by G Thing

Serenity had become Inara's servant. Yet, the ship and her crew benefited from this arrangement. Inara created reasons for Serenity to go places where opportunities frequently developed.

Inara's shuttle had returned with an unexpected guest. Serenity had been stationed on Beaumonde. Mal, Kaylee, and Zoë were present in the cargo bay to greet her. As soon as she exited the shuttle with her guest, Inara said, "This is Montague Evans -- a frequent client of mine."

By then, everyone was standing and facing each other. Mal routinely enjoyed annoying Inara with his gibes about her work.

"Is he of the possessive sort?" he asked. Mal believed most of Inara's clients were powerful people who desired more power.

"He is cute. You know how to pick `em," said Kaylee.

Montague appeared quite flattered and replied, "Thank you, ma'am."

Kaylee looked joyfully at Inara and said, "Look, he's even a good blusher."

Inara scowled and said, "I am not going to kiss and tell. He has a job for us."

"A job!" Mal said with sarcastic enthusiasm.

"Montague and I have a mutual friend from Xenon," said Inara. "She is an anthropologist named Jendra Drake, and she needs a ride to Trivonia."

Zoë joined into the conversation. "I think that's a colony on Bluedock, sir. During the war, I met one or two people from over there."

"Quite right," said Montague. "Drake was last at Trivonia about three years ago. She was posing as one of the locals, but she fell off a horse and broke some bones. She needed medical assistance the people there couldn't provide."

"So, she also needs our doc to get her moving the way she should," Kaylee said.

Inara answered, "No, she just has to go back to Trivonia to retrieve her records."

Montague said, "She managed to get outside the colony after she'd healed a bit, but she couldn't get to her ship. So, she used her remote to activate the ship's beacon. A university transport arrived."

"She couldn't get back after that. Why?" Zoë asked.

"While she was gone healing from her wounds, the Alliance ruled Bluedock unsafe for landing. It seems a few townspeople have gone missing at Trivonia and some other colonies," Montague answered.

Kaylee had a good idea of what was going on. "They've been snatched," she said.

"That's a problem we don't like," Mal replied. "So, how much is she offering for this ride?"

Montague answered, "One thousand platinum."

Kaylee wolf whistled at the sound of that. Then, Mal answered, "That's something."

Zoë said, "Sure is," but she visibly had far less enthusiasm. Her light fake smile gave that away.

Inara reassuringly said, "I have told her about the Tams. I just talked with her a day ago. She sympathizes with their situation."

"There are a few conditions Ms. Drake requires," Montague said. "She has four trained armed guards under her employ. Jendra wants them on Trivonia when she recovers her records."

Clearly, but quietly, Zoë became more uncomfortable. Mal and Kaylee weren't sure what to say.

Inara looked at Mal and said, "Mal, Jendra Drake is one of the most trustworthy and honorable people I have ever known.

She really needs to go to Trivonia and leave safely. She wouldn't endanger herself or anybody else by trying to steal the ship or make any trouble."

Mal, Zoë, and Kaylee could tell how Inara had known beforehand that the armed guards would be a concern. "Will you take full responsibility should anything go wrong?" Mal asked Inara.

"Yes," Inara replied. "And I am telling you nothing will go wrong."

"That really is a lot of money Cap'n," Kaylee said.

Mal took a deep thoughtful breath before he said, "When can we meet her?" The opportunity was too appetizing to turn down.


After Inara and Montague had departed for Montague's estate in her shuttle, Mal and Zoë entered the bridge. Wash was already there running system checks. Mal had a task for him. "Wash, how long a trip is it from here to Bluedock? Then, tell me how long it will take if we avoid Alliance-controlled areas."

"Just give me a minute," said Wash as he began searching on the bridge computer.

While Wash was searching, Zoë said, "Sir, this is dangerous."

"Zoë, you know Inara wouldn't put Serenity in any danger," Mal said.

"Yes, but we don't know what Ms. Drake and her armed guards are thinking."

"As long as we are on this job, Ms. Drake is our boss. The professor wants security when she reaches Trivonia. Her sudden appearance down there might stir something up, and she doesn't want to get violated. The locals probably don't take kindly to folks who've been spyin' on em."

Wash said "Hey, it looks like we might get lucky, Mal."

Zoë firmly said, "Gwon nee ju jee du shu." Wash understood that she meant he was not helping.

"Wash, talk to me," said Mal. Wash seemed somewhat hesitant. He knew how his wife valued being able to trust him. Mal had known Zoë long enough to recognize that. "I promise I won't let her torture you."

Wash almost told Mal he had a hard time believing that. Instead, he did his job and said, "We could make it in 60 hours, and we'll be passing under the radar. The space is pretty remote between here and there."

Mal said, "That's terrific, Wash." Zoë shook her head in disapproval. "I could have Jayne and maybe the Shepherd keep watch on her guards," Mal said to her. He did not know for sure how competent Book would be with the guards of course. Yet, Book had already found several ways to surprise Mal.

Zoë began walking away from the bridge. "Jing tzahng mei yong duh," she said.

"Fine, we can all keep an eye on the guards. They'll have people around them 24/7," said Mal loudly and almost with forgiveness.

"She and I are gonna have fun tonight," said Wash with obvious sarcasm.

"As if there isn't enough paranoia around here. Tai-kong suo-yo duh shing-chiou doh sai-jin wuh dhu pee-goo." It seemed only colorful Mandarin metaphors could alleviate Mal's frustration.


Inara brought Professor Jendra Drake to Serenity well on schedule. Mal, Jayne, Kaylee, and Book were all present in the cargo bay to meet her.

Immediately after the shuttle door opened, they could hear Jendra say, "This takes me back. How could I forget? You were as hospitable as anyone I've met, and it seems you haven't changed much." Then Jendra saw Jayne bench-pressing with a healthy amount of sweat showing on his old t-shirt. "Of course, the venue is very different this time." Professor Drake's eyes showed Asian heritage, and she looked to be in her 40s.

