They spun apart. Mal was on his feet in an instant, trying to stare down the heavyset stranger who held an energy gun on them. Kaylee cringed away, horrified, sliding towards the safety of the storage tanks.
The stranger was as tall and broad as Mal, and was accompanied by another, equally large. Both were armed and were obviously aroused by what they had observed.
Kaylee watched the three men. Mal was naked and had not been concerned about bringing armament to a deserted ship. For the moment she was not being watched, but she was sure that she would soon be the object of their interest. Making herself as small as possible, she slid a hand out to the nearest suit, sprawled on the floor where it has been discarded in heat. She touched the rigid frame and found the left shoulder, pressing the emergency button there. Short short short long long long short short short. She slipped her hand back to her side.
‘Looks like we’re not the only ones to have found this little treasure, “ Mal was saying, with an easy grin. ‘You interested in the fuel ? Cause it’s way too much for us to handle.’
The men were still silent.
‘We ain’t had a chance to look around much. I was thinking there might be some good antiques in the village back there. Small stuff, easy to sell for cashy money. All kinds of val’able plastic stuff. Even the china and glass would find a fast market.’
‘So would a couple of healthy workers.’ said the big man. His companion laughed. ‘Big demand for miners, farmhands.’
‘Whores.’ Added the companion, leering.
Kaylee, knowing she was back in observation, moved to a less constricted position.
‘Don’t need a job.’ Said Mal. ’Got work.’
‘Us too, ‘ the companion said,’ An there’s lots of stock for labour suppliers here too.’
Mal’s grin never faded. ‘There are corpsicles? You’re making the frozen fugees into slaves?”
“Bond labourers, please, ‘ the leader said. ‘Best thing for them, once they get used to the idea. They get food and board while they learn about a brand new Verse. Practically a favour to them.’
“Yer selling people.’
‘I sell labour contracts. Good business too. The customers pay me to find them workers and the workers pay me for my costs of rescue and transport to the place of work.’
‘All legal and above board, Mal.’
Kayless saw the tiny twitch when the slaver said Mal’s name. She knew Mal was running his face through his long list of ‘people I have pissed off.’
“Yer name is Mal Reynolds and you robbed me of my whole stake back on Kerry in 2518. My name is Wright. Took me a year to earn enough to get off that dirtball.’
‘Don’t recall the occasion. May be some other fella looks like me. Must be lots of ruggedly handsome, well set up spacers in the Verse.’
‘Got a different whore with you this time. That one was a brunette, real high class, not a scrubber like this one.’
The twitch again. Kaylee got ready to run when the violence started. The buddy laughed.
‘Still not ringin any bells, Mr. Wright. Pert sure you got the wrong fella.’
‘If you ain’t him, yer close enough for me to want to take out my upset and hurt feelins on. And you ain’t got much goin in yer favour, do you?”
‘I do seem to be at a disadvantage. Mind if I put my pants on? Yer buddy there keeps starin at my famly jewels. Gets embarrassin after a bit.’
The buddy made a squeak of denial. Wright glanced back at him, taking his eyes off Mal who launched himself grabbing for the gun. Buddy swung his weapon up but with his leader in the way, had no clear target.
Then Kaylee’s skull hit him full on the groin. He collapsed, writhing and she managed to get hold of his gun and aim it in the direction of the fighting men.
‘Stop that right now, ‘ she commanded, in her ‘mama ain’t happy’ voice. A childhood memory kicked in and for only a second Wright stopped struggling, allowing Mal to wrest his weapon away.
The slavers froze, while Mal and Kaylee, discussed with glances and few words how to handle this unexpected problem.
Kaylee handed Mal Buddy’s weapon, and trotted to a well equipped work bench. She found some thin wire and a pair of wire cutters.
Dragging Buddy’s hands from his screaming crotch, she wired his hands behind his back and to one ankle. She pulled the gasping man around and with a new wire attached that ankle to Wright’s opposite ankle so that the men faced in different directions. then she wired Wright’s hands behind him.
‘Still got wire left, capt’n.’
‘That’ll do, mei mei.’
‘Think I should solder the wires together, capt’n?’
‘Let’s just tie ‘em to somethin solid. We’ll deal with em when the others arrive. I wanna find the fugees.’
‘The corpsicles would be on their ship. I could disable it pert easy.’
‘Trickier if they grabbed any live crew.’
‘What’ll we do with these two now?”
‘We could discuss it with the crew, but I’m none too taken with the idea of lettin them tell the Feds about some pirates interruptin their legitimate business.’
Kaylee sighed, then picked up the spacesuit. ‘Zoe?’ she called.
‘On our way.’
‘Could you grab some clothes before you leave, please?’ she asked. ‘And could you bring Simon or David rather than Jayne?’
‘No one. But I’ve managed so far to avoid Jayne seein me nekkid. Simon already has and David don’t care.’
Kaylee’s husband considered her words. “Zoe, you come with Simon and a couple of jumpsuits for Kaylee and me.”
“Not David?” Kaylee asked when Mal signed off.
” She’s seen me in my skin before. And Simon. I would like to maintain as much modesty as possible in this sitchation.”
Donning their suits, Mal and Kaylee headed the way the slavers had entered. Mal used the suit comms to let Zoe know about their adventure and that they were heading off to investigate the slavers’ ship.
They trotted down a long corridor with sealed doors each marked ‘Garantir câmara de estase Sem entrada’
‘Derry, could you find out what these words mean?’ Mal asked his comm.
