“The job went well, ” said Mal. “No problem. The special cargo was paid in cashy money. The rest was a bank transfer. We prefer cash payment ourselves, if at all possible. Got in the habit, eh?”
“Not a problem although I will need a receipt for Head Office. Saw the bank transfer, so that’s shiny. The real money, that’s ours, not the bigwigs.” Perse replied with a wink.
“You’ll find it’s all there, as agreed. But if we can get paid, we got fuel cells to buy and school fees due.”
“I’m serious about the kids staying with me, if you want to avoid the dorm fees when you’re out in the Black. It gets lonely in a new place and I would enjoy the company.”
“Perse,” said his sister. “The kids love the dorms. They have friends there. Not that we don’t thank you, but they don’t get to meet other kids when we’re in the Black and the school dorms are part of their education.”
“Of course, of course. Just a suggestion. So Mal, Where is your doctor off to next?”
Mal found watching the crew, the family, in their off time, comforting.
Jayne was running the kids through what he called boot camp, pushups and pullups and other exercises meant to increase their strength. Even though Serenity had a grav drive, Jayne held the opinion that the crew, children included, would lose muscle mass if they did not work out constantly. He had a long running argument with Mal, who adamantly refused Jayne’s offer to spot him on the weights.
“I’m just fine as I am” he declared while Jayne pointed out that he rarely wore his brown uniform coat anymore because it was too small. “And it ain’t muscle, Mal. You’re gettin’ soft.”
Mal hated to admit to himself that as he approached 40, he was stouter and slower than when he and Jayne had met. He told himself that he had added gravitas, but he knew he was not a young man any more. The torture he had endured with Wash at Niska’s hands had left him with a heart murmur and deafness in his left ear, the one that Niska had cut off as “change” for Wash’ ransom. Simon thought the deafness was psychosomatic as much as physical, although an airlock scare had exacerbated the damage.
When he really looked at the crew he could see how the others had changed over the past decade.
He suspected Zoe had started colouring her hair after Hope was born. She had shown no interest in finding a new partner, although Mal saw the appreciative looks she got, just walking down the street.
Jayne was still rock hard at near fifty, but his hair was rapidly greying and when he allowed his beard to grow in it was almost all white.
There was little change in Simon, but he was still only in his early thirties. More relaxed, and when he was with David, he seemed to smile all the time.
The changes in River had less to do with aging than with maturity. She wore her shiny chestnut hair up in a complex topknot and her clothing was as elegant as it was practical. She rarely wore dresses now, preferring slim jumpsuits, usually in black. Kaylee said she had learned style from Inara, but Mal wondered if it was just her Core memories coming forward as she learned to be human again.
And in Mal’s eyes, Kaylee was unchanged. He did not see that her round girlish figure was beginning to be plump, or that her constant smile had etched laugh lines around her eyes and mouth. She was still the sunshine that chased away his black clouds. And that would never change.
With each stop over on Persephone Serenity’s work for Perseus Alleyne increased. Their medical clinics, as Mal had promised, meant that they could set a route well in advance, allowing Perse to make plans, but their small speedy ship was able to make side trips to worlds whose needs were for smaller cargoes than the big ships could carry profitably.
When they were on Persephone, it had become a custom to stay with Perse. His loneliness had decreased as he settled into the business community, but having actual family, not just his self contained sister and her daughter , but the whole Serenity crew gave him a comfort that he had never had after the Alleyne Family Compact was broken up by the Independence War.
Hope even took over a part of the garden, growing vegetables for her uncle and her ship family. On Serenity she kept the hydroponic garden that Simon had built in one of the passenger cabins. Between the family’s needs and the hydroponic bay, Serenity was taking fewer and fewer passengers.
Mal and Kalee had taken over one passenger room and the baby’s crib was there. Derry had graduated to a crew bunk, of which he was inordinately proud, before his sister was born. His parents appreciated the relative privacy.
Zoe and Hope shared the large bunk, originally the captain’s cabin when the Firefly was designed, where Zoe had lived with Wash. She had moved back in when Hope was born, in spite of the difficulty with carrying a baby or squirming toddler on the ladder. Everyone had expected Hope to ask for her own bunk when Derry was moved from his parent’s cabin but she was content.
Like Mal and Kaylee, Simon and David shared a passenger cabin
Jayne had kept his bunk for nearly 15 years now. He made it an intensely personal space and rarely did any other crew member enter it.
River had chosen a crew bunk over her passenger room when she become the ship’s pilot. Its snug dimensions felt like a womb to her. Kaylee had helped her paint the grey metallic walls .
Occasionally at planet fall River would bring a young man home. Most were disconcerted by her quirky decor of gauzy fabrics and vicious weapons. But one or two were repeat visitors. although months could pass between visits. River herself was enjoying being the exotic visitor when they went dirtside on the small words the clinic and their one off jobs took them too. Once landed , she had no actual responsibilities and would go off exploring. Although Simon fretted, he could understand, intellectually at least, that his beloved baby sister was more dangerous than anything a Rim World could produce.
Kaylee was the first to catch on that River’s explorations were as much of the local youths as of the repetitively terraformed Rim worlds. Kaylee was reminded of her own obsession with spacers when she was stuck on her home world of Harvest. She could see River’s charm for the farmboys and factory hands: although River’s attraction to them was baffling.
“They are easy” River told her. ” Most have no experience and few ideas. If I read them it’s not complicated. Eat. Rut. And they have lovely strong bodies and great enthusiasm for the task I give them.”
“I reckon that task is sexin you?”
“Duh, meimei. There’s no one for me on Serenity. You managed to find two. if you count that flirt with my brother. But he ‘s out for me, also his Davie, shue but sly, your husband and .. Jayne. Well, I suppose Jayne would be possible, but he is very old, you know.”
“Old? Nah he’s …. gosh I guess I just never look at him anymore. How old d’ya think he is.”
“He’s got a decade on the Captain and Mal has more than a decade on me. He must be pushing fifty.”
“Wow. Pretty fit for an old guy/”
“We could check him out on the Cortex. I’m sure there is a record of his criminal past. How often do you think he’s been bound by law?”
“Before Serenity? Who knows? He’s done jail time fer sure, and we’ve all been grabbed before Miranda once or twice.”
“In any case, Jayne has something goin on with Helen from Heart of Gold. He’s in the Cortex with her almost every cycle. Sometimes she calls him, sometimes her calls her.”
“Wow, The big blonde? She seemed real nice. And tough enough to stand up to Jayne. Might even be able to take him at arm wrestling.”