Jericho Wells - Part XVII
Monday, July 6, 2009

Maya. Post-BDM. After the very public debate, Mercy and Zoe run into trouble. NEW CHAPTER


“Are you hiding?” Kaylee asked, stepping around Jayne to find Zoe in the shadows of one of the trees.


“Yeah. You.”

“I don’t hide.”

“Right. Only you’re giving a damn good impression of it right now.”

“If it’s all the same to you, I don’t really fancy having my fine features waved all over the planet,” Zoe said.

“Never thought I’d see you running scared,” Jayne commented, then wondered whether he should have taken a step out of punching range before speaking.

But Zoe surprised him. “Not running. I’m standing right here being scared.”

Jayne grinned.

“Honey?” Hank approached. “There’s a nice man from Channel 8 wants to have a word with you about …” He saw her face. “Ah. I’ll just tell him no, then, shall I?”

“Thank you, sweetie.”

At last nobody else wanted to talk to either of the candidates, the local Cortex crews had gone, and the crowd was dispersing. Mercy collapsed, rather unceremoniously, into one of the spindly metal chairs outside a café, and fanned her face. “Diyu, but that was …” Her violet eyes were so wide they seemed to tint the surrounding trees.

“Yeah.” Zoe smiled and joined her, a little less forcefully.

“I never thought I could …” Mercy looked at her new friend. “Thank you.”

“What for?”

“Showing me I had something to give.”

“You did good,” Zoe said approvingly. A waiter approached carrying a tray. “Thanks, but we ain’t ordering.”

The waiter, a young man, smiled at them both, his eyes lingering a moment on Mercy longer than on Zoe. “It’s all right, ma’am,” he said politely. “This is compliments of the management.” He placed the tray on the table, and they could see it contained a jug of iced tea complete with mint leaves, and two tall glasses. “May I?”

Zoe felt a grin suffuse her face. “Don’t mind if you do.”

He poured, then smiled once more at Mercy before walking back inside.

“I think you’ve got an admirer.” Zoe picked up one of the glasses, feeling the slick of condensation on her fingers.

“Who, Dean?”

“You know him?”

“Since we were in school together.” Mercy lifted the other glass.

“Be nice to him.”


“Try.” Zoe took a sip, and the cold liquid slid down her throat like it was the finest champagne.

Mercy was still confused, but drank. “Oh, wow.”

“I second that.” She relaxed a little into the chair.

Over at the impromptu staging area, the others were taking the equipment down, under the watchful eye of the Election Officer, Cromwell.

“Every bit,” he was saying. “And if you’ve as much as scratched the flagstones, you’ll pay for their replacement.”

Mal looked at him from under his eyebrows, blowing a sweaty lock of hair out of his eyes. “You get a lot of enjoyment out of being like this?” he asked.

“It’s my job,” Cromwell asserted.

“And I think you do it pretty well.”

Cromwell’s chest swelled, then he wondered exactly what it was this man was complimenting him on. He huffed and moved away to where Kaylee was supervising Hank loading up the mule to do a bit of supervising of his own. Mal didn't give much for his chances.

Jayne glanced to where Zoe and Mercy were sitting in the shade. “You know, we’re the ones doing the humpin’, and they get treated like royalty,” he complained.

Mal twisted to see, then felt something pull in his chest and decided not to do it again. “Next time, you can stand for Parliament, okay?”

“Got that right,” the big man grumbled.

Mal felt Freya take the reel of cable from his hands and he looked at her in surprise. “Ai ren?” he asked quietly.

“No. Rest.”

He leaned down a little so they were eye to eye. “You always gonna look after me?”

“As long as you do what you’re told.”

“Almost worth it, xin gan.” He smiled. “Almost.” He reached for the reel.

“No,” she said again.

“I insist.”

“I’ll cry. Blame it on hormones.”

“You’re not pregnant.”

“Maybe Kaylee’s catching.”

The woman in question started to tap her foot as she waited for the next load, and Mal looked up. “Better not. She’s getting restless.”

“Then get something lighter.” Freya heaved the reel onto the mule, grunting with the effort.

Mal looked around, then bent suddenly. “This okay?” He’d picked up one of the plastic ties his mechanic had used to attach one of the speakers.

Freya crinkled her nose at him, but said, “That’s fine.”

Mercy grinned at the antics, an odd lassitude spreading through her muscles. She sipped the tea and said, “You know, I could get used to this.”

Zoe shook her head. “Don’t forget, we’ve got that meeting tomorrow night, ahead of the big day.”

A huge sigh, much bigger than seemed possible from the size of her, wound its way out of her mouth. “Don’t remind me.”

