Inara heaved the last door closed and locked it. The cargo bay was effectively sealed off. She turned and headed for the bridge, her shotgun clutched firmly in both hands. A tiny bit of pride made her smile at the thought that Jayne considered her capable enough to guard their backs.

She sighed and glanced skyward in self-scorn. Things needed to get back to normal quick, before she started putting Jayne on a heroic pedestal he wouldn't be able to live up to. She smirked as she realized he wouldn't have the balance for it.



In the cargo bay, the airlock door opened slowly.

"Coming out!" Zoe yelled.

Zoe took one step out of the shuttle and glanced around. The bay seemed to be deserted. Blood and shell casings littered the floor and catwalks. It had obviously been messy.

Zoe eased out of the airlock and moved to the railing. Mal came out after her, limping and carrying a handgun. Zoe grabbed his arm and pulled him toward the railing where he gripped it tightly and proceeded to sway about.

Zoe closed the airlock door. She knelt and picked up a discarded rifle, checked that it was loaded, and turned to Mal.

"Sir, maybe you should stay here."

Mal shook his head.

Zoe accepted his decision quickly. "I think they would head for the bridge, sir, and I think Jayne would figure that too."

Mal nodded. "Don't figure Jayne'd leave anyone alive behind him that might be a threat."

"No, sir. I'm assuming we're locked in here. Haven't checked yet."

Mal straightened and looked around. "I'm thinkin' that too." He pushed himself along the railing, heading for the stairs.

"If that's the case, sir, we won't have much air in here, either."

"Anything else?" he asked, annoyed.

She followed him. "Well, sir, all this going on, I don't see how we can make our rendezvous."

"Ain't much of a rendezvous without a cargo."

"Didn't want to mention that, sir. Figured you had enough troubles."

"Always lookin' out for me, Zoe."

"What I'm here for, sir," she said, taking his arm. Together, they made their way to the first door.



Badger stopped just short of a T-shaped branch in the corridor and glared at it, clearly assuming something bad was awaiting him.

River crept up next to him and whispered, "This is the wrong way."

Badger groaned and threw his head back. "Do you think you could possibly be any less helpful?" He motioned with his free hand. "Maybe you'd like to lead the way?"

She stared at him.

"No?" He started walking again. "I know this class of ship fairly well. This is the quickest way." He motioned for her to follow.

"This is the bad way. . . ."

Badger shook his head. "You want us to get there in time to do some good, doncha'?"

"We'll be scrubbing for a long time. . . ."

Badger stopped and turned on her. "What does that mean, then?" He leaned toward her. "Did you get a full set 'o wiring up here, luv?" he asked, motioning at his head with his gun.

She didn't answer, so he sighed loudly and turned around.

He didn't take another step, as Pip and Nef entered the corridor ahead of him, moving with determination.

They saw each other at the same time.

The unexpected encounter was startling and violent as all three reacted simultaneously, bringing their guns up and firing with little regard for accuracy.

Pip fired continuously as she ran past them, heading down the corridor ahead, with Nef just ahead of her.

Badger, knowing instantly that he had no cover, rushed forward, bellowing and perforating the far wall with most of his bullets.



Wash slowly opened the door of the bridge and peered out. He nervously clutched his handgun, hoping he wouldn't have to use it. They'd been gone awhile, leaving him to wonder if they'd been killed or had decided the bridge wasn't worth the effort.

He crept through the door and looked around cautiously. Noting nothing untoward, so he moved quietly down the ladder. He saw them instantly, positioned at the doorway to the galley, their backs to him.

He glanced back at the open bridge, agonizing over leaving his position.

Another burst of gunfire in the distance made up his mind.

Wash raised his gun, gripping it firmly with both hands, and eased up to the corridor.



Jayne was crouched and leaning around the doorway of the galley, firing nonstop across the length of the room at Lux and Arlo, who were positioned in the opposite doorway.

Behind him, Book was standing, doing the same.

The firing continued for another few seconds, then both sides drew back to reload and consider the situation.

Jayne and Book exchanged a look.

"We ain't gettin' anywhere like this," Jayne said.

Book nodded. "Do you have a plan?"

Jayne glanced into the room, then back to the shepherd. "I'm goin' in. I think I can reach the other side -."

"And likely get killed in the process."

Jayne opened his mouth to protest, but was cut off by gunfire. He jerked his gun up, but suddenly realized the shooting wasn't directed at them.

He gave Book a puzzled look.

"Someone's behind them," Book said.

"Wash. We got 'em in a crossfire."

Seeing his instant advantage, Jayne leapt up and rushed inside.

Book glanced at Kaylee. "Better stay here."

She nodded and watched him disappear into the room.

Halfway across the room, Lux noticed Jayne and turned to shoot at him. Jayne fired in return and threw himself against the wall. Bullets tore up the wall behind him as he moved just ahead of them. He lost his balance and hit the floor hard.

He groaned as he landed and the room dimmed around him. The shooting faded away as he briefly lost his grip on consciousness.



Eric was the first to notice the shooter behind them. "Wha -? Hey!" He spun around and fired at Wash.

Wash gave up his position and dashed back to the stairs. Taking them three at a time, he barricaded himself inside the bridge in seconds.

Lux and Arlo turned to shoot, as well, and all three perforated the door as Wash struggled to close it.

Arlo jumped to his feet and sprinted up the corridor. He leapt onto the stairs and threw himself at the door just as Wash slammed the lock in place.

Arlo beat on the door in a rage, then stopped and glared through the glass at Wash.

The two men shared a moment of solemn resolve, each determined to win in the end.

Arlo nodded slightly, then backed away and returned to his men.

The shooting had died down from all points, and everyone seemed willing to take a moment to gather their wits and analyze the situation.



"You hear that?" Pip asked.

"How could I not?" Nef replied. She was stalking along the corridor, still holding her throbbing head.

"It's coming from everywhere," Pip said.

"We gotta' think of a way to get inside the engine room."

"Yeah."

Nef rolled her eyes. "Well?"

"What?"

"My brains are 'bout to come spilling out o' my head here!" she said, stopping and turning on Pip. "Would it kill you to stop and think for a minute?"

Pip looked appalled. "I gotta' think now!?"

Nef groaned and closed her eyes.

Pip folded her arms over her chest. "I didn't sign up with this crew to use my brains."

"Good thing, too, or we'd a' all been dead a long time ago."

"I can do lots of things," Pip protested.

"Everybody can do lots of things!" Nef screamed. "I can do lots of things! The difference is, I do 'em good."

"I'm good at stuff."

"Oh, what's that? The stunning ability to miss everything you aim at?"

