HASTUR MOON TO BEAUMONDE
Hastur Moon to Beaumonde: Overnight
Inbound cargo– refined salt, gold, platinum, lithium
— dried algae for Silverhold
Outbound cargo–linen thread for Silverhold
Serenity had to stop just outside Hastur’s atmosphere for decontamination.
‘I can’t believe you were willing to take Emma out into that filthy air, Zoe.’ said Kaylee, ‘Even the Black don’t burn ships clean.’
‘Ventilators helped. And Emma met one friendly relation.’
Kaylee laid her hand on Zoe’s arm. That’ s one small blessing, anyways.’
‘Small but a blessing.’
They looked down at the cargo buy re-filled with refined salt; table, pickling and road, in 20 kilo sacks, as well as locked boxes that held more precious materials that were byproducts of salt production: lithium for batteries and medicine, gold, platinum. All was bound for Barden Docks in one of the cleaner areas if Beaumonde.
‘Do all the kids have winter clothes that will fit? It’ll be cold when we land.’
‘Beege can wear Derry’s castoffs, andI think we seill have Emmas’ old boots for Derry. But both River and Emma will need coats.’
‘We should stop putting River with the kids. She’s nearly twenty years older than Emma. She’ll be thirty soon enough.
‘But she still needs supervision.like the little ones. Specially when Simon’s not aboard.’
Zoe said, ‘We’ll pick him up at Harvest at the Mission.’
The cargo exchange went well. The refined salt and minerals were Company cargo, signed for and bank transfers returned to Perse on Persephone. The new cargo was linen thread in huge rolls bound for the textile mills on Silverhold where weaving and clothing manufacture was the specialty of Forrestline Province. But first they would stop on Beggar’s Tin, where Mal had arranged a private job.
BEGGAR’S TIN MOON off SILVERHOLD
Beaumonde to Silverhold: Eleven weeks
Silverhold to Beggar’s Tin Moon: Overnight
Inbound cargo– none for Beggar’s Tin
Outbound cargo–Linen thread for Silverhold, gold bullion for Hera (smuggled)
Beggar’s Tin was a barren world. Gravity was noticeably lower than normal, which meant less strain on workers, although mass of course was unaffected.
As usual Mal met up with his contact in a dive bar. He ordered beer for himself, River and Zoe, noticing that among the choices was Mudder’s Milk, imported from Higgin’s Moon. The waitress wore a scarlet cheong-sam, her hair elaborately styled and held in place with long sticks.
‘She’s a fancy piece for a place like this,’ Mal remarked.
‘Less there than meets the eye,’ murmured River. ‘Are there snacks?’
‘You’re a bottomless pit these days, Tross. Not sure I’d trust the kitchen here though.’
Zoe’s eyes narrowed,’Think that’s our contact, sir?’
A short, athletically built man, stood in the doorway, looking about. River noticed the waitress indicated the crew with a subtle motion of her chin.
‘Captain Reynolds?’ he asked. If Mal cared about dress he would’ve envied the man’s shantung silk suit, cut to emphasize his broad chest.
‘Mr. Kelly? ‘ The men shook. ‘My first mate Zoe Washburne and pilot River Tam.
The beer arrived and Kelly ordered a bottled Tsing Tao. The waitress opened it at the table and ignoring the offered glass, Kelly wiped the mouth of the bottle with a pristine white linen handkerchief.
Here’s to successful negotiations!’ he said and drank deep.
River nodded and took a small sip of her draft. Mal and Zoe followed her lead.
‘You looking to move some mining by-products off world, I understand, Mr. Kelly?’ asked Zoe.
Kelly looked mildly surprised that the First Mate had begun rather than the Captain.
‘Yes, nothing too bulky, but requires secure handling.’
‘And where do we deliver to?’
‘That would be Hera , for the luxury trade there.’
‘We have several stops before Hera. This New Canaan Run, we have strictly legal cargoes set up outbound and inbound from Silverhold to Harvest to New Canaan before we’re scheduled for Hera.’
‘Understood, My cargo won’t go bad during the trip.’ He gave a convincingly sincere grin.
‘Guns?’ asked Mal suddenly.
‘No! No, too dangerous. Easy to buy here and Silverhold is known for quality weaponry. Easy to sell on, but even the small gunsmiths have to install trackers on their product. Alliance is death on cheaters.’
‘Death by firing squad,’ River said. ‘Using the smuggler’s own guns.’
‘You know about that part, Ms. Tam? Exactly’
‘So we’d be carryin?’ Zoe asked.
