Mal thought his day couldn't get much worse. Jayne had 'accidentally' almost stabbed Mrs. Gertrude with a kitchen knife, and she'd been wailing on and on about it all through supper. He'd woken up the next morning with her angry wails still ringing in his ears. As he got out of bed, he'd slipped and fallen on his face. To top it all off, he'd walked all the way to the bridge to find out that river had taken his shift, so he wasn't even needed. The ship was starting to wake up, though, so he couldn't really go back to sleep.
He was on his way to the living room to find some coffee when his shoes began to squelch. He didn't really take notice of it until he stumbled and almost face-planted in the stuff. When he glanced down to see what he'd tripped on, he froze.
It was a hand, soaking in a pool of blood.
Mal stood there for a second, uncomprehending. He slowly walked over until he could see the face of the corpse. He breathed a mental sigh of relief to see that it wasn't one of his crew. It was the con man. But his relief was quickly replaced by horror. There was a killer on his ship.
Jayne was dreaming. It was an odd dream. His usual dreams were always in one of several categories. There were the dreams about his father, the dreams about his mother, and the dreams about the war. This one was different. It was just him, sitting in the kitchen, talking with Molly. She would laugh, and he would sit there, and it was nice. Then she reached over, grabbed his shoulders, and… started shaking him violently.
"Jayne! Wake up you gorram idiot!"
"Blaaaah! What! What?" Jayne spluttered into wakefulness.
"Good, you're awake." He opened his eyes to see Mal and Zoë standing over him.
"What the hell you waking me up for!"
"We have an emergency." Mal said.
"Yup, he's dead."
"We got that, Jayne. We need your help. We've got no idea what killed this guy."
Jayne kneeled down and took a closer look at the body. Mal had dragged it into a closet and had mopped up the blood. Even so, this guy was messed up.
"Whoever did this is a cold hearted bastard. This wound is a foot long, and judgin' by the 'mount o' blood, not a quick death, either." Mal shook his head. "Simon, you got anything?"
Simon stepped up and examined the body.
"Well, he may have gotten almost cut in half, but that's not the least of it. His spine is fractured in multiple places, his left elbow is broken, and he's swallowed some teeth. If there was a fight, this guy lost it. That slash actually cut off his esophagus, completely preventing him from crying out. It would've taken him several seconds to die."
They were silent for several moments.
"Aw hell, Mal."
"I don't want no damn murderers on my ship." Mal said shakily.
"Who could've done this?" Asked Zoë.
"It has to be one of the passengers. Assuming Jayne hasn't finally cracked." Simon said.
"Shut up! I ain't no gorram murderer!"
"Calm it down! Don't even joke, Simon."
"What're we going to do?"
They all thought for a moment.
"Nobody tell Gertrude, for one." Simon said.
"Let's just stay calm, and not tell the passengers. We wouldn't want to alert the murderer. Simon, you take the body to the med bay. Whatever you do, don't act like anything's happened." Mal said.
On that note, the crew went their separate ways. On one end of the hallway, the Doctor ducked down the hall and jogged back to the breakfast room. He started up a small conversation with Molly about daily onboard life while considering the implications of the murder.
On the other side River gracefully rushed up the wall and wedged herself into the ceiling space. As the crew members went by under her, she planned what she would do to catch the man she knew was the murderer.
Molly was happy. That wasn't something that happened very often lately. Ever since she'd turned 16 she'd been shuffled from one boring string of parties and events to the next; being presented like some interesting pet, talked about, and then generally ignored. People had thought she was dull. It wasn't that. She just didn't enjoy the things an 'upper class lady' should enjoy. It had been like a prison.
Since she had gotten on this ship, however, her life had become interesting. Everyone was rough, but no one was boring. No one ever went on and on about his or her 'summer mansion' or his or her 'magnificent space yacht'. Nobody was sizing her up to join his collection of trophy wives. The walls were bare but nice to look at, and those beds! They might've been no more than cots, but for the last few months she'd had to contend with the 'latest fashion' of beds, which were so soft you sank into them and couldn't get out without assistance. Nobody was a servant here, either. Everyone was equal, and free to do pretty much as they pleased.'
She would've been completely happy with the whole thing but for her aunt. She new her aunt meant well, but she was getting worse than usual lately, going off at her at every little thing. Then there was the matter of Simon.
