At Dyton Zoe had found a customer for all the lithium they had purchased on spec at Harvest, following a tip from Simon. The pharmaceutical company was run bay a consortium of Dytonians whose accents remedied Zoe of her ancient Cornish roots. Unlike her they were very short an ran to extravagantly braided red beards. The lead negotiator, a blonde woman who was no taller than eight year old Derry, confirmed their origin.
‘We’m been miners,underground on Earth -That -Was. Tin and siller mostly, but there was some gold too. Ay, gold is our favourite.’
‘Do you buy gold, then?’
‘Oh, aye. We’m needs it for buying oursel’s.’
She laughed at Zoe’s puzzlement. ‘Kids take a lot of raisin. To be a real adult, we pays our parents back. An o’course, that’s also part of our marriage covenants.’
“Umm… of course,’ said Zoe. ‘And it has to be gold?’
‘I may have some gold available. We’re carryin a small cargo to Hera for the jewellery trade there, strictly legal.’
‘But some not so much?’
‘It’s available if the price is right.’
Cornishmen are known for their caution and negotiations for the gold took several hours.
When Mal brought his family back from their sightseeing trip, Jayne was loading Kelly’s boxes onto a pint sized mule. He raised an eyebrow at Zoe.
‘Two percent over mid-market. Would’ve been two five if I’d sold the legal gold too. Dyton likes to have paperwork. ‘
‘So we got ten of mid market up front and we keep twelve of mid-market as sold. An’ we don’t have to worry about search and seizure . Good job, Zoe.’
DYTON COLONY TO SPACE BAZAAR
Inbound: Grain , herbs and prepared foods bound for Silverhold.
linen cloth and shirts – private cargo
Outbound- as above for New Canaan terraforming
luxury food stuffs for wealthy worlds
‘Remember this place, Simon?’
Simon blushed, listening to the barker’s spiel about alien lifeforms. “I think I insulted you here, right?”
“Yep, told me I was the only available woman who wasn’t,married, professional or your sister.’
“Will you ever forgive me for that?’
‘Hells bells, Si, I forgave you before the sun went down. Or possibly before the day lights were dimmed. I just like teasin. You are such an easy mark.’
David said, ‘ Your mouth does go talking, honey. You once told me you’d love me even more if I had no teeth.’
‘It was a joke! And I was covered in bite marks at the time.’
‘True. You were careful about sitting down for a few days.’
‘Vampyre, please, I am a classy kinda biter.’
‘Keep it in your bunk, boys,’ laughed Kaylee. ‘We’re here for the post.’
‘We got a strange parcel here once too.,’ remembered Simon.
‘Yeah,’ Kaylee sighed. ‘I wonder if Arnon is still postmaster?’
But the name above the door was S. Majumdar, although there was still a mazuzah nailed up by the entrance.
‘Be right with you, darlings!’ came a cheerful voice from behind a curtain backing the post office counter.
The postmaster emerged, swathed in a scarlet and gold sari and with cascades of glittering golden jewelry tinkling every time he moved. He was heavily made up and wore his waist-length hair and full beard oiled and curled.
‘Hello, my darlings! What can Dearie do for you today?’
‘Dearie?’ asked Kaylee.
‘Sudir Majumdar, your lovely and charming postmaster. Me.’ He looked the three over sharply. ‘Just in from the Black, cargo transport, you,’ pointing a beautifully manicured finger at Kaylee, ‘work with machinery, engineer? mechanic? But you two are too sweet for longshoremen. Although I do love a nice big longshoreman.’
Simon said,’We’re looking for any mail for Serenity out of Persephone. Names would be Reynolds, Frye, Washburne, Chen, Cobb or Tam. I’m Doctor Simon Tam.’ He held out his chipped hand as identification.
Dearie grasped it and turn it over to peer at his palm. ‘You’re in from Dyton and before that Harvest. Passengers? You work with the Flying Doctors.’
Kaylee gasped,’ You read that on his palm?’
Dearie laughed and kissed Simon’s hand. ‘No. But I do have a real paper letter here for the lovely doctor on Flying Doctor letterhead. It just arrived on the Brutus…. and I was sorting when you arrived.’
There was a mischievous glint in his black eyes. ‘Give me a moment and I’ll check for more. But it does take a while when I get in a large post. You may be best to return tomorrow.’
“Any older posts?’ asked David.
‘Serenity? Under the S…yes, a package for Jayne Cobb; is that you, little greasemonkey beauty? and a fat envelope for Captain Reynolds: some sort of Registered documents that started on Sihohn and seem to have chased you all over the Verse for nearly a year.’
‘No, I’m Kaylee Frye. Can I sign for Jayne and for the other papers?’
