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Chapter posted Oct. 22, 2005
In all the years Malcolm Reynolds had held the papers to the Firefly-class transport ship Serenity, she'd never spent more'n a few days in a row in the world 'less she was broke. Sniff the air, not kiss the dirt; re-supply, look for work, move along. Made it hard for folk to find her as didn't already know where she'd be-- not that the crew especially minded. That was the point, after all. They was all running from something.
Being out in the public eye again-- spending that first night after Miranda in an Alliance infirmary, and finding all the repair shops at the Eavesdown Docks ordered to pay for Serenity's repairs out of Alliance funds 'fore the beat-up ship even arrived-- had Mal jumpier than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Sooner or later, the Parliament was going to look up from the immediate problem and remember that those as sent the 'wave were still out there, and that was over and above the threat of folk like Niska and Saffron with a mad-on for 'em, or the survivors of the Burnham Quadrant fleet. Mal didn't rate their chances very high, should they run across a gunboat captain as recognized the ship that'd led the Reavers to them.
The day the mail-notice arrived, Mal knew they'd definitely been dirtside too long. Most folk as wanted to contact those on Serenity sent broadwaves-- no chance of tracking 'em to the ship, and most that called was only looking to set up a meet, not exchange gossip and gifts. What packages and paper-letters did come for the crew normally piled up at some place like Amnon Duul's way-station; the postman held it there and sent 'em a 'wave to stop by and pick it up. If someone had taken the time to forward mail straight to Persephone it meant they'd known Mal'd still be there, and that made him nervous.
He took Jayne with him for the pick-up. Better the merc than ZoŽ, whose mood had been a mite unpredictable of late. He'd never seen his second as tore up as she was now, not even after Serenity Valley; the rest of the crew likely didn't see it, but Mal'd known her too long to miss all the little tell-tales. She needed more time to grieve 'fore he started expecting her to watch his back again. Besides which, if they were lucky, the package was for Jayne anyway. Of all the crew, Jayne and Kaylee were the only ones still in touch with their dirtside families, and Kaylee's usually held her gifts 'til she could pick 'em up in person. (Generous woman, her mother; always fed the crew real food every time they stopped by).
Mal hoped they were lucky today. Another 'cunning hat' would go a lot further toward Serenity's morale than another coffin full of dead soldier, that was for sure, but with the way Mal's luck usually went he was half-certain he'd find another Tracey waiting for him, or something worse. It was almost enough to make him change his mind and take River along instead-- but the girl was still leaking tears all over the place, probably picking up on ZoŽ's pain, and if she were constantly that open now after clearing Miranda from her brain he wasn't exactly keen to expose her to the chaos of a busy planet-side market. Time enough to try that experiment later, when they were someplace safer.
He turned out to be right on both accounts, both good luck and bad. There surely was a package for Jayne, full of something knitted-up in powder blue shaped somewhat like a scarf, but there was also a package for Mal, and it only took seeing the return address to convince him it might as well be a bomb or a coffin for all the effect it'd have on his crew.
Southdown Abbey. Where Book had lived, before he signed on to Serenity.
"I wasn't born a Shepherd, Mal," Book had told him on Haven, just before they'd first encountered the Operative. Mal had figured that out himself, of course, back when Book had been aboard; the Shepherd often knew things that a man of the cloth had no right to knowing, not to mention that ident card of his that worked on the Alliance like magic. But every time Mal'd tried to push it-- "You'll have to tell me about that sometime"-- Book had closed up tighter than a drum.
Book had never wanted to talk about his past. So what was something out of his past-- a 'wave tape, it looked like, tucked in with a handful of ancient books with leather spines and yellowed pages-- doing in Mal's hands? Real Earth-made literature was worth its weight in gold these days; he could believe an abbey might have hoarded such wealth in its vaults, but who in their right mind would mail it out to someone like him? Whatever the reason, it didn't bode well for Mal's peace of mind.
"Zāo gāo," he muttered under his breath, then shook off Jayne's questioning look and closed the box up again. Three more days, if'n he could keep Kaylee in the engine room instead of the doctor's bunk; three more days, and they'd be in the black. Whatever mysteries the box held, they could wait that long to be uncovered.
Zāo gāo = "Damn it."
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