Jayne stopped lifting and gave Jendra a nod of acknowledgement. "Behave yourself," Kaylee whispered to him.

Jendra was making her way down to the bottom level. She said, "I believe introductions are appropriate."

"I couldn't agree more," said Mal as he was walking toward the bottom of the stairway. "My name is Malcolm Reynolds -- captain of Serenity. Welcome aboard."

He walked up to Jendra and they shook hands.

"Thank you, Captain."

"Inara can give you a tour of the ship and the crew."

"Certainly," Inara said. "This is Shepard Book."

"Pleasure to have you, ma'am," Book replied.

"Over there is Kaylee Frye, our mechanic." Kaylee gave a greeting smile. "There sitting down is Jayne Cobb. He lifts things for us." Jayne gave another one of his acknowledging nods and smiles.

"You've come across an interesting group of people. I must say this vessel is strangely compelling," Jendra said.

"Well, thank you," replied Kaylee.

Following them out of the shuttle came four battle-ready individuals. Three of them were men, and one was a woman. They were all fairly large and muscular. Professor Drake went back next to where they were so she could point them out individually. "Allow me to introduce my security team. This is Mitchell." Mitchell appeared to be Caucasian. "Over there is Dawson." Dawson had black skin. "This fellow right here is Lang." Lang had obvious Asian heritage. "And this lady right here is Brett." Brett was a Caucasian woman and looked as though she would be very good in a fight.

As soon as Jayne saw her, he approached. She impressed him. Then, Mal said to Inara, "Kaylee will now show your guards to their cabins." Of course, Jayne scowled at Mal -- disappointed that he could not introduce himself to Jendra's lone female guard.

"Splendid," said Jendra.

Inara said, "There are a few other crewmembers you should meet. If you follow me, I will introduce you to our medic."

As Inara and Jendra left, Zoë made her way to the cargo bay. Mal saw her coming and said to her, "Ms. Drake is mighty polite."

"I'm glad you feel so comfortable, sir," Zoë said casually.


Kaylee introduced the four guards to the passenger dorms. Dawson, an experienced mechanic, clearly could not resist discussing Serenity's workings with Kaylee. After the other three guards were beginning to move their belongings into the dorms, Dawson said to Kaylee, "You're the mechanic on this ship, right?"

"I sure am," she said with a hint of pride. "The last I checked I was Serenity's mechanic."

"You know, I've worked on a few Firefly class ships in my time. Their engines are primitive compared to Alliance ships. Have you made any upgrades?"

"No, we never seem to have the money."

"Oh, that's too bad. Mechanics are at their best when they make improvements."

Kaylee smiled and said, "It would be gorram nice."


As they were walking toward the infirmary, Jendra said to Inara, "From your messages, I recall there being two fugitives on this ship."

"Yes, Simon and River Tam."

"I remember when the university wanted to recruit River."

They saw Simon in the infirmary taking final inventory of the medical supplies before liftoff. Serenity's crew stocked up on supplies every chance they got.

"This is Dr. Simon Tam," Inara said.

"It's nice to meet you, ma'am."

"Dr. Tam," Jendra said. "Inara never mentioned the ship's surgeon was so young."

"Being in the top 3% of one's class at Osiris Medical School brings more jobs to younger surgeons," said Simon with a trace of pride.

"Well, that's excellent."

"My sister was recruited to go to school at Xenon Colonial. Maybe, you remember her. Her name is River."

"Yes, I remember when the faculty was discussing that. We really weren't sure what we were supposed to think of her. She seemed so gifted in a remarkable amount of ways."

"Yeah, she's made me look pretty ridiculous on numerous occasions. At the same time, I wanted her to succeed and be happy. Of course, I would never let her know that."

Jendra went with her arrogant or envious voice when she said to Simon, "That little brat. She's just a show-off."

Simon and Inara both laughed for a second. "That she is," said Simon. He then turned serious and said, "Did Inara tell you about what happened to her at the academy?"

"Yes, she did. I sympathize with your situation, Simon. There are plenty of professors involved in the underground."

"Really? You know a few things about the underground."

Jendra nodded and said, "The Alliance is stepping beyond the law by experimenting with people. They are hiding behind legal tyen shiao duh, and people like your sister are punished for committing no crime.

There was an uncomfortable pause for a few seconds before Simon politely asked, "Would you like to meet River?"

"Very much."

"She has her good times and her bad times. I should warn you. She was in her room last I checked." Simon led them out of the infirmary.

They walked into the passenger dorm area. Simon knocked on River's door and said, "River, we have a visitor who would like to meet you."

They heard River answer, "It's not a door if no one can open it."

Simon looked somewhat uncomfortable. He did not wish for Jendra to see his sister in a tantrum. He said to River, "Okay, River, I am opening the door. I promise no one will hurt you."

The door opened. Jendra saw River and walked up to her. River only smiled a friendly smile from the bed she was sitting on. Jendra said, "River, I don't think we ever met in person, but I remember when Xenon Colonial recruited you. I understand that you've been through a lot of hardship."

Everyone outside stepped into the room. They were walking in the direction of the bed. River stood up and began walking toward Jendra. Then she stopped and everyone else could tell she was afraid.

"Is something wrong?" asked Jendra.

River showed signs of anxiety. The others were in the middle of the room. She circled them and left into the hallway at a quick pace.

Inara, Jendra, and Simon stuck close together and followed her to see where she was going. River appeared to be heading up toward the mess hall. "It's nothing you've done," said Simon to Jendra. "She gets like that quite often."

"Wow! Has she made any friends here?"

"She is making a few. She seems to enjoy being on this ship."

Unknown to Inara and Simon, River looked at Jendra and saw another victimized woman. Jendra, on the other hand, suspected that was the case. However, she could never believe River could simply look at her and see the horror Jendra secretly knew.


Suppertime on Serenity came on its usual schedule. Zoë and Wash were late. Jendra was already at the mess hall with Brett. Kaylee, Jayne, Inara, River and Simon were there as well.

