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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Serenity goes to the Outer Rim while Delia heals.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1433 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
A Body in Motion Stays in Motion, A Body at Rest...
She lay, dressed in a borrowed robe on the exam table. A thin gray blanket covered her bruised and battered form. Simon worked silently around her as he injected a pain medication into her IV. He reached into a drawer behind him and retrieved a palm sized cream jar. Simon carefully applied the cream to Delia's eyes to help the bruising absorb faster. Her eyes, covered in the cream, were closed. For this, she was grateful. The Infirmary's blinding whiteness bothered her eyes.
"Want some company?" Wash asked as he peeked his head in the door.
"Please, come sit with me." Delia said softly.
Simon gently worked bandages around her head, covering her eyes. The cream needed to be on for one hour.
"I'll be right back, Delia. Don't touch the bandage." Simon warned, as he left the Infirmary.
"How are you feeling?" Wash asked.
"I feel better. Little food, Little medicine. I still feel weak."
"We've slowed a bit, allow Simon to doctor you before we get where we're goin'"
"I understand I have you to thank for some skin." Delia said.
"I live to serve." Wash said.
"Where'd he take it from?
"My side." Wash said. He took Delia's hand and guided her fingers to the incision site.
"I'm so sorry"
"It's no big deal. What's a little skin between friends?" Wash cracked.
Wash kept hold of her hand as he pulled it away from his side.
"You're strong to live through Niska's torture for nearly 2 weeks. I almost didn't make it."
"He tortured you?"
"Yeah, me and Mal both. We were afraid that when we handed over the Lassiter, he would grab Mal again. But he didn't. He only wanted the gun."
"I didn't even know you guys were the ones who nicked the Lassiter. When Niska kept asking me about it, I figured it out."
Zoe walked past the Infirmary and saw Wash was with Delia.
She walked in silently. Wash looked to Zoe and smiled. Delia was better.
"Jiejie, come in." Delia said.
"How did you know it was me?" Zoe asked.
"Keen Spy Senses." Delia replied. "That, and your hand cream. I can smell it."
It was true, she had just used her hand cream.
"So what I don't understand, is how Niska thought I knew anything about the Lassiter." Delia questioned. "I didn't have it. He knew I didn't have it. Why torture me? He never said anything about why he had me, other than ask me about where the damn gun was."
Simon and Zoe exchanged a quick look.
"Niska thought that you were Jayne's girlfriend. He knew Serenity had the Lassiter. That was his leverage to get us to turn it over. When Niska told us you miscarried, he realized you're actually with Mal." Zoe said.
Wash turned his head at Zoe while she talked and mouthed the word 'miscarried'. He hadn't been aware Delia had been pregnant. Zoe closed her eyes and drew her lips thinly.
"So are we headed to Europa?" Delia asked.
"Not yet. We're Persephone bound, least a few hours. Then, on to Europa." Wash said.
"What's going on?" she asked.
"Got some business with an someone." Mal answered brusquely, as he stepped into the Infirmary.
Delia heard the tone in his voice, and cocked her head.
"Think now I know who." she answered.
As Serenity landed at the Eavesdowne docks on Persephone Mal, Zoe, and Jayne loaded their weapons in the cargo bay. They would go to see Badger, and if he was lucky, they would let him live. Jayne housed his revolver into its holster on his right leg. Zoe loaded her own revolver with a full complement of bullets and slammed the housing shut. Delia appeared in the doorway of the Infirmary and clutched the doorframe. Mal looked up at her and their eyes met.
The three wound their way through the metal catacombs that comprised Badger's offices. As they reached the inner room where they knew Badger would be, a large man held up a gun and blocked their entrance.
"Tell Badger Malcolm Reynolds is here." Mal said.
"Cap Reynolds, what 'ou got goin' on?" Badger's voice answered through the darkness.
"Here to discuss something."
The large man looked backwards and moved his gun aside to allow the three into Badger's inner office.
"Sooo, what can I do 'ou for?" Badger said.
"You know why we're here." Mal said.
Badger blinked a few times and held up his hand in a gesture of peace.
"I 'ave no quarrel wit' 'ou, Cap. Just hadda get Niska off my back."
"And onta mine." Mal said angrily.
"You told Niska I have the Lassiter. Which I don't. You told Niska Delia Hammond is with Jayne. Which she isn't. You put a lotta people in Niska's sights." Mal said.
"'Ou ain't with Delia?" Badger asked Jayne.
Jayne shook his head slowly.
Badger pursed his lips.
"And 'Ou don't 'ave the Lassiter?" Badger asked tentatively.
Mal shook his head slowly.
"I was drunk, pigu. Shot my mouth off. I don't got nuttin." Jayne muttered.
"Well, Cap Reynolds, guess I owe 'ou an apology. But I couldn't 'ave 'im 'urtin' me, now could I? Thought me info was clean. But 'ou look none the worse for wear." Badger said.
A quiet rustle behind the three told them to look behind them.
"Oh do I look that good?" Delia asked sweetly.
Delia walked slowly into Badger's inner office, a room she had visited before, but hadn't seen in nearly a year. She had changed back into the bloodied, dirty clothes she had been kidnaped in , and she had arranged her hair so that it resembled the matted mess in which she had been rescued. Both her arms rested in slings and her gait betrayed her pain. The bruises around her eyes were starting to fade, but still glowed against her pale skin. They only served to accentuate the anger that glittered in her eyes.
Badger blanched and visibly recoiled at the sight of Delia. He backed up a few steps but was stopped by his desk from retreating further.
"M..m...Mrs. 'ammond." Badger breathed.
"Badger." Delia said, as she brushed past Mal towards Badger.
Delia stared Badger down for a few seconds. Mal's mood flowed from anger to vindication, and a small smile came upon him. Mal glanced at Zoe, who had the same smile on her face.
"Take a good look at what your lies have done." Delia said smoothly.
"I...I....so sorry, Mrs. 'ammond." Badger apologized.
"Too late. You're done. No more business from me or mine. You don't exist."
"Please, Delia...I mean, Mrs. 'Ammond. I never meant to 'urt 'ou." Badger whimpered.
"You can call me anything you want, cause it's the last time you'll ever speak to me again." Delia said as she turned away from Badger. Without another word, she limped out of Badger's office.
"Badger." Mal said with a nod.
He turned and walked behind Delia, followed by Jayne and Zoe who saw Badger cover his mouth as he sat heavily on the edge of his desk. Wash had waited just outside Badger's office as planned and had his arm around her waist as he helped her through the maze of tin panels toward the front entrance.
"Get me back to Simon." Delia moaned as her knees buckled in the bright sunlight.
Jayne moved to Delia's other side and without moving her arms, the two men braced her for the short walk back to Serenity.
Mal stood on Serenity's loading dock and watched Jayne and Wash as they bore Delia up the gangway and into the hold. Zoe stopped to talk to Mal.
"Don't think we'll be dealin' with Badger any time soon." Zoe commented.
"Cold day in Hell." Mal said bitterly.
They turned and surveyed the chaos in front of them. People milled around, shipments rushed back and forth between neighboring ships, and the atmosphere was thick with smoky pollution from the crowds around them. As they turned to walk back into the ship, a familiar face caught his eye. Kaylee.
"Hey, Cap. " she said as she approached them.
"What were you doin' off ship?" Mal asked, brow furrowed. He didn't like Kaylee walking around unescorted on Persephone.
"Just checkin' the boards. Mighta found a job..." Kaylee said happily. She knew this would turn him.
"Job? What job?"
Kaylee pulled a printout from her pocket and shook it open in front of Mal.
"It's a job pickin'.." she started as Mal took the paper from her hand and started to read.
"...pickin' up a body from New Amsterdam on Kratos and returning it to Ariel." Mal finished.
"Persephone, well, Europa to Kratos to Ariel? That's a long haul." Zoe observed.
"Least 3 weeks." Kaylee agreed.
"Pay is good. Real good for something like this. What's the hitch?" Mal asked.
"Don't know. There's a telfonix number listed. We could call..." Kaylee said.
"This was posted 3 weeks ago. Why hasn't anyone taken the job?" Mal said.
Zoe puckered her lips. Something was definitely wrong.
"Well, let's call the number and find out." Mal said. For that kind of pay, he would invest a few minutes of his time.
On the bridge, Wash, Zoe, and Mal called the number listed from the job bulletin.
"Keep in mind, Cap...we're talking 6 rods minimum to get to Kratos and back, with normal burn." Wash said.
Mal nodded his head.
"Clarke Residence, no picture." the voice said formally from the other end of the line.
Zoe and Mal looked at each other.
"Yes, I'm Captain Harbatkin with the cargo ship Serenity. We're callin' after the job posting from this number." Mal said.
"One moment, please." he replied.
A few seconds later, the picture feed came to life and a well dressed man appeared on the screen.
"I'm Lionel Clarke. You are...?"
"Captain Harbatkin, with the cargo ship Serenity. We saw your job posting." Mal said.
"Excellent. You'll be picking up the body of..." Clarke said quickly.
"Sir, I have a few questions about the job before I take it." Mal interrupted. "You posted this several weeks ago. Nobody' s taken it?"
"And you're paying a handsome amount for the job, too."
Mal and Clarke looked at each other for a moment before Clarke conceded the facts surrounding the matter.
"You haven't been in port for a while, have you?" Clarke asked.
"No, we've been busy." Mal said pleasantly.
Clarke breathed out noisily before continuing.
"New Amsterdam was hit by unknown assailants a month ago. My son Robert was killed during the attack. He was there managing my firm's mining interests on Kratos. I need someone to transport his body back to our family's gravesite on Ariel. We will meet you there." Clarke said.
"When you say unknown assailants, you mean Reavers." Mal translated.
Clarke closed his eyes and nodded slightly.
"It hasn't been determined that Reavers are responsible. The Alliance is still classifying the massacre as cause unknown. " Clarke said.
