ON A BLUE SUN WORLD
C.E. 2534 – This follows in part on A WORLD CALLED SAFFRON, but the crew is unaware of why.
“Looks like a busy day for everyone. Scatterin to the four winds and doin business every which way.”
“David set up the appointment at Blue Sun Pharma. We’ll head out there by the metro and taxi from the terminal to their offices. I think our work identifying the viral mutation will stand their scrutiny but we need their help with the DNA testing.”
“Don’t see the money in it. Lotta work for nuthin.”
“It’s reputation, Jayne.” said David. “Simon can use the moral capital from identifying a new disease and his suggestions towards a cure to keep his name clear and keep us and River safe.”
“Our work, dear,” said his husband softly.
“Look at it this way,” David continued.” You work out every day so you can keep your body in shape because that’s your reputation. Tough and strong.”
“And fast and a good tracker.”
“Okay. Simon has to keep his medical credentials up to date, not just licensing , but his name as a scientist or he becomes just another backwoods practitioner. The people who count to respect him if only so he can draw on their goodwill in the future.”
“And I want the egoboo,” murmured Simon.
Kaylee laughed and punched his arm. “For a fella as smart as you, you’re never prideful. No moren you deserve.”
“You’re not always a boob, ge ge,” said River, kissing her brother’s hair.
“Well, you were part of the research team too, mei mei. It’s your predictions of the DNA changes that we will be checking at Blue Sun.”
River stiffened, “He wasn’t there again today. I wish to God he’d go away.” She shook herself, “Is there syrup?”
‘Are you sure about taking Derry to see about the Silverhold contract? He could come with us,” asked his mother.
“Time for him to learn the wheelin and dealin side of Alleyne Reynolds Transport, Kaylee”
“Sides he’s better at figgerin than his old man.”
“I’ll not deny the boy is quick with numbers. We’ll be doin some fancy work on this contract an he c’d be useful.”
Derry, seated with the other children, ducked his head bashfully at the praise. Beege, his little sister, poked him.
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 Emma 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 Emma 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 Emma 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.’
Simon and David took the commuter train to the Blue Sun offices. There was a small delay at the door. When David made the appointment he had given his own name, but Simon had only been recorded as ‘and husband’ so their appointment was under the names David and Simon Chen.
Their appointment was with Doctor Hervé Maracle, himself a bacteriologist. He was a sturdy man, broad but not tall, who, like David, wore his black hair in a long pigtail down his back.
‘Your prospectus was very interesting. Not just the disease mutation itself but the predictions. If those progressions prove out, we will have an invaluable tool for stopping epidemics as soon as they are reported and much improved methods for preparing vaccines and anti-serums that will allow the body to self immunize against new strains. ‘
‘That’s why we wanted to use your DNA sequencing equipment. There’s nothing as sophisticated here on the Rim, even the Border. And we rarely manage to get to the Core.’ Simon explained.’My father’s company prepared a contract for the use of the data. It was intended to protect our interests, of course, but gives Blue Sun both immediate payment for the use of the equipment and first option on any future production.’
‘Yes, our legal department looked it over and it is satisfactory, Dr. Chen.’
‘Tam, Simon Tam. There was some confusion at reception. My husband is David Chen.’
‘Oh. So you are Dr. Chen.’
‘No, my degree is a BSc in Nursing. I’m a registered nurse and midwife. Simon holds the medical degree.’
‘Not a problem. I apologize for the confusion. This does mean that the contract will need minor modifications, just for the names.’
Dr. Maracle commed, ‘Sir, the gentlemen with the mutation prediction system are here. I have the contracts but we have the researchers’ names wrong.’ He listened. ‘Yes, the primary name should be Simon Tam, MD, with the secondary as David Chen, BSc-N. Do either of you have middle names?’
‘Simon Gabriel Tam and David Commanda Chen.’
‘Thank you, ‘ he smiled, ‘We may have common ancestors, Mr. Chen.’
‘It’s a small ‘Verse.’
‘We can go run the DNA samples now while the paperwork is being prepared. Shall we?’
‘You are the kissingest crew in the Verse’ said Sou-fen Macharia to her friend.
‘Nuthin wrong with showin affection, is there?’ replied Kaylee.
‘Nah, but I swear y’all took fifteen minute for hugging and kissing . Lil River kissed
her brother and his hubby, an your husband, an he kisses you and Beege an Derry
kisses you, and Beege kisses all the men, including that tough muscle of yours, then
hasta chase after her brother and hold him down…
Kaylee laughed.’K. It does sound crazy smoochy when you say it. So, what are ya
setting out at the booth t’day?’
‘I baked date-nut and lemon loaves and two kinds of bread, potato-rosemary
sourdough and challah.’
‘Challah? My Gran Frye made that for Sundays. Ooh, if I find eggs shoppin t’day,
I’ll make pain perdu. With hmmm, protein sausages and fried tomatoes.’
‘The MuckedyMuck is in from Triumph. Ask Freddy if they brought any sausage
from there. They sometimes bring in frozen patties or bulk packs. Real pig meat.’
‘Triumph? Have they lifted the quarantine?’