Pip huffed and moved past her. "Well maybe we ought to tally up the things you're good at. Let's see, there's griping, um . . . bein' in a bad mood longer than anyone I've EVER met!"

"It's the company I keep," Nef shot back. She followed Pip down the corridor. "Taking up the slack for certain other people all the time would make anyone grouchy. . . ."

Pip gasped in outrage. "I got skills, you know. . . ."

"You didn't even hit that guy back there," Nef said, thumbing over her shoulder.

"He surprised me. And, you don't know if I hit him or not."

Nef groaned. "Fine." She stopped.

"What?" Pip asked.

Nef continued to stare into space, obviously forming an idea.

"Gonna' share?" Pip asked, looking anxiously around the corner. That guy in the bowler worried her.

"There ain't too many of 'em. . . ."

"So?

"And the big one's hurt."

Pip smiled. "Maybe he'll fall over dead soon."

"He's only got them two girls and a preacher."

Pip frowned. "What's your point?"

"My point is, maybe we ought to go catch up to the others."

"I thought you wanted to take over the engine room?"

"Yeah, but that was before I thought about it some more." Nef glanced around the corridor. "You got any idea how to get to the bridge from here?"

Pip looked. "Yeah. This is ain't that much different than our ship."

"If they're still shooting up there," Nef said, gesturing, "we might be able to come up behind 'em and flank 'em."

Pip smiled. "Okay." She started walking and Nef followed.

"'Cept, we only got one gun," Pip said, after a minute.

"Then, I better do the shooting. . . ."



Muffled gunfire greeted Jayne as he crawled back into the world of the semi-alert. Everything was dull and indistinct: the noise, the ceiling and walls, the floor under him - it all felt not quite substantial. The smell was the first thing to become sharp. It smelled like . . . gun powder.

With that sudden realization, everything came into sharp focus with a rush that set his head to pounding. The roar of discharging guns in the tight space jerked him to full awareness and he tried to push himself up. A hand on his back kept him down, not with any amount of strength, just a firmness that insisted he stay where he was.

Jayne turned his head and saw Kaylee was crouched beside him, trying to keep low. She looked pale.

The bullets impacting around both of them galvanized him into action. He rolled over, grabbed her around the waist, and dragged her down beside him on the floor.

Jayne glanced past her, noting the bullets hitting around them were misses directed at Book, who was at the far doorway.

Jayne looked at Kaylee. "What are you doin' in here?" he asked, hoarsely.

She looked upset. "When you . . . went down, Book jumped right in and kept shootin'," she said. "You were out here all alone. . . ."

"How long I been out?" he asked, scanning the floor for his gun.

"Ten minutes, about," she answered. She handed him his gun.

He took it, giving her a quick look.

"I did a little shooting," she said, nodding. "Don't know how much help it was. . . ."

"I ain't dead, so it musta' been good enough," he said. He pushed himself up to his knees and a wave of dizziness hit him. He reached a hand to the wall.

Kaylee grabbed him. "Jayne, you gotta' stay here."

"Get back in the corridor," he told her.

"You've lost a lot of blood, Jayne. . . ."

He ignored her again, and, using the wall for support, pushed himself up. He leaned against it for nearly a minute before he realized Kaylee was still standing in front of him.

"Go on, git."

She frowned, not wanting to argue with him, but not wanting to leave him alone, either.

Before she could make a decision, Book turned toward them and leaned against the wall. He noticed Jayne was on his feet.

"Are you all right?"

Jayne nodded. "What's goin' on?"

"One is in the adjoining corridor, the other two are backed up in the alcove near the bridge."

"Wash?"

"Locked in the bridge." Book motioned with his head, indicating the corridor. "They're dug in quite comfortably, I'd say. Looks like they can sit there for awhile. Until they run out of ammunition, that is."

"And we don't know when that might be," Kaylee said.

Jayne sagged against the wall and slid down.

"Jayne!"

"'m all right," he mumbled.

"No, you ain't." She leaned over him and tried to check his bandage.

"Leave me alone."

"Stop bein' so ornery, Jayne."

"If you'd stop motherin' me. . . ."

"I ain't motherin' you."

Book cleared his throat.

Jayne and Kaylee glanced at him.

"This really isn't the most opportune time for an argument."

"Well, he ain't cooperatin'. . . ."

Jayne glared at her. "I told you to get back in the corridor."

"Well, I can't do no good in there."

"You could get shot in here," Jayne said, angrily.

"There ain't no shootin' goin' on right now."

Jayne groaned, more exasperated than pained, and leaned his head against the wall. They were in a standoff and he couldn't think of anything to do but wait and see who ran out of ammunition first.

"Pull that door half closed, shepherd," he said.



Inara eased along the corridor. She was near the galley and didn't want to get shot. As she cautiously rounded the corner, she saw Jayne and Kaylee sitting in the doorway. Jayne motioned for her to join them.

She crouched beside him. "You don't look so good."

"You get the cargo bay locked up?"

"Yes." She glanced around. "What's going on?"

"Standoff."

Kaylee pointed. "They're all in the corridor there. Wash's on the bridge."

Inara leaned to look and Jayne put a hand on her arm and pushed her back. "Stay out of the line of fire."

"You're in the line of fire," she replied.

"That's 'cause I'm shootin' at 'em."

"Not right now." She looked at Kaylee. "I think we should move him."

"I ain't movin'."

"You can still shoot from the other side of the doorway."

"I got a good view of both corridors from here."

Inara looked behind her. "I can watch this one."

Jayne didn't answer.

"Well?"

"I said I ain't movin'. I gotta' keep repeatin' myself now?"

Inara sighed and rolled her eyes. She grabbed Jayne by the arm and started pulling.

"'Nara -! Damn it! Aaaggh!"

"Stop fighting." She continued to pull him across the floor and Kaylee leapt in to help her. Together, they managed to drag him to the other side of the doorway where they leaned him against the wall and then set back to see how he'd taken it.

Jayne squeezed his eyes shut a few times, willing the stars to go away, then slowly focused on Inara and Kaylee.

". . . don't think he can keep this up much longer. . . ."

". . .so stubborn. . . ."

Jayne shook his head. "Stop talkin' 'bout me like I ain't here."

"Well, you weren't for a minute, Jayne," Inara said.

She picked up her shotgun and moved to Jayne's old position.

He eyed her but didn't say anything. He turned his attention to the corridor leading to the cargo bay.



Pip and Nef, after a lengthy argument about who should have the gun, eventually reached the corridor leading to the bridge.

Nef, carrying their only weapon, eased around the corner. A gunshot chipped away at the wall and she leapt back.

"Found 'em, I guess," Pip said.

