Remember, No One Can Hear You Scream...
"Don't steal that."
Malcolm Reynolds had practiced that look of affronted innocence on everyone from Zoe to Book. Only Simon had ever fallen for it, and that only until Kaylee had told him what to look out for. Polly fell into the top half of the class, she'd not even had to see his attention skip away from the conversation they were having to pick up on his sudden interest. Sighing as she realised he was a hopeless case, she picked up the shiny tempting thing from the work bench in front of him and slipped it into a drawer, turning the key.
"What did I say? No stealing, no fighting and… "
"No talking to whores, I know."
She frowned at him.
"And no trying to look hurt and miserable cos I won't let you play with any of the wizard stuff. You break something here, it's not just explosions, it'll be the whole fabric of time and space going through the wringer and evil things from the dungeon dimensions coming through the walls."
"I dunno." She shrugged, indicating the funny dressed youths chanting behind her. "That's what they say. Didn't happen last time, but they do go on about it. Anyone would think they put the fabric of time and space through the wringer every Saturday night just for kicks."
Maladict wrapped her hands more tightly around the steaming mug and tried once again to explain about non consensual trans-dimensional time jumps and the kinks that the fabric of space time could develop when it wasn't washed with conditioner as per the manufacturer's instructions. The tea that the beautiful one had made for her was all very well but it didn't match up to a well brewed cup of espresso. Plus she was worried there was some hidden meaning in her acceptance of it as now Inara was looking at her with great interest in those deep eyes.
"So the first time you came through there were vampires and werewolves and ghosts?"
Kaylee's eyes sparkled above her meal. Maladict had been telling them about her adventures in Bristol, and as a sideline reassuring them that their Mal would be returned to them in the very near future. Once Kaylee had got over the fact of the Captain's disappearance and twisted her brain around the fact of other dimensions and universes she'd revealed a bright interest in all things inter-dimensional. Mal was struggling to keep up and was more than pleased to be interrupted by the boisterous arrival of their pilot, Wash, the owner of the disembodied voice that had startled her earlier (she made a note to talk to the Igors about this new fangled thing called "radio" when she got back). He bounced in, grabbed his wife, a bowl of food and a chair in that order and jumped into the conversation without appearing to need the introductions she'd been forced to go through with the other many, many members of this crew.
"Vampires? It's like..."
"Dear…" Zoe shot her husband a warning look and he sighed in long suffering fashion.
"Yes I know, science fiction, living on a space ship, yadda yadda." He seemed to notice the chunk of protein grasped in the chopsticks he'd been using to illustrate his point and stuffed it into his mouth.
Chewing industrially he pointed the now empty chopsticks at Maladict, waiting until he'd managed to get the odd food they ate here into some kind of swallowable order before asking "so, this transportation, does it hurt?"
"No, tickles a bit, but doesn't hurt."
Mal had quickly decided she liked Wash. He wasn't one of the ones that had pointed a weapon at her for a start and that gave him plenty of points in the positive side of his character sheet.
"And does it happen to anyone but you?"
Not that we know of."
"You have indeed been chosen for a difficult service." Book, who'd kept quiet until this moment letting Kaylee ask all the questions, finally joined the conversation.
"Not going to try and save me holy man?"
Kaylee reaching forward for her beaker smiled at the older man sitting beside her. "He don't sermonise much these days. I think we've more likely evangelised him to our ways."
Book leant back in his chair shaking his head at the little mechanic; his smile though was definitely directed down the table towards their visitor. "Oh I think someone's already got you well in hand."
"Strange fancies…. You gave your word, must not be proven false… It was the only way, to 'list as a soldier, and follow your love…"
Mal blinked. She hadn't felt that one. Usually the weight of someone walking through a mind would leave footprints, shallow impressions that her highly attuned senses should pick up. But this girl just drifted through her mind like dandelion seeds on the wind, completely undetectable.
"River." Simon leant over to give his sister a warning glance. "Behave please. Eat your dinner."
"Don't want it." The child genius of great maturity stuck out her tongue.
"But it's lovely tasty protein!" Wash leant forward into the light and made his best "yum yum" face causing Kaylee to giggle behind her chop-sticks.
"Don't like it." She pushed away her plate. "Wanna sausage inna bun… tu'ferdolla… an' that's cuttin'myown throat."
"River?" Inara put down her implements to lean over the table and place a quietening hand over the girl's nervous fingers. River jumped back, her knees knocking into the table sending the dishes shivering.
