"Simon, you gotta talk her outta this." Jayne stood at the infirmary door, as if to bar entry.

"I tried. I'm sure you did too. It's her life, Jayne."

"Gor-rammit, you people are stubborn. The fella we took to Boros. That was your pa, wasn't it?"


Jayne's eyes hooded. "He wasn't what I expected."

"Me neither. Let's go in and give it one more try." They went in together, brushing the jamb with their shoulders.

River reclined on the exam table, waiting. "Yes, I'm sure. Two down, twelve to go. No guarantees, no safety net, just close my eyes and jump. Get on with it. You know I hate needles."

"You're doing so well. Why risk it?" But Simon filled the syringe as he spoke.

"I'm better, but I'm not cured, and I never will be if I stop now." Her voice changed. "A girl can get awful tired of people askin her who she is today, specially if she's not sure herself. I want a real repair, Simon, not just a workaround." She made a face at the needle, then closed her eyes. "All aboard." As Jayne hovered over her and Simon inserted the needle, she said, "Love both a ya. See you on the other side."


"So, Meester Reynolds. You come to gloat, yes?" The voice was the same, Mal noted. Niska looked across the table in the visitors' room at him, still wearing his glasses, dressed in a suit instead of the prison garb his two hulking bodyguards wore. He looked just as he had when he'd stood over Mal, taunting, while he'd applied sharp edges and electricity to his bound and beaten captive. But there was a brittle quality to him that hadn't been there before. Mal figured being sentenced to prison at a trial that had been waved all over inhabited space might have something to do with that.

"Not hardly. You're not gettin half what you deserve."

Niska showed a little tooth, but the gesture wasn't a smile. He rose. "Take a walk with me, Mr. Reynolds. I am deweloping taste for fresh air, and it is on the way to the front gate. Your visit will be brief, I think."

The uniformed door guard stepped aside as Niska approached and gestured Mal through ahead of him. An inmate/bodyguard followed close behind, with Niska and the other bodyguard right after. Mal said, "This your usual exercise period?"

"My exercise period is from waking to sleeping, Mr. Reynolds. I am given someā€¦ accommodation due to my advanced age. And my generosity."

The yard was a grassy little park, greener than the world beyond the walls that Mal had crossed on the way in. There was no sign of a guard out here, but Mal was sure they were being carefully watched and recorded.

"There are no listening devices in use while I am out here," Niska said, as if guessing his thought. "Another little accommodation." The little hwundan turned to him. "You are, as I say, extraordinary man. Who would guess you could set me up so well? With priceless antique the police have been searching the 'Verse for, and a rock-solid paper trail from its theft to my door - transported by Core's biggest shipper, no less. I would be very interested to know how you accomplished it. Very interested."

Mal looked at the sky. "I thought we knew each other better than that by now. Not about to boast to you, Niska."

The little man took off his glasses and a kerchief from his pocket and wiped them. "I heff made myself comfortable here. Beezniss is still running, though not with usual efficiency. I am makeenk friends on the parole board. My sentence was thirty years, but it will not be so very long, I think, before I leave these walls behind." He put on his glasses and stared up at Mal, eyes glinting. Mal decided the brittle quality was a mixture of hatred and fear. But that was just fine, as long as the two were mixed in the proper portions.

Mal leaned forward. "That's exactly what I keep tellin myself. But not the way you mean it." He made a gesture that took in the walls around them. "This was just the first snap of my teeth, you little uhmuo. There's business between us that won't be finished till I feel your throat in my hands."

Niska stilled, and Mal knew fear was the stronger. He took a step forward and watched the little man step back, even though the two brutes stood ready on either side. Mal gave him a feral grin. It was as he'd thought: Niska had lost his taste for up close and personal, at least with the 'real' Malcolm Reynolds. The little sneak would never willingly get within Mal's reach again. He curled his lip at the two bodyguards. "You think they're the reason I'm walkin out of here and leavin you alive, you got a short memory. I come to tell you to use those friends on the parole board to make sure you don't set foot out of this place before I'm dead or mellowed out. Else you won't draw two breaths as a free man." He turned for the gate. "And I plan on livin a long time, and I just get crankier the older I get."