Simon seemed nice enough to Molly, but her aunt was infatuated with him, often calling him the "only decent man on the ship' which Molly thought was a little harsh. The extent of her aunt's infatuation appalled Molly. He was clearly in a relationship with Kaylie, and plus, her aunt was at least a decade older than him, probably more. Yet she still attempted to flirt with him at every opportunity. It horrified Molly to no end.
Snapping out of this train of thought, she finished making coffee and rejoined a conversation between Mr. Smith and the old carpenter.
"What're you on about now?" She asked.
"Oh, mister… what was your name?"
"My name's Ol' Tom."
"Mister Tom here was just telling me about alliance oppression."
Molly looked confused. "Oppression?" She asked.
"Oh, that's right, you ain't from round here. Those bastards took us over and squeeze us for every penny we have. Now we know that the Reavers were made by them?" The old man peered at the young lady. "Your folk have a lot to answer for."
"M-my folk?" Molly stuttered. "I have never done anything against you people! Besides, the unification was good for your planets!"
"You say that 'cause you don' live here!"
"Enough!" John stood between them. "No need to get in a fight over this. It wouldn't exactly improve onboard conditions."
"Just as well." The old man grumbled. "Besides, Alliance would shoot us down weather or not there's Alliance onboard."
Molly looked up at him sharply.
"You don' know?" Old Tim chuckled. "Well, missy, you hitched a ride on a smugglin' ship." He began to walk away. "An by the color of the cap 'n's coat, not an alliance friendly one, either."
Molly stormed off and left The Doctor to his own thoughts.
'Well, this is an interesting development.' He thought. He hadn't realized that there were two groups of people, one of which had apparently just lost a war. What were Reavers? He'd have to find out.
'First things first, though.' He thought. 'I have to do something about that girl.'
The Doctor got up and walked towards the med bay.
River was walking through the ship when she felt a strange tingling building up in her mind. Without warning it overflowed with huge, utter loneliness. River screamed.
The Doctor heard her scream and ran to the hallway but stopped short when he saw Simon already there. He quickly ducked behind the doorway.
"River," He heard Simon say, "Are you alright?"
"I…I don't… I just felt so lonely for a moment, I don't know what happened…"
And suddenly, from down the hall, came another scream.
Molly was screaming, and everyone else just looked on in horror.
On the ground, in the middle of the cargo hold, lay a body. It was cut and battered in numerous places and someone had taken the pool of blood and smudged it all over the floor. It scrawled out this sentence:
How many cuts does it take to get to the heart of an accountant? One? Two? I lost track at 35. The important thing is, I'm going to kill you all. Bye!
The Doctor, River and Simon all rushed in at the same time. Everyone else was already there. Mrs. Gertrude turned to see them come in, went pale, and screeched, "It's the murderer! That psychotic killer from the newsreels!" She was pointing at River.
All hell broke loose.
The crew rushed to the defense of River, while the passengers tried to grab her. The Doctor looked on for a moment, then took his sonic and set it to maximum pointed directly at a solid metal beam. The resulting sound dazed everyone but the Doctor, who had popped in earplugs to protect himself. Taking these out, he began to take charge.
"Alright, everyone, calm down! We need to think this through. We can't just blame people without proof! Everyone go one by one!"
Mal stared at him for a moment, then decided that this would work better than if he took charge, he decided to go along with it.
Mrs. Gertrude went first. "That girl is a psychotic killer! We all know it! She's killed many brave alliance officers and soldiers, it's all over the newsreels!"
"That's a lie!" Yelled Simon.
"Silence! No talking out of turn."
"We should kill her and just be done with it!" Mrs. Gertrude finished.
Simon went next.
"This 'Psychotic killer' is my sister. I've known her all my life, and the only time she's been at all crazy was after the Alliance experimented on her!"
"Liar!" Molly yelled.
They began to argue again, at least until Mal shot his gun in the air. When they'd calmed down, the businesswoman, Maureen, went next. It continued until everyone had spoken, and they were firmly divided into pro and anti Alliance groups, the first arguing to lynch River, the second arguing that it must be one of the passengers.
In the end, they came to a truce, with River agreeing to be locked in with the prisoner and the passengers being confined to the cargo hold. Nobody was happy with the decision, but it worked. Mal caught up with the Doctor afterwards.
"Good job with the crowd. That could've ended badly for all of us."
"No problem. So, who do you think is the killer?"
"Well… of all of them, Gertrude seems the most murderous."
Below them, in the cargo hold, the killer waited.