"Where've you two been?" Kaylee asked the straggling married couple.

Wash answered, "If Companions don't have to kiss and tell ... oh, go seh. I've already said too much." No one actually believed him as Zoë remained silent.

Inara wished to initiate more friendly conversation. "Oh, Jendra. I almost forgot. This is Wash and Zoë. They are Serenity's lone married couple."

"She must be one capable woman to snag a man so ...," Jendra saw Wash glug down a pitcher of some drink she could not recognize. "...manly."

Zoë saw that Jendra shared some of Simon's dislike for the food. Kaylee also noticed this right away.

Kaylee said, "We have some nice oranges and strawberries in our cargo."

"That would be most kind."

Anyone paying attention could tell Simon was relieved when he got up and said, "Here, I'll get them."

Jendra sighed and said, "I think I've been away from Trivonia for too long. I used to be able to rough it pretty well."

Kaylee was not so sure what to make of Jendra's words. However, she wanted to continue the conversation. "Roughing it has its rewards," she said.

"It certainly does," said Jendra. It makes life more interesting, and I'm proud to say I've roughed it."

Kaylee still seemed a little uncomfortable. Therefore, Jendra changed the subject, "Dawson has told me about that lone compression coil you have. I'm telling you that you ought to get a spare."

"I keep saying the same thing to the cap'n. Could you please speak your mind to him?"

Simon returned only to find Kaylee and Jendra getting along pretty well.

Zoë glanced over to Jayne and saw how close he was sitting to Ms. Brett.

Jayne did everything he could to come off as a gentleman. "So, what's your name?" he asked her.

She answered, "Theresa Brett, how are you?"

"Perfectly content," Jayne slowly answered. "My name is Jayne Cobb."

Theresa could see how much effort Jayne was putting into this conversation. "Nice to meet you, Jayne. That's an unusual name."

"Yes, I have learned as I have matured to accept my name's abnormality with pride -- as much pride as I would have if I were a woman."

Theresa decided to have fun with this. "Would you like to be better acquainted with the parts of my anatomy that dignify my womanhood?" she said at a quick pace. Theresa had practiced saying that phrase.

Jayne took a three second pause to think this over before saying, "Yes, very much."

Zoë thought the exchange was both humorous and pathetic. She returned her attention to Kaylee and Jendra.

Kaylee said, "You know, there's something I'm rather embarrassed to ask in front of the doctor, but I gotta know." Naturally, Simon began paying better attention. "Whenever someone's having a big fancy ball, sometimes they categorize the food there as standards. What kind of food are they talking about?"

Simon and Jendra were silent and looking at each other with the hope that the other would respond. Neither did. Kaylee recognized this and said, "I only heard about standards on Persephone once. So, I wasn't actually supposed to know about them. That's good. That's very good."

Book arrived at the mess hall at that moment. Zoë had discovered on her own that her shipmates were enjoying the new company. Serenity had not been able to take passengers since Simon and River found their way in. Book could see how uncomfortable Zoë was. He himself had become suspicious of the guests. He had no doubt now that Zoë was in the same boat.


Jendra retired to her passenger cabin after dinner. She had glanced through a couple of her books before River came to her door and knocked. Jendra opened her door and said, "River, oh my god, are you okay?" "Spacey," was River's response. Professor Drake was uncertain what she could do to accommodate her unexpected guest. "Why don't you come in for a while? I didn't mean to scare you earlier," she said. Indeed, River came in, and Jendra was lost for words while River stood silent. Then, Jendra's rain stick came into her field of vision. "Have you ever seen one of these?" she asked. "Locals believe it summons rain for crops." Suddenly, River said, "They left you behind." Jendra said, "What?" with a feeling of familiarity. "They wanted you to carry the torch, but you blew it out." Jendra actually began whimpering. "There were others. They mutilated themselves. They saw everything I saw." "Children without parents." "I wanted to help the children. I thought they still had innocence in them." "Monkey see, monkey do." "Yes, they saw the adults killing each other. They didn't know that killing people was wrong anymore. So, I called for help. After I was rescued no one believed me." "The doctors thought the moon sang to you." Jendra began pulling herself together. She said, "Okay, River, listen to me very carefully. No one else can know about this while I'm here." River looked confused and was about to ask why before Jendra said, "They will turn around. I can't complete my mission if they do." River asked, "What if you ..." "I will try. It is the only way I can go on. Right now, I have nothing else to live for. Do you understand? I have nothing back home." River nodded. Jendra firmly told River, "This does not leave this room." River nodded some more. Some sense of trust had been established. Jendra watched River walk up the ladder away from her cabin confident that her secret was safe. After that excitement, Jendra turned in. With the exception of their encounter, Professor Drake's first day on Serenity was without much excitement. The second day, however, was waiting for her.

Chapter II

On the first morning after Serenity departed Beaumonde, Zoë and Wash found themselves alone at the mess hall. Neither had slept very well. Zoë was eating silently. Wash looked at her and said, "It's only 48 more hours,"

"Nothing stopping them from turning us into the feds after they're off. Carrying fugitives ain't exactly something people are tight- lipped about."

"Maybe I can sway the professor with my chat about flying gees."

Zoë only tried to look amused. Wash recognized this and said, "Okay, that was a bad joke. Look, if something bad happens, Inara can put a word in for us. We can trust her." Wash scooted his chair nearer to hers and held her hand.

"A word in for us," Zoë said. "We are talking about only one companion's word."

"Her word is better than some other people's"

"We'll have to answer for an ever-growing list of crimes."

Book entered the mess hall at his usual time. "Good morning," he said.

"Good morning, Shepard," said Wash.

"Is this a bad time for me to be here?"

Wash hesitated to answer, but Zoë said, "It's fine."

Book looked at Zoë quite firmly and asked, "What are your problems with our guests?"

Zoë shook her head and answered, "I just don't trust these people."

"I find myself wondering if there is something important we don't know," said Book.

