SILVERHOLD to HARVEST
Silverhold to Harvest: Two weeks
Inbound cargo: – linen thread for weaving mills
– dried algae from Beaumonde for protein plants
-Lithium for pharmaceutical manufacturers on Harvest
-smuggled bullion for Hera
Outbound cargo: -linen clothes and fabric for Harvest and further
-Lithium for pharmaceutical manufacturers on Harvest
-smuggled gold bound for Hera
It took most of the day to unload the minerals from the cargo bay. Kelly arranged transport back to Beggar’s Tin and River paid his way with coin saved from her wages.
Like the rest of the crew, River got 10% of any job, plus kitchen privileges and her bunk. And, with the new , legal and profitable jobs they were getting through Perseus Alleyne, the fare barely touched her capital.
Zoe was entrusted with keeping the books straight for Perseus’ employers. And the other set.
‘After this run, we should buzz by Paquin an visit my folks.’ Kaylee told Mal as he took a break after unloading 20 kilo sacks of refined salt.
‘Kid’s’l like that. An we can get shut of some of this coin.’
‘How much do we have now, capt’n?’ she asked, leaning back agains his sweaty chest, He smelled disturbingly male.
‘No idea, Ain’t really been keepin track. Is there somethin expensive you want, mei mei?’
‘Got most everything I want, you , Derry, Baby Girl, Serenity, warm place to sleep, real food on the table. Could do with a hydraulic lift and maybe nother mule.’
‘No diamonds? A sable cloak? Some pretty dresses?’
‘Come to think– when we get to Hera, me an River are goin shoppin. Maybe Zoe and Emma too. We all want some new clothes.’
‘She wants a catsuit like River’s. Seems to consider it part of piloting.’
‘Long as she don’t take to painful shirts like her Daddy.’ Kaylee laughed.
‘Where’s River? I still don’t like her wandering around alone.’
‘In her bunk. Kelly’s ship don’t leave til 1700. Where are the kids?’
‘Playin outside with the kids from Pretty Baby. Emma has Beege.’
‘Yeah, wanna tussle?’
‘You may have to do most of the hard work, Kaywinnet. Them sacks didn’t move themselves.’
She whispered in his ear, ‘I’ll ride you like a rodeo pony, Malcolm. C’mon.’
They left the cargo bay, hand in hand. Kaylee pulling her husband back to their suite in the passenger dorms. Child free moments on a small ship were precious.
At 1600 hours, River and Kelly came down the companionway from the crew bunks. At the ramp, Kelly tried to kiss her, but she turned her face away.
Jayne, sitting in Kaylee’s lawn chair at the bottom of the ramp, Baby Girl sleeping on his shoulder, watched them.
‘Will I see you again, tiánměi shàonǚ ?’ Kelly asked. River looked confused.
‘Can’t see the future. There’s no room, too much now.’
‘If y’ain’t figured yet, R’River’s a little crazy.’
‘That’s a damn rude remark,’ Kelly said angrily.
‘True though. She’s batshit nuts. Don’t bug her, she’ll cut you,’ He pulled up his tee to show a long thin scar across his chest. The baby stirred restlessly.
‘You look better in red,’ muttered River.
Kelly was unsure what to say.
‘Damn good pilot,though,’ added Jayne cheerfully. ‘An from the noises she was makin, she prob’ly likes you.’
With no response available, Kelly turned back to River, who was looking over at the playing children.
‘I’ll call you when I get back to Beggar’s Tin, then?’ he asked, but she had already left to join the kids.
‘Batshit,’ said Jayne. ‘Hey, man to man, how is she in the sack?’
‘Best I’ve ever…. not something a gentleman would ever discuss,’ Kelly said stiffly.
‘I figured. She’d always know what you wanted,’ Jayne grunted. ‘Hell, she’s punched me a few times, just for what I was thinkin. Anyways Mal’d kill me, if I tried anythin.’
‘You must have an open face.’
‘Naw, River’s a Reader, didn’t you work that out? Here comes our cargo,’ He whistled to Emma to take over the sleeping baby and flagged the two mules hauling bid spools of Glucklich Jia linen thread from the mills of Silverhold, that Serenity would carry to the weavers on Harvest.