‘Gold bullion. Not as dangerous. At worst , the bullion is confiscated. I never hear of any action against the smugglers.’
‘Transport company,’ put in Mal.
Kelly gave a thin smile. ‘I suspect that the confiscated pretty never goes to the government. Fed officers may look on such untraceable cargoes as part of their pensionable time.’
‘Sounds like the risky part is all on us though. Do we get paid upfront? ‘
‘On delivery. No point in paying someone not to deliver.’
Mal bristled, but Zoe spoke calmly. ‘We’ll take 30% mid-rate up front and 10% on delivery or not for us. We got a legal cargo to deliver and kids on board. Pay ain’t good enough against the risk other.’
‘All that I knew. Reason I want you. You even look as respectable as any tramp ship out here can. ‘ He seemed oblivious to Mal’s annoyance at the slur on his ship. ‘I know you already have bullion cargo. Mine wouldn’t set off any detectors.’
‘How about 15% of mid-rate upfront and 5 % of mid-rate on arrival?’
‘How about 25% upfront, 5% arrival? There are four stops between Silverhold and Hera. We could get inspected at any stop. Not to mention Black stops by the Navy.’
‘Thirty percent is steep. I’d have to see where you were stashing it.’
‘No,’ said Mal.’Them hidey-holes is our bread and butter. Well, not so much anymore, but definitely the jam.’
‘Apricot.’ said River.
Kelly stared at her.
‘She likes apricot jam best,’ explained Zoe.
Kelly looked at the girl. Her reason for being with them was unclear. She was looking around, not watchfully like a bodyguard, but more vaguely. Her eyes kept returning to the waitress. Maybe having Gertrude at the meetup was a mistake. He sighed theatrically.
‘I understand about the secure stowage. Let that go. Make it ten upfront and ten on arrival. And we can both hope the exchange is in our favour.’
River was drawing on the sticky table with beer drippings. She pressed her foot against Zoe’s boot.
Kelly sighed.’That may be my best bet. I do have to get this cargo off-planet ay-sap. It’s pretty warm, dong ma?’
‘We’ll be in touch. No cortex, reckon. Where does your pretty piece usually hang out?’ Zoe indicated the elegant waitress.
‘Ah. Gertrude. I see. You can leave a message at the Pink Kitten Pachinko Parlour on Elgin Boulevard. On paper and addressed to Gertrude Lysenko.’
The crew began to rise and Kelly was immediately behind River, pulling out her chair. ‘It was good to meet you all, especially you, Ms. Tam. I hope we will see each other again, perhaps socially?’
River gave him a flat look.’You have our contact. Next time though, no roofies.’
Kelly watched open-mouthed as the three left the bar.
‘That was why you weren’t drinkin? You can taste a persuader?’ asked Mal.
‘No, I could hear the server. She knew what was in them. Just enough to make you amenable. Stronger effect on a smaller person.’
‘Like you,’ said Zoe.
‘And you’re still willin to let him call?’ asked Mal.
River shrugged. ‘There’s been a distinct lack of tasty in my life lately.’
‘We gotta keep this girl away from Jayne, sir.’
‘Be careful, mei mei,’ said Mal. ‘That Kelly don’t have a clean heart.’
Kelly dropped off his cargo in person a day later. A cheerful young woman was sitting outside, trolling for passengers while nursing her baby. River was playing tag with a motley bunch of spacer children including a tall preteen with more than a passing resemblance to the Amazon first mate.
‘Small cargo for Captain Reynolds.’
‘You must be Mr. Kelly,’ the pretty mother smiled. ‘Derry, get someone to help the mister here.’
A young boy, with a fringe of brown hair hanging in his bright blue eyes dashed up the ramp.
‘You’re not travellin’ with us?’ the woman asked.
‘Thank you , no. I have a business to run here. This is just a small export that needed special handling.’
River and the tall girl wandered over. The younger girl was nearly his height. Miss Tam was a good 10 cm. taller.
‘Miss Tam. I’m so pleased to see you again.’
River looked at him solemnly.
‘Are you leaving today?’
‘We were,’ answered Kaylee.’ But there was an accident on the mono between the mill and here. We only got half of our cargo. Rest arrives late tonight, more likely tomorra morning.’
A large man descended the ramp. ‘This all? Could have posted it.’ He grabbed the rolling case from Kelly and tramped back up the ramp.
Kelly’s eyes followed him.
