Extra Cargo Ch 5 -- The Spider Web
Thursday, January 19, 2006

2-24-06: I revised this a little to make it make sense with the later chapters. I swear this is a true story. I've changed the names, sticky materials, places, and centuries (sp?) to protect the innocent -- my second cousin once removed. It's too out there to be anything but true.


Chapter 5: The Spider Web

Life quickly fell back into a pattern on Serenity; with one change – a short version of Mal running around. Every morning Inara brushed Caroline’s hair after breakfast; and every night Kaylee helped her get ready for bed. Every afternoon they would always send a wave to Persephone to her ma. No response yet. Book, said that maybe her ma was on a trip, or working real hard which was why she hadn’t responded to any of them. Jayne said “huh.” Cap’n and Zoë looked worried every time Caroline asked about why ma hadn’t responded.

The Cap’n would tell her bedtime stories always about horses. Kaylee said that the next time they were planetside for a few days they would make her a bedroom. Her very own bedroom! Cap’n said it had to be kept clean, shipshape like the res of Serenity.

During the day Caroline studiously avoided Simon and the infirmary; the idea of getting poked and prodded terrified her. She and River played games or danced. Kaylee joined them when she wasn’t busy with Serenity. River was trying to teach Caroline to dance; it was hard, especially with no music. Caroline didn’t like the needle tracks on River’s arms. She wanted River to cover them up; they made her think of her ma. River said that was how Simon gave her medicine.

Jayne made Caroline laugh, and held her when she cried. He was her favorite person out of the whole crew, he didn’t tell her NO too much. Let her swear, as long as no one else was around. Inara was intimidating, all prettified, and elegant; and pretty terrifying. Shepard Book was nice, he told neat stories; about whales, and people that turned to stones. He said that his God would keep her ma safe in his arms; which was real comforting. Wash played dinosaurs with her; but, she couldn’t go on the bridge by herself because she could hurt Serenity. Caroline also wasn’t allowed in the engine spaces unless someone was with her; which sucked because that’s where Kaylee spent most of her time. Wash was funny he always told funny stories about juggling baby geese; “lip ferrets,” and other strange things.

Wash ‘s married to Zoe; which made the Cap’n unhappy. Something about ruttin’ on ships being bad for morels. Didn’t get that at all; Caroline asked Book what a morel was. He said it was a type of mushroom. What do mushrooms have to do with ships that fly in space? Who knows; but, it cemented Caroline’s opinion of Mal being slightly addled in the brain pan.

Zoë was scary. Serious most of the time; she looked like the warrior women that she saw once at the moving picture show that Two-Snouts gave her money to go and see. They’d called her an Amazon. He’d wanted to get rid of her for some “adult” reason that Caroline wasn’t old enough to learn about yet. Stupid, just stupid. Wash called Zoë his warrior woman sometimes, other times he called her Lamby-Toes. Zoë made good soup; wife soup Wash called it. Hadn’t heard of that kind before; he said it tasted like chicken soup. The Shepards at the Abbey made chicken soup sometimes; fed it to sick people. Caroline like the soup at the Abbey.

About two weeks after she arrived, Caroline walked out of Inara’s shuttle after getting her hair brushed. She didn’t have too much hair yet, since the Alliance doctor had shaved her head only a few months earlier. She walked into the passage going towards the common areas looking for River to see if she wanted to play jacks or cards. River and Kaylee were teaching Caroline to play War and Old Maid. River was just sitting and staring. “What cha doing?”

“Watching. Spider is building its house.” The spider was spinning a web between two pipes up near the ceiling.

“That ain’t its house. That’s its dinner table.”

“House too.”

“Huh? Where does it sleep”



“How does it build that?”

“It secretes the silk out glands. Different types of spiders have different types of glands for doing different things. The Glandula Aggregata produces the sticky material for the threads; the Glandula Ampulleceae major and minor are used for the silk of the walking thread; the Glandula Pyriformes is used for the production of the attaching …

“Huh? Whad you talkin’ bout?”

“Spider poops out thread.

“Zhen de ma?”



“We could build a web.”

“I don’t poop string.”

River turned, now staring in horrified fascination at Caroline “No, silly; we’ll use real string. Make a big web here in the passage; see what we can catch.”


“Maybe. Or a person.”

A big smile lit up Caroline’s face. “Shiny! How we going to do that.” Caroline waved her hands at the web. “Build a house? And a table?”

“Need string; lots of string.” River got up and headed to Simon’s berth with Caroline close on her heels. They entered the berth and Caroline just watch River root through Simon’s stuff throwing things hither and yon until she came up with dental floss. Three boxes of the stuff. “Go ask Jayne if he’s got any tooth string, or regular string; I’m going to go and ask Kaylee and ‘Nara.”

They went separate ways and met up about an hour later with twelve boxes of dental floss, three little packets of embroidery floss from Inara; four skeins of yarn, and a spool of thread from Kaylee; three rubber bands, and a ball of twine from Wash; and a spool of fishing line from Book. Jayne had contributed some wire, a box of dental floss, and six red rubber bands. Mal, they didn’t ask him – he would have said no. Caroline just rummaged through his toiletries and found a thing of dental floss. Searching the kitchen they found scissors, two big rubber bands, one small blue one and five twist ties. River had gone through the infirmary and taken a pair of scissors, stitching silk, and the sticky stuff that Simon squirted on people to hold together cuts and the like. They piled all of their goodies into their secret workspace; the empty shuttle.

River started to explain web building to Caroline “The wind helps the spider make its web. It carries a thin adhesive thread released from her spinners while making the thread longer and longer. If she is lucky the thread sticks to a proper spot. Then she walks carefully over the thread, strengthening it with a second thread. This is repeated until the primary thread is strong enough. After this, she hangs a thread in the form of a Y below the primary thread. These are the first three radial of the web. More radials are constructed taking care that the distance between the radial is small enough to cross. Then non-sticky circular construction spirals are made. The web is completed when the adhesive spiral threads are placed. While the sticky spirals are placed the non-sticky spirals are removed. And that’s all there is to making a web.”

For the rest of the morning; and part of the afternoon they strung string, made knots, giggled, and talked. It was mid-afternoon before River declared the web a thing of beauty, and done. It was a complicated circular maze of string with the thinnest in the center and the thick twine at the outer edges all held together by knots and a primary thread of fishing twine.

“Now what?” Caroline asked.

“Now we hang it up; and see what we catch.” River responded with severe gravity. “Gotta get dinner.”

They very carefully rolled up the web and snuck out of the shuttle, concealing themselves behind the mule, being very careful that Jayne and the preacher didn’t see them and ask questions.

“Where are we gonna’ hang it? Near the real web? How’s we gonna catch summpin in it?”

River carefully explained as they were walking through the passageways “Real spider webs have sticky spirals on them, so that when a bug gets caught in them they stick to it. When they struggle, they get more stuck and can’t get out. Got this from the infirmary, it’s really sticky. We put it on our web and when something walks into it they’ll stick just like on a real spider web.”


Stopping in the passageway between the upper cargo bay and the crew quarters River looked around and studiously declared “Here, here is where it goes.” With that she climbed up to the top of the passage and using it seemed like twelve hands, three legs, and a few other appendages managed to attach a corner of the web to a pipe using one of the twist ties.

“Shiny; this is really shiny. Almost as good as hide and seek with you, Wash, Kaylee, and Jayne.”

River nodded her head in ascent and clambered up the other side and attached the rest of the top. Caroline knelt down and hooked the bottom on to the cables and pipes that ran along the passage.

“Now we just need to make it sticky. Can I do it please River? I wanna make it sticky?” River handed Caroline the small gun and showed her where she wanted the sticky stuff. When not mixed with a water based substance (like blood) it wouldn’t harden just stay sticky. Otherwise you had to use a special dissolving agent.

River’s eyes were darting around. Now we gotta hide. Quiet like mice. We don’t want anyone to think we’re here.”

“Watch? We gonna watch?”

River pointed down the corridor; gathered up the rest of the twist ties and rubber bands. “There.”

They scampered down the hallway giggling like children up to something and hid just around the bend. River brought out a deck of cards, and while they waited, she started trying to teach Caroline how to play war. Another uphill battle Caroline’s counting skills weren’t great.

Yeh soo! Ta ma duh! Niu shi! Ni ta ma de!

Whispering to River, Caroline excitedly asked “Who do you think we caught?”

Qing wa cao de liu mang! Hwoon dahn! Echoed down the corridor, in a furious female voice.

“Zoë. I was hoping for Jayne or Simon.” Was the whispered reply.

“Ooh. Jayne would have been funny. What now?”

“Run, hide. Don’t want to get caught.” River led the way into the guts of Serenity just as Wash, and Simon showed up and stared at Zoë struggling in the sticky yarn prison. They looked at her and at then at each other and dissolved into laughter. It was very funny picture; the warrior woman trapped. Trapped in a multi-colored string prison, Zoë had walked into it had fallen off the ceiling and was sticking to her hair, clothes, and shoes.

“Lamby-Toes, how did you get caught in that, that thing? Wash asked trying to laugh too much at his wife.

“I was reading and walking. I didn’t expect this thing here. Get me out.”

“What in the gorram hell is that thing Zoë?” Yelled Mal arriving on the scene quite perturbed at having the quiet routine of the day disturbed.

“Sir, I don’t rightly know. It appears to be some sort of net. Will someone please help me get out?”

Laughing Wash walked over to Zoë and started to disentangle her. “Diyu, this explains why Caroline wanted my twine.”

Book and Jayne heard the commotion floating down to the cargo bay. As soon as they walked in Jayne busted out laughing at the sight of Zoë and Wash tangled up in string. Book, was trying very hard to cover up his chuckling. With the addition of Book and Jayne laughing Mal couldn’t keep it in any longer and started laughing with them.

Inara and Kaylee walked over from the galley where Inara had been making a cup of tea. Inara saw the laughing crew first; and then Zoë attempting to get out and Wash’s attempts to help. Wash was trying to help Zoë; but, was getting himself caught in the sticky maze of strings. The sticky stuff hardened when it touched skin. “Does anyone have scissors or a knife with them?”

Jayne handed his knife to Inara in between laughing spells. “Ni ta ma de. I see my wire, and the red rubber bands are mine.”

Inara walked over to Zoe and Wash who were by now thoroughly entangled “Stop squirming you two, or one of you is going to get cut.” And she started cutting the two love-birds apart; being careful not to touch the strings – she’d seen what happened when Wash had touched them. “You all could help instead of just standing there and laughing.” Inara looked at Jayne and added “The violet embroidery floss is mine; River came and asked for it this morning said something about weaving.”

By the time that Inara had finished cutting Zoë and Wash apart everyone had stopped laughing. But, the sight of Zoë and Wash covered in short strings started everyone back up to laughing. “I’m glad we could provide some afternoon amusement. Now if you will excuse us, I’m going to take my wife back to our quarters and rip her clothes off. Being tied to my wife always makes me horny.”

“Not tied up; caught in a spider web.” Piped up River from somewhere behind Jayne. River and Caroline had heard the laughing and didn’t want to miss the fun; so they had circled back to the corridor.

“Gorammit, girl. Must you sneak up on people like that.” Growled Jayne.

“Didn’t sneak. Walked.”

“What’s this about a web?” asked Mal looking at the string and twine remnants scattered on the floor. He looked at River and Caroline trying to look severe. “This ship is not a playpen. And I do not appreciate having it treated as such.”

“Holes. Teaching Caroline about spiders. No teacher, so I’m teaching.”

“It was really cool; Cap’n. Spiders poop silk. Webs is their home and there dinner table, and sometimes their dinner. River said so.” Caroline’s small head popped out next to River’s.

“And you believed that addlepated crazy girl.” Growled Jayne. “Now what am I going do for dental floss?”

“Caroline’s mostly right. They use glands to excrete silk. Jayne, I have a couple of extra boxes. Simon volunteered reluctantly feeling it was the proper thing to as River had taken Jayne’s.

“Nope, nope you don’t. Used it, center of the web.” Spouted River.

Simon just shook his head. Little sisters, he thought. He hoped that they hadn’t used all of his suturing and stitching supplies.

“A spider web?” Asked Mal, looking rather addled. “Why is there is a spider web in the middle of my ship? Teaching? Teaching who? Teaching what?”

“Teaching Caroline; holes. Full of holes.” She pointed at Mal, “No holes” and then looked back at Caroline “Holes need to be filled.”

He looked sternly at Caroline and River he asked “What in the gorram diyu are you talking abou? He turned and started walking towards the bridge, and finished “Teacher, student clean up the web and no more science projects in the passageways or any other part of this ship without permission. Dong ma?”

Inara and Jayne headed back towards aft portions of the ship leaving River and Caroline to clean up the mess. Kaylee went to make dinner; it was her turn to cook. Simon went to his infirmary to see if they scavenged anything else from his sanctuary; and to get the dissolving solution to Zoë and Jayne. And Book followed Mal up to the bridge. No one saw the look of satisfaction on River’s face; she’d planted the seed of school in Book’s and Mal’s heads.

Reaching the bridge the Shepard found Mal sitting in the pilot’s chair staring out at the black. “Mal are you all right?”

“Spider webs in the passage. What’s next? Volcanoes in the cargo bay? Diyu, their probably trying to figure out how to flood the engine room for swimming lessons? I didn’t sign up for this.”

“Mal, you’re doing good. Children will be children. It takes time to grow into the role of having a daughter; just as she needs time to adjust to having a father.”

“Thanks preacher.”

“Although River did have a point. Caroline should be going to school.”

“And where are we going to find a gorram school? Ain’t seeing a little schoolhouse poppin’ up in the middle of the cargo bay. I told everyone this wasn’t a good idea. Children need more then this.”

“Mal, everything she needs is right here. Zoë said it best all she really needs is unconditional love. Schooling we can provide. At the Abbey we taught the street children; I helped out sometimes when the teaching brothers were otherwise disposed. I can teach her reading and writing and basic math, Simon can teach her science, first aid, and medical stuff. Wash can teach Caroline navigation. Inara can teach her etiquette and music. River can teach her dancing, and about spiders. Everything she needs is here.”

Mal muttered, “Great River a teacher. That’s something I never thought I’d see. Be as bad as Jayne teachin’. We’ll discuss this at dinner.”

“Have faith Mal. You and Caroline will figure it out. Your mother did a good job of raising you. I’m sure you will do a good job raising Caroline. I’m going to leave you with your thoughts and go help Kaylee with dinner.” And he left Mal alone staring out at the black.

Folding his hands behind his head Mal thought to himself: School probably was a good idea. Child needed to learn. Would keep her out of trouble; could keep River occupied part of the time. Wasn’t ever really sure where the two of them would pop up now, or what they would pop out of. Yesterday he’d found them crawling through air vents under the common room. What was next? Learning about something would keep the girl busy for at least part of the day.

Routine, a routine was good. Daily routine was good. School would solve part of that problem; give her mind something to do. Now there was just the rest of the day to worry about. Mama, his mother, Caroline Reynolds had always made sure that he’d had chores. Kaylee had daily chores to do when she lived at home. Zoë, Wash, and Jayne had all had chores to do of various types also. Might make the girl feel more like she belonged was a part of the crew, a part of the family. He’d talk with Kaylee and Book and see what they felt was appropriate. Dinner they’d talk about it at dinner.

It was about dinner time wasn’t it? Stretching Mal got up and took one last look out at the black. He snapped his suspenders back up onto his shoulders and headed down to the galley to see if he could find Kaylee and the Shepard.

When he reached the kitchen he found Simon setting the table, Kaylee doing some clean-up; and Shepard Book was doing what appeared to be the finishing touches a meal that looked suspiciously like molded protein. “We’re out of fresh food?”

“Almost; a little here and there left. Captain.” Was Book’s answer as he was spicing the mysterious concoction that was to be dinner.

“I was thinkin’. Girl’s here to stay for a while. Needs a routine, it’ll be good for her.”

Kaylee was a little suspicious about the Captain’s thinkin’ it didn’t always turn out good for anyone. “What ya’ thinkin’ of Cap’n?”

He sat down at the table and replied “Schooling, girl needs schooling. And probably some type of chores. It’ll make her feel more like a part of the crew. Keep her occupied and out of trouble. Don’t want spider webs in the passages, volcanoes in the cargo bay, or swimming lessons in the engine room”

“Swimming lessons in the engine room?” Sputtered Kaylee laughing and choking on her cup of tea.

“Or some such thing. Book, will you teach her in the mornings?”

“That’s probably the best time to do it; after breakfast. We can start tomorrow; have you talked with Caroline about this?”

“Nope, was going to do that at dinner.” Mal responded with a sideways glance at Wash and Zoë who had just come in to the galley.

“Thought I smelled something good. Shepard, what is it?” asked Wash trying to see if he could snag a taste.

“Curry. Should be good.”

Kaylee sat down next to Mal “Chores would be good for her; she could set and clear the table.”

“Faster, faster, faster.” Echoed down the passage, accompanied by the sound of stomping feet. “Go faster River.”

“You say giddy-up to a horse.”

“If one of you falls and breaks your face I won’t fix it.” Bellowed Mal looking at the still empty door.

Slightly out of breathe River and Caroline appeared in the door. “Didn’t fall. We were being horses.” Piped up Caroline.

“And next it’s volcanoes” muttered Mal to himself. “Well someone go get Inara and Jayne; it looks like dinners about ready. River.”

“Caroline, bao bei, did you wash your hands?” Kaylee asked looking at Caroline who had a piece of blue rubber-band glued to her hair, and grease stains on her arms, legs, and face.


Mal narrowed his eyes and looked at the grungy child. “When?”

Caroline looked down at her hands, and then her bare feet, “a little while ago.” She hadn’t worn shoes since they’d found her; because, hers were really ragged and River didn’t wear shoes.

“Go wash em again; and your face.” Mal said, taking a second look at the large grease stains covering Caroline’s face, waving his arm in the direction of crew berthing. Caroline slouched out, about as happy with the washing business as Jayne.

When Caroline got back most everything was on the table and the usual loud hum that accompanied dinner was in full force. Shepard Book put the curry on the table with an authoritative plunk; and everyone that weren’t sitting scrambled for their usual seats.

Wash had made Caroline a box that sat on top of her chair so she was tall enough to sit at the table. Her first meal on Serenity; Shepard Book had her sit between the Captain; and Inara. He’d said something about her and him havin’ to get used to each other. Caroline didn’t really like sittin’ there; she’d a rather sat down by River, Jayne and Kaylee. ‘Nara and Simon was always correcting the way she ate. Made it gorram hard to make it through a whole meal.

Mal was watching Caroline and everyone else eat. The enthusiasm for the meal went down as everyone realized that it was molded protein; even though this was one of the better presentations. How did he bring up the school thing? And the chore thing? Gently? Brusquely? Diyu; better to just tell her and be done with it. Although, the chore thing could wait until tonight, that might be easier without the whole crew around. “Caroline, you and Shepard Book are going to start school tomorrow. Tomorrow morning after breakfast is cleared away.”

She looked up from pushing her protein around “Huh? School? I don’t go to school.”

‘Tomorrow you start. Shepard Book is going to teach you reading, writing, and numbers.”

“Ain’ goin’ to no school. School is for ni ta ma de purple bellies; that’s what ma always said. Fancy pants. I ain’t no fancy pants.”

“No you ain’t; but, you aren’t going to be an ignoramus. You’re going to learn.”

“Captain, if I might interject.” Book inserted looking from Mal to Caroline and seeing identical facial expressions, and jaw lines. Both set stubbornly. “Caroline; you aren’t going to leave Serenity, we going to read and write here. Here at this table.”

“Golly, it’s like Mal and Mini-Mal.” Wash interjected looking at the two glaring parties. “Ow, Lamby-Toes why did you kick me?”

“I ain’t like him.” Caroline yelped; and knocked her chair over, the booster hitting Mal in the shin, and running from the room.

“Hwoon dahn, can’t we have one peacable meal without someone getting all addlepated?” Growled Jayne slurping up the last of his curry.

River was staring intently at Mal as he was running his fingers through his hair in utter frustration. “Holes need to fill the holes.”

Mal pushed back his chair; “Diyu. I’m going to go find her and talk to her.” He headed out of the corridor towards crew berthing; figuring that Caroline would have gone diving for that gorram raggedy stuffed horse. He supposed she was getting more comfortable around everyone; because, she didn’t take it everywhere with her anymore. He was just about to head down into their shared quarters when Caroline popped up the ladderwell clutching Zoey heading somewhere. Somewhere fast. He reached down and grabbed hold of her by the waist. “Slow down, little one.”

“Qing wa cao de liu mang let go of me!”

“Nope, not until you calm down. Ain’t no need for that kind of language.”

“Go away! Leave me alone. I ain’t goin’ to no school. Don’t want to talk to you, want Jayne. He’s nice.” As she hit him repeatedly with the horse.

“Caroline.” Mal said trying to hold her still, and attempting not to let his temper get the best of him. “Calm down. You are going to learn. I’m your father and I don’t want you to be an ignoramus. And I’m sure your ma wouldn’t of wanted that either.”

“You ain’ my ba’.” Caroline answered squirming until she got purchase and bit him on the arm. Mal’s response to the bite was a shake and swat to the back of her head. “Ow!!

‘Do something like that again; and you won’t be sitting comfortably for the rest of the night. Dong ma? You are going to learn; it’s not going to be going to the school house. It’s going to be you and the Shepard in the galley at the dining table. When you get a little older Wash and Kaylee ‘ll teach you about engines and ships and flying.”

Caroline’s eyes narrowed suspiciously; but, she calmed down. “Ma said that school was a tool of the Alliance. Look what it did to River. School ain’t good.”

“Well, there ain’t no Alliance here. And your ma, Zoë, and me fought the Alliance together; so we ain’t exactly friendly towards them. So I figure this school will be ok with your ma. Ok?”

Sullenly she responded. “Yes, Sir.”

“Good. Look, I know you didn’t ask to come here. But, you’re here. We’re glad you’re here.” Mal, thought about what Book had told him about reassuring Caroline and added “I’m glad you’re here. You’re a part of this crew. It takes a lot to keep Serenity in the air, takes effort from everyone on this boat. That includes you bao bei.

Now go apologize to everyone in the galley for disturbing dinner and help Simon with clean up. That’s going to be your job from now on. Clearing the table after meals; and setting it before meals. You’re a part of this crew, which means you gotta’ help keep Serenity running smooth.”

Caroline stood up; holding Zoey; and told Mal still very sullenly “Yes, Sir.” That’s what her ma had always told to call older people when they were talking to her. Sir or Ma’am. She drilled it into Caroline with some well placed smacks to the back of the head. And she went to help clear the table; and to apologize.

Mal went down into their shared berthing and sat at his desk. Another hurdle cleared. How many more were there going to be? Had he been this hard on his mother? He thought back to his childhood; and smiled thinking of some the escapades they’d gotten into. He and the Clarke brothers had gotten into an egg fight one morning when mama had sent them to gather eggs. She’d whupped all three of them for that; none of them sat right for a couple of days. But that first egg exploding right on Hyde’s forehead made it all worth while. At least he hadn’t gotten whupped again like Hyde and Thomas had – their da had taken them out behind the woodshed when they’d gotten home.

They’d be landing on Hillard in a couple of days. He’d have to get Kaylee or ‘Nara to take Caroline shopping. Girl needed shoes, and some clothes. And probably some schoolbooks, or some such stuff. Oh, yeah and he needed a book on being a parent, a father. What was the one his mom had? Dr. Speck, Spock? Something like that.

Ba’ -- Father Bao bei -- precious/treasure Diyu – hell Dong ma? – Understand? Gorram -- Damn Gorramit – Damn it Hwoon dahn - son of a bitch Niu shi - Cow dung Ni ta ma de - Mother humper Qing wa cao de liu mang - Frog humping son of a bitch Yeh soo: ta ma duh - Jesus! Mother fucker Zhen de ma? - Is that true?


Friday, January 20, 2006 3:09 AM


Coming along well. I'm glad Mal realises he needs a parenting book. Love the spider web.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006 9:29 AM


“Spider poops out thread."
river the supergenius there...



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Thanks to Mal4Prez for beta-reading! I don't know what I would do without you to fix everything.

Extra Cargo Ch. 6 -- Shopping
A continuation of the puffy little story I started 5 chapters ago. This one is also true, well pieces of it. I made it PG-13 for language. If you want to start at the beginning Chapters 1-4 are posted together <A HREF="" Chapter 1-4</A>. And <A HREF="" Chapter 5</A>.