is seemingly unaware as Malcolm enters the room. The Alliance officer is sitting in a rolling chair beside the podium. His polished boots are crossed on the expansive desk that commands the main stage of the dimly lit room.
Captain Reynolds saunters down the steps of the nearest aisle, past rows of empty seats, moving in such a way as to communicate that he has all the time in the world. Neither man believe it.
Richard Unicorn raises his head as the captain nears the bottom step. He seems unmotivated to make any further effort. His face is a collection of hard lines and sharp features. He looks more cut out of stone than flesh and blood, but a day’s stubble betrays this illusion.
The Captain walks onto the stage, the large desk separating him from the officer. “Odd choice for a meeting,” Reynolds’ says through barely better than gritted teeth.
The man shrugs, completely at ease, “No Alliance representative would be on campus this late. None that couldn’t be bought, leastways. Heck, even teachers don’t congregate in lecture halls after hours,” the man swings his head to one side as a grin, like that of a well-fed crocodile, sweeps across his handsome face, “and didn’t you come here to learn something?”
The Captain, visibly frustrated, tries to remain all but the anxious he feels, “I was told you might be able to help me.”
“Ah,” Unicorn conceals his teeth, but his grin never leaves. He uses a finger flips open a folder on the desk. He reads, “Captain Malcolm Reynolds. Current bounties include one for threatening a man of the cloth.” At this, the smuggler lets out a puff if air that could be a laugh. “Vandalizing a senator’s hot tub.”
“I thought that would wash out.”
“Smuggling twenty-three giant tortoises--”
“Twenty-two,” Malcolm interjects quickly, “One of them died en route.” A hint of a smile crosses his face, in spite of his anger.
Richard looks up at him with a raised eyebrow. “They’re supposed to be a delicacy.”
“I’m sure I wouldn’t know.” The captain says and looks away.
“Mm-hmm. Modus operandi involve firearms, explosives and a Mark IV Firefly-47. Status…at large.” He closes the folder, taking his feet off of the desk for the first time, and looks at Malcolm seriously for a long moment.
“Contemplating if I’m worth bringing in?” Malcolm asks, breaking the silence.
Richard leans back in his chair, “No. I already know you aren’t worth enough of a pat on the head to me from the Alliance. Maybe the ’Verse would be different if they payed their own people enough to not look the other way? Regardless, I can think of a few more lucrative uses for the captain of a Firefly with limited scruples.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“Well, if we begin to haggle, we could be here hours,” he says casually, “and we both know you don’t have that kind of time.”
“I’m not just going to owe some Alliance bootlick a favor.”
“Than it was a pleasure speaking with you.”
Frustrated, the Captain steels himself and replies, “Or I could go the Alliance myself. Tell them of all the limitations of their incentivizing.”
Unicorn laughs, “He’ll still die, and do you believe you’ll be able to keep out of the gallows yourself?” Mal audibly grinds his teeth at that. “The offer is on the table as long as he still draws breath. Figuratively. I will be taking it with me when I leave, but that’s unimportant.”
Taking a deep breath and letting it out, Captain Reynolds acquiesces, “Deal.”
The officer pulls at something unseen, and draws a sizable shipping container from under the desk. Sliding it across the desk, he says, “You’ll be hearing from me again.”
“When I have need of you.”
Reynolds turns and leaves Richard Unicorn and the room.
Zoë steps back from the door as a brooding form holding a shipping crate brushes past her. She locks the door, which chirps to indicate successful pressurization. She turns toward the form as it walks toward the main staircase to the second floor. “Do we have a course?”
Three sets of eyes flick from her to the form. Another deep breath, “We do.”
They are gathered around the kitchen table as the hum of the ship reverberates against the nothingness of space. The table is cluttered with the contents of Unicorn’s container, along with the elbows of the Serenity’s crew.
“I don’t think these are forgeries,” Simon says, holding an ident card near his face.
“I’m pretty sure I don’t work for the Alliance’s forced labor camps.” Zoë retorts.
“No. Me neither,” Simon answers, “but I think these cards are real.”
“Let me see one of those.” Simon hands the stack cards to Shepherd Book, who palms through them and confirms, “Hmm. You’re right. I’d say these are authentic cards. If they scan these, this integrated chips will give you positive access.”