‘For Ms. Cobb, just hold your chip to the recorder; but this Registered has to be picked up by Captain Reynolds.’
Kaylee thought. ‘Does it look like an arrest warrant?’
Dearie’s laugh tinkled through the post office. ‘Ooh, you spacers are such scamps! It’s not from Justice nor from the Revenue if it comes to that. The return address is Sihohn Madrassa. Is the good Captain planning a second career as a Companion?’
Jayne’s package was, as usual, from his mother, the ever-indulgent Radiant Cobb. This time it was a sweater knit in a series of violets and purples and was surprisingly somewhat too large even for the massive mercenary.
Although Space Bazaar was kept at a steady 30 degrees, he wore the sweater all the next day, turning redder and sweatier as the hours passed. Kaylee made a capture of him modelling it for his mother. And another of young Derry rising out of it, broken arm held high, since Radiant adored the rambunctious little boy.
Mal stopped at the post office on his way home from selling off a good portion of the linen cloth they had purchased on Harvest. Opening the document on the spot, his face turned grim, silencing even the expressive postmaster.
Dinner talk was of the days adventures. Jayne got a lot of ribbing about his gift, although the good natured insults basically went over his head. Anything his mama did was perfect in the eyes of Radiant Cobb’s boy.
Simon and David had spent some time in the drug bazaar, but where the doctor was buying meds to restock his kit, including some new formulas for River, the nurse was trading in herbal remedies he had bought on Dyton.
Dyton grew very little, not even enough to feed her population, and certainly not fripperies like herbs for traditional remedies. But they imported, traded and exported on a grand scale and the space left by the offloaded linen was filled by ginger, belladonna, turmeric, various mints, ginseng, pennyroyal, lungwort, digitalis, lily and rose extracts and litre upon litre of exotic oils.
Kaylee looked very disappointed that there are no cannabinoids on this trip. After her experience with alcoholic beverages that were ‘mostly apples’ she had sworn off drinking forever. At least until the next batch of InterEngine Wine was ready for decanting: in about a week.
After dinner, still in the ultraviolet garment, Jayne composed a letter of thanks to send home. Careful not to make his path traceable, he would pass the letter with the captures enclosed to a friendly outbound freighter which would post it a few stops away from Space Bazaar.
Kaylee had put the children to bed, giving BabyGirl a bottle of cow’s milk from the boxes Zoe had added to the kitchen supplies. The tiny redhead glared at her mother and turned her back, sucking on the bottle in a marked manner.
‘I’m still the Terrible Mother, capt’n,’ she reported. ’But at least she took the bottle tonight. I’ll check in on her in half an hour.’
‘I can do it if you don’t want the stink eye again.’
‘Oh she’ll be asleep, she just wants me to know that she’s mad at me. ‘
‘Can’t wait for her to start talking. She’ll have lots to tell us, that one.’
Kaylee sighed and lay down on the chesterfield. River and Jayne were at the table playing Tall Card. Jayne was winning at the moment because River was building up her store of unwanted chores to dump on him when she got tired of the game. In a dozen years, Jayne had never won a Tall Card wager with River.
Mal was reading the documents he had received from the Sihohn Madrassa. His face had settled into grim lines his wife had not seen in years.
‘A letter from Inara?’
‘No, well, yes but that’s not… Her letter is just to say goodbye. Would you..?’
‘No, it was addressed to you. It’s personal. I understand.’
Kaylee had loved Inara too. Mal may have chosen Kaylee only after Inara had left Serenity to end her days teaching at the Madrassa where she had trained but Kayee was open hearted enough to accept that love and not exclude others. And if her husband had loved another from time to time, well, she had enjoyed sleeping with Simon until their intense affair burned itself out. She and Mal had been married for nearly ten years now. Simon and David had been together almost from the time David had been assigned by the Flying Doctors and had married a few months ago.
‘The Housemistress wrote too. The letters were registered because she’s Nara’s executor. She left most of her estate to the kids.’
‘To Derry and Beege?’
‘And Emma. She wants a fund ready for them to get educated. She died before we took up with Perse’ outfit.’
‘That was real thoughtful. I don’t think we’ve talked bout educatin the kids. They’re mostly gettin their lessons from us.’
‘But Emma’s doin real well in the Federal exams. Ahead of her age cohort.’
‘D’ya think any of the kids’ll go on after their Twelves?’
‘I was thinking about going to Academy fore the War. Warn’t sure what to do. Maybe get some theory behind the practicals of ranching and farming. My ma had an academic diploma.’
‘Simon and David both have qualifications. Zoe?’
‘Joined the Forces straight after her Twelve. She was ship born and wanted to try livin dirt side for a change. Jayne…I some doubt he’s qualified. Doubt he ever did his Eight, never mind Twelve.’
