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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Maya. Post-BDM. The crew discuss the events at the entertainment complex, and Jayne gets mail. NEW CHAPTER
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1918 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
“We really want to do that job?” Freya asked, picking up a small vase on one of the stalls, turning it over to see what was written underneath then putting it back, much to the disgust of the bored owner.
“It’s a job. It’s marginally legal.”
“And we’ve got cash saved if we need it.”
Mal knew what she was doing. He'd refused to let her open the package from Alex, saying she’d enjoy it that much more back on the ship, adding that the best was always worth waiting for. He was still limping slightly from the kick she’d given him, and now she was annoying him by dawdling. He was prepared to let her get away with it, at least for a while. “That’s not for now.”
“Besides, Bigsby was ogling.”
“He was trying to see down my shirt.”
“Frey, honey, he's too scared of you to do that. Besides, he couldn’t keep his eyes off the women in the bar.”
“Are you saying they’re better looking than I am?” she asked, turning to look at him.
“Is it gonna be one of those days?” he asked in turn. “The kind where no matter what I say I'm wrong?”
She stuck her chin out. “Yes.”
“Fine. Just so’s I know.” He sighed, shaking his head. “So if I say you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met, and there ain’t a one of those silicone enhanced bodies that claim my attention for even a moment, I'm lying?”
“You gonna answer a question with a question?”
“What if I am?”
He couldn’t help it. He laughed. Probably not the best thing to do, especially if she really was annoyed with him, but luckily she smiled instead. “Frey, honey, you know I ain’t got eyes for anyone else. And there’s a whole host of men out there who think you’re pretty special, and I include sly ones at that. So don’t go getting yourself all … discombobulated over nothing, dong mah?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been combobulated,” she said thoughtfully. “So I'm not sure how I go about being the opposite.”
“Don’t. It’s painful.”
“You’ve had the practice?”
“I surely have. I doubt there’s much in this ‘verse I ain’t had cause to do at least once.” He waited for her to make some comment, something along the lines of ‘Really? You want to explain in more detail?’, but Freya was staring at something on a stall. “Honey?” Then he realised she wasn’t looking at anything at all. “Frey.”
She raised her head, and his blood ran cold at her expression. Without a word she turned and ran, and he had to race to keep up with her.
“If the boy wants to play, let him play,” the barker said, standing in their way. “It’s just a game.”
Bethie whimpered slightly, all her usual courage deserting her.
“Maybe later,” Simon said, gathering the children around him. “I think perhaps they’re a little overexcited, and it’s making my daughter here feel ill.”
“Then why don't you leave her with me and take the others inside?”
Simon could see another man ... no, two ... making their way towards them. “I suppose I could, but believe me, when she gets like this, nothing is going to do but going home and medicating her. Otherwise she’s just as likely to throw up all over anyone within reach.”
“Maybe playing a game will calm her down.”
They were determined not to let any of them leave without the children taking part. Simon could feel his heart starting to pound: something was very wrong, and not just Bethie’s reaction. His hand dropped uselessly to his empty hip. He’d never been happy wearing a gun, not as a doctor or as a man, but he’d learned the hard way even a Core-bred person like himself needed to be able to defend his family, and he was more than proficient with one now. He still hated it, but for once he wished he’d strapped it on, even though they were on Wayborn, and there seemed to be no danger in taking the kids to the entertainment level ...
He watched the barker, a large man with a bald, shining head, his belly held in by a checkered waistcoat and thick leather belt. Perhaps he could be distracted enough so the children could escape, although it might take something more physical to incapacitate such a specimen as –
“What the diyu is going on here?”
An even bigger man, a young woman at his side, pushed through the ring of watchers.
Simon almost sighed in relief.
River put on the broadest of Rim accents as she approached. “What’d I tell you kids? You know you weren’t s’posed to run off like that. And talkin’ to strangers? Now that’s gonna be getting you punished.”
Ethan glanced at Bethie, but she nodded fractionally. “Sorry, momma. We was only playin’” The same accent, reflected back.
Jayne loomed. “They causin’ trouble again?”
“Runnin’ off, and getting this kind man to take ‘em into this fancy-pants place.” She indicated Simon. “We’ll be payin’ you back.”
For once Simon was up-to-speed, playing along. “No, no, that’s fine. They all wanted to.”
“That don’t make no nevermind. I ain’t gonna be beholden to no-one.”
“Honestly. I wouldn’t accept any kind of recompense.”
River nodded firmly. “Then it’s time we were leavin’.”
Jayne could still see the men hanging around, in fact moving closer, hands edging towards concealed weapons. Something had to be done. “Well, I don’t think that’s the case as yet. Fact is, I wanna know how come a grown man’s enticing kids into dark corners.”
Simon had noticed them too, and while knowing what Jayne was doing, was starting to get worried how it was going to end. “I wasn’t doing anything, beyond being a good Samaritan.” Maybe he was catching being psychic, but he could see blood about to happen.
“Wait a minute,” the original barker said, his forehead screwing up in concentration. “You said you was the little girl’s dad.”
Everyone ignored him.
Jayne moved forward, his bulk seeming to fill the space. “Samaritan, huh? That some kinda fancy word for a pervert like –” He couldn’t finish the sentence due to Simon hitting him on the jaw. He fell backwards to the ground, not entirely of his own free will.
“You take that back,” Simon growled.
“Ya think?” Jayne scooped Simon’s legs from under him and they rolled on the ground. The other men rushed forward to try and either separate the fighting pair or take bets on who was likely to walk out in one piece.
Go, all the children heard in their heads, River’s unique mental perfume flavouring the words. Back to Serenity.
Bethie grabbed Hope’s hand, Ethan wrapped his fingers in Ben’s shirt while gripping Jesse tightly, and while the men were distracted by the fight on the floor they slipped outside. Or tried to.
“Where do you think you’re going?” The man who stood in their way wasn’t quite the size of Jayne, but to the kids he looked like a mountain.
Ethan pushed to the front. “You let us go,” he said, his voice only trembling a little. “Or …”
“Or what?” The man leaned down, his huge hands on his hips. “You gonna kick me in the shins?”
“Maybe.” Ethan was scared but held his ground.
“Well, ain’t that cute. But I don’t think so. I think you’re all gonna go back inside and be tested.”
“No.” He hitched his thumbs into his little suspenders.
The man grinned. “You’re gonna stop me, squirt?”
“Say ‘night ‘night,” Bethie put in brightly.
He glared at her, his brows pulling together. “Huh?” Then his expression changed and his eyes rolled back in his head as he fell forwards.
As Ethan pulled Ben and Jesse to one side he would swear forever after that the deck plating shuddered as the man mountain hit the floor. Not that it mattered, not when his daddy was revealed, still holding his gun high from where he’d hit the other man.
“You okay?” Mal asked, reholstering, his eyes quickly scanning the children for any signs of harm or distress.
Ethan nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Mal glanced at Freya. “The others?”
She was keeping watch on the entrance to the gaming zone, but apart from the man on the floor so far there was no sign of anyone following. “I think Jayne and Simon are having fun, but they’ll be coming soon. And the rest are back at Serenity already.”
“Good. Tell Hank to get her powered up.” He tapped his temple, even as he swung Hope up onto his hip. He started to walk briskly back towards the main levels, not running because that might bring unwanted attention down on them.
“Don’t you think it might give him a heart attack, hearing me?” Freya pointed out, doing the same with Jesse before following her husband, the other children hand in hand behind her.
“Then you’ll fly. Like you always want to.” Mal threw a smile over his shoulder. “Not risking the com, ai ren. Someone might pick it up, and get ideas.”
She nodded in understanding, her eyes already unfocusing for a few moments. “Done,” she said, coming back to the here and now.
