Chapter 1: A Slight Diversion
The bullet whizzed by Mal Reynold's cheek and missed it by mere millimeters. He swerved to avoid the hit and the momentum of his follow through forced him to face in the opposite direction of the gunfight. After Mal quickly turned back towards the action and raised his trusty pistol to fire at the source of the shot that almost sent him into permanent sleep, he shouted within range of two of his crew mates, "How in the gorram hell do we get in these messes?"
Crouching behind a storage crate for cover and also doing her part in joining the firearm fight was Mal's wartime partner and loyal soldier, Zoe Alleyne. In between shots, she answered Mal's rhetoric question with the same serious tone but was meant to be sarcastic. "Pure talent, sir"
Mal's other fighting crew mate was Jayne Cobb, the criminal who almost shanghai-ed them into taking Serenity if it weren't for pure charm and wit Mal managed to use for luring Jayne into a spot on his own crew. After firing a shot from his shotgun, Jayne turned to Mal and shouted his thoughts. "I told you, Mal, these warriors on Three Hills can't be trusted!"
Mal had to suppress a grimace at the fact that he was getting advice on who not to trust from someone who he would never trust farther than he could throw cow dung. The funny thing was that the guns they were being shot at with were the very same guns that he and his crew had smuggled into Three Hills from Beaumonde. They'd just received payment for them just hours before. Mal thought it would be simple to hand the freedom fighters their guns they fussed over to get, take their coin, and skedaddle into the black.
Oh, but do things go smoothly with his crew? Almost never. And they had a serious life-changing event to be held at week's end. They had a lot to think about. Now they were in yet another firefight that seemed doomed from the beginning. The Three Hills' so-called freedom fighters saw fit to exclude the fact from Mal that they aimed to use the firearms they smuggled in as a trade to the very planet's government they were fighting against for food and security. Double-crossed by the double-crossers. And Mal and his crew fell snugly into the ruse.
Soon after Mal and crew began the trek back to Serenity supplied with coin, they were ambushed by the government's version of their military. They were pros. Mal would give them that. They had pinned his crew down in a corner full of storage crates. At least it was good for cover.
Zoe had managed to quip between shots, "I thought we were over these kind of situations four years ago"
"What kind?" Mal had to ask.
"The hopeless kind."
Mal was getting tired of trading shots with these men and he reached into his pocket with his free hand and fetched the comm. He flipped then switch in hopes to reach his pilot, Wash. Nothing but static. "Zoe, can you reach Wash?"
After another shot, Zoe reached for her comm. Static. "No go, sir. Think they might have a magnetic field in use."
"What, they're jamming the signal?"
"Tzao gao. And here I thought it couldn't be stopped," Jayne added.
"Well...it's still there...just sussed up a bit," Mal retracted. "These ain't amateurs, for sure. How far away did we park?"
"Nothing short of a hundred clicks, sir. Just like you asked."
"Oh, I know you're not startin' no blame placin'."
"Wouldn't think of it, sir."
After a few more rounds, Mal started to notice their eminent lack of munitions. This had to end. "I'm open to all sorts of ideas out of this."
Zoe shouted, "Did we bring the harpoon gun?"
Jayne replied, "Oh, yeah, I'm just gonna love me some Commando-Ka-Bob."
"Not what I wanted it for." Zoe took a moment to take herself out of the fight and turned to their supplies to hunt for the gun. She found it and she proceeded to reach the end of the harpoon.
"What in shiny hell are you doing?" Mal demanded to know.
"Only way we can signal Wash. We know he's watching. He just doesn't know where we are."
"We don't have no flares, you know," Jayne decided to supply.
"Don't need 'em. Using something he'll recognize." She reached around her neck for her red sash and started to tie it to the harpoon.
Mal saw what she was doing and went wide-eyed. "Your lucky sash? You've had that..."
"Since before the war. Time to put it to good use." She finished tying the sash to the harpoon and then moved to the left side of their small temporary fortress. "Cover me!"
Mal and Jayne started suppressing cover fire so Zoe could get the shot off. Zoe angled the gun toward the Northeast where Wash would be watching intently. "C'mon, baby, see this," she whispered to herself. "I want that change to my name this weekend."