‘Cordin to Muckedy. Feds came in with Flyin Doctors and inoculated ever’bod and
passed out the cure all to the sickies. The preachers was some mad, too! Then they
got above themsel’ and tried to blow up a Flyin Doctor ship. So the Feds arrested
all the clerics who’d been taking against the vaccs and took ’em off planet for
‘Huh, between transport an trial they’ll be gone two year or more. Then jail time.’
‘Them clerics ain’t gonna recognize Triumph when they get back.’
‘Serves em right. Not vaccinating against leprosy! What kinda version of God
‘Not Mithra anyways.’ Sou-fen made the sign of the sun.
‘Yah, well, I’ll skip Triumph sausage for a while, good price or no. Leprosy… ugh.’
Sou-fen’s comm buzzed. ‘Gotta take the next loaves out. You around for today?’
‘Goin shoppin later, but most of the morning.’
As Sou-fen entered her ship, Emma Washburne descended Serenity’s cargo ramp,
Emma, at fifteen, was as tall as her mother, a good 185 cm, and had missed the
gawky stage, perhaps because of the dance and gymnastics she and Kaylee’s
children learned from River. She wore a black jumpsuit, not the best colour for her
golden brown skin and blonde dreadlocked hair. Her green eyes were large and
What’s on the schedule today, Kaylee?’ she asked.
‘We’re locking up the boat while the men are off and havin’ a girl’s day in town.
Right over to the downtown mall, not just the spaceport market. Yer mum wants
some fancy groceries and we need school uniforms for all you kids.’
‘Just one more year for me, ayi.’
‘They don’t have uniforms in pilot academy?’
‘If an academy has a uniform, I ain’t goin there.’
‘Spoken like a true Browncoat’s daughter.’
‘Well, I am. I’m Independent to the… I was gonna say ‘core’, but that don’t work.’
Kaylee laughed again. ‘Did you see my Baby Girl since her daddy went off? I don’t
want her exploring alone.’
‘She’s with River, getting a lesson in origami.’
Sou-fen returned with a brilliant red and gold tablecloth and a basket of baked
Four transports had set down together by the edge of the spaceport and flung up a
white picket fence, supplied by the crew of the Pretty Baby, which the four crews
used as a gathering place and a safe playground for their children. Sou-fen had a
trading booth just outside the fenced in area, where she sold her justly famous
baked goods. Wherever the Pretty Baby went, buyers clamoured for her dessert
‘Kaylee, if you see any pumpkins or apples or a good price on overripe peaches,
could you grab them for me? I feel pies coming on.’
‘Dam tootin! Kin we get a pie in trade?’
‘You’ll need two for your gang.’
‘Tell him I’ll sell him a pie made special for him.’
‘Sou! You getting a letch?’
‘He’s a nice piece of man’flesh.’
‘As long as you don’t talk to him.’
‘That wasn’t my plan.’
The women laughed conspiratorially.
Simon and the Blue Sun technician fed the DNA samples into the sequencer, which reported on the changes and the speed of the changes. The results took a few hours, but were transferred to Simon’s notepad as they arrived.
Dr. Maracle, who had indeed found common ancestors with David on the generation ship that had left Earth That Was from Eastern Canada, went over the results with Simon, while David inspected the artworks on the office walls, including what appeared to be an original Morrisseau.
‘This will require a lot more work, of course, but the preliminaries do seem promising…..’
He broke off when two women appeared at his office door. They wore black suits and high level Blue Sun ID badges.
‘This is a private meeting, ladies. My assistant can make you an appointment. I should be free in about one hour.’
‘Dr. Tam is to come with us,’ said the shorter woman.
‘Perhaps I can help you right now? If there is a simple problem that won’t take long?’ offered Simon.
‘You will come with us and take us to your sister.’
‘My sister? Are you referring to those warrants that were open on us some years ago? I assure you those were closed by the Alliance and we were cleared of all and any wrongdoing.’
‘You will come with us.’
Dr. Maracle surged to his feet. ‘Dr. Tam is my guest. We are negotiating an important research project, one which will be a lucrative contract for the company. I must insist ….’
The taller woman reached into her pocket and withdrew a small rod. The men were momentarily fascinated by her blue gloved hands. Then Dr. Maracle started bleeding from his eyes, fingernails and mouth, where blood vessels were closest to the surface.
David, who had stood quietly by during the argument, slapped the rod from the woman’s blue hand. She looked startled for the moment she had before David punched her in the temple and she collapsed. Simon saw the other Blue Hands reaching for her pocket and kicked out at her, with the force and precision he had learned from years of workouts with River and with Jayne. The woman collapsed.
Dr. Maracle was choking on his own blood. Simon hit the comm switch on his desk and called for the receptionist. There was no answer.
‘What can we do for him?’ asked David.
‘We need a fast acting blood clotting agent. Not something I usually carry to business meetings. Did we pass a supply room between the lab and here?’
‘Right next door, but I think it’s a cleaning supply cupboard, not medical.’
David returned rapidly.
