THE NEW CANAAN RUN – Leg Sixteen – Prospect Ridge


Inbound – silk, linen cloth. linen shirts, gems, processed foodstuffs including dried and canned fish, dried seaweed.
Outbound- as above plus fine finished jewelry, butter, quinoa, buckwheat

Pippa spent much of the next few days crying. She cried when Kaylee bawled her out for her neglect of the children. She cried when Emma tried to show her how to tend the hydroponic garden. She cried because she was offended when Derry offered to help her with her reading. She was terrified of Zoe, sobbing whenever she caught here cool gaze on her. She whimpered when Mal asked what she was up to. When Simon asked her to come to the infirmary for a checkup, believing that it was unlikely she had ever been inoculated against common illnesses like damplung, influenza, or aids, she gasped in fear.
And Jayne.
She was fascinated by the big merc. She hid on the catwalk and watched him working out on the weights. She sat across from him at table, sneaking glances from under her lashes. When Jayne emerged from the shower room, clad only in a towel and thongs, she was  standing in the corridor.
‘Looks like you got a follower,’ remarked Zoe, as they checked stock for possible sale at Prospect Ridge, near the home of Radiant Cobb .
‘Too young. And too soggy, ‘ said Jayne.’ Kinda a pill, all round.’
They heard a small gasp from behind some crates. There was a sound of running footsteps.
‘Shit, we’re gonna get even more whimpering t’night.’

The next morning they put down Serenity at Prospect Ridge, a few kilometres from the Cobb place. Prospect Ridge was a  fairly prosperous town of some 15,000, mostly Asian in descent, but with the occasional blonde or redhead popping up as the generations had intermarried. The economy was based on manufacturing, mostly making small engines and specialized machine parts. Kaylee was looking forward to happy hours spent in the company of other mechanics. She had comm’d ahead to arrange a supper meeting with old friends.
‘That woman got more friends in more worlds, than a cat got fleas,’ grumbled Mal, who had been looking forward to a night in town and a big hotel bed.

The entire crew piled into a shuttle for their visit with Ma Cobb.  Setting down on a gravelled patch near the house, they saw the old lady waiting on her porch.
Jayne was first out of the shuttle and rushed to hug his ma. She reached up and patted his cheek, smiling gently, her feet half a metre off the floor.
When her adoring son allowed her back on her feet, she invited the crew in, exclaiming how the children had grown. Pippa got a skeptical look, but managed to stay calm, although she was red-eyed.
Although it was morning, ship time, it was late afternoon dirtside, and Radiant had baked  spinach, apple and meat handpies and raisin scones for the crew along with  strong coffee and buttermilk from her cow, Maybelline.

The milk, her butter , and eggs from her hens, supported Ma Cobb, along with a small pension from her late husband’s employer Zoe suspected the late Maddie’s disability cheques also still arrived. Why would the Pension Bureau care whether a Rim rat had died?


Pippa’s future was privately discussed by Kaylee and Radiant. They agreed that Mal’s soft heart (’Soft head,’ said Radiant) had put the crew in an awkward position. Ma didn’t think she needed any help, but Jayne and Kaylee persuaded her that she would be doing a good deed by taking the girl in.

Pippa would go to school in Prospect Ridge and pay for her keep by doing the marketing for Ma Cobb. She’d get room and board, school fees paid after she finished her Six, clothes and a small allowance. ‘May as well start teaching her how to handle money. She’ll need to know how soon enough.’ Radiant Cobb smiled at the teenager, who inevitably, wept.

Prospect Ridge turned out to be a surprisingly good market for Serenity’s cargo. The town was a hub for dozens of tiny villages and far flung homesteads, once hardscrabble but now as terraforming took hold and the water table rose, moving to cash crops over subsistence farming.
The medical clinic was happy to buy the medicines Simon had stocked up on at New Melbourne, even the homeopathic ones. Both he and David were welcomed for their news and skills. The clinic staff sent waves to some of their problem patients to take advantage of their off-world expertise. Simon would spend much of their short visit doing cosmetic surgery on burn patients while David sat in on some difficult pregnancy consultations.

And the town actually supported a jeweller who took some of the uncut gems they had been carrying since Ugarit.

‘This is some good price,’ Dick the jeweller told them.
Mal looked him in the eye. ‘Private consignment.’
Dick grunted. He was a childhood friend of Jayne with the same rugged build, slipping to fat now that his occupation was sedentary. ‘I gotta customer on Hera. Sees my catalogue on the Cortex and made me a nice order. I was gonna post it, but probably Jayne’s crew are a safer bet. An lower cost.’
Carriage was quickly agreed. ‘You understand my customer likes paperwork, so you’ll be passing this through Border Services.’
‘Bottled in Bond, Dick,’ said Jayne.’ Not to fret’
Dick invited Jayne and his crewmates to his home for dinner. Jayne agreed, pleased to see his old friend and catch up. Dick wanted to hear of Jayne’s adventures as a mercenary. The rest of the crew begged off.

Kaylee, Zoe and the children had walked around the town, doing a little shopping for groceries and books. Zoe found a used book store with texts for Year Fourteen and updated Year Six courses. Kaylee traded a few dozen of her romance novels for some new titles.
‘I found a new story by Begonia Pope and Jane Austen,’ she chirruped to the shop owner, ‘They’re my favourite writers. And it’s called ‘Emma’ like our girl here.’
The bemused shopowner tied up the package with string making a big loop to carry with. ‘Pope is the translator, actually.’ he told her.
‘Austen writes in Chinese? Do you have any of those that ain’t translated yet? Actually, I don’t read Chinese all that good. Mebbee as manga?’
‘I do, but no, Austen is, was, an Earth that -Was writer. She wrote in English bout seven hundred years ago.’
Kaylee laughed. ‘Well, don’t that make me look the fool.’
‘Not at all. Any us would need special training to read a book that old. Pope has that training and a very light touch with modern language.’

Dick and Jayne had grown up together, hardly ever darkening the door of the elementary school and had been taught to weld by Pa Cobb in the hope of keeping them out of jail as they got older and tougher. When Dick fell for Mai-Fen, she helped him learn how to read and write well enough  to get his exams, eventually winning his master’s Red Seal.  And somewhere he found he had a talent for the finer work needs for making jewelry.
He was able to win a license to open an assay office where he could buy gold, silver and platinum direct from the mountain men who dug and panned where the Ridge turned to mountains.

Mia-Fen made them a fine dinner in their flat above the shop. Full of fried chicken and chips, Jayne and Dick were on their second mickey of shine, another useful trade item produced by Ma Cobb, when they heard a slight noise in the shop downstairs. Mia-Fen, who had been drinking with the men until she took a notion to lie down on the chesterfield ’for a little rest’ , woke with a gasp.
“所有的神该死的强盗和破坏者。“ she said.
‘Oh here we go again,’ muttered Dick.
‘Again?’ asked Jayne.
‘Bout once a month we get a break in. Sheriff ain’t been able to catch em though. And we’re usually asleep when they come.’
‘Not tonight. ‘ Jayne strapped his  pistol to his leg. ‘There a stair at the back?’
‘Yes, but it goes outside, not to the store.’
‘Get strapped. Go out front and make noise. I’ll take the back.’
Dick clattered down the front staircase while Jayne slid silently down to the back door.
The noise at the front told the intruders to leave by the back. They were slowed by a bolt on the door and when they tumbled into the yard. Jayne loomed up at them silently.
The two glanced at each other then split , trying to run around him. From above there was a cry, ‘Boiling oil!” and a cascade of liquid.
One of the men was swiftly inundated. He screamed in terror while his partner stood frozen in horror. Jayne stepped forward and disabled him by dislocating his shoulder and throwing him on the ground.
Mai-Fan was laughing uncontrollably at the top of the staircase, while her victim screamed and writhed.
Jayne shuddered.
But the screams subsided quickly. There was no smell of fried flesh. The victim stopped to breathe.
‘It ain’t hardly warm, you fucking idiot.’ she shouted down. ‘Tie him up or something, Jayne.’
The robber was slippery with warm grease, but too shocked to fight back as Jayne tied him to his partner. Jayne didn’t worry about being gentle with the dislocated shoulder.

Dick had pinged the sheriff from the front of the shop and she drew up with a deputy in a tiny fastcar. ‘You get em , Dick? Geez, I’da brought the maria if I’d thought.’
‘We can make them walk to the 监狱, Hester. Do’em some good, the lazy bastards.’ She shook her head.”I don’t recognize them, maybe they’re off that Firefly that arrived today?’
‘Hey,’ said Jayne, ‘Serenity’s an honest trader, strictly legal.’
‘Jayne Cobb? What are you doing back? Here to break your mother’s heart again?’
Jayne stepped into the light. ‘Hey Hester, ain’t you come up in the world since I left.’
‘Don’t look much like you have,’ Hester cast a professional eye on his cheap shirt and hardworn pants. Jayne had not returned to the ship to dress for dinner.
Jayne grinned. He and Hester had also grown up together. ‘What’s the routine now?’
Hester sighed. She instructed the deputy to make captures of the scene and take statements from Dick and his wife. ‘I’ll walk these two to the station. I don’t wanna grease up the fastcar.’
‘Lemme walk with you. Give you a hand if ya need one.’
‘I gotta tether. They ain’t gonna run.’ she reached out and slapped the moaning robber on the ear. ‘Shut up and we’ll put your shoulder back now, or keep moaning and you can wait till the clinic can send someone over in the morning.’
The robber gulped and muttered, ‘Please.’
Jayne lifted him up, and with precise movements, put the arm back in its socket. The robber screamed. Hester slapped him again.
‘I’ll make a list of whatever they got in their pockets and send your stuff back after gettin captures for the Crown law.’
As they walked the few blocks to the police station, Jayne and Hester were silent. The robbers were stripped and showed into separate cells. Jayne, something of an aficionado of jail houses, noted that the cells were clean and warm. There were thick cotton blankets on the benches and a toilet and sink in each.
Hester took an inventory of everything in the men’s clothing, finding several sets of identification (‘Nothin new there,’ she muttered.) less of Dick’s fine jewelry than they had expected (‘Not even good at robbing’ Hester scowled.) and a few personal items including some cash and a set of brass knuckles. She tossed the clothes back into the cells with the men.
About that time the deputy returned. Hester put his report with her own and told him to work it up before he was relieved at dawn.
She stretched. “And that’s my day done and some.’ She say Jayne’s questioning look. ‘Charlie had just come on to relieve me when you called. Usually just one on overnight.’
‘Prospect Ridge is quieter than it used to be.’
‘Yeah, not as exciting as when you lived here.’
Jayne grinned. He held the door open for the sheriff. ‘Live near here?’  he asked.
Hester pointed to a small house behind a white picket fence about two blocks off the main street.
‘Walk you home?’
‘Wanna carry my books too?’
Jane’s grin got wider and he pulled the sheriff tightly against him. ‘Been an interesting day.’
Hester rubbed her hips against his.
‘All kinds of excitement. I’m about ready for my bed.’
‘Well, if you’re tired, I won’t keep ya.’
‘Ready for bed, not for sleep. C’mon Jayne. We got some catching up to do.’

They were barely through the door, when Hester was pulling at Jayne’s belt with one hand while she turned the lock with the other. He  glimpsed the tidy living space as the sturdy sheriff pushed him through the door into her bedroom.
Her hands were all over him, sliding under his shirt, pulling the buttons on his flies open, reaching up to the back of his neck and pulling his head down for a kiss. Jayne lifted her off her feet and lay her back on the wide bed.
‘You weren’t quite so eager last time.’
‘I was mad you was leaving.’
‘Not your fault. I could have stayed here and welded like Pa until I set myself on fire out of sheer boredom.’
‘We had fun though.’’
’Yeah lil girlie, we did that.’
‘I should maybe take off this vest.’
‘I ain’t never seen you nekkid.’
‘It’s been a while. We were… what?’
‘I was 18 when I left.’
‘You’ve added a couple of inches since then.’
‘Didn’t get my full growth till I was over 21.’
‘Yeah, you got taller, too,’ she said appreciatively, grasping Jayne’s cock firmly and stroking.
’That’s good, lil girl. Don’t think I kin git any harder for you.’
Jayne had unfastened the stickit straps of the vest and was pulling at her shirt and bra. ‘You’ve gotten bigger too.’
‘Not too firm anymore.’ she sighed.
‘Nice and soft, like cushions or clouds,’
‘Who taught you to talk like that? Never mind, we’ve both had lives.’
Jayne sniffed her hair, and slid down to her neck. ‘You got a real woman smell  to you, with a little gunpowder and coffee.’
‘We’ve both had a hard working night. We could shower together?’
‘I’m fine if you are. And I don’t want to wait another… what is it? Near on forty years?’
‘You ain’t looked me up when you was back with your ma few years back.’
‘I was sorta hidin out then. We had a little trouble over … you remember Miranda?’
‘The Tremblay girl? Oh fuck, do that again.’
‘Like that? ‘ Jayne grinned again as Hester’s eyes bulged and her breath caught. He stopped, and stripped down to his skin. Hester’s whine of disappointment turned into a lascivious moan.
She grabbed his cock again. ‘I think it’s gotten even bigger.’
‘Feels as hard as it ever has been. What are you doin to me, lil girl?’
‘Just a little hand job, boy. Get you as wet as I am.’
‘If I don’t slide in there, I’m gonna pop.’
Hester spread her legs wide. Jayne’s fingers told him she was wet and ready and he pushed into her. “Just the tip.’ he said.
‘Bastard, that’s what you promised the first time we fucked. I couldn’t walk home I was so sore.’
‘And you came round to Pa’s welding shop the next day with some lunch.’
‘And you fucked me again. And then again after supper when we was supposed to be going to the picture show.’
‘See, this time I’m telling the truth. Just the tip.’
“If you don’t give me all of it, I’m gonna arrest you for false pretenses. Aaah!’
‘God you’re tight as a virgin.’
‘Huh, you took care a that for me, long since.’
‘Every day that summer, if I recall. God you was hot. I couldn’t get enough of you. And here you are, tight and hot and handsome as a filly.’
Hester was twisting with every thrust Jayne made. He was sweating from working her so hard. He had one arm under her holding her to his chest, but raising her off the mattress so his weight didn’t crush her. His hand was on her ass with a finger stroking her taint. Her breasts were tantalized by rubbing on his thick chest hair. She felt her orgasm rising and let herself flow with it, breathing out in short gasps.
She could still feel his hard cock in her, hot and thick, stretching her, pounding. Her clit was on fire rubbing against his pubic bone. He gave a little shudder as he came, relaxing a bit, but not releasing her or slipping out.
She pushed him back .
He tightened his grip on her and flipped onto his back. She stretched and sat up, perched on his still firm cock, making circles with her hips and smiled down at him. ‘I’ve learned not to make the man do all the work.’
‘Ain’t work when you like it so much. God you’re hotter than a pistol after a gunfight.’
She laughed flexing her Kegels and making him gasp.
‘You wanna ride for a bit?’ he asked.
“Let me get my breath first, boy.’ she slid up and down  his hard slippery cock. ‘Mmm. That does feel good. It’s been a while since I got laid so good and proper.’
Jayne’s hands were on her waist, his thumbs touching at her navel and stroking up and down. ‘Them’s some muscles on your belly, Hester. You been working them hard.’
‘I gotta keep order when the mountain men come into town. They can get pretty rowdy. I gotta step on them hard.’
‘You got backup. That deputy seemed okay.’
‘He’s new. Yeah, he’s okay. And it’s getting quieter. I really only run into real trouble once bout fifteen year ago. Three guys weren’t as drunk as they seemed and took me unawares. When they was done raping me, I got a call out for backup and we took em out.’
Jayne looked shocked.
‘They raped…?”
‘Yeah. But they thought I was scared or sumpin. They was shocked when I pistol whipped their leader and punched the the others in the balls. But they ain’t gonna do that to no other woman, ‘ she said with satisfaction.’They ain’t got the balls. Not anymore.’
Jayne looked puzzled. ‘Between the field where they took me, and the station house, there was a little accident. One of em bled out, but the other two stood trial. And got took off to one of them prison planets. If they got a choir there, them assholes is singing soprano parts.’
Jayne laughed. Uncomfortably.
‘Your men should look out for you.’
‘Yeah, But that time I did for myself. You got a problem with that?’
‘I’m treating you right though?’ he asked nervously.
Hester rotated on his cock and squeezed him with her Kegels. ‘Ummm, yeah. You was a fond memory, even though you left pert abruptish. And you sure live up to the memory.’
Jayne laughed more confidently. ‘You like being on top? ‘
’Not really. I like being under a man. In bed. Not regular life.’
‘I work with a bunch of women, that seem to want the same.’
‘That could keep your bed warm. A bunch of women?’
‘First Mate’s a widow. Mechanic is married to the Captain. Pilot is, huh, hot as hell but also scary crazy. She took on a gang of Reavers back in the day and killed the lot.’
‘Reavers? They never came here. Just stories.’
‘Not just stories. I seen em and I’m thorough glad the Feds has been killing them off.’
‘And your pilot took on a gang of them?’
‘She looks like a ballet dancer talks like a Core lady, but that girl child is a stone killer. She’s at Ma’s right now.’
‘Wanna go again?’
‘I’m still hard and I come twice already. You got some skills, lil girl.’
‘Do me again and then let’s have a shower. I think I’d like to lather you up.’
Jayne laughed and flipped Hester onto her back. His hands were on her breasts, kneading gently and as promised his cock was still hard, filling her.She moaned and twisted.


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THE NEW CANAAN RUN – Leg Fifteen – New Melbourne


“Only thing you’re gonna find in New Melbourne is fish and fish related activities. Unless you got an overwhelming urge to gut sturgeon — and who hasn’t, occasionally”
― Mal, to Inara, in “Objects in Space”
Over ninety-seven percent of New Melbourne is covered by ocean. There are islands of various sizes around the world, but no land mass large enough to be classified as a continent. It was therefore chosen as a place to test out terraforming techniques for such water-heavy worlds. New terraforming rigs were developed and thousands upon thousands of species of marine life were cultivated in different regions. One particularly successful effort was the creation of the Great Kelp Forest, an ecosystem which covers nearly five million square kilometers and is still growing.
The planet is known today for its fishing-oriented economy and for its massive water processing plants. Some of the islands are large enough to support farming or ranching, and this is where most communities are established. Each island has developed its own culture, shaped by the climate and the kind of fishing and other resources available in that area. Monterey sits on the edge of the Great Kelp Forest and is almost completely surrounded by it, making it the primary site for kelp harvesting and for diving expeditions. The port of New Melbourne is laid back but also hard working, and its island is known to have some of the best surfing in the ‘verse. The planet is a frequent layover point between the Core and other worlds in the Red Sun system.  — SerenityMUSH

Inbound- silk linen cloth. linen shirts, gems processed foodstuffs, medical raw materials, icewine, brandy ,embroidered silk, neographene



‘Diamond Molly, sir?’
‘That’s the name your brother gave me.’
‘And what do we know about her/‘
‘River and the kids searched the Cortex. She’s got a respectable front anyways. Imports all sorts of luxury goods. Sells only wholesale but River got a peek at one of her client accounts and their client accounts.’
‘A peek?  When did she learn to hack the Cortex?’
‘Not rightly sure, but she is a ruttin genius and she had a sleepover, the one with the waist length blue hair, back on Muir? Think he was a Cortex designer. Reckon she picked ‘im clean. He looks a little dazed at breakfast.’
‘They always do, sir.’

Mal had spoke with Diamond Molly’s office manager so when the and Jayne arrived at a brightly painted industrial park with samples of the icewine and brandy on the mule, they were quickly ushered into a small conference room in the lowrise orange office building.

A slight girl, barely into her teens, was setting out small glasses, crackers, sweet cakes, and fruit. She started as they entered.
‘It’s okay, Pippa, Molly won’t be here for a few more minutes, finish up.’
The girl signed softly and laid out fine cotton napkins, then plugged in a kettle, filling an elegant silver teapot with tealeaves and setting out Londinium style teacups with saucers, along with milk, sugar , cream and lemon.
She look around, nodded to herself in satisfaction and slipped out the door. The manager indicated chairs around a laminated bamboo table. The three men sat in silence.
The teenager opened a different door. ‘Diamond Molly,’ she murmured as the men rose.


‘YoSaffBridge!’ exclaimed Mal.’Or is it Freda or Melissa?/ Are you Diamond Molly too?’
‘Hi, hubs,’ breathed Saffron, bending into him as if she expects a kiss. Mal rapidly stepped back, bumping into his chair. The manager looked confused.
‘No problem, Outerbridge,’ Saffron said. ‘The captain and I have known each other for ages. And Jayne , how nice to see you again.’
Jayne licked his lips.
‘Please, gentlemen, be seated.,’ said Saffron., completely in control of the situation. ‘I bought the name Diamond Molly when I took over the company.’
Mal opened his mouth, ready to ask what had happened to the original Molly, but remember he was here to get paid and ‘Molly’ had made the most profitable offer.
‘We left you on Hera what? two year ago? with your husband.’
‘Ex, Mal, but still a friend, just like us.’
Mal reminded himself about getting paid and grunted. Jayne was staring a Saffron’s impressive bosom and grinning. Mal kicked his ankle surreptisiously under the table.
‘You’ll want to taste the icewine?’
‘Of course. I have a reputation here for providing only the best quality.’
At Mal’s nod, Jayne unscrewed the cap of the slender bottle, pouring small servings for all four. They sipped and Saffron nodded.
‘That’s the stuff, all right. Did you bring all the wine bottled and labelled?’
‘Yes, of course. Duty paid and everything.’
‘Some suppliers will provide casks and labels of so we can bottle ourselves.’
‘That would be cheaper to transport, but how would the customer know what he was buying?’
‘As I say, I have a reputation. Also it allows me to use a fancier bottle for the discriminating buyer.’
Jayne snorted. ’Same stuff, higher price.’
Saffron glanced sideways at him. ‘Selling the sizzle.’ She smiled and Jayne gulped down the rest of the wine in his cup.
‘We do have another product. We’ve got good paperwork, but it wasn’t bottled on site.’
Saffron looked interested.
‘The same grower makes a brandy he thinks could give New Canaan a run for its money. And with the trouble on New Canaan, there will be a shortage in that market.’
‘They was a bad quake there. Kaylee and the kids got caught in it.’ Mal’s blue eyes darkened at the memory.
‘Your kids, Mal? Are you a widower now?’
Mal gave her a black look. ‘No thank you for your concern.’
‘There hasn’t been anything on the casts about an earthquake on New Canaan.’
‘A quake on a world still being terraformed ain’t really news. But it for sure happened. Might mean New Canaan brandy will be hard to come by for a few years while the farmers and winemakers rebuild.’
‘And you have a substitute?’
‘From St Albans. They’s only one maker but he does the icewine so there’s your selling point. ‘ Mal nodded to Jayne, who pulled a thermos out of his bag.
’No bottles?’
‘Just casks. The paperwork is a little sketchy, but we got it tested for purity and have signed documentation. High proof too. ‘
Saffron rang a tiny bell, summoning the teenage servant.
‘Another set of glasses, balloons.’
The little maid scurried off, returning with larger glasses.
‘Balloons, Pippa,’ said Saffron, sharply.
The girl looked terrified. ‘I… don’t..’
‘These are fine,’ said Mal.
Saffron’s ruby lips thinned. ‘All right. But you, ‘ addressing the girl,’ will have a lesson tonight.’ The girl gulped.
Mal was regretting his choice of customer.
Jayne poured a sample the St Albans brandy for each of them, his own slightly larger than the others.
’There’s a ginger bouquet,’ remarked the office manager.’Unusual.’
‘You’ll taste smoke too, ‘Mal replied, having been coached by Farrell Smith.’ And honey and roses, as an aftertaste.’
‘It’s right tasty,’ said Jayne.’Reminds me of hot nights with hotter women.’
Saffron crossed her legs, exposing her pale thighs to the merc. He grinned wider and finished his brandy in a gulp.
‘Jayne, you should make a good thing like this last,’ said Saffron.’I know you can do that.’She poured him another generous portion.
Mal noticed the byplay but decided ignoring it was the best strategy. Diamond Molly had made the best offer by far.
‘We’ve settled on the icewine already, so what are you thinking about the brandy?’
‘It’s got no background. I’ll have to set up a publicity campaign to get the best price. Those don’t come cheap. And you say there won’t be more?’
‘St Albans is headed into their winter orbit. They ain’t gonna have much in the way of crops for a good six year. Then there’s the lag for aging. Easy a dozen years to the next batch.’
‘But then six years when they can produce, if I want to play a long game. I have to keep a scarce product in the public eye for over a decade. Expensive.’
‘I can give you a contact info for the distillery. Cut your cost by during direct.’
‘Mal, I know who the distiller is. The same as makes the icewine, obviously. and his name is on those bottles. Name your figure.’
Mal had planned to double his expected price as a first offer to Diamond Molly, but he was dealing with Saffron, for whom double-dealing was as easy as breathing, and had decided to triple his first price. Now he named quadruple his expected payment and Saffron countered with a quarter of that, what he originally had intended to accept.
He hid his amusement and they spent some time going back an forth on price, quantity and exclusivity. At last they settled just under the tripled price for the entire shipment of brandy.