Zoe and Mal appeared to help with the cargo. Kelly, blowing a kiss to River, headed for his ride home. She was playing tag and didn’t notice.
Kaylee had put the children to bed and joined Mal in the commons where he was reading.
‘Not much excitement on this run, capt’n.’
‘Not yet, Jayne ain’t our best ticket seller. We got a couple hours in the morning fore Simon and David arrive. It’d be good to have passengers. They have stories t’keep the kids entertained,specially when there’s no room t’play in the cargo bay.’
Serenity was cleared by Centrebridge Dock flight control just as Red Sun rose on the dockyard. Kaylee was doing a quick walkaround inspection, when a fresh faced young woman approached her.
‘You’re bound for Harvest? Where are you puttin’ down?’
‘Lemongrass, near the textile mills.’
‘Are you takin passengers? I’m headed there for a job.’ She indicated her duffle and rollercase.
‘We got two cabins available, or a just a bunkie if yer short of cash.’
‘Just a bunk is fine. I can pay in scrip or coin.’
‘We always prefer coin.’ After agreeing on the fare, Kaylee invited the girl aboard and showed her to the bunkie in the passenger area.
‘Our last passenger just left,’ Kaylee said, not mentioning that circumstances of Kelly’s passage. ‘So you got the bunk to yourself. Sheets are clean, extra blankets in the cupboard, sink an commode here. There’s a shower room on the way to the commons. I’m Kaylee, by the way, ship’s mechanic.’
‘Rosa-Lucia Berg.’ The women shook and Kaylee collected the fare.
‘If you want a few minutes?’
‘No, I’m fine.’
‘Then why don’t you join the crew for breakfast? I think Zoe picked up some eggs yesterday.’
Zoe had and had also found some sweet cider. Kaylee poured cups for herself and for Rosa-Lucia. She took her baby girl from Mal.
‘This is Rosa, she’s job hunting on Harvest.’
Mal shook the passenger’s hand. ‘Feel free to use the kitchen and commons, but please stay out of the cargo bay. The bridge and the engine room are also restricted. If you feel peckish, you can have anything in the unlocked cabinets.’
‘We’d be obliged if you wash up after yourself, though,’ said Jayne.
‘This your week on dishes, Jayne? Dinner we usually eat together around 1800, early because of the kids.’
Rosa-Lucia had only seen the baby who Kaylee was trying to persuade to eat some sweetened porridge.
‘They’s vid and bookpads in the commons and exercise equipment in the cargo bay, but as I said, you’ll need a crew as escort there.’
‘You’d want a spotter anyways,’ added Jayne.
‘I may take you up on that, if it’s an offer,’ Rosa said, smiling at the big merc.
It was and she did,which meant that the quiet time between stops were more relaxing for the crew, who didn’t have to put up with a moody, restless Jayne. She added something to dinner conversations too with a spirited defence of the value of good government, while agreeing with Mal that the current state of the Alliance was not noticeably better than it was before the Unification War.
‘I really blame Blue Sun Corporation.’ she said that night. ‘They run the government and if it’s good for Blue Sun they think its good for all the ‘Verse.’
‘The government makes the rules, ‘ Mal pointed out.
‘Make a difference between ‘government’ and ‘politicians’, Captain,’ Rosa-Lucia said. ‘the government is the people who carry out the programs the politicians make.’
‘An ways too strict bout it too.’
‘And sometimes not strict enough. The same law should apply to everybody, but when was the last time you heard of a big company begin charged with slave-trading?’
‘Never that I can think of.’
‘No they pick out the little guys, the farmers, the brothels, the small factories, even families who buy a couple of servants.’
‘And you think they shouldn’t be charged? Is it better to be enslaved personal-like than by some faceless company?’
‘Of course not, I’m just saying that I’ve seen a lot more slave-trading going on that the people with a dozen servants can account for. And then there is bond-slavery.’
‘Like them Mudders at Canton, few years back? ‘ asked Jayne.
‘Yes. In theory they borrowed money and are paying it off with their labour, but the wages are low and have to be spent at the company store.’
‘But they go into it willingly,’ said Kaylee.