‘The receptionist must have given the Blue Ladies some attitude. He’s dead. But there was a wheelchair in the cupboard. Should we shoot the women?’
‘Probably. But let’s find any weapons they have and tie them up instead. We don’t need any new warrants out against us.’
‘There was duct tape…’ David returned with the roll and the women were quickly taped to chairs, with their left hands taped together. David grinned and removed two of the four wheels on each chair. ‘Keep ‘em off balance.’ Another grin.
‘We’ve been travelling with criminals way too long, bao bei,’ said Simon. ‘Grab their badges and those blue light things.’
The wheelchair proved to have been put in the cupboard because it was broken, with erratic wheels. The men moved as fast as they could heading for the entrance to the facility and unsure whether they should turn their contact over to his colleagues for help or not.
‘Dr. Maracle didn’t know the Blue Ladies. But they seemed very confident that he would turn us over.’
‘And when he was politely skeptical they turned murderous. This is the turn for the medical labs, right? ‘
The scent of the warm bread brought customers to Sou-fen’s booth immediately
and she was almost sold out when her comm buzzed again.
‘Emma, sweetie! Would you cover the booth while I get the next batch out?’
A government patrol was attracted by the delicious smells and strolled over, both men in purple armour and armed with taser rifles.
‘What you got for a hungry man, little lady,’ said the senior officer, who was easily 10 cm shorter than Emma.
Kaylee, at the cargo bay door, stopped to listen.
Emma calmly recited the prices for the various products.
‘No special prices for your valiant protectors?’ The purplebellies had opaque faceplates to their helmets that made them seem like robots. The man put his gloved hand on Emma’s.
‘Don’t need protection. We takes care of our own.’ She calmly pulled her hand back.
The purplebelly stiffened. Kaylee alerted Zoe and River by comm to come to the bay ramp.
‘What! You spacer trash don’t think you need help keeping you civilized? You think you don’t need protection from the smugglers and pirates and slavers out there in the Black? You think you can just go your own merry way without …’
The other purplebelly spoke up. ‘Corporal? There seems to be some problem over by the Moon and Comet tavern. Perhaps we should check it out?’
The corporal’s faceplate stayed focussed on Emma for a few seconds. ‘Yeah. Evidently, in spite of this shǎ bī’s opinion, some spacers do need protection. C’mon.’
‘But you better be sure that you have papers for that space you have blocked off. And a peddler’s license.’
The junior purplebelly, walking behind his corporal, turned to face Emma, walking backward. He shrugged and gave her a quick salute.
‘There was no problem at the tavern, was there, Kaylee?’
‘The Moon and Comet? It’s a real dive, so probably there is. But that constable didn’t get any comm about it. Nice of him.’
‘You saying something nice about Feds, Kaylee? Mind I don’t tell the captain.’
“Silverhold Import and Export. Guess this is the place.’ Mal gazed at the highrise building standing a good twenty stories higher than any other building in the office park.
‘And we’re just about right on time. That’s something to remember Derry. Arrivin at the right time. Too early and you look anxious. Too late is insultin. Bein a minute or two late is usually best.’
‘Zoe says you’re always late for Badger.’
‘Just enough to keep him on his toes. Not quite enough to be insultin.’
‘But almost.’ said Jayne.
They rang at the Information Board and a gruff voice asked their names.
‘Captain Reynolds of Alleyne Reynolds Transport, and staff.’
The door to the building opened and the three stepped into a large foyer, walled in fashionable wide stripes of green and blue enamelled metal with dark green leather armchairs scattered about. The sound from a central fountain kept conversations private. The elevator doors were a coordinating deep green, but the interiors were entirely mirrored.
Derry was impressed by the up to date décor, as was his father, but only the boy showed it. Jayne didn’t notice decor, but automatically looked about for escape routes, cover and hiding places.
They disembarked at the 34th floor into a foyer more impressive than the entrance. All the walls here were mirrored as was the single desk centred about 15 feet from the elevator in front of a ceiling high set of mirrored doors.
Again Jayne surveyed the area for danger automatically allowing for the confusion the mirrored walls caused. He located what was probably the fire stairwell and noted at least two other doors into the offices.
Mal did not like the layout, which forced a long walk to the receptionist on callers. Unfriendly. Put a man on edge and made a petitioner or supplicant from an equal. Derry picked up on the tension in the adults and reverted to his ‘mean old man’ imitation of his father, stiff shoulders and grim expression.
The receptionist, a willowy young man with almond eyes and a very straight back, gazed at them expressionless, waiting for them to speak.
The three approached the desk, feeling like country bumpkins even in their good business clothing, which was obviously what the reception space was intended to do. Mal did not like it. There was a small Blue Sun logo on the Silverhold Import and Export sign. Another xi niao subsidiary.
The two medics crashed through double swinging doors with the Blue Sun doctor, unconscious and bleeding heavily. Startled voices and a wave of lab techs surged towards them.
‘I need a coagulant STAT!‘ shouted Simon over the chatter. An older woman dashed for a cabinet and brought back three prepacked injectors.
‘They’re different, in case any one is not sufficient.’
‘Thank you, nurse. Good thinking.’