Zoë had an apparent light bulb moment "Yeah, I ... I don't know why the professor absolutely had to use our ship." She gave a brief snicker. "Preacher, you have a way with words."

Wash was confused and said, "This sounds like my dinosaur chatter. Am I missing something?"

Book knew what she was thinking. As friendly as Professor Drake had been to them, her story was still hard to believe. "The moon was ruled unsafe for landing, right?" asked Book.

Zoë said, "Yeah, you know -- people getting snatched ain't something the Feds care much about. I've never found out why this planet is so off-limits."

"Did anybody find out?" Wash asked.

"I sure didn't," said Book.

Zoë looked serious and said, "Something down there scared them."


Simon was sitting and reading one of his books by himself in Serenity's infirmary. This activity helped make him feel at home. The rest of the ship was alien to him. Simon knew his place when he had access to the instruments of his profession. Then, Shepard Book came in. "I need to see your almanac," Book said. "You look bored." "Frustrated, I'm trying to help River, but she won't always cooperate. I think she's scared of doctors," Simon responded. "What do you need from my almanac?" They were talking about Simon's electronic almanac that followed Alliance planetary classifications. Users could download updates about current events. Simon had learned to avoid reading the almanac when Mal was present. It was the Alliance's work, and Mal had insisted it rarely told the whole story.


Meanwhile, Mal and Wash were on the bridge. Wash had provided Mal with an update on their position and scheduled landing. Afterward, Wash asked, "Rubiks, didn't he used to do some dealings in these parts?" Mal was all too aware of Rubiks' fate. "Stay focused," said Mal. "Don't you start saying doubtful things around me. Your wife could speak for everyone."

  Jendra again found herself in her passenger dorm with River at the door. "They're opening a book," River said alarmingly.


"All right, we've got something on Trivonia," said Simon. "The entry has been updated within the last year and a half." "Excellent!" said Book.


Through their communicators, Jendra said, "Dawson, Lang, we shift to Plan Beta now."

Jayne had a comfortable seat near the passenger dorms. After meeting Theresa Brett, he welcomed the privilege of keeping watch on the guards. The guests stayed in three rooms. The three male guards were in one room taking turns for who would sleep in the bed. Jendra and Theresa each had their own.

At that moment, Theresa opened her door. "Jayne, was that your name?" she said to him.

"Yes ma'am it is," said Jayne as he was walking toward her room.

"Are there any spare towels in here? The one I was using got dirty, and I need to take a shower." "Yeah," Jayne said. He walked in past Theresa and pointed up near the ceiling. "They're in that cupboard up there." Theresa snuck behind him and put a towel soiled with chloroform over his mouth. After Jayne fell to the floor, Theresa walked to the men's dorm and knocked on the door. Dawson opened it, and Theresa whispered to him, "Go now."


"Wo de tien ah!" said Simon. "There was a plague. Our Professor Drake was the only survivor from the plague." "That explains why she needed our ship to go back." "and why we've heard only this fei hua about Trivonia."


"I am in the engine room," Dawson said quietly through his communicator so only Jendra and company could hear him.

Jendra replied, "Good, let's do this as quietly as we can."


Simon read further, "A scout ship examined the planet and they found some bodies." Simon clicked the picture icon. They stood close together and viewed the pictures in silence for roughly ten seconds.

"Their flesh had been eaten," said Book. "Fang-tzang fong-kwong duh zie."

"We know what did this," said Simon. Both men were too appalled to see the gas coming through the ventilators in the infirmary.


Wash already was unconscious. Mal had managed to reach the emergency shelter just outside the bridge doors. He put on a gas mask and saw the cylinder marked O2 FLOOD underneath him. He pulled the lever that was fastened to its valve. It was important for Mal to breathe normally, and get into one of the space suits inside the shelter. Mal wanted to be prepared for whatever environmental condition was outside, and the space suit would help make that possible. Then Mal remembered he had to turn on the large fume hood above him for this to work. The contaminated air had to be aerated out of the shelter, and the fume hood gave it a place to go. In seconds, Mal was able to take off the mask and breath normally again. After he had closed the valve, Mal thought about what he should do next. After some thought, Mal reached the bridge in a space suit carrying four gas masks, which was the most he could carry in one trip. He knew, no matter what, he had to vent the air out of Serenity and activate the auxiliary life support -- if it was not also contaminated.

As Mal was preparing the main ventilator, he could hear a woman's voice on the intercom saying, "Put your hands up Captain Reynolds."

He turned around and he saw what looked like Jendra and Theresa under gas masks. Indeed, they were armed. With his hands up, Mal said, "Armed guards being shown around the ship. That makes things mighty convenient."

"Stay on course Captain," said Jendra. "I trust there will be no deviation. Running away makes Reavers want to chase you."

Mal was surprised and confused about what she was saying. Then, Theresa came behind him, unlocked his helmet, and removed it.

"Breathe Captain," Jendra said.

Mal had to ask, "Reavers?" before he lost consciousness.


As Mal was waking up, he could hear another voice saying, "Where is River?" The next thing Mal noticed was being handcuffed and tied to a chair. He then glanced to his left and saw that Inara was in the same predicament. Afterward, he looked around some more. He saw the same had happened to Zoë, Wash, Jayne, Kaylee, Simon, and Book. Mal knew that Simon was asking the question. Theresa said to Simon, "Look above and behind you." Simon did that, and he could see her. River was silent and attentive to the proceedings. "What the guai did that to us?" asked Wash. "That was the good-night kiss," said Inara. Her shipmates then looked at her and appeared to wonder how she knew that. Inara responded by quickly saying, "It could have been the good-night kiss. Mal, did that feel like the good-night kiss?" She was obviously rather embarrassed. No one other than Mal knew why. "Wouldn't you like to know," Mal joked unhappily. Simon added, "The compound occasionally is manufactured in a gaseous state."

Zoë asked, "How did it end up in our atmo?"

Kaylee looked coldly at Dawson standing in a corner. "Dawson did it," she said as though he betrayed her. "He must have fed it through the main engine. He knew how the main life support system would pump the gas into the atmo."

