They had an order for horses from Harrow’s friend but as they approached the Ark, ready to find the cryoboxes, River called from the bridge.
‘Captain, there’s another ship here.”
‘How w’rin bu lai, whai w’rin bu jwo! Feds? “ Mal hurried into the cockpit. River was trembling, but her hands on the controls were steady.
“There they go. I think they saw us and ran.’
“We can cope with another salvor, long as they ain’t lookin to fight.’
‘They’re bad people, captain. Soul stealers.’
Why didn’t’ we see’m on approach/”
‘Dark side of the moon.’
‘On the other side. You better watch yourself , Tross, you ain’t been incomprehensible for weeks now. We’ll be thinkin yer all together again.’
‘Riding a yellow submarine.’
‘And there’s our albatross back again. Welcome home. What’s on the other side.?”
Rover pulled away from their usual docking point near the animal hold and for only the second time Mal saw the other side of the Ark. Since that first inspection there were some changes. Most important a large cargo door stood open to the vacuum of space.
‘Sloppy,’ said Mal, ’Zoe, Jayne, suit up, we’re goin exploring. Bring some armament in case there’s excitement.’
The airlock behind the open cargo door was not password protected. But unlike the rest of the ship, the cargo bay and the corridors leading off it were powered up and brightly lit.
‘Stay suited. They left in a hurry and could return just as fast. Or they may have left crew behind. Open the airlock and vent the gas, we’re dead.’
They proceeded with caution. This part of the Ark was designed for a living active crew. A corridor they chose at random became the first floor of a building and they left through a normal revolving door into an area about a kilometre square and 300 metres high. The architects had installed a village including shops, multistory buildings, what was obviously a school, and a park, now with only the remains of tall single trunk trees, freezedried after perhaps centuries of the cold dark.
‘These generation ships—they didn’t keep everyone active. There weren’t many actual generations or wakeful folks. The base crew were awake and brought up their families. Most of the people were in cryoboxes like our cargoes.’ said Zoe.
‘How d’ya know that.?’ asked Jayne.
‘My great grandparents were Ark crew. Oir family’s main ship was a cutter from that Ark that great grandma modified for transport. She was some fast. The crew was supposed to be paid in land but Grandpa Alleyne was from sailor stock. Alleynes have been in transport and importation for centuries, back to Cornwall on Earth-That-Was.’
‘Zoe got me inta the idea of runnin transport when we was discharged.,’ added Mal. ‘Hey! Street signs!’
The signboards gave a map of the level the crew were on, including a path to the engine section. Paydirt.
‘Too bad Kaylee ain’t with us, she’d be all excited at playin with a new engine,’ said Jayne.
Mal grinned. He hoped there was air in the ark’s engine room. Kaylee got very imaginative around engines. And flexible.
Zoe set her tracker to broadcast their whereabouts to the ship, and they set off at a trot for the engine room.
They entered the engine area carefully, watching and listening for any sign of life. Nothing moved as they entered.
The engines looked like nothing they had seen before. ‘We’ll need Kaylee to figger this out, but it don’t look like we can harvest any fuel cells here.”
‘What did they run the ship on then?’ Jayne asked.
‘Nuthin as simple as fuel cells. No shieldin for one thing. An these big tanks.. what do them words say?’
‘Gás natural liquefeito . PERIGO . Sem chamas’, read Zoe.
‘Must be Portugalian. I’ll get Derry to look it up when we get home.’
‘There are some universal danger logos though,’ said Zoe.’I think I know what this is. Liquified natural gas. Methane.’
Mal brightened. “Jayne, see if those tanks have fastenings we could undo.’
‘How would ya transport them, Mal? They’s almost as big as Serenity.’
‘Pull’em behind us. The methane won’t ignite if it’s liquid. And there are Rim cities that could be powered for years by a tank this size.’
‘Could you power an Ark with methane? And where would you get that much of the stuff? This ship’s been in the Black for nigh on 500 years.’
‘If the crew is limited, once you’re underway, you don’t need much to keep goin. And this ship was slow to arrive. Slow enough to be forgotten. Keep the crew small, mebbee two or three hundred actives, mebbee less, and you don’t need much power for light and heat.’
‘Here’s a different tank, ‘reported Jayne, ‘Oxigénio.”
‘Oxygen. We’ve found real treasure. Sell that tank to a shipyard for real cashy money.’
Back on Serenity, the crew discussed their next steps.
Zoe preferred to stay with their current plan of harvesting cryopods of embryos. ‘They sell easy and we already have customers. More important, they hardly ever explode.’