“And you know this how?” inquires Zoë, but Book only shrugs.
Simon continues a thought, “Also, the Cider Factory isn’t a government-run slave labor camp--” Several people interrupt him at once.
“I think you’re going to have a hard sell convincing any one in here of that, Son,” the shepherd comments, “but I know the pamphlet you’re citing.”
River laughs, having taken Simon’s false ID from Book. “This is of you when you were a doctor.”
“Yeah. It’s my medical identification photo from my old hospital on Osiris.”
“No it’s not. It’s the photo of you when you used the scanners on Ariel to check inside my brain.”
“What?” Inara asks, taking Mal’s card from Book.
Kaylee, looking over Inara’s shoulder exclaims, “It is. This is the one I took of you, Captain.”
“Oh. Good. So now the Alliance has photos of us that we took ourselves,” Wash nervously crows.
“They did walk into a government facility with those on,” Book counters.
“バカロ。” Mal comments of himself. [Editor’s Note: This is Japanese]
Inara pauses, “Wait, I thought you didn’t have an ident card on Ariel, Simon?”
“I didn’t. We were in a restricted lab, though,” Simon says, thoughtfully, “they must have pulled this off the security loop.”
“Won’t we be doing that again? Walking into a restricted government facility, I mean,” questions Zoë.
“Yeah, but this time they already have our photos,” Wash adds.
“Darn,” comments the captain, “I was hoping they’d get a full album.”
Wash chuckles, “Or a whole flip book. You know, for Jayne.”
Instead of laughter, silence overcomes the room, and the hums of the ship are heard again.
Wash breaks his own silence first, “Not to bring this up again, but are we really--”
“It’s not up for discussion.” Malcolm cuts him off, coldly.
Wash breaks the silence again, “Why not? If I’d been caught, he’d discuss it.”
“And the difference would be, that I would be not listening to him, instead of not listening to you,” the captain responds firmly.
This time, Zoë breaks the silence, “So, we put on these costumes--”
“Uniforms,” Wash interrupts.
“Thank you, Dear.” Zoë starts again, “So we put on these costumes,” snickering is heard from the group, including Wash’s own, “and the ident cards and we go into a – debatably – forced labor camp and bust him out?”
“Retrieve,” Book corrects. “The Cider Factory is often used to interrogate prisoners. You will be officers sent to retrieve him under special assignment. They don’t need to know why. Those papers,” he gestures at a folder from Unicorn’s parcel, “are all the authority you need.”
“And…they’re supposed to walk there?” Inara questions.
“We can land with the Serenity,” Book answers. “This kind of work, it’s not on the Alliance’s books. You’ll actually be wearing your normal clothing over the armor – sorry, costumes. The ident cards will be in your pockets.”
Wash waits a moment and when nothing more is coming, he asks, “And that’s it?”
“Yes,” the shepherd responds.
Wash waits again, before, “Well I like it. I don’t think anything can wrong here.”
“Dear,” Zoë begins.
“He’s right.” Mal looks at Book, “We’re supposed to risk my whole crew on this? And that’s all that we’re working with?”
“For Jayne,” Wash adds.
“Wash,” Malcolm groans.
“And we get to owe this Unicorn guy?” Inara adds.
“I’ve never seen a Unicorn. Was he majestic?” Kaylee asks.
“He was,” Malcolm muses whimsically, his eyes cast upwards in remembrance, “sitting in his Alliance Uniform and extorting us to save the life of a friend.”
“Or Jayne,” Zoé adds.
“Who is a friend,” Inara counters. “Are you sure he isn’t just setting us up?”
“I get the feeling he isn’t. If he were, he’d have asked me for payment in advance.”
“Point,” Wash agrees. “So, just set a course? Do we tell them we’re coming?”
“No need,” Book answers. Then, “For the wave, you will need to set a course.”
“Captain?” Wash asks expectantly.
“Set a course and make ready,” Captain Reynolds replies, “We’ll get set once we’re underway.”
Wash makes his way to the bridge. He begins his work by toggling up the moon of Nautilus and setting a periapsis. Thinking to himself, ’I am a leaf on the wind, watch how I