‘Wanted to be tasting,’ said River. ‘But he went hungry.’
Kaylee smiled, ‘Jayne thought the delay meant he could have shore leave when the spools were held up. Mal made him stay with me and the kids.’
Kelly took another look at Miss Tam. In spite of her clear brow and dark hair, she was definitely in her twenties, even late twenties. Kaylee wasn’t much older. Why was she classed with the kids? There was an oddness to her that he found fascinating.
Emma called over the ship comm. ‘We gotta wave for you, Auntie River.’
‘I’ll take it in my bunk.’
As the crew gathered for supper, River made her entrance. She wore her usual black catsuit, but her hair was intricately dressed and the sparkling ornaments matched her ear studs. She carried a shiny woven metal shoulder purse. A little mascara and some cheek and lip colour enhanced her pale beauty.
‘You’re so audrey,’ breathed Emma.
‘Do you have your comm? And your locator? ‘ demanded Mal.
‘Yes, Captain Daddy, and I will be home before pumpkin hour.’
The entry signal by the cargo bay door sounded. Derry dashed off and brought Mike Kelly, who looked slightly aghast at eight faces checking him over.
‘Auntie, he says he’s here for you,’ announced Derry.
‘A pleasure to meet you again, Captain, Ms. Washburne.’
Kaylee smiled at him, ‘I’m Kaylee and these are my Beege and Derry. Emma is Zoe’s girl an the big guy is Jayne.’
Jayne, as he usually did when meeting River’s suitors, growled.
Kelly tried to regain his equilibrium. What was meant to be a pleasant smile turned into a shit-eating grin when Mal made a sound similar to Jayne’s.
‘Any plans?’ he demanded.
‘I thought we’d go to the theatre. There’s a play, ‘Never Say Never’ at the Gaiety or the Sihnon Ballet has a production of ‘The White-Haired Girl’.’
‘Ballet.’ said River.
‘We have time for a bite before the theatre if you don’t mind a dumpling shop, I’ll reserve seats on our way. We can have a proper dinner after if you’re not tired.’
‘Don’t be late, Tross,’ said the captain, ‘We need our pilot for take off tomorra.’
‘Pumpkins, Captain Daddy.’
Kelly watched in amazement as River scooped up her twentieth dumpling . Her grace and dainty manners were those of a Core lady, but her appetite was that of a half-starved Rim orphan. Her pink tongue licked around her full lips sensually, as if dumplings were the best thing she’d ever tasted. She raised the bowl to those lips and drank the broth the dumplings had been served in, first adding chili garlic sauce to the bland soup.
‘Garlic keeps away vampires,’ she told Kelly seriously.’ Chili warms the blood.’
‘Those would work against each other wouldn’t they?’ Kelly asked. ‘Wouldn’t vampires prefer warm blood to cold?’
‘Cold blood clots.’
Kelly expected her to continue, but she smiled brightly.’Let’s go watch the girl kill the oppressors!’
River was entranced by the ballet, which she had a blurry memory of seeing as a child on Osiris.
‘She doesn’t stop.’ she said.
‘Having her sweetheart find her gives her a happy ending.’
‘Having her sweetheart and the Eighth Army find her.’
‘Don’t you think her personal story would be enough?’
‘The captain needed an army, but it wasn’t big enough. He kept moving so the wicked landlord wouldn’t kill him.’
‘That why he turned down my cargo?’
‘Tip. Don’t try to roofie a potential client.’
‘He noticed that ,eh?’ Kelly laughed with no trace of remorse.’ Just a touch to make clients more amenable.’
‘Miss Manners would disagree.’
‘Business– nothing personal, but this evening is personal . Are you enjoying it?’
‘Yes. The dumplings were plump, the dancers soared, the girl vanquished the evil doer. All satisfactory so far.’
‘I promised you a proper dinner.’
‘Not hungry. Daddy wants me home by midnight.’
‘We have about an hour. Perhaps we could walk back?’
‘Will there be snacks on the way?’
‘Of course, but I thought you weren’t hungry?’
‘Not now, but we may need our stamina.’
‘I guess you don’t get much exercise on a boat.’
She gave him her ‘boob’ look.
They visited a couple of food trucks as they walked back to Serenity, following brightly lit streets to the even more brilliantly lit dockyards.
At the cargo bay door, they were sharing a potato, spiral cut and skewered, deep-fried and heavily salted.
Having cleaned her own fingers before entering the entry code, River started licking Kelly’s fingers clean of salt. He leaned in and River looked surprised.
