Chapter 4: Home Again


"How many times I gotta tell you. We ain't Chinese insurgents. We're," Mal began once more but was interrupted by Casey who, despite his earlier affirmation, simply couldn't listen to the suspendered man's insane ramblings any longer without comment.

"A gang of interplanetary bandits from the future, yeah, and I'm sure you can get me a great deal on a bridge in England," the NSA assassin grumbled in an insulting tone.

"Well, when he puts it like that, it does sound a little hard to swallow, Cap," Wash chimed in from the back wall of the infirmary where everyone who didn't have anything better to do had gathered to get a glimpse of Jayne's supposed ancestor.

"Alright, I can see trying to reason with you ain't gonna work. So, Doc, if you'd please..."

"If I'd please what?" Simon asked with a confused expression on his face.

"Give him something to put him under again," Mal replied in a slightly strained tone.

"Oh," Simon responded as he filled another syringe and stuck it into Casey's arm. The fugitive doctor pushed down on the plunger, and the venom poured into Casey's system. His eyes grew heavy, his vision clouded and it became increasingly difficult to think. And then, after a few seconds, the NSA agent's strength gave out and he succumbed to the call of oblivion.

When Casey's eyes began to flutter open once more he found himself unrestrained, but clothed in a cumbersome suit, one which encased his entire body, including his head. The man could still see, however, thanks to a glass faceplate within the suit's helmet. And what Casey saw took even his breath away.

There, just beyond his grasp hung the wide, open expanse of the universe itself. Stars, un-obscured by any planetary atmosphere, shimmered like a vast ocean of diamonds. The sheer scope of the scene sent chills through Casey's body, the view simultaneously exhilarating and humbling in a way he never thought possible.

Without conscious thought, Casey stretched his arms out towards the star studded black. And time seemed meaningless as he floated in the infinite expanse, his only tether to the mortal realm a thin cable which secured him to the outer-hull of the Firefly known as Serenity.

And then a voice resounded in Casey's helmet, snapping him out of his awestruck, dreamlike state. "Now do you believe me?" Mal asked in a somewhat smug tone.

Burbank Buy More

Jayne just stood where he was, in a spot on the left side of the semi-circle that all the employees had gathered into. He couldn't believe his eyes as a large black man – Big Mike, he thought he remembered someone calling guy – held up a small piece of paper in the shape of an extremely primitive flying device.

"Alright, everyone, you all know what this is, a... one-dollar... Children's... Miracle... Network... balloon. And that means that, once again, it's time for our annual collection drive. Now for the past three years our competitors over at Large-Mart have raised twice the money we have. Well, that streak ends now," the man spoke with determined conviction.

"And you want to know why? … Because this year we are going to be aggressive! Exceptionally aggressive. Now, I don't care if the customer's come in for a new television, a video game, a blender... or simply to use our bathrooms. I don't want them leaving here without purchasing one of these little pieces of paper."

Jayne noticed two of the other employees -- a dark skinned, little slip of a man and an older, balding one, whose vacant expression somehow caused his protruding brow to indicate absent minded stupidity rather than the high intelligence such a characteristic usually represented – were whispering and snickering to each other.

And it seemed that Big Mike had caught sight of the scene as well. "Jeff! Lester!" the big man shouted as he drew up next to the two employees, who became suddenly silent. "Something funny, boys?" the boss asked with a faux smile upon his face.

"Well, yeah, I mean they're just paper balloons," a member of the previously snickering pair began hesitantly. "Who cares if they outsell us? All the money's just going to that charity anyways."

"Hmmm," the large man hummed and stroked his chin as he seemed to be mulling over his employee's response. "Maybe you have a point. After all, it's not like our store's making any money on the deal, right?"

The pair nodded.

"So, why not let Large-Mart pull ahead again? It's all going to the same place anyway, right?"

Once more the pair nodded.

