Twelve years after Miranda.
‘The full run takes sixty-three weeks , are you sure you want to take all the kids with you?’ asked Perseus Alleyne.
‘For a kid that’s a lifetime, and BabyGirl is still nursing,’ Kaylee pointed out ‘ If she don’t go, I don’t go. An you’ll hafta find a mechanic.’
‘But Emma and Derry are in school. They could live here, not miss any classtime.’
‘We’re takin the kids,’ said Mal. ‘No point in havin a family if they’re never around.’
‘That’s the way of it , Brother.’ said Zoe.
‘All right. There are no dangerous cargoes set up , unless you pick up anything on your way.’
‘What’s the route?’
‘It’s the Traders’ Guild New Canaan Run. Pretty straight forward, a few side trips to moons to pick up or drop off, all pre-arranged, all legal. ‘
‘Legal’s good with kids aboard. You still okay with us doing some side work as we go?
‘The company has to come first, every time.’
‘Goes without sayin.’
‘And if you get pinched for any other cargo, you’re on your own.’
‘Again, kids on board. We ain’t takin chances.’
‘I can spot you credit if you find a good deal along the way. That’s personal credit, not company.’
‘We got some cashy money put aside, reckon to use that first. Cash goes further than credit sometimes.’
‘Less traceable too.’
‘Yeah. Here’s what we do need. We got a fair stake in Alliance scrip. We’ve been changin it for coin, but the bankers watch that. You got a stash of legal-type coin that you can change for legal scrip?’
‘My goodness, Mal. You’d think you don’t want to carry money with tracing and tracking built in,’ Perse smiled.
Mal smiled back, thinly.’What can I say, Perse. I’m taken up coin collection as a hobby. I even like the old Independent coin.’
‘I actually have a fair bid of Rim coin. And mostly platinum and gold.’
PERSEPHONE TO RENAO
Persephone to Renao Moon: Overnight
Inbound cargo — Raw bulk salt from Renao Moon. Bulky and low value. Inland bound for a food processing factory (not Blue Moon)
Outbound from Renao- Processed salt for Ramses Ahaj on Persephone. Dried algae bound for processing plants on Silverhold.
Persephone to Renao Moon: Overnight
Persphone to Beaumonde/Hastur Moon: Nine weeks
Hastur Moon to Beaumonde: Overnight
The first part of the New Canaan Run turned out to be a shuttle job from Persephone’s Renao Moon, bringing raw salt from Renao’s oceans to Ramses Aghaj.
The cargo hold was brimful of sacks, up to the catwalks.
‘Just be sure to keep it dry,’ warned the warehouse manager,’We’d be unhappy about any short weight.’
‘Don’t worry, ‘ said Kaylee, ‘I don’t wan my girl corrodin’ away from salt poisoning.’
There was only one problem on the run, when Emma, River and Derry were playing on the salt stacks. Derry slipped and feel five metres to the metal floor of the bay tearing a sack in the process. Simon insisted on a full concussion protocol and his father made him sweep up the spilled salt.
His mother was distraught, unsure whether the potential damage to her son was more important than the potential damage to Serenity.
The raw salt cargo was delivered to Persephone’s Nemecek Docks, the closest ones to Ramses Ahaj where there was a processing plant that was not part of the Blue Sun corporate conglomerate, The plant paid more for cargo than Blue Sun would, than Blue Sun had to, and which purchased smaller quantities.
Dried algae from Beaumonde was loaded for delivery to Silverhold where it would be processed into protein bars for travellers and homesteaders.
Then purified salt, along with industrial chemicals that were a valuable byproduct of the refining, were loaded, in waterproof unbreakable celluloid boxes for shipping, on the first real leg of the New Canaan Run.
BEAUMONDE/ HASTUR’S MOON
Persephone to Beaumonde/Hastur Moon: Nine weeks
Inbound cargo –processed salt from Renao
Outbound cargo- dried algae for Silverhold
–refined salt, gold, platinum, lithium
Emma was excited about the third leg of the New Canaan Run, but her mother dreaded it.
The crew have visited Beaumonde fairly often. On such a busy manufacturing centre, it was easy for small ships to get overlooked and for cargoes that had questionable provenance to be bought and sold.