Nef glared at her.

"Want me to shoot some?"

"We can't afford to waste the bullets."

Pip's mouth dropped open in outrage, but she didn't get another word out as Nef crouched, leaned around the corner, and fired.



Jayne and Inara returned fire, but were immediately shot at from the opposite corridor by Lux and Arlo.

Book shot at the two of them, choosing his shots sparingly.

"Help the shepherd," Jayne said, and fired into the corridor again.

Inara didn't question him. Jayne whipped his gun around and fired into the opposite corridor, giving her cover fire as she dashed across the room. Once she reached the other entrance, he turned and continued firing at Nef and Pip.

Inara stood and carefully let off a shot into the corridor, then leapt back as return fire thudded into the door in front of her.



Several minutes later the firefight died down and a grim quiet settled over the galley as no one dared move, lest they inadvertently instigate another round of shooting. The smoke drifted up towards the ceiling and quickly disappeared as it was sucked through the ventilation system.

Jayne reloaded his gun, noting that he was starting to run low on ammunition. His hands were covered in blood and mud and he was shaking like an old man. His aim today wasn't anything to brag about, but he did have a few drawbacks to contend with, namely a gunshot wound in the side. He slammed the clip home, eased up to the edge of the door, and peered down the corridor.

It was empty.

Jayne stayed where he was, keeping watch. Those girls weren't predictable in any way he could fathom. If there was a sensible thing to do, they seemed to do the opposite. If it had been him, he would've gone straight to the engine room. He stopped and thought about that. After a minute, he called Kaylee to him.

She crawled up next to him.

"You still got the radio?"

"Uh-huh." She pulled it from her belt and handed it to him.

"Jayne, why don't you just pull the door closed behind us?"

"'Cause then they'd just up and leave and I wouldn't know where they were. You want 'em runnin' round the ship?"

"Guess not."

Jayne brought the radio up to his mouth. "Doc?"

Two seconds elapsed, then Simon was on the other end, sounding anxious. "Yes?"

"You got anything goin' on down there?"

"No. It's very quiet."

Jayne considered. He was about to make a tactical decision, but he wasn't sure if it was bold or stupid. Either way, he could only do it and live with the consequences.

"I want you to leave the engine room and come up the corridor to the bridge, real slow like."

"Excuse me?"

"We got just about everyone up here with us right now. I got three trapped between us and the bridge, but now we're trapped between here and the cargo bay. I got two shooters behind us and I don't want 'em runnin' around the ship when I can't go after 'em."

"Okaaay. What do you want me to do?"

Jayne told him.



Mal and Zoe stood on the catwalk, determining a course of action.

"One of us needs to go outside the ship, come in through the airlock."

Zoe nodded. "I'll go."

Mal didn't argue. He had enough sense to know he'd never make it with a hole in his leg.

"You're gonna' have to go forward a ways."

"I know." Zoe handed Mal the rifle she'd taken from Dave, and took his handgun. She then took his arm and helped him back to the shuttle.

"If somethin' happens out there, do what you gotta' do, Zoe, don't bother wasting time coming after me."

"I won't, sir."



Simon reached the branch in the corridor and heard the girls immediately. They were arguing about which one of them was a better shot and whether they should stay where they were.

Simon cautiously approached the corridor and looked around the corner.

They were positioned at the far corner, intently peering around the edge.

Simon took hold of the door and pulled it closed.

Nef and Pip jumped to their feet.

"Hey!"

Nef fired and the bullets ricocheted off the door.

"Watch it!" Pip screamed. She dropped to the floor and covered her head.

Nef quickly realized their situation was bad. She stopped firing and crouched at the branch in the corridor. If they went around, the group in the galley had a clear shot at them, and if they moved back to try to get through the door, they'd likely get shot. Nef cradled her gun and glanced at Pip.

Pip raised her head and cautiously examined their predicament.

"This sucks," she said.



Simon watched them through the door. He couldn't lock it from his side, but it didn't matter. They were still trapped as long as he was on this side. If they tried to open the door, he'd be there to shoot them. That meant he couldn't leave, however.

Simon shook his head. "This is no place for a doctor."



Jayne slammed the door shut and locked it. He then sagged to the floor.

Kaylee stood and peered through the glass. She couldn't see the girls who had been shooting at them. She glanced down at Jayne.

"That was real clever, Jayne."

He grunted.

"It was. You got 'em trapped and now we don't gotta' worry 'bout 'em anymore."

Jayne eyed the opposite doorway. "Need to take care of those three up there."

Kaylee glanced over her shoulder, then back to Jayne. "How?"

"I'm thinkin' 'bout it."



Zoe moved along the hull of the ship, passing hatches that would be no use to her. Once outside, she'd decided to go straight to the forward airlocks. It would take a little bit longer to make the trip forward, but she didn't have a clear picture of the situation and dropping into the middle of a gunfight didn't fill her with joy. She hoped to arrive before the only thing left to do was organize a deck-scrubbing party.



Badger stopped and leaned against the wall. He put a hand to his arm, holding it tight. A small trickle of blood oozed from the wound, and he let out a groan.

"I told you," River said, staring at his injury.

"You got a problem with bein' specific, you know that?"

"It's not that bad," she replied, reaching for his arm. "Just a little scratch. Nothing to cry over."

Badger frowned and jerked away from her. "I am not crying!"

She shook her head. "We're leaving breadcrumbs. . . ." She trailed off, gazing at the floor.

Badger followed her gaze. There were little drops of blood on the deck as far back as he could see. He looked at her. "You call this a little scratch, then, do you?" he said, holding his arm up.

She rolled her eyes. "Keep pressure on it and we won't have to amputate it later."

Badger gaped at her. "You know how to comfort a bloke, don't you?"

River turned and stared into space, clearly thinking thoughts only she could comprehend.

Badger seemed to realize this, and said, "Calculating the fuel consumption rate for the ship, are you, luv?"

She turned back. "We need to go to the cargo bay."

Badger groaned and tossed his head back to stare at the ceiling just long enough for her to get the idea he was exasperated.

"Don't be melodramatic," she said. "It's not attractive."

"Anymore little side trips you wanna' thrown into our itinerary, luv? I don't think I've seen the whole ship yet and my arm's got a good hour before it falls off at the elbow."

River made a face that he couldn't fail to misinterpret as disgust, and stalked away.

"Hey, wait up, then. . . ."



In the galley, everyone had settled into a restless state of waiting, anticipating the next round of gunfire.

Thirty minutes passed with no movement from either side.

Kaylee eased up next to Jayne.

"This what a gunfight's like?"

"Whaddya' mean?"

"Well, we ain't doin' nothin'."

