“Derry, you understand that Mother Serra is a very fine lady and a very old friend of the crew. Try to be on your best behaviour, please.”
The small boy looked surprised to hear the Captain saying please to him.
“Yes, sir. I’ll show her my bug collection. She’ll like that.”
His father sighed.
Outside the open cargo bay, a rickshaw was approaching with an elegant upright figure inside, dressed in Companion silks.
“She’s here, go get the crew.”
Mal Reynolds marched down the ramp to help Inara down from the rickshaw.  He gave her a loving kiss, then looked for baggage.
“Most of my things were sent ahead. I think Jayne will have stowed them.”
“Yes, we’ve put you in a passenger compartment so you don’t have to do as much climbing. Besides the shuttle is just a shuttle now.”
“Not my home any more.” Inara smiled and touched Mal’s cheek.
Kaylee came bounding into the cargo bay, followed more slowly by Zoe and Hope. Derry was holding her hand, making shy in front of the stranger whose visit had been galley gossip for days.
“Hey you” ” Hey you”
Kaylee and Inara embraced and Inara stepped back a little when she felt the hard bump in her friend’s belly. She raised an elegant eyebrow. “Two months,” whispered Kaylee.” We’re not saying anything for a few more weeks.”
Zoe hugged Inara. “I think you remember Hope.” The slender preteen made an elegant curtsey. “She’s become addicted to historical romances on the Cortex. Still it does wonders for her deportment.”
Derry pushed forward. “I’m Derrial Reynolds, m’am. Welcome to Serenity” and he made a presentable bow.
Inara laughed. “I remember you from my last visit, but you were very small then, so I don’t think you would remember me.”
“I’m five now. And I do remember your nice smell. Would you like to see my bugs?”
“Thank you, Derrial, I would enjoy that later.”

Simon emerged from the crew quarters at the back of the cargo bay, followed by a very large young man in scrubs.
“Inara, you look incandescent as always. May I present David Chen, my case manager and nurse for the travelling clinics?”
The Companion gave her hand to the handsome youngster who kissed it with Core elegance.
Inara kissed Simon’s cheek. “Nurse and case manager?” she whispered.
“Fully qualified.”
“In all respects, I assume.” and louder” Where is River?”
“I was here, but Serenity needed me for a moment. She’s happy to have you back among us” came over the intercom.
Jayne drove into the cargo bay on the mule, filled with containers.
“Give me a hand with these, Davie? ” He swung out of the vehicle and marched over to Inara. “Right glad to see you . You look healthy enough, right now. Sure the trip to Heart of Gold won’t tire you?”
“I’ll be fine, Jayne. And the girls at Heart of Gold wanted to say goodbye to me too.”
“Simon’s got four clinics set up in the town. Mostly kid’s immunizations and some prenatal workups. Mrs. Burgess isn’t cooperating, but she’s an easier landlord than her bastard husband.” Mal said. “But come into the galley for tea. We all have a lot to catch up.”