Beaumonde was also second only to Dyton Colony for the manufacture of counterfeit goods, the main difference being that the little craftsmen of Dyton Colony was known for excellent copies, even improving on the originals, while Beaumonde paid much less attention to quality control. Only Dyton Colony’s criminal heritage, originally settled as a prison planet, held it back from realizing an honoured place as a manufacturer.
‘Beaumonde products are dangerous,’ Simon told Kaylee, ‘People buy them for the low price without realizing that not just the brand labels are faked, so are the safety inspection labels. We had a horrible case at MedAcad. A stockman had ordered cheap batteries for one of the diagnostic machines and when it powered up, it exploded, killing the patient inside.’
‘The stockman though he was going to get a commendation for finding such a good deal. Those batteries are very expensive,normally a few hundred each. Instead he got fired and just missed getting prosecuted.
‘And the hospital had to replace the diagnostician which was nearly twenty thousand and pay compensation to the family.’
‘I guess we’ll all be goin to Hastur Moon for Emma and Zoe,’ Kaylee said.
‘It as Wash’ home world. He hated it. Sky so polluted he never saw the stars. He said he become a pilot just for that.’
‘Well, that will be nice for Emma to meet her grandparents? Or cousins?’
‘Zoe doesn’t seem too happy. She says Wash was the only one in the family with a sense of humour’
‘Zoe?Our stone-faced warrior?’
‘I think she meant something else. She and Wash stopped there once, fore I joined the crew, an I gather it did not go well.’
Kaylee had gathered right.
Zoe watched as the shock on the faces of her new in-laws turned to anger and disgust.
‘Somethin you forget to tell me, husband?’ she said.
‘No, I think I’ve introduced you to everyone. Mom, Dad, one sister , two brothers, Memaw. That’s the lot.’
Memaw, Wash’ grandmother, peered up at the the tall woman. ‘What’s this doin here? We don’t need no coloured round here.’
Wash’ father spoke, ‘Hoban sez he married it.’
‘Why? You can hire better at the Sugar Sally, ‘ sneered a brother.
‘Zoe, my WIFE, is the First Mate on the spaceship I pilot, SHE’s a decorated war veteran and the most extraordinary, beautiful and intelligent WOMAN I’ve ever met.’ sotto voce, ‘ And she can kill any of you with her pinky; which I am thinking might be a good idea.’
‘You ain’t married to that here.’ said his father,’There’s laws.’
‘No there ain’t. Not since the Alliance took control of the government. Our marriage is a legal here as on Beaumonde or Londinium or even Ariel.’
‘What’s Ariel?’ asked a child’s voice. His mother hushed him.
‘Go back to your room. Ain’t nowhere.’
‘That lady’s pretty,’ the small boy said. His mother, Wash’s sister, slapped him.’Your bed, now! And no dinner!’
‘Well, I’ve enjoyed all the sweetness and light of our visit. Lovely to see you all again. Not so great to hear you spewing up the vitriol an all. We’ll send a Christmas card and of course we expect to provide at least half a dozen birth announcements as time goes on.’
Wash grabbed Zoe’s arm and marched out of the cramped house. He glanced back.
The front door was firmly shut behind them, but in an upstairs window a blonde head peered out, blue eyes round with wonder.
Wash waved at his nephew and smiled. Zoe look up to see the boy and blew him a kiss. He caught it and laughing rubbed it on his face.
‘One down, ‘ said Wash ‘Not just the air that’s filthy here. You okay, sweetheart?’
‘Stunned. That ain’t nothing I ever seen before. What were they objectin to?’
There had been no Christmas cards and , what with the hospital and the prison and all, Emma’s birth announcement had also gone by the board.
But Emma had met her Uncle Acibides’ family, who were all adults, and Kaylee’s nephews and nieces , a torrent of kids fromm newborn to Academy age, who amused and terrorized their home town on Deadfall. Redheaded BabyGirl fit in with the toddlers and Derry was welcomed as a leader by his age cohort whenever they were dirtside.
Emma was accepted as family by the Fryes and hung with a quiet studious group of girls who were never suspected as the brains behind outrageous pranks; like the flaming haybales that rolled downhill one clear starry night from the Frye homestead, stopping just in front of the church.
