INTO THE BLACK
TO SUMMERFAIR OFF SHADOW
‘Emma prepare for immediate takeoff when we get on board!’
‘I can do that, sir!’ come the tween’s light voice on Mal’s comm.
‘Immediate?’ asked David.
‘In case the cops are following us. And looks like our albatross needs the Black.’
River was deathly pale. Her brother was stroking her clammy forehead. David was looking in his husband’s response kit for meds.
‘It’s okay, baby boy. We’ll get her stabilized at home,’ Simon told him.
Once aboard, Serenity lifted cleanly out of atmosphere under Emma’s control.
‘Well done, nu er,’ Mal told her.’Smooth.’ Emma glowed at the compliment. ‘Put us into orbit around Eris Moon.’
Emma hid Serenity in a geosychronous orbit behind Eris. Mal nodded approval. ‘Yer Wash’s daughter all right. Yer daddy couldn’t have done that better.’ Zoe entered and sat companionably in the co-pilot seat with her daughter.
‘Kaylee want you to see to the little ones, sir. She wants to sit with River until she wakes.’
In the infirmary, David was applying antibiotic weaves to Jayne’s scraped wrists. River lay on the examination table, restraining belt lightly fastened. Her eyes were fixed and her fingers moved constantly. Simon was checking her vitals when Kaylee slipped up beside him.
‘What’s happening, Si? She looks… scared.’
‘We ran into another Academy graduate . And there were two men with blue gloves .Mal shot one and Zoe killed the other. The Academy girl; Mal says River took her out,’ he looked around.’ She was decapitated.’
‘Sure did, ‘ put in Jayne, ’Quite the sight too. Two lil girlies talking quiet like then, Slash! Moonbrain’s sword come down and the other one is on the floor. Blood all over.’
Simon and Kaylee looked sick. ‘Shut up , Jayne,’ said David.’ No need to be graphic.’
‘Davy’s right,’ aid Mal entering the infirmary.’ If you’re fixed up, I want a talk with the men and Zoe in the commons. Kaylee, darlin, can you keep an eye on River?’
‘Boat’s on autopilot, and the kids is playing in the bay. Which is stark empty. Question is, how do we fill it?’
‘After all this, my sister being attacked…’
‘And me being kidnapped,’ added Jayne.
‘And those blue gloved men, she was terrified of them. What’s going on?’
‘That girl mentioned Jubal Early to me,’ offered Jayne.
‘But there’s no bounty! I’ve been watching the Federal channels. No warrants even. No charges. Even Zoe is off their radar.’ said Simon.
‘Doc’s right. I keep an eye on …. other waves. Ain’t nothin on any of us.’
‘Other waves, Jayne?’ asked Mal.
‘You watch them Brownout waves, Mal. I got my own interests.’
‘Mmm. So mebbee they’s a bounty, mebbee it’s just that academy still wanting River back with their other…’
‘Experiments.’ said Simon.
‘An someone connected Jayne. Why?’
‘Jayne was talking to weapons dealers moving the neographene.’
‘Our buyer seemed pretty straight,’ said Zo.
‘Mebbee, but he has staff. And other customers.’
‘He never saw River though. Just me and Zoe.’ Jayne pointed out.
‘Shit shit shit,’ said Mal.’ You were how the New Resistance found us, back when. Zoe is on record as a Dust Devil and an escaped prisoner.’
‘And we gotta believe they know we have kids on board.’ added Zoe.
‘So who are They?’ asked David.
‘We don’t know. We didn’t know before when they attacked us back when Emma was a baby and Inara was alive.’
‘Been more’n ten year since then.’
‘Yeah, guess we’re still special.’
David rose and put the kettle on. Mal shook his head.
‘Meantimes, we got a fair bit of cash money and an empty cargo bay. And we want to get shut of Hera soonest.’
‘Perse has two contacts for us back down planetside. We can pick up farm equipment for Summerfair at Utah City, half way round the world from Argo . And we can haul slurry in the same direction.’
‘Slurry?’ asked Simon.
‘Pulp for paper making. We don’t put it in the hold, we tow it.’
‘Never heard of that before.’
‘Not many worlds can make enough pulp for export, but Hera’s been using genetically cultured ryegrass and bamboo in terraforming the deadlands. Turned the cut crop under at first for compost, but they got enough slurry to make paper for the whole Murphy system now. They haul it up to orbit in moon shuttles then send it on when they have enough to make it worthwhile,’ explained Mal.
Kayla looked worried, “Summerfair? That’s a moon off….’
‘Off Shadow, yes,’ said Mal.
‘Are you sure about this contract,Mal?’ asked Simon. ‘with your history…’
‘I ain’t going planetside. And our ranch wasn’t nowhere that’s liveable now anyways.’
‘Still, that’s not the only contract. We can find another if you prefer to skip Summerfair.’
Mal grunted. ‘It ain’t a problem, dong ma? We got buying customers and I got a freight contract that will fill the cargo bay. It’s not a problem.’
And Mal was if anything more outgoing on the week long voyage to Summerfair, the moon that had been the refuge for those who managed to escape the scorched earth destruction of Shadow. Today , nearly twenty years later, the Alliance was once again terraforming the planet using Summmerfair as a staging and supply platform.
Summerfair was prospering. The agricultural economy was robust, and the farm equipment turned out to be a dozen tractors and two combine harvesters, along with accessories and optional equipment for specialized tasks. Mal spent some time with the operating manuals and catalogues for the machines, teased by Kaylee who told him that was her prerogative.
The slurry was more difficult. River was still unable to work, and piloting was being done by Mal, who had never been particularly skilled at the task. Emma tried to cover on the fine work, but her inexperience told.
Attaching five slurry bags, huge balloons bigger than the Firefly, took much longer than it should and Simon fretted about his sister’s safety every minute until
Mal finally told him to get off the bridge and stay with River in her bunk until they were out of Hera’s gravity well.
With both worlds in the Murphy protostar system, the actual trip would only be a few days even at this point in their orbits.
River donned a suit and tethered herself to Serenity’s shell, slowly rebuilding herself in the silence of The Black.