“Shiny.” He glanced back at the children, smiling for their benefit. “Then we’d better get going. Ain’t got time for dawdling.”
Not more than two minutes later River, Jayne and Simon emerged from the arcade, the young psychic delicately stepping over the downed man.
“They gone already?” Jayne asked, not being anywhere near as careful and ‘accidentally’ treading on unconscious fingers.
Simon winced at the sound of breaking bones, but didn’t comment. He’d already watched as River had used the distraction of his and Jayne’s fight to take the men down, leaving them groaning with pain and unlikely to be chasing, at least for a while, and now here was a further example of just how violent the ‘verse could be. “I take it this wasn’t an accident?” he asked instead.
“Mal and Freya,” his sister said succinctly. “He didn’t want the children to go.”
“And did they? Get away?”
She nodded. “And so should we.” She set off towards the more crowded areas of the Skyplex.
“So what were they doing, moonbrain?” Jayne wanted to know, following his slip of a wife and knowing his brother-in-law was limping along behind.
She glanced over her shoulder at him and he almost recoiled at the anger on her face, but he knew it wasn’t directed at him.
“Testing,” she said.
“Mei-mei?” Simon tried to catch up, but the leg he’d been shot in some weeks before had taken a kick whilst they were fighting, and it threatened to give under him.
The ex-merc looked back, saw the problem and came up with a solution. He stopped, grabbed the doctor by the waist and slung him over his shoulder.
“What the …” Simon was suddenly confronted by a close-up view of the seat of Jayne’s cargo pants, an unfortunate reminder of when the big man had carried him in much the same position on the Empress of Sihnon. “Put me down!”
“I will not be slung around like a sack of coal again!”
“Then put me down!”
“No,” River agreed, her eyes dark, hooded, a portion of her mind back the way they’d come. “One of them has a harder head than anticipated. He’s waking up. We don’t have much time.” She started to run, ignoring the startled looks from the people she passed.
“I shoulda shot ‘em,” Jayne said, keeping pace with her, his big boots setting up vibrations through his, and therefore Simon’s, body.
“Messy,” his other half said, shaking her head. “This way they might not realise who we are, but if we leave bodies there would be questions.”
“Gotcha.” He was always amazed, and proud, of her ability to think things through, even if she was crazy. He put on a burst of speed as they got to an emptier area, making Simon bounce on his shoulder.
“I will throw up!” the young man promised, closing his eyes to the deck alternately approaching and receding. It didn’t help.
“You do and you’re on laundry for the foreseeable,” Jayne warned.
“Awake,” River tossed back, and they both knew she wasn’t talking about either of them. They sped up even more.
Eschewing the elevator as too slow, she took them down a flight of stairs to the Firefly’s docking level, feeling a surge of joy that the glow of her engine was already lighting space through the thick plexiglass windows.
Mal was waiting, the ramp raised and only the small door still open. “Come on!” he urged, waving them forward.
Needing no encouragement, River slipped silently inside, and as Jayne and his burden cleared the threshold he heard the door close behind him.
“Hank! We’re on!” Mal yelled into the com.
“I'm not deaf,” the pilot’s voice came back, but they could feel the disengage sequence starting.
Mal ran for the stairs, past a small stack of crates that he was sure hadn’t been there when he left. As he pounded up the metal he could hear Simon telling Jayne, obviously for the hundredth time, to put him down.
As he reached the bridge Mal could see the Skyplex already drifting away. “Any problems?” he asked.
“They were a bit miffed at the speed of our departure,” Hank said, twisting the yoke so Wayborn span out of sight. “But I keep an open d-time just for this sort of thing. I told ‘em we just got word someone was sick and we needed to get home.”
“Good work.” Mal put his hand on the pilot’s shoulder and squeezed briefly, then turned to Freya who was standing to one side. “Wanna tell me why we had to leave in such an all-fire hurry?” he asked.
For answer she stepped past him, crooking her finger for him to follow as she went down the steps.
“I ain’t a dog,” he complained.
