Mal and Jayne were duded up for their meeting with Silverhold Import and Export. Working for the first time as representatives of the new enterprise Alleyne Reynolds Transport that Mal, Zoe had formed with her brother Perseus Alleyne based on the work Serenity had done for Perse’ Core employers, they were putting their best face on.
Kaylee was proud of her husband in his smart new, but still brown, duster, white shirt, red tie, and a plaid silk vest covering his suspenders. Jayne was freshly shaven and wore an open necked blue shirt with navy pants and a tweedy jacket chosen by Simon to look ‘tough but prosperous’. Both men were openly armed and, Kaylee knew, also had a few concealed weapons. Silverhold was civilized for the Border but they wanted to show that they were ready for less peaceful worlds.
And they were taking along an apprentice in Derry. At only twelve, he wore his usual garb of khaki pants held up by suspenders and a red shirt. No need for formal dress, but he was clean and well pressed. Even his hair was combed, although his mother doubted that would survive the trip to the Silverhold offices on the mule.
‘Don’t get mad at anyone, now.’ she lectured her husband. ‘We want this contract and we want to be able to say we have this contract. Are you sure you don’t want Zoe along? She is an Alleyne.’
‘I ain’t got no problem with Zoe’s company or her advice. But it were her idea that Jayne go to show we’re tough enough to face down trouble, and Derry to show famly values.’
‘Well rounded crew, sir.’
‘Git on the mule, Derry. Jayne, you drivin?’ And they were off, the curtains of the hovermule keeping most of the dust away from bystanders.
Most of the trip was passed in silence. Mal and Jayne rarely had much to say to each other, being mostly stoic. And Derry was fascinated by the passing scene.
First they passed out of the spaceyard dock, and into the surrounding bazaar. The sights, sounds and smells of more than seventy worlds mixed and collided. Shops sold furniture, second hand clothing, rugs and soft furnishings, lamps, cleaning supplies, all sorts of specialized foods and traditional medicines from every surviving culture of Earth That Was. Booths offered fruits and vegetables, eggs and poultry, cheap jewelry and kitchen equipment.
‘Mum and the women will go there for our school uniforms today,’ he told his father, pointing to Frenchy’s second hand shop.
‘They thought they might get downtown to the big mall,’ his father commented. ‘Zoe thought Hope should have some new pretties and mebbe get her out of those black jumpsuits she taken to the past year or more.’
‘She looks good in them suits. Snug.’
‘But you ain’t bin lookin, right Jayne? We’re getting inta a sensitive area here.’
‘She’s getting ta be a right pretty girl. Hell, she’s tall as her ma already.’
‘Aunt Zoe is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.’
‘You got a point there, kid. Beauty, brains, and that body… whoo. Don’t know how you lost her to Wash, Mal.’
‘Wasn’t trying to win. We’re not…. and anyway I got the prettiest woman in the end.’
‘Mummy is pretty, but Aunt Zoe is beautiful. ‘
‘Not sure you should let yer ma hear you say that. And where do Hope and River fit into your spectrum of lovelies.’
‘Spectrum of lovelies?’ asked Mal.
‘I had a zine by that name once. Fancy, huh?’
‘Aunt River is very pretty too. She’s got nice eyes, but she’s very thin. Almost like a boy.’
Mal raised an eyebrow at his son. Twelve; and taller than his ma. They should be having a talk about girls, boys and responsibility right soon.
‘And Hope picks on me. She’s just mean.’
Well, maybe the talk could wait a few more months.
The mule had left the docks well behind and was flying over paved roads through a leafy suburb. Derry was fascinated by the houses, mostly stone or adobe, but a few built of expensive wood. And the streets themselves were lined with young trees, none over 25 years old.
‘ We’ll be back on Deadwood in a couple of weeks, right, Mal?’
‘Yeah. I wanna talk to you bout Helen.’
‘Helen from Heart of Gold? You still talkin to her on the Cortex?’
‘Yeah. We sorta got a plan.’
‘ A plan.’
‘ And this plan should concern me?’
‘Well, yeah. She’s thinking bout retirement. She’s gettin kinda old for a ho…’
‘The entertainment business.’
‘What? She ain’t … oh. Yeah, for the entertainment business. She’s near on forty.’
‘So… she’s retirin. She may be old for … entertainment, but what does she plan to do with the next sixty years of her life?’
‘Well, she’s got some savins, and I’ve got some savins, and we been talkin about retirin together.’
‘Hell, Mal, I’m over fifty. I won’t have a lot longer to be your public relations officer.’
Mal smiled at the old family joke. Jayne’s crudity and intimidating manner was more useful with an angry or crooked customer than any smooth tongued flack.
‘We been thinking about goin inta business. Been looking around fer an opportunity.’
‘What sort of business? A gun shop? You got skills besides… public relations. You can weld.’
‘Yeah. My daddy taught all us kids that. I hate it. I got more scars from weldin burns than I got from bein shot. ‘
‘I thought you were good at weldin?’
‘I am! I just don’t wanna do it for a livin. You need some work done in a tight spot, no worries. But day after day. No.’