harrington’s eyebrows twitched. “My grandchild is coming?”

“That’s right.” Chester nodded, not surprised that the other man wasn’t interested in his own off-spring. In ways he didn’t really want to consider, they were very alike, and he wondered just how long the woman would survive once she’d given birth. Apparently the same notion had occurred to the redhead, because despite being between contractions, she was looking very scared. “You might need a nurse, too,” he went on, indicating the locker. “You can have her for free.”

Harrington stepped up to the grille and peered inside. “A friend of yours?”

“Something like that.”

“Yeah, right,” Freya muttered.

“I could do with the help,” Barkin admitted, holding Saffron upright.

“Fine.” Harrington turned to Flynn. “You. Put her on my ship.”

Chester reached out and picked up a pair of cuffs. “You’ll need these.” He input the code to open the locker on the keypad, and the door swung open.

Freya stepped into the light, glaring at him. “You don’t really think this is over, do you?” she asked.

“I'm not the one in chains.”

Flynn moved forward. “Sorry,” he mouthed, snapping the metal around her wrists.

“At least don’t let them hurt the others,” she murmured.

“I’ll try.”

“How touching,” Harrington sneered. “But I don't have time to –”

The internal com squawked. “Boss, there’s a ship coming up!”

Chester didn’t allow his personal feelings to get in the way of business, but even he felt his stomach twist. He snapped the switch by the door. “Alliance?”

“Nope. Looks like an old Firefly.”

“Firefly?” Cao. Reynolds. He could see Freya grinning in triumph. “Take it out.”

“Yes, boss.”

“No!” Freya launched herself forwards, not sure what she was going to do, but knowing she had to try. Unfortunately Harrington was quicker, catching her arm and pulling her around, backhanding her across the jaw and making her head spin again.

“Stop that, or I’ll hurt you.” He spoke quietly, with little emphasis, but she was certain he meant what he said.

Something hummed, a low vibration that set her teeth on edge, and lightning flashed outside the small window.


“Damn.” Hank’s voice was quiet, only audible to himself and the dinosaurs still ranged on the consoles as the last of The Halo rocks danced in an unexpected direction and opened up the view in front of them. He flipped the switch for the internal com. “Mal, our luck’s run out. We’re in the open.”

There was a moment, and he could visualise his captain down in his bunk, possibly swearing. Then his voice came back. “Can we hide?”

“I can try, but ...” Something chimed on the board. “Damn it! Mal, we’ve been scanned!”

Then there was no more time. Something ahead flashed, growing bigger on the sensors until it hit, and every single light around him died.

to be continued


Sunday, March 21, 2010 4:36 PM


This is not a place to leave a cliffhanger like this when we have to wait a full week for an update - couldn't you have written a less exciting climax? Sigh. Patience is a virtue, not an old woman who owns a moon.....

Monday, March 22, 2010 10:23 AM


Agree with Kate....what the hell?! Got no more fingernails left thanks to you! Keep it going. Is getting great.


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[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!]