‘No kiss goodnight?’ he asked.
‘So your Daddy can growl at me again?’
‘So we can fuck.’
Kelly was amused at the rough language in River’s cultured Core accent, but he followed her willingly into the cargo bay and watched as she locked the door after herself. ‘Don’t let the kidnappers in again, ‘ she explained.
But she was pulling him by the hand up the companionway and into a narrow corridor lined with doors. The end door opened to her touch and she climbed down a narrow ladder. Kelly followed, and found River halfway out of her jumpsuit. He stopped on the ladder. For once his head was higher than hers, and he reached out to her nape and pulled her face into a kiss. She moved her hand over his broad chest, playing with the tie fastenings. His hand pulled the clips from her hair and it cascaded down her back. ‘Mmmm.’ he said.’You taste like sugar and hoisin and grease and vinegar and pepper.’
‘Like barbecue duck?’
‘My favourite food.’ he kissed her again, then moved his lips to her clavicle.’ And here you taste like salt and rosewater.’
He supported himself on her shoulder while he stepped down to the floor, leaving his eyes once again on a level with her mouth.’You have the most beautiful lips.’ He pushed himself up to hold her upper lip lightly between his teeth. She bent to him and breathed heavily.
He had both hands free now, and pushed her catsuit off her shoulders. River stepped back and sat on the bed. The scarlet brocade on the duvet made her pale skin glow in the dim light of the bunk. He still stood, helping her out of the catsuit and admiring her slim body as it was revealed.
She shimmied out of the snug garment, and helped him with his fine linen shirt, then rubbed her hand against the outline of his cock, pushing for release from his twill pants. With one hand on her nape, he opened his fly buttons and released his cock into her waiting hand. She grinned and engulfed it in her mouth,her tongue swirling around it and making him groan.
‘Miss Tam, Miss… what is your personal name, anyway?’ he gasped.
She sucked and he gasped again, forgetting even his own name for a moment. He felt himself on the verge and reluctantly pulled back, releasing himself. River made a moue of disappointment.
‘Sorry, I’d.. I’d rather take my time and make you happy too. I’m not a randy teenager.’
‘Are you ready to fuck me now?’
Again the rough language in cultured tones. He shivered with lust. He lightly pushed her onto her back and climbed on top of her, pulling her hair free and kissing that incredible mouth. Her tongue stroked his and he nearly lost control.
‘Do you have any condoms?’ he asked.
‘I take my contras.’
‘I just don’t want to be too fast for you.’
She reached behind a silk curtain over the bed and pulled out a handful of varicoloured wrappers. Kelly chose one that he knew would help him take his time. River’s slender fingers helped him roll it on, and before he knew it her legs were wrapped around him and she was poised for his entry.
Kelly pushed himself gently into her. She was ready, not really needing the lubricant on the wrap. As he pushed forward she tightened around him, making him work his way into her hot velvet.
‘You’re… Miss Tam, you…,’ he muttered.
Her sweet voice was in his ear, murmuring intensely,’ Tā mā de wǒ xīnkǔ, gěi wǒ nàgè yìng jiāhuo, tā mā de wǒ xiàng yī tái jīqì, ràng wǒ dádào gāocháo, wǒ huì pēn chū xiàng yīgè pēnquán.’
Her every move every wiggle, each kiss or bite, was exactly what he wanted at that moment.’Nán, nán, ràng wǒ jiān jiào. ‘ Even her words were what he wanted to hear.
‘Wǒ xūyào yīgè dà gōngjī, gěi wǒ gèng duō. Tā mā de wǒ. Tā mā de wǒ. Nín de yīnjīng shì rúcǐ zhī dà.’
He felt her hand on his balls,gently pressing them closer to his body. It was what he wanted and he came, feeling as if his orgasm would never end, pulsing over and over into her tight cunt.
Red-faced, sweaty, and breathless, he opened his eyes and kissed her cool lips.
‘Flu ni tar ze pam,’ she whispered. He didn’t know what she meant.
When he awoke, she was gone. He was confused and unsure how long he had been asleep. He stretched wondering here Miss Tam, damn, what was her personal name, after that tussle they should be on a first name basis. Where had she gone? He reviewed the evening, passing quickly over the dumpling shop and the ballet, to dwell on the great sex, amazing sex, he had enjoyed. Remembering, his hand went to his cock and he stroked himself. He came suddenly and urgently. Embarrassed he looked about for something to clean off the sheets.