And then the other shoe fell as Big Mike's mask of kindness hardened into unyielding stone. "I'll tell you why. Because these 'just paper balloons' represent something far greater. They represent charity – a compassionate, giving soul, the selfless act of self-sacrifice for another. They represent that epitome of the highest human traits, empathy and benevolence... exactly the traits customers want to see in the company they do business with.

"Every month after the annual drive, Large-Mart's sales increase by up to twenty percent. And you know why... It's because everyone sees them as the kind, giving store – the Santa Clause of the retail world. And what does that make us here at the Buy More? A bunch of crotchety, old scrooges, that's what.

"Well, not this year. This year we're going to show those little... 'elves' over at Large-Mart that we can be every bit as charitable as them. And with that in mind, I'm pairing you off into teams, and whichever team collects the most contributions by the end of the charity drive will earn themselves one weekend off... with pay.

"Now, I want you to beg. I want you to plead. I want you to scheme and manipulate. I want you to hold up pictures of those wide-eyed little kids on the Children's Miracle Network pamphlets. I want you to pull any low-down, dirty trick you can think of to sell these balloons. This is the year when we show those stuck-up Large-Mart employees the true meaning of charity... and send them crying home to their mommas." Having finished his little speech, Big Mike announced the teams, adjourned the mourning meeting and headed off to his office.

Jeff and Lester (who'd been paired up with one another) eagerly chirped about how great it would be to get an extra weekend off so they could work on their musical 'art' then jumped up and high-fived each other.

And Jayne, who'd been paired up with Chuck, hung his head and sighed quietly. Clearly he was on a planet of morons. And what was worse was that, since the rest of Serenity's crew had left without him, the space fugitive realized that he might be stuck on this planet of morons for a very, very long time.

Firefly Shuttle

"Can't believe I was abducted by aliens," Casey mumbled, more to himself than those around him.

"Ah, come now. That's not fair. We're just as human as you are," Wash commented in his usual, carefree tone.

"Actually since we were all born on other planets, Casey's statement is technically accurate," River cut in from the shuttle's far corner.

"Don't worry," Mal replied to Casey, ignoring the statements of his two crew-mates. "Now that we've gotten everything straightened out we'll have you back home quicker than Dorothy could click her slippers together. Maybe even pick up one of our own while we're down there."

"Dorothy's slippers, Sir?" Zoe asked with a confused look upon her face.

"It's a reference to an old Earth-That-Was movie," River explained.

"Hey now, didn't expect anyone else to have seen that classic," Mal responded, surprised that one of his crew got the reference.

"We haven't," River replied simply, drawing puzzled stares from everyone save Wash.

The pilot, long ago having decided that the best way to deal with the young girl's 'quirks' were to just ignore them... whenever possible, directed the conversation down a different path by saying, "You know, Sir, we could just leave Jayne down there."

"With all those savages? That would be beyond cruel," River commented and paused for a moment. "Could we really do that?" she then continued in a rare ribbing tone drawing a slight chuckle from every one of the shuttles other occupants, save Casey.

He just sat there silently and wondered what kind of future could coax one of his own descendants to abandon his government and throw his lot in with lawless thieves. Could the world have really changed that much? Or had his patriotic blood been watered down over the years to create such flexible loyalties. Whichever was the case, the government trained killer was relieved that he, in all likelihood, would never live to see the future that gave birth to this band of misfits.

Burbank Buy More (parking lot)

Mal walked to the entrance of the store where Casey had told them their shipmate was most likely to be, assuming of course that the case of mistaken identity had worked both ways. Casey was waiting just outside the store with Zoe keeping an eye on him. Wash and River were back in the shuttle, just outside of town, filling the role of the calvary should something unexpectedly go wrong... as, in Mal's experience, happened more often than not. Though, after everything that had already gone wrong over the last couple of days, the outlaw leader was hoping that for once things really would go smooth.