Simon agreed, as did his husband. ‘The livestock is badly needed on almost every Rim world and easy to sell on Border worlds. There is a social benefit to dealing in livestock.”
Jayne was interested in the most lucrative cargo. ‘We grab the methane and sell it to a shipyard. Boom, done.’
‘But we have to get the tanks out of the ship first. They were put in place early in the build. Might be tricky. And of course, they’re right volatile fuel, ‘ Kaylee said. ‘So, yeah. Boom.
‘Same with the oxygen. The builders would want to keep that on board. No reason ever to take it off.’
‘Well, we don’t have the equipment, the time or the customer for either methane fuel or oxygen, so lets leave it for now and do some research after we find and deliver this cargo. It ain’t goin anywhere.’ suggested Zoe.
‘Unless, the ship that scarpered figgers the same as us.’ said Kaylee.
‘Not salvors.’ said River.’Slavers.’
‘Lookin to harvest the cryopods of the fugees? Gǒupì! Nasty shock to wake up centuries from home and find yer bought and sold like livestock. ‘ said Mal.
‘And dangerous erén. Don’t give a good gorram bout human life less’n they can sell it. Frozen bodies would be a perfect cargo, no need to feed ’em and no need to control ’em until they are paid for. ‘ added Jayne.
‘We have to do something,Mal. We haven’t found the refugees yet, but that open cargo door indicates that the slavers have.’ said Simon.’ Perhaps it’s time to notify the Feds about the Ark. We don’t have to tell them when exactly we found it or how often we’ve visited.’
‘There’s damn good money, real coin, solid platinum sittin waitin for us to take it. An’ we don’t actually know that the slavers have found the refugees.’
‘Or even that they are slavers.’
‘I’ll trust Tross on that. How w’rin bu lai, whai w’rin bu jwo?’ Mal leaned back on his chair and closed his eyes. Kaylee stroked his hand.
‘We have to do right by the fugees, Capt’n, ” she said softly.
The next morning, Mal had made up his mind. ‘We’ll take our cargo and as much more on spec as we can. Deliver it then move on to Boros. We’ll pass news to the Feds there. Don’t have to mention the slavers, since we didn’t stop for long and didn’t investigate much, except to see that the Ark had been visited. That should cover our ass if they don’t look too close. So let’s suit up and harvest as much as we can.’
A heavy day of work followed, with River the only crew not pulling out frozen embryos, but keeping a close watch for other ships.
At supper, an easy meal of tinned beans on toast, apples and tea, Mal thanked everyone for their hard work. Most of the crew were glad of a shower after a day spent in the odorous confines of a space suit and one by one went off to bed. Only Zoe did not retire early, but took over the bridge for River.
Kaylee and Mal showered together, pleased that their hard day had been successful and probably would make them a lot of money.
‘I never saw those engines,’ remarked Kaylee ‘and now we’re leaving and not coming back.’
‘We could make a short trip over there, If you like darlin.’
‘Is there air in the engine room, Malcolm?’
‘I like where this is goin, Kaywinnet. ‘ Mal kissed his wet naked wife. ‘We could just stay here. We’re the last in the shower room.’
‘I’d really like to see those LNG engines, captain. I’ll make it worth your while. There’s no gravity over there, is there?’
‘Don’t tease a horny man, Kaywinnet. Why don’t we go check those out? We could make a quick trip over while the kids are sleeping. And you could inspect them on the spot,’ her husband suggested.
‘ I don’t tease… at least not for long. Let’s do it.’
‘Shuttle over, Malcolm, take a few capchures of what’s there for customers?’
‘That would be the plan, Kaywinnet.’
‘Sure. Let’s. ‘
Mal notified Zoe that he and Kaylee were going back over to the Ark.
‘ I can come along case you find something worth bringing back,’ offered Jayne.
Kaylee glanced at the captain.
‘No. This’ll just be recon. No need for extra hands.’
They took a pair of spacesuits up to the shuttle and lifted off, slipping over the bulk of the Ark, out of sight of Serenity.
Mal piloted the shuttle to the open cargo door that led to the village and then to the engine room. Without speaking, they stripped down to minimal undergarments, before suiting up.
They helped each other into their suits, Kaylee remarking on the stink of them after a full day.
‘At least Jayne drained the bio units.’
‘How come he’s on honeywagon duty this week? What awful thing did I miss? ‘
Mal was busy caressing Kaylee’s breasts as he fitted the suit. They had decided there was no point in getting dressed before going over.
‘Not like we’ll be meeting any strangers. ‘
He bent down to kiss her before fastening on her helmet. Her pink tongue traced the outline of his lips and she held his eyes before smiling and stepping back. His eyes asked a question and hers a promise.
