Family (Part 6/14)
Monday, January 23, 2012

Zoë and Wash ask too many questions. Mal and Radiant talk.


Her mister had many talents, and getting people to talk was one of them. Wash had this aura of naivety about him that evoked trust, simply because strangers tended to underestimate him; he was jovial and extrovert and made friends easy. But he wasn't exactly the most discreet and subtle person in the 'verse, nor was he known for keeping his cool when he was out of his element. And so they decided, or rather Zoë decided, that the best course of action would be that she talked to the factory's management while he mingled with the workers.

Northern Star Wood Processing, Incorporated was in fact the only workplace in town. The Cobbs had not been exaggerating. As long as you didn't count the supply stores and other small family businesses, it seemed like everybody was in some form or another connected to it, and the place was seething with life. Hover trucks came and went, arriving with timber from the forests further inland and leaving again with finished products that were to be shipped out with the railway to 'all over Paquin', as Zoë soon learned.

The manager, a plump and quite informal man in his forties, seemed very proud of the business and gave Zoë the grand tour without her having to ask for it, and it was grand in the strictest sense; the place was huge. "We have close to two thousand employees," he told her. "They work in a three shift system, so the engines are always turnin', seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day."

Zoë was observant and attentive as always. She looked at the heavy machinery, the people, the comings and goings, and was – perhaps a little unconsciously – constantly searching for any sign of trouble. But the manager no doubt contributed this behavior to true and genuine interest, and it only made him happier and chattier.

"You mentioned you were looking for work?" he asked.

They were walking on a gallery above one of the many busy rooms, and she tore her eyes away from the buzzing crowd beneath to turn and look at him. "Yes, I'm the first mate of Serenity, the ship that landed here yesterday. You may have noticed it."

"I did," he said, and then added, chuckling a little,"Who didn't?"

"We do cargo runs mostly. Thought we'd offer our services."

"Well, we don't export off-world," he said. "So I'd doubt we'd have any jobs for you, I'm afraid. You should try the coastal towns, or better yet, the cities in the South."

"I understand. Thanks for the tip, and your time." She flashed him a smile she hoped didn't seem too fake. It was time to bring up the real issue. "We only stopped here because one of our crewmen wanted to see his family."

As anticipated, this really got his attention. "Yes," he said, "I saw you had Jayne Cobb with you."

"You know 'im?"

"Not personally, no."

"His father used to work here, right? Matthew?"

He flinched a little. Not much, but few things ever slipped by Zoë's trained eye. "That's correct," he muttered.

"Terrible accident, that," she said.

He looked away. "Yes, terrible, terrible."

"What happened really?"

"Oh you know." He was hesitating. "In places like this accidents are bound to happen. A lot fewer now than before however," he quickly added. "The safety of our workers is very important to us. In fact, we revised the safety regulations last year, a whole new system installed. It's very fascinating…"

He was changing the topic. And this wasn't just a factory manager who hated being confronted by the less pleasant things associated with his company, she saw that clear as day. This man was nervous now; it was evident enough, even with him jabbing on about the new safety system.


She decided to give it another shot. "I heard he was crushed to death while doing maintenance work on one of the machines. And just out of curiosity, what are the safety rules for that kinda work?"

He still seemed rather uncomfortable; his eyes were flickering as if he was constantly on the lookout for potential danger. But he did answer her question. "There's a safety switch that prevents the machine from starting accidently. He forgot to pull it."

"He forgot?"

"Yes. Man worked here forty years and the one time he forgot…" The manager shook his head, a somewhat exaggerated mask of regret on his face. "Tragic."

"Yes," she nodded. "Very. And so the machine just started? By itself?"

"Listen, Mrs… Washburne, was it?... the incident was thoroughly investigated, and the conclusion was it was an accident. I think it's best left like that." He demonstratively glanced at his watch. "Oh, look at the time, best get back to business, right?" He laughed nervously. "I'm sorry we have no work to offer you."

"No worries," she replied, knowing that she wouldn't be able to squeeze more information from him. "Thanks again for your time. I'll see myself out."

She did, and not too long after Wash joined her there. He surprised her by coming from town, and not from the factory. She decided to let that particular question wait, though. "Any luck?"

"People here are very friendly," he stated. "Very helpful. Until…"

"You start askin' too many questions," she finished for him. "Yeah, I noticed that too."

"He was well liked."


"Matthew Cobb. It seems he was very popular, they speak very highly of him. Hard worker, they say, and good at his job. Fair, strong…. He was a shift supervisor and some sorta unofficial spokesman for the workers here."

She nodded, not sure whether she was surprised to hear this or not, and then she had to remind herself that Jayne and his father weren't the same person. "They tell you about his so-called accident?" she asked.

"That they did. I got all the gory details about how they still found parts of him a week later." He shuddered. "I don't need those kinda details."

"Any of 'em witness the incident?"

