Disclaimer in Chapter One

Author's Note at the end of the chapter.

Chapter Two

The hum of Deathscythe running on emergency power was soothing to Duo and he had to fight off yet another wave of exhaustion as he watched the screens intently, looking for any sign of a planet or colony or, well, something other than empty space. So far, he hadn't found anything, and he was starting to worry about his steadily dwindling power supply. Another two hours of this mindless wandering and he wasn't going to do anything but find himself an early grave.

He'd been hopeful when he'd caught those bits of transmission, but now, seeing the nothingness that seemed to be this system, that spark of hope was quickly fading. Though Duo prided himself in being an optimist, life had made him a realist as well. If something didn't show up on his radar in the next thirty minutes, he wasn't going to have enough power to do much besides breathe.

Good job, he told himself cynically as he held down a button to change the perspective of his radar. I survive L2, survive the church, the war, and then I end up dead because I turned right instead of left. Irony: One; Duo: Zero.

He succumbed to the next urge to yawn and he popped his neck before lifting his hand off the button to scratch at the back of his head agitatedly. Leaning back, he tilted his head to look at the ceiling of the cockpit.

Of all the ways could possibly have died, getting lost outside his solar system had never actually crossed his mind. It made him feel kind of like he'd been cheated, though. He'd spent a lot of time, both before and during the war, thinking up creative ways in which he could kick the proverbial bucket. Kicking a bucket had even been a part of one of the scenarios. But this… Duo looked forward again and stared at the radar at what Deathscythe was showing him.

And very promptly gaped, jerking forward in his seat to get a closer look.

"Where the hell did that come from?" Duo reached around and grabbed the controls, returning Deathscythe to full power before twisting the Gundam around to face what he'd originally thought had been 'up'. He couldn't believe it. There in front of him, what he'd been floating under for the last forty-five minutes, was a snowy white planet, orbited by what appeared to be three moons. Behind the planet, he could see other planets of various shapes and sizes.

Duo stared, feeling a slow, wide grin spread across his face. He'd been right under everything the entire time.

Guess it's true what they say. Humans never really think to look up. Least not until it's too late.

He glanced over at his power supply indicator and his grin lost a little of its enthusiasm. Right, air first. Think about ancient proverbs later.

He steered Deathscythe towards the planet and, as he came closer to it, a small box popped up in the bottom corner of his screen informing him that the planet had an atmosphere. One almost exactly like Earth, at that. Smiling at his change in luck, he prepped Deathscythe for descent and plunged towards the ground.

As he plummeted, he could see that the planet really was a lot like Earth, or more specifically, like somewhere in the North during wintertime. As Deathscythe landed on the snowy landscape, Duo looked around. It looked very much like the deserted tundra in northern Sanq, only with fewer trees.

As he scanned the area, a flash of movement caught his eye and he turned his head back towards the left to see open field and a small leafless tree in the distance, but nothing that could explain the movement. He watched the tree as it seemed to glide towards him down the hill, almost as if it were skiing. As it came closer, Duo blinked and pressed a button to zoom in.

It wasn't a skiing tree. It was a human, and it was holding something—

Duo blinked again, stunned.

"Is that a shotgun?"

XxXxXxX

The Director of the Preventers Organization was not having a very pleasant Thursday morning. To kick things off, her morning coffee had had too much sugar--and Lady Ann Une just could not operate under this much stress without caffeine like she used to.

Almost immediately after that, a senator, of whom she still could not remember his name, had demanded an update on the fugitive serial killer Barry Morgan. She might have been able to actually help the old goat if only the report hadn't been buried beneath stacks of other reports of similar importance.

Therefore, when one of her assistants knocked hesitantly on the door and informed her that contact with the spacecraft in charge of investigating a destroyed piece of military equipment had been lost after a disturbing transmission, she was ready to start pulling her hair out. Whether the urge to do so was because of frustration due to stress, or because she could not remember who or what had even been sent on that particular mission, not even she knew.

"Where's the report on that?" she asked the assistant, picking up a couple of the manila folders and looking at the labels. And I swear to whatever God there might be, if it's somewhere in this mess…

"Right here, ma'am," the assistant crossed the room in uncertain, but evenly spaced strides and handed the plain folder--exactly identical to every other one already on the Director's desk--to her. Une opened the folder and skimmed its contents.