"Massacre?" Mal asked
"Over 200 dead in town." Clarke said.
"The Alliance doesn't acknowledge Reavers...but why not get a commercial funeral company to fetch your son?" Mal asked honestly.
"Called everyone I could. None will go out that far. A dozen private shippers have responded to my posting, but none will go near Reaver territory, not for any amount. Kratos is pretty far out on the rim."
"It is a long haul. If I take the job, and I ain't sayin' I will, I need fuel rods. At least 2 dozen. " Mal said.
"I'll get you as many as you can hold. I need to get Robert." Clarke said.
"Can you hold for a moment, sir?" Mal asked.
Mal reached over and muted the line. He put a piece of paper over the camera lens to block Clarke's view.
"Whadya think?" Mal asked Zoe and Wash.
"Reavers...I don't know." Wash said.
"They'll have left the area. No real danger from them...probably." Zoe said.
"Good money." Mal said.
"Good rod supply." Wash added.
Mal nodded his head, then unmuted the telfonix and moved the paper.
"Mr. Clarke, we'll take the job. Have the rods delivered to my ship Serenity at the Eavesdowne docks within the hour. I 'll take half payment now, in cash. Half when we deliver your son on Ariel. " Mal said.
"Thank you, Captain. My aide will bring the payment immediately. What is your wave signature? I'll send you the coordinates to meet me on Ariel."
"Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. That's our general box. Mr. Clarke, you can count on Serenity to bring your boy to his rest." Mal said.
"I certainly appreciate it. I'm trusting you to help me." Clarke said.
"Mr Clarke, you have my word." Mal said honestly.
Mal disconnected the line and turned to Zoe.
"Let's not be talkin' Reavers with everyone. No need to get them twisty." he said.
"Agreed. Job and money should be enough." Zoe nodded.
"Everyone, this is the Captain. Meet in the Mess in 5 minutes for a quick update." Mal said into the intership com.
"We've got a job on Kratos, thanks to Kaylee." Mal said to the assembled crew.
Kaylee smiled broadly at the acknowledgment from her Captain.
"Kratos? Isn't that pretty far out on the rim?" Book asked.
"Yep, but we can't turn away a payday like this." Mal answered.
Jayne raised his head from his coffee and nodded appreciatively.
"What's the job?" Jayne asked.
"We're transporting cargo from Kratos to Ariel. Half pay now, half on Ariel. Plus, more fuel rods than we need. They'll be arriving in a few minutes. We'll take Delia back to Europa then on to Kratos." Mal said.
Simon raised his hand tentatively.
"Uh, I don't know if that's such a good idea, Captain. She's pretty weak. There's no doctor in Stapleton. Nearest is over 50 miles away. We might want to take her with us. Once we return, she should be ready to be by herself." Simon explained.
Mal put his hands on his hips and stared at the floor. Delia had been too involved already. He didn't want her on board while they were on the job. But, he understood Simon's concern.
"Let me go talk to Delia. See what she wants to do." Mal said heavily.
A loud noise interrupted the end of Mal's sentence.
"That'd be the fuel rods." Wash said.
Wash and Mal walked down the stairs and into the cargo hold. Wash walked up to the gangway door and hit the button to lower the gate. The opening door revealed 2 anti-grav lifters pulled by several men. In front of them , a large man dressed in a formal suit stood holding a small attache case.
"Captain? I'm Niels Hulen, Lord Clarke's aide. I have the funds and fuel rods as requested. Lord Clarke needs you to sign some papers formalizing your agreement." Hulen said.
Mal nodded then realized what the aide had said. Lord Clarke.
"Wash get these rods on board while I look at the papers." Mal said.
Wash moved forward and motioned the men to bring the antigravs on board. He saw there were at least 25 rods between the two sleds.
"So what am I signing?" Mal asked, as he flipped the papers.
"This one is a standard agreement. It simply outlines your picking up Lord Clarke's body on Kratos and bringing it to the Clarke compound on Ariel. The second paper is a confidentiality agreement. Lord Clarke is eager to keep his arrangement with you private. He is a very influential man, well connected. He needs your assurance that you won't discuss your cargo with anyone, or that in fact you are working for the Clarke family at all." Hulen said.
Mal cocked his head slightly.
"I understand the job agreement, but the privacy thing?" Mal asked.
"Lord Clarke's work on Kratos is...not well known. Do you understand?"
"The mining he's doing isn't authorized?" Mal asked.
Hulen looked firmly at Mal.
"You said that. Not me."
Mal nodded as he took the pen from Hulen and signed his real name to both papers.
"Tell Lord Clarke that anyone who flies under Alliance radar is okay with me. He can count on Serenity to bring his son home. Privately. By the way, tell him my name is Reynolds. Malcolm Reynolds. " Mal said.
Mal and Hulen shook hands, then Hulen followed the two anti-gravs out of the cargo hold.
"I'll get us in the air." Wash said.
"I'll go talk to Delia." Mal said.
Mal walked up the stairs and into the Infirmary. The beds were empty. He looked around the lounge area but saw no sign of Delia or Simon. A scraping noise to his left caught his attention, and he turned to see Simon leave the empty guest quarters.
"I moved Delia to the empty room. It's more comfortable than the examination room. I hope that was okay." Simon said.
Mal walked toward the guest quarters and slid the door open. Delia lay with her eyes closed on the bed, an IV attached to her arm. She wore a sleeveless t-shirt Mal recognized as Zoe's exercise shirt. Simon came up behind him and they observed Delia together.
"She's asleep. She'll be doing a lot of that for some time to come." Simon said.
Mal moved into the room to wake her.
"Delia? ...Delia?" Mal said softly.
Her eyes fluttered open groggily and she blinked the sleep away.
"Are we there yet?" she asked.
"Nope. Listen, Simon thinks you need doctoring for a while. He thinks you should stay on Serenity under his care. We got a job moving cargo from an outer moon to Ariel. It'll be a few weeks before we can get back to Europa. You can stay here, or we can bring you home now." Mal said.
"What do you think?" Delia asked Simon.
"I think you need a doctor for the next week. If we were on Osiris, I'd hospitalize you for about 3 days, at least." Simon said seriously.
"What do you think?" Delia asked, turning her head back to Mal.
Mal paused just briefly enough for Delia to anticipate his answer.
"Take me to Stapleton. I'll recover there. I can get the doctor in Marksville to visit a few times in the next week. Hank'll be there, too. It's for the best." Delia said simply.
Mal walked out of the quarters and punched the button on the wall.
"Wash, take us to Stapleton." Mal said.
On the bridge, Zoe and Wash gave each other a surprised glance. They had anticipated Delia staying for the job.
Mal reentered the guest quarters and sat down on the edge of the bed. Simon returned to the Infirmary, slightly defeated.
"I'm real sorry this happened." Mal said.
"I'm okay. I appreciate bein' rescued, though. My hero."
"Yeah, big damn hero. Got my girl tortured. Got an enemy for life in Niska. I'm shiny."
"Don't fret over it. It's done. Wouldn't have happened if I hadn't been on Persephone."
"Now that ain't your fault neither. You jes' promise me somethin' like that comes 'pon you again, you least let me know. K? Maybe I'd a done the honorable thing..."
Delia's stifled laugh hurt her side and she grimaced in pain.
"Hey, now. You never know..." Mal said. "By the way, I told Jayne 'bout us."
"He already knew. Where I got this shiner from. But seein' as it was his big mouth caught us all this trouble, he's been layin' low."
"Maybe I should speak to him." Delia said.
"Nah. Leave it be. Least you don't have to pretend no more."
"Who said I was pretending?"
Mal leaned over and kissed her softly.
"You are a very funny woman."
"Now that I've been told before."
"You rest for the next six hours. You'll be in your bed soon enough." Mal said.
Delia nodded and closed her eyes. As Mal reached out and touched her cheek, she smiled into his hand and settled back into the pillow.
Hank heard a familiar engine noise as he sat behind the counter in the market. He turned in his seat and looked out the window to the landing pads. Serenity. Miss Delia.
Serenity touched down on the landing pad behind Hammond's market on schedule. Mal and Jayne carried Delia on the portable litter as Zoe held the IV bag aloft next to them. Simon and Kaylee followed closely behind. Hank loped along the path to the ship and met them as they exited the ship.
"Miss Delia!" Hank cried.
"Hank..." Delia said softly.
Hank looked to Mal and Zoe with a grateful smile.
"Captain Reynolds, I can't thank you enough for bringing Miss Delia home." Hank said.
"Hank, she'll be okay. She needs rest. Let's get her to her room." Mal said.
Mal and Jayne brought the litter up the stairs to the third floor of Delia's house. As the litter came to rest on the floor of Delia's bedroom, she tried to pull herself upright but Mal intercepted her movement by putting his arms underneath her shoulders and knees and lifting her into her bed. Their bed. Jayne walked over and touched Delia's cheek.
"You need to be listening to Hank's instructions. I'm going to be giving him your medicine and your instructions. Don't use your arms. Don't pick up anything. If you do, you may get some nerve damage." Simon said.
Kaylee leaned over and kissed Delia.
"Get some rest and make sure you listen to Hank." Kaylee said.
"I will. I promise."
"I'm gonna call Doctor Ambrose over in Marksville, ask him to come by tomorrow." Hank said.
"I'll leave him some instructions, too. I want to make sure you get the best possible care. Make sure he sees you several times in the next week." Simon said.
Mal sat on the edge of the bed and cupped Delia's cheek in his hand.
"I never meant for you to get in the middle." Mal said.
" I survived. And now I know it was you who nicked the Lassiter." Delia said.
Mal looked away, embarrassed.
"It's worth a lot of money." Delia said. "In the right hands."
"No meddling, please. Stay off the telfonix. I don't want anything to interfere with you getting better." Mal said.
"You never let me have any fun.".
