AN: This is a response to fibonacci's challenge, "We Were." from

Important note: For this plot to fully work, the episode "You're Welcome" never happened in Angel. At least not the scripted way. It'll be explained later...

"That an Alliance ship?"

A frown tugged at Captain Mal's lips as he stared at the large boat. The normally brightly lit Alliance cruiser was dull and floating aimlessly in the black.

"Looks like that way, sir." Was Zoë's usual terse response. It didn't hide the skeptical tone in her voice though.

"Anyone home?" Mal never took his eyes of the large boat.

"You want me to hail her?" Wash turned surprised eyes to his Captain, "But, Mal, what about the f-u-j... g?..." Deciding to thwart his attempt on spelling on 'fugitives' he changed his words, "What about the Tams?"

"I say screw 'em."

Mal turned a pair of warning eyes to Jayne, who, knowing what the look hinted towards, thrust an exasperated hand towards the cruiser, "I was talkin' 'bout the Alliance. We don't need no trouble from 'em."

"That be the truth," Mall turned back to stare out the window. Thoughts flew through his head and he weighed his options. True, it was risky to hail them especially concerning the two fugitives aboard his boat. Not to mention that this being an Alliance cruiser, everything was bound to have an Alliance imprint on it and therefor be not worth the selling. The only reason to hail or board would be to make sure everyone was alive, "No. Let's keep sailin'." He straightened and explained, "Jayne and Wash are right. We don't need Alliance trouble right now, 'specially with two fugitives on board."

"They were eaten."

The four occupants turned to find River standing behind the doorway, peering around the threshold. She stared at the ship with wide eyes, "The mouth opened up and gulped them down." She turned her eyes to the Captain, "They're sleeping now."

"Anyone else find that mighty confusin'?" Mal looked around and watched as Wash rose his hand, followed soon by Zoë and Jayne.

Much to everyone's inner amusement, River rolled her eyes and glided in. It was strange how she always seemed to float everywhere. But everything about the girl was strange. She walked up next to Mal, staring at the ship the whole time, "Down, down, down." She whispered, then rolled her head towards Mal, and still in a whisper she continued, "They all fell down. Won't get back up."

"You meanin' the Alliance ship's empty?" Mal questioned, staring at the girl.

"Not empty." She said, "Sleeping." She turned and stared back at the ship, "We should board."

"What? Mal!" Jayne jumped up from the second pilot's seat and turned to Mal with horrified eyes, "We ain't gonna go jumpin at the crazy's beck n' call, are we? It's an Alliance ship! Damn crazy girl's gonna get herself captured and we'll have to pay the consequences for aidin' fugitives!"

"Jayne's right." Zoë agreed and turned her attention back to her long time comrade, "Sir, if there are any Alliance members still on the vessel we'll be arrested. Not to mention that this is an Alliance ship. Someone's bound to come lookin' for it soon. This place will be swarming with Alliance in at least a matter of hours. I say we leave."

"No!" River all but shouted. The four watched, unknowing what to do, as the girl's face crumpled into tears, "They know! They've seen it! Have to remind them what they are. They'll understand, won't comprehend." She collapsed to the floor and sobbed into her arms, "Have to board. Have to help." She turned a tear streaked face up the Captain, who stared back at her uncomfortably, "Have to board." That part almost sounded like a command to him.

If there was one thing that got under Malcolm Reynolds skin, it was a crying girl. The situation always left him confounded and all sorts of uncomfortable. "Aiya." He cursed and sent Wash a sharp glare, "Link us up. We're goin' on board."

"Cap'n!" Jayne took a step forward, but was cut off my Mal's raised hand.

"Bizui!" He ordered. Mal crossed his arms and turned back to the ship, watching as Wash brought them closer and closer to it, "What's concernin' me is that they ain't put out a distress beacon. Buys us a coupla more hours til Alliance comes a lookin'."

A few hours later everyone was gathered down in the cargo hold, Mal and Zoe preparing to head into the airlock and change into their spacesuits.

"What's going on?" Simon, just now entering the cargo hold, looked around crew.

"Stumbled on a deserted Alliance cruiser." Mal's reply was short and quick, knowing full well how Simon was going to take it.

"What?" A look of panic flashed across his face, "No. Captain!"

"Don't think anyone's home," Was the response, but Mal level a look to the Doctor, "But just t'be safe, take that sister o'yers and prepare one o'the shuttles." He glanced back at the airlock, "River seems to think we have to go."

"River?" Simon turned to his sister, who was crying in Kaylee's arms.

Kaylee looked up at Simon and gave him a helpless look, "She's been cryin' since she came down. Nuthin I do seems to cheer her up. Can't figure out what's wrong."

"Mei-mei..." Simon walked towards his sister, but instead of letting him comfort her she pushed herself out of his reach and Kaylee's arms.

"They're afraid of the dark. Don't like it, but th-they live in it." She stammered out her nonsensical sentence. A stream of Chinese curse words followed and she let out a laugh, "It impractical, but viable. Don't fit the matrix, but can fix it." Her eyes turned to Mal and her red eyes turned serious, "Don't preach."

"Ain't plannin' to." Mal murmured as he and Zoë shared a glance, "Doc." The order left unsaid as Simon nodded and he and Kaylee both took River up the catwalk, "Wash, I want you to stay at the bridge and tell if anyone, Alliance or otherwise, comes near." Wash nodded and headed up the catwalk as well, "Jayne," Mal fixed the merc with a stern stare, "Behave yerself now."