Derry was showing Inara his collection of bugs from the planets and moons Serenity had visited. He explained that it was very important that the insects be dead before they could be taken off their home world. “Otherwise they turn into rabbits or zebra mussels. And I only want bugs.”
Hope corrected him,”No, they won’t change into something else, Derry. On Earth-that-was, people brought animals and plants to places where they had no natural controls and they became terrible problems. We don’t want that to happen in the ‘verse.But they stayed the same things they had been in their real homes. ”
Inara smiled at the older child. Her blonde dreads  were her heritage from her father, but her big eyes  and her calm grace were all Zoe.
“Who taught you to collect properly, Derry?”
“Simon taught him. He teaches us science. Biology and anatomy and I learn chemistry. Derry just likes to make  smells in chemistry. I’ll write my Federal Twelve exam next year, I think. Simon says I should be able to pass even though I’ll only be ten. ”
“Mummy teaches me about engine repair and River shows us how to dance and do gymnastics.” Derry demonstrated with a cartwheel. Hope followed with her own, hands free, backflip.
Hope added,” Jayne teaches us bodybuilding. He says it is too easy to lose muscle tone in the black, so we have to work out with him every day. And River teaches Derry ‘rithmetic and me mathematics. And Jayne taught us guitar and how to read music. He can’t sing though.”
“And the Captain taught us to read. I’m reading this.” Derry showed Inara his bookpad and called up “Have Spacesuit, Will Travel”. The title page noted that the classic story had been modernized for young readers.
Inara looked over at Mal, a little surprised.
“I’ve done some reading in my time. Hope is working through Shakespeare, Austen and Pratchett, mostly in modern translations, as well as Freidhoff, Shen Mak and the Bairgorren Cycle. And we follow the Federal curriculum. Derry looks to be ready for his Federal Eight exams on schedule and Hope is ahead of most kids her age. She flew through her Eight.”
“Will you send them to a planet side school for their Federal Sixteen prep?”
“No.” said Simon and River in unison.
“Of course. I apologize for even thinking that.”
“We’ll consider settling for a while when the kids are older. Schoolin’ them at home is fine, but they should meet more kids and get socializin’ with different adults with different opinions.” said Zoe. “My family settled on Persephone when my eldest brother got his Federal Twelve so as to study with a proper teacher for his Sixteen.”
“Did he do well in his exams?”
“Signed up before he wrote them. Killed at  Sturges.  ”
“I’m sorry. And I apologize again for causing you pain.”
“Near twenty years ago now. Still think of him sometimes. Plato. The family I used to have is scattered through the ‘verse. My family is here.”
“With Hope.”
“And others.”
Inara smiled at the crew gathered in the galley. “I know I feel more like a family member here even than in the Companion House. Some of my happiest days were travelling with you all.”
“Considerin’ we was mostly gettin’ shot at, tortured, chased by crazies and Feds both,” grumbled Jayne, “You have some right unusual ideas about happy.”
“不是前面的儿童 ” barked Zoe.
“妈妈,亲爱的,我们不说中国话,你知道的。” laughed Hope.
“And I can read Chinese too, ” Derry exclaimed, noticing that the beautiful lady was not paying much attention to his bug collection any more. He was rewarded by a kiss from her red red lips.
“Still got a thing for the Reynolds men, then, ‘Nara,” said Jayne, winning glares from Mal and Kaylee.
“Still the epitome of tact and charm, Jayne,” replied Inara.
“Bed time, Derry,” said Kaylee. “Do you want me or the Captain to read to you?”
“Captain, please, mummy. We’re at the part where there is a swordfight and  says he is left handed”.
“The Princess Bride? You are teaching the classics, Mal!”
“Good stories, good morals. And the good guys always win.”
“Start ’em off with lies and let ’em learn diff’rent later,” grunted Jayne.
“Which is why you’re teaching phys ed and not civics, Jayne.”