Jendra Drake walked to her captors. "Now that everyone is awake we may begin," she said as if she were teaching a class. The look of her Asian eyes prompted everyone to expect a lecture. "There are many things about this mission I haven't told you. First off, I was not undercover. I had two other colleagues with me and the colonists were aware of our presence. Both of my colleagues were killed three years ago along with most of the colonists at the town we were in."

"It was Reavers," said Book.

"Some squadrons landed right in the middle of town square. We were defenseless, and they were armed. They had other squadrons patrolling the outskirts making escape nearly impossible. I saw many horrors I don't wish to describe." Jendra sighed as she was thinking of unpleasant memories. "I was raped at least four times. There may have been more, because I was tortured and unconscious here and there. I kept asking them questions such as `Why are you doing this?' That may have kept me alive. The Reavers believed I would analyze the reasons behind their horrors, and I would never find acceptable answers other than pride and hunger. I was one of about twenty survivors. The rest of them began killing each other. Five of the survivors were children -- boys between seven and twelve years of age. They began killing too despite everything I did to help them reach some sort of peace. The children saw what the adults were doing, and they began killing to protect themselves. The two youngest couldn't compete with the older ones and were wiped out within a day."

Mal interrupted Jendra. He said, "You're a gorram psychotic. You want to take my boat there so they can get on board and kill us!"

"He's got a pretty good point, Jendra," said Inara. It was obvious Inara felt deeply betrayed.

As if she were teaching freshmen, Jendra said, "Any more disruptions, we will gag you. I will give each of you opportunities to ask questions."

Everyone followed suit. Typically, Mal and Jayne were the most reluctant.

Jendra said, "I didn't want us to be in this position that we are in right now. My plan was for you to drop us off at Trivonia and leave without ever knowing about these horrors."

Mal, Zoë, and Jayne clearly did not believe her. They looked in other directions believing Jendra wanted to steal the ship and leave the crew to die.

"I've come all this way, because I believe it is possible to return the Reavers to society. Before I can do that, I need to figure out what makes them so vicious to everyone they meet. They act as though they've been brainwashed.

"Reavers ain't people. They may have been once, but they ain't no more," said Mal taking the risk of being gagged.

Jendra replied, "Very well, Captain. I'll hear you out," to everyone's surprise.

Mal said, "They've been away from society so long they lost their humanity."

With the intent of getting everyone thinking, Book asked, "So why are they always working in packs?"

Book's words irritated Mal, but most of the other people were interested. "Shepard, please enlighten us," said Jendra.

"They seem to develop their own society. They stick together and plan like they are part of a terrorist organization." "That is conceivable," Jendra said.

"They may also worship some devil-like deity," said Book. "They perform rituals with how they arrange the people they've killed. It is possible the Reavers could be saved by the way of their own beliefs." Mal believed he had never heard such rubbish. "That gorram Alliance fed both of you with all this fei-oo making you think Reavers are no different than anyone else." "Captain Reynolds, it seems to me you keep coming up with more reasons to hate the Alliance. Whenever Inara has told me things about you, your hatred of the Alliance always comes up. Why?" asked Jendra. "I don't invent reasons to hate them. They are responsible for the injustices my people face." "Perhaps I should rephrase my question," said Jendra. "Why do you blame them for all these horrors?" "Before the war the Alliance wanted to conquer and rule the outer planets." "Where and when did the Alliance leaders say they were going to do this?" "They couldn't stand the idea of governments, commerce, and industries running independently of them." "If I remember correctly, their goal was to establish a strong central government. They also wanted to start programs to develop the outer planets moving their primitive commerce and industry up to a level comparable to that of the central planets." "They figured we would work for them for less money than workers in the central planets." "They never said you had to work for them." "The Alliance was going to take our jobs away from us. They wanted to modernize all our systems and make machines do all our jobs." "That did not justify mass murder," said Jendra in a serious voice that gradually became louder as she went along. "You started killing their people like terrorists. They weren't coming to kill you. Why the guai did you think you were doing any good by killing them. The Alliance had no choice but to bomb and invade your colonies. Everyone knew the Independents had to be stopped. Now, I ask you. Is that any way to have justice? It certainly didn't work in your favor." "It was better than lettin' em walk all over us."

"I agree with you that the Alliance is self-centered and ignorant toward the outer planets. That might not be the case, however, if a peaceful solution had been found. Shooting at people doesn't make them trust you or care about how you are suffering. You gave up every reason why they should."

Mal was thinking of something else to say.

Jendra recognized this and continued.

"When it comes to the Alliance walking all over you remember unjust laws are meant to be broken. This is not some totalitarian regime with a ruler like Ivan the Terrible or Saddam Hussein. You had other ways to fight for your independence -- ways that would have earned all of you some respect. You only had to read about Mahatma Gandhi to know that."

Jayne asked, "Who are these people?"

Book whispered to Jayne, "I'll tell you about them some time."

Mal, meanwhile, could see the futility of this debate. He decided to let her continue with her Reaver story. "Okay, forgive me for insulting the Alliance during Professor Drake's lecture. Please continue telling us about your whoon dahn mission that involves stealing my boat and leading us to our deaths."

"Certainly, Captain. I was fortunate to be rescued and brought home. Unfortunately, I lost my faculty position at the university, because I refused to shut up about the Reavers until someone would do something about it. Nobody believed me. Obviously, you people know what I am talking about. The faculty didn't. They thought all of this mass murder go se was crazy talk, and they thought I was delusional. I received an early retirement with a healthy psycho pension to shut me up. As a result, I have no one back home at Xenon, because they all believe I'm dangerous. I am doing this, because it really is all I have left to teach people. At the very least, I want to bring the Reavers to the Alliance's attention. There were recordings my team made on Trivonia that would bring credibility to my story."

As Professor Drake was saying all of this, Jayne found himself near Theresa Brett. Now that few people were paying much attention to him, he said to her, "You know, I won't hold this against ya'. After all, it was your boss who got us into this shiong mao niao. You're a mighty fine woman."

Theresa replied, "Nee boo gan kai nee hwang chian. I ain't switchin' sides, Jayne. That's a sort of loyalty I don't think a liou coe shway duh biao-tze huh hoe-tze duh ur-tze like yourself could understand. From what Inara told us about you, your captain only wants you here to do the dirty work you do so well. He is convinced you're gonna stab him in the back, and he ain't gonna hesitate to toss you off his boat."

Jayne began speaking with his intelligent voice again. "There's no need for rudeness."

Theresa said, "I haven't seen any sign of heroism from you. Everything you have done around me is very selfish. You wouldn't take any risks for anyone else, would you?"

"Saving my own skin is important," said Jayne.

At that moment, Mitchell came and announced, "We're almost there, Serenity is about to enter Bluedock's atmosphere in two minutes."

"You're kidding," Wash said. "That means we've been out for more than a day."

Jendra turned to the crew she was holding captive and said to them, "Congratulations, you've done the job. You will be paid. I like to keep my promises."

Chapter III

They had landed on Trivonia in the daytime. Everyone in the ship was at the cargo bay. Serenity's crew was free to roam. Jendra had paid them in full as she promised. Professor Drake was briefing her security team for the immediate task.

Inara came close to Mal and said, "Mal, I want to go with her."

"I don't think it's a good idea."

"I got us into this."

"I don't blame you for the professor. She betrayed you."

"I have to say goodbye to her. I believe in what she's trying to do, Mal. Jendra needs some support."

Mal was still very hesitant. Simon then chimed in and said, "If anyone is alive down there, they might need a doctor." Mal could not come up with an argument against that statement. However, he could not believe any survivors would be worth saving.

Kaylee said to Simon, "I'll make sure River's okay."

"Thank you," Simon replied.

Shepard Book took the opportunity to say, "The dead should be laid to rest, and Ms. Drake could use some blessing. Her journey is going to be very perilous."

Mal nodded silently. It was obvious he could not change Inara's, Simon's, or Book's minds. He knew them long enough to know something about the ways they thought.

Then, to everyone's surprise, Jayne said, "I'll go too."

Mal and almost everyone else took a long at Jayne. It was as if each of them thought they were dreaming.

With the intention of getting Theresa's attention, Jayne said, "After the professor has done her business, the Doc, the Shepard, and Nara might be at our pickup point for a while. Reckon it would be nice to have another person there -- someone who can shoot."

Mal looked at Jayne and nodded for an unusually long time. He said, "Good thinking Jayne," amazed those were the words that came from his mouth.

Theresa had been taking a long look at Jayne, too. The thought had suddenly occurred to her that she might have underestimated him. Of course, she realized he might still find some way to disappoint her.

Mal looked at Inara in her fancy Companion dress and said, "You should get something else on. Whoever is down there, they probably won't give a hoot about Companion status."

"She's right around my size Cap'n," said Kaylee.

"Good," Mal said.

"Let's go," said Kaylee to Inara. They began walking to Kaylee's cabin.

Mal then made sure everyone going off the ship would pay attention to him before he said, "Serenity will circle the place and locate Ms. Drake's ship. We'll pick you all up as soon as we find a good place to land."

"The ship is north of the town," said Jendra Drake.

Mal looked at Jendra coldly and said to her, "Seeing that you've paid us for doing the job, I'll call this affair strictly business. I'll let you go and do your thing. I won't interfere with your effort." He walked closer to her before saying, "Never show your face in my boat again. Dong ma?"

"You have my word," Jendra responded. She figured she would be as angry as Mal was had the roles been reversed.


Meanwhile, Kaylee was standing outside her cabin making sure no one intruded when she would approve how Inara looked in one of her outfits. Kaylee talked to Inara through the hatch. She said, "I promise I won't make fun of you. Did you find everything okay?" "Yes, it's fine thank you, and I appreciate your promise." Kaylee simply wanted something about which to talk. She said, "Your friend Professor Drake makes me think about things. I keep thinking everyone's lives could be happier. They ought to be happier than this I mean. We could have so much more fun in a happier world." "Things are never that simple," Inara said. "I'm about to come up now." "That's fine. No one else is lurking." "That is good to know." Out she came wearing Kaylee's grey jumpsuit, which was always good in a difficult situation. Kaylee smiled prompting Inara to do the same. Kaylee had an uncanny ability to make people more comfortable. "Wow!" said Kaylee. "You look great really. You make me wonder how I look when I'm wearing that jumpsuit. You know, I like being praised on how pretty I look in something." "Well, we will see what the others think. I doubt they would let me forget this day." "Ahh!" Kaylee replied. "If Jayne gives you a hard time, I'll help you torture him." "You're too kind." As they were walking toward the cargo bay, Kaylee said, "Of course, if anyone else gives you a hard time I'll do the same to them. Jayne just was the most obvious person."


To everyone's shock, Jayne did not say anything when Inara arrived. He just took a quick glance at her and continued helping Jendra's party gather their supplies. It was obvious he wanted to continue impressing Theresa Brett. Inara's other shipmates gave her welcoming smiles. It seemed Inara had become a larger part of their world.

Mal and Zoë could only wave goodbye to the party when they left. Wash announced to everyone remaining, "That was the friendliest holdup I can ever remember."

Mal then told Wash, "I need you on the bridge." Wash began following Mal as he walked briskly toward the stairwell that led to the bridge. Conveniently, River was standing right there at the base. She would not take her eyes off Mal.

Mal saw that River was thinking of Simon. He did not have any idea how she knew to be standing where she was. Still, he had some understanding of what she was thinking. "I won't leave without him. Dong ma?" he said standing three feet in front of her. Mal went up the stairs around River, and she simply looked away. Wash had caught up with Mal, and he walked up with him -- no more than four steps behind.