David was pushing back most of the staff, who were unused to medical emergencies, lab techs or long away from field work. A man with a soldierly bearing had pulled forward a table, and was swabbing it with antibacterial lotion from a hand cleaning station. He tossed gloves and a mask to Simon and David.
Working as quickly as he ever had in his days as a trauma surgeon, Simon cut open Maracle’s jacket and shirt, exposing his chest. He shot the first of the coagulants into the bare flesh. The woman swabbed some of the blood from Maracle’s hand, and shoved it at a younger woman. ‘Blood type. Now.’ she snapped. ‘And get at least a litre of that type, or O, here immediately.’
The young woman nodded and moved smoothly to her workstation. Typing the blood took only a few seconds, and she was on the comm a few seconds later.
David heard her order two litres of Type AB, and asked loudly if anyone present had that bloodtype. Two staffers raised their hands. David refused a pregnant woman with thanks and sat the other down on a high stool beside Maracle’s makeshift bed. The soldierly staffer handed him some sterile tubing and hollow needles.
David took a moment, ‘War service?’
‘If you ain’t got the right thing, use the next best wrong thing,’ grinned the old soldier.
Derry felt very exposed on the long walk to the desk.
‘Team from Alleyne Reynolds Transport for Ms.Regush.’ his father said to the receptionist.
‘Please take a seat. Ms. Regush will be with you shortly.’
The crew found seats on grey leather couches some 10 feet to the left of the receptionist.
‘Now we wait. Since we was on time, it’ll be about 15 minutes, not more. If we’d been late it would have been the length of time we was late plus fifteen.’
‘What if we was early?’
‘Dunno. I’ve never turned up early. Don’t wanna look anxious, even if we are.’
Derry and his father pulled bookpads out of their satchels. Jayne amused himself by glaring at the willowy receptionist.
‘Cap’n, I need to pee.’
‘Ask the doorman there.’
The receptionist indicated an almost invisible door behind him on his right. Derry bowed politely and scooted in.
He was impressed by the toilet. It was even fancier than the ones at Perse’ compound. The walls were of grey shiny stone with three matching cubicles. The urinals were odourless and sparkling clean. Each sink had a stack of fresh white towels with the company logo in black embroidery.
Derry pissed quickly and the urinal washed itself. He put his hands under the tap and deliciously warm water mixed with sweet smelling soap sprayed them. Feeling even more like a bumpkin, he washed his face with one of the towels and disposed of it in the marble bin beneath the sink. He ran a hand through his hair and wished he had a comb.
When he returned, his father was talking to a woman in a beautiful grey silk suit. “Ah, here’s Derry,” said his father, but made no other mention of why part of the Alleyne Reynolds Transport delegation was a young boy.
The woman, who had introduced herself to Mal and Jayne as the forwarding manager, Martiale Regush, bowed them into the interior offices and down a long corridor to a windowless conference room that could have seated twenty.
After pleasantries and an offer of coffee and biscuits, which Mal politely refused to Derry’s disappointment, Regush got down to business.
‘What we are looking for is a relatively small ship that can carry multiple cargoes. We supply mixed goods to grocers and other traders on many worlds. Most of them trade in a small way, supplying smaller communities and their catchments. The goods vary greatly from month to month.’
‘You are looking for a call to each of these every month?’
‘Yes, monthly runs, but there is no guarantee that any given ship would have a regular route. It could be that you call on twenty communities a month, with an overlap of only a dozen from month to month while other sub-contractors handle the other calls.’
‘We can do that, certain. But there are advantages if we can call some of your shopkeepers our own clients. As sub-contractors, of course. No worry that we would try supplyin em our own selves. We do transport, not trade.’
‘If we found one of our subs trying to take our clients for themselves, we would not be happy. Losing our contract would be the least of such a ship’s worries.’ Her smile was lizard thin.
‘How much bulk are we lookin at. We can carry up to 400 tonnes mass but our bay has dimensional ….challenges.’
‘How high can you stack?’
‘About nine metres.
‘No, cap’n,’ said Derry.’We’d need scaffolding or the containers on the bottom would be hard to reach.’
‘Good point. Seven metres then.’
‘And time needed to put up, an take down the scaffoldin, since it ain’t needed on every trip.‘
‘Huh. Make it four hours on each end for scaffoldin’. We got scaffoldin?’
‘No worries. Perse got lots in the warehouse,’ said Jayne.
‘Okay, so that’s a cost avoided and one that needs addin. Four hours labour.’
‘No, cap’n. Sorry, four hours times three workers. Twelve work-hours.’
‘Glad we brung ya, Derry. Not thinkin of that sorta thing could cost us all our profit on a contract.’
‘You would pick up here and deliver on a predetermined route. That’s a dozen Silverhold to wherever trips.’
‘Umm. No, m’am. We’d be goin from Silverhold to World one to World two to World three. Our pilot would choose the most ekinomickey route, dong ma?’
‘Hey, Derry,’ his father broke in.’Don’t go givin breaks on price to the customer.’ But his smile was proud.