As she finished reading, her face gradually fell into an expression of seriousness only those who'd known her during the war had seen. She looked up at the assistant, a hard light in her eyes as she asked, "Who all knows about this?"

"Besides us, only the First Responder and his manager, ma'am."

"Good," Une said whilst closing the folder, and turned slightly to the left and slid the entire folder into the shred bin, effectively destroying it. The assistant looked nervous and more than a little uncertain when Une turned her gaze back. "I want all electronic and physical evidence of this incident destroyed. As of this moment, this information is classified as Top Secret and you are not to speak of this to anyone, not even me. Relay those orders to the others, as well. Is that understood?"

The assistant gulped and stood straighter as she stuttered out her reply. "Y-Yes, ma'am."

Une relaxed back into her chair as the assistant exited the storage room in a hurry. She looked down at the report Quatre Winner had provided her the night before with a pensive expression. It's not going to be enough. They'll find out eventually, but I'll be damned if I let this start another war.

XxXxXxX

Five hours, twenty-seven minutes.

Though he'd slept through roughly two of those hours, and it wasn't a record by any means, it was frustrating nonetheless. This backwater town reminded Duo of something out of an old Western movie and it had about the same level of technology, too, not counting that neat little hover-vehicle he'd rode into town on. But despite the lack of OZ-type restraints, the farthest he'd been able to get in escaping thus far was getting his hands in front of him instead of behind. There was some twisted sort of irony about the situation, but he couldn't muster up the will to laugh at himself over it.

Yet.

He sighed and resisted the urge to glance at his watch again.

Duo closed his eyes and pulled his chin up from his chest to knock it against the adobe type wall behind him. This totally sucks.

He had tried explaining to the man arresting him that there were cannibals in space that had killed the rest of the crew of his ship and that he'd gotten lost as a byproduct, but either the man didn't believe him, or he just didn't care. Neither scenario boded well for Duo, and he knew it. But between the freezing temperatures and unfamiliar territory, he hadn't wanted to take his chances at wandering outside alone and had allowed the man to stuff him in the back of his cool hovering vehicle. Duo had intended to escape once they'd gotten—hopefully—somewhere civilized, but ten minutes into the trip had him almost frozen stiff.

Hence his current location: Jail.

The sound of the outer door opening prompted Duo to open his eyes. Turning his head slightly to look down the hall, he could see a middle aged man being led towards his cell, hands behind his back no doubt bound the same way his own had been. The man's clothes and face were filthy and wet, as if he'd taken a very recent mud bath in the snow. The man's long brown trench coat was completely soaked through—as were his boots, if the 'squelching' sound was any sign—which was probably making the man feel like he weighed a ton.

As the man and his captor—who Duo was affectionately calling Deputy Dick—reached the cell, the man finally seem to notice him sitting against the wall.

"Yo!" Duo greeted with a smile and a casual salute, letting his left hand dangle closely to his right. Not like he really had a choice. "How's the weather out there?"

The man snorted loudly as he was pushed forcefully into the cell. "Cold."

"No talking," Deputy Dick ordered rather belatedly, slamming the cell door behind the man. The lock clicked into place and then Deputy Dick turned around and left without further reprimand.

Duo wasn't sure the officer actually took his job seriously, as he hadn't seemed to notice that Duo's hands were now in front of him. Then again, maybe he had and just didn't care, like before.

A few seconds later found the two alone. The man continued to stand in the middle of the cell, though he had turned around to scowl at the retreating deputy until the door had swung closed, cutting off his view. After a few moments of silence, Duo let out a chuckle before cheerfully asking, "So, what you in for?"

The man turned his scowl away from the empty corridor and quirked an eyebrow at him appraisingly, obviously noting the small patch of white at the collar of Duo's black shirt. "What about you?"

"Hmm," Duo replied noncommittally and looked up at the ceiling. "Apparently, it's bad manners to show up in town without telling these people beforehand." He shrugged and looked back at the man, displaying his tied hands and feet. "They don't seem to like my brand of humor, either. Or me at all, for that matter. But hey, can't win 'em all, right?"

The man huffed in amusement and finally moved, stepping over to the wall opposite Duo and slumping against it to slide to the ground. The cell went silent for a couple of minutes and Duo, now in the presence of another human being, began to grow irritably twitchy at the lack of activity. Ten minutes went by before he couldn't stand it anymore and he scooted himself over to, once again, inspect the bars for weakness and-or decay.