‘It was stopping it exactly there that was the hard part, Aunt River, Thank you for confirming our maths.’
‘I burn the haybale at both ends
It will not last the night
But oh my friends and ah my foes
It makes a lovely light. ‘ River grinned.
Knowing such good family times, Emma had become anxious to meet her legendary father’s family.
‘Seven hundred years of hatefulness. Hard to figure anyone could hold on that long.’ Kaylee said.
‘Religions do. Christians been around for twenty five hundred, Buddhists for three thousand, Mithrans bout the same.’ Zoe said.’ Guess if you want to be special you can find others who wanna be special too.’
‘But because you have brown skin? That’s stupid, your daddy was as blond as Wash. My Granny Lee could’ve stepped out of an old Hong Kong action flick.
‘David’s real proud of his Algonquin ancestors and his family on Turtle Island Moon keep their old Longhouse traditions.
‘Maybe it’s because the Chens are respected. They sent all the kids to Academy and they all got qualifications. Wash’ famly,,,’
‘Kinda hard to know your tradition is trailer trash.’
‘Lotta truthiness in that though. They all work, but Wash said they thought he was nuts to want to leave Hastur Moon and the salt factory.’
‘Want me and the captn to come with?’
‘No. We’ll face them ourselves. Maybe the kids will be okay.’
Emma was bouncing with excitement as they approached the cluster of prefab houses with the Washburne name on the mailbox. The front yard was decorated with flagpoles with an Alliance flag and two banners one red, with a diagonal white cross printed with blue stars and another in red and black centred by the Buddhist symbol of good luck. Less decorative were the remnants of various land vehicles parked, permanently and rotting in the harsh atmosphere of the industrial moon.
Two small girls were playing tea parties in the cab of one of these a goggled, eyes round, as they approached.
‘I’m looking for Hoban Washburne and his wife. Could you girls tell him Hoban Junior’s widow’s here to see them?’ The girls didn’t move.
A boy, perhaps eighteen, with blond spiky hair that twisted Zoe’s heart, came out on the porch. ‘Teenie, Myonee, get Gramps and Gran, quick now!’ The girls ran back to a house two doors down.
‘I remember you, ‘ the boy said.’You came the Uncle Hobie when I was real little. I thought you were pretty. But you’re really beautiful.’
‘Umm. Thank you.’
‘Did I say that out loud?’ he had the same grin as his uncle too. Zoe had to fight back tears.
‘This is Emma. She’s Wash… Hoban Junior’s daughter. Born after… after he was killed.’
‘Hi, Emma, I guess we’re cousins. My name is Hosea Washburne Biddlington. Call me Burne, please, please call me Burne.’ That goofy grin again.
Emma stepped forward and offered her hand to her cousin. She shook it solemnly. ‘You’re about eleven, then? You’ll be writing your Six soon, I guess.’
Emma said proudly, ‘I passed my Six last year. Uncle Simon thinks I’ll write my Twelve by the time I’m fourteen.’
‘I’m suppose the write my Twelve this year, but then I’m supposed to get work and help the family.’
The little girls came running back, followed more slowly by an older couple. Both were blonde and blue-eyed, a rarity in a Verse where the dominant brown eye genes were widespread.
They did not look happy to see Zoe, tall and straight in her brown leather duster, and when Burne moved, revealing her fair-haired daughter their faces turned to stone.
Zoe sighed. ‘Mr, and Mrs. Washburne, we met some time back when my Wash brought me to to be introduced. I’m Zoe Washburne and this is our girl Emma Washburne.’
The older couple were both stooped and frail, but their glare was as firey as the flares that lit Hastur Moon’s sky as they burned off manufacturing waste.
‘I’m glad to find you in good health,’ Zoe tried again. She was amazed that they were even alive. They had to be at least eighty and Rim dwellers didn’t often survive their hard lives past sixty. Zoe noticed Wash’ mother was missing most of her left hand.
‘Pert sure Wash never did send the Christmas cards he promised. He never was much for writing. I know I sent a letter ’bout his death and a capture of his memorial stone.’