The contract was fairly standard and a paragraph by paragraph negotiation did not take long. About two hours later, Regush said, ‘That should do it. Now all we need is for our managing director to sign it.’
‘You can’t do that yourself?’
‘No. He’s very hands on. But usually all that is required is a signature and a handshake.’
‘Fine and then we’ll be on our merry. We want to be back to the boat by dark.’
‘When we sent the contract for revision and recording, the Director was notified. We can go to his office now, I believe.’
Another trek down windowless corridors and up a private elevator. Ms. Regush stopped at a formidable steel door flanked by two men as big and intimidating as Jayne. ‘I’ll leave you now. The Director’s staff will take care of you.’
‘Thank you, Ms. Regush. It has bin a pleasure doin business with ya.’
‘I hope we will meet again, Captain Reynolds.’ Her smile was the most feminine she had been through the whole negotiation. With a flutter of eyelashes at the two men,she turned smartly and her high heels clicked down the corridor.
The doors were opened and another large room was revealed. As the doors closed behind them the Director turned in his chair.
‘Captain Reynolds. It has been some time,I think, but I never forget an old acquaintance.’ said Adalai Niska.
It had been a good day, Kaylee thought. They had learned that prices on school uniforms were much lower at the city centre mall than in the spaceport markets. Beege’s brand new uniform actually cost less than the secondhand one she had been looking at nearer home. Her new uniform should do for a year since she was out of her eighth year growth spurt. She and Kaylee had chosen the same ‘treat’purchase, sparkly hair ornaments.’
I’ll put your hair up the way the captain likes it, Mummy.’ she promised, ‘if you’ll do mine.’
Beege had behaved herself, not for once darting off to examine everything that caught her eye. Kaylee had bought a dress for herself,too, and persuaded Emma to buy something different from her black jumpsuits. That it was an orange jumpsuit she put down to learning compromise. Anyway, it was a colour.
Zoe was , as ever, more practical. She shopped for lined coveralls for wear on winter worlds. ‘I dam near froze my ass off on Mycroft.’ she complained. ‘That short jacket is warm enough top but I wanna cover my assets next trip.’
‘It could be summer then Zoe,’ Kaylee said.
‘Winter will come,’ replied the first mate.’ Cap’n avoids it as much as he can, but needs must sometimes.’
Only River had not enjoyed herself. She was supposed to buy new shirts for Simon and David, but was distracted and nervous all day. Several times one of the party had had to take her aside and hold her until she calmed. Beege was best at this, sitting on Auntie River’s lap and stroking her face.
On the bus home, River who had been twitchy and muttering, suddenly sat up. ‘He’s gone.’ she said flatly, and fell asleep until they reached their stop.
Within an hour Dr. Maracle was stabilized and had the right equipment transfusing him. A more senior executive had cleared the lab of all personnel except the older woman, whose name was Rilène Dieudonné, and the soldier, Jimmy Hazel.
Simon was explaining the sequence of events. ‘The two women should still be in Dr. Maracle’s office. We taped them to chairs.’
The executive coughed. ‘They-re not there. The tape is and seems to have been slashed off. Who were they?’
‘No idea. They demanded my sister, who was a few years ago wanted by the federal police, due to, well, I can only guess a clerical error. It took us nearly two years to clear it up, and we were fugitives during all that time.’ Simon’s clear blue gaze and soft voice radiated sincere honesty and concern. ‘Please check the cortex for any outstanding warrants. I am sure there are no valid ones still out there.’
‘I’ll check, of course, but I must confess that when Dr. Maracle called me about the name changes, I passed your names on to our Security Division, as well as to Legal. You understand, we don’t want unauthorized or unknown persons wandering around here. I can only guess that Security sent the two women, but I am confused. You said you took their badges? Could I see them?’
David handed over the badges.
‘These are not anything I’ve seen before. At a glance they are very high level indeed, higher than my own, certainly. But the captures have … dissolved and there are no prints.‘ He swiped the cards against the identity box at the lab door. Nothing happened. ‘These badges are neutral, if they ever worked, and it’s impossible to use the elevators or stairwells in this building without a valid pass. They seem to have self-destructed.’
‘The women wore blue gloves, and when we were taping them up I noticed one of them seemed to be wearing a blue garment under her suit. I’m not particularly interested in women’s underwear, or I might have been more observant.’ said David.
“You are taking this very calmly.’ remarked the executive.
‘I initially trained as a trauma surgeon and both of us have been travelling on the Rim for going on a decade. We’ve learned to be ready for anything, although it was a surprise to be attacked on Blue Sun premises.’
‘Yet you acted quickly to control the situation and I believe you saved Dr. Maracle’s life.’
‘Your own people were important in that. Ms. Dieudonné and Mr. Hazel put their own field experience to work and the rest of the staff followed their lead.’
‘And that will go into their performance reports, you can be sure,’ said the executive.’Meanwhile, you came here for a reason?’
‘Yes, Dr. Maracle was reviewing research we have done based on the leprosy outbreak on Triumph. We were there on our regular visit with Book Memorial Flying Doctors just after the outbreak began. We were shocked at how quickly it appeared, and apparently from nowhere, so we looked into it. As a result, although we had little to do with controlling the outbreak, we were able to do some epidemiology and trace the disease from beginning to control, and as Dr. Maracle and your staff have helped us confirm, suggest a new system for swift control and immunization.’