"Mei-mei, get better. I'll wave you in a week when you can use your hands." Zoe said.
"I look forward to it." Delia said to Zoe's retreating figure.
"Well, we gotta get going." Mal said.
Mal leaned over and kissed Delia tenderly. She smiled at him sweetly.
"Wave me soon." she said.
"You can count on it."
On the bridge, Mal and Wash prepared to depart Europa. Mal sat glumly against the nav unit, legs crossed.
"What's wrong?" Wash asked. He flipped his switches and pressed buttons and Serenity's engines came to life.
"Prepare to leave Europa." Wash said into the com.
He eased the thrusters forward and Serenity lifted gently off the ground and was airborne.
"I'm pissed about Delia." Mal said.
"It wasn't her fault."
"No, I mean her gettin' in the middle of all this. I never wanted her involved in our business. She's not part of what we do." Mal said.
"Delia's a big girl. She seems to be bouncing back okay. And she had it a lot worse than you and I did. She's strong, but I think she knows she's not part of what we do. She's a part of our lives but she belongs on Europa. " Wash said.
"I know. I know. Doesn't make me feel any better 'bout what Niska did to her. She didn't deserve that." Mal said.
Serenity broke the atmosphere and entered the deep blackness of space.
"1/2 burn" Wash announced.
"I'll be in the Mess." Mal said.
Mal sat in the Mess with Inara, Zoe and Book. Over coffee and fresh pastries from Hammond's, they discussed the upcoming trip.
"This is a little out of your way. No clients on Kratos." Mal said to Inara.
"No matter. I could use some time off, anyway." Inara said.
Mal shrugged. He couldn't figure her out.
"Do you think we'll get to Kratos without incident?" Book asked rather innocently.
"Who knows? Kratos is one of the furthest terraformed. Out on the edge." Zoe said.
Inara looked at Zoe with a curious, sly glance. With an imperceptible blink of her eyes, she talked to Zoe.
"Hey Preacher, how 'bout you and I lift weights for a while." Zoe said.
"You with the weights? Sure, why not. I'll spot you." Book said.
Zoe and Book left the Mess and Inara sat across from Mal at the dining table.
"I wanted to talk to you." Inara said.
"Uh...ok." Mal said.
"It's about Delia."
Mal pursed his lips. Damn, did they have to talk about this? Why not just leave it alone?
"I care for her very much. She is...very interesting. There's something about her I just can't place." Inara said.
"She is interesting." Mal said casually.
"I sense you care for her too."
"Listen, what I feel..." Mal started.
"Is your business, I understand. I just want you to know that I like her, I approve of you with her, and I like the way you and I get along better." Inara said gently. She reached over and put her hand on his.
Mal softly clapped his other hand over Inara's.
"Delia is important to me. But so's my crew. I...uh...like keeping feelings...apart. You know?" Mal tried to explain.
"In my business, one of the first things you learn is to separate your feelings. I understand what you're saying. And I like that you and I aren't in a position..."
"I know." Mal interrupted. "Things aren't so..."
"Tense." Inara finished.
Mal nodded, but withdrew his hands from Inara's.
Inara smiled at Mal, who gave a half hearted grimace back.
"It wouldn't have worked, you and I." Inara said.
"Nope. Bad enough with Zoe and Wash." Mal said.
"Not just that. I mean, you and I wouldn't have worked. Taking attraction out of it, you and I wouldn't be good together. I know that now."
Mal rolled his eyes away from Inara, then scratched his neck uncomfortably.
"I just wanted to make sure you knew how much I like Delia. She's a good woman."
"That she is." Mal agreed, and rose from the table.
Mal turned around and faced Inara as he climbed the Mess stairs.
"I'm happy for you." Inara said simply.
"Me too." Mal said.
Later that day, Wash followed Zoe from the cargo bay to their bunk, where their minor disagreement swelled to a full blown argument.
"I just don't understand why you need to be this way." Zoe said.
"Listen, Buttercup. I'm not being any way. I'm feeling left out. I'm feeling angry. I'm feeling like I don't get your unnatural attachment to Mal." Wash said.
Zoe shook her head.
"You are jealous that I follow Mal's orders. That's what this has always been about. Yeah, we've been through a lot together, and I trust him. But you have no reason to be jealous. You have no reason to be angry. " Zoe said angrily.
"I'm sick of having this conversation. You're gonna do what you're gonna do, and to hell with how I feel. " Wash yelled.
"Urrrrggghh!" Zoe said as she climbed the stairs out of their quarters.
"Way to have an intelligent thought of your own!" Wash cried to her retreating legs.
Jayne and Book were in the cargo hold lifting weights before dinner. It was three days into the week long trip to Kratos and both men were feeling anxious and moody. Jayne lay on the weight chair and Book stood above spotting him.
"Well, I don't know 'bout you, Preacher, but I'm gettin' kinda antsy. Don't like goin' this far on the rim. And I been traveling a long time round the 'verse." Jayne said.
"I know what you mean. Kratos is definitely the farthest out I've ever been. "
"Same here. You know it's Reaver territory?" Jayne said.
"It makes sense. It's the edge of civilization."
"Zoe and Cap ain't talkin' 'bout the job too much. I asked him what we're takin' on, and he just said cargo. Don't know if I feel too good 'bout knowin' so little." Jayne said seriously.
Book stifled a slight laugh.
"Aww, cut it Preacher. Your turn."
Kaylee walked into the Mess later that afternoon. She was thirsty, and went to the refrigeration unit to get something to drink. She poured water into a glass, and as she lifted it to her mouth, she saw something on the Mess table that caught her attention. Captain's guns. They were spread out on the table, as if he were going to clean them. Glancing around, she knew she was alone, at least for a minute or two. She stole up to the table, and glanced again. Kaylee wanted to wear a gun, like Zoe and Delia. She lifted Mal's steel gray revolver from the table and aimed it at the fridge. She liked the weight in her hand. She felt powerful - noone in the 'verse would dare mess with her. Kaylee knew she needed to learn how to fire a gun. Hearing footsteps on the metal grating outside the Mess, she hastily put the gun down and went back to her glass on the counter.
"Whatcha doin'?" Mal asked.
He had just entered the Mess, and had seen Kaylee walking to her glass.
"Jus' gettin' a drink." she said.
"How's everything in the engine room?"
"Shiny. No problems. I was just goin' back now. See ya later."
Mal watched her leave the Mess, then turned back to his guns on the table. He didn't notice his revolver was at a slightly different angle than how he had left it. Mal sat down and began to clean his guns.
Sounds to me like someone isn't talking to her husband too much. You and Wash have been married exactly three times as long as I was with Tommy, but I can tell you this. Nothing kills a relationship like a shut mouth. Talk to him. Tell him how much this is hurting you. I can't guarantee it'll change anything, but I'm sure it'll be a start. Be strong, but be open. Love you, Delia.
Zoe knew she needed to get away from Wash. She needed to make their arguments go away. Sitting on the edge of their bed, she knew what she could do. Zoe stripped off her long sleeved shirt, boots, and tan pants, then put on an old gray t-shirt and black shorts. She put on her running shoes and stretched for a minute against the ladder out of her quarters. She reached for a small fabric strip and bound her hair back from her face.
Zoe walked along the crew's hallway and into Serenity's cargo hold. She would jog.
Zoe ran for an hour, making the circuit around the cargo hold, to the Mess past Mal, around the Infirmary, down the stairs then back around many times. She carefully avoided the crew's hallway that led to the bridge. Wash was there. Each time she entered the Mess, Mal looked up from his guns to watch her jog by. Though her clattering footsteps on the metal steps drew the crew's attention, she blocked them out, concentrating on her stride and breath. With each completed circuit, she began to feel better. As her pent up energy wound down, she slowed her pace. Her jog became a fast walk, and she ended up in the lounge behind the Infirmary. Zoe collapsed into the couch, breathing heavily. She reached up and wiped the sweat from her face with the front of her t-shirt.
That evening brought one of the biggest surprises of the entire trip. It was Wash's turn to fix dinner for the crew, and he made his way to the Mess with enough time to spare to heat up some canned food and set the plates out. As he approached the Mess, his nose told him something was already cooking. He smelled bread. Fresh bread was baking. As he peeked into the Mess, he saw plates were already on the table. A large pot was on the counter. There was a wine bottle, too. What was going on?
River rose up from behind the counter and walked to the table with a large serving platter of steamed vegetables.
"What's going on?" Wash asked carefully.
"I've made dinner. Can you get the bread from the oven?"
Wash entered the Mess and moved to the oven. Wearing potholders, he opened the oven and was greeted by the delicious aroma coming from the two loaves of bread, perfectly browned.
"I thought it was my turn to cook dinner." Wash said. He was confused.
River walked around the table, distributing napkins to each place setting. By now the bread's scent had called the crew to the Mess.
"River? Is everything okay?" Simon asked. He was cautious about River's lucid demeanor.
"Everything's great. What do you guys say...Shiny? I felt like cooking tonight."
"It smells great, River." Inara smiled at River encouragingly.
"I made a casserole with what we had. It could be... interesting." River said mysteriously.
"Well, I'm hungry. Let's eat." Kaylee said bravely.
The crew sat down at the table and passed the plates of food around the table.
"You didn't do anything... funny to this, did you?" Mal asked.
Inara and Simon shot Mal the same annoyed look. He shrugged his shoulders. He was the only one brave enough to ask what everyone at the table was thinking.
"Nothing funny. If I wanted to kill you all I'd open the air lock." River said, giggling.
"How comforting." Book said as he smiled at River.
Everyone looked at River, but it was Jayne who raised the fork to his mouth first. They watched as he tasted the casserole, shifted his eyes back and forth, then clutched his throat in mock distress.
"Oh, it's fine. Tastes good." Jayne said as he started shoveling it in.