Did his father’s face change at that?
‘I wasn’t able to send you notice about Emma, on account of being grabbed from the hospital after she was born. An the crew was kinda busy themselves with the Second Revolution.
‘But Emma wanted to meet her father’s family so, here we are. Pay your respects, baby, and I guess we’ll be going.’
Emma looked confused by the silence of her grandparents. The Alleyne cousins, all twenty something, treated her like a beloved pet and she was a definite force in the Frye troop. She made a bow to her grandparents.
‘我很荣幸能满足我敬爱的父亲的父母。’ she said.
Her grandfather broke his silence. ‘Speak white! If a mongrel can talk proper.’
Burne stepped between his grandfather and his young cousin. ‘C’mon gramps, she’s just a little girl. And her greeting was very proper and polite.’
‘Where’d you learn that heathen tongue, lad? What’re they pushin at you in that school?’
‘Of course we learn Chinese, gramps. We’ll need it if we’re gonna do anything sides run some machine until we die.’ It was obvious that this was a long running argument.
Zoe interrupted. ‘It’s been interesting meeting y’all again. Reckon me and Emma will be getting home to Serenity now.’
Burne spoke up. ‘Let me walk with you, Aunt Zoe. I need to get away for a while and the road can be dangerous.’
Zoe’s hand strayed to her holster. ‘I’ll … sure, son, pleased to have the company. Mr. Washburne, Mrs. Washburne. I doubt we’ll ever meet again.’ She spun on her bootheel and. pulling Emma’s hand, marched back through the cluttered yard to the road.
Looking down at her daughter’s devastated face, she picked the lanky child up as if she were a tired toddler, hugged her close.
‘Yeah, sorry about all that,’ said Burne.
Zoe just looked at him.
‘They’re old and… Nah, there ain’t no excuse. They’re just…’
The trio trudge back up the road to the town, passing family compounds, each fenced away from the next. The fences varied, some high bamboo stakes, some chainlink, one barbed wire with Danger-Electric labels,even one neat white picket fence backed by a wide flowerbed on either side and a rose trellised gate.
‘Haha,’ said Burne, noticing Zoe’s surprise at the pretty setting in this tough neighbourhood.
Zoe looked at him questioningly.
‘There’s a haha, a deep ditch hidden by the flowers. and the gate is electrified. The Wallace’ ain’t the most welcoming folks.’
Zoe started to laugh at the ridiculousness of the statement after her treatment by her husband’s parents.
Burne grinned again. ‘They don’t like me much either. I went to the town for schooling, stead of stayin home. And I’d want to leave, see the Verse, like Uncle Hobie.’
‘Wash, ‘ said Zoe, ‘ We all called him Wash.’
‘I can carry Emma for bit if you like.’
‘No, we’re fine. But thank you. For everything.’
The left the residential area behind and were passing through a factory district. The air was fouler than usual even for Hastur Moon.
‘Fertilizer.’ explained Burne.’ And that’s the refinery that smells all acid.’ The refinery had prisonlike fencing. with guard towers.
‘What do they refine?’
‘Lots of stuff in sea salt, but mostly the gold.Other rare earths too. Precious stuff. I looked into workin there, but daily cavity searches aren’t my idea of fun. I mean, they don’t even buy you dinner and a show first.’
Zoe laughed again.’ So what will you do when you leave school? Any good places to work?’
‘They all stink. Bad conditions and worse pay. Nobody comes here, so they’re always hiring, but I guess most families are like mine.’
‘You leave school as soon as possible, start paying back your comin up, get married, raise a bundle o kids, go into debt to build a house for ’em with a mortgage from the factory, or rent from the company. And don’t think about anything better.’ He smiled grimly,’ It’s the best kind of life y’know? With the best kind of people. Guarding the gene pool.’
‘The family is big on blondes and gingers. Didja notice? These are recessive genes, so the family is trying to keep our colouring from dying out.’
Zoe stroked Emma’s yellow dreads. ‘My daddy and Emma’s daddy both had yellow hair. Guess that’s where she gets it.’
‘She’s beautiful, like her mamma.’
Emma struggled out of her mother’s arms . Once on the ground, she took her cousin’s hand.