"Ain't nothin' to do until they come out where we can shoot 'em."

Kaylee nodded.

Jayne closed his eyes and tried to think up a strategy. Every scenario he imagined always ended with their bullet-riddled bodies being dragged to the nearest airlock by Mal and Zoe and shot into space. He always knew he'd have a violent death, but he'd be damned if it'd be today.

Waiting seemed to be their best option at the moment, so he tried to get comfortable.



Zoe reached the forward airlock, starboard, and worked the release on the door. Once inside, she quickly repressurized the small room and removed her helmet. She strode quickly to the door letting into the ship and tried to open it.

It was locked.

She tried again.

Definitely locked.

She peered through the window.

Nothing.

She stepped back and considered. The airlocks were only locked manually or by the computer if environmental conditions were not tolerable. As far as she knew, the ship was intact, which meant someone had locked the airlocks next to the bridge.

Zoe shook her head. She should have thought of it sooner. The Serenity crew was working against each other. Wash had obviously locked them, hoping to keep any boarders from doing what she'd just done.

She let out a breath and started pacing the tiny room, considering her options. She could stay where she was and hope Wash noticed her in here and came to unlock the door, go back to the cargo bay, or try to come in elsewhere on the ship. The problem with that last one was timing and discretion. Choosing poorly in either category could end in a messy shootout. Besides, there was no telling how many airlocks got the same treatment. Jayne could have easily made the same decision and locked up the other ones.

She decided to stay where she was for the moment.



Book sighed quietly and eased into a sitting position on the floor. He'd been watching the corridor for nearly an hour, with no noticeable movement from the other end.

Inara was on the other side of the doorway, nervously clutching her shotgun. She divided her attention between the corridor and each of her comrades, all of which were looking much the worse for wear.

Kaylee sat next to Jayne, periodically fussing with his bandages and checking to see if he was still breathing. He'd passed out sometime ago, with his head on her shoulder and most of his weight leaning against her.

"How is he?" Inara asked.

Kaylee glanced up and shrugged helplessly.

Inara looked at Book. "Do you think we should do something?"

"Do you have something in mind?" he asked.

"Nothing that wouldn't likely lead to all of our deaths," she replied. "I thought you might have a plan."

Book smiled gently. "They didn't really teach aggressive situational tactics at the Abbey."

She nodded, then peered around the doorway.

"Careful."

She turned back to him. "Can you tell what they're doing?"

"I can see their shadows. All three are in the alcove in front of the bridge. Two of them aren't moving too much, but the other one is pacing."

"Maybe we should start shooting."

Book nodded toward the corridor. "I figure they'll get bold again in another few minutes. Might as well wait for them."



"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Pip asked.

"I doubt it," Nef replied.

"I'm thinking we need to do some shooting." She gestured at the door which Simon hid behind. "I think we can take that guy. What do you think?"

"I think we should just stay put."

"I don't think Arlo would be very happy with us."

"Pity about that," Nef replied. She put a hand to her head. It was still throbbing persistently, threatening to explode at any minute.

"You think he's still gonna' pay us for this month?" Pip asked.

Nef stared at her.

Pip looked indignant. "Well, it's not like any of this is our fault."



"You know where that leads?" Arlo asked Eric, motioning with his head.

Eric stopped pacing and glanced down the corridor.

"You mean the connecting corridor?"

"Yeah."

"The aft section, probably. Maybe the engine room."

Arlo nodded. "I still want the bridge." He looked around, silently studying their status. "I don't know who's behind them, but it's gotta' be one of us. Dave, maybe." He rubbed a hand over his eyes. His arm was aching with a fierce persistence that left him feeling slightly nauseous. He'd stopped the bleeding some time ago, but all the shooting and running had reopened the wound.

"You want me to try and make it to the engine room?" Eric asked.

Arlo grunted as he tightened the bandage around his arm. He considered Eric's offer. He liked having the manpower at the bridge where he needed it. If he could take the bridge, he could shut down life support to the rest of the ship and the situation would be resolved quickly. On the other hand, if the firefly crew had someone in the engine room, they could do the same. Eventually, they'd realize their own people were likely dead or not able to be rescued and do the only thing they could - make the kind of sacrifice that Arlo would have done an hour ago. He usually got what he was after, but his particular brand of ruthlessness hadn't made him loved by his crew. His decision made, he turned to Eric.

"Get to the engine room. Cut the life support to the rest of the ship."

"Um. That's gonna' hinder the takeover effort, don't you think?"

"I mean to be on the bridge before any of us suffocate."

Eric nodded, not quite willing to buy into the optimism just yet.

"You gonna' give me cover fire or do I gotta' make with the sprinting and hope for the best?"

Arlo got to his feet. "Get him up," he said, indicating Lux, who'd drifted into a better world thirty minutes ago.



Bullets ripped through the corridor again, tearing up the walls and clanging off the door which Book and Inara hid behind.

Jayne jerked awake. "What the -?"

He looked around, disoriented for a few seconds, then the shooting moved him to action.

He pushed himself up and immediately sagged against the wall.

"What are you doin'?" Kaylee asked. "Stay down, Jayne."

Book and Inara turned to look, then quickly returned their attention to the corridor and continued firing. Jayne moved slowly across the room, using the table and anything in his way for support. When he reached the door, he said, "What are they doin'?"

"Shooting," Inara said.

"They got a plan," he said, impatiently. "What are they doing?"

"I think they're trying to reach the connecting corridor again," Book answered. He took careful aim and fired again.

"Let me in there," Jayne said, motioning Inara to move back. "Get to the other door."

Inara nodded and moved to the new position.

Jayne leaned around the door and squeezed off several shots.

After a minute, everyone stopped shooting again, and Jayne eyed Book.

"I think we need to rush the corridor."

Book's eyebrows shot up on his forehead. "That's the sensible thing to do, is it?"

"Don't know 'bout sensible. All I know is we gotta' do it." Jayne reached a hand to the wall and closed his eyes. He opened them after a minute and said, "They got free run of the ship with that connecting corridor. We can't let 'em get to it."

Book nodded in agreement, knowing Jayne was right.

Kaylee and Inara exchanged uncomfortable looks.

"I don't like this plan, Jayne," Inara said.

"You don't gotta' like it. Just do what I say."

"You could both be killed!"

Jayne ignored her and he and Book prepared themselves for the charge forward.



Arlo was fuming. "Why look for good help when incompetent help is so easy to find?" he mumbled to himself.

"Hey," Eric said, angrily, "you try running that gauntlet! It's a shooting gallery out there!"