Jayne just grunted, but made no move to respond as Mal and Zoë headed into the airlock.

After they dressed in their spacesuits, Mal gave Wash the order to let them on board. The second they entered, Mal and Zoë both knew that the emergency power was up. The corridor was dark, but the dashboard lights were on, as well as faint lights marking the edges of the corridor. They both frowned as they found no one on board. They walked through areas that should have been covered with security but found no one. They wandered for a few minutes until they came across a control panel. Walking up to it, Mal began pushing buttons before turning and nodding to Zoë.

Without a word, Mal pulled his helmet off, followed quickly by Zoë.

"This is unsettlin', sir."

"Agreed."

"I can't believe the Captain would do this." Simon murmured as he watched his sister sleeping quietly on what had once been Inara's bed.

"I'm sure he has his reasons." Kaylee supplied, the hopefulness in her voice catching Simon's attention, "He ain't gonna turn you in or nothin'." She stated as a fact, "He just wants to know what's goin' on."

"Still..." Simon shook his head, "It's an Alliance cruiser. If something did happen then another one's gonna be here soon."

"I'm sure the Cap'n's already thought of that." Kaylee really was tryin' to help, but by the look on Simon's face, she knew she wasn't doing too good of a job, "They'll be in and out and 'fore ya know it, we'll be days away."

Simon kept his gaze on Kaylee's face. For all his complaining, there really were many a great things to being on this ship, and Kaylee was the brightest one. He gave her a small smile, knowing that it would give Kaylee a great amount of pride to know she had gotten him to give even a small smile, "I just hope they hurry."

Kaylee smiled at him, "They will." She only glanced at River before having to do a double take, "Uh-oh..."

"Wha-" Simon cut himself off as he stared at the bed where is sister had been sleeping only seconds before, "River?!" Simon bolted off the floor and out of the shuttle, Kaylee on his heels, and onto the catwalk. They both watched as River sat in the middle of cargo bay floor. "River!"

Mal, now completely out of suit, turned to Zoë with a frown. They were both wandering around the ship, finding nothing to indicate what had happened.

"Captain." Zoë called his attention, and he left the computer he had been playing with. She shined the light on her gun onto three large containers, "Read this."

Striding across the room, Mal kept his eyes on the large containers, a heavy sense of unease flowing through him. He knelt beside one of the containers and read it, "Earth-that-was Artifacts." Chinese flew from his lips in surprise and he shook his head, "Says here no one knows what's in it."

Zoë nodded, "Heard Earth-that-was liked to have special locks on some of their old things. Scientists are still trying to figure out how to open 'em."

Mal turned his eyes up to Zoë, an unasked question hidden behind his words, "No one knows what's in 'em."

A glint in Zoë's eyes showed she agreed, "Would give us more than enough money to get that coil Kaylee's been askin' about."

"Huh." Mal looked at the three containers and began to search them, "Ain't even marked by Alliance."

"Probably couldn't get a mark to stick. Earth-that-was had some strange things, I heard."

"Hmm." He nodded, "Alright, we take these and leave." He grabbed his com, "Wash, send Jayne in here, we found ourselves somethin' to fence off."

A few minutes later, Simon, Kaylee, and River watched as the three containers were pulled on board. Mall looked over his shoulder at the three and frowned in disapproval.

"Didn't I tell you two to stay up in the shuttle?"

"Mother didn't want us to." River responded.

"Huh?" Mal shook his head, "Nevermind, I ain't carin'." He turned to Zoë and Jayne, "Got everything?"

"Yup!" Jayne replied, happy that they had found the only things on the boat not marked with Alliance.

Zoë strolled over to the intercom and pressed a button, "Ready, dear. Take us out."

"Shi." Everyone could feel Serenity as Wash pulled her away from the Alliance cruiser and sped off.

"What are they?" Simon frowned as he wandered near the cargo.

"Artifacts," Zoë walked up, "From Earth-that-was."

"They sing." River grinned from her spot on the ground. She hadn't moved since she planted herself there. She stared at one container inparticular, "But they don't remember." She pulled her eyes from the containers and looked at her big brother, "When they breathe it'll fill their lungs and pop."

Simon blinked, unsure of how to respond, and instead opted to turn his attention back to the containers. He frowned when he noticed something, "This one's different." He walked over towards it and placed his hand on the top.

"How's that?" Mal, suddenly worried that it'll cause them trouble, made his way to the Doctor.

"The other two have temperature control, probably because whatever's in there is perishable. This one doesn't." He frowned as he ran his hand on the surface.

Sssssssss...SSSssssssssSsssszzzZzzzz...

The strange hiss caused everyone to turn and stare at one of the other two containers. River stood up and backed away, as if she too were taken by surprise. A side panel lifted into the air, followed by clouds of cold smoke, and everyone watched as a body rolled out.

"Da-shiang bao-tza shr duh lah doo-tze!" Mal cursed.

Aiya - Damn

Bizui - Shut up

Shi - Affirmative

Da-shiang bao-tza shr duh lah doo-tze - The explosive diarrhea of an elephant (From Mrs. Reynolds when Jayne wants to trade lol!)