Reaching the front doors, Malcolm Reynolds entered the olden days electronics store... only to be instantly assaulted by a pair of overeager employees. "Donate to the Children's Miracle Network," one cried as he shoved a paper balloon in Mal's face.

"What?" the captain asked as he took a subconscious step backwards.

"Buy a balloon and help a child in need," the other member of the pair, a larger, dimwitted looking fellow, cut in before Mal had a chance to fully recover from the thin employee's first brazen act.

"What the... how would buying a piece of paper help a child in need?" the visitor from another planet asked as he cast a strange, wary sort of look at the pair of Earthlings.

His question was answered by another piece of paper, this time a pamphlet showing a bunch of dirty faced kids crowded together in a 'group shot'. "The money from every balloon sold goes to help fund hospitals and foundations for underprivileged children."

"How can you say no to faces like these?"

Despite the two's overenthusiastic selling approach, the cause did seem to be a good one... assuming of course it wasn't some kind of a scam. Mal wasn't wholly convinced that was the case, since the various plights of under privileged children was a favorite 'hook' of shysters and conmen, and it did seem a little strange to be tying contributions to paper balloons which, even given the primitive technology of Earth-That-Was, were easy enough to duplicate.

But it didn't really matter either way. Worthy cause or scam, Mal didn't have any ancient Earth currency to give the two Buy More employees. "I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I don't have any money," he replied as he tried to sidestep the two.

They seemed unconvinced, however, and quickly moved to intercept. "Come on, it's only a dollar. I'm sure you have at least a buck."

"No, I don't. Sorry."

"Alright, I didn't want to have to do this. But you've forced me. Either buy a balloon, or Jeff here slits his wrists," the thin employee responded as the other one held a box-cutter up to his arm.

"And I don't think you want something like that on your conscience, do you?"

"What?!" Mal exclaimed in shock as he gaped at the two, obviously insane locals.

Luckily, Jayne was within earshot. "Mal, is that you?" He quickly rushed over before the employee's idiocy could continue any further. "Oh, Mal, you've gotta get me out of here. The people who live here are completely crazy."

"So I'm seeing."

"Oh, Casey, he's a friend of yours. Sorry."

"Yeah, we thought he was a customer."

"Jeff, you can put the box-cutter away," the thiner, darker of the pair said. Then he leaned in to whisper, "Don't worry, we took the blade out this morning. All that's left is the metal guide."

Any sanity that statement had caused the two to reclaim in Mal's eyes was quickly lost as another person entered the store and the two overeager employees rushed off to launch into their contribution routine once more. Clearly Early Earthlings were an unstable bunch.

"Come on, Jayne. Let's get you out of here."

Jayne happily followed Mal outside the store and around the corner, where Casey was waiting. "What the..." The interplanetary killer began as he caught site of his ancestor. "What'd ya do, Mal, clone me?"

"Yeah, right. 'Cause we really need two of you," Zoe replied before her captain had a chance.

"Then what?"

"Jayne meet your great, great, great, grrrrrreat grandfather... John Casey."

"Oh, this is all manner of disturbing."

"That it is. However I'm afraid we're going to have to cut this family reunion short. The longer you two stand next to each other the greater the chance someone's going to take notice, and we really don't need to be messing with the time stream anymore than we already have. So..."

"Right," Jayne replied as he shrugged out of his green vest and handed it over. "Ah, see ya," he continued in an odd, dazed sort of tone.

Casey just grunted as he took the vest and walked around the corner of the store, heading towards the entrance and back to his 'normal' life.

Mal, Zoe and Jayne left the parking lot and made their way past the town border and to where the shuttle waited for them. Then they all took off, and upon reaching Serenity the whole crew was together once more.

Now if they could only figure out a way to reopen that wormhole and get back home...

But such concerns are issues for another tale...

Well, I hope you all enjoyed the last chapter. Please drop a review and let me know what you thought. Thanks.

Have a good day, and God bless.

Metropolis Kid.