If he could have reached Eric without crossing in front of the doorway, Arlo would've wrapped both hands around his neck and squeezed him until his eyes popped out of his head. He toyed briefly with the idea of shooting both of them and going it alone, but quickly got control of his anger and made up his mind.

"You're going to try again," he said.

"Uh-uh," Eric said.

Arlo aimed his gun at Eric. "I can shoot you or they can. You pick."

Eric only mulled that over for two seconds before he chose. "Fine. But I want hazard pay if we come out of this alive."



Both parties chose that moment to charge forward, all making for the same connecting corridor.

Seeing that Book and Jayne had left their positions, Arlo stormed into the corridor as well.

Less than twenty seconds elapsed wherein everyone rushed headlong at each other and fired blindly down the hall.

The conflict ended abruptly with Arlo back in his original position with Lux, Book and Jayne occupying the connecting corridor, and Eric gone and away, heading for the engine room.

"That was quite remarkable," Book said, in between gasps.

Jayne leaned against the wall, trying to catch his breath and make the stars dancing around his vision go away.

"Never seen anything like it," Book continued.

"You wanna' save it for later, preacher?" Jayne said. "We got us a situation here."

"Yes, you're right." He checked his ammunition. "You must admit, though, that the odds of what just happened must be quite high."

"Yeah," Jayne agreed, "I'm gonna' be writin' 'bout it in my diary later on." He quickly checked his own ammunition and determined that things were going to come to a head sooner rather than later.

Jayne traded positions with Book, which allowed him to see the galley. Inara and Kaylee were watching wide-eyed through that glass. Jayne brought his hand up to his mouth, mimicking talking.



Inara and Kaylee had closed the door immediately after Book and Jayne's departure and were unwilling to open it again until the shooting started anew. They stared at Jayne through the window.

Inara frowned. "What's he trying to say?"

Kaylee looked. "Fall. . . ."

"Ball. . . ?"

"Pi . . . pieman. . . ?" Kaylee shook her head. "I don't. . . ."

"Pie man?" Inara frowned. "What's a pie man?"

"Doll?" Kaylee shook her head. "Stall. . . ."

"He's getting annoyed." Inara gave Jayne a confused look, raised her hands, and shook her head.

"Gall . . . hall . . . does he want us in the hall?" Kaylee asked.

"With a pie man?"

"No, he's saying limon." She squinted. "Wyman?"

"Mall . . .diamond?"

"No. He's saying timon. Mall timon." Kaylee glanced at Inara. "What's a mall timon?"

"He's really mad," Inara said, peering through the window.

"Tall!" Kaylee said, excited. She shook her head in exasperation. "Why's he holding his hand to his mouth?"

"What's a tall timon?"

"Call!" Kaylee shouted.

"Call timon?" Inara said. "Who's - ?"

The girls looked at each other in glee and shouted, "Call Simon!"



Jayne groaned and sagged against the wall. That little game of charades nearly did him in.

"And, they're the ones with the schoolin'. . . ."

"They are under a considerable strain just now," Book said.



Kaylee brought her radio up to her lips. "Simon?"

"Yes?"

"You okay?"

"Yes. You?"

Kaylee nodded. "Okay, I guess." She looked at Inara. "What are we supposed to tell him?"

They looked through the window again. Jayne and Book were both gesturing, making wide sweeping movements with their arms.

"They want us to . . . leave. . . ?"

Kaylee frowned again. "Go around. . . ?"

"I think they want Simon to go around."

"Around where?"

Simon asked, "What's going on? Am I supposed to do something?"

"Hold on," Kaylee said. She and Inara continued staring.

"I don't think he wants him up there. . . ."

"What's going on?" Simon asked.

"One of 'em got away," Kaylee explained.

Simon was silent a few seconds, then, "I should get back to the engine room. It's unprotected."

Inara and Kaylee stared at each other, then looked at Jayne and Book.

"Yes, go there now!" Kaylee shouted into the radio.

Inara slumped against the door. "Well, that was exciting. . . ."



Arlo leaned against the wall, keeping an eye on the corridor.

"Well," Lux said. "That was as stunning a display of missing the mark as I've ever seen."

Arlo glared down at him. "Didn't see you hitting much more than the walls either."

"I'm shot in my shooting arm."

Arlo scoffed.

"I told you this was a bad idea."

"Really?" Arlo said. "When was that?"

"Okay, I think my exact words were, 'we're all gonna' die'."

"We all die sometime," Arlo said, absently.

"Well, thanks for the pearl of wisdom. You got anything that cautions against dying stupid?"

Arlo glared at him. "Shut up and watch the corridor."



Mal was making his way across the cargo bay to the main door. He could hear gunfire coming from what seemed like all parts of the ship.

"Come on, Zoe. . . ."



Simon was running. He didn't think he was likely to meet up with anyone not a part of the crew, but he ran all the same. He rounded a corner and rushed into the engine room.

It took him only a few seconds to realize he'd left the door shut, and it was now standing open, but by then his momentum had carried him inside.

Eric had just entered the room and was contemplating his first step. He spun around when he heard Simon, and belatedly realized that closing the door should have been it. He raised his gun and fired.



Jayne shook his head. His plan to simply shoot everyone was proving more difficult than it first seemed. Both sides had come to a mutual cease fire, allowing each party to examine their situation.

"This ain't good," Jayne said.

"No."

They stood in silence for another minute before Jayne said, "I'm going to the engine room."

"Simon may be there already."

"Yeah, well, I ain't too confident in Kaylee and 'Nara figurin' out what we were sayin'."

"They're not stupid," Book replied.

"Stay here. Don't shoot unless they start somethin'."

"I only have two shots left."

Jayne nodded and handed him his gun. "Give me yours."

Book made the trade, then said, "I hope you don't run into a gunfight on the way."

Jayne grunted. "Way this day's goin', we'll all be lucky the ship don't explode. . . ."



Wash peered through the glass, watching intently and waiting for his chance. He couldn't stand still. An indicator light had gone off several minutes ago, noting a presence in the starboard airlock. They couldn't get out, as he'd locked both forward airlocks early in the game, but he was itching to know who it was and take care of any potential problem.

His chance came unexpectedly as Arlo left his position to mount another enraged assault down the corridor. His backup, however, passed out seconds after he stepped away.

Wash heaved open the door and careened down the ladder. He dropped to the floor and aimed his gun at Lux's head.

Lux didn't move. He was unconscious and looked to remain that way for some time. Wash plucked the gun from his grasp, then brought his own around and aimed at Arlo's back. At the last second, he decided he couldn't shoot anyone in the back.

"Hey!" he shouted

Arlo spun around, firing wildly.

