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EBFIDDLER

ONE MAN’S TRASH (08) Part (05)
Saturday, October 15, 2011

The crew has dinner with Juju Kamara and Mal tells how he found Serenity.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1439    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

ONE MAN’S TRASH (08)

Part (05)

Follows SHADOW (07). Precedes BANDIAGARA (09).

The series so far: A LION’S MOUTH (01) ADVENTURES IN SITTING (02) SPARKS FLY (03) EXPECTATIONS (04) BREAK OUT (05) THE TRIAL (06) SHADOW (07)

The crew has dinner with Juju Kamara and Mal tells how he found Serenity.

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* * *

Serenity set down on Juju Kamara’s side of the world as Friday prayers were drawing to a close. Mal looked around at his crew with some pride as he prepared to lower the ramp. They cleaned up well. Zoe had amazed him by wearing an outfit he had never seen before—a soft brown tunic with a flowing edge, worn over soft, elegant stretch pants. It was practical, but more feminine than anything he’d seen Zoe wear in recent memory, excepting at Wash’s funeral. River wore her usual long dress, with shoes, for a change, but what was striking was the care she had taken with her hair—she’d actually styled it, instead of letting it hang in random curtains. Kaylee was positively glowing, and it wasn’t just that she’d changed out of her overalls and cleaned all the engine grease off her face. Inara, with her impeccable taste, had chosen a dress that was not too fancy for the occasion, but nonetheless made her look special. She stood out.

Serenity’s men were looking fine, too. Simon had dug out some of those pretty fits he’d come aboard with, and put on one of his Core suits. Mal hadn’t seen him wear something like that for—well, about a year, and that’s when it struck him how much Simon had changed. He wasn’t really a pretentious Core stiff anymore, and the suit no longer suited him, if you could say such a thing. Simon belonged to Serenity now. Jayne was wearing his shore leave clothes, and if you didn’t know that those were the clothes he wore when he went whoring, you might have thought he looked almost—well, respectable. Dr Ip had pulled out some kind of Asian-style suit that Mal had never seen. It definitely had a Core look to it, but without the stiffness of Simon’s formal clothing.

Mal was dressed in his best and only suit, and he had done whatever he could to make himself presentable. He offered Inara his arm, feeling that to have her by his side could only make him look better.

It did, and in ways of which he was completely unaware. Without conscious thought, he smiled more, and the smiles transformed his features. Worry lines faded. He positively shone with love and admiration, and looked years younger.

Juju Kamara was struck by the change in the Captain as she welcomed him and his crew. Mal made introductions for the members of the crew Juju had not previously met. “And this is Inara, my…” he hesitated.

“Your wife?” Juju asked, as she held out her hand to Inara, with a smile. It was clear the Captain was devoted to this woman.

“No, we’re not married,” the Captain said, the color rising in his cheeks, which made him, if possible, more 英俊 yīngjùn. “We’re…courting.”

“But you do intend to marry her?” Juju drilled the Captain.

“Nothing would please me better,” Mal answered, startled into revealing his innermost wishes, then he blushed furiously. He could not look at Inara. What had gotten into him? Here he was, telling one and all that he wanted to marry Inara, when he had never discussed the subject with her! And just a couple of days ago, he’d announced to the entire crew that he wanted to have children with Inara—five children, no less—again, without discussing it with her, just blurting out his heart’s wishes in front of everybody. He dropped his eyes to the ground, embarrassed with himself. He was such a fool. That is how he missed the look on Inara’s face, a genuine and radiant smile that reached her eyes.

* * *

Although Juju’s husband was from Beylix, dinner was in the Bandiagaran tradition. In the center of the room was a low table surmounted by an enormous platter heaped with steaming rice. Juju and her daughters and sons emerged from the kitchen carrying bowls of food, which were emptied onto the center of the mound of rice, and each guest was given a spoon. They all sat or knelt on the floor mats around the table, and at Juju’s cue, everybody began to eat the rice and delicious sauces off the sector of the platter in front of them.

For a few minutes, there were few sounds beyond appreciative comments of “delicious”, “美味 měiwèi” and “damn tasty”—the last hastily censored to improve its politeness.

“What is this dish called?” Inara inquired.

“Yassa poulet,” Juju answered. They all spooned up more mouthfuls of the delicious chicken and onions and spicy sauce.

Jayne, having cleared his sector of the platter in record time, was encroaching on his neighbors’. He reached across Kaylee to grab a chicken leg. “You’re only supposed to eat what’s in front of you! Not what’s in front of the next person!” Simon hissed.

Zoe sipped the frothy bittersweet tea, and looked around at the gathering, comfortable for the first time in many days. The soft stretch pants and tunic were from Inara, who had come to her that morning, diffidently offering the gift, unsure of the reception. Zoe had actually hugged her.