He saw a standard loo in a corner and used it , washing his face, crotch and hands at the fold down sink. He looked around . Fastidiously he wiped the heavy linen sheets with a scrap of toilet paper,straightened them and pulled up the brocade duvet. His movements pushed aside the embroidered silk hanging behind the bed.
The hanging concealed an array of … sharp pointy things. Knives from stiletto to bowie, tomahawks and hatchets and what appeared to be a full size battle-axe.
All were in excellent condition, clean and, above all, sharp.
‘Flowers. I guess I’ll have flowers delivered as a thank you.’ He didn’t want her to think he was less than perfectly polite. The Core put great store on appearances.
He dressed in the white lawn shirt and twill trousers he had worn last night but carried his light wool cape. Up the ladder and down the companionway to the cargo bay door.
Which was locked.
For the first time, Kelly became aware of a background hum. He listened carefully. The hum was the sound of engines.
Was this ship flying?
Panicked , he swung around. He heard voices further back in the ship and headed for them.
He found the kitchen, and the same crew he met last night goggled at him.
The captain said, ‘Huh.’ while the First Mate leapt to her feet, hand on pistol.
Who carries a gun on a spaceship? Kelly wondered.
‘Could someone open the door for me?’ he asked.
The man called Jayne guffawed, ‘Right cold outside buddyboy. Not that you’d notice, ‘fore you explode.’
‘Boom!’ said the small boy, giggling.
The baby crowed, ‘Boom, boom, boom!’
Their mother shushed them. ‘What are you doing here? We left Beggar’s Tin hours ago. We’ll be landin at Centreridge Dock any minute.’
‘I… escorted Miss Tam back to the ship and … she invited me in. …. I just woke up.’
The captain gave him a ‘protective daddy’ look.
‘Emma, go take over the bridge for a bit.’
The little girl jump up and headed forward.
‘Don’t try to land, ‘ the captain added. ‘Just don’t hit any mountains … or the ground.’
Was the girl more than eleven? wondered Kelly as she raced out of the kitchen.
Kaylee gave him a cup of tea and a bowl , indicating the rice pot in the middle of the table.
River entered and stopped. ‘I forgot. There were… emotions…and… can I keep him, captain?’ The girl was agitated, her hands twisting in her hair, looking from Kelly to the captain.
‘No, you can’t ‘keep’ him,’ the captain said firmly.’ You can’t keep people, less’n they want to stay.’ River looked as if she was going to interrupt. ‘And he can’t stay, ’cause I say so. He gets off at Centreridge.’
‘Wait a minute, Captain Reynolds, ‘ said Kelly. ‘ I didn’t ask for a trip to Silverhold and I don’t even have a decent coat for the northern weather. I demand that you take me back to Beggar’s Tin.’
‘Can’t. We’re on a schedule.’
‘Must. Or I’ll bring charges of kidnapping against you.’
‘Seems to me like you got here willingly, sniffin’ after lil River’s pussy.’ said Jayne.
The captain glared at both men, then threw up his hands. ‘Let me think on. Tross, get back to the bridge and give us a gentle landing.’
When Emma returned, the adult crew retired to the infirmary leaving Kelly with the children. The baby crawled on his lap and knelt there, staring into his eyes. The older children stared too. The boy from time to time whispered , ‘Boom’ and dissolved into laughter.
Eventually the pilot’s voice came over the comm. ‘Approaching Centreridge and cleared for landing.’
There was only the slightest bump as the ship set down, but it unbalanced the baby on his lap. As she fell from her knees to her bottom, he learned that she was still in diapers. His pants were wet where she sat.
The crew returned from the infirmary.
‘Git in here, Tross,’ the captain commanded and the girl quickly joined them.
‘We’re on a schedule here, the New Canaan Run, so we can’t return you. Riv.’ he addressed the pilot. ‘You done wrong not putting your light’o’love off before we left.’
‘Forgot,’ muttered the girl.
‘Thinkin with yer…’
‘Captain,’ murmured Kaylee.’Children.’
‘Anyways. Kelly, we’re both got a little problem with the authorities if either of us draws their attention. So we’re gonna give you three things, River will pay your fare back to your moon from her own money. We’ll all apologize for not makin sure no accidental travellers were on the boat before we left. We should remember what happened last time. ‘
Zoe’s arm around her daughter tightened.
‘And we owe you a favour. We ‘ll be doin this Run regular and we will do business in future.’
Kelly considered. And. ‘Is there a chance of another night with River?’ he asked.
The pilot giggled.