The bullets went over Wash's head and he fired back, hitting Arlo square in the chest. He flew backwards and landed on the deck, unmoving.

Book left his position and eased up to Arlo, keeping a steady gun on him.

Wash reached him first.

Arlo was struggling to spit out a few last words. Wash kicked his gun out of reach and knelt beside him.

Arlo made a gasping noise, then choked out, "My crew . . . want. . . ."

Book knelt on the other side of him. "We won't kill them if they give themselves up, son. We're not murderers."

Arlo glared at him. "Ship . . . broke . . . my ship. . . ."

Wash nodded, not caring and not getting his point.

Arlo took in a few raspy breaths. "Useless . . . all of 'em. . . ."

Wash and Book exchanged confused looks.

Book said, "Your crew?"

Arlo nodded weakly.

"Well, I'm sure they did their best. . . ." Wash said, reasonably.

His eyes fixed on Book, noting his outfit. "You . . . a preacher?"

"Yes, son, I am. I can administer last rites if you -."

Arlo grabbed Book by the shirt and yanked him forward.

"I want . . . 'em there. . . ."

"Who?"

"My crew . . . want 'em with me. . . ."

"They aren't able to be here right now. Just relax."

Arlo seemed agitated. He pulled Book closer. "I want 'em . . . there . . . waitin' for me."

Wash and Book exchanged a quick look, then Book said, "In death, you mean?"

Arlo nodded. "I got some . . .things to . . . say. . . ."

Book tried to be reasonable. "Perhaps you'd like to make a confession before you die?"

Arlo nodded. "Hired me . . . a powerful . . . stupid crew. . . ."

"I don't think that constitutes a sin."

Arlo turned loose of Book's shirt. "Always whining . . . 'bout somethin'. . . ." He noticed Wash and grabbed his arm. "Make sure they're . . . there . . . will you?"

Wash's eyebrows shot up into his forehead. "You want us to kill your crew?" he asked, incredulously.

Arlo nodded. "I'd . . . 'preciate it. . . ."

Wash glanced at Book, then back to Arlo.

"Nothin' but . . . screw ups. . . ."

"Um . . . we'll do what we can," Wash said, prying his hand from his sleeve.

"Knew they'd . . . be . . . death of . . . me. . . ."



River, leading the way, eased up to the door to the cargo bay and started pulling it open.

"Hey," Badger said, grabbing her arm. "You don't know what's what in there, luv."

"It's okay," she said, smiling. "Pictures in my head aren't saying bad things."

He let go and stepped back, giving her a quizzical look. "Yeah, I hate when that happens. . . ."

The door slid open and Badger pulled her back. Despite his somewhat lawless ways and disregard for most folk, he still had a smidgen of chivalry buried away, and letting a slip of a girl precede him into a dangerous situation was not acceptable. What would his mum say?

The pain in his arm forgotten for the moment, he cautiously entered the room, gun held in front of him.

Mal stepped into his line of sight and quickly lowered his gun. "You two all right?"

Badger let out a sigh. "No." He let his gun arm drop to his side. "We've been shot at - look at this!" He held up his injured arm for Mal to see.

Mal peered at it briefly. "Don't look so bad to me."

"Been chased all over the ship -!"

Behind him, River shook her head.

Mal grinned. "I guess you've had a real hard day, haven't you?"

Badger moved past him into the bay. "And, maybe you noticed, but my cargo's been spaced!"

Mal turned around. "We don't got time for this. You got any idea what's going on out there?" he asked, thumbing through the open door.

Badger, still mumbling and shaking his head, didn't answer. Visual confirmation of his lost cargo was settling in on him with a heaviness that made him want to have a few stiff drinks and a little lie down.

"Hey!" Mal called. "You know where anyone is?"

Badger groaned, still examining the empty cargo bay. "No idea."

Mal turned back to River, noticing the gun in her hand. "Where'd you get that?"

She held it up and he quickly grabbed it.

"This is Jayne's," he said.

She smiled. "It's pretty and not heavy."

"Uh-huh."

"Can kill a man at 100 yards."

Mal looked at her. "That it can. Any reason you'd know somethin' like that?"

"Let's not go there, all right?" Badger said, turning around. "She's got pixies flyin' 'round between her ears, you ask me."

"Well, nobody did," Mal said.

"We have to get to the engine room," River said. "Simon needs help."

"How do you know that?"

She grinned like a child. "He always needs help."

"Not exactly what I meant." He shook his head. "Never mind." He turned to Badger. "You back me up, and we'll see what we can do 'bout gettin' your cargo back."

Badger rolled his eyes, groaned again, and followed Mal out of the bay.

River rushed to catch up and latched onto Badger's good arm.

He shrugged out of her grip and shook his head. "Shoulda' listened to mum. Wanted me to be a farmer. . . ."

"You would've made a bad farmer," she said, taking his arm again.



Wash reached the starboard airlock and peered inside. He immediately saw Zoe on the other side, pacing and looking irritable. He disabled the lock and opened the door.

Zoe stepped out.

"Am I glad to see you," Wash said, relieved. "How'd you . . . I mean, why. . . ?"

"I came to rescue you," she said, stepping past him, weapon drawn.

Wash smiled. "Thanks, hon."

"Glad to see you didn't need me."

"I appreciate the thought."

"What's the situation?" she asked, heading toward the bridge.

Wash explained all he knew.

Book and Kaylee sat on the floor, trying to dispense what first aid they could to Lux. Zoe quickly took in the situation.

"He should really be in the infirmary," Book said.

"Not now, shepherd," Zoe replied.

She glanced down the corridor and saw Inara heading toward them.

"What's wrong?"

"Those two girls are gone."

"What girls?"

Inara explained. "If they went back to the cargo bay, they could take one of the shuttles."

"The Captain's still in there."

"He's hurt," Inara said. "We should go -."

"No," Zoe interrupted. "Stay here. The Captain can take care of himself. I'm going to the engine room." She turned to Inara. "Seal all the doors behind me."

"All right."

"Shepherd, you come with me."

She moved into the corridor with Book following.

"Watch out for desperados, honey," Wash called after her.



Jayne was making poor time. He could barely move his legs and he suspected he'd started bleeding again, but didn't care to look.

He made his way along the corridor, using the wall for support.

From what he could figure, he had three assailants, but only two guns to take down. He'd recognized immediately that those girls had only been firing one weapon. He had to aim carefully - no room for anymore mistakes.

Just as he was designing a plan to secure the engine room, which really only involved shooting anyone on his list before they shot him, the ship gave a violent lurch and catapulted him down the corridor.

During his somersault down the length of the corridor, he thought he heard screaming. It wasn't him and he had only a second to wonder who it was before careening into the T-branch ahead and slamming into the wall.