Hoban Washburn had been sitting at the controls at the cockpit of Serenity watching in front of him through the main port's window the complex three of the crew had gone to trade guns for coin. He had been waiting anxiously for Mal, Jayne, and especially his fiancé to get back to the ship and high-tail it off this desolate world. It wasn't like Wash had any say in where they went. He was just in charge of getting them there as quick as safe as he could. Three Hills was nothing but desert and the civilizations they did have were constantly at war with their government. Thankfully, that government had no affiliation with the Alliance. The civil wars on this planet made it even too hard for the Alliance to negotiate. Or even care about.
He kept watch on the complex in front of him to the Southwest for a few hours now and there was no sign of the crew. He grew even more worried when he tried his comm to Mal and all he got was static. He tried Zoe's and got the same. He didn't even try hailing Jayne. He knew Mal would never give that man a comm unit. He instead hailed Kaylee in the engine room.
The young girl's sweet and uppity voice came on the ship's comm. "What's up, Wash?"
"Just testing our comm here. I can't reach Mal or Zoe. There's nothing but static."
"Maybe they're too busy. Don't worry. They'll find a way to get through."
Sometimes that girl was almost too positive. He picked up the binos and searched in the general direction of the complex. "It's been an hour past the rendevous time. Wait...oh dung ee-miao, I see gunfire."
"Gunfire?" yelped Kaylee. "Well, can you see them?"
"Well, we are several yards away. I don't see that well. I don't know their position."
He heard her curse in Chinese and then ask, "What's making the static on the comm?"
"Don't know. But, if we can talk here, it's gotta be something at their end."
"Interference of some kind. I'm thinking a magnetic field. That has a pretty good range but if we can get closer to them I may be able to break through under the Nav comm frequency. What do you say to crashing their party?"
"Are you sure they ain't captured?"
"From the looks of things from here I can still see signs of gunfire. They may be pinned down. Get ready for primary burners."
"Well, I can't start too cold. I was just working on the line thruster adapters and they don't do well in a quick pinch."
Wash shook his head and asked pointedly, "Still haven't mentioned the compression coils to Mal yet, have you?"
"I'll get around to it. We've had a mindful of things lately. No money, a heist on Beaumonde to smuggle guns, and, oh yeah, I do believe we were busy planning someone's wedding."
Wash had to smile at the last bit. Nothing could take him down from the high he had been on since he heard the words, "yes' from Zoe. Well, nothing except the idea of not having her at the wedding. "Yeah, in that plan, I would like for there to be a bride. Are you ready?"
"Ok. Let's pray for no burnout."
"I'm feeling lucky this week, Kaylee."
At that moment, he saw something being ejected into the sky toward their direction. He turned around back of him and reached for his binos and looked closer. A small harpoon was flying on an arced trajectory with some kind of cloth flapping majestically in the wind. He focused closer with the binos and he cursed in Chinese. He would recognize that red sash anywhere. Zoe's lucky war sash. She attached it to the harpoon. There would be no way they could get it back. She gave it up so he could see it. I love you, Zoe, he so wanted to say at that moment. Instead, he followed the path of the harpoon backward to where it would have been shot from and found a stack of storage crates. He stayed on the crates a moment and then he saw a glimpse of an ancient pistol that could only belong to his Captain firing out at a target. "Kaylee! I found them! Get those burners going now!"
Her answer didn't come in verbal form. Instead it was answered by the shuddering of the extenders and soon Serenity was lifted high and heading to the rescue. As they approached the scene, he could see that Mal, Jayne, and Zoe were caught behind the crates with several military type soldiers bearing down on them. He tried the comm unit again and the signal still was full of static. He switched over to the Nav comm and adjusted dials for different frequencies, knowing he would have to reset them before they set another course. He kept using the comm in hopes of getting a closer wave to Mal. Finally, he found one.
"Mal! Can you hear me?"
"...Wash...glad...join us...what...outta here..."
"Hold on, Mal! I'm going to try to hover and distract them." He switched to the ships comm and yelled, "Kaylee, I'm going to point those extenders just so to give those army guys some backlash? Can we ease on the power coils a bit?"
"You mean so we don't fry them?"
"Yeah, I just need a distraction. Keep it at a level where we can still hover but give 'em some heat."
"Yessir! Here goes."
Seconds later a screech came on the comm and he could hear Mal's broken voice. "That's...way...scatter 'em...how's about...front door...should...knock first..."
Wash got the meaning and he yelled back at Kaylee, "Open up the hatch, they're coming in!"
Soon he could hear the rumble of the ships main hatch opening and he could see Mal and Jayne jump over the crates still firing and they disappeared from the port view. He could see no sign of his future wife and he strained to look over the window to see below but the view was too obscured. He waited for the all clear and soon he thought it was taking too long. "Hey! Are we all in?"