As the edge was taken off their hunger, the talk became livelier. They discussed local news on Beylix, Serenity’s journey, how the herd was settling into their new home.

During a pause in the conversation, River declared, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

“That is true,” Juju agreed. “Captain, how is it your pilot is so wise, when she is yet so young?”

Jayne put in his two cents. “Girl’s a…genius,” he said, hastily gulping down the “ruttin’” that he’d automatically inserted into the phrase.

“She is at that,” Mal agreed.

Juju’s husband nodded. “Here on Beylix, the local government has made other worlds’ trash the lifeblood of the community. Others want to get rid of it. They pay us to take it. And trash is the backbone of the economy.”

Juju spoke up. “On my native world of Bandiagara, we have long had to make do with the cast-offs from other worlds. A sewing machine that is too old, a bicycle with a broken chain, a pump that won’t draw, a mule with no seats, no dashboard, no ignition system—these are thrown away in the Core worlds. If they reach Bandiagara, they are treasures. The sewing machine allows the tailor to set up a business, and the tailor’s whole family can make a living. The bicycle is fixed, and someone has transportation and is able take a good job farther from home. The pump is repaired, and draws water to irrigate the crops in the dry season, turning a subsistence farm into one with a surplus. Someone gets the mule to run, and is able to take their goods to market.”

Juju’s husband agreed. “There are many ways to turn trash into treasure.”

“I have to agree,” said Mal. “After all, I found Serenity in a junkyard.”

The others were all eager for him to tell the story.

“It was after the War,” Mal began. “Zoe and I had just been released—”

“From the prisoner-of-war camp?” Simon asked.

“Internment camp,” Zoe corrected. “They didn’t consider us prisoners-of-war.”

“Rebels,” Mal inserted. “Traitors.”

“They tried the officers for treason,” Zoe said.

“They tried you for treason?” Ip asked, round-eyed.

“No,” Mal answered. “I wasn’t commissioned. I was a non-com, a sergeant. They just held us a spell, then let us go.”

Zoe knew how much was omitted in that simple statement. Conditions in the camps were bad. They didn’t complain because the last few weeks in the Valley, they had nothing. No food left to speak of, no medicine, very little water. So at first, life in the camps was better—got fed regularly, one meal a day. The water was untainted. There were prison doctors, and even a prison hospital. But then the harassment started. Interrogations. No one had any military information worth knowing—Mal was one of the highest ranks, and all he knew was his last orders from high command to hold the Valley, delivered weeks before the surrender. When they couldn’t get information, they got mad, and the beatings started. Mal had a smart mouth, and that marked him for special attention. Six months in that internment camp. Zoe shuddered to herself, and shut the door on the dark memories.

“So then you were free to go home,” Juju’s husband spoke into the silence. Juju shot him a quelling look.

“Didn’t have no home to go to,” Mal said simply. “Shadow was destroyed. Zoe didn’t have no home neither.”

“Born and raised on a spaceship,” Zoe said. “Casualty of war.” There was more silence. While Serenity’s crew all knew that the Captain’s world was destroyed in the war, not all of them realized that Zoe had also lost her home.

“I was one of the lucky ones,” Mal said, surprising everyone. He flicked a glance at Zoe, and she continued the story.

“We spent a few weeks wandering the slums of Hera, with nothin’ but the clothes on our backs,” Zoe supplied.

“Sleeping outdoors with nothin’ but the stars for a blanket,” Mal continued.

“Scrounging for scraps to fill our bellies,” Zoe added.

“Word reached me that there was a credit account with my name on it at Hera Central Bank,” Mal finished. “So I went to claim the legacy.”

“Who left you an account?” Simon asked, curious.

“I never did know for certain. But I reckon it was my ma. Saw trouble comin’ on Shadow, sold off what she could, and wired the moveable assets into an account in my name on the world I was last known to be on.” He paused to take a deep breath, then continued.

“It wasn’t much, but it was enough. I went to a used spaceship dealer. Gave me the hard sell on all sorts of broken-down craft. Told me I wanted a monstrous junkheap with a Capissen 38 engine—” he grinned at Kaylee, who grinned back knowingly “—but I’d already spotted her.

“She was sittin’ in a far-off part of the lot, where they kept the ships that were too broken-down to sell; kept ’em to cannibalize parts off of, mostly. Most people woulda looked and just seen what she was like on the surface,” Mal continued, with a far away look. “But I saw the heart of her, and loved what I saw inside. Not what she appeared to be, but what she really was, and what she could be. I knew I could be good to her, get her put together, complete her, and there was no doubt at all in my mind how good she would be for me.”