‘One other thing, ‘ said Mal.’ I’ve take a fancy to yer girl there. Throw in her contract and we got a deal.’
Saffron laughed.’ You like them young, do you, hubs? She’s barely fifteen. She’s not bed broke either. She cries a lot, no technique at all. And she’s an awful maid, quite stupid really.’
The girl was looking terrified.
‘All right, I’ll transfer the icewine payment to your bank and pay the brandy in federal fiat. Outerbridge will prepare the labour contract sale. Pippa, get your things and meet Mr. Outerbridge in this office.’
The girl, openly weeping, ran from the room.
Saffron rose gracefully from the table, running her hand along Jayne’s  thigh and over his cock as she did.
‘Nice to do business with your again, hubby. Three times I’ve put a good profit in your hands now. Maybe next time I’ll be the lucky one. ‘ She swayed out of the room.
‘Let’s go, Jayne.’
‘Gimmee a minute, Mal? I gotta adjust a few things.’



Outerbridge was very efficient about payment and within twenty minutes, they were in the mule, with the trembling girl, who clutched a shabby backpack.
Mal frowned at her, and she started to cry again.
‘How ya gonna explain this one ta Kaylee, Mal? She ain’t gonna appreciate you bedding her.’
‘Not leaving her with that bitch. Scared little thing.’
‘Kin I have her then?’
‘She’s a human person, Jayne. We’ve spoke about this afore.’
‘Whatcha gonna do about her then?’
‘Well, she can help with the kids and the cooking for the time being. You done yer schooling, girl?’
“I wrote my Four, master.’
‘Not master, captain. How old are you?’
‘Not sure, ma… captain. Bout fourteen.’
‘You shoulda done yer Six by now.’
None of my owners were payin for school, captain.’
‘I got sold on when I was bout ten. Nobody wanted me when daddy died.’
‘I thought we was just buying out your contract.’
‘No mas… captain. I’m enslaved.’
The men exchanged looks.
‘Huh,’ said Mal.

‘Want to explain the child, sir?’
‘Working on what to tell Kaylee first.’

Kaylee was happy to have a new face on board. Relieved, Mal commed Pippa’s papers to the Labour Board and manumitted her, paying from Perse’ bank account.
‘There’s yer freedom papers fresh from the printer. You can get the tattoo updated any time by showin those.’
Pippa took the thin rice paper sheets. ‘What do I do now, Captain Reynolds?’
‘Well, whatever you want. You’re free.’
Pippa started to cry. ‘What’s the matter, lil girl?’
‘A spoonful of sugar leads to diabetes.’ said River.
“Look, we’re going to be leaving at the beginning of the week. You can stay on board til then. Guess you better start looking for work. What can you do?’
‘Nothing really.’
’Saffron…Molly had you serving drinks. You could try restaurants, bars too.’
‘I was just starting on that.  I … really don’t know how.’
‘Were you a chambermaid?’ asked Kaylee. ‘Makin beds, sweeping, vacuuming?’
‘The housekeeper didn’t want me on cleaning any more. Madame Molly took me off that cause I was so bad at it. She said she had to remake her bed after I got my hands on it.’
‘Factory work.’
‘I haven’t worked in a factory. Do you need qualifications?’
Jayne said,’ For a lotta factory work, yeah. But mostly they train you.’
Pippa started crying again.

River was the only crew member who had no planetside responsibilities, so she volunteered to take the teenager around to the Labour Bureau and check out job postings.

At the end of the day, the two girls had no success.  ’There were a few openings. One said waitress but we were told she’d be spreading for the customers too. The other two gave her a written application and she couldn’t fill it in.’

Emma went with Zoe to her appointment at the Mercer’s Hall the next day, leaving Kaylee, who was going to an auction with Mal, short of child care. She asked Pippa  to give the kids lunch , change the baby as needed and remind her to use the potty, and to take out some ingredients for dinner, since Pippa , weeping, told them she didn’t know how to cook.
‘Lunch is just heating up some of the soup in the chillybox and making sandwiches.’
But when she returned Beege  had removed her own full diaper and was playing bare bottomed and alone in the cargo bay. Pippa had cut herself making sandwiches and Derry was locked in his bunk.
‘He was naughty so I slapped him and he ran into his bunk and I locked it.’
She had forgotten to take anything out for dinner. Mal sent her to her cabin to keep her from the wrath of Kaylee.
’So useless around the house, pert close to illiterate, can’t be trusted with children. What are we going to do with her?’
‘Don’t have to do nuthin,’ said Jayne. ‘You bought her and freed her. She’s cost us money.’
‘Yeah, we took her from something she knew and understood. We got responsibilities.’
‘Shoulda sold her to a house. The young ones kin make good coin, buy herself free in no time and she’d have a skill.’
Mal looked at him blue-eyed.
‘Yeah, yeah.’ said Jayne.’Coulda , shoulda, woulda. Too late now.’
‘We don’t mess with slavery, ‘ growled Mal.
‘If she stays here alone, she’ll be back in bondage in two shakes, sir. Either she’ll sell her contract of she’ll get grabbed.  And slavers ain’t too picky about gentle care of their stock. ‘
‘She needs a mamma,’ said Kaylee. ‘Someone to teach her. She ain’t had no parents since she was ten.’
‘Are you sayin we should keep her?’ asked Mal.
‘I’m not wanting anyone on board who slaps my kid,’ said Kaylee.
‘So where do you reckon we’d find her some parents?’
’My Ma says she’s a mite lonely since Mattie passed,’ said Jayne.
‘It’s near on a week out of our way, but yeah, wave yer ma and ask if she would take her on.’


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Cargo-  silk , gems, processed foodstuffs, medical raw materials, icewine , brandy

Mal was contemplating a full cargo bay .
‘We’ll have a hard time makin a profit on this cargo, sir.’
‘Need to do some hard bargains with  你的小兄弟 buyers, reckon.’
‘Bring River. She can tell you if the buyers will go higher.’
‘She’s right useful, ain’t she?’
‘No chance of a repeat cargo on the likker though. Not for another decade or more. If we make it that long.’
“If? Now, c’mon. The Run is going good. We ain’t lost money on any cargo yet. We’ve some good new contacts, strictly legal, and passin on enough info to have guys owing us favours for years. It’s all been smooth.’
‘Mebbee that’s what worries me, sir.’
‘Well, I reckon we paid our best to Tracy’s family. We left a fair chunk of coin on St Alban’s.’

River’s voice came on the comm. ‘Feds want to talk to the Captain.‘
‘Where are they, Tross?’
‘About ten klicks out.’
Mal sighed, reviewing the status of the cargo. Most legal. ‘Tell em I’ll be right there. And would someone put the kettle on? Might as well play hospitable.’
‘Whose in hospital?’
‘Jayne, get Doc to check yer ears and don’t talk to the nice revenooers.’

The cortex screen on the bridge was as fuzzy as ever, Kaylee had offered to fix it, but Mal preferred less communication not better.

‘Firefly class 03 Serenity out of Persephone here. I’m Captain Reynolds.’
‘Persephone? Long way from here.’
‘We’re doing the New Canaan Run for Business Solutions Unlimited based on Osiris. Our last stop was St. Albans, dropping off agricultural machinery, picking up some produce.’
‘St Albans produces for export? Since when?’
Mal scowled. A purplebelly who knew his area . Must’ve been working this sector for a while.

He smiled.’ Not much but we got some icewine for a buyer on Hera. Keeps the hold full between larger cargoes. That the bulk of it.’ The casks of brandy were much smaller after all.
The federal agent thought a moment . “Any thing else?’
‘Medicines. Homeopathic remedies, fabric, some refined metals.’
‘The usual mixed cargo.’
Mal relaxed a little. ‘We take on any job we can, officer.’
‘Fine. I’ll bring over an inspection crew to look at your paperwork.’
‘We’ll put the kettle on.’

The inspection crew were unarmed, unlike the Serenity crew.Their commander, a stout man in late middle age, shook his head.
‘That time has passed, Captain,’ he sighed. ‘The ‘Verse is more civilized these days.’
‘We been fooled by rogue agents in the past. Well past, mind, but, fool me once…’
‘And the Black is cold and lonely.’
Mal was silent. When his black dog was on him he found the Black a comfort. Nothing to scratch on his nerve. He had that in common with River, who spent hours tethered to Serenity’s skin, gazing into the blessed silence.
The inspection went quickly. The commander seemed happy when the paperwork aligned the the visible cargo and was disinclined to go searching for hidden contraband. He didn’t even look in the crew quarters.
‘Been travelling long, Captain?’ He asked, wrapping a plump hand around his tea and smilingly accepting a mooncake from Kaylee.
‘Bought m’boat in ‘eleven, been on the move ever since.’
‘I actually meant this trip. It’s a long run for a crew with children.’
‘You the truant officer, too?’ Jayne asked.
The plump inspector smiled again. ‘No, no. I have kids of my own, But they stay on IAV Dortmunder and the wife and I take alternate shifts.’
Dortmunder still patrolling these parts?
‘This is her territory. Personnel changes of course. Me and the wife are among the few who’ve stuck around. That ship’s been our home most of our married life.’
Mal looked around at the shabby , brightly painted galley, the mismatched chars mourned the real wood table. the long view through the cargo bay to the main airlock and the short view to the bright cold light of the infirmary. He grunted in agreement.