Everyone laughed, especially River. She knew they were cautious of her, rightly so after some of the things her brain had forced her to do. Right here, right now, she was cooking dinner for her friends. She also knew within the space of a few minutes, she could be contemplating the dust under her bed for hours.
"Good bread" Mal said, mouth full.
River smiled broadly at Mal. His praise meant a lot.
"I didn't know you could cook so well." Inara said. She reached over and poured a small glass of wine for herself.
"I've never really done it. It just made sense."
Simon closed his eyes and shook his head slightly. What a typical River thing to say.
As Delia sat on the third deck of her house, she sipped coffee and read the morning paper on her tablet. She reached over and lit a cigarette from the table next to her. She pressed the button to turn the page and her tablet gave a small ring; a wave had arrived. She minimized the paper and brought up her wave file. She smiled as she read her qingren's letter.
D- I was glad to hear you're doing better. Please don't go lifting Hank over your head or nothing. You've been through a lot and I don't want a girl with no arms. (Just a joke) - We should be getting to Kratos soon, Maybe tomorrow. So far, no sign of anyone this far out. Wash hasn't seen anything but stars for nearly a week.
River made one heck of a dinner tonight. First time in a week she's been able to keep a straight thought in her head. Simon thinks the meds he's got her on are working. We'll see.
I'm in my bunk and I remembered that licorice from your store. I got in bed and ate every damn piece. My stomach is killin' me! Remind me not to eat that crap when I get bored. I miss you. Take care of yourself. -M.
The next morning, Wash leaned over and grabbed the intership com.
"Captain to the bridge." he said.
Mal was roused from his nap in his quarters by Wash's voice. On the edge of his bunk, he rubbed his eyes gently then ran his hand through his hair. He had been dreaming of Delia in her kitchen. An odd dream; he sat at the table, eating dinner with her and Hank. It felt like he had been there for years. Mal smelled the food, and felt a warm heat from the wine in his glass. Delia had laughed at Hank's joke, then had looked at Mal with a curious smile. He looked at her and reached over to hold her hand when Wash's voice filled Delia's kitchen. The image of Delia dissolved into the contours of his small desk table next to the bunk. She was gone. Serenity was back.
"Yes?" Mal asked, entering the bridge.
"Kratos." Wash said simply.
Through the front windows, the desolate moon of Kratos spread before them. A sandy rock with mountainous outcroppings, Kratos was home to few species of wildlife, and fewer settlers willing to risk their lives so far out on the rim. Though land was free on Kratos, it had been home to only a small colony of miners working for good money to illegally extract the abundant cobalt deposits found in the outcroppings.
"Where's New Amsterdam from here?" Mal asked
"It's almost on the other side. The map I have is kindof fuzzy on its exact location. I'm gonna try these coordinates here, but we may have to fly low to find it." Wash said.
Wash engaged the thrusters ahead a quarter and flicked the nav computer on. Punching buttons, he entered the coordinates into the computer and switched on the auto pilot.
Serenity would automatically fly to the area last marked as New Amsterdam.
Ten minutes later, the auto pilot sounded the alarm, notifying Wash of the upcoming coordinates. Wash switched off the autopilot and started the descent into Kratos.
"Prepare for approach to Kratos. Weather doesn't look too great. Strap in, everyone." Wash said into the com.
Serenity was buffeted by the rough atmospheric conditions and the ship rocked and slid through the commotion. As it slipped through the cloud layer, the turbulence lifted and Serenity flew cleanly through the thin atmosphere to the desert below. Wash skimmed the surface for a minute or two, keeping his eye on the nav.
"We should be approaching New Amsterdam any...yep, there it is." he said.
Mal looked out the forward windows to see a small mining town before them, coming up fast.
"Well, let's slow down, huh?" Wash joked as he eased down the thrusters.
On the edge of town, a large Alliance skimmer hunkered down next to two other small shuttles and a larger civilian cruiser.
"Alliance." Mal said.
"Not surprised. This is a crime scene." Wash said. "I'm just gonna ease her down next to the cruiser."
Serenity's legs unfolded from the ship's hull as the engines twisted downward. Serenity eased down gracefully onto the surface of Kratos.
Mal, Jayne, Zoe and Wash stood in the cargo hold. Simon and River stood on the catwalk, looking down at them as they prepared to open the forward hatch. Kaylee and Inara were in Inara's shuttle, and Book was asleep in his quarters.
"Jayne, there's somethin' I gotta tell you 'bout the cargo." Mal said.
"Oh, here it comes." Jayne said with a sigh.
"It's a body."
"So, it's a body. We've had a body on board before." Jayne said.
"This body was killed by Reavers. 'Long with couple hundred other souls in New Amsterdam." Mal said.
Jayne's eyes bugged out slightly. He hated Reavers. The thought of Reavers made his skin crawl.
"They're gone now. We just gotta get the body and take it back to Ariel." Mal said.
Jayne twisted his mouth as if a foul taste had entered his mouth. In fact, he tasted bile as the thought of Reavers turned his stomach.
"Thirty minutes on Kratos, tops. Then, we're gone. Open the hatch. Let's get our Alliance greeting over with." Mal said.
Jayne leaned over and unclasped the forward lock. Each moved their head left and right out the door to discover no one outside their front door. Mal and Zoe looked at each other, and Wash's disconcerted grimace betrayed his confusion.
"Okay, maybe they were expecting us." Mal said.
Jayne, Zoe, and Mal exited Serenity and stepped onto the arid surface of Kratos. Small puffs of dust were kicked up as each step was taken towards the town.
The squat town was haphazardly thrown together, with a small central street, and roughly constructed buildings lining either side. New Amsterdam was clearly the poor country cousin of so many more prosperous settlement towns they had visited.
As they approached the first building, Mal saw a small squad of Alliance regulars patrolling the street. Three soldiers spied Serenity's crew approaching and called out to their commander, who exited one of the buildings and approached them.
"This town is closed to all civilian traffic. You'll have to leave. Now."
"We're here for one of the bodies. We've been retained by a company to retrieve the body of Robert Clarke." Mal said, holding out the paperwork Lord Clarke had provided.
"Oh. Well, that's different. I'm Lieutenant Sommers. Follow me. I've got the count list in here." Sommers said with a jerk of his thumb.
Mal and Zoe looked around as they followed Sommers a few buildings into town before they approached the steps of the only bar in New Amsterdam, the Pour House. Mal saw the town was deserted, save for the handful of soldiers leaning against a building. Zoe pointed to the windows along the main street. Nearly every one was blown out by some strong force.
They followed Sommers into the musty building and saw several soldiers sitting at a table. The soldiers stood as the Lieutenant entered the room, then sat down again as he distractedly waved his hand at them. Mal and Zoe noted silently the casual atmosphere between Sommers and his detachment. These men weren' t bound by the normally strict military code usually observed by Alliance regulars.
"Here it is." Sommers said, as he reached for a small electronic tablet on the table.
"Robert Clarke, Robert Clarke...yes, he's numbered 184. Follow me. I'll take you to 184."
Wash, Jayne and Mal followed Sommers back into the glimmering heat and walked behind him to the other end of the town. Mal and Zoe continued to take notice of their surroundings. A small postal outpost. A market.. A few buildings that might be houses. Mal nodded once toward one building. A Company store. Zoe nodded her acknowledgment but made no further indication of interest. She knew what he was thinking.
At the edge of town, they were standing in a large graveyard, with small metal sticks in the ground, and mounds of dirt the only signs a massacre had occurred only feet away.
"Here we are, number 184." Sommers said, pointing to the ground.
"Well, I guess we dig." Mal said.
"Let me know when you're ready to take off, so you can sign off on it. Shovels are in that bag there." Sommers said, as he turned on his heel and left the three staring at the ground.
Twenty minutes later, Jayne's shovel hit the tinny sound of metal striking metal. The dirt, still soft from being turned only a week before, gave way easily under Jayne's shovel. With little effort, he was able to outline the coffin from the surrounding soil.
Jayne looked up and saw Mal and Zoe talking a few feet away. He was gesturing toward the town and was subtly pointing to several buildings.
"Mal, give me a hand." Jayne said as he took a half step back away from the coffin.
Mal jumped the two feet into the grave and landed with either leg astride the coffin. He, too, took a step back and the two men leaned over and felt for the handles on either end of the coffin.
"Heave!" Jayne called, and the coffin lifted slowly out of the ground. Zoe took Jayne's end from him and she and Mal slid the coffin along the surface of the grave. Jayne jumped out of the ground and dusted himself off.
"Why do I get the fun part of the job?" Jayne said as clouds of dirt clapped from his pants.
"Jayne, you and I'll carry the coffin to Sommers, then into Serenity. Zoe, take care of your business." Mal said.
Zoe nodded once and walked away.
"What's goin' on?" Jayne asked.
"We're gonna do our job as professionals." Mal said as he grinned at Jayne. "Salvage Professionals."
Jayne answered Mal's grin with one just as wide.
Mal and Jayne picked up the coffin and started walking back into the center of town. As they walked, Mal became aware of something shifting in the coffin. He looked back at Jayne over his shoulder and saw Jayne's pale stare at the surface of the coffin.
"I'm guessing he wasn't embalmed." Mal commented.
Lt. Sommers sat on the bar's front steps but rose as he saw Jayne and Mal approach.
He leaned over and brushed the dirt from the top of the coffin to reveal a small sticker marked 184, Robert Clarke. Mal and Jayne put the coffin down.
"Yep, that's it. Sign this here." Sommers said distractedly.
"You got anything I can show the company to confirm this is Clarke 'cept this sticker?" Mal asked.
" Let me get you a print out." he said. Sommers turned back to the Pour House but returned within a minute waving a paper.
Mal accepted the paper and saw it clearly identified Clarke through Alliance fingerprint records and had been labeled body 184.
"This should do it. Thanks for your help. We'll be leaving now." Mal said as he shook Sommers' hand.