"No. No one did. That's what they tell me. They still insist it was an accident, though." He grimaced. "Which don't make sense."


He glanced at her. "You hear about the safety switch? The one he supposedly forgot to pull?"

"Yeah, I also got a speech about the updated safety system."

"Precisely!" He stabbed the air with his index finger. "I heard about that new safety system too, and apparently one of the upgrades was a mechanism that prevents the machines' panels to come off unless the safety is turned on. Meaning, Matthew Cobb could not have forgotten to pull the switch, because if he had, he hadn't been able to enter the machine in the first place."

She stared at him, disbelieving. "People are aware of this? How do they explain it?"

Wash shrugged. "Something about a glitch. The system was quite new at the time, it was installed less than a month before." He paused, and then added, "But of course they're all lying."

"This is all a big cover-up," Zoë fleshed out. "And for some reason they're all participatin'." She shook her head.

"Yeah, that confused me a little," Wash said, "seeing as Matthew was so popular and all. So I went to the town hall to do a little research on the company. It's a joint-stock company, right. Guess who holds fifty-two percent of the shares?"

She sighed as all the pieces fell into place. "Carl MacHaig."


"Explains the power he's got over these people. You own the only workplace…"

"You own the town," he finished for her.

"Sounds like a man you don't cross."

"Unless you're a Cobb," Wash added and then shrugged. "Well, I guess it's in their blood."

Silence fell between them for a moment as Zoë analyzed the things she'd just learned in her mind. "This was no accident," she concluded. "This was murder. Somebody else switched the safety off."

He nodded his agreement. "And my money's on MacHaig."

She sighed again. "We won't be able to prove it, though. Not unless people decide to talk, and I don't see that comin'. They're scared senseless."

She suddenly became aware of two figures emerging from the factory door, and she recognized one as the manager. He was talking to an uniformed guard, pointing at her.

Wash had seen them too. "Looks like we've overstayed our welcome, lambytoes."

"Yeah," she somberly agreed. "Let's head back to the homestead."


Mal was almost finished putting up a fence around Radiant's potato patch when she came out to him, bringing him lunch on a tray. "You've worked for it," she insisted when he told her there was no need for her to make a fuss about him being there.

"The least I could do," he responded. "Given the hospitality you've shown my crew and myself. And truth be told, I've kinda enjoyed it."

"And it seems you know what you're doing," she said after inspecting the fence a little.

"I grew up on a ranch."

"I figured as much, you seem like a man of the earth," she smiled and then glanced towards Serenity where she was parked out on the field. "And still you ended up in the sky somehow."

"Well," he said, checking the post he'd just hammered into the ground. "There was that little thing called the War for Independence."

"Yes," she realized, "you're a veteran. Jayne told me. I reckon it'd be hard to go back home after something like that."

"More like impossible," he said, and then added, without looking at her, "I'm from Shadow."

He heard her gasp. "I'm so sorry… I shouldn't… I…"

"You didn't know," he said and looked up to meet her eyes again. "No need for apologizin'."

Her blue eyes were filled with sympathy. "All of 'em?" she asked, carefully, as if she wasn't really sure if she wanted the answer.

"All of 'em," he confirmed.

"I'm so sorry," she repeated.

He took the sandwich she was offering him and simply thanked her with a nod.

"The war never affected us much out here," she said. "But that don't mean we're fans of the Alliance. And what they did to Shadow… That was simply unforgiving."

He said nothing, but silently agreed.

"The pain of loss is one that never goes away, I know," she continued. "I've born six children into this 'verse, but the Lord took back two of 'em while they was still babes. And soon he'll take Mattie as well."

Mal frowned. "You certain of that?" he said. "If the doctor can find out what ails 'im…"

"I had a brother sufferin' from the same thing, whatever it's called," she explained. "He died even younger than Mattie is. They wither away slowly, towards the end the deterioration picks up speed, they can't get air and they die gasping." Her voice cracked and she looked away.

"Simon's very good at what he does," Mal said. "Please give him a chance."

She pulled herself together enough to send him a little smile. "I will. And I am very grateful for everything you've done. All of you."

He nodded and took another bite of the sandwich. "Jayne's your first born?" he asked, simply to lead the conversation in another direction.

Her smile grew and seemed a little less forced. "Yes."

"You can't have been old when you had 'im."

She chuckled. "I was sixteen. And then I had Jo the year after. Birds of a feather, them two. Where one was, the other had to be. They had a certain rep for bein' troublemakers around here."

"I can imagine," Mal smiled.

"He never meant no harm, you know," she said, again letting her eyes drift across the meadow. "Jayne. He just had that wildness in him. Couldn't sit still, hated being forced to do anything." Mal nodded, and she threw him a sideways glance. "What's his job? On your ship, I mean."

Mal was suddenly very interested in the fence post again. "Uh, he… he hauls crates and such. We do supply runs and there's cargo to be loaded and unloaded."

Another smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. "I appreciate the lie," she said.