“Hey, can I come?” Hank asked, shifting his seat around.
“Anything following us?”
The pilot quickly scanned the boards. “Not a gorram thing. Although I can go to burn if you like …”
“No. No, not if there’s no sign. Don’t want to tell everyone and his mother where we are.”
“Then can I come and find out what the hell just went down?” He could see Mal was about to say no, so added quickly, “I've got the proximity sensors set at their widest, there’s nothing on the scope.” He played his ace. “Besides, Ben was involved. I’d kinda like to know what’s going on.”
I’ll keep an eye out, jia yan, Mal heard in his head. So to speak.
Mal tried not to smile at River’s quite unabashed peeking. “Okay,” he said to Hank. “You’re right. Come on.” He’d barely got the words out of his mouth before his pilot was out of his chair and jumping through the bridge doorway.
“You’re joshing me.” Mal couldn’t quite believe it.
“Nope,” Jayne said, sitting at the table, Binky out of its sheath and lying very prominently next to his hand. “I was starting to wonder if we’d get out in one piece.”
“I'm not sure we did,” Simon said from his own chair opposite. He was stretching his leg under the table, and rubbing at the recent bullet wound. A small part of his mind was considering whether it was maybe not as healed as he’d thought, and perhaps he should do some deeper scans as it still ached like the devil, but most of his intellect was concentrating on being very angry. “They’ll have pictures of us, of the children. There were bound to be security cameras.”
Kaylee put her hand over his, and he could feel her trembling. “My babies …” she whispered, looking down at David Gabriel snuggled against her breast. The rest of the children were down in Bethie’s room, with a supply of sugary treats and fruit juices, listening to her read one of her favourite stories about pirates. A little too close to home, as far as Kaylee was concerned right now.
“Well, that ain’t quite the case,” Hank said slowly.
Everyone turned to look at him, all except River, who appeared to be engrossed in the salt cellar, but was in fact letting her mind range freely.
“You care to elaborate on that?” Mal asked.
“I … er … uploaded a virus.” Hank tried to grin, but failed.
“Yeah. Not my idea,” he added quickly then looked across at River, saying to her, “Honey, you and Frey talk to me like that too often and I’m gonna end up a dribbling wreck hiding under the floorboards.”
“Mei-mei?” Simon looked at his sister.
She lifted her head, for once appearing totally sane, and all the more scary for it. “I told Hank to do it. It’s something I was holding for an emergency. It will wipe all records for the last twenty-four hours, including visuals.” She paused. “I will not have the children threatened.”
“All records?” Mal asked. “Ain’t that gonna bring down some unwanted attention?”
She fixed her dark eyes on him. “I could have ordered all the airlocks to open at once.”
“River …” Freya leaned forward, her face concerned.
“But I decided that was probably over-reacting,” the young woman finished.
“Just a mite, xiao nu.” Mal took a deep breath, and wondered if maybe there shouldn’t be a few more lessons in control. “But you’re sure there’s no way it’ll come back and bite us in the ass?”
“It won’t,” River assured him. “It’s similar to the one I used on Jericho.”
They all remembered the way she’d wiped all record of their visit from planetwide computers, even erasing the fact that Zoe had won an election.
“So we’ve kind’ve got a get out of jail free card?” Kaylee wanted to know.
“No,” River said regretfully. “I am skilled, but if I use it too often my style will become recognised, and then it will only be a matter of asking people, not machines.”
“You mean the ‘looking out of the window’ type thing?” Hank put in.
“Inexact, but ... yes.”
“Then it ain’t gonna be something we rely on,” Mal said thoughtfully. “Still ... thanks.”
River smiled, looking for once like the young woman she should have been. “Bacon,” she said quietly.
Jayne chuckled. “As in ‘saved our’.”
“Oh. Yeah.” Ignoring his mercenary’s smirk, Mal slapped his hands together. “O-kay,” he said. “Well, it seems to me maybe we’ve avoided something here, and now we’re on our guard against something like it happening again. Which is a good thing. ‘Cept I’d still like to know why they were doing what they were doing.”
Freya stirred. “I think I might be able to help on that.” She held up a small capture, one of the newest, hi-def range. “It’s from Alex.”
He realised the remains of the small package were in her lap, fragments of red sealing wax amongst folded brown paper. “You opened it?”
She didn’t look in the least ashamed. “I knew it was important.”
He didn’t bother asking how. “Go ahead, then.”
Freya laid the capture on the table and pressed play. Immediately the air above it coalesced into a white mist that quickly resolved into an image of Alexander Rostov.
“Hey, I was reading about these,” Hank said excitedly. “Micro holo-emitter, improved 4-tech sound systems ... mega expensive.”
“Shh, dear,” Zoe murmured.
Alex – or, rather, his picture – began speaking. “Freya, greetings to you from your friend. It’s been a while since we spoke in person, but hopefully this finds you and your family well, and that perhaps soon we will all be able to meet up. My girls are fine, although Milly broke her wrist riding her pony. The doctor says it will heal well, particularly with the use of the bone knitter, so it’s not inconveniencing her too much. Ellen, on the other hand ...” Alex droned on.
Hank looked at Zoe. “Honey, I’m sorry, but I don’t see what this has to do with anything.”
Zoe watched Mal. “Sir, I tend to agree.”
Mal hadn’t taken his eyes off his own wife. “I’m thinking this isn’t the whole story.”
Freya nodded slowly. “It’s not.” She touched the play button again, pausing the image, but this time she held it down for three seconds, released, then pressed again for five.
Alex’s face wavered, rippled, but when it solidified once more his expression was far more serious.
“Frey, Mal ... I’ve heard disturbing rumours from people who should know. The Alliance have a new initiative regarding special children, and new methods for testing their abilities.” Even in this hidden second level Alex was being admirably circumspect. “I don’t know names or places, but the feeling is it comes in the form of a game, engineered to measure ... talents. So far it’s only been tested on a couple of worlds, out near the Rim where children might not be missed, but I have it on good authority it’s being rolled out wider.” He dropped his voice, as if afraid of being overheard. “They haven’t given up on their ideas, Mal. Your yi nu wasn’t the last, and while she might be considered a failure in their eyes, she’s proved, at least to them, that their design is workable.”
Jayne’s hands were tight fists on the old tabletop. “Gorramit.”
“Just be careful. I’ll keep digging, and I’m sorry for all this cloak and dagger, but you had to know. For all our sakes. Take care, and take care of the little ones.” He smiled a little, but without humour, his image freezing for a second before collapsing back into mist, dissipating as they watched.
“Well, that was disturbing,” Hank said into the silence that followed.
“Dear,” Zoe admonished, but Mal held up a hand.
“No. He’s right. Disturbing is the word. Downright evil is another.” He looked at River. “That what you felt?”
The young woman nodded, the rest of her body motionless. “Not the details, but … the men who were running it didn’t know why, only that they’d been told to take note of any child who scored higher than a level 5 on the simulator. All of Serenity’s children would have been in that range, with Bethie and Ethan the highest of all.”
Mal’s stomach tightened, and he exchanged a look with Freya, not surprised to see fury in her eyes. “Then what?” he asked, turning back.
“Contact with parents. Money. Or if they wouldn’t sell, kidnap.” River’s voice lowered to a violent whisper. “Little more than slaves, handed to the highest bidder.”
Hank was pale under his untidy mop of hair, all his exuberance crushed beneath anxiety. “They bought kids?”
“Common practice.” River’s own colouring was high, even as she tried to control the torrent of emotion within.
“But ... traffic in people is against the law,” the pilot went on. “It’s an Alliance directive.”
“Not so’s you’d notice.” Simon spoke quietly, his outward appearance of calm at odds with the rolling ball of anger in his belly. “It has different names – indenture, contracted labour, debt recovery – but it all boils down to the same thing. Terraforming crews, Mudders ... even on Osiris you could find them, sold into servitude for the rest of their lives.”