‘He better not answer that, he’s supposed to be in bed.’
‘Right, mamma bear. Hey, that was good work back there. You got me scared, even.’
‘T’weren’t nuthin. I just didn’t want them anywheres near Serenity and my babies.’
“Mamma bear.’ Fondly. Proudly.
River’s voice came over the comm. ‘The signs say ‘Secure Stasis Chamber. No Entry.”
‘Guess that’s the corpsicles, then. We’re on lookout for one that’s been opened.’
Mal carefully checked the opened door. The seals had been broken roughly, probably with a little sticky explosive. The chamber, larger than the Village, was filled with cryopods, not very different from that in which River had been smuggled off Persephone and into their ship, years before.
Each pod had a nametag, a number and an odd speckled square. In addition, there was a capture of the person held in frozen stasis in the ‘pod.
‘Five centuries,’ marvelled Kaylee.
‘An then a new life. Well, at least it won’t be slavery.’
‘What do we do, capt’n?’
‘We can’t let those slavers loose. They know too much about our operation. We can’t let any of the fugees loose either. They prolly don’t know how to run the ship, and we don’t know the extent of the damage. Safer for them here, even if other ships find them.’
‘Shénme dōu méi biàn guānghuá.’
‘Thinkin we should paint that on the ship as our business slogan, darlin.’
Zoe and Simon arrived quickly, not having to worry about being spotted, nor about wearing spacesuits. Zoe held a taser on the slavers while Mal and Kaylee scrambled into coveralls and Simon checked the captives for serious injury.
‘What are we supposed to do with these prisoners, sir?’ Zoe asked .
‘ We could just leave ‘em for the Feds, Could be months before the Feds get here, course.’ Jayne suggested over the comm.
‘This is a real dà xiàng de gāowán sitchashun. Can’t let em go. Can’t let em tell anyone their story. ‘ Kaylee said.
‘Can’t say I disagree,’ said Mal.’ If we let them go on their merry, they could turn us in to the Feds lickety split, an I reckon their slavin ways is a mite more legal than our own business here.’
River was singing in the background. ” Our object all sublime, we shall achieve in time, to make the punishment fit the crime; the punishment fit the crime.’
“We could space ’em.” suggested Jayne.
“We can’t kill them in cold blood, Captain,” Simon said. ‘For what it’s worth, outside of some minor bruising, they are in rude good health.’
“Too much gravity anyway. They’d orbit Rio forever. An if we are connected with the ark , like by notifyin that it’s here, the Feds find the bodies.’
‘Laundry day, see you there,” chirruped River.
“We could leave em tied up in their own boat… nope, they might be found too soon.”
“Yeah, now that two crews have found Rio, chances of another are pert high.”
‘An we can’t let them tell their story. Dà xiàng de gāowán ‘
‘With my freezeray, I can stop the world.’ River sang in the background.
Simon said, ‘I think River has found the solution.’
‘Then we better get it in Captain Dummy talk, cause I ain’t any less confused.’
‘The crew were active in shifts, then went back into cryogenic sleep. There must be a cyronics machine somewhere.’
Kaylee squealed. “That’s it. We freeze em and file em. Mark em with some low status so’s they ain’t defrosted any too soon.’
“Good thinking Doc, Riv. Would we need someone over here to do the freezing?”
“It should be automatic, since the crew would be doing each other, but I have operated the machinery once, which is once more than anyone else on crew. ‘
“An’ I can help.’ said Kaylee, who always looked for chances to play with new machines.
“We’ll need a gurney and at least one other person for muscle.,’ Mal added.
They filed the slavers, naked and identified as illiterate fishermen. Kaylee broke into their ship and stripped it of useful fuel cells and spare parts, as well as identification, then set the ship a course for Kalidasa that would end by crashing into the Rim sun. The slavers had not yet stocked any cryopods for this trip.
On of the useful finds on the slaveship was a net with mesh fine enough to hold cryopods. Kaylee and Jayne decided it could be jerryrigged to pull as many pods as could be held in Serenity’s hold. River was confident that she could safely pilot the ship and the net to a friendly world, although they would not be able to enter atmo with the net dragging.
‘We’ll head for Lilac, Harrow’s chicken ranch.’ said Mal. ‘Get hold of Warwick from there and get advice. ‘
‘That should work. It’s quiet enough there that orbiting the world won’t be noticed much.’ added Simon.
‘Allus said you had the making of a good criminal mind, there, doc,” grinned Mal.
Warwick Harrow was annoyed by the new development. “So that’s the end of our new product line?”
‘Fraid so, Warwick,’ said Mal. “Now, if we could get a proper salvage license, we could go in search of lost ships, maybe around Sturgis. We might even be able to keep an eye open for lost Arks.”
‘I don’t have that kind of influence, Mal. Those licenses aren’t just expensive, and if I say they are expensive, you know you could never afford one. You couldn’t even afford the interest on the load to buy one, if you could get the loan, which you couldn’t.
“Those licenses are held tight by Blue Sun subsidiaries. Any finds are going to be Blue Sun property, and there is no chance they will let any fly by night outfit like yours .”
“Well, we had a good run, an we made some good money. Warwick, thank you for your help.’
“I made money too, Mal. And there are people now beholden to me for the product you were able to supply. So, we’re even.’
“Got one more request though, Warwick. Need some advice on where I can grow a couple of embryos to birthin’ size. Then I need a world that would be able to support a colony of blue whales.”