They checked each others seals, although Engineering still had full atmosphere. Before he helped Kaylee into her helmet, Mal bent to kiss her. “What we do for privacy, Kaywinnet.’
She laughed and returned his kiss with heat.
Kaylee was fascinated by the village, especially the freeze-dried park. This area was still cold, but the still running engines kept their destination warm, with a little of the heat still being pumped into the village.
Mal led the way to the engine room while Kaylee, who had stayed home while the crew found their cargo and explored the Ark, looked around in amazement.
‘I’ve read about how we left Earth-That-Was and even seen some vids about it. A lotta my stories use the Leaving as a start. But I couldn’t imagine…. This is a whole city inside a ship!”
‘Not really a city. A town, mebbee only a village. Davy reckons there were five hundred crew awake at any time, tops. Probably less, most of the time. Only reason to have more was to make sure there was a next generation of crew, without people fuckin their sisters.’
‘Geez you can be nasty sometimes, capt’n.’
‘Lemme show you them engines you’re so taken with an we’ll see who can get nasty.’
They had removed their helmets once clear of the airlock, but still wore their suits. They had left all other clothing behind, knowing without discussion that an opportunity to be the only ones on a world would not easily come again.
As they left Serenity, River had chirped, “Have good sex!”
Sometimes it was very necessary to be alone. Even if there still was no privacy.
Engineering took up an area nearly 500 metres square and 20 metres high, and Kaylee lit up with glee. Engineering was both sealed and fully atmospheric. The engines needed oxygen to run and enough had leaked into the section that they were a little giddy with it.
Finding her suit slowed her down too much, she opened the seals and catches and stripped down. Mal, removed his own suit and watched with amusement and delight as his almost naked mechanic bounced around in zero gravity, cooing over engines and machines inexplicable to him, that she recognized at a glance. Her happy enthusiasm ignored his presence, as she stroked the humming machines and read labels and nameplates. It did not even seem to slow her down that most of the labels were in ancient lost Portugese.
He was entranced by his view of her rump, round and bouncy as she squeezed into a space behind some incomprehensible tank of something dangerous. He considered that she had one of the finest asses he had ever seen, which considering his experience included Zoe Alleyne Washburne and Inara Serra, definitely put her in the top three percent of buttocks. He reached out his big hand and stroked the smooth skin, cupping each warm globe in turn.
She swatted his hand away, ‘Gimmee a minute, capt’n. I wanna check this gauge…’ her words became indecipherable as she wriggled deeper into the machinery.
Her legs now. Slim but still curvy. Those curves were muscle, he knew. She could wrap herself around him and brace while he thrust up into her willing cunt. She could even from that position use those strong muscles to push herself along his hard cock.
She was sliding back now, and halfway out with a triumphant wiggle. He stepped forward and embraced her, grasping her breasts and pushing his erection into the cleft of that rump.
‘Rump.’ he murmured.
‘Whaah?’ she replied, concentrating on the mechanism in her grasp. He moved one hand down her front and touched her clit. Just a flick, but she hissed with pleasure. He slipped a finger into her, already wet.
She always said engines made her hot.
Mal felt his cock rise in appreciation of that rump. He decided not to resist and cupping a buttock in each hand, he bent over and kissed them then gave into the temptation and bit the tender rounded flesh.
Kaylee yelled in surprise, jerking away and bumping her head on machinery. She pulled out of the space she had been investigating and glared like an offended kitten. Mal pulled her up and kissed the bump, pressing his erection into her soft belly.
She giggled. A bite or bump was just spice in the mix. Before Mal could kiss her she slid down his body and took his cock into her mouth.
He was a little too large for her to take fully, but her tongue had him gasping in seconds and when she sucked hard, he had to stop her if their private excursion were not to come to a sudden conclusion.
The floor was soft with some sort of smooth foam, easy to clean but comfortable underfoot. Mal lay her down and slipped his tongue into her cleft. Although his cock was near her face, she did not try to suck him again, but stroked him slowly, and as her orgasm approached, more than a little erratically.
With a cry, she collapsed boneless, Mal grinned in satisfaction, watching the flush rise and fall on her chest, her nipples hard and rigid, her breathless gasps. He turned and pushed into her cunt easily. Her walls were still spasming with the orgasm and it felt good. Very good. He settled into a steady tempo that kept her at orgasm at first gasping then moaning and finally as he came hot and hard, screaming at the intensity.
They lay wrapped around each other, holding tight, each trying to melt into the other.
‘Nice show.’ said a strange voice.