Heart of Gold had changed over the decade. The town had grown out towards the brothel and the brothel itself had become something … else.
“Mother Serra,” explained Petaline,” We can’t grow if all we offer is sex. We always had the bar, of course, and our garden was very important when we operated under Burgess’ eye. Sometimes that was what fed us when the shopkeepers were afraid to sell to us. So we expanded into a small restaurant and added the gambling and the vid theatre.
“You wouldn’t think that vids would attract anyone, since people can see them at home, but with so many isolated farms and ranches, our vid theatre is right busy on Saturday with new shows, whole families come out and see a show and have dinner before they go back home.
“Actually, I’m thinking that we should open a hotel, separate from the Heart of Gold, maybe with a swimming pool for the kids.”
“Gambling, booze and sex for the adults; vids, food and swimmin’ for the family. Sounds like an interestin’ business plan,” remarked Mal.
“How does the widow Burgess feel about your expansion plans?” asked Inara.
“Believe it or not, she is talking about investment.”
“Will you accept her money?”
“四 地狱 , no! I wouldn’t trust her to touch anything that’s mine. We’ll do it ourselves with our savings. We’ve done well here, especially since the town has been allowed to prosper. I’ll give the stringy bitch that, she understands better than that 厌恶女人的污物 that real prosperity comes when the money is spread around. ”
“And which of the kids is your Joshua?”
“That’s him, the tall blond one talking to your little guy. Another reason I’m not letting Mrs. Burgess too close. He looks like his daddy, gorammit. Don’t need her being reminded why she’s a widow.”
“Praps she likes it. Gives a woman more scope, mebbehaps.”
“Kaylee! And you a respectable wife and mother yourself!” laughed Inara.
Kaylee reached out for Mal’s hand. “Not every respectable woman has a good husband. Even back home there were some women whose lives improved somethin’ fierce when their men kicked. Sometimes the coroner was very careful not to ask about the box of rat poison in the pantry.”
Putting a nervous quaver into his voice, Mal asked, “Who’s cookin’ dinner tonight?”

“Well, you will be my guests at the restaurant, of course, ” Petaline assured him. ” How many are you now?”
“We three. Then Zoe and her daughter. We lost Wash after Miranda and Book before. Simon and his David, they should be finished with the staff physicals. River probably, and our boy Derry. I think Jayne is already here…?”
“Yes, but so is Helen. I think he has decided to do some catching up with her. She seemed very pleased that he remembered her.”
“Don’t underestimate Jayne.” said Mal,” I’ve seen him welcomed back to some of the lowest dives and whorehouses that I have ever been terrified to visit. Some pretty rough women, and he treats ’em all as if they were princesses. Naked princesses.”
“I think the old song goes ‘His lust is so sincere.'” laughed Inara.
“And there’s you allowing a little humanity to Jayne, ” jibed Mal. “The world is spinning too fast for me.”
“Helen has been a mainstay to this operation since I took over. She learned a lot about fighting from Jayne,in those few days, and probably from her brothers earlier. We still had some fights on our hands after you left, and she was our police force.”
“But those days are over?”
“Over. Joshua and the other kids go to school in town. Rarely any problems. Sometimes I have to speak to the fathers. Sometimes I have to mention to the fathers that I may have to explain a few things to their wives. I keep careful records…. for tax purposes, of course.”
“Petaline, in another ten years you are going to own this world.’ said Inara.
“Mebbe. If I decide I want it.”

The brothel didn’t close for the reunion, but after dinner in a private room at the restaurant, all the older staff, those who had known Nandi, took time to visit between customers. One of the boys was flirting quite openly with David, and Simon was getting almost visibly upset.
“Meringue, ge ge,” whispered River,”  It’s fun to eat, but boiled eggs are for life.”
“Somehow, I find it less than reassuring to be called a boiled egg. Could you at least have gone for devilled eggs?”
“Don’t like those, too fussy,” Jayne interjected, ” Pickled eggs go good with beer though.”
“And scrambled eggs on toast,” added Helen from her perch on his lap.” Fortifying.”
Inara started giggling until she was gasping. “Oh, I have missed all of you.”
Inara would have many real friends and even more admirers among her clientele. Her fatal illness is canon, so a last voyage around the ‘Verse while she was still well enough to visit seemed reasonable and it allows us to see how a family changes.
The school curriculum is based on the International Baccalaureate Program, followed by schools in most countries of the world where there are large diplomatic and expatriate populations. A ‘bacca’ is recognized by most upper tier universities, no matter what backwater country it was earned in. Again, where there are such distances between worlds, it would be useful for the Alliance to set up an examination system to confirm the accomplishments of students who would be learning in vastly different ways. There is something of the British “Eleven Plus” examination in there too.  


About femmefan1946

Retired professional writer and editor. Nominated for an Aurora Award for work on CAN-CON 2014, which concentrates on introducing new and aspiring writers and artists to agents, editors and publishers.
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