‘And you want to sell Blue Sun Pharma that system?”
“License. We want to start a family soon, and the income would allow us to settle down, rather than be constantly on the move with the Flying Doctors.”
David gave his husband a startled glance, then returned to his usual stoic gaze.
“Well. Legal has looked at the contract you supplied and I see they’ve noted that it is a very fair document. So, naturally, they have suggested some very unfair changes, which we as gentlemen will ignore. The names are now correct?”
Signatures, fingerprints and multiple copies later, the men were ready to leave with the fruit of their research, a very profitable contract for the use of their reporting and vaccine prep system over the next twenty years.
As they left, Jimmy Hazel, the ex-military lab tech, was finishing his day and accompanied them to the light rail station.
‘Thank you for bringing the doc to us so fast, and for stopping the attack. Most men pause before striking a woman, are you ex-miiltary?’
‘No,’ said David, ‘but one of my older sisters is a pro MMA fighter and she used to practice on us boys. And as a midwife I’ve had to restrain a few mums who were very annoyed at the entire male sex. I’ve learned to defend myself against small angry women.’
The heavies had followed them into the room, Derry saw. One stood behind Jayne, the other behind his father.
The captain had gone into his default mode when things went pear-shaped. Outward calm and snark combined with the tension of high alert. Jayne was never anything but alert, of course. The heavies were ignoring Derry as a child would be easy to control. Derry slipped slightly behind the heavies and out of Niska’s sightline.
‘You still stinkin up the Verse with your every breath, Niska? I’da thought you’d be long dead, all the trouble you’ve made for the Alliance.’
‘Oh, a little money spread here and there, a change of name…’
‘No space station? No mercs?’
‘A respectable businessman like Arturo Nesmith? Perhaps I need to be a little more careful these days, and business is less profitable than my previous line, but I manage. I manage very well.’
‘How’s the wife, Adlai? Still givin ya grief over killin off her entire extended family?”
“She died, a broken heart, that really does happen… she loved the space station and leaving it,well, she had a soul meeting with it. When you drove us away from it…’
‘Me? I didn’t know anything about it until this ruttin moment!’
‘You brought the Alliance to the Rim, Captain Reynolds.’ Niska purred. ” And the Alliance took out my political partners and most of my business contacts. Your actions nearly put me out of business. The name of Niska meant nothing. Nothing, after all my years, decades of building my reputation. It is not nice to have to start over again in one’s age without family and with only a few million platinum to work with. I end my life working for others, and not even being known by my own name. You made my life difficult, Captain Reynolds, and I do not appreciate that.’
The heavies had removed the pistols Mal and Jayne had holstered, and quickly found Jayne’s second gun at his back as well as a stiletto he had concealed in his jacket sleeve. Derry knew Jayne had another gun strapped to his ankle and that his father had a blade in the seam of his pants, not easy to get to, but useful if one were imprisoned. The found weapons had been tossed onto a low table between the prisoners and Niska.
Derry understood his father was buying time by badgering the old man. He had heard a censored version of the time Zoe had ransomed her husband from Niska and been given Mal’s ear as change, while Niska kept Mal. He knew that Simon had reattached the ear when the whole crew, including his mother, had gone back to rescue their captain.
He had not been told the part about Mal’s death and revival at the hands of Niska’s torturer.
‘You ain’t expectin me to pay for a space station, though? Cause I really don’t have that kind of money on me.’
‘No Captain Reynolds, I expect you to die.’
‘Dear sweet and fluffy Lord Buddha, could you be more melodramatic…’ Mal doubled over as the heavy holding him punched him in the stomach. Jayne strained against the arms holding him, but for once had met his match.
But Mal’s captor had let him go when Mal fell helpless. He stood over him, arms loose and relaxed. So he was shocked when Derry’s steel toed boot kicked the back of his knees, knocking him off balance and into his colleague.
The bump was all Jayne needed to break free, and he swung around to punch the heavy. Mal had recovered his breath and clasping his fists together used them like a hammer on the temple of the other guard, putting him unconscious.
Niska, with a look of terror, scrambled back towards one of the hidden doors to his office. Derry was faster. Grabbing Jayne’s smaller pistol from the table, he aimed at Niska’s belly, as he had been trained. He braced his right hand with his left and pulled the trigger.
The room rang with the noise. Derry’s arm flew off true and his second shot missed completely, but Niska had fallen, blood splashing from his back over the expensive wood desk and the pale grey carpet. Derry stood stunned, by the noise and by the gore.
His father grabbed him and swung him away from the sight.
Ms. Regush ran into the office, followed by three uniformed Blue Sun Security. The constables ignored the unconscious heavies and held pistols on Jayne who had swept up the pistols and his knife, and Mal still holding his son to him.
‘What happened? Who are these men?’