“Hey, come on. Compared to this, you’re not gonna have any problems.”

“Yes, but the others will be there.”

“There was nothing stopping them speaking today, either. In fact, I thought I saw a couple.”

“Bea and Polly, yes.”

Zoe was surprised. She’d thought all her opponent’s concentration had been on the job in hand. “Are you worried about them?”

“No.” Except it didn’t sound honest.

“Mercy …”

“It’s nothing.”

Zoe didn’t push. If the young woman wanted to say, she’d be willing and ready to hear. “Okay.”

Mercy’s eyes fell on the clock above the entrance to one of the other buildings, and her mouth dropped open slightly. “Is that really the time?”

Zoe had been aware of the passage of the sun like the efficient soldier she was, and knew it was well into the afternoon. “That’s what happens when you’re a celebrity,” she said with a smile. “Everyone wants a piece of you.”

“Not literally, I hope.”

“I find keeping a well-oiled shotgun handy does the trick.”

Mercy giggled. “And I’m not a celebrity.”

“You’re about as close to one as they get around here.” Zoe glanced over towards the mule, now stacked high with their gear. “You gonna come back with us to Serenity?” she offered. “The meal might be pot-luck, but you’re more than welcome.”

“No. I have to get home. But thanks.”

Go with her.

Zoe looked up in surprise, seeing Freya gazing at her. The older Reader hardly ever dropped thoughts into her mind, so it was something of a shock. Problems? she thought as hard as she could.

Freya winced. Not so loud. And just keep an eye on Mercy. Just in case.

Yao de.

“Then we can talk some more on the way.” She stood up.

“I don’t need to be accompanied,” Mercy complained, still slightly high on the exhilaration. “I’ve been going around by myself for a little while now.”

“I just want to see you home. In case that celebrity thing rears its head again.”

“I told you, I’m not a celebrity.”

“Then maybe I just want more of your company.” She smiled, but it was the smile of a person who just knew they were going to get their own way. “Humour me.”


The mule trundled up the ramp, Kaylee on board and Freya driving, Hank and Mal bringing up the rear on foot.

“Don’t tell me,” Simon said from the back of the cargo bay. “You’ve finally had enough of Jayne and buried him somewhere.”

Mal chuckled. “Not quite. He had some things to do in town.”

“Is Zoe with him? I wanted to congratulate her on the fine performance.”

Kaylee climbed carefully off the mule, rubbing her aching back. “You watched?”

“River got the portable Cortex out.” He grinned. “We saw the whole show.”

“She’s seeing Mercy home,” Freya said, backing the mule into its normal position in the corner of the bay. “But I don’t think she’s going to be in the mood for congratulations.”

“But she did so good,” Hank said, wiping his perspiring face on his sleeve. “I think she deserves a medal.”

“Oh, I agree. But I’d give it a little while before she shoots you.”

“She won’t shoot me.”

“No?” Freya started to unload.

“Leave it,” Mal ordered. “It ain’t gonna do any harm to put it away tomorrow. ‘Sides, I think we’ll be needing some of it again, from what River’s deigned to tell us about her plans.”

She dropped the sack of oddments back. “I just don’t want it cluttering the place up.”

“You know, for a slob you’ve got something of a tidy streak a mile wide.”

“I’ve got …” She glared at him, making him laugh.

“Gorramit,” Kaylee muttered, checking over the equipment.

“What’s up, mei-mei?” Mal asked, still chuckling. “Something broke?”

“No. I just didn’t give Leo back his stuff.”

He put his arm around her shoulders. “I don’t doubt we’ll be seein’ him again ‘fore we leave.”

A small figure darted out of the shuttle above them. “Caleb, come back here!” River shouted, her voice easily carrying.

The little Cobb peered through the railings. “Daddy?” he asked.

“Whoa, there,” Mal said, quickly letting go of Kaylee and moving under the small boy, ready to catch if necessary. “You just hang on there. Don’t want you falling. Be messy.” His eyes narrowed. “You naked?”

River ran out of the shuttle doorway, rubbing at her face with a towel before scooping her son up into her arms. “I was getting his bath ready, when he splashed soap into my face,” she explained, checking him over to make sure he wasn’t hurt.

“Just like his dad,” Hank said happily. “Getting into trouble even as a stripling.”

Cal patted his mother’s face. “Momma,” he stated, and grinned widely.

“That doesn’t make it better,” she said sternly.

“Are you lying to him, considering his tender years?” Mal grinned as he looked up at the pair of them. “You know as well as I do that he’s got you wrapped around his little fist.”

“Does not.”

“Does too.”