‘I liked school. I liked the stories in Languages and History and Social Science. And all the math stuff was real useful when I was helping Daddy in his shop. Didn’t like the biology stuff much, but I did okay on the exams. Got my Twelve, well, mostly.’
‘There’s another bit. She’s arranged that if any of the kids want it, there’s a full scholarship at the Madrassa, if they want to become Companions.’
‘Emma’s eleven. Nara told me she started trainin at twelve.’
Mal stiffened. ‘At twelve?’
‘No, not the sexin part, ceremonies and languages and deportment, music, psychology— lots of psychology. An politics and business and history. Dancin.’
‘When does the whore training start?’
‘Theory at fifteen, practical at eighteen after the Companion’s debut. What? We talked a lot. An that was four years later than I was.’
‘Not right. And how can a girl choose at twelve?’
Mal looked up.
‘They do train boys as well, bout five percent of Companions, Nara said.’
‘Well, I ain’t havin with my kids goin to whore school.’
‘They’d be lots more respectable than us if they do, capt’n,’ his wife replied. ‘An they can take their training to Academy and do a diploma in Political Science or in Psychology. Nara was considering doin a diploma fore she decided to travel with us.’
‘She never mentioned.’
‘She told me after Miranda, after she went back to the Madrassa to teach, after she got sick.
She was glad she chose Serenity, Malcolm. She told me her happiest time was when you and she was together.’
Mal’s face was between anger and tears. His wife wrapped herself around him. ‘I’m glad you could give her that. She was so shiny, so sweet, so smart,’
Mal lay back against the chesterfield cushions. Kaylee could see how close to tears he was.
Zoe was pleased by Inara’s bequest to Emma. She had been surprised that when she had been exiled immediately after her daughter’s birth, Inara had been the baby’s major caregiver. Even on her worst days in prison she had been confident that her friends would love and protect her baby.
’It was most practical for me to be her foster, ‘Inara had explained. ‘Kaylee was busy with her work and with Simon. Simon was busy with Kaylee and was not confident with babies. River might have taken her apart to see how she worked, and Mal …. actually Mal might have done a great job. He did his share, maybe more, of feeding and cuddling. To be fair, so did Jayne, come to think.’
Zoe had laughed imagining the huge mercenary cuddling her tiny girl. Emma crowed and waved her limbs. ‘Was Jayne good to you, Emma girl?’ The baby looked around at the name. ‘You’re right! She likes him.’
Inara made her most loving smile. ‘She knows we all love her. Best of all, she went to you immediately, even though the two of you had only a few hours together.’
‘She was a lonely woman,’ Zoe said to Mal and Kaylee.
‘Inara?’ said Jayne. ‘With all them johns clamourin for to get in her bed?’
‘She was lonely, Jayne. Perhaps she had a few friends at the Madrassa, but they would be busy too. I hope she knew we were her family.’
Kaylee told the doctor about the bequests. ‘Full scholarships? That’s very generous. But surely the children couldn’t study while on board? They’d be on Sihohn, except for vacations. Even then Serenity might not be able to pick them up depending on jobs.’
‘And then there’s the whorin practice. Do they stay on Sihnohn for that?’ asked Jayne.
Simon and Kaylee spoke simultaneously. ‘They graduate…’ ‘It’s not only about…’
‘Don’t matter,’ said Mal. ‘The kids won’t be join to Companion School.’
‘Speak for your own, sir,’ said Zoe.’ Emma is old enough to have an opinion.’
Mal glowered at the first mate. ‘You…’
‘She ain’t your girl, sir.’
Mal stamped out of the Commons.
Zoe told Emma about the scholarship and let her research the Madrassa and the Companions’ Guild on the Cortex. The sites emphasized the glamour of the profession and the intellectual training students received. Simon explained the other aspects of the profession. He had, like most young men of his class, had his sexual initiation from a Companion.
‘She was very good at her job. Between her and your Aunt Kaylee, I almost convinced myself that I was not sly.’
‘But you married David.’
‘I love a lot of people, including you and your mother. But Davie is my 心脏和灵魂.
‘Do you love Jayne?’
‘Huh. I respect his … talents, and I’m a little afraid of him, and he annoys me not a little. But, yes, I guess I love him.’
‘As much as me?’
Simon laughed, ‘Emma, you little minx! You’re too grown up to ask that question honestly. Don’t tease!’
‘I don’t want a lot of people falling in love with me. I want my 心脏和灵魂. Like momma and Daddy. Like you and David.’
But it was River who helped Emma to decide.
They were running scenarios on the bridge.
‘I researched the Academy very thoroughly before persuading my parents to let me go. They wanted me to continue with school on Osiris. But all that held me on Osiris was Simon, and he was already at MedAcad. Not at home. Asteroid starboard.’