‘He calls himself Arturo Nesmith, but he’s an oldtimey gangster name of Adlai Niska. He killed me once and still holds it against me that I’m still around. You have some weakass human resources department if they hired him on as executive director. He must be wanted on half the worlds of the Rim.’
‘I assure you that he is a complete stranger. ‘ Pale and sweating, she was more agitated by the accusation against the company than she was by the old man bleeding out on the carpet. Wet stains appeared on her expensive suit jacket and her maquillage had begun to melt.
One of the security guards, having cuffed the unconscious men, commed for medics and more security backup.
‘What shall we do about these three, m’am?’ he asked.
‘They’re legitimate businessmen. We were conferring on a contract until I brought them here to meet Sir Rajesh Krishnapurti and sign our agreement. I don’t know any of the others.’ She sat down suddenly, paler than ever.
Niska moaned: Jayne spat at him.
Two more Blue Sun constables arrived, along with two paramedics. One of Regush’ guards commanded them to care for the executive first, and they gave her a smoother and an oxygen booster mask, although they gave several glances over at the bleeding man.
Mal took the opportunity to walk Derry out of the office and into the quieter hallway.
Jayne swept up the pistols and his knife, and took a second to confirm Niska’s demise, shocking the Blue Sun personnel further.
The constables took Niska’s heavies away. Their leader, still shocked by Jayne’s coldblooded action, searched the office.
‘Whatcha lookin for?’
‘Sir Rajesh. The real executive director.’
‘There’s another blood trail near that hidden door.’ said Jayne.
The Blue Sun man opened the door exposing a beautifully appointed washroom, and a brownskinned man lying in a pool of blood on the floor.
The constable shouted after the medics. One returned but sadly confirmed that Sir Rajesh had been dead for several hours.
‘It seems evident that the old man planned to trap Captain Reynolds and yourself here. He killed Sir Rajesh even before you got to this building. From the footprints, someone actually used the toilet while Sir Rajesh was bleeding to death.’
‘Yeah. The old bugger would prolly enjoy that. So. I was wonderin, is there someones else who could sign this here contract. No big rush, or nuthin, but as soon as the boy calms down. Maybe in a quieter spot , with less blood.’
Then they were out of the office and into the deserted corridor. Jayne was as good at finding their way back to the reception area as he would have been in a desert or a forest.
Just before they left the main offices, having met no one, Mal stopped them. He kissed his son and said, “Thank you. Good work, lang you shou. Now we will walk calmly out of the building and get back to Serenity. Dong ma?’
Derry knew he was pale, paler even than spacers normally were. But there was enough adrenaline coursing through him to keep him moving.
Mal pushed through the doors, from this side revealed to be one way mirror. He nodded at the receptionist. ‘Thanks for all yer help, lad.’ He said pleasantly and pressed the elevator button.
They descended to quiet pablumized pop music. They walked to the mule, and Jayne drove quietly out to the highway, while Mal sat with his son in the back. They took the middle lane, neither exceeding the speed limit nor going slower than the flow of traffic. As they approached the downtown, they exited well before the spaceport and drove to a small strip mall where they parked.
That was when Derry began to shake.
As they rolled their carts down the temporary street formed by the random landing of various transports, Kaylee waved to Sou-fen, sitting at her booth in front of the picket fence.
‘Sweetie, I got some real nice peaches for you. There were good pumpkins too, but they were too big to carry on the bus.’
‘These look great, hun, I’ll get my kids to peeling and pitting right away. I can send Monty off to get punkins tomorra if you have the address.’
‘Yah, punkins keep good. You could buy lots- they’re local so the price is good. Then you can make up fresh pies in your own sweet time.’
‘Hope you sampled the peaches?’
‘Yah, course. We each had one for lunch, but there’s near a bushel spread among our carts so they won’t get squashed. The greengrocer had apples too, but they was dear, and kinda soft.’
After the new clothes were inspected and approved again and the groceries stowed, Emma returned to the yard.
‘My very last batch is commin out, Emma . Kin I appeal t’your better nature?’
‘Of course, zūnjìng de āyí.’
A tall rather gangly young man approached the booth as Shu-fen left.
‘G’day miss.’ he said. And blushed.
Emma looked him over coolly, ‘Somethin I can help you with, shuren?’
‘I was here this morning. Perhaps you remember?’
‘Sorry, I’ve been away most of the day.. Were you makin a special order?’
‘Uh, no.’ He was blushing harder and ran his hand through his spiky blond hair, mussing it further.
Emma stood quietly.
The boy stared at her.
Beege raced down the cargo ramp and out of the yard.
‘BabyGirl! Come back here right now!’ called Emma.
‘My name is Albert. Albert Worcester.’
‘Pleased. Emma Washburne.’
‘Ms. Washburne. Pleased.’
They stood silently. Emma could see Beege greeting Simon and David as they walked slowly towards Serenity.
Albert continued to stare at her. Emma broke the silence.
‘How did we meet this morning again? I was only at the booth for a few minutes.’
‘Oh! Oh, uh, I was on duty. I forget people can’t see our faces in uniform.’
Emma’s face hardened. The junior purplebelly.
‘I remember. I guess I should thank you for getting that officer off my case.’