“Did you –” Hank slammed his mouth shut before the tactless remark could escape, but it was too late.
River got there first. “Mother and Father had servants, not slaves, and they were treated well. If they wished to leave, they were allowed, and retired with a pension if they were still in service when they got too old to work. But other families were not so principled. The Cambersons, for instance ...”
Simon nodded. “Whatever else they did or didn’t do, my parents never condoned slavery.” He’d made his peace finally with them, but the scar was still tender, catching at odd times like the wound on his leg.
“Then I reckon we had a lucky escape,” Mal said slowly. “And as much as I'm leaning more towards River’s idea of opening the airlocks, I’m happy we got away clear. ‘Cept I’d rather we didn’t keep on getting out of situations like that by nothing much more than the skin of our teeth.”
“I second that,” Hank put in. “I'm all for getting away from things with our skin intact, on teeth or otherwise.”
Mal ignored him, but a familiar voice in his head said, We need to think on better things. And the children are safe. And forewarned …
He looked at Freya, her hazel eyes gazing into his soul. Is forearmed? He saw her shrug minutely, and his lips twitched. But he knew she was right – they needed to put this behind them. He turned back to the others. “And since we are all in one piece, that kinda leads me on to ask if anyone managed to get their chores done?”
Kaylee raised a hand. “I got the parts I needed. Good price too, on account of Zoe being intimidating.”
The dark woman smiled. “I enjoyed it. It’s been a while.”
“Simon and me picked up everything on our lists,” Hank put in. “Paid ticket price, so I guess we weren’t intimidating enough.”
“I’ll give you some lessons,” Zoe offered, and the pilot grinned widely.
“We missed on the ammo,” Jayne said. "Sorry, Mal. We were kinda busy.” He looked at his wife.
She nodded. “Saving the children.”
“Yeah, well, I conjure we’re all glad you did.” Mal glanced at a bruise darkening Simon’s jawline. “Just a tad overenthusiastic in the performance, maybe.” He exhaled heavily. “Still, we’ll just have to hope we don’t need anything on the job and stock up when we can.”
“We’ve got a job?” Hank asked, his eyebrows raising.
“Yeah. Bigsby came through.”
“Where, sir?” Zoe wanted to know, pushing the small feeling of jealousy away. It used to be that she’d go to every meet with Mal, with her sergeant, backing him up, being his right hand. She still did, for the most part, but just once in a while he took Freya. His wife. Zoe knew she shouldn’t feel annoyed – it was natural that he’d want to spend time with the woman he loved, but no matter how much she tried, it still rankled.
“Jubilee,” Mal said, unaware of her thoughts. “Under the radar.”
“No probs,” Hank said. “I can do us a route doesn’t take us anywhere near any Alliance outposts.”
Mal’s memory tossed him an image of a small stack of crates. “I take it that’s our delivery down in the cargo bay?”
“It is,” the pilot agreed. “It arrived about two minutes before I had folks talking to me without benefit of my ears.” He shook his head. “I thought I was going crazy.”
“Just ‘cause it was Riv and Frey don’t mean you ain’t,” Jayne pointed out.
“All the best people are,” River added.
Hank laughed. “I reckon maybe you’re right.”
“What about the mail?” Kaylee asked, her brightness coming back. “You were going to pick it up. Was there anything?”
“Gorramit, I nearly forgot.” Mal turned, but Freya had already put the post on the table. “Looks like there’s pretty much something for everyone. Even Bethie.”
“Noni?” Simon suggested, knowing how close his daughter was to Hermione Riley, stage name Noni Reynolds, who was currently wowing audiences with Theo Hawkins’ troupe nearer the Core.
“I’m taking a wild guess that it’s the case,” Mal said, picking up one envelope. “Considering it’s on scented purple paper.” He handed it to Simon.
“Bethie will love it,” the doctor said, tucking it into his pocket.