Zoe looked intensely at her friend. He wasn’t just talking about Serenity. He was talking about Inara. He was telling a love story on two levels.

“Zoe thought I was crazy.”

“Still do.”

嘿 Hēi, easy there.”

“That ship was a deathtrap.”

“You asked me if I paid money for her…on purpose.”

“I said you were robbed.”

“You called her a piece of 废物 fèiwù.”

废物 Fèiwù!” Kaylee exclaimed indignantly.

“Kaylee, Serenity then weren’t anything like so good as she is today. Captain put heart and soul—”

“And every platinum I had to my name—”

“—into fixing her up and making her fly again.”

“Turned trash into treasure,” River said.

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” Mal reiterated, suddenly getting it. “Exactly.”

* * *

When the crew returned to Serenity, Mal sprang into action.

“Dr Ip, if you’ll kindly wave your professor and solidify the contract for the next phase of the grav experiment, I’d appreciate it. Have her transfer payment into your account, then withdraw the cash, like last time. Soon as there’s ready money in hand, River, you see to the needs of the ship. Basic foodstuffs, water, and as much fuel as we can afford. Inara, if you’re willing to lend River a hand, I’d sure appreciate it. Zoe, Simon, you come along with me and Kaylee. We’re going to scour the dump for useful parts, for Serenity and for cargo. Jayne, you come along with us, we’ll drop you off at Ray’s Hauling to check in with your friend, see what Ray’s can offer Serenity.” He tossed comm units to the various parties.

The largest group, the dump scourers and Jayne, took Shuttle Two and the mule. Mal flew Kaylee and Simon directly to the dump, while Zoe took a turn through the edge of town and dropped Jayne at Ray’s Hauling before circling back to join the others at the dump.

As soon as they landed, Mal divided them into pairs and assigned sectors of the dump to comb through. Although at first appearance the dump was nothing but a vast mountain of random garbage, they soon learned to distinguish the more industrial garbage from the domestic, and focused on the locations where they were more likely to find machine parts. The smell was bad, but within fifteen minutes, everyone but Simon had learned to disregard it, and simply worked with dogged determination. Within an hour, Kaylee had located a discarded ship’s console. It wasn’t from a Firefly, but it had most of the necessary navigational gauges and an intact display screen. Of course there was no way to see if it really worked, but Kaylee inspected the wiring and decided she could make it work, or at least cannibalize it for parts.

Simon and Zoe kept a lookout for household items—sewing machines, as Juju had mentioned, pumps, electric generators, solar panels, refrigeration units, bicycles, tractors, mules and other vehicles, agricultural equipment, air compressors.

Mal kept his eyes open for a nav sat, but didn’t locate one—not even a badly damaged one. He did find some synchronizers, an undamaged set of fusion injectors, and a catalyzer for a compression coil, which he recognized perfectly well. Kaylee located a complete set of reverse couplers in the back of a burnt-out shuttlecraft, and hit paydirt when she located what appeared to be the discard bin from a spaceport machine shop.

“Oooh, look at the pretties!” she exclaimed in a voice that echoed around the bin she’d climbed into. “Now will you look at that! Perfectly good mag spider, it’s just a discontinued model. And retro stabilizers—reckon they didn’t need those for the hotrod space yachts they were servicing. An’ a holographic display panel—prolly nothin’ wrong with it but the color didn’t suit the customer.”

In the end, Mal determined to load almost the entire contents of that bin into the shuttle. Zoe flew the first shuttle load back to Serenity, with Simon along to help her unload, while Mal and Kaylee continued picking through the trash.

* * *

“Hey, Janice.” Jayne spoke quietly. He didn’t know how many other workers there were at Ray’s, and didn’t know whether disturbing Janice at her place of work was allowed or not.

“Jayne!” she hollered, and threw herself on him, hugging and kissing with robust enthusiasm.

So much for bein’ all discrete and quiet-like. “Listen,” Jayne gasped between kisses. “Janice.” This was why he didn’t—“We need ta”—like to kiss ’em—“talk”—on the mouth. Aw, hell, Jayne thought, as Janice’s hands worked their way under his belt. Time enough for talkin’ later.

* * *

She kept her eyes open, and while her hands retrieved coils of wire, circuit boards, pump handles and condensers, part of her mind kept up a constant search pattern for the telltale drape. She’d been there for two hours, and had flown three shuttle runs, before she spotted what she was looking for.

It was filthy. It looked like something musta been living in it, then thrown up on it and died in it, but Zoe looked at it with the delight of a new mother. It clearly had belonged to a giant, someone bigger than Monty. A warrior of yesteryear. Like Beowulf. Or Grendel. Maybe Grendel’s mother. Zoe picked it up, held it in front of her appraisingly, and smiled broadly. Genuine para-aramid synthetic fiber and carbon fiber composite interweave, the latest in bulletproof technology. And it was big enough for her to wear twelve months pregnant with a hippopotamus.