‘Not always, mei mei, ‘ said Mal, ‘Sometimes a kid is sold by parents, or the papers is forged. Then all they can hope for is money to fall from the sky.’
The crew laughed. Rosa-Lucia looked puzzled.
Kaylee explained, ‘That actually happened on Higgin’s Moon. Jayne can tell you about it sometime.’
‘I’d be interested,’ she smiled at Jayne, then turned back to Mal. ‘And more important, or at least as important, slavery, bond or no, keeps wages down for free workers.’
‘Mmm. Like me.’ Her mouth twisted a little.
‘Makes sense, if all the boss has to do is feed the workers, he ain’t gonna pay more’n that for someone who wants a better life, maybe send the kids to school,’ said Kaylee.
‘Spread the money around and more, all those free workers will buy the stuff they make.’
‘Not much we can do about it, though,’ said Mal.
‘Every little bit helps. Even just voting for parties that ain’t aligned with the corporations.’
‘Like them Greenies?’ asked Jayne.
Mal looked surprised that Jayne knew even that much about politics.
‘Okay, maybe,’ Rosa-Lucia said, ‘ Blue Sun doesn’t own them anyway, not like the Vanguard.’
The last morning before Harvest, Zoe met Rosa emerging from Jayne’s bunk.
At Harvest, the longshore crew were waiting for Serenity. Off-loading started immediately. Jayne and Zoe, muscle and management, worked smoothly together to get the huge spools onto the Blue Sun trucks which would take them to the Blue Sun mill that would weave the cloth for the Blue Sun garment factories. The finished garments would be shipped, some as Serenity‘s next cargo, to Blue Sun wholesalers for distribution to Blue Sun retailers all over the ‘Verse.
‘Including back to Silverhold,’ said Rosa-Lucia bitterly.’Well Kaylee, thank you for your hospitality. ‘
She looked over Jayne, laughing with a longshoreman as they hoisted the large spools.
‘Was this anything’ serious?’ asked Kaylee
‘Nah, just ships passing in the Black,’ sighed Rosa-Lucia.
‘Jayne gave you a good time, I hope?’ said Kaylee.’ He’s a bit rough in his talk and most of his women is pros.’
‘No worries,’ she smiled brightly,’Look can I leave my wave for the next time you visit Harvest? I really enjoyed this trip. Would’ve even without the …. extra service.’
Kaylee laughed and they exchanged contact ID. ‘We’re here overnight. Let me know if the job works out?’
With a wave, Rosa-Lucia squared her shoulders and marched down the ramp to her new life.
Kaylee took River and the children shopping for clothing, while the new cargo, bales of cloth and of shirts, was being loaded. The shops near the docks specialized in remainders and seconds from the Blue Sun conglomerate. There was lots of choice and prices were good. although it was important to watch for flaws like tears or mismatched colours. Some ships traded exclusively in those off-brand goods, peddling to small shops on homesteading Rim worlds.
When they returned, burdened by bags and nibbling on street food, corn dogs, sugar fried potatoes, cold dumplings; the cargo bay had been emptied and refilled. They would carry processed foodstuffs, mostly protein, but also canned fruit to New Canaan, stopping first to drop a shipment of linen shirts on Faraday Moon.
‘Them shirts is from the Triangle Factory. That’s where lil Rosa was lookin for work,’ said Jayne.
‘We’re ready to go, soon’s Simon and Davie join us, but you an Zoe ain’t had no shore leave.’ said Mal. ‘You want to take some private time?’
‘I don’t have nuthin special to do,’ said Jayne.’Just another dockyard.’
‘I’d like to go check out the theatre,’ said Zoe. ‘The music hall flyer says that the Pepper Troupe is appearing. I could take Emma and maybe River, if no one else wants to go.’
Kaylee murmured to Jayne, ‘I have Rosa-Lucia’s wave if you think she might like to see you.’
Jayne brightened. ‘Yeah, thanks, lil Kaylee.’
Mal and Kaylee enjoyed a quiet family evening at home with their children, talking about everything and nothing. The baby’s anxiety to walk and reluctance to speak. Derry’s rapid progress with reading and excellent grasp of arithmetic. The price of the new clothes. And the uses they could make of the coin accumulating under the outbuildings on Kaylee’s daddy’s land.