After a minute he managed to get to his knees, noting his gun was missing. The ship was spinning around him and he didn't think it was a mechanical problem. He reached a hand to the wall and braced himself. He closed his eyes, willing the room to settle down into a slow see-saw pattern, if nothing else.

He heard running. His brain told him that was bad - could be someone he didn't want to run into. He couldn't seem to make his mind function beyond a certain speed. Math was certainly out of the question at this stage.

Someone behind him screamed. He tried to get to his feet and turn around at the same time, but the dizziness in his head turned his move into an awkward lurch.

Pip continued screaming and threw herself at Jayne, catching him just as he turned. They rolled across the deck with Nef running after them.



Simon stood in the engine room, staring down at Eric's recumbent form. He still couldn't believe he'd shot someone - couldn't believe his aim, for that matter. He'd administered what first aid he could and now stood in an otherwise empty room with the ship apparently spinning out of control.

"Simon!"

Simon spun around. Seeing no one, he moved toward the door.

"Simon!"

With a start, he realized it was coming from his radio. He picked it up from the floor and said, "Yes?"

Wash's voice came back, agitated. "What is going on down there?"

Simon looked around. "Uh . . . I think we hit something in the shootout."

"You had a -? Never mind. Look, I've lost attitude control up here and we're slipping out of orbit."

"What should I do?"

"Simon! It's Kaylee. You need to get to the engine and tell me what's wrong with it."

Simon moved over to the apparatus and stared briefly at it.

"It's not moving," he said.

"Yeah, I'd guessed that," she replied. "What's broken on it?"

"Broken?" Simon studied the monstrosity before him. "I can't tell."

"You can't -? What does that mean?"

Simon shrugged. "It means I . . . it all looks . . . well everything down here is all rusted and. . . ."

"Simon Tam! Are you implyin' I don't keep a ship-shape engine?"

"Wha -? No!"

Wash interrupted. "We don't have time for this, kids."

"I'd have to agree," Zoe said.

Simon turned and found Zoe and Book standing in the doorway. He let out a sigh.

"Do you know anything about engines?"

"About as much as you, I'd say," Zoe replied, stepping into the room. "He dead?" she asked, upon seeing Eric.

"Uh, no. Bullet hit him in the throat . . . well, never mind. Uh . . . Kaylee wants to know what's broken on this," he said, gesturing at the engine.

Book and Zoe examined it.

"This doesn't go here," she said, pulling a hose back for him to see.

"What is it?" Kaylee asked.

"Don't know," Zoe answered, "but, it's shooting green liquid out all over the floor. . . ."



Kaylee paced up and down in front of their prisoner.

"I gotta' go down there," she told Wash.

"I know, I know." He was on the bridge, punching buttons and anxiously trying to get the control he needed.

"I'm goin'," she said.

He spun around. "No!"

"Wash!"

"You wanna' get shot before you get there?"

"Well, if we crash into the planet, it ain't gonna' matter, now is it?"



Jayne struggled to his knees again and threw Pip off his back. He spun around and just managed to duck a blow to the head from Nef. He punched her in the stomach and plucked the gun from her hand.

She let out a loud gasp and doubled over. Jayne put a hand on her forehead and pushed her away. He then swung his arm around and aimed at Pip.

He pulled the trigger.

The gun clicked.

Empty.

Disgusted, Jayne dropped it and reached for the wall. As he was trying to get to his feet. Pip dived at him, catching him around the neck. They crashed to the deck and proceeded to roll around again, each letting out various grunts of pain and distress.

Pip squeezed for all she was worth.

"Gaaaack -!"

Jayne grabbed her hair and jerked her head back.

She let out a scream that threatened to burst his eardrums, and continued screaming until he clamped his other hand over her mouth.

Jayne staggered to his feet, weaving back and forth, and keeping his grip on Pip. Once he regained his balance, he grabbed both her arms and pried them from his neck.

He didn't get much further as Nef jumped on his back. Jayne dropped to his knees, letting out a gasp as the hard deck sent shockwaves of pain through his entire body. He didn't have the energy for a brawl. The pain hammering through his abdomen was making him nauseous and dizzy. He had to end this fast.

He got one foot under him and managed to balance himself, despite Nef trying to twist his head off. Pip was still struggling to get out of his grip and he obliged her. Before she could make good use of her situation, he grabbed her by the shirt, and punched her square in the jaw.

Her head snapped back and she wavered for only a second before toppling backwards onto the floor, unconscious.

Jayne didn't waste any time. He pushed off with his foot and thrust backwards, ramming Nef into the wall.

She let out a choked gasp and her grip on him dissolved.

Jayne was having trouble seeing clearly, and he couldn't seem to get to his feet. Nef was still draped across his back and not helping matters any.

Jayne swayed briefly, then collapsed, landing on Pip.

Mal, Badger and River arrived half a minute later and found the three of them unconscious and sandwiched together.

"Well, this here's somethin' I know I'm gonna' want to hear about later," Mal said.



In the engine room, things were not pleasant.

"I do NOT know what this is," Simon said, holding up a bulky piece of equipment. "But, I think it may be broken."

Zoe and Book examined it.

"I think you're right," Book said.

"Should we be standing in this?" Simon asked, looking at the floor.

Zoe and Book glanced down.

"I think it's okay long as we don't strike a match," Zoe said.

Simon gaped at her, and slowly shook his head.

Book held the radio up to his ear. Kaylee said, "You gotta' plug that line back in and realign the regulator. That's what's keepin' it from turnin'!"

"The line?"

"No, the regulator being outta' whack!"

Simon looked at his shoes, coated in green, sticky liquid. "This can't be good. . . ."

"Okay, I'm plugging it back in," Zoe said.

"The engine's not turning," Book said.

Kaylee sighed loudly for everyone to hear and said, "That's 'cause the regulator ain't hooked up right!"

"Yes, I see that," Book said, trying to remain calm.

Simon held the object in his hand. "How can you tell which way it goes on?"

"Here," Zoe said, taking it. She tried to replace it. It didn't fit.

"It doesn't seem to fit," Book said.

Kaylee nearly screamed. "It fits! It fits! You just gotta' put it in right!" She paused. "I'm coming down there."

In the background, Wash said, "We're gonna' hit atmo in less than a minute."

As if in response, the ship slewed around and everyone staggered around, trying to maintain their balance.

"Turn it around," Book said.

Simon and Zoe each took hold of the regulator and turned it every which way they could and tried to plug it back in.

"Is this thing made by reavers?" Simon asked, appalled.

Zoe turned it around again and jammed it into the engine.

