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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Serenity's crew takes on a routine delivery. Is there a routine delivery in this 'verse?
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 612 RATING: 0 SERIES: FIREFLY
All the usual disclaimers. No harm, no foul, no money changing hands.
Early in the day cycle the voice came over the intercom. “This is your captain speaking. New course ahead. Everybody up to the bridge, please.”
The bridge was soon crowded with everyone except River and Inara. Inara wasn’t crew and she had, in any case, heard the news already. And River, of course, was River.
The wave from Warrick had come late the night before.
“Captain Reynolds, happy to see your shining face. Any permanent damage?”
“To what? My ship or my skin?” Mal responded.
“Neither one. We’re proud just to keep flying. What can I do for you, sir?” Mal’s country manners tacked that ‘sir’ on almost against his will. But Warrick had never been anything except straight with them and he paid well and promptly. He also raised cattle Mal would have been proud to call his own.
“I’ve got a job that I think you’ll enjoy, Malcolm. When are you going to be back in town?”
“Wasn’t looking to come in anytime soon. Not the most popular cruise ship captain around, you know,” Mal’s lips quirked in his habitual twisted smile.
“How soon could you come in? I’ve got a crop that needs to go out to Halcion sooner rather than later. I’d like to get it out there before the end of their summer. Any hope of your carrying it for me? I don’t like to trust it to just anyone, because it’s little bit delicate.”
“We’re ‘bout 48 hours out, right this minute. I’ll set a course inbound, we should be there midmorning two days from now, your time. Mind if I ask what you’re shipping? And whether I might ought to have something else on board to legitimize it?” Mal knew Warrick’s wealth was in agriculture, but the Alliance had peculiar ideas about what could and could not be moved between planets.
“All legal and aboveboard. You won’t need anything to declare other than your actual cargo. Also, even you might have trouble concealing this shipment, were you to be stopped. I prefer not to be clearer on this transmission channel.”
“I understand, sir. All kindsa folks keep their drinking glass pressed against the wall, listenin’, these days. We’ll see you pretty quick like.” Mal signed off, reset the co-ordinates for Persephone and stood a moment staring out into the black
Mal knocked sharply on the shuttle doorframe.
“Yes, Mal. Will you come in?” Inara was sorry he knocked these days. It meant he really was treating her differently – it wasn’t just her imagination.
“No need to come in, just got a captain’s announcement. We’re going to drop into Persephone for a real quick visit. Just in and out. You can get off and look for a boat going core-ward or you can throw yourself on Atherton Wing’s mercy or you can do any other thing you choose. I just need to know what your plans are.” Mal looked at the floor as he made his carefully neutral speech, studiously avoiding saying her name.
“I would rather whore, as you say, than go to Wing, as I think even you ought to be able to recognize.” Inara’s voice was icy
“I don’t have any need to know who you go or don’t go to. I only need to know if Persephone’s gonna be your stop.” He stood, still looking down, his hands jammed into his front pockets, making fists so tight his knuckles hurt.
“I’m not sure, Mal. I’m not sure I feel comfortable on Persephone at the moment. If I can find a ship headed toward Sihnon I’ll …” Inara was uncharacteristically hesitant and wavering. Having made her decision didn’t make the final step any easier.
“Can you be off my boat by dinnertime day after tomorrow? Because if you can’t, you’ll have to wait for it to come around again. Or trust me to pack your bits and ship ‘em on.” Mal was deliberately brusque.
“I’ll wait.” Inara was decisive about this non-decision.
“This is going to be about a two week run out to Halcion. As far as I know, Halcion ain’t famous for nothin’ but hot springs. It’s gonna be at least four weeks altogether ‘fore we get within shoutin’ distance of your kinda civilization. We’re only stoppin’ to refuel if we got to and you know those refueling stops ain’t your kinda place, neither. This is a back of beyond turnaround trip and I don’t wanna hear nothin’ about work or no work from you. Maybe you should think of going now.”
“I said, I’ll wait.”
“Make it light on yourself. The shuttle’s yours so long’s the rent’s paid.”
“Minor change a plans here, folks. We’re going all the way into Persephone for a quick stop. Just long enough to pick up a small cargo and get gone.”
“Are we getting gone because this is a dubious cargo, sir?” Zoe asked in a neutral voice.
“Nope. This’s legal and aboveboard. We’re gettin’ gone because it’s cargo that I’m told doesn’t keep well, waitin’ around. And also because not everybody on Persephone thinks we hung the moon.”
Badger’s ferret face and Atherton Wing’s smug one crossed everyone’s mind. Wash flinched in memory and Jayne grinned with gleeful anticipation.