‘Evading. Oh. I should have gone up not port.’
‘We’re holed. Oxygen leak. Twenty cc’s per second.’
‘Time to suit up and spacewalk. Leak at P966/LL40. We can patch it.’
‘If you’d gone up- look, you would have hit that junkaroo— so good choice.’
‘I love piloting.’
‘It’s clean. The numbers work.’
‘I like going fast.’
They laughed. Emma told her mother that night she wanted to go to flight school like her father.
Outside of the sale of linen cloth not much business was expected at Space Bazaar. But the cloth sale was private, not for Perse’ employers, and Mal had coin to jingle when Zoe found a bargain price on several hundred metres of embroidered silk.
The deal was brokered by the flamboyant postmaster, Dearie Majumdar, who had taken a liking to her when she came by the next day for any unreceived mail.
Most of the crew’s contacts preferred dive bars as meeting places, but Zoe had arranged to meet Dearie’s cloth merchant in a family friendly cafeteria.
To fit in with the customers she had changed from her usual leathers to a dashiki suit with her long hair tied in a turban. In spite of the flowing pants and top, which disguised her holstered mare’s leg pistol, there was no hiding that she was a beautiful woman.
The contact was also a woman, plump and cheerful. She was wearing a sundress that emphasized her considerable boson. The dress may have been chosen to distract a male client, because she was disconcerted to meet Zoe.
‘It’s my own design,’ she explained. ‘I’m in the fashion industry. Sometimes we get surplus…’
‘Reckon. We do the job, don’t care much about the rest of the story.’
‘Dearie will have told you it’s silk? The cloth was hand embroidered for a wedding party, but the family was arrested for human trafficking, including the bride. The marriage was called off. No one here will touch it, in case the trial goes in the family’s favour. But if you can take it to Ugarit Moon off New Canaan, there is a luxury market for it.’
‘Doesn’t seem worth interstellar transport for a few dress lengths.’
‘There’s five hundred metres in each bale. And there are twenty bales. The decoration is in gold and silver with some jewels, mostly pearls. The family’s original cost was fifty per metre. And only that low because the work was done by slaves.’
‘Are you going to pay flat rate or a percentage?”
‘I just want to get shut. This is tying up my capital.’
The little woman’s green eyes were calculating. Zoe considered. She doubted that woman had that much capital tied up. The goods had probably been looted from the estate, whether by a servant or a constable was unimportant. She might even have been holding the cloth preparatory to making gowns for the wedding party.
It was a clean cargo. Not likely any warrants were out for it.
‘Any special handlin needed?’
‘As long as it stays in the wrapping it shouldn’t get wet. Insect damage is always a possibility, but it’s new fabric.’
‘Let’s take a look at the bulk of it. Our cargo bay can probably handle it, but we’ve still got a lot of foodstuffs for delivery to New Canaan. If there’s room, we’ll take it on a percentage. Twenty five percent on the sale seem reasonable to you?’
The fashionista dickered a little getting the fee down to twenty percent, Serenity’s usual cut, and high enough to make Zoe suspect that the family was more powerful than was healthy.
They strolled to the loft where the designer worked. Zoe wished young Derry was available to consult on the space available for the new cargo, Derry’s ability with geometry had led River to tutor him in the subject. The maths were fun for the pair, but most clients were confused by having an eight year old pronounce judgement about cargo space. Especially since his actual reading skills were if anything a little behind his cohort.
But the bales were compact enough that Zoe’s experience was all that was needed.
‘I wouldn’t want to correct you but there are twenty three bales here. You said twenty.’
‘I got those when the silk was delivered. I have no idea what to do with it. Ugly fabric and really hard to cut. I usually make a handbag out of new materials to see how they handle. It’s nasty.’
Zoe inspected the swatch of fabric that had been partly removed from one of the three extra bales. It took all her practiced stoicism not to cheer.
‘I could take those too. But I’d have to charge twenty five firm on ‘em. The market is gonna be smaller and I might have to haul them further than Ugarit.’
‘I’d be happy to have the ugly stuff out of my studio. Would you be willing to buy it outright?’
‘I don’t do personal buying. We do buy from time to time, and we do have some cash right now if you are willing. Alliance scrip mostly. That okay?’
‘I do most of my business in scrip, although I understand many like coin instead.’
‘Depends on the colour of the market. This would be a straight purchase, receipts an everything.’
They settled quickly and Zoe promised to pay 1500 for the 1500 metres of ugly fabric on pickup later that afternoon.
The fabric was certainly ugly, but since it was used to make lightweight and highly effective body armour, looks were much less important that function. It was hard to cut because it was neographene. Worth 100 in hard coin per metre on any Rim world.