"Glad you're gettin' him home. Take care." Sommers said, but then looked around.
"Where's the woman was with you?" he asked.
"Oh, she don't like bodies. She went back to the ship." Mal said casually.
Sommers nodded in acceptance.
Mal and Jayne leaned over and picked up the coffin. They walked slowly through the town, but this time Jayne noted his surroundings more carefully. Mal mapped out the town in his mind and noted exactly where the key buildings were located, and how close they were to each other.
As they approached Serenity, the front gangway came down to accept the cargo on board. Zoe stood at the console just inside. She smiled at Mal and nodded her head. Mal and Jayne walked into the cargo hold as it started to close behind them. Zoe waved her hand slightly to Sommers who watched them board from a distance.
"We ready?" Mal asked.
"She'll make a good show." Zoe said.
"Wash, start 'er up!" Mal said into the com.
On the bridge, Wash smiled as he flipped the switches necessary to bring Serenity's engine's to life. The engines answered with a dull groan, which Wash made louder by easing the thrusters forward while engaging the air brakes.
Mal looked around nervously. It sounded like Serenity would shake her engines off her wings. He was grateful when he heard Wash disengage the thrusters and ease Serenity's engines off. It must have sounded terrific from the ground.
Zoe waited for 30 seconds as Wash came down from the bridge, then hit the button for the gangway. It opened easily and Mal, Zoe, Jayne, and Wash exited the ship and they stared and pointed at the engines.
Sommers approached the ship with three soldiers as the Serenity crew pretended to inspect the engines.
"What the hell was that?" Sommers asked.
"Good question. The engines aren't happy. We're gonna have to have our mechanic look at the engines and see what the problem is" Mal said innocently.
Kaylee ran out of the cargo hold and swore at the engines.
"Xinjian piece of feyoo"" she cried, shaking her fist for emphasis.
"What is goin' on?" Mal asked.
"I think we musta got the hydraulics squirrely comin' in on that rough atmo." Kaylee said.
"Can you fix it?" Mal asked Kaylee. All eyes turned to the small woman.
"Yeah, I can fix it. We're prolly grounded till tomorrow, though. Gotta pull the grav drive, then take apart the..." she started.
"Don't care what you do. Just fix it." Mal said sternly.
"Sorry, Lt Sommers...we'll get outta your hair jest as soon as possible." Mal said earnestly.
"Ok, keep me updated. I don't have any parts, but I'll do what I can to get you off this rock." he said.
Mal reached over and shook Sommer's hand.
"Stay at your ship. Don't go into town without an escort." Sommers said.
The crew sat around the Mess table, listening to Mal and Zoe discuss the possible salvage opportunities the town offered.
"I see three main targets. The big target is the Company store. There'll be money in there, hopefully. The small market three doors up should have food, maybe some weapons. I also wanna look at the post station. Who knows what's in there. " Mal explained.
"The most important thing is not to disturb anything. It's gotta look the exact same as when we got here, or they'll know it was robbed." Zoe added.
"Isn't this a little...distasteful? Robbing from the dead?" Book asked.
"Well, Preacher...way I see it, we ain't takin' their personal effects. We're goin' after some businesses. They're prolly torch the town to the ground after they leave, anyway." Mal said.
"'Sides, these people ain't gonna be needin' anything where they are." Jayne said.
"Just seems a little unseemly." Book replied softly.
"I don't have a problem with it. We're takin' abandoned goods. Why not us rather than the fire?" Wash said.
"Ok, Zoe and I counted 8 soldiers, with Sommers that makes nine. We need to account for each one before we leave the ship. Zo, I want you to keep watch on their skimmer. Make sure all nine are on board, or the salvage is over. Don't know if they patrol the town at night, but the way they were standin' around, I'd say they don't care too much. Wash and Jayne'll go for the market, Zoe and I will take the company store and the post station. No private homes. Nothing but those three targets. Wash, I want you to look for money, guns, things in the back storage that won 't be missed. Look for a safe, too. In the post office, we want the Alliance postal stamp. It's worth lots on the open market. " Mal explained.
"What can I do?" Kaylee asked.
"You did your part. Breaking Serenity was the most important thing. You gotta fix 'er so we can get back in the air as soon as we're done." Mal said with a smile.
"I can fix her in three minutes. Just took apart the hydraulic drive feed. Sounded bad. Didn't hurt her at all." Kaylee said with a smile.
"We know what we're gonna do. Let's get to it." Mal said.
Zoe stationed herself outside the ship, pretending to watch Kaylee as she crawled around inside the port engine and banged her wrench occasionally. It was late afternoon, and the sun would be setting in just a few hours. She observed the Alliance patrol sitting in front of their ship, joking and laughing. Every once in a while, a soldier would look around, but except for that, the soldiers were oblivious.
This will be a cakewalk. They couldn't care less.
Zoe observed the patrol for two hours. She counted all eight enter the ship at dusk. Lt Sommers walked out of the town and toward Serenity.
"How's it goin'?" he asked casually.
Kaylee stuck her head out of the port engine to answer.
"Ain't nothin' fatal. I only got a few more things to check. We should be outta here in few hours, tops." she said with a smile.
Sommers nodded to Kaylee and Zoe.
"I'm glad. You need to be outta here by tomorrow. We're gonna blow the town at first light as we leave."
"Don't think that'll be a problem." Zoe said.
"Gonna go get my dinner. Y'all have a safe flight home, wherever." he said.
With a small wave, Sommers walked to his ship, leaving Zoe and Kaylee watching his retreating footsteps and the little puffs of dirt in his wake.
"Continue here. I'm gonna go tell Captain we're good in an hour." Zoe said.
Mal, Jayne, and Wash gathered the crew's empty duffel bags and brought them into the cargo hold. Each had a small flashlight. The three men fitted the portable communication devices into their ears. One still lay on the table. It was for Zoe, who continued to watch the Alliance skimmer.
Mal leaned over and scooped up the portable com.
They walked outside to where Zoe stood, leaning against Serenity's hull.
"No movement for over an hour. Think they're on ship for the night." Zoe said.
Mal handed the portable com to Zoe, who inserted the device into her ear.
"Don't wanna take any chances. Let's get someone to watch the skimmer while we're in town. They can report any movement." Mal said.
"Kaylee?" Wash asked.
Mal shook his head. "No, Preacher."
Zoe started toward the ship without a word. Wash turned and watched her enter the ship to get the Preacher.
Damn, there she goes again! Why doesn't Mal go get Preacher? She'd walk off a cliff if he grunted at her!
Wash let his anger subside as Zoe and Book approached.
"Book, watch the skimmer. You see any movement, you call us back." Mal said as he handed the small black com box to him.
"This I can do." Book said simply.
Mal looked at his crew and with a small jerk of his head, the four headed off into the darkness to salvage what they could. Without flashlights on, the crew relied on the pale light coming from a neighboring moon to stumble their way to town. Slowly and carefully, the four made their way into town, carrying the empty bags. Mal counted the buildings as they walked, and motioned Wash to the market. Wash slowly opened the door of the Market, and Jayne followed him inside. Zoe and Mal continued three doors down, to the Company store.
As Wash and Jayne walked into the market, the overpowering smell of rotting food flooded over them. The month since the attack had reduced the market to a teaming cesspool of rotting meat, fruit, and baked goods.
"Oh my God." Wash whispered.
"Think we got the fenbian job. That smell'd knock a buzzard off a shit wagon." Jayne said back.
"I'm gonna be sick."
"Don't you dare. I'll puke too." Jayne whimpered.
They walked deeper into the market and Jayne switched on the flashlight. The light swept over the small market, revealing the anticipated small town market fare : canned goods, tools, clothes, and small luxuries to make life on a desolate rock bearable. Glass covered the floor near the checkout, and crunched under their feet.
"I'll take the front. You check the back room." Jayne said.
Wash switched on his own light and made his way to the back of the market. Pulling open the rear door, he saw the rear storage room had everything he was after. Fuel rods. Canned food. Tools.
"Jayne! Jayne!" Wash hissed through the open door. "We'll take from back here. It won't be missed!"
"Got it. I got 'bout 120 credits in the register. Got a handful of telfonix cards. Shiny .45 revolver under the counter, too. Be there in a few seconds." Jayne replied.
Jayne opened his bag and collected the cards and gun into his bag. He stuffed the cash into his pocket. As he walked to the back, he picked items off the shelves and put them in his bag. Jayne grabbed a few t-shirts off a shelf for himself. A new bible for Preacher. Three boxes of ammo for the .45 caliber. A harmonica.
"Whatcha got?" Jayne whispered.
"As much as we can carry." Wash smiled into Jayne's flashlight.
Zoe and Mal felt continued down the street to the company store. Mal reached for the doorknob and turned it slowly. Locked. Mal looked at Zoe and shook his head. Nearly every other building had a blown out front window, but the company store was a solid wooden storefront.
"I'll try 'round back. Stay here." Zoe whispered.
She felt her way around the building and looked for a door. Nothing. She decided it was safe to turn on her flashlight and swept it across the building. A small window halfway up the squat building was their best chance. She turned off the light and walked back to the front.
"Come 'round here." Zoe whispered to Mal.
Mal followed Zoe behind the building, where she once again illuminated the window.
"Give me a boost up." she whispered.
Mal put his bags down and laced his fingers together. Zoe put her boot into his hands and he raised her up the two feet so she could try the window.
"You're heavier than you look." he groaned.
"Can it. The window's unlocked." Zoe whispered back.
Zoe raised the lower panes and hoisted herself onto the window sill. Grit fell from her shoes onto Mal's upturned face and he sputtered as he wiped the dirt from his face. She swung her leg around and gently lowered herself into the building. Mal walked around to the front door and waited for Zoe to open it.
"C'mon in." Zoe said.
Mal entered the small office and closed the door. As he switched on his flashlight, Zoe switched on hers. The twin beams illuminated the room well, revealing simple office furniture and a large old fashioned safe which dominated the far wall. A small side office was visible through a partially open door.
"Don't think we'd get lucky and it'll be unlocked?" Zoe said sadly.
Mal walked over to the safe and tried the handle. It moved down in his hand and the safe door swung open. Zoe's chin dropped in amazement, then in dismay as her flashlight revealed the safe was empty.
Mal blew a sharp outtake of air in frustration. His own flashlight hit the door of the safe and a small glitter caught his eye. He reached out and touched the door. Metal shavings.
"The safe's been drilled. We're too late." Mal said.
"It was locked. We wouldn't 'ave been able to get in anyway."
Mal nodded in agreement.
"Take a look in the desks. I'm gonna try that side office." Mal said.
Zoe opened each desk to find paperwork and office supplies in each one. Mal moved to the side office which might have been the boss's office. A small desk and chair were in the far end of the room. A potted plant sat next to the wall, and a brass spittoon was in front of it. Aside from a few pictures on the wall, the small office was sparsely decorated.
"Nothing, sir." Zoe whispered.
"How's it goin', Wash?" Mal asked the portable com.
"Shiny, sir. We got a good haul here." Wash crackled back through the com.
Mal looked in each drawer of the small desk and found the same as Zoe. Paperwork. He sat down behind the oak desk heavily. Zoe stood in the doorway, hands on her hips.
"Let's go to the post station. Maybe we can get something there." Zoe said.
Mal got up and thumped his hand on the surface. As he walked around the corner of the desk, he kicked the potted plant in frustration. He took another step, but the noise he heard drew him backwards. He flashed the light on Zoe to see if she heard it, too. Her eyes were glued to the plant. Mal crouched down and touched the plant's pot. Zoe flicked on her flashlight to give Mal light. He thumped the side of the pot and it jingled softly.
"Give me your bag." Mal whispered.
Mal spread the bag carefully on the floor and lifted the small palm tree straight out of it's pot and onto Zoe' s bag. The sandy grit spread over the duffel, not onto the floor.
Mal's face erupted into a wide grin as he lifted their prize out of the pot. A fairly heavy sack of coins. Mal shook the bag by it's strings and the coins tinkled softly together.
"Their emergency stash!" Mal crowed.
"Guess we did get lucky after all."
Mal handed the bag to Zoe and she held it by the bottom.
"'Bout 500 credits in here." she remarked.
Mal picked up the palm tree from the duffel bag and carefully placed it back in the pot. He shook the residual dirt from the bag back into the pot and tamped down the sandy soil.
He stood up from his crouch and smiled at Zoe.
"Let's go check the post station." he said.
Mal followed Zoe out of the company store and closed the door behind himself. He and Zoe were half way across the street when they were halted in their tracks by Book's voice.
"Two soldiers out of the skimmer!" Book whispered.
Mal and Zoe hurried across the street and slid between the postal station and its neighboring building. Back in the market, Jayne and Wash turned off their flashlights and crouched down in the back room. If the soldiers came and patrolled the town, they were humped. They had stacked their haul in crates near the front door. Clearly, it would be noticed.
"Wait. Looks like they're just smoking. Hold on." Book reported.
Book watched the two men smoke cigarettes together for several minutes before they put them out and returned to the ship.
"They're back inside. You're clear." Book whispered.
Mal and Zoe emerged from their hiding spot between the buildings climbed the steps to the postal office. Zoe tried the door and it opened easily.
The postal station was very similar to the company store - small desks littered the office but were in disarray. Chairs were overturned, papers everywhere, and several large bloodstains marked the violence that marred the town.
"Look for the stamp. That'll prolly be all of value here." Mal whispered.
Zoe and Mal split up and combed the station for the stamp.
"There's some boxes back here. Mail, too." Zoe said.
"Anything for the Company store?"
"No. Looks all personal."
Mal spied a desk toward the back of the office. It had a large metal box on it. He went to the box and opened it up.
"Got it." Mal said, holding the metal embossing tool aloft. It could fetch a good price on Persephone.
"Let's get outta here." Zoe whispered.
"Wash, we're comin' your way." Mal said into the com.
"Roger, that. Bring your bags." Wash answered.
Mal and Zoe walked out of the station and made their way three doors up the street to the market. Zoe walked in first and reeled back from the stench.
"Whoa. That's foul!" she cried, clapping her hand over her nose.
"That's the worst smell this side of the 'verse!" Mal exclaimed.
"Goes away after a while." Jayne said.
"Grab those boxes and go. Leave your duffels." Wash said.
"Anything you say." Mal replied.
Mal and Zoe leaned over and picked up two boxes a piece. Zoe made a beeline for the front to get away from the smell and was out the door. Something in the glass case near the register caught Mal's eye. It glittered slightly in the soft light from Wash's flashlight He put the boxes down and approached the case. In a small, leather case was a set of hair combs, made to look like old fashioned tortoise shell. It was decorated with thin bands of gold that Mal thought were tasteful, not gaudy. Mal could see a miner buying these for his qingren, or maybe his mother. Mal walked behind the counter and reached into the case for the combs. He closed the lid and slid the box into his jacket pocket. No need to bother anyone else with his boosted hair combs. Next to it was a small locket. Gold plate, probably. Mal scooped that up, too.
Mal went back to the boxes near the front door and lifted them up.
"What's in here?" Mal asked.
"Guns. Food. Tools. Got a tablet computer, too." Jayne said.
"Do we need to come back?" Mal asked.
"Nope. All we got left is these fuel rods to tote." Wash said.
"You and your xingjiang fuel rods." Mal muttered.
"There's a safe in the back office. It's locked. Wanna blow it?"
"Nope. We're only after what won't be noticed." Mal answered.
As he walked out of the store, Zoe walked back in.
"Take these. I'll grab the duffels of fuel rods." Mal said as he handed her the boxes.
Zoe walked back out of the market and back to Serenity. Mal followed slowly so as not to make the rods clank as he walked. Jayne followed with duffels on both arms, and Wash behind him, with two boxes in his hands. The four walked slowly to Serenity in the darkness, guided only by the faint moonlight glinting off Serenity's hull.
As Wash entered the cargo hold, Zoe closed the forward hatch behind him and locked it.
Kaylee was in the hold, ready for her Captain's question.
"Yup. Wash just needs to turn the key." Kaylee grinned.
"That's my girl. Wash, get us outta here." Mal said, rubbing his hands.
Wash sprinted across the cargo hold and up the stairs to the bridge. Within a minute of the door's closing, Serenity's engines came to life. As the ship rose from the ground, Lt. Sommers peeked his head out of the Alliance skimmer to watch the ship leave. He was driven back by the dust kicked up by Serenity's departure, but once inside, nodded to himself. They would be able to blow this town and get back to civilization.
As Serenity hit the bumpy upper atmosphere of Kratos, the hull was once again buffeted by the turbulent cloudy soup that covered the moon. Once the ship broke back into space, the ship's stabilizer steadied the flight and they were once again flying smoothly. Mal knelt down next to the boxes and unloaded the contents onto the floor. Guns, including two rifles and three handguns. Two duffel bags full of assorted canned goods, several bottles of alcohol, and preserved foods. Twelve fuel rods. Fifteen telfonix cards, each good for 60 minutes of air time. The Alliance Postal Stamp, good for sending mail free through the system as many times as the stamp would work. Jayne unpacked the duffel next to him to reveal his haul. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the small wad of cash. He handed it to Mal. Looking up, he spied Book a few yards away.
"C'mere." Jayne said as he handed the Bible to Preacher.
"Why Jayne, thank you." Book said, as he held the Bible in his hands. It was bigger than the Bible River had destroyed so many months ago, and had Commentary in the back.
"I got something for Kaylee." Mal said.
Kaylee walked over to her Captain in anticipation. He reached over to her with a clenched fist, which she received with her palm open. As she withdrew her hand, she spied the small gold locket.
"I love it!" Kaylee squealed, hugging Mal around the neck. She immediately undid the clasp and put it around her neck. She looked down at the locket dangling from its chain.
Mal smiled in approval.
Zoe looked at Wash, who smiled a weak smile back to her. He hadn't thought to take anything for her. She realized there was nothing for her, and bent down to grab the duffel bag of food nearest her.
How could I be so dumb! I look like a pigu! Damn it!
"I'm gonna take this to the Mess." Zoe said flatly.
"Let me help." Wash said.
"No, thanks. I've got it."
Zoe turned and walked through the cargo hold, and up the stairs with the duffel around her shoulder. She did not look back at Wash, though she knew he watched her leave.
"No, you're not too much of an asshole." Jayne said, elbowing him.
"Shut up." Wash muttered to Jayne.
"Let's get this stuff stowed. Jayne, take the guns to the armory locker. We can file any serial numbers off later. Wash, you and Kaylee get those rods back to the engine room. Preacher, here's more food. Take this to Zoe." Mal said.
Each member split up to perform their assigned task. As Book entered the Mess, he saw Zoe behind the counter, her back to him.
"I've got more food." Book called to her.
"Oh, great. Bring it here." Zoe said. She cleared her throat and ran her hand through her hair as she turned to face him. Book saw she was upset.
"Don't be upset with him. He didn't do it to be mean."
"Mean? No. Unthinking? Yes."
"We're men. Sometimes, we don't think."
"I'm gettin' pretty sick of hearing that old excuse."
Book knew that this was the moment to be quiet and just listen. Zoe felt he wasn't going to answer her, so she decided to end the conversation.
"Hand me those cans."