The children had been put to bed, and their parents were cuddled on the chesterfield, Kaylee reading one of her romances, Mal playing a game on the Cortex.
Mal’s comm buzzed.
‘Jayne? You need bail already?’
‘I’m at the Triangle factory. It’s burning and Rosa’s inside.’
‘ Gwai-gwai long duh dong! Is the fire department there?’
‘No. Can you bring the mule, Mal? I’m gonna try to get her out, but she’s on the third floor.’
Mal was already moving. ‘Meet you there,’ he said, his comm giving him the coordinates.
Mal sped above the street traffic in the hovermule, pleased that there were no cops around to ticket him for the violation. The factory was only about two klicks from the docks. A large crowd was milling about.
‘The doors are locked! The girls are trapped inside!’ a bystander was shouting. The fourth and fifth floor windows had exploded and some of the crowd looked festive with shimmering glass shards caught in their hair. Others were having cuts tended by a chaplain and a woman in medical scrubs.
Mal spotted Jayne by his height and waved him over.
‘SitRep!’ he barked.
Jayne looked puzzled. Mal sighed.’What’s happenin?’
‘I was goin ta pick up Rosa after her shift. Been here bout half an hour. You could see the fire on the fourth floor then, but no one was leaving. Called Rosa and she tol me they’d been tol to keep working. That there was just a little accident upstairs.
‘Then one of the girls tried to open the stairwell and it was locked. Which is when I arrived.’
‘Comm and tell her to go to the window on the north side. We’ll come up to it, or near enough, she can jump out.’
Jayne relayed the instructions. ‘She says the windows is locked too.’
‘Tell her to throw a sewing machine through it . Or the foreman.’
A serging machine flew through the central window followed by the limp form of a well-dressed woman.
‘The foreman, reckon?’ grinned Jayne.
Mal brought the mule but only to the top of the second floor window. ‘Tell her she’ll have to jump.’
But the first through the window was a very pregnant Chinese woman, followed by a girl barely into her teens. Jayne settled them, while Mal took the mule down to the ground.The next trip picked up two more youngsters and a skinny white haired man, who yelped as he landed in the mule.
Jayne passed the old man over to the first aid crew, and they went up again. Another flying mule and another arrived, all private or commercial vehicles.
The workers on the second floor had sussed out what was happening and were jumping from their own smashed windows The first aide crew were busy with cuts and broken bones. An ambulance arrived from the dockyard’s Book Memorial Clinic and set up a smoke inhalation recovery unit.
Mal and Jayne had evacuated over forty workers and still had not seen Rosa-Lucia. With a crash of concrete and flying gypsum, the fifth floor collapsed. The fourth followed, then the extra weight collapsed the building floor by floor. A cloud of fine debris filled the air.
Jayne moaned. Mal had not seen him so upset since he got news of the death of his invalid brother, Matty.
Finally, a fire truck arrived and hooking up to a hydrant began spraying the still burning wreckage.
Jayne started forward and was stopped by the fire marshal. ‘Not until the fire’s out, son. Too dangerous.’
Jayne swore incoherently.
‘Where the then shuh duh you been! This place has been burning for near on an hour.’ shouted Mal.
‘We’re Reserve. Took a while to get a crew together. Let us do our job now, sir,’ she replied. The marshal turned away and made hand signals to guide one fire crew to aim their hose higher, then trotted over to the makeshift clinic.
‘Reserve?’ shouted Jayne.
‘Control your friend, sir.’ she said to Mal.’ The main force, police and fire are at the Governor’s Palace for his son’s wedding reception. Only Reserves are available.’
‘Are they comin?’ shouted Jayne.
‘Dunno. If the governor and the chief think it necessary. That your mule? Could you help ferry patients to the hospital?’
Mal and Jayne spent the next four hours moving patients to Book Memorial.
There had been about 500 working the day shift at Triangle Shirt . Some 300 made it out.
According to rumour.
There was no official news of the fire on the Cortex channels except a business report on damage to the building and the rising cost of insurance to industry.