"Crazy's really going some tonight." Jayne's grumble was more because she'd spilt his food when she'd bashed the table than any surprise at her behaviour.
"I'm sorry." Mal pushed back her chair. "I think she's picking up stuff out of my dimension." She stood, aiming to get out of there. River was mixed up enough without anything Mal had seen in her long life added to her photo album of unpleasant images. There must be somewhere else she could wait.
"You stay here. Aint no call for you to go off wanderin' about the ship with no eyes on you. We've had trouble enough from scrawny folk before." Zoe waited and after a short battle of wills Mal returned to her seat. It was a fair enough point, Polly would never allow suspect persons to wander freely around the camp. She would just have to attempt to close the kid out of her mind.
"What'd she call me?" The big mercenary made as though to get up.
"Jayne! Enough. Everyone can just sit down and eat their dinner or go without."
Jayne grumbled, River stuck out her tongue at him whilst poking insipidly at the protein chunks left on her plate and Wash turned to Mal and asked another polite question about the elephants.
"So then Mal says - You and whose army?"
"Never a good opening gambit."
"No. But I've been told it's occasionally very hard to resist." Catching his eye Polly shrugged, breaking into that soft smile he had noted crept over her face whenever she made reference to a certain annoying vampire that she had designated a weight around her neck.
They were leaning on the guard rail outside the High Energy Magic building, the industrial clanking and occasional swearing drifting out from the half opened door behind them providing soothing background music to their conversation. She'd not wanted to wander too far away from the source of activity and so when Ponder had thrown the pair of them out for being unable to prevent the Good Captain Reynolds from pressing interesting looking buttons  they'd settled here to watch the lights of the city outclass the faint twinkles from the sky above.
"So then what happened?" They'd been trading stories back and forth for over an hour now. Mal had heard a revised version of a border incursion gone wrong ("so they said thanks very much for saving the country, here are your lieutenant bars, this never happened and please never ever mention it again") and had in turn shared some of the lighter moments of his service. Neither of them had mentioned what happened when a battle was lost or a skirmish went wrong. There was no need to spoil the peace talking about things both of them knew nothing could ever change.
"Hmm?" Wherever she'd been in her thoughts must have been interesting cos she came back to him blushing. "Oh, the standoff. Well, there was your usual posturing and then just when it looked like the 12 of us were going to have to take on the whole battalion the rest of our army came over the hill and everyone decided now might be a good time to discuss their options with someone further up the chain of command."
She stretched, looking over her shoulder to see if the clanking and swearing had borne fruit yet. Apparently by the shouted order to "Stay Out and keep that Pirate away from my intricate machinery!" they were still in the midst of something complicated.
"Mal likes to tell it differently though." She settled back on her elbows beside him. "According to my Sergeant, it was only by the fearsomeness of brave dialogue and then the strength of firm posture that drove the threat from Borogravia."
"Really." She met his raised eyebrow with her most serious expression, though the devils dancing in those blue eyes did their best to give her away. "You'd be surprised how many rascals have been driven back from the fair borders of my country by the mere effrontery of Sergeant Maladict."
But not you he thought to himself and hoped the wizards behind him got a move on. He wanted to get home right enough, but he was also coming to realise that provoking the wrath of a certain Maladict by separating Lieutenant and Sergeant might be even worse than being trapped in the wrong dimension for ever more.
 Apparently HEX would never be the same again, though Polly would have thought the wizards would have explained the concept of the birds and bees to him a long time ago.
"So, what do you do over there? In your universe I mean?"
Dinner was long over but none of the crew seemed to have anywhere better to be and so had remained, sprawled out around the table, restful poses speaking of full bellies and the quiet joy of comfortable relaxation after a long day. As she let her gaze drift over the delicately painted flowers stencilled into the walls, the lovingly applied paint glowing in the soft light, Mal could feel the hours of laughter and tale-spinning that over many months had seeped into these bulkheads. She glanced over at River and saw recognition in the eyes that flicked to hers before darting away. The others might know they felt comfortable here, but River, like Mal, could taste the colours diffusing into the room, weaving between the crew as they flicked leftover crumbs at each other and squabbled over whose turn it was to do the dishes.
Wash had slid back into his seat, placing the steaming mug of tea in front of his wife and Mal, realising he'd asked a question drew her unravelling threads of thought back into some kind of order.