He could see Simon moving about in the infirmary.  Emma was in the commons with Derry, taking turns reading aloud . Jayne had disappeared, ofter snatching a few mooncakes and a large mug of tea. Zoe and Kaylee sat with them.
“Is Dortmunder nearby?’ asked Kaylee.
‘Bout an hour, hour and a half.’
‘I wonder if there would be any chance of trading with yer quartermaster? Serenity is a real good ship, but she’s a senior citizen and allys needs tender care.’
‘We’re a naval vessel, not a trader,’ frowned the inspector. Kaylee’s enquiring smile faded. ‘But tell you what. Dock and come visit. Even been on an IAV before?’
‘Oh ,yeah, Not zactly for a friendly visit.’
‘Well, as I said, times have changed.’
‘Can we go, capt’n?’ Kaylee asked when the inspector had left.
‘Visit a navy ship on purpose, not really in the plan, Kaylee.’
‘We got nuthin in particular to worry about this trip. And it could be eddycational for the kids.’
‘And you wanna see the engine room, doncha?“
‘Oooh, yeah,’ she kissed him thoroughly, ‘Please, Malcolm?’

The quartermaster had some extra fuel cells to trade and wanted some of the baled cannabis that was among the pharmaceuticals, since the Lunar New Year was approaching on the Dortmunder calendar. She was happy to introduce Kaylee to the Chief Engineer, a skinny redheaded person named Pat.
Derry was happy enough to tag along, but Kaylee and Emma were fascinated by the huge engines and climate control systems.
‘There is a population of over forty thousand aboard at any time,’ Pat explained in a high pitched voice. ‘that’s mostly naval officers and crew, but we do have family quarters and guest sites for visiting personnel. We had the King of Londinium on board three year back.’
‘Was he wearing his crown?’ asked Derry.
‘No, but he had the sandiest uniform you ever did see, scarlet jacket with gold embroidery everywhere and so many medals you’d think he won the War all by his own self. The full whoop de do. ’
Pat was too young, Kaylee thought, to be a veteran. Perhaps a parent bequeathed that bitter tone?
Pat’s high voice prattled on, explaining how the HVAC  system was decentralized to each of the towers of the ship, a huge edifice that could never land planetside.
But Kaylee felt something wrong with the engines. A tiny irregularity that irritated her mechanic’s soul. It wasn’t every time, but there was a clunk sound occasionally where there should be a click. Kaylee started a count. On her third , she decided it was the twenty-seventh beat each forty second repetition.
The tour group was at the top of an immense vat of water being purified with precipitates before passing into the distilling chamber. Pat had given Derry a tiny nugget of alum to taste and they were laughing at his grimaces at the sourness of it.
She touched Pat’s arm, causing him (her?) to flinch. ‘Didy’a hear that?’ she asked.
‘What?’ Pat replied, stepping out of her reach . Kaylee explained what she was hearing. Pat looked dubious, but slid down a pole and stalked over to a bank of gauges.
‘I’m not seeing any adverse reports.’
‘It may be somethin or nuthin.’
Pat waved them silent, head cocked, listening. ‘Oh ,yes, I think.’ Another tense minute. ‘Yes, sort of a clunk noise?’
‘That’s what I’m hearing”
Pat comm’d to the engineering wardroom. ‘Send up that ensign. The kid who arrived yesterday.‘
Smiling at Kaylee, ‘My ears get tired. It’s pretty noisy down here.’
The ensign, barely out of her teens, swung around a corner and saluted smartly, ‘Reporting, ma’m.’
Pat glared, ’Sir, youngster,’ Kaylee was glad of the confirmation until Pat continued, ‘When we’re on duty.’ Crap. ‘Listen carefully to the sounds.’
The blushing ensign frowned in concentration. After a moment she said, ‘What am I listening for …. sir?’
The ensign looked puzzled, ‘I’m not sure what’s supposed to be regular, sir. There is a beat every minute in that gauge.’
Pat looked at the array. ‘Second from the left?’
’Third, sir, It makes a slightly different sound at about thirty- forty seconds.’
‘大象小便 . That’s the gauge for the portside sewers. It’s reporting everything is fine… but…’ Pat reached for the comm again. ‘Stevie! You the PSD?’
‘Yeah, Patsy.Why?’
‘Check that everything is under control? I’m not real sure the gauges is giving us correct info.’
‘That means opening the vault, Patsy  You’ll owe me on this.’
The comm snapped off. Pat shook ginger curls at the visitors. ‘I hope there no problem, but that gauge reports the amount of methane coming off one of the storage vaults. we drain it off for fuel, of course, but if it builds too much pressure…’
‘Explosion?’ asked Derry excitedly.
‘A real and veritable shit shower.’
Stevie’s voice came over the comm.
‘No need for language, Stevie.’
‘No, really the methane blew the lid off the vault. We’re covered in .. feces .. um .. blackwater… aw, shit, just shit!’
Where the adults were distracted, Derry plugged his new comm into the system and pulled out everything from Pat’s first call through the loosening of the vault cap and subsequent explosion of sewage. The faces on the cleanup and repair crew were hilarious, especially to a small boy.
The ensign was sent to Stores and returned with a replacement gauge.
‘What happens to the old gauge?’ asked Kaylee.
‘It goes to the recycling centre and gets sold off with more scrap when we have enough.’’
Kaylee  was allowed to take the broken gauge home as a souvenir and thanks for her early warning.
Emma as a someday pilot, had been given a short tour of the bridge. She and River were discussing possible upgrades to Serenity’s equipment . Mal suspected that River was learning more about the naval vessel than Emma knew she knew. Information that might come in handy.
Mal was amused and disappointed to learn that Kaylee had prevented a worse incident on IVF Dortmunder than an urgent cleanup.
‘Would purely have loved to see them purple bellies cover in crap.’ Which was when Derry produced his comm and showed the events in the portside sewer on the commons vidscreen. He got many compliments on his quick thinking .
Zoe smile tightly. It was Dortmunder that had transported her to the prison world where she had been held after Emma’s birth. Forgiveness came hard.

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Can Goods
Luxury Foods
Parts – Civil
Parts – Industrial
Low Tech
Inbound from Deadwood: – silk , gems, processed foodstuffs, medical raw materials
Outbound- silk , gems, processed foodstuffs, medical raw materials, icewine , brandy

It was winter on St Alban’s, as usual.
The moon had very short hot summers, less than four months above freezing, but those twelve weeks had temperatures in the thirties. Crops grew fast or not at all and the genetically crafted grapes that flourished in the short summer were very high in alcohol-producing sugars.

Like most of the St Albans farmers Farrell Smith, father to Mal and Zoe’s dead comrade, Tracy, had grown for the local market; the miners and factory workers who could not grow their own fresh produce or afford imports. Smith had concentrated on small fruits, most bush crops that grew on new growth, avoiding losses when fruit bearing son growth froze in band winters. Most farmers sold their surplus crops to the canning and freezing company, owned by Blue Sun, which paid just enough to keep their suppliers coming back.

Smith had come to grapes when his parish priest asked him to supply grape juice for communions. The fresh juice was unexpectedly popular, quickly finding a secular market which brought it to the attention of other congregations who asked for grape wine for their rituals.
Smith learned to leave some of his grapes on the line past the first freeze  of the winter, which dried the grapes and concentrated the sugars. Icewine was a luxury product, worth the cost of export to more prosperous worlds.
While Mal and Smith discussed fees and costs, Kaylee and Tracy’s brother Rand walked down to the family graveyard to visit Tracy’s grave.

“Surprised the captain and Ms. Washburne ain’t coming,’ the boy said. ‘Seems you only knew him for a couple days.’
‘We had sorta a moment,’Kaylee said,”I mean, nothin come of it, but it coulda…if… well he kinda panicked when the organleggers come after him.’
‘Organleggers? Why were they after him?’
Realizing that Mal and Zoe had been vague with the family about the exact circumstances of the trooper’s death, Kaylee gave a brief explanation of the events at Space Bazaar when they had received Tracy’s unresponsive body by mail and were followed by bounty hunters, looking for the precious organs he carried.
She didn’t mention that Tracy had actually died of Mal’s bullet, fired as the hysterical youngster held her hostage .

They passed an outbuilding on the way back from the cemetery. ‘That’s our distillery,’ Rand explained.’Wanna see?’

