*A* is for *Ammo*
It's funny the things I remember. I remember what people say most I think. I remember Daddy sitting at the table with all his guns.
"Abby dear can you get me ammo for Gracie here." I remember the sound of the round bullets rolling together in the box as I fished them out.
"Jayne, I don't think she can count yet."
"Course she can Mal, she's a genius like her mama."
"She aint even talking yet and she should have started that months ago."
"Maybe she don't have nothin' to say. 'side she's been countin' ammo for me for a week now. See." I remember Mal taking my pile of bullets. I must have made a noise 'cause he put a hand on my head.
"Gracie takes 20, there're 21 here."
"One for the chamber. My little girl knows what's what when it comes to ammo."
"Ammo?" I said. I remember Daddy and Mal looking at each other.
"Maybe we shouldn't be telling the Little Albatross about this then."
"Abby, hun, can you say Daddy?"
*B* is for *Badger*
I always liked Badger. Uncle Badger he let me call him. The Captain didn't like him, neither did Mom or Dad. I remember him from when I was so small. So little that people don't believe me when I tell them things from those times. I remember fussing in my Daddy's arms my teeth coming through and Badger pulling a silver spoon from a tub of ice so I could suck on the cold metal.
We never went there often, a few times a year but somehow sweets always managed to get from his desk to the pockets for my dress. When I was older it was tops and marbles and silk ribbons. Daddy always growled and Mom talked funny around Uncle Badger. Talked like he did.
That first trip when my baby hands clutched the cold spoon I heard thing I shouldn't remember. Mom and the Captain had left and Daddy was taking up the rear. Uncle Badger put a hand on Daddy's arm.
"That is a fine woman you 'ave there."
"Finest in the verse."
"You take care o' a woman like that. Treat her right. Proper like."
"Hell, she wouldn't let me treat her any other way."
I still have that spoon tucked away in a box of marbles and hair ribbons. I think Uncle Badger might have loved Mom. Not like Daddy loved her but loved her a little just the same.
*C* is for *Captain Mal*
I called him Uncle Mal when I was really little. When I was four I tried to sneak off on a job with the Captain, and Dad, and Zoe. The Captain scooped me out of the mule and plopped me on the deck. I had dressed in the boots that they could never get on me, my sturdiest clothes, and in a move that, retrospectively, must have disturbed the Captain more than a little, I had one of my Mom's little guns, with the holster draped across my chest.
"Where do you think you're goin' little one?"
"On the Job."
"Oh really, so you think you're big enough to be running off on jobs now?"
"Yes." There is a type of conviction that you can only have at that age.
"Well last I checked only crew goes on jobs."
"Are you now? Well if you're crew then I'm your Captain and you gotta do what I say, and I say that we've got enough for this job but someone's going to have to help your Uncle Simon get the infirmary ready so when we get back all shot up he can take care of us." I knew he just didn't want me on the job, but he said I was crew so I straitened up and gave a little salute.
"Yes, Captain Mal."
"And put your mama's gun away first."
He was always Captain Mal after that. Captain Mal, who kept us safe, got us jobs, got shot up way too much, and made sure we had Serenity to fly in.
*D* is for *Dad*
Dad could be mean, but never to me. Dad could be violent, but never to me. Dad could be stupid, but he tried his best around me. Daddy wanted me to be a princess but Daddy also wanted me to survive in the Black. Princesses don't do that well. Daddy took his cut of the job and bought me a fancy parasol. Daddy also used his cut to buy me my second gun (Zoe gave me my first). When it was obvious I was a genius like Mom, Daddy bought books that he couldn't read or understand. He took Books old room and filled it with books, just for me.
Dad didn't want Mom to have anther baby. He said that going off her medicine for nine months was about nine months too long to do again and that I was more of a gift than any man could want, and wanting another baby would just be greedy.
Daddy stood next to me on my first job. Told me I did good. He didn't have to say he was proud of me.
Mom spent so much time in my head when I was little sometimes I forgot I couldn't move as fast as her. Sometimes I forgot I was bigger than her. The first time I got hit it was just a little scratch. I thought I was out of the way but I wasn't. I told Dad he did a good at not panicking and wrapping the wound before we could get back to Serenity. Dad got drunk later and hit Captain Mal but that was sort of to be expected.
*E* is for *Engine*
I love Serenity's engine 'cause Aunt Kaylee loves Serenity's engine. When I was little I would curl up under it where it was warm and listen to it hum. When I was ten I helped Kaylee rebuild the engine with nothing but scrap parts. Kaylee had spent all the previous year teaching me how each little part worked until I could have fixed it blindfolded.
After that we sat up late for months, way past my bed time. We made sketches, and downloaded stuff off the cortex, and talked about power transfer, and different alloys. Then we made the captain land for two weeks next to the best scrap heap we could find.
Serenity could do twice the distance on half the fuel after that.
Uncle Simon said maybe I should consider designing engines when I grew up, but I didn't love engines like Aunt Kaylee did. Just Serenity's, her heart that had to keep turning so we could be free in the Black.
*F* is for *Free*
The best stories on Serenity were about being free. Captain Mal and Zoe told stories about how the fought for freedom against the Alliance. These were exciting stories about brave battles. I learned later what they were leaving out. The cold, death and misery.
Uncle Simon told me how he rescued Mom from the Academy. How they came to the rim to be free. That story was better than anything from the cortex. It had real double agents and secret missions. I learned later what he left out. The gibbering wreck that was left of my mother brain when she climbed out of a box in the cargo bay.
Daddy had a great story about how he stole a lot of money and dropped it on a bunch of enslaved mