The tall man strolled through the Eavesdown Dock, followed by admiring feminine glances.
As he approached a group of shabby transport ships, he glanced at a gossiping group of women, sitting in folding lawn chairs and watching a gang of noisy youngsters playing a round game.
“Mei mei!” he called. “Zoe! Zoe Alleyne!”
The tall dark woman’s ringlets swept around as she responded to the call. “Zoe Washburne” she corrected. Then “Perse!”
The tall man pulled his sister to her feet, hugging her leather vest to his own broad chest.
“How long has it been? “
“Near on twenty years since I joined up.”
“And now ?”
“First mate on Serenity here, You?”
“Working for a big wholesaler, just promoted to manage my own franchise here on Persephone”
Zoe nodded. “Steady work.”
“And are these ladies also part of your crew?”
“Kaylee is our mechanic, the others are with other ships, but we meet up from time to time to exchange news nd let the kids play together. Kaylee, Lin, Sou-fen this is my older brother , Perseus Alleyne.”
“Pleased to meet you all. I’m actually here to find some new contacts for hauling in and out-system. Good to find people with shared connections.”
“Serenity is always looking for contracts.“ smiled the mechanic, switching her baby from one breast to the other. “Zoe, maybe you should introduce your brother to the Captain.”
Zoe nodded, turned and headed up the cargo bay ramp of one of the ships.
Perse Alleyne made a small bow to the other women and followed.
“Well,” said Sou-fen.” Who woulda thought that Zoe would be the plain one in her family?” The other women started giggling lasciviously.
“Washburne, eh? Is your husband the Captain? “
“No. Mal Reynolds was my sergeant. I’m a widow.”
“It has been a long time. Have you been in touch with any of the others over the years? I have Cortex addresses for most but we are far-flung nowadays. Are any of those kids yours? Lord, girl, you look good.”
“The Captain bought Serenity partly through Alcibides. The others? No. The blonde girl is mine, Hope, she’s eleven.”
The merchant looked back at the rowdy children and spotted a slender, composed pre-teen with blonde dreads and a deep tan rescuing one of the smaller children from older rougher playmates.
“Another niece. I think that means Mum and Dad would have about 29 or 30 grandchildren now. You know they have both passed?”
“Figured Dad. ‘Bout a dozen years ago, tried to contact him when I was discharged, but got a “No account” message. Mum was alive then, but Al didn’t give me her address.”
“Al’s not good at keeping up. He may not have had one. She kept the ship going for another ten years after, then retired. Died about six years back, mostly of boredom, I think.”
“Sir, this is my brother, Perseus Alleyne”
“Brother? Welcome to Serenity, Perseus.”
“Perse, please, Captain Reynolds. I understand you are looking for contracts.”
“Always looking for jobs. Got a crew and some pesky kids to feed. Zoe tell you about our setup? We’re based here but we make a regular circuit of worlds because we have a permanent passenger who does medical clinics on worlds too small to support a regular doctor. Makes us steady but still flexible in our scheduling. Means that we can afford to do small jobs that are on our route at a reasonable price. “
“A doctor? That’s unusual.”
“The government pays him to run the clinics with his nurse. He has a route, but he is allowed to stop at other worlds as the opportunity or need arises. Useful sometimes when we want a reason to be somewhere.”
Perse grinned. “Sounds like your business is very much like the Alleyne Family Concern. Flexible. “
“It’s good to have a respectable reason to go dirtside sometime. Not always a good idea to land in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes the Feds notice, sometimes you’re meeting up with people whose idea of doing business is too flexible. Doc lets us land at the local shipyard and have a reason for being there.”
A small boy with a mop of light brown hair, raced up the ramp and hugged the Captain’sleg.
“Captain! Mummy says I can have an ice planet if you give me the money. And for Hope too.”
Mal picked up the boy and kissed him, gave him an aluminum coin, and swatted him on his bum.
“Grownups are talking business, Derry. Git.”
“Kids travel with you on jobs?”
“Just the baby ‘cause she’s nursing. The other two stay on Persephone now whenwe are away. Their school has a scheme for the ship families. Kids can take classes through the Cortex when they are out in the Black, or board at the school if the trip might be dangerous, or stay shipboard with their parents when they are on Persephone.”
“So my niece mostly lives here?”
“On the ship or in the school dorm.” Her mother said.
“Well, well. I’m glad I found you. The family will be happy to hear too. Can I invite you and the crew to have dinner with me? Being new, I don’t have much of a social circle and it would be good to talk.”
“The crew is seven adults and two kids. Plus the baby. If you can handle that…?”
“The job comes with a house and a housekeeper. Tomorrow evening? About 1830? And perhaps I will have some work for you by then.”
“Must be real shiny for you, meeting a long-lost brother after so long.” Kaylee smiled. “You two will have so many stories to share.”
“Mmm. Not my favourite brother.”
“He’s really handsome, too. Do you have any captures of your family? How many kids were there? Mal says you started him in this business when the two of you were demobbed.”
“There was nothing for him on Shadow. I knew my family business so we went that way.”
“Mal never told me that! I guess I never thought of him as anything but a ship’s captain. Was the crime your idea too? “
“My dad never liked going through customs posts much. I reckon most small transports do some smuggling. Our ship had even more hidey-holes than a Firefly. “she chuckled. “We lost Theseus for a couple of days once when he got wedged into a duct.”
Families again. Zoe has two brothers who are not her favourites. And although Perse appears to be a bachelor, the other siblings have produced some 30 offspring.
Family is one way of knowing who you can trust when the job might be a little shady.