Kaylee was always fascinated by new kinds of equipment, and had been making her Inter-Engine Wine almost since she had joined the crew. She accepted the invitation with pleasure.
Inside the shabby building shone. Tall stainless steel vats gleamed angles tubing sparkled. A steam disinfector purred in a corner, sanitizing glass bottles for the next batch of aged brandy. In contrast a second room held real wooden barrels still aging brandy in strict climate control.

‘The ones with the red tags is ready to go, but the barrels is older. This’ll be the good stuff. The Tracy batch from the year he died.’
‘Y’all still miss him.’
‘Mama does, mebbee daddy. I almost don’t remember him. He was in the last three years of the war, with your captain and first mate, right? An he only come home for a bit fore he quarrelled with daddy and left again.Then you brought him back  in a box. Eight years ago now. I’m twenty so I was three when he left the first time and twelve when he left again.’
‘I only knew him for a few days,my own self. He had a real ingratiating manner.’
‘Mmmm. I ain’t gonna speak ill, but Daddy more of less kicked him out both times he left. Reckon he weren’t willin to pull his weight. Allys looking for and easy berth’
‘As a soldier?’
“Didn’t say he was smart.’
Kaylee asked some questions about the distilling equipment and was told the Smiths threw out near ten percent of the brandy they distilled.
“Well, I say, throw out. It gets sold as cleaning fluid. If somebody drinks it, it won’t kill’em but it’s got lot of fusel oil and other impurities. We could go with less, some distillers only toss one percent, but Daddy is fussy like that. You should try our potato vodka.’

‘This’ll put hair on the soles of your feet,’ boasted Farrell Smith, pouring a glass for Zoe and Mal, ‘And make childbirth a pleasure.’
Mall tossed back the liquor and coughed as his throat caught fire. ‘What proof is this?’
“One sixty six, but no worries. It’s so pure you cannot get a hangover. Have another?’
‘No, no. I’d rather take my time. This is a proper sipping drink.’
‘We get the water from a glacial spring on our own property. They some minerals in it will do your body good. When you’ve finish that let me give you an taste of my buffalo grass formula.’
‘You make shine from grass?’ asked Zoe cautiously sipping her own glass.
“Vodka,’ Farrel  corrected.’ Just a few strands in the bottle to give a delicate whisper of flavour. Tastes like the smell of a field ready for harvest.’
‘How are harvests these days, Mr. Smith?’ asked Mal.
‘Farrel, please, sergeant. It’s been a little warmer these past five years. That’s standard years, our orbit is twelve of those.’
‘Closer to Red Sun?’
‘Wobbly axis. St Alban’s has six month with the south hemisphere facing  from the sun and eight month facing away repeatin through those twelve years.’
‘So in twelve standard years you get fourteen summers?’
‘Ten. But the ten further away is colder. Not famine cold but the Northern Glacier grows near to the equator. That’s why we we make our money in warm years, if we can.’
‘You know you’d do better on consignment than cash.’
‘Too much risk. I got school fees for the last two kids and youngest boy is wantin to go to Academy. We’re hoping for a scholarship.’
‘Know what you mean. We got three kids on crew and they’re doin good in their level exams.’
‘Emma’s not innnerested in Academy though. She wants to be a plot like her daddy.’
‘I thought that lil gal was your pilot?’
’Now. My husband passed fore our girl was born.’
‘None of us are dead while our names are spoken.’
Zoe was silent.

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Outbound from Deadwood: – silk , gems, processed foodstuffs, medical raw materials
We’re heading over to St Alban’s next. Gotta lead on some fine ice wines.’
’Not a good luck place for us, sir.’
‘Nowhere is. Our contact is Tracy Smith’s pa. His vineyard had a real good crop the year after we brought Tracy home, but he can’t move it. He distilled some of it too. Says the brandy is real good. Eight years in the cask. We can buy all we want or take the lot on consignment. ‘
‘Brandy or moonshine, sir?’
‘He made his own grapes into his own wine and his own wine into his own brandy.’
’So no papers, then. Sir.’
‘We won’t get the price we would with certs. But we won’t be paying what we would with cert, neither. We can do a taste test, too.’
“Kaylee will like that.’
‘Reckon she’s recovered from that apple cider she tried on Dyton.’
‘Doc should test it for wood alcohol, too.’
‘Fair point. that would be some useful paperwork.’
’So cash or consignment?’
‘I’m aiming to sell it all on Hera, but I ain’t got a buyer.’
‘I’ll ask Perse if he knows anyone.’
Perseus Alleyne was unable to help. His employers did not deal in beverages, which were too bulky for the value. He did pass the names of some hoteliers and restauranteurs, but told Mal to keep the company name out of it.

’The Company can’t afford he deal in black market goods. We’d all be fired if that got out.’
‘I’m your sub, Perse. You’re the only one the Company can fire. An this is grey market only. The drink is the real thing just lackin in the paper department. Real eight year old St Albans icewine, bargain prices.’
Perse sighed. ‘Just keep my name out of it.’

A small man bounced up to Serenity’s entry, opening the door unannounced and letting in half a blizzard.
‘ 谁离开他妈的开门?’ shouted Mal. scrambling down the companionway, pistol drawn. Jayne and Zoe were on the catwalk, guns aimed.
‘Hi, sis?’ said Theseus Alleyne. His hands came down as he heard safeties being snapped shut. ‘Should I have made an appointment?’
‘Sorry, 小弟, We had a problem a few yeas back and we normally have all the doors locked.’

Theseus had a peripatetic business, moving form one world to another, one community to another, turning vats of fats and vegetable oils from abattoirs and restaurants into bio-diesel fuel, an important product in a Verse with no petroleum. He had met the crew of Serenity by accident on Lazarus off Heinlein but their paths had not crossed since then.

By setting up a table in the partially empty cargo bay, Serenity was able to accommodate Theseus, his wife and twins, to dinner that evening.
The Alleyne children were pleased to meet their barely remembered cousin and all the children were glad of new playmates.
Arrangements were made for all the children to gather at a petting zoo near the shipyards the next day, a suggestion from River who had been anxious to go ever since she learned of its existence.
Over many cups of tea, the adults exchanged news, gossip, and tales of their adventures.
Mal was very taken with Zoe’s younger brother. When they had met briefly before, he had been distracted by caring up legal matters related to the disappearance of a passenger, a homesteader who, it was discovered during the voyage, had impregnated his pre-teen daughter.
In this more relaxed atmosphere, he found Theseus’ frank manner and entrepreneurial spirit much to his liking.
‘The farming planets are best for buying stock to make bio-diesel, but they also make their own, so not much market. The biggest market is the terraforming companies. We do a regular run, but we’re always looking for new markets.’
‘You may find New Canaan needs more biofuel than usual. They had a nasty earthquake that played merry hob with their own plants. And destroyed a lot of crops.’
‘Was the central plant hurt?’
‘Hard to tell. The ‘casts didn’t have much info near in and when we left the system it was old news. A quake on a terraformin planet? It’s not news, it’s Tuesday, reckon,’ said Zoe.
Mal grunted. ‘Our main cargo here is from Perse. You been in touch with him?’
‘Not really. Not my favourite brother.I was the youngest and always the smallest kid. Good thing I had a big sis to protect me.’
‘It was running your mouth that mostly got you into trouble,小弟.’
‘Zoe protected me. Girls get their growth sooner’n boys, so she was bigger than our big brothers at the time. She slapped them into place.’ Theseus grinned. ‘Remember the  time I talked Perse and Sock into a spacewalk just before we went into atmo?’
‘At lest they had enough sense to untether before they got a fiery death.’
‘They was some mad when Daddy had get a shuttle to pick ‘em up after he figured out where they was.’
‘Daddy was madder. You hadda hide in the vents until Daddy cooled down.’
‘I wasn’t hiding, I was stuck.’
‘Unless you figured a way to use the jakes from the vents, you was hidin.’
‘I admit it, I have never  been a brave man.’
‘My daddy says a smart man knows enough not to get into spots where bravery is necessary.’ Theseus’ son added.
‘Yer daddy ain’t a fool , ‘ said Mal.’ ‘Verse’d be a safer place if’n more followed that advice.
The entire crew stared at their captain. ‘What?’

Theseus had a few suggestions for disposal of the icewine and offered to call ahead to assure the potential customers of Serenity’s bone fides. He scoffed politely at a finder’s fee, but Zoe and her sister in law,more aware of the costs of raising children, quietly made and arrangement for half of one percent of the final price.