* * *

Simon felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle up, and he straightened to find himself squaring off with a fierce, growling junkyard dog.

“Nice poochie, nice…” he said nervously, trying for a soothing voice. You weren’t supposed to show fear: they could smell it. His father had never allowed them to have a dog when they were growing up, and he didn’t know quite what to do. “Nice puppy, good doggie…” He took a step. The dog growled louder and snapped. This must be one of those breeds that was bred to be fierce, to guard, trained to take a bite out of strangers’ legs.

“Doc, you found any—” Mal stopped short, seeing the stand-off between the Doc and the mutt. It was clear the Doc had no idea how to deal with a dog. Probably never had a puppy growin’ up, poor sumbitch. Those rich Core folks had strange notions of how to raise children. Woulda been funny, any other time—but they didn’t have time to waste, and it wouldn’t do to have the Doc pinned down by the pup, paralyzed and unable to work.

Simon watched in amazement as Mal made friends with the fierce guard dog. How did he do that? Now the fearsome beast was licking his hand, wagging its tail. Mal gave the dog a pat on the neck and it trotted off round a mountain of trash, baring its teeth one last time for a token growl as it passed Simon.

* * *

Sometime later, when Simon had long dismissed the dog from his mind, he heard it again. It was growling at him, and this time, it had brought company. A man. An armed man. Simon resisted the urge to pat himself down for the small pocket pistol Mal had insisted he carry on the job. He couldn’t have found it in time, even if he remembered which pocket he’d put it in.

“Who are you, and what are you doing?” the man demanded.

* * *

*

*

*

glossary

英俊 yīngjùn [handsome]

美味 měiwèi [delicious]

嘿 Hēi [Hey]

废物 fèiwù [rubbish]

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A/N: Acknowledging a shout-out here to AMDOBELL, who wrote a fic a while ago in which Mal makes friends with a dog. Thanks for the idea, Ali D!

COMMENTS

Saturday, October 15, 2011 5:28 AM

NUTLUCK


Mal might be slow at times but eventually he seems to get River better than anyone else.

Saturday, October 15, 2011 7:32 AM

ZOESMOM


"twelve months pregnant with a hippopotamus" <---- made me laugh!

Saturday, October 15, 2011 10:18 AM

AMDOBELL


You're welcome, ebfiddler, though I did smile that as soon as Mal left him Simon got in trouble again! Loved this, especially Mal blurting out his that he was courting Inara and hoped to marry at some time, him blushing and missing the pleased look on Inara's face had me grinning fit to bust. I hope they don't get into too much trouble at that dump, they need all the help they can get. Also, I loved the part where the Captain reflects that Simon belongs on Serenity now. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, October 15, 2011 2:38 PM

M52NICKERSON


Personally I like Mal and Zoe reminiscing.

“That ship was a deathtrap.”

“You asked me if I paid money for her…on purpose.”

“I said you were robbed.”

Saturday, October 15, 2011 5:35 PM

BYTEMITE


Somehow I think there's still more to River's comments.

Nice to see the crew socialize, and the junkyard. And the dog. :)

Sunday, October 16, 2011 11:37 AM

EBFIDDLER


Thanks for the comments!

Nutluck, River has been saying that since the beginning of Story #7, as soon as she heard that their destination was Beylix, and someone finally got it. Mal does get River better than anyone else. Simon has more history with her, but sometimes that stands in his way. ZoesMom--"12 months..." I have felt that way, myself. Ali D--Simon's troubles are only just beginning. Oh, so glad you liked the Mal and Inara scene--there will be consequences, in more than one way. Glad you liked the Captain's reflections on Simon...again, not mere idle thoughts. m52--it gave me great pleasure to quote Mal and Zoe from "Out of Gas". Bytemite--there's always more to River's comments than meets the eye, isn't there? When the crew of Serenity sits down to socialize, they don't just chit-chat, do they? I had fun writing the dog. I knew Mal would be a natural with the dog (Ali D already showed us that ;-) ) and it just seemed right that Simon wouldn't know how to react appropriately.

Monday, October 17, 2011 7:45 AM

SINDIKS


I just want to say ,I'm a big fan of your's fictions,when I started read it I can't stop until 4am(my husband was willing to kill me) I can't wait until next chapter.

Monday, October 17, 2011 5:36 PM

EBFIDDLER


Sindiks, thank you for commenting. I'm so glad you're enjoying the stories, and very flattered that you couldn't stop reading. Please try to get some sleep! :-) Next part will be posted on schedule in a few days.


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