For the most part, Duo's new cellmate remained ignorant of the world around him, choosing to instead stare up at the small barred window near the ceiling. Duo was content to let the man stew in his silence and eventually he gave up looking for a weak spot in the bars. Instead of returning to his previous spot, he sprawled out as best he could in front of them and followed the man's gaze to the darkened window.

"Waiting for a messenger pigeon or something, old man?"

The man didn't answer immediately, but when Duo took a breath to ask again, the other man interrupted him. "Mal."

Duo blinked owlishly and let the breath go. "What?"

The man glanced at him out the corner of his eye. "If you want to call me something, call me Mal."

Duo smiled. "Okay. Mal it is, then. I'm Duo; I run, I hide, but I never tell a lie. Nice to meet 'ya." He looked back at the window, choosing to ignore Mal's grunt. "So, messenger pigeon?"

"Of sorts," Mal admitted, shifting slightly on the floor, obviously uncomfortable. Duo didn't blame him.

The braided teen chuckled. "Oh good, 'cause I was starting to wonder if you were going to jump up there and start clawing at the bars or something." Mal didn't answer and Duo let the cell go silent again for a few minutes before asking, "So what's the deal with this place?"

"What?"

Duo shrugged and, pulling his legs up towards himself to rest elbows on knees, he explained. "It's like I've landed in a old Western movie, only without the damsels in distress or the cool and heroic cowboys." He tilted his head slightly to the right before adding, "You all speak English, too."

"Yeah?" Mal hazarded. "What's so special about that?"

Duo didn't roll his eyes. "Coincidences happen, sure, but something like this?" He trailed off, lifting his hands to encompass both the room and its occupants, "And us able to speak the same language, both calling it English? That can't be one of 'em."

Mal leveled a familiar look at Duo and he bit back a smirk at seeing Wufei's 'You're-not-making-any-sense-again-Maxwell' expression on another person's face.

He sighed and gave up. "Never mind." He slouched down against the bars, resting his head between two of them. "I guess it doesn't really matter."

Mal continued to stare at him curiously for a while longer before his attention drifted away and he went back to staring at the window. Duo watched him using his peripheral vision, studying him. Mal seemed human enough, with short-cropped brown hair and blue eyes. Clean shaven, too, just like Deputy Dick had been. This obviously wasn't some kind of Planet of the Apes parody, but while the people Duo had seen so far all seemed civilized, he hadn't seen any kind of vehicles capable of space travel. Though really, that wasn't saying very much.

Duo opened his mouth to ask Mal if he thought they were going to be fed or not—because he hadn't eaten anything in quite a while—but was interrupted when there was a startled shout from somewhere in the vicinity of the outer room. Duo looked over his shoulder at the door in interest. Another enraged shout was closely followed by a loud crash and a gun shot and Duo found himself on his feet even before his mind had fully registered what the ruckus could mean.

A quick glance at Mal showed the man was also on his feet, but his stance was much more relaxed. Like he knew what was going on, despite being locked away in a cell.

Duo smirked over his shoulder. "The pigeons?"

"Don't let them hear you call them that," Mal replied, mirroring his expression.

Duo grinned outright and rolled his shoulders in anticipation as the noise of someone getting thrown into a wall echoed into the room. Time to party.

XxXxXxX

TBC

Author's Note: Aaaaand—There's Chapter Two. Not as long as Chapter One, is it? Sorry about that last one. It kind of ran away with itself; though that was mainly because I wanted to get a lot of the back-story out of the way. Hopefully I did Mal justice in this and if not, well, find some way to correct me and I'll fix it as I go. I've never written for Firefly before, so the characters are a little new to me. I apologize in advance, sort of. What else… Oh, if anyone has any questions, please ask and I'll try and clarify it in the story somehow. I won't know otherwise. This all probably makes a lot more sense in my head than it does on paper—er…Word, but I'm trying to keep things as clear and not-confuzzling as possible. Tell me if it's working?

Updates will, unfortunately, be made randomly. Everything depends on my job, inspiration, and how confident I am that the chapter will actually work for what I need, so bear with me on that.

Again, this is un-beta'd and therefore there may have been typos that I missed. If there are any glaring ones that bug the absolute penguins out of you, drop me a note and I'll fix it as soon as I can. Thanks for reading!

Next Chapter: Duo meets the rest of the Serenity crew--sans one. Plot is revealed. Cue insane cackling.