When the soldier in the box woke up, it wasn't pretty. Mal knew it wouldn't be.
He looked aggressive, so Jayne, Zoe, and Mal pointed their guns. But that just set off a chain reaction of badness.
There wasn't any reason one unarmed man should get the upper hand over three guns, but it was looking awful grim until River jumped right in front of him and said "Hands of blue, Came for me too."
The soldier stared at her then, kind of funny, then went a little blank and put down his weapon.
And then the real shitstorm happened, at least from Mal's perspective - the Doctor insisted on checking the soldier and confirmed that he had undergone something much like River did - but for longer, maybe decades even. And then naturally Kaylee decided that they had to take the man in.
And even worse, Zoe agreed with her. Some nonsense about abandoned soldiers deserving better, clearly designed to play Mal for a fool.
It worked, of course.
So now they had a new crew member. Jayne was wary (Mal didn't blame him), and kept Vera closer than ever. Zoe was cautious but made an effort to make him feel at home. Simon kept trying to run tests in hopes of helping the man, but he kept politely refusing until River observed, "He doesn't like being strapped to medical tables," and Simon agreed to wait a little on the tests.
Kaylee did nothing but fuss over the wonders of the man's arm. Supposedly the most advanced technology she's seen in a good while (Mal really shouldn't have felt defensive about an arm being more new-fangled than his beloved ship, but he sort of did). The soldier was kind to Kaylee, but distant.
He was distant with everyone in point of fact, though he and River would sometimes stare at each other, speaking some language the others couldn't (and it was probably a blessing that they couldn't).
Even without major incident, though, Mal was looking forward to finding a world the soldier would settle down on. He wasn't River. He was not some innocent turned into a weapon. He was probably like Mal before they got him, or Jayne, or worse. And it was downright disturbing the way he stared, blank, all the time. And he didn't even tell them his name, if he even knew it. All in all, it was too much mess for even his ship to take on.
Of course, then the man had to go and save them all.
A ship full of thieves, and not the honorable kind. The kind who aimed to kill, and the goods were just the bonus.
They couldn't stop them from boarding, but then River stood in front of them.
Then the soldier stood in front of her, protecting her (and Mal will deny to his dying day how good it felt to see that).
Then River and the soldier, honest-to-truth, started bickering over who would get to kill the enemy.
The thieves were so confused they just stood there for a minute looking stupid. Then one of them got the bright idea to raise his weapon, and then all the thieves were on the ground.
"Dibs on the other ship!" River called out, and the soldier said "No way," and ran after her before Mal could order them to sit their asses down so they could go ahead and escape already.
In the end, they got an extra ship to sell at port, so it worked out all right. But now even Jayne was saying, "The new guy ain't so bad." And the doctor was pleased as punch that there was someone else on the save-River brigade. And Kaylee thought he was very heroic.
Mal knew then that he wasn't ever getting rid of this guy, this killing machine with the blank stare. But it was his own fault: he let the crew get to know the man in the first place.
Sometimes Mal felt like no matter how hard he tried to have a nice normal crew, he wasn't ever going to stop making idiot choices.