‘He’s not too good with women. He gets fresh, ask me.’
‘While you are the purplebelly Mr. Manners.’
It did not seem possible that Albert could blush pinker.
‘Oh, uh, no, I….’
‘Well, if you don’t want Sou-fen’s baking, an you’re missing a good thing if’n you don’t, and you got your thanks for stopping a sichashun fore I hadda clock the tǎoyàn de rén, and get bound by law, what do you want?’
‘Um, well, I wanted, I was hopin, that is , if your daddy let’s you walk out…’
‘Ain’t got no daddy.’
‘She’s got uncles, though.’ said Mal descending from the mule and looking angry. Jayne hopped down and lifted a sleeping Derry out. Simon and David joined the group. Only Simon was shorter than the gangling youth.
The young man kept his cool much better surrounded by hostile men than he had with one girl.
‘Hello, sir,’ he said, extending his hand to Mal.’My name is Albert Worcester, and I was hoping Ms. Washburne would consent to sharing her company with me this evening.’
Mal raised an eyebrow. ‘Do we know you from somewhere, boy?’
Emma intervened, ‘Albert and I met just this morning. He headed off a very rude purplebelly cop that was givin me the hassle.’
‘Mmph. Quite the gentleman, then, Bertie?’
‘No, sir, just tryin to keep the peace.’
‘Well, if Emma is willin, I won’t stop ‘er.’
“Thanks Capt’n, I would be willin.’
‘What do you have in mind, Bertie?’
‘Capt’n, that’s between me and Constable Worcester, now.’ said Emma
‘Constable ! You’re proposing walkin out with a purplebelly?’
‘We don’t really like that name, sir.’
‘We’re an Independent bunch, here. Don’t much take to interferin’ purplebellies.’
‘Captain, did you miss the part about Albert heading off his superior who was hassling me?’
‘Okay points fer that. But Emma’s too young to be walkin out. ‘
‘Seems to me you ain’t my daddy, Captain.’ the teenager said.
There was an exchange of glares. Emma was able to meet the captain eye to eye.
‘Not yer daddy, But yer crew, an’ I’m the capt’n.’
‘Captain got no say in crew’s personal life.’
‘But your mother does.’ Zoe strode down the cargo ramp. ‘What do you propose this walking out, young man?’
Albert gazed at the beautiful Amazon. It was obvious where Emma got her height, although her mother had black straightened hair worn up in a roll rather than her daughter’s blonde dreadlocks.
He clicked his heels and bowed, drawing a snort from the captain. ‘Albert Worchester, at your service, ma’am. Um. I was going to suggest walking to the Riverfront Park and a drink, coffee! at the teahouse.’ he turned to Emma, ‘If that would suit you. Ms. Washburne.’
‘Emma.’ he smiled, a gloriously goofy grin that tugged Zoe’s heart, remembering.
‘It’s okay, Mal,’ she said.
Mal swung away abruptly and with the other men, stomped up the ramp, Jayne carrying the sleeping Derry.
‘She better be home before curfew!’
Emma and her mother exchanged smiles, ‘Do I have a curfew, mamma?’
In the common room, Mal took his son from Jayne,
‘Wake up, Derry, feng mi, we’re home. We’re all safe,’
‘What do you mean, safe. What went wrong?’ demanded Kaylee, who was in the galley making tea and slicing date nut loaf for the newcomers.
‘Niska’s dead, thanks to Derry.’ said Jayne.
‘What the bloody fucking hell d’ya mean takin my baby near that murderous thug!’ she said, her voice cold with anger and fear.
‘That could’ve bin said more diplomatish, Jayne,’ said Mal.’ It’s okay, bao bei, we got the contract. Niska tried it on, but Derry smart-like disarmed his henchmen and then Derry gut shot him.’
‘I made sure he was dead ‘fore we left. Them Blue Sun guys looked like they might repair him.’ added Jayne.
‘Derry shot him? What was he doin with a pistol?’
‘I’ll explain the details later. Simon , the boy’s kinda shocky. He started shakin about half an hour after we left- with the contract- we stopped for tea on the way back and he’s bin sleepin since.’
Simon checked Derry’s temperature and noted his clammy skin. ‘Shock is the right diagnosis. Let him sleep for now, that should clear the adrenaline from his system. When we wakes naturally, we’ll see if he needs any smoothers. More likely he needs to talk… and to listen.’
‘Don’t see the problem. I weren’t much older ‘n him when I shot my first. An he’s seen me and Zoe and Mal bleedin often enough. Davy too come the that.’
‘Were you a hunter as a boy, Jayne?’ asked Mal
‘Yeah, course. Sometimes the only meat we saw for weeks on end was what me an’ Matty brought home. That was afore Matty got sick,’ Jayne looked pensive.
‘Derry never shot anything but a target. He never seen death before.
‘Simon’s right. I never harmed a human bein’ til I was in the war. An’ I was older and I’d been huntin’ and helpin slaughter beeves since I was a kid. Still took me hard. Ask Zoe.’
Kaylee was wrapped protectively around Derry who was still in Mal’s arms.