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.
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.
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.
‘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.