Shoot up one little barroom, put one little bullet in the governor's son- hit him in the leg, not even anywhere
vital- and for the rest of your gorram life you've gotta hide on the ship when you land here. Get stuck crazy-sitting the
doc's sister while everyone else goes shopping. It's not fair.
Jayne scowled at the scuff marks on the cargo bay floor and splashed some more solvent down. Mal hadn't told him to scrub
down here, but what the hell else was there to do with no one else on board but River the Loon? Didn't want to stay in his
bunk- boring as hell in there, and besides, what would stop her from locking the door on him and then wrecking the ship?
Or even worse- locking the door and talking at him for a few hours?
'Sides, he'd shoot anybody who said it, but the fact was that it was kind of nice to be thanked for doing stuff of his own
volition once in a while. Not so often that they got used to it. But sometimes.
"You should wear a mask with that." Her voice was dreamy and matter-of-fact at the same time, like always. "You'll kill
off your brain cells, and you've none to spare."
"Ha-ha, very funny." He tossed the rag and scraper aside and wiped his forehead on the sleeve of his t-shirt as he turned
to face her. "Why don't you get on back to your room and make a fun list of all the ways you can be crazy when Simon-" The
rest of the sentence died off in his throat when he saw her, standing in a perfect square bird-hunting stance in the middle
of the cargo bay and sighting down the barrel of a rifle aimed straight at him.
Not even my own gun, he thought dizzily around the sour burst of fear in his throat and brain. Hey, Mal, who's
leaving weapons lying around now?
"River," he said cautiously, getting his feet under himself, "Captain talked to you about this. Don't touch guns, remember?
Now put it down."
She smiled, aim never wavering. He stared at the way her hands cradled the metal and remembered Kaylee saying "She just...did
the math." He thought about all the people he'd pointed guns at in his life and sincerely apologized to the two or three
of them who didn't deserve it.
"Get up," she said, jerking the gun upward slightly. "I want to see you standing."
He got to his feet carefully, slowly, hands out in the open, searching the situation for an advantage. None to be found.
"What do you think you're doing, River?"
"Collecting empirical data." She frowned slightly, tipping her head to the side. "I need to observe." She nodded, her face
settling into firm resolve, and popped the muzzle in the air again. "Strip."
"I beg your ruttin' pardon?" His day had definitely taken a turn for the weird.
"Simon says you're a magnificent physical specimen. I need empirical data to evaluate that statement." The gun still hadn't
wavered. Trust her to be so smart she could do two things at once. Aim a gun and send a man's liver to crawling straight
up his throat.
"The doc said that?" He wasn't sure if he should punch Simon or be flattered. "Don't matter. You can get your data somewhere
else, crazy girl. I ain't playin' your game."
She squeezed the trigger. A bullet flew past him close enough that he could hear the hiss. "I don't have to miss," she said
dispassionately. "Please remove your clothing."
He thought of the preacher's explanation of the special hell, and wondered if you still qualified if the "exposing yourself
to minors" happened at gorram gunpoint. "River, Simon wouldn't like that very much."
"Simon shouldn't make statements without providing data to back them up." She was sighting down the barrel again. "I don't
really want to shoot you. Blood raises such a number of questions. But for the sake of science, you understand. Sacrifices
may be required."
He didn't want to sacrifice anything to her science. Especially not any body parts. "Right." He started tugging his t-shirt
off over his head. "You just make sure you don't tell anybody about this, you hear? Don't need the doc gettin' any revenge
ideas that might involve needles or disfigurin' scars." He hestitated, hoping maybe his torso would satisfy, but after a
brief contemplation she gestured for him to continue. "Don't need Mal tryin' to space me or Kaylee puttin' oil in my soup
or Book givin' lectures on perdition-" He kicked his boots off and started fumbling with his belt. "This little freak show
stays between the two of us."
"Don't need to tell," she agreed, studying him coolly as he shucked his trousers. "I just need to conduct an independent
trial of Simon's hypothesis." She pointedly looked at his shorts and gestured with the gun. He hadn't had an experience
like this since the last time he was in prison.
"Think I'm gonna have to have a talk with Dr. Simon," Jayne muttered, dropping the shorts to his ankles and stepping out of
them. "Tell him to keep his hypothesizin' to himself." He crossed his arms over his chest and glared at her. She studied
him expressionlessly for a moment, eyes travelling meticulously up and down.
"Turn, please. Slowly." She made a vague gesture with the gun. He gritted his teeth and obeyed. When he completed his
circle, she nodded thoughtfully and keyed the safety on the gun, letting it drop to her side. "Thank you. Your contributions
are most appreciated." She turned and headed for the stairs up out of the bay. "Got to go analyze my data now."
"Put the gun away first," he told the back of her head, tugging his shorts back on. "And remember, don't say a rutting word
about this to anyone or I'm a dead man."
She waved her hand in vague acknowledgement and kept walking. He rolled his eyes and finished getting dressed.
He was just finishing scraping off the last of the scuff marks when the others got back. "Whoo!" Wash gasped, waving his
hand in front of his face. "Hello, solvent! Ever hear of venting the bay, Jayne?"
"It's really not good for you to breathe that stuff," Simon said absent-mindedly. "Where's River?"
"In her bunk, far as I know," Jayne muttered, gathering up his supplies and carrying them back to the storage locker. Mal
didn't say anything, but he clapped Jayne on the shoulder when he passed and there was a half-smile with his nod. Said enough
to put a little spring in Jayne's step as he headed toward the mess. Full morning's work desereved a little food.
He heard Simon's voice as he passed the corridor to passenger quarters. "River? Come on, open the door."
Then Kaylee. "Simon, I think maybe you ought to leave her alone." Jayne paused and glanced down at them.
"Can't you hear that sound? I think maybe she's in pain." Simon pounded on the hatch. "River!"
"I really don't think she's in pain." Kaylee's voice sounded funny- choked up, almost. Her face was going red. "I
think...I think you should give her a few minutes, Simon."
It was obvious the very heartbeat when Simon understood; his face went instantly crimson. Jayne figured it probably more
or less matched his own face, which felt like it was going gorram supernova.
Mess hall had lost its appeal. Preacher might be there. No time for a discussion about sin and hellfire.
Jayne hustled back the other way down the corridor. Maybe he'd hide out in the engine room for a while. Least till he figured
out if he wanted to scream in horror or laugh himself sick.