Colonel John Casey stood at attention on the bridge of the Alliance cruiser Conqueror; shoulders straight, arms back, head up, eyes level. Casey had been a soldier for the majority of his life, quickly rising through the ranks of the Allied Military Forces, gaining respect, and a well-deserved reputation for completing his missions quickly and efficiently.

However, Colonel Casey wouldn't be so respected if not for the hard work and dedication of his highly skilled squad. Loyalty did not do them justice; each soldier would gladly follow their Colonel into hell itself, if asked. Casey smirked silently, recalling the close calls they'd had over the years.

"Colonel Casey, good to see you still in one piece; heard you had quite a dogfight on your way back from Whitefall." General Burns offered his hand to Casey, who returned with a firm grip, and resumed his stance.

"Nothing my team couldn't handle, General. Just a scrap, really. Patience doesn't seem to recognize any authority outside of her own. We disabused her of that notion."

"Glad to hear it. Actually, we've got a new mission that only your team can complete for us. Ready for your next adventure?" The General grinned, knowing Casey would never turn down a new mission.

"Sir, yes sir," Casey drawled, eyes brightening at the idea of a new challenge.

"I've got two specialists from the Academy who need a team of your caliber to retrieve a runaway student of theirs."

Casey grimaced. "A student? No offence General, but my crew is used to a little tougher job than grabbing some kid."

"She is much more than just a child. River Tam is dangerous, unpredictable, and resourceful." Casey turned at the quiet, eerie voice coming from one of the two men sitting at a command desk, their faces bland and unassuming, their hands, encased in blue surgical gloves, steepled in front of their faces. Casey could see why he hadn't noticed their presence until now. These men seemed forgettable, but something in the look in their eyes said to Casey that he shouldn't underestimate them.

"Colonel Casey, your team is well-known for beating insurmountable odds and completing your missions efficiently. We would appreciate your help in retrieving River Tam, as well as her brother Simon, for crimes against the government. Be advised, her last known location is on a Firefly class transport ship called Serenity, captained by a Malcolm Reynolds, former Sergeant for the Rebel Browncoats. We would like this crew brought to justice as well, but your team's primary objective is River and Simon Tam. This mission is top secret, Colonel. We will not look kindly on breaches of confidentiality."

Casey held the two men's eerie stares. A chill ran down his spine. Something was off about these two, but orders were orders. Casey raised his hand in a salute. "You can count on us."

...

Casey entered the hold of his own ship, Castle, to see that in his absence, his crew was already preparing for their next mission. The first thing he noticed was his First Mate, Sarah Walker, checking the equipment chests.

"Welcome back, Colonel. Just doing the final check. I can tell by the spring in your step that we've already got a new mission." Sarah smiled as she shut a compartment.

"New mission? Already? But we just got back!" Castle's mechanic and technology expert, Chuck Bartowski, exclaimed, popping his head out of a maintenance shaft in the floor.

"Was the last mission too much for you, Bartowski? Rather be eating ice planet on some Core beach somewhere?" Casey grunted.

"You know I never turn down a mish!" Chuck gave a goofy grin. "Besides, who'll keep this ship running after you're through banging it around chasing fugitives? I just got done securing a few couplings that were knocked loose in our last firefight!" Chuck climbed out of the shaft and wiped his greasy hands on his already dirty jumpsuit.

"Well, we've got another interesting one, so gather up the others so I can brief you on the details."

"Yes, Sir." Sarah turned away to the communications console as Casey climbed up the stairs to Castle's command center. After a moment, a crackle followed by Sarah's voice was heard throughout the ship: "All hands to the Command Center for briefing on new mission. Repeat. All hands to Command Center."

Chuck and Sarah were the first to arrive, holding hands, which they released as they took their places at the large table in the center of the room. Following soon after was Carina Mackenzie, a fiery hothead not to be underestimated. Carina slouched into her chair, ruffling Chuck's hair. "So, how're the lovebirds this morning? Disgustingly happy I bet." Carina grimaced, pulling a slender knife out of one of her countless hiding spots to clean under her nails.

"Sorry I'm late. Just finishing up a check of the navigation system," mumbled a shorter, bearded man wearing a vintage tee shirt proclaiming "HAN SHOT FIRST" as he took his place next to Carina. Morgan Grimes was the pilot of Castle, one of the best in the 'Verse, and the final member of Casey's team.

Casey cleared his throat and all chatter ceased. He smiled. "First of all, congratulations on another successful mission; I think Patience will think twice next time before trying to double-cross the Alliance."

"Or she could just get sneakier," grumbled Carina under her breath.

"Well, she's somebody else's problem now, dong ma? We've got a new mission from the higher ups in the Alliance Academy. You've probably seen the wanted postings on the Cortex for River and Simon Tam. Seems on one's been able to find these fugitives, so they're giving us the job. Don't think it'll be easy though. This girl has reportedly fought against impossible odds and even killed Reavers in hand-to-hand combat. She's no harmless girl. And that's not all. She's running with a pretty tough crew on a Firefly class transport called Serenity, captained by a former Browncoat, Malcolm Reynolds. These criminals have been running rampant for too ruttin' long, by my estimation. It's our job to bring in the girl, and to take the rest of the crew, dead or alive."

"Sounds like a challenge," Sarah stated coolly.

Carina cleaned off her knife, slipping it back into its sheath. "Shiny. We haven't run across a good fight for quite a while. I've heard of this Serenity before. Supposedly Jayne Cobb, one of the deadliest mercenaries around, runs with this crew. What I wouldn't give for a look at his equipment?" Carina winked and laughed as Morgan blushed.

Morgan coughed and cleared his throat. "Uh, I've heard of this Serenity, too. Hoban Washburn is a legend among pilots. I've heard that he's actually pulled off a Crazy Ivan. I've always wanted to try one."

"Well, wipe that stupid grin off your face, Grimes," Casey growled. "These are criminals we're looking at; Browncoats. The captain and his first mate served together at the Battle of Serenity Valley."

A hush fell over the group. No one had been spared in the Battle of Serenity Valley. It was the most devastating loss on either side. Thousands of brothers, mothers, fathers, cousins, and friends, Alliance and Browncoat alike, had lost their lives that day.

Casey cleared his throat and continued hoarsely. "Well, now that you know who we're up against, let's develop a plan. This girl is dangerous, violent, and unpredictable. This will be a tough one. Now, apparently this Serenity docks frequently at Persephone; does business with a lowlife called Badger. I say we stake out the docks, ask around for their whereabouts, and maybe squeeze this Badger for information. Dong ma?"

"Affirmative, Colonel," replied the crew.