Simon continued, "It has no discernable coupling mechanisms. . . ."

The ship banked slightly and they each grabbed the engine to keep from sliding across the room.

"I think it's upside down," Book said.

Zoe tried again.

"This is ridiculous," she said, shaking her head. "Ask Kaylee again. . . ."

"That little round piece plugs into the brace on top to hold it in place," a hoarse voice behind them said.

The three amateur engineers whirled around to look at Eric. He was still lying on the floor, the green fluid soaking into his clothes, and holding a hand firmly against the wound in his neck.

"You know how to fix this?" Zoe said.

"I just told you."

Zoe turned back and positioned the regulator.

"Now turn it clockwise and push it into that slot just under the . . . yeah. Push on it. They stick sometimes."

"It won't go."

"That's 'cause most of the lubrication is on the floor."

That revelation caused Simon to gaze at the floor again. "Is this stuff flammable? What if a spark ignites it. . .?"

The engine sprung to life and Zoe and Book leapt back.

The sudden revitalizing of the engine didn't stop the ship from sliding further around and sending Simon and Zoe sliding across the room. Book managed to hang on to the control panel while the ship righted itself.

Eric, mashed up against the wall and still holding his neck, mumbled, "This kinda' thing never happened on our ship. . . ."



The infirmary was filled to capacity with some of the injured sitting on the floor. Jayne was lying on a bed, unconscious, with Simon gently probing at the wound in his side.

Mal occupied the bed against the wall, with Zoe packing more gauze around his leg wound. Inara stood at the head of his bed, watching, a relieved, yet slightly pale, expression on her face.

She dabbed at his forehead with a wet towel. "You're going to need a good scrubbing to get all this mud off of you."

Badger, still holding his arm as though it were in danger of falling off, moved over to Mal.

"What about my cargo?"

"Wash says it's bouncin' 'round out there," Mal answered. "We just gotta' go out and haul it in."

"And when's that gonna' be?"

Mal sighed in annoyance. "Soon as someone feels up to it." He gestured, indicating the room. "You see anyone looks sprightly enough to do it just now?"

Badger glanced at Zoe.

"Them that are, are helpin' the wounded," Mal said, firmly.

"Which I happen to be one of," he said, holding up his arm.

"You wanna' stop brandishin' that around?" He let out a sigh and closed his eyes. "Try helpin' out 'round here. Might make things move a little faster."

Badger rolled his eyes and stomped off.

River stood next to Simon, watching as he cleaned away the blood and dirt from Jayne's side. She shook her head. "His insides need fixing."

"Yes," Simon answered, absently.

"Leftovers are never good."

"River, there aren't going to be any leftovers, okay? Now, please, I need to work here." He spared a glance for the other occupants of the room. "Help Kaylee, will you?"

River nodded and joined Kaylee, who was doing her best to tend to Eric and Lux. Neither of which had a kind word to spare. Book hovered over them, a small handgun cradled in his hand.

"Why are you bothering with this if you're just gonna' kill us?" Nef asked. She was sitting on the floor, gently massaging her head.

"I ain't gonna' kill you," Mal said. "Think maybe I'll turn you over to the proper authorities."

"Mind tellin' us where you're headed?" Nef asked.

Mal considered, then, finding no harm in sharing, said, "Demeter. Don't think there's any feds out that way, but the locals can -."

"You're going to Demeter!" Pip screamed.

Mal propped himself up on his elbows. "Yeah? Any reason not to?"

"That's where we were goin'," Pip said, throwing her arms in the air. "That was before the ship broke and before we crashed our shuttle on that hell hole planet back there . . . ."

Mal and Zoe exchanged a look.

Badger stopped his pacing and stared down at their captives. "What were you goin' to Demeter for? Nobody comes out this way."

"Had a cargo to pick up. Some English guy was deliverin' it 'cause Arlo's kinda' unwelcome on Persephone. . . ." Pip trailed off, noticing the collective expressions of astonishment around the room. "What?"

Mal slowly turned his head to look at Zoe.

She gave him a brief smile. "Has a kind of irony to it, sir."

Mal shook his head. "Well, irony's been kickin' us in the ass lately, and I'm a little fed up with it," he said, angrily. He sighed and dropped back onto the bed. "You wanna' take care of that, Zoe?"

"I'll get right on it, sir."

"I'm going to need a little help over here," Simon said.

Kaylee jumped up and rushed to his side.

"What can I do?" she asked.

"He gonna' be all right, Doc?" Mal asked.

"Yes," he answered. To Kaylee he said, "Hold this here." He looked around. "You two, come over here, please."

Pip and Nef got to their feet and Book escorted them across the room.

They looked expectantly at Simon.

"You're going to help me."

"I ain't a nurse," Pip said, indignantly.

"Neither am I," Nef said.

"Innards make me puke," Pip said.

Simon sighed loudly. "Just calm down and do what I tell you."

Inara moved around where she could see Mal face-to-face and continued cleaning the mud from his face and neck. Trying to hide her relief that he was still alive was becoming a habit as well as a burden. Maybe she should just tell him how she feels. . . .

"I'm thinkin' you might wanna' have a look at how you select your clientele in the future," he said, abruptly.

"Excuse me?"

"Well, now that you're servicing the peasants, you might want to see about bein' a little more selective in the future."

"What!"

"Well, we wouldn't be on this backwater planet if you didn't have a client."

Inara clinched her jaw. "Are you saying this is all my fault because I'm lowering my standards?"

"Well. . . ."

She gasped in outrage. "I wouldn't have to if you'd frequent civilization a little more often."

She threw the towel in his face and stormed off.

Zoe raised an eyebrow at Mal.

He looked at her, innocently. "What?"

"You certainly have a way with people, sir."

"It's what makes me so damn likeable."

"Uh-huh."

Jayne opened his eyes. It was loud, wherever he was. Bits of conversations were floating around and he didn't care to try to make sense out of them.

He turned his head slowly and focused on the room.

"Don't move," Simon said.

"What?"

"I said, don't move. I'm going to give you an injection. I have to operate on you, but we've got quite a lot of wounded here."

Jayne ignored him and tried to focus on the people bending over him. His gaze fell on two familiar figures and he tried to remember where he'd seen them.

"Take the scissors and start cutting away his clothes," Simon said.

Pip and Nef looked at each other in outrage.

"This ain't what I finished sixth grade for," Pip grumbled.

"I'm shot in the head here, you know," Nef said, irritated.

"It's only a graze," Simon said. "Now, please, get to work."

Pip and Nef looked at each other, then at Jayne.

He stared back at them, realization hitting him with sickening clarity.

"Aw hell. . . ."



The End