She smiled at me and closed the bedroom door behind her. We were alone, for the first time in months. Delia walked over and kissed me, softly at first. She leaned into me firmly, and I lay back on the bed to receive her heated kisses. I reached up and ran my hands through her hair. I felt the silky strands running through my fingers. Delia sat up and pulled her shirt out of her waistband. I watched her take off her pants and shoes. She slowly unbuttoned the front of her shirt and slid it off her body. I reached up and cupped her breasts. The lacy fabric filled my hands. I undid the front clasp and her chest spilled forward. Delia leaned back down and kissed my neck as she unbuttoned my shirt. I smelled her citrusy, floral perfume. She spread the shirt open and continued to kiss me, from my neck and upper chest down to my stomach. I ached with anticipation. I could sense where she was headed. Delia unbuttoned my pants and I raised my hips to help her. She eased them down to my knees, then turned to remove my boots, slowly. I felt I was strongly aroused, watching her breasts sway slightly as she pulled on my boots. Delia got back on the bed, and continued her trail of kisses down until she took me in her mouth. I could hear myself moan.
My hands clenched the bedsheets in response to her motions, up and down. I put my right hand to her head, and I grasped her hair, guiding her. Her mouth. Her tongue. I could feel the hot puffs of air on my hips, and her liquid kisses caressed me- so soft and warm. I heard a muffled giggle. Her mouth was full. She wasn't going to let me off that easy. Delia eased her underwear from her body without losing her contact with me. I sighed softly, as she released her hold on me and kissed her way back up my body.
"Cold." I heard myself say, as the wetness was exposed to the air.
Delia straddled me, and with little guidance, I entered her. Instant heat enveloped me. I breathed deeply, and I could feel her flesh around me. She arched her back in response to my movements. Her motions inflamed my passion. I grasped her hips firmly. She bent over and kissed me deeply, our movements uninterrupted by her change in posture. Delia stopped kissing me, and leaned back on her hips slightly. As I opened my eyes, I saw Delia's were fluttering. She was close, and seeing this rushed me to the edge. I heard her moans as if from far away, her primal and natural reaction. I smelled her perfumes, felt the heat from her body. As she flung her head back in climax, her hair tumbled down and I felt it graze my upper thighs. She tightened around me, and I could feel the inner vibrations. My release came within a few seconds, as she continued to grind into me. I felt the heat coming, and the exquisite sensation flooded my senses. Delia knew to stop moving, so I could fully experience the moment A few seconds later, she was snuggled against my chest, still intertwined with me.
"Cold." I said aloud a few seconds later. I heard my voice, disembodied.
Mal opened his eyes. Again, alone in his dark quarters on Serenity. Gods, his dreams were killing him. This time, he felt his wetness on the sheets. He put his hands over his eyes. He was twelve again, in his Ma's house back on Shadow. This hadn't happened in a long, long time.
The next morning, Mal walked onto the bridge to find Wash flying Serenity, and Zoe leaning against the nav. He was clearly walking in on something.
"What's going on?" Mal asked naively.
"Nothing" they answered simultaneously. They looked at each other and Zoe scowled.
"Well, Zo, let's you and I divvy up the haul."
"Glad to, sir." Zoe said.
Wash looked up at Zoe with a disgusted look. Mal walked of the bridge without another word. He wasn't going to get in the middle of this one. Zoe followed him through the hallway but stopped as he went down to his quarters for a moment. He returned a moment later, carrying the leather money bag. With a small nod of his head, Zoe followed Mal into the cargo hold.
"You get this bag. I'll get the other."
They walked up the stairs to the Mess and put the bags on the table.
"I'll count the money. Let's get this other stuff unpacked." Mal said.
Mal sat and quietly counted the coins and bills as Zoe laid the goods on the table in front of him. As he finished, he looked up to see Zoe staring at him.
"680 credits." he said.
"Let's see, you, me, Wash, Jayne, and Kaylee.. That's 136 credits each."
"I'm gonna cut Book in on this one. He helped." Mal said.
"113 credits each. 2 to spare."
"We got 15 telfonix cards. One each?" Zoe asked.
"Yep. What 'bout the tablet?"
"We could draw names for it. Wash and I already got one. You got your hand held. Everyone else should get a fair shake at it."
"Good idea. Can you put everyone's name on slips of paper?" Mal asked.
Zoe wrote the names on paper and put them into a bowl as Mal walked over to the intership com.
"Everyone, let's meet in the Mess." Mal said.
Within a few minutes, the crew was gathered in the Mess.
"Ok, got money for those who were in on the haul. You, too, Preacher." Mal said as he handed out the small parcels.
"Oh, I don't think I should be taking this." Book said meekly.
"Donate it to orphans if you want. Just take it." Mal said seriously.
Book accepted the money with a hesitant smile.
"We got a telfonix card for everyone, too. And, we're gonna draw names for the tablet. Since I already got one, and Wash and Zoe got one too, we're not in the bowl. Everyone else onboard is. Wash, will you do the honors?" Mal asked.
Wash reached over and swished his hand around in the bowl for a moment before withdrawing a slip. He opened it up and smiled at the name.
"Kaylee!" he said, as he turned the paper around to show the crew.
"Well alright!" Kaylee shouted. She had always wanted a tablet. Kaylee reached over and claimed her prize from the table. She fiddled with the buttons as Mal continued to speak.
"Once we sell the stamp, that money'll go to the ship's purse. Everyone'll get paid again once we get to Ariel. Simon, I plan on giving you pay as well. Ok, folks. We've got another week before we get there. Thanks, everyone." Mal said, dismissing the crew.
Zoe filled the small plastic bucket with water from the tap in the Mess. Looking under the sink, she spied the hand held whisk broom and tucked it under her arm. She gathered some rags from under the sink and carefully made her way to the cargo hold with the items. As she climbed down the steps, she saw Kaylee and River were sitting in the hold, talking.
Wordlessly, she walked over to the casket and put the bucket and rags down on the ground. Zoe used the small whisk broom to sweep the casket free of the dirt and grit. It took her a few minutes to brush the casket As she put the broom down, she saw that Kaylee had a wet rag in her hand, and was wiping the metal clean. Zoe smiled at Kaylee. She took the other rag in hand, and the two women prepared Lord Clarke's casket to be seen by his family. Mal and Wash walked across the catwalk and saw the women cleaning the casket. They stopped for a moment, quietly contemplated the scene before them , then continued on to the Mess for cards with Jayne and Book.
"Captain, we're approaching Ariel" Wash's voice echoed across the cargo hold.
Mal looked up from horseshoe in his hand and smiled at Jayne. He walked over to the com and punched the button.
"You got the coordinates Clarke waved to us?"
"Sure do. We'll be there in 15 minutes. You wanna come up and buzz the Clarke's?"
"I'll be right up."
Mal handed the horseshoe to Jayne and climbed the stairs to the bridge. Wash was sitting in his chair, flying Serenity. The autopilot was off and he was in control. Mal moved to the com and punched the numbers from a slip of paper in his pocket. Within a few seconds, a man's face filled the screen .
"Clarke compound, May I help you?"
"Yes, this is Captain Malcolm Reynolds for Lord Clarke, please."
"One moment, please."
A few moments later, Lord Clarke appeared on the screen. He had a thin smile on his face.
"Captain Reynolds. Good to see you. I got your wave. Are you close?"
"Yes, we're about 15 minutes away. Wanted to let you know we'll be there soon."
"Excellent. I am very, very pleased."
Mal reached over and switched off the com.
"I'm gonna go get changed. I've been wearin' this shirt for two days." Mal said.
Serenity landed outside the Clarke compound ten minutes later. Located outside the main city, the large expanse of land was lush with green, as Spring had arrived on Ariel.
The thin grass lay flat as the engines eased the ship down for a graceful landing several hundred feet from the main house. Zoe hit the red button, and the main cargo door slowly opened. A rush of fresh air flooded the cargo bay. Not as sweet as Europa, but fresh air was welcomed wherever it came from. Mal looked out, and saw Lord Clarke approaching with a small contingent of men trailing him.
"Ok, Jayne. Pick up the end."
Book and Jayne picked up the casket and walked slowly off Serenity onto Ariel. Lord Clarke and his men met Mal and the crew just outside of Serenity's landing zone. Mal extended his hand to greet Lord Clarke, and they shook.
"Captain Reynolds, I cannot thank you enough for what you have done for my family. This is both the happiest and saddest day of my life." Clarke said seriously.
"Serenity's here to serve, Sir. We're happy to get your son back to you." Mal said, as he motioned to Book and Jayne. The two men lowered the coffin to the ground. When they stood up, a well dressed blonde woman moved from the back of Lord Clarke's men and came forward. She stared at the coffin without acknowledging the crew's presence. Lady Clarke. She knelt next to the coffin and touched it hesitantly, as if the metal might be hot to the touch.
"How do I know this is Robert?" Lady Clarke asked quietly.
"I have paperwork, Ma'am. From the Alliance." Mal said.
Mal reached into his vest and pulled out the folded paper. He handed it to Lord Clarke, who scanned the printout, glanced at the number on the top of the coffin, then nodded to his wife. Lady Clarke smiled a pained smile as tears began to flow down her cheeks. A man broke away from the group and approached Lady Clarke. It was Niels Hulen, Lord Clarke's aide from Persephone.
"Come with me, Lady Clarke. We have preparations to make. " Hulen said, as he gently took her elbow and raised her from where she knelt. Lady Clarke allowed herself to be led away from her son's body, back to the main house.
Lord Clarke motioned to his men to pick up the casket. Two men walked to either end and picked it up. They, too sensed the movement in the coffin but said nothing as they escorted the body behind the main house to a small graveyard several hundred feet behind the main house.
Lord Clarke breathed out a tired, defeated puff of air. His son's journey was almost over.
"Come to the house. I have the balance of your fee inside. Say, are you a Preacher?" Lord Clarke asked, pointing at Book.
"Yes, Sir. I am."
"Would you be willing to say a few words for my son? Our Reverend is off planet right now. We were going to wait the week 'till he gets back, but with you here, we can put Robert to rest today."
"Lord Clarke, I would be honored to help your son find peace." Book said.