“Does …” Her face stilled, her eyes unfocusing.

Mal was immediately on the defensive, knowing that expression of old. “What? What is it?” He turned to look at Freya, equally distracted. “Frey?”

She pulled herself back to the here and now. “Zoe.” Without another word she was out of the cargo bay, running, knowing Mal and Hank were at her heels.


“How did you get to be on board Serenity?” Mercy asked as they headed towards her home.

Zoe shrugged. “The captain … well, he wasn’t captain then, just an ex-sergeant … he bought her. Didn’t tell me anything about it until it was too late.”

“Was it a surprise?”

“You could say that.” Zoe smiled as she remembered the look on his face, like a little boy showing off his latest toy. And her comment about him being robbed. “It’s a piece of fei-oo.” She’d revised that opinion eventually, around about the time he’d taken her up to the bridge and showed her the windows that would soon be filled with stars. His enthusiasm, even dampened by what they’d been through, was infectious …

“And you never thought of not going?” Mercy side-stepped a small child running along, called back to her father in a peremptory tone.

“Didn’t even occur to me.”

“Were you and he … did you …” Her cheeks flamed.

Zoe laughed. “I can’t say that didn’t occur to me, but no. We never slept together. Timing was always wrong. He was my sarge, then my captain.”

“And now you’re married.”

“There was another husband in between. Wash. He was a flyboy too.”

“What happened to him?”

“He died.”

Mercy picked up that Zoe was wary of talking about her previous marriage, so said instead, “Do you always go for pilots?”

“Oddly enough, no. I hated the pair of them for a long time. Not at the same time, a’course, but …” She chuckled at the idea of them fighting over her. “For two men so different, they have their similarities.”

“Like you.”

“Like me.”

Mercy turned down a side street, away from the main thoroughfares. Here the houses were smaller, flatboard mostly, with tiny pocket handkerchief-sized gardens ablaze with flowers. Every door and window was closed, though, but whether it was against people who might want to look in or to keep out the insects buzzing around the blooms was debateable.

“And you have a son?”

“Mmn. Ben.”

Mercy shook her head. “I doubt I’ll ever get married. There’s no-one around here who’d be willing to take me on.”

“No, now, no talk like that. Anybody would be proud to have you on their arm. Besides, there’s always Dean.”

“Dean?” Despite the fact that she was a grown woman, it looked like Mercy retained her youthful naivety. “He’s … he’s far too … I don’t …”

“Like I said before. Try.”

Mercy turned down a wide alleyway that ran behind and between the buildings, even as Zoe had to smile. “This is a shortcut,” she explained, glad the shadows were hiding the blush raging across her skin. “Otherwise it’s a good ten minutes more.”

Something moved ahead, just a shifting in one of the darker areas, but Zoe’s smile faded. She glanced behind them, her hand automatically going to her hip and coming up empty. She couldn’t be sure, but was that shade another figure?

“Mercy, I want you to run when I say so.”

The young woman stared at her. “What?”

“You’re going to run. Soon as I tell you.”

“Why? What is it?” She looked scared.

Then it was too late as five men oozed from the gloom, what little light there was glinting off a couple of knuckledusters.

“You’re not going anywhere,” one of them said. “Not yet. Maybe not ever.”

to be continued


Monday, July 6, 2009 7:53 AM


No, no! Please tell me you'll not be leaving us on THIS cliff for very long, OK? You write wonderful cliffhangers - they're great - it's the waiting in between that sucks.

Monday, July 6, 2009 8:07 AM


Well, you and your know it ain't fair you yell at me for doing them. :)

I loved Zoe and Mercy's talk here. Great dialogue.

Monday, July 6, 2009 8:55 AM


AW AT CALEB! That bit was adorable. && oh, wow - they're trapped and Zoe is without weapon. There'd better be a BDR coming ahead!!

Monday, July 6, 2009 9:36 AM


Holy moly, it never goes smooth. I am surprised though that when Frey popped into Zoe's mind the need to go with Mercy she didn't go and get her gun but then she didn't know there would be a pile of scum waiting to jump them. Hope our heroes get there soon and put those *tamade hundan* in their place. I'm betting Cromwell hired them. And little Caleb doing a streak to avoid taking a bath. Yep, just like his daddy. I am also glad that Frey is keeping an eye on Mal making sure he doesn't try to do too much. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, July 6, 2009 6:11 PM


You know, up until this very minute, I've never seriously considered what the pairing of Jayne and RIver genes would create. My, my...we're in for some interesting times ahead as Caleb grows. And as for Zoe's dilemma, my money, as always, is on Zoe! :)


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