Even though Trivonia wasn't rich with technology, it was as family- like as any other colony. Everybody seemed to know everyone else. Such a warm place had become rarer and rarer before people began colonizing the outer planets. Professor Drake and her late research team were eager to visit Trivonia to see how the people interacted. This world was alien to the central planets. Trivonia was within walking distance of Serenity's landing point. To have as much light as possible, they intentionally landed close to noon. Jendra did not wish to ask Mal for the use of Serenity's jeep. Keeping each of his four crewmembers in one piece was enough of a burden. Though each of them had their reasons for coming, their nobility genuinely surprised Jendra. She knew Captain Reynolds had found a worthy crew. The smell became worse as they came closer to the center of town. Everything there was dead silent. By the time they found the first group of skeletons, no one was surprised. The Reavers laid the bodies as if they wanted an investigation. Simon and Book were the only people who approached them. This was far too painful for Jendra. She wanted to focus on the task at hand and pointed out Trivonia's bank to Inara. Inara said, "That's where you worked. Were all of your records there?" "Everything that wasn't moved to the ship's computer is there. The most important items are the journal entries taken by all three of us." Jendra paused briefly and said, "It is important that people see the last few entries. A few were made after the Reavers arrived, but we had to abandon the bank while more of them were coming." "They rang the dinner bell," said Inara. "They knew early into the slaughter how helpless we were. There were a few missing people, and then we were overrun before we knew what was going on." Lang and Brett had gone on ahead and scoped the area out. Lang walked up to Jendra at that moment in Inara's and Jendra's conversation. He said to her, "We can secure the area from here to the bank." "Good," she responded. "Take Dawson and Mitchell with you. I would like to be there in fifteen minutes." Book and Simon had done their business and were ready to go. Everyone entered Jendra's old office in the timely manner Jendra wished. Understandably, the place was very dirty with piles of dust and cobwebs. There had always been efforts to keep spiders away from colonies, but they proved fruitless. Professor Drake had been looking forward to seeing if the most recent entries survived. She was the only person there who knew her way around. The guards had understood the bank's layout. Before anyone else could figure out what they were supposed to do, Jendra opened the drawers where their video journals were. She turned on all three of the modules simultaneously. She skipped to the last group of entries, because they would support her story. Jendra then played videos from each of them. All three of the final video entries were intact. As satisfied as Jendra was with this outcome, they brought back deeply disturbing memories. The videos featured interviews with several colonists who were missing loved ones. She could put names on most of the faces. Everyone was terrified. They all knew something scary was happening, but no one knew who or what perpetrated the disappearances. Even though three videos were playing all at once, the other members of the party could hear the voices in the audio from all parts of the small bank. Simon was nearby and he asked Jendra, "Did anyone consider evacuating Trivonia?" "That was a major item of discussion in one town meeting," she responded. "When people began disappearing, it seemed moreimportant that we stuck together. It was believed people living in the hills were the abductors. They said leaving Trivonia would make us more vulnerable. Once we saw the people who were responsible, it was too late to do anything. As far as I know, the Reavers hunted down anyone who escaped from the colony before they left me behind and moved on."

Inara walked toward Jendra and asked, "Do you think you have everything?"

"What I have is concrete evidence of this nightmare. This doesn't prove that Reavers actually exist, and I knew it wouldn't. Most people may still have a hard time believing in Reavers, but I'm certain there are people who wouldn't ignore the situation once they have seen these."

"So, it was definitely worth the effort, right?" asked Simon.

"Gorram right it was," said Jendra with only a hint of a smile.

Professor Drake sent Theresa Brett and Mitchell out to spot her old ship and make sure the coast was clear. From Jendra's instructions, they only needed to walk two blocks north of the bank. Everyone else stayed behind to gather every supply Jendra may have needed for her quest. Dawson and Lang went upstairs for a few specified items.

Inara took this opportunity to ask Book, "Shepard, is there a way to return the Reavers to society? Is there a place for having faith?"

"Despite what I said earlier on Serenity, I admit I have my own doubts. After committing so many horrors, I doubt many of them could bear having faith."

Inara looked like she was about to ask him why he felt this way.

Book then said to her, "Even if they returned to our society, the Reavers would see what they've done as unforgivable. They have committed their horrors with obvious pride. Justice would be served if they were to suffer as punishment for their actions."  

Outside the passenger dorms on Serenity, Kaylee heard River scream. This happened two seconds before several gunshots could be heard from the bank. Everyone there knew to stay hidden until told otherwise. That meant staying out of sight from the front windows. Inara immediately began transmitting an S.O.S. to Serenity asking for instructions. At the very least, Inara knew her shipmates were working to spot the hostile.

The shots came and then they could hear nothing else. Lang came downstairs. Fortunately, the stairwell was not visible from outside. He crawled to Jendra and whispered, "We tried to find them through one of the upstairs side windows once we heard the shots. I don't know where the shots came from, but both Mitchell and Brett have been hit." Jayne was close enough to hear what he was saying.

"Shee-niou," he whispered.

They listened quietly, and heard another gunshot. Then, they heard a woman's voice whimpering, "No. Please, please let me go. No!" Those present who had spoken much with Theresa could recognize her voice without a doubt. Jayne did not wish to believe what he knew he was hearing. Jendra was clearly trying to think rationally while she knew one of her guards was about to be raped.

Jendra said to Lang, "Get Dawson. Move slowly in flanking positions. Don't be heroes. This is strictly reconnaissance. Serenity can provide backup. Report back here within ten minutes. Dong ma?"

"Dong ma."

Dawson came downstairs, and out they went. Everyone in the bank knew it was important to stay calm. They had to believe the reconnaissance would be successful, and Serenity could come to their rescue. At this point, Jayne and Book took positions near the front door and the front window. They were waiting for some signal from their allies. Dawson and Lang did not travel a block north before more shots came. Both were hit multiple times and very quickly. Book and Jayne could see both guards go down.

In sheer terror, Simon whined, "Oh, my God!"

Jayne could not believe how afraid he really was, but he knew how to act tough and be an example for others in a crisis. He whispered, "Nice going, Doc," with sincerity.