A slight pause and it was Kaylee who finally got on to say, "Ok, Wash, we're all here. Take us out."
A small bout of strangeness came over at him over the fact that Kaylee gave the order and not Mal. Plus, Kaylee didn't seem to be talking in her glass-half-full manner. He went ahead and adjusted the extenders and rocketed out of the area towards even more desolate area. He wanted to land somewhere in a place that was not going to send a message to those commandos that said "Here we are!" It took him a few minutes of looking but finally found a mesh of trees and bushes within a valley that would be perfect for temporary cover. He started the landing systems and eased the Firefly down. He shut off the main engines but kept them warm in case of another quick exit. He unstrapped himself quickly and launched himself toward the hangar to see his dear Zoe safe.
As he peered over the edge of the railing to the bay, his hopes disappeared.
He saw that Mal was on the ground kneeling over while Jayne stood by watching the scene before him. Kaylee didn't enter the view until she came with what appeared to be gauze. That only left one more to be counted for and she was lying on the floor of the bay with Mal leaning over.
"MAL! Mal! Wuh de ma. What happened?" He shot down the staircase faster than he could spit and he frantically joined the group. He saw that Mal was busy attending to a wound to his fiancé's abdomen. Blood was dripping from a place under her chest and over onto the grating of the floor.
"Mal! Talk to me! What happened?"
"I'm sure the proof of it is in front of your own eyes. Zoe got shot as she jumped over the crates. Nice piece aimin' the thrusters toward 'em, but a few of the gorram commandos were to the side and had a better angle."
"Never mind that. How bad is it?"
"Hit her under her ribs. Maybe got her spleen. Shot itself don't look fatal, but she's losing blood. I'm putting all the gauze we got but it ain't gonna last." Mal finally got up from his knelt position and looked in the eyes of a worried soon-to-be groom. "She's gonna need a doctor."
"Oh. Ok. Doctor!" He pretended to call upon one from inside the ship. "Oh, wait I forgot, we don't have one!"
Mal tried to put some calm behind his voice and plainly ask, "Where's the next settlement?"
"Mal, the closest planet is Ezra and that's a week and a half of flying. This ain't a planet to asking for neighbor's sugar, Mal."
"Didn't ask planet. Said settlement. Here. On Three Hills."
Jayne put in, "You mean a place where they ain't fightin'?"
"Don't you start too, Jayne," Wash snapped. "Can't take your gorram quips now."
"Wasn't gonna. Gonna say Arcadia."
Mal looked at Jayne. "On the other side of Carter region? Independent territory? No wars there?"
Jayne answered, "Not today. Way I heard, the land there ain't fertile and government don't see it as a first thought. They have settlement there though."
"Uh huh," Mal nodded. "Not enough coin to swindle into taking, eh?"
"Something like that." Jayne had stopped trying to hide the fact that he had checked out most areas in the 'Verse for prospects in thievery. He had done all the research while he was on his previous crew. Malcolm Reynolds seemed to have a sixth, seventh, and eighth sense about things.
Wash shouted suddenly, "Hey! Can we please get off potential work and focus on Zoe?" He turned to Jayne and asked, "Do they have a doctor there?"
"S'pose they do. Better than anyone here, I can tell ya."
Wash ignored the remark and asked what direction and how far. Jayne told him and Wash took off like a jack rabbit and they were soon off again.
Jayne looked in the direction of the cockpit and quipped, "He sure can motor when he wants to."
Kaylee, as always, came to anyone's defense. "His fiance's been shot, Jayne."
"Ain't my fiancé."
Mal stopped the quibbling to say, "All right, enough. Jayne, you get the stretcher and Kaylee will help ya to get Zoe into infirmary. Be careful of the gauze. Kaylee, once he's got her snug and still-like, you keep applying pressure on that gauze. Zoe don't be needin' any more blood spilling between here and Arcadia."
"Where you going?" Jayne demanded.
"I'm gonna go see to our distressed pilot and groom. Make sure he don't get so fussed as to run us into the ground."
"Wuh de tyen, ah, the wedding!" Kaylee yelped. "What are we gonna do? Inara's already waiting–"
Mal cut her off. "We'll worry about that when the time comes. Right now, I want to make sure I got a second in command."
As Mal went up the stairs, Jayne asked, "So, that second in command thing–"
"Don't even think it, Jayne," Mal remarked while still heading up.