"What's up?" Jayne asked as he sauntered into the mess.

"Shhh, they'll hear you."

Mal was sitting bowed over the table looking like a hunted man, his shoulders hunched up around his ears and positioned in the chair so he could spring to his feet and make a getaway at any moment.

Simon, sitting in a similar posture across from Mal, added in a whisper, "They're not going to kill us, you know."

"And how do you know that?" hissed Wash from his place at the table.

"Because they're not Reavers, they're human beings," stated Book, also speaking in a low whisper.

"I'm not too sure of that anymore," Wash said, quickly darting his eyes back and forth to the doorways at either end of the room.

Jayne pulled a chair out from the table and spun it around to sit astraddle with his forearms resting on the back. "Oh, you're talkin' 'bout the girls," he whispered to the wary group of men. "I thought they was all actin' a mite aggressive lately. I wonder why that is?"

"It's because," Simon explained, "they're in sync."

Mal screwed up his face in puzzlement. "What does that mean, exactly, Doc?" he asked.

"Women who live together," Simon explained, "after a while, all their cycles synchronize to that of the dominant female."

"Well, Zoë's hasn't changed so I guess she's the Alpha female aboard this ship," observed Wash with a note of pride in his voice.

Chuckling quietly, Mal said, "I bet that ticked Inara off."

"Every time I go near the engine room," Simon said, "I can hear Kaylee throwing her tools around and yelling at Serenity. It's not like her to badmouth her ship."

"And River's been dogging my heels insisting that the entire Christian doctrine be re-written because men got it wrong," added the preacher.

Mal thought for a moment. "Inara's been throwin' stuff around her shuttle a bit. Almost got hit in the head with a bronze elephant yesterday."

"What are Zoë's symptoms, Wash?" asked the doctor.

"Hard to tell with Zoë, really, except that I've already learned that if I try to touch her I might lose my hands, so I pretty much just keep them in my pockets and limit conversation to 'Yes, dear' for a couple of days until the all clear is sounded."

"Sounds to me like the hens've got free run o' the coop," Jayne observed, grinning smugly. "And that when but one o' the roosters has got crowin' rights. Pretty sad state of affairs, if'n you ask me."

The other four had just opened their mouths to respond to this when they heard shouts booming through the ship evoking the approach of Valkyries to the battlefield.

Zoë: "Wash!"

Inara: "Mal!"

Kaylee: "Simon!"

River: "Preacher!"

Jayne began to laugh heartily and slapped his thigh as the four men leaped up and fled the approaching footsteps ringing out on the decking, but his laughter died on his lips and was replaced by a look of naked fear when he heard all four voices bellow in unison, "JAYNE!" and he bolted after the others as though the very fires of hell were licking at his heels.