Kaylee pounced on a fat envelope. “Ooh, from my Ma. It’ll be family news.”
Mal smiled. That meant she was likely to spend the next few hours reading bits out to anyone she could corral, but at least her internal light was switched back on. He could take most things, but seeing his mei-mei anything other than cheerful made him want to go out and beat up windmills.
He felt something touch his mind, and he looked up, seeing Freya gazing steadily at him. He thought pointedly, Witch.
As everyone picked over the various letters and packages, Hank said quietly to Zoe, “You know, the man that tries to snatch Caleb from River is gonna end up in little chunks, isn’t he?”
“The same goes for all the children,” she murmured. “Even you’d do it for Ben.”
“Well, sure. But maybe not quite so … vigorously.”
She looked sharply at him, but the true concern in his grey eyes touched her. “Not necessarily the word I’d use,” she whispered. “But I think I understand why you did.” She squeezed his hand.
Eventually everyone sat down with their respective missives, until only one envelope, off white and cheap looking, lay on the old wooden surface.
“Nobody laying claim to this one?” Mal asked, picking it up and turning it over in his fingers. “Jayne, looks like it’s for you.”
“Huh?” The big man looked up in surprise. He was already piecing out the words in the letter from his brother Matty, telling how Jolene was getting things ready for the new arrival, and making his life a misery for the most part with all her cravings ... “For me?”
“Got your name on it.”
Jayne reached out slowly. “There ain’t nobody likely to be writing to me,” he said quietly, taking it gingerly as if it might explode. “Nobody above Matty, that is.”
“Then open it. Before we all die of holding our breath.”
The big man stared at the lettering on the outside. It did indeed have his name, care of Wayborn Skyplex, written on it in thick black marker. It didn’t mention anything about Serenity, or even that the recipient might be on a Firefly, but then it didn’t have to. Jayne Cobb wasn't that common a name.
“Jayne, open it,” Hank urged. “Maybe you won the lottery.”
“Somehow I doubt it,” Simon said, feeling his own itch of curiousness, as Mal might say.
“Or someone died and left you a fortune,” the pilot went on. “Only you’re never going to know unless you open the gorram thing.”
For once Jayne didn’t take the opportunity to threaten the other man, instead just sliding his thumb under the sealed edge. It gave readily and he peered inside.
“Well?” Kaylee asked.
“There ain’t nothing in ... no, wait.” He tipped the envelope up over his hand, and a small slip of green paper fell into his palm. “What the …” Jayne stared at it.
“Jayne?” Zoe asked when the big man didn’t move. “Are you okay?”
“What is it?” Kaylee was craning her head, trying to see.
“Looks like a pawn ticket,” Hank said.
“What’s Jayne ever had that was worth pawning?” Simon commented, then winced as River’s elbow met his stomach. “Mei-mei,” he complained. “I meant apart from his guns.”
“Hush,” she ordered.
“Okay, Jayne,” Mal said, slipping his thumbs under his suspenders. “Now you’ve got us all curious, want to put us out of our misery?”
Jayne’s hand closed on the scrap of paper, crushing it. “Nope.” He strode away, out of the kitchen.
“Hey, aren’t you supposed to be cooking supper?” Mal called, then shook his head. “Damn crew doesn’t even listen to me anymore.”
Zoe raised an eyebrow at him. “Sir?”
“No, well, you excepted,” he backpedalled.
“Just Zoe?” Kaylee asked.
He held up his hands in defeat. “Okay. Okay. Just Jayne. Only he’s big enough for more’n two of you.” He turned to River. “Any idea what the problem is, albatross?”
She shook her head slowly. “No.”
“You likely to be peeking any time soon?”
“Only I need to know if it’s it dangerous to us.”
“Are you ordering me to?” Her eyes were huge, dark pools.
“Well, no, maybe not that. But –“
“I’ll talk to him,” she promised. “And he’ll tell us when he’s ready.”
to be continued
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