"Survival of the fittest," said Book so faintly only Jayne could hear him. "If this is only one Reaver, he is a very good shot and extremely good at setting up ambushes."

"He must be close. He may know our position," said Jayne. Jayne turned toward everyone and said, "If anyone walks out of here, the Reaver could spot em."

"Juh jen sh guh kwai luh duh jean jan," said Book. Jayne heard him and looked rather puzzled. Book then said to Jayne, "For the Reaver, I mean. He's been waiting for this for years."

"Gorram right," said Jayne. "I just ... uh, don't know Mandarin so good."

Inside the bank from that moment on, time stood still. Seconds lasted eons for the party members. They could not hear anything from outside, but they knew the Reaver was there waiting for one of them to come out. Inara continued signaling Serenity for assistance, but she did not know what Serenity could do to help them. After all, they were only pretending she had weapons mounted on her.

It sounded as though Serenity was circling the area. They thought they could hear her engines above them. Otherwise, there was silence that lasted for six minutes. As soon as it seemed they could bare the silence no longer, they heard a loud crash followed by several smaller sounds of wood and glass breaking. Suddenly, time went from frighteningly slow to desperately fast. No one knew what to do.

"That sounds like a building collapsing," said Book still standing at the front door.

Simon and Inara panicked and both began sprinting out toward the street. Book saw them right away and shouted, "No, they want us to come out! They'll kill you!" Jayne wasn't sure what he was supposed to think, but he followed Book's lead and blocked the door.

"The building will fall on our heads!" said Inara. She was no longer holding her communicator. Inara had left it on the floor. Jendra heard Wash's voice, grabbed the communicator, and jogged toward the others.

She said, "Serenity's talking to us."

With all of them close together, they could all hear Wash say, "Landing party, this is Serenity. Hold your position. We have spotted and pinned the hostile. Repeat, hold your position."

Jendra answered, "We read you loud and clear Serenity. We are staying put."


Unknown to the party, the Reaver was hiding near the old blacksmith shop, which was two blocks north of the bank on the same side of the street. He was waiting to ambush anyone leaving the bank, and that was an ideal place for it. Wash had him spotted and came up with a daring but effective maneuver.

"Wash, you have to tell us when we have to open this door. Dong ma?" Mal said through his communicator. He and Zoë were standing at the bottom level of the cargo bay each with firearms in both hands.

Wash Replied, "Roger, Mal. The words will come."

The Reaver knew Serenity was in the air. However, his prey was too appetizing for him to retreat from his advantageous position. He had already begun feeding on the body of Theresa Brett -- a pleasure he had not experienced for years. He became the last surviving former citizen of Trivonia when he killed and ate his last companion and competitor.

Serenity's apparent intentions were too risky for the Reaver to believe. She was making a strafing run toward his position. The problem was the Reaver was hiding in an alley. While it was wide for an alley, it was narrow for a Firefly. This seemed like suicide. There would be no margin for error if Serenity went through with it. He thought this was a ruse to make him run. The Reaver refused to risk running into an area where he would be more vulnerable. After all, he knew the people in the bank were armed.

"All hands, prepare for impact," said Wash through the intercom.

The Reaver could not believe what he was seeing. Serenity was flying a mere three feet above the ground in the middle of the alley. While he still had the chance, the Reaver ran away from behind the building to its far side. Serenity could never make that turn. It could never follow the Reaver.

Wash glared at the Reaver as he ran with a giddy smile. He said, "Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal." Wash then moved the ship closer to left side of the alley. With all the precision his flight experience gave him, Wash made Serenity sideswipe the blacksmith shop. That was all it took for the building to collapse. Everything inside the ship vibrated while Wash used all his power to keep her under control. To his amazement, Serenity still flew, and she did not hit something else head on. Wash then took the ship above the buildings and turned her around toward the wreckage. At that point, he began signaling the party with the awareness that they had heard a very loud crash.

Serenity was hovering over the street with her backside pointed at the wreckage. "Mal, open the door and you'll see it," said Wash. The cargo bay door opened. Zoë and Mal were only concerned with the Reaver.

If indeed he was still alive, Mal and Zoë knew that Reavers loved to hide and to catch people as soon as they felt safe. Due to all the dust coming from the collapsed building, they were wearing respirators and safety glasses. The cargo bay door was open, and Serenity hovered in the air as Mal and Zoë surveyed the wreckage. After about thirty seconds of waiting, they could see movement. They did not hesitate to open fire using as much ammunition as they felt they could afford. During the next ten minutes, there were two more occasions where they opened fire.

The dust began to clear afterward. It was then that Zoë finally saw the Reaver and pointed him out to Mal. He was not moving, but this was no place to take any chances. "Set her down," said Mal through the intercom.

Once Serenity was on the ground, Mal could walk out toward the wreckage with the Reaver right in front of him. Mal pointed his revolver at the Reaver's head and fired twice. Then he turned around and walked away. As far as Mal was concerned, he did not shoot any human being. At least for that time they were safe.

"The hostile has been killed. It is safe to come out." Wash said to the party.


It took a half hour for the surviving members of the party to gather Jendra's supplies and begin heading to her ship. Jendra would now go on her journey alone. She could never conceive of asking Inara or any of her shipmates to come with her. The mission was far too dangerous. Each member of Serenity's crew had his or her own individual struggle. Jendra did not wish to intrude them with hers.

Serenity followed the party as soon as they began drifting out of sight. Even though none would show up, it was very possible more Reavers might be waiting to ambush them. Mal, Zoë and Wash were alone together on the bridge.

"I just can't believe how the Reavers got so out of control," Zoë said. "They're going all over the place."

Wash answered, "I reckon things get out of control when there is no government, no law."

Mal was silent. Zoë and Wash understood why. The same thought had occurred to each of them at some point after Jendra announced her intentions. They knew the Reavers' situation would never have become so uncontrollable had the Independents made peace with the Alliance years before.

None of them would ever say it of course.


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