Mal gave his final orders just before they landed at Eavesdown Docks.
“Wash, go on about gettin’ us ready to be gone again soon. See to the water, as well as fuel. We’re low, and this may be a cargo as needs water. Book, would you be so good as to do a little food gatherin’ for us? Nothing fancy, but try to pick up some fruit. Summer here, so should be cheap and plentiful.
“Kaylee, go set up your folding chair and see if you can pick up some passengers. We’re headed to Halcion so it’s anybody’s guess whether you’ll find some as wanna go that direction. I’m gonna go into town to talk to Warrick. Zoe, Jayne, I’ll need you to watch Serenity ‘til I get back. No shore leave on this trip.”
Mal grinned at Jayne’s grimace, knowing the big mercenary had been hoping to slink off and get a drink and a quick armful of easy virtue before Mal got back from Warrick’s estate.
“Got it, sir.”
“Wash, I don’t like waiting around here.”
“I’ll have her warm, Mal.”
Mal came striding back up the crowded dock two hours later, grinning cheerfully, hat pushed to the back of his head. Behind him a big mule driven by a stranger pulled a baggage float loaded with barrels and bags and boxes, topped off with dozens of flat, black, rubber mats.
“Kaylee, darlin’, furl that parasol. I got the passengers this time. If you wanna go get the doc and make a quick run for any supplies he needs I reckon you got about three hours.” Kaylee grinned delightedly and shot off into Serenity, folding chair and umbrella left abandoned on the ramp.
Mal picked up the chair and umbrella, his sunny mood undiminished.
Jayne scowled at the equipment on the float.
“Mal, you ain’t agreed to ship cattle agin? Wodema I shoulda knowed when you went to talk to Warrick. Him and his gorram cows. I ain’t shoveling cowshit no more for you. I’m a gunhand, not a cowhand.”
“No, fussy, I ain’t agreed to ship cattle this trip. Although I personally don’t find anything repugnant about cattle, particularly cattle with a paid-up ticket to ride. Get that float and mule unloaded. Put the mats down first, then lash the barrels to the bulkhead where we c’n get at ‘em easy. Bed the mats nice and deep with that sawdust.”
“Mal, if it ain’t cattle, what the crying Buddha is it? This looks pretty gorram much like gettin’ ready for livestock. Not goats, is it? Wodema don’t tell me it’s gorram goats.”
“The passengers are not goats.”
In spite of constant, not-quite-inaudible grumbling from Jayne, within two hours the hold of Serenity was transformed. Barrels of water were lashed to the bulkheads, bags of feed and bales of bedding were stashed carefully to divide the space into separate compartments.
“You cain’t tell me this ain’t getting’ ready for ugly, unhousebroke beasts of some kind, Mal. I’m tellin’ you I didn’t sign on for this. And what are we gettin’ paid for whatever little stunt you’re plannin’ to pull? It better be plenty cause I sure don’t like the looks of this. And what do we need all this water for, anyway? Serenity’s got water. Or will when the tanker comes.”
“The passengers prefer their own water. At least to start with. And you ain’t hardly housebroke your own self.”
“These barrels all full a’that fizzy water? Gorram it, they coulda brought whiskey.”
“The passengers do not like whiskey. And they don’t like beer, either, although I remember an old song about beer for…”
It was the arrival of the hay that did Jayne in.
“It is cattle. Wodema, Mal, you said it weren’t cattle and here’s all this here hay. You plannin’ to eat it? Cause I ain’t and I’m pretty sure hay means cattle.”
Bi shui, Jayne.” Zoe had had enough. Mal looked all manner of chirked up by this job and Jayne could just hush his grizzling. Mal had been surly, and more solitary than usual, since Nandi’s death, and Zoe had heard him moaning in his sleep more than once lately. If whatever-the-blue-Buddha it was that they were carryin’ cheered Mal up, Jayne could just shut his ugly face.
The hay was stowed far enough away from the compartments created by the feed bags to suggest to Jayne that the passengers were giraffes. “Or whatever them long-necked blotchy animals is.”
“It ain’t giraffes and it ain’t baby elephants. Here’s what it is.”
Eight sleek horses came up the docks, each led by a groom. They were nothing like the hardworking horses every backwater planet had by the hundreds. These mares, for they were all mares, all but the last, a buckskin gelding, were the quadruped equivalent of royalty. They were graceful, and they were slim, with elegant heads and delicate legs and large, enquiring eyes. Eyes that were just then rolling and showing too much white for comfort. They were behaving remarkably well, however, considering the noise and confusion of the docks. They were clearly well-trained and extremely well-bred.