Mal and Book followed Lord Clarke to the main house. He held the door open for them, but Mal held up his hand.
"I'll wait here. Preacher, you go with Lord Clarke. We'll will wait for you." Mal said.
Clarke nodded his head as he escorted Book into the house. Coming from inside the house, Mal could hear Lady Clarke's wail of despair. The door closed, and Mal looked out at Ariel from the Clarke's front portico. Though they were only 150 miles from a large city, there was no air traffic above their heads. It was quiet and still, a country paradise. The compound appeared to be both a working ranch and the Clarke 's country home. Mal heard a noise behind him, and turned to see the door open, and Lord Clarke appeared.
"Thank you, Captain Reynolds." Lord Clarke said, extending a cloth purse to Mal.
Mal weighed the purse in his hand.
"This is more than we agreed upon."
"I know. I am most grateful."
"Then I accept it, with thanks."
"It's good to know there are trustworthy folks out there. May I wave you again if I am ever in need of your services?" Lord Clarke asked.
"Of course. Serenity is dependable and honest, and we can fly under the radar when need be." Mal smiled.
Lord Clarke smiled and extended his hand again, and the two men shook. Mal walked down the front steps and returned to his ship.
Two hours later, Lord Robert Clarke's funeral began. Serenity's crew didn't wish to interfere with the ceremony, but all longed to catch a few minutes of fresh air and sunshine. The crew gathered on the far side of the ship, hidden from the Clarke family's view. They sat in the grass and each enjoyed being outside the ship, even if it was for a short time.. Kaylee, River, and Zoe lay down in the grass, eyes closed. They soaked up the brilliant sunshine. Wash sat with his back to Serenity, reading a magazine. Jayne lay in the grass, too- but his face was covered by his small green bush hat. He snored softly. Mal sat cross legged in the grass with a watchful eye. In the back of his mind, he thought this tranquil spot could be Europa, Delia's back yard. The crew sat like this for a long time, waiting for Book to return to the ship.
An hour later, footsteps on the cargo door announced Book's return. Mal got up and walked to the other side of the ship, Wash followed behind him.
"Everything settled, Preacher?" Mal asked.
"Yep. The Clarkes are very pleased. Sad, but pleased. With everything. "
"Wash, let's get this boat off the ground. I'll go wake everyone up."
Wash walked into Serenity and headed to the bridge. Book and Mal walked around the hull to where the rest of the crew snoozed in the grass.
"Ok, everyone. We're takin' off. Don't wanna be left behind on a Core planet, do ya?"
Zoe was instantly awake. She reached over and shook Kaylee and River to rouse them. Only Jayne continued to snore quietly under his hat. Mal bent down next to Jayne's ear and whispered to him quietly.
"Oh, baby...yeah" Jayne moaned. He rolled in Mal's direction, who had to jump up to avoid being embraced by Jayne. The laughter that surrounded him shook Jayne to his senses.
"C'mon, loverboy. We're leavin'" Mal laughed.
"You're a lowdown snake. Sayin' that to a sleepin' man." Jayne grumbled, embarrassed.
As Serenity broke Ariel's atmosphere, Mal entered the bridge. Wash was again in his seat, steering Serenity towards the Great Black.
"Where to, Cap?"
"Let's head for Europa. Once we get within telfonix range, I'm gonna call Delia and see if she knows anyone who 'll buy that stamp. If anyone knows, I 'spect it'll be her."
"Sure thing. We'll be there in a day and a half. Engines to half."
Mal exited the bridge and walked down to his quarters. The sunshine had zapped his strength and he knew he could nap for a few hours before dinner. Besides, it was his turn to clean the Mess. As he climbed down the ladder into his bunk, he remembered the cloth purse on his desk. He reached for it and spilled its contents on his bed. A few seconds later, he had counted 3,000 credits. Nearly double the original amount he had expected upon delivery. He counted out 2100 credits and put it in the small box in his foot locker. He would distribute 100 credits to everyone on board as payment, when he woke up. He put the crew's credit back in the bag and tossed it back onto his desk. Curling up on the bed, he hoped he would have a dreamless sleep. But, a small part of him hoped Delia would drop by for a visit.
Mal reached over and punched the numbers he now knew by heart. She would fill his screen, and his heart in a matter of moments. He waited as the telfonix rang multiple times. Then, Delia's image was onscreen. Her hair was shorter, and she looked different. Her face was a little bit rounder. Mal realized he was looking at Delia from several years ago. It was her answering computer.
"Ni hao, You've got me! Well, digital me. Leave me a message, or try the Market. I'm probably there. Thanks!"
Mal disconnected the telfonix line. He reached into his wallet and pulled out the Market's numbers. Punching them in, he hoped she was there.
"Hammond's Market, What can I do ya for?" Buddy asked. As he finished his sentence, he realized who he was seeing.
"Cap Reynolds! Hey there!"
"Hey, Buddy. Delia around?"
"Yeah, she's in her office. Let me patch ya back there. Hang tight." Buddy said.
The screen went black for a few long seconds, then Delia's smiling face filled his monitor.
"Hey you." Mal said.
"Hey yourself. You must be close."
"We're 'bout an hour out of Europa. How are things?"
"They're shiny. My arms work good, and I'm feelin like my old self."
"Good, I'm glad. Listen, I need your help for a moment. Got something I'm lookin to sell. Maybe you know some folks." Mal said.
"What is it?"
Mal didn't want to say it over an open telfonix line. He knew the Alliance routinely but randomly monitored the audio portions of telfonix calls.
"Let me go get it. Talk to Zoe for a sec." Mal said.
He left the bridge and jogged to his quarters. Mal retrieved the Postal stamp from his desk and brought it back to the bridge. As he reentered the bridge, Zoe and Delia were talking softly, almost conspiratorially.
"I can't leave you two alone for a second!"
"Mei-mei, I'll wave you the rest of the story." Zoe said.
Mal sat down in Wash's chair and held the Postal stamp aloft in front of the monitor. Delia squinted her eyes, and brought her face close to her own monitor. She examined it for a moment, then twirled her finger in the air.
"Lemme see the bottom."
Mal turned the bottom of the stamp to the screen. She was clearly looking for something on the surface of the stamp.
Mal moved it within a few inches of the camera. Delia slowly nodded her head in appreciation.
"Good. I saw it. Yeah, I know someone for you. I need to make a call. Lemme buzz you back."
"Thanks. I'll wait for you."
"I know you will." Delia said almost seductively.
Mal shook his head and smiled a nearly embarrassed smile. The screen went black, and Mal sat back in Wash's chair to wait for her to buzz back.
"I'm gonna go get coffee. You want?" Zoe asked.
Mal was just wondering what was taking Zoe so long with the coffee when Serenity's telfonix buzzed loudly. As he pressed the acknowledge button, Zoe walked onto the bridge carrying two cups of coffee. She had an angry look on her face. She handed him his cup as Delia spoke. Mal sipped it quietly and listened carefully.
"Go to the Eavesdowne docks but walk not toward Badger's, but North up the street. You'll see a man there wearing a long, reddish duster. Got a short trimmed beard. His name is Randy. Tell him Delia says hello. He'll take you somewhere quiet so you can do business. You can trust him. I've known him for years. He'll be expecting you in 'bout six hours. Don't be late."
"Thanks, I owe you one." Mal said.
"You owe me more than one." Delia smiled.
"You're the best."
"That's why you're with me."
Mal shook his head
"I'll wave you soon."
"K. Tell Simon I'm doin' well." Delia pursed her lips and puckered a small kiss to the screen. She wiggled her finger in goodbye, then the screen was dark.
Mal turned to Zoe, who still had a sour look on her face.
"What's up with you?"
"My xingjiang husband. He's just a jerk."
"Sorry I asked."
"It's okay. It'll shake out. Looks like you two are still good."
"We're...shiny." Mal agreed.
Mal reached up and grabbed the intership com.
"Wash to the bridge."
"That's my cue." Zoe said, walking out of the bridge. He watched her kick her quarters door open, and descend into her bunk, coffee still in hand.
Wash walked along the crew hallway a few seconds after Zoe's head disappeared.
"We're headed to the Eavesdowne docks. Got a buyer for the stamp."
"Badger?" Wash asked incredulously.
"Nope. A friend of Delia's...What's that smell?"
"Oh, I just had a peanut butter sandwich."
"I can't stand that stuff." Mal grumbled.
As Mal and Zoe exited the café, the coin purse in Mal's hand disappeared into his vest. A few seconds later, Delia's contact left the café, and headed in the opposite direction. Everything had gone down as Delia had said, smooth as silk. The stamp was history, turned into quick but profitable cash. Mal and Zoe walked casually back to Serenity, through the crowded streets of Persephone Prime.
"At this rate, we could get Serenity retrofitted with a small munition load." Zoe observed.
"Yep, been thinkin' bout that myself. Maybe we could price somethin' here."
"We'd get better prices above Althos. There's that big space port. They've got someone who's s' posed to be a whiz with older ships."
"And how do you know that?"
"Checked it out a few weeks ago. Cost us near 7500 credits for one decent laser battery. 12,500 for both sides of Serenity."
Mal winced at the numbers Zoe said so casually. They had about 4500 credits in the ship's purse.
"We'll need a few strong paydays to pull those kindof numbers. Maybe we'll swing one set. Never two."
"Don't s'pose you wanna ask Delia." Zoe asked carefully.
"No. I don't borrow money. Specially from Delia." Mal said sharply.
"Just a thought."
"Not an option."
Serenity lifted off Persephone five minutes later and broke the atmosphere with little hesitation. Wash steered the ship into space and nodded to Mal. The autopilot set, Wash left the bridge and headed for his bunk. Mal followed him off the bridge, but headed for the Mess. They would be back on Europa in time for one of Delia's delicious breakfasts.
Sunday, June 05, 2005 11:33 AM
Wednesday, October 04, 2006 8:46 AM
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