A former Independence soldier who had served with Mal and Zoe returns in a dramatic manner, with a vicious Alliance officer chasing after him for some unusual smuggled goods.
Jayne arrives to find that his mother has sent him a home-knitted cap, and he proudly dons it. The others observe the hideous headgear with a mixture of amusement and sarcasm. The other shipped item is a huge crate addressed to Mal and Zoe. They open it to discover a dead body.
Flashback to seven years earlier at the Battle of Du-Khang. As a young Independence soldier, Private Tracey, calmly prepares a meal behind cover, an Alliance soldier sneaks up on him. Just as the latter is about to shoot, Zoe appears behind him and cuts his throat. While she lectures the boy about stealth, Sgt. Reynolds comes screaming (literally) over some obstacles and crashes into their position. Tracey is injured when the Alliance zeroes in on them. Mal and Zoe grab Tracey and their shell-shocked lieutenant and bug out.
Back in the present, the two ex-soldiers puzzle over the "indecently preserved" corpse of their former comrade. Hauling the box aboard Serenity, they find a recorded message from Tracey. He apparently anticipated trouble from some unsavory associates, and has asked them to ship his body home to St. Albans.
Back on the station, an ominous Alliance soldier, Lieutenant Womack, threatens first to imprison, then to burn to death the postmaster, who quickly tells the man and his aide who left with the encoffined body.
On Serenity, Jayne waxes surprisingly philosophical about death to Shepherd Book, who contemplates a modest ceremony for the dead man; Jayne notes that he always gets the urge to 'do stuff' when he sees a corpse he didn't kill, prompting Book to speculate that Jayne likes to prove to himself that he's alive after witnessing death. River arrives to make herself comfortable by lying on the casket. Meanwhile, Mal and Zoe entertain Inara with a hilarious tale about Tracey's antics during the war, such as when he 'stole' an officer's moustache and stuck it on his face. Suddenly, the ship is shaken by a near miss from an Alliance craft. Lt. Womack hails them and demands to board Serenity. The crew mistakenly think that Womack is after the Lassiter. When Womack mentions "that crate", however, Mal realizes he's after Tracey's box, and stalls for time while they take apart the crate to discover what secrets it might contain. Finding nothing, they decide to have Simon autopsy the hapless soldier, but the doctors' first incision causes the "dead" man to leap up and struggle with the gathered crew.
After he calms down, Tracey confesses that he is smuggling illegal internal organs. He was supposed to deliver the implanted organs on Ariel, but he got a higher bid. Unfortunately for him, the original buyers killed the new customer and are now after their stolen "merchandise". Another shot from Womack reminds them of their immediate peril. Wash takes Serenity down to St. Albans, where they try unsuccessfully to elude their pursuer in a narrow snowbound valley. They finally come to rest inside a hidden cave, but the Alliance ship drops explosive charges into the valley to flush them out.
Kaylee gets to know and even flirt with the young soldier whose words mesmerized her earlier. Book does some checking on their Alliance pursuers and discovers some anomalous behavior. He ultimately recommends to Mal that they allow the Feds to board the ship. Tracey overhears some of this conversation and pulls a gun on the crew. Mal expresses disgust at his former subordinate's attempt to force them to get him out of his own mess, and orders Wash to call the Feds. As Tracey fires at Wash, wounding him, Zoe shoots the ungrateful man in the chest. Wounded but not slowed down, Tracey grabs Kaylee for cover and heads for the cargo bay. When Mal confronts him about his treacherous behavior, Tracey lays into his former superiors about being "saps". Jayne comes up behind him, and as Tracey turns to shoot him, Mal fires instead, knocking the young man to the ground.
Lt. Womack and his men enter the cargo bay. He tries to cow the smugglers with his Alliance authority, but an unarmed Book arrives to explain why he won't be using that authority, given the pains he's taken to keep his extracurricular organ-dealing activity from the local Feds. Faced with a surprisingly direct threat of death from the preacher, Womack decides to depart, dismissing the "damaged goods" in Tracey's gravely-wounded chest.
Tracey belatedly realizes that Book's confrontation was part of a plan, one that he screwed up by threatening the crew and getting himself shot for his efforts. He asks Mal and Zoe to really deliver him home this time, then dies. Accompanied by a gloomy music and voiced-over excerpts from Tracey's message, the crew of Serenity solemnly returns the fallen soldier to his grieving family.