“Dammit, Mal, we carryin’ them ugly animals? They shit as bad as cattle and somebody’s gonna have to shovel it.”
“The only ugly animal I see around here is you. I am the captain, this is a payin’ job and unless you’re leavin’ now I don’t want to hear another word. I got exactly no time for your gou se. And, as a matter of fact, Warrick is sending a boy to shovel. So shut up.”
The grooms led the horses up the ramp and into their improvised stalls.
“Where’s the boy’s supposed to be comin’ with us?” Mal called to the head groom.
“He’ll be right along, sir. He stopped off to say goodbye to his girl or maybe it was his momma. He knows you’re ready to leave.”
“If he ain’t here by the time the water tanker fills us up, he’ll be left. And he c’n explain to Warrick how he came to leave the care of these high-bred ponies to us. Not a conversation I’d aim to have.” The groom laughed cheerfully at the thought, tipped his hat and took his contingent back down into the confusion of the docks.
“Jayne, help me water these beasts. Fill the buckets with the water from the barrels. Horses won’t drink strange water if they can help it. We’ll start ‘em on their own water and gradually switch over to Serenity’s when theirs gives out.”
“And I’ll remind you agin that I ain’t no kind of livestock handler.” Jayne was keeping one wary eye on the hooves of the nearest horse and one on the captain. Lately Mal’s patience hadn’t been overlengthy. “Gorramit, these here are troublesome animals.”
“They’re both better lookin’ and more valuable than you. Mind you remember that when you talk about trouble. And your cut is the same whether you get to shoot somebody or just tote water. So for the last time, shut up and tote that water.”
Atherton Wing leaned in close to the boy’s face.
“Are we absolutely clear, here? I don’t want to hear that you failed or lost your nerve or ended up out the airlock. You understand what you’re to do and when and how you’re to proceed?”
“Yessir.” The boy didn’t look up at the nobleman, keeping his eyes fixed on the handwoven carpet. He gave the distinct impression he would like to put his fingers in his ears, as well, if he only dared.
“All right. Get out of my sight.”
The boy crept up to the back of Serenity. Watching nervously, he unscrewed the water intake valve, shoving the valve cover under his arm. He removed four test tubes from his jacket pocket, unstoppered them and carefully poured their contents into the water system. He screwed the valve cover back on tightly, and slid out of sight around the ship.
The skinny teenage boy came sidling up the ramp, carrying a full duffel bag over his shoulder. About 16, he looked permanently undernourished. His cramped posture and sidelong looks suggested a life short on everything except random blows.
“You must be Gowan,” Mal greeted him, hand outstretched. The boy took it hesitantly, not meeting the captain’s eyes.
“Take your dunnage up to the passenger dorms. Kaylee! Show this boy where to stow his belongings. And then you, son, get on back down here and help us settle this bunch. Soon as the water’s on, we leave.”
“Sir, water tanker’s on its way,” Zoe called from the back of the cargo hold. “Do you mind if I take this moment for a last shower before we refill the tanks?”
“No, go ahead and use it. Water’s cheap on Persephone, not like Whitefall, where a deep bath’ll cost you a month’s pay.”
“I don’t think there is a bathtub, deep or otherwise, on Whitefall, sir. At least, not judging by Patience’s complexion.”
“I reckon that’s so. Go ahead. We don’t run to a bathtub, neither, but at least you can have a good long shower before the tanker refills us. Nothing but bucket baths once we leave, though. These beasts’ll drink close to fifty gallons a day and it’s a two week trip out to Halcion. Serenity’s tanks’ll barely do it, even with the barrels Warrick sent.”
“Okay, boy, let’s get these beauties bedded down for the night.” Mal looked more cheerful than he had in weeks, standing hip-shot against a support column in the cargo bay.
Gowan carefully copied every move Mal made as he fed, watered and bedded down the horses. He watched out of the corners of his eyes, trying to see what Mal did without allowing Mal to see him watching.
Once the horses were bedded down to Mal’s satisfaction and Zoe was out of the shower and back into her working clothes, Mal called up to the bridge.
“Let’s us get gone, there, pilot.”
“Roger. We’re gone.”
As the Firefly class transport lifted off and turned to leave a lanky boy ran hard up to the dock.
“Wodema, that’s my ship. Fuck me ‘til next Tuesday. Lord Warrick’ll kill me. I am so humped, I am so thoroughly humped. Dear Buddha, I hope somebody on that boat knows one end of a horse from another.”
*End of part 1*
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