"I'm in the army." There was an awkward pause. "We're mainly called in to border disputes, Botogravia's a small country, somebody sneezes too violently and it's an invasion."
She felt the tension bleed out of the moment as the laughter bounced round the table and made a note to keep away from war stories in the future.
"And so you're some big wig over there?" Wash was looking at her tuxedo.
"Nah. I'm a lowly sergeant me, best rank there is. I've not got a bad officer; it's a small enough squad to know everyone's got your back. We make do."
"…sweet Polly Oliver lay musing in bed…"
Mal jerked, her tea cup chinking against the saucer. She tried to cover it up by placing the cup on the table, hoping that it might appear she had just misjudged the distance. But catching Inara's knowing gaze as she looked up again she could feel the blush spilling out over her cheeks. Damn this living with humans, it was only since she'd been hanging out with the dratted species for so long that she'd somehow discovered an unknown capacity for blushing.
"River." Kaylee frowned at the younger girl's gleeful expression. "Play nice now."
Wash attempted to move them away from boggy ground. "Do you they call you sir? Mal likes it when we call him sir."
"They do if they know what's good for them." She smiled and the conversation moved on.
It was Jayne who eventually interrupted them. He'd been banished from the dining room almost immediately after the meal for persistent non-understanding and associated annoying questions. Zoe had sent him down to the cargo bay to get on with tying down the cargo that had still not been fixed since this whole thing started.
"Zoe! Something goram yi is happening! You might wanna get down here shyun."
Mal took the stairs three at a time, falling to her knees before the sparkly blue light that had materialised in the middle of the cargo bay.
"Polly? Polly I'm sorry! I didn't do it I swear! I haven't even pissed off any wizards lately!"
"Mal?" The voice that came out of the Portal was unfamiliar to all of them apart from one, who rejoiced to hear it.
"Shutting up right now Liutenant."
Zoe stepped forward, hand to her holster. "Cap'n? You there?"
"All shiny over here Zoe."
There was a harrumphing sound and a rustling such as might be caused by someone pushing aside two interested parties in order to reach an important console.
"Excellent, now that we've all said 'Hello' perhaps we can get on with it. Pull that lever please…"
Before their eyes the light increased in diameter until there was a four foot hole turning slowly in the air. The unknown voice confirmed that the portal was stable and advised them to be quick.
"Ok, so you get what to do?" Polly's voice drifted through, though she was talking quietly.
"I get it, I get it." Captain Reynolds was eager to get home where men didn't wear quite so unfashionable dresses.
"Mal?" Polly raised her voice to reach over the crackling that was getting more intense.
"Poised and prepared!"
"On 3 then." The unknown voice broke in: "One"
"Two." Polly, Maladict and the Captain Reynolds counted together.
As the entire crew of Serenity shouted the number, Sergeant Maladict dived through the glowing portal. There was a flash of bright blue light that left them all blinking and when they could see again they saw a very naked Captain Reynolds curled up on the deck plating hands clasped to a vital part of his anatomy.
Mal tumbled through into Polly's waiting arms. Looking down she discovered that it was as she had feared and swore.
"Damnit! Naked Again! Why does this always happen to me Pol?"
"I think m'darlin, it's not you per se, it's just that the fans demand it." Polly gently wrapped Mal's shivering form in the Opera cloak she'd remembered to collect from the coat clerk at the ball.
"Whu? That suit was ruddy expensive!" Pulling the cloak tighter around Mal bent her best scowl on the hovering wizards.
"I think… well I think it might be for the fans of the other places you go to. I think it's a side effect of the people we swap back needing to be nekkid for the girly fans to squeal over."
Polly scrabbled back as Mal exploded and on the other side of a now safely sealed portal River Tam sang quietly to herself about little soldier boys as the Captain of Serenity scrabbled crabwise towards the promise of clothing muttering to his laughing crew about the effects of the chill of space on bodily appendages.
I got my Chinese phrases off-of-the-internet and I apologise if any of them are too odd/incorrect.
goram – goddamn
shyun - prompt; quick; swift; rapid; speedy
yi - different; peculiar; strange; uncommon; extraordinary
River makes reference to the opening verse of the old English Folk song "Sweet Polly Oliver"
As sweet Polly Oliver lay musing in bed,
A sudden strange fancy came into her head.
"Nor father nor mother shall make me false prove,
I'll 'list as a soldier, and follow my love."