He sighed, but then he had to give in to a smile as well. "Okay, maybe not all the jobs we pull are legal in the strictest sense." He looked at her. "And he does haul crates, so it's not all a lie."

"He ran off at fifteen, jumped a train. I later received word he'd joined the crew of some ship and gone off-word. And secretly I knew he was right; my Jayne's not cut out for this kinda life, he's meant to roam." She paused a little, before continuing, "His father, on the other hand, never understood. Whenever he came to see us they'd end up fightin'. And in the end he stopped comin'." Her smile faltered a little, but only for a second. "He kept writing me though. Tall tales and lies, but I could always read some truth between the lines. So I know he's been up to no good. Just like I know you're far from the worst captain he's served under."

"I suppose that's so," Mal said. "Though comin' out on top of that list ain't that a big achievement, I'm guessin'."

She gave another chuckle. "His letters changed, you know. After he met you. The parts I read between the lines."

He waited, but she didn't elaborate on those changes. Instead a shadow of worry fell across her face. "I suppose he ain't the easiest man to have under your command."

"We have an understanding, he and I," he replied. She nodded and turned to leave, but stopped when he said her name. "Radiant… That sorta existence you're handed on those ships Jayne's served on can make a monster out of a man. But if he's had a decent upbringing, if he comes from a home that's shown him love, then there's a part of 'im that always stays right. Crude as it may be, Jayne's got a sense of honor and decency. That's you. That's your doing."

For a few long beats she only stared at him. "He always needed that firm hand to guide him," she eventually said. "That's you."

And then they both smiled.



Simon looked up from his work when River suddenly spoke. He'd returned Mattie to the house (he'd had Jo drive him this time), and had since been busy analyzing the test results. River had been in the infirmary with him for the last hour or so, and she'd stayed completely quiet until now.

"Filled with light, emitting heat, glowing…"

"Yes, I suppose it's a fitting name," Simon smiled. "She's a good woman." He grimaced a little. "And I who always thought Jayne was raised by wolves."

"Jayne's not a wolf," his sister said. "He's an eagle."

"Right," Simon muttered and bent down over his microscope again.

"Cobb," River continued. "Cob… clay, sand, straw, water, and earth… to build houses from… Cob of corn… Corn on the cob… Popcorn… I want popcorn."

"I don't think we have any," Simon said without looking up.

His sister didn't reply.




Tuesday, January 24, 2012 7:35 AM


Lovely part. I like how between them, Zoe and Wash got pretty much the story of what had really happened to Jayne's father. I'm guessing the bully boys will be keeping an eye on Serenity so hope our BDHs keep their eyes peeled sharp and their guns loaded and real handy. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 8:01 PM


Yes, it's a problem when there's only one game in town. The manager didn't want to tell her, but Zoe's also an expert in what people don't say, and what he didn't tell her was also revealing. Put it together with Wash's findings (*I* wasn't surprised that he headed into town, instead of to the factory) and you've got a serious implication of foul play.
I'll mention again how much I LOVED the scene between Jayne's mother and Mal. Absolutely brilliant! Mal connects with Jayne's ma, and, I suspect, all women of a certain age -- do they remind him of his own ma? I have a guess as to the significance of River's remarks -- time will tell if my hunch is correct.

Friday, November 23, 2012 1:20 PM


Oh boy...I can just imagine how quickly Jayne and Jo are gonna want to saddle up with guns aplenty to go after McHaig when they find out their father was murdered for presumably screwing up McHaig's plans and getting killed for it. Can't wait to see how the eventual standoff goes though ;)


You must log in to post comments.



Angels We Have Heard (Part 5/5)
Mal teams up with Simon to search for some hidden crates on the ice planet of St. Albans. They find something else instead.

Angels We Have Heard (Part 4/5)
Mal teams up with Simon to search for some hidden crates on the ice planet of St. Albans. They find something else instead.

Angels We Have Heard (Part 3/5)
Mal teams up with Simon to search for some hidden crates on the ice planet of St. Albans. They find something else instead.

Angels We Have Heard (Part 2/5)
Christmas special. Mal teams up with Simon to search for some hidden crates on the ice planet of St. Albans. They find something else instead.

Angels We Have Heard (Part 1/5)
Christmas special. Mal teams up with Simon to search for some hidden crates on the ice planet of St. Albans. They find something else instead.

The Night Before (revised and reposted)
It's the night before Christmas and Jayne is having spiritual problems. Literally.

Book of Secrets (Part 8)
Mal drew a deep breath and exhaled slowly, closing his eyes for a moment. "Gorram preacher," he muttered.

Book of Secrets (Part 7)
Kaylee comes clean and River goes for a swim.

Book of Secrets (Part 6)
The captain dances, Inara's feeling out the new girl and the first secret is revealed.

Book of Secrets (Part 5)
Zoë and Inara have a heart-to-heart, and Mal discovers more shades of grey.