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Eight days

Population – 1.57 million
Terraformed – 2400

Orbit – Eighth from Blue Sun  Blue Sun, also known as Qing Long (Blue Dragon*) in Chinese, is the farthest out of the main sequence stars in the Verse. The worlds in orbit around Blue Sun include:
Second: New Canaan, orbited by Lilac
Third: Muir
Sixth: Highgate
Eighth: Deadwood, orbited by Haven
Ninth: protostar Burnham
First from Burnham: Miranda
    •    Mining
    •    Naturally Grown Produce Farming
    •    Ranching
    •    Vid Production

Inbound- silk, linen cloth, linen shirts, gems, processed foodstuffs, medical raw materials

Deadwood’s capital city had a surprisingly sophisticated spaceport for a Rim planet. But even more surprising there was no noticeable Alliance presence checking incoming or outgoing cargoes.
Near the spaceport was a gated compound with an ornate wrought iron sign reading ‘VisIon enTRaInmenT’.
‘They make vids here for the Cortex nets,’ Sou-fen Macharia told Kaylee as they exchanged gossip in a tea room near the port. Their husbands, Mal and Monty, were deep in discussion of new contracts and prices. Monty and  Pretty Baby were doing the New Canaan Run too, but in the opposite direction to Serenity.
The women had been fast friends since before they had married. Both were mechanics and had met in a scrapyard in Frisco on Regina, Sou-fen’s home world. When Mal and Kaylee attended their wedding, they had learned that Sou-fen’s family was connected in some firmly unexplained way to the 14K Triad Tong. Pretty Baby had prospered from the shady connection and Mal was careful not to ask too much about the cargoes she carried.
Kaylee’s eyes sparkled at the idea of show business glamour in such a nowhere spot. ‘Why here?’
‘Not right sure. They was some films made for Corone Mining here whiles back, ads and recruitment and I reckon the makers thought the climate and landscapes were a good mix.’

Kaylee looked out the tea room windows at the heavily treed mountains. Serenity had flown over a lake district with some large estates on the beaches on their approach to Capital . And while the city itself was barely bigger than a town, there was a good mixture of modern high-rise buildings in sterile squares, shady residential streets and older, slightly shabby retail streets. ‘You could find most of what you needed here for a vid, eh?’
‘Well, Deadwood is a full planet. You got tropics and glaciers and oceans and beaches and deserts. Just a matter of getting to em, right? My cousin, Kwame Chen, handles security for one of the vid companies. He says they is working on a new kind of vid, hologrammic. Like 3-D but in the same room, not on a screen.’
‘That could be innerestin. Seen any vedettes around?’
‘Nobody top of the mountain, yet. Seen a few faces that look familiar.’
‘Fly the Black long enough, an yer gonna meet the same faces again and again.’
‘Nah. Nobody I could put a name too, but too good lookin  for spacers,’ she looked fondly over at her massive husband, whose full beard and flowing hair could not disguise that he was at best comfortable looking. Kaylee said nothing, admiring her own handsome man.

Zoe and Jayne had visited a weapons dealer, picking up ammunition. Zoe waited outside the shop with their heavy purchases while Jayne went to get the mule from its parking spot. Two men, deep in conversation and gesticulating wildly, approached and the taller one bumped into her.
Startled, Zoe’s hand went to her pistol. The tall man raised his hands. ‘My deepest apologies, madame. I was careless almost to blindness. Forgive this errant knave his wayward feet.’
‘And hands.’ Zoe said, returning her mare’s leg to its holster.
‘And hands,’ the tall man said, smiling winsomely. Zoe grunted. She didn’t trust winsome.
The other man, only slightly shorter, bowed. ‘Madame, my troublesome friend erred mightily but his fault was not in his stars but in his preoccupation with our converse. Might I too apologize for discombobulating you.’ His blue eyes shone with humble apology.
Zoe smiled politely. ‘No harm. Watch your path in future.’
The two men bowed in unison, both sweeping their hats off and sliding one leg forward gracefully. Zoe very nearly laughed.
Jayne pulled up in the mule as the men came out of their bow. He looked blankly at the two men, somewhat gaudily dressed for Capital, then turned to Zoe.
‘K, Zo. Let’s get this stuff back to the boat.’
“Can we be of assistance, madame?’
‘We got it.’
The taller man had already started to pick up the cloth shopping bag, not expecting it to be filled with steel and lead. He stumbled and Zoe caught him as he lurched into her.
‘Makin a habit, mister?’
‘Again my most humble apologies. Would you accept a ticket to our show this evening to make up for our behaviour?’
‘No need.’
‘What kinda show?’
Much Ado About Nothing.’  Jayne looked blank again. ‘It’s a classic comedy about love and marriage.’ Still blank. ‘We are with the Sock and Buskin Shakespeare Company out of Paquin.’
‘Playacting,’ explained Zoe.
The shorter man pressed a pair of tickets on Zoe, who was enough nonplussed to take them. The men bowed elaborately again and moved on.

‘What ya gonna do with those?’
‘See the play if time allows. Take one of the girls. Kaylee might like some time off.’
The ammunition packed on the mule, they returned to Serenity.

None of the female crew wanted to go to the theatre that night. Kaylee was happily involved with a tricky upgrade to the ship’s plumbing, Emma was working on an essay for her Level Eight social contracts class. River had had a bad day and was in a drug-induced sleep.
‘I don’t want to leave her,’ said Simon. ‘Perhaps the captain would attend with you?’
‘I got calls to make for our next stop, ask Jayne or David.’
David responded enthusiastically. ‘I love live theatre. Never saw a  play till I was in nursing school but moving about since I never really have a chance.’
‘I’m, sorry, honey. We’ll make more plans when River is…’
“It’s okay, 爸. I never said.’
‘Geez, quit with the googoo eyes already, ‘ complained Jayne.

David hired a rickshaw to take them to the theatre. The children watched as he gallantly handed in Zoe, in a flowing gown and short cape.

They were surprised to find that Deadwood actually had a theatre district. Five marquees advertised live or recorded performances from their own Much Ado About Nothing to an All-Girl Revue.
‘Something for every taste,’ said Zoe.
David pointed at the broadsheets outside the All-Girl Revue. Half advertised the night’s performance and the others an All-Boy Revue. ‘All tastes.’

Their tickets turned out to be a box quite near the stage. ‘That actor must have felt some apologetic,’ said Zoe, surprised.
‘Or these expensive seats are harder to sell and having a beautiful woman on display in them is good for business.’
‘Iphm,’ muttered Zoe. ’That part of your beside manner with your patients?’
David laughed. ‘Early on, yes. And in the labour room, I need all the goodwill I can get. You’d be amazed how hard an unhappy woman can punch, even during a contraction.’
Although they had crewed together for several months they did not know each other well.  Before the screen came down for advertising, Zoe learned about David’s home world , Turtle Island, which had been heavily settled by North American Indians and worked hard to keep up their important traditions and languages.

David learned less of Zoe’s background, except that the Alleynes had been traders for generations, first on Earth-that-Was, sailing those oceans, then as spacefarers throughout the ‘Verse.
‘We scattered with the War. I saw my brother Alcibides just after we was demobbed. He sold Serenity to the captain.’
‘Must have been quite a  sales pitch.’
‘Weren’t the ship he wanted us to have. He had a Scarab, bigger and in better shape. But Mal saw that beat-up Firefly and fell in love. ‘Course he was still some shell-shocked at the time.’
‘But you went along with him?’
‘No place better to go. No one better to go with.’ Zoe was silent, thinking of the one she had lost, long before Serenity Valley. ‘Mal had the cash and I knew the business. Worked.’
David knew there was more to the the strange relationship between the captain and his first mate, but the advertising screen had descended and the theatre became too noisy for chat.
Halfway through the commercials, Zoe stiffened. ‘Good thing we didn’t bring River,’ she said. David was puzzled, but the Fruity Oaty Bars commercial was too loud to ask.

The screen rose and the performance began. David was entranced by the graceful language, updated from the millenium-old English of Shakespeare.  When Dogberry made his appearance, he nudged Zoe.’Older and fatter, but he could be the captain’s cousin.’ David made a capture of the actor as he protested against Conrad’s libels.

Zoe had a little trouble deciding which actors were the two men who had given them tickets. But at intermission, a card was delivered to the box inviting them backstage for the opening night party

They made a handsome couple as they entered the green room backstage.  A waitress gave each a glass of shimmerwine and waved them to the buffet.  ‘Dogberry’ was already there, his part having  ended well before the denouement of the play. He bowed to Zoe, and gave David a lascivious glance.
‘Definitely not the captain,’ she murmured.
David was well worth a second look. Taller than Zoe, his glossy black hair was loose down his back,reaching nearly to his waist.  He was as always clear eyed with a fine coppery skin.  In a ‘verse where Asian and European heritage dominated, and Zoe’s African features were not uncommon, most people could not identify David’s ancestry.

He had complemented Zoe’s evening gown with a fine wool broadcloth suit and had borrowed  from Simon a silk waistcoat that laced up the front allowing room for his broader chest.
Dogberry asked how they had enjoyed the play, politely moving his glance to Zoe.
‘Got hard to follow in places. Reckon the customs have changed more than the language.’ she said.
’We actually use a translation that’s less than a century old. I don’t think anyone would understand the original language at all. For example, at one point, my character wants to explain to Leonato that he is a man to be respected, with roots in the community. He says ‘I wear fine silk vests’  in our version, but in the original he says ‘I have two gowns.’ which would just sound odd. And the pronunciation!’
‘We hear different dialects on every world, even on moons that trade with a larger planetary population,’ said David.
‘Are you military personnel then?’
Zoe pressed her foot against David’s. ‘No, traders. We’re doing the New Canaan Run; mostly agricultural products.’
‘Footloose, dear lady,’ said a voice behind her. The actor who had given her the tickets had moved up behind them. Zoe was annoyed with herself for being surprised by his approach. ‘We are travellers ourselves. Indeed, most of us are actually Travellers from Earth that Was.’
‘Gypsies,’ said Zoe.
His voice chilled.  ’No. The Roma are our friends, or at least, not our enemies, but we Travellers are a different nation,’
‘Thank you for the tickets, you played Don John, but I don’t believe I know your actual name,’ she said, changing the subject both from the touchy question of Roma versus Traveller and from the business of her crew.
‘Our names are as changeable as our roles,’ the actor said. ‘Don John is my name while I am playing him.’
‘Not something to boast about, being the villain of the piece.’
‘From my point of view, I am the hero, trying to bring justice to an unfair society that ignores me for my birth while praising other no better men that hold a higher social position.’
David smiled, ’Every man is the hero in his own story.’
‘Exactly! So every night I work to bring down this unfair society, and every night sadly I fail.’ he signalled the waitress for more wine. ‘But some night, I may win my battle.’
Zoe laughed.

Dogberry wandered over deliberately, bringing a bottle of shimmer wine.
‘Top you?’ he enquired archly.
David proffered his glass. ‘This is very interesting. I’ve never been backstage before.’
‘Would you care for a tour? Most of the backstage is still lit. Maybe you can raise the curtain?’ Still holding the bottle the two men departed.
‘Was he saying what I thought?’ asked Zoe.
‘Probably. He finds a boy in every port, often several.’
‘Well, he’s a good looking man, but David is married.’
’Never bothered Joey before.’
‘And David’s relationships are no business of mine.’
‘As long as they don’t do it in the road and scare the horses, eh?’
Conversation drifted after that and Zoe was waiting impatiently when David returned, a little breathless.
Zoe’s arched eyebrow was enough to make David blush. ‘No, I’m still the faithful husband, although that guy can be pretty beguiling,’ David paused,smiling. ‘But I solved a problem Simon was upset about so I think he’ll forgive me a few kisses.’

“I found a buyer,’ David told Simon in the privacy of their cabin.
Simon looked relieved.
‘One of the actors will take the the gum off our hands and there will even be a small profit.’
‘Actors have money?’
‘He says so. I have to meet him this afternoon at his rooms,’ David paused. ‘D’you want to come along?’
‘I want to stay out of this entirely. Buying that stuff was a stupid move on your part.’
‘Yes, honey, you’ve told me. Several times. Funny thing is, this guy looks a lot like the captain. They could be brothers, if the captain had a heavier, sly brother.’
‘Huh. Did you have to use your devastating sex appeal on him to sell the stuff?’
‘He came on to me, Simon! I din’t try anything, even pushed him away when…’
‘When.’ Flatly.
‘He kissed me. Which was weird, him so like Mal otherwise. But I told him politely I was married and he politely took his hands out of my pants.’ David kissed Simon’s cheek. ‘Besides you know I like my man small and perfectly formed.’
‘I am not small, bao bei. I’m above average height. It’s just that all the other men on this ship are behemoths.’
David captured his mouth and whispered. ‘I’m right about the perfectly formed part though, ain’t I?’
Simon pushed him away.’Maybe I should come along to protect you from this Reynolds clone.’
David lay back on the tidy bed.’Yeah, and if we decide an adventure would be fun….it’s up to you. From what I observed , he’s pretty impressive in that department.’
‘I thought he was getting into your pants?’
‘Well, I could tell he was very interested. But I think he’s a top.’
‘Maybe I can change his mind.’ Simon pulled David’s legs apart and stroked his cock with his own. ‘Or you can bottom for him and I watch.’
‘You’re the boss, daddy.’
‘Yes I am, baby boy. And I’ll come along tomorrow just because a daddy takes care of his boy.’

Simon and David barely made it back to the ship the next day before their scheduled takeoff. They missed supper and spent a quiet hour in the commons cuddled together, watching Mal read with the children until he shepherded his little ones off to bed.

When Mal returned, Simon gave him five hundred platinum. ‘We made a good sale today out of  the herbal medicines we picked up on Dyton Colony. I apologize for the Alliance scrip.’
‘We allys need some trackable scrip to make us look respectable. No worries. ‘ He rubbed Simon’s shoulder.  ‘Thanks. This is turning out a profitable voyage. The linen cloth and shirts went to a dry goods wholesale outfit and they want more if we can supply it. Your buyer like to be a future contact?’

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Inbound- silk, linen cloth, linen shirts, gems, processed foodstuffs, medical raw materials
Outbound- silk, linen cloth, linen shirts, gems, processed foodstuffs, medical raw materials

‘How does that feel now, Derry?’ asked Simon.
‘Have a real good scratch and then go have a shower and wash your arm well. Get rid of all the sweat and dead skin cells that built up under the cast.’
“I really stink, don’t I?’ Derry remarked proudly.
The doctor laughed. ‘Yes, you do. And you don’t want to offend.’
‘I was hopin I could keep the cast on til we left Hera.’
‘You need to do some exercises to get your strength back in that arm. You haven’t been able to use a fork in that hand for weeks, never mind chopsticks.’
‘But we’ll be see in the crew from Pretty Baby an I wanted Uncle Monty to sign it.’
‘He prolly wouldn’t, Derry. An then he’d feel bad for disappointin you,’ David explained. To his husband he said, ‘I don’t think any of his father’s pirate colleagues want anythin that could formally tie them together.’
Derry goggled, ‘Are the purple bellies gonna seize my cast?’
‘I doubt it. And they’d need a warrant. And I don’t think we’re smuggling anythin at the moment. All strictly legal and accounted for. And finally, if we hide our trail, the purple bellies ain’t smart enough to think of checkin your cast for names.’
“We have lots of smuggled stuff aboard, David,’ said Derry. ‘The capt’n and Zoe got some real pretty jewels on Ugarit. He was showing them to Mummy. An Zoe has more of that silk than she got paper for. And some of the linen cloth from way back on Silverhold. I dunno about the canned stuff or your stash of medical stuff.’
‘Haven’t you been told about discussing cargo?’
‘What happens on Serenity, stays on Serenity, sir.’
‘That includes discussing cargo. That’s your father’s job. You don’t need to know anything. And the ‘medical stuff’ is all strictly legal.’ said Simon sharply.
David looked away, avoiding Simon’s eyes.
‘Anyway,’ continued Simon, ‘ You’re as good as new. Take the rubber ball and squeeze it often to build up your hand and arm muscles. Tomorrow talk to Jayne about some weight lifts, but not today.’
Derry took the blue fibreglass cast with him.

‘Our cargo is strictly legal, isn’t it, honey?’ asked Simon.
‘Well, mostly,’ his husband said.
‘What in the nine arms of Kali are you thinking? We’re on the New Canaan Run to let our names cool off. I really don’t need to be pulled in over some piddling customs declaration.’
‘It’s well hidden and the payment will be real good.’
‘You sound like Jayne.’ David stiffened. ‘Tell me what you brought on board and where it is.’
‘Below the drawers under the bed in River’s old room. Raw opium for a customer on Summerfair’
‘Then we get rid of it on Hera. Mal would be furious about having illegal drugs on board.’
‘Some of our legal cargo is opiate based.’
‘But you have to have known that raw opium is not going to the medical buyers. Your buyers are dealing in the black market. And you don’t get much blacker than opium.’
David wanted to run after Simon. He rallied now that, of all the crew, Simon was the least willing to accept criminal action as normal.
He also realized that unlike his other homeopathic purchases, the sticky brown paste could get them in real trouble with the feds.

Well, he had fifteen weeks to find a buyer before they landed on Hera. And there would be stops before then.

Perhaps Deadwood would have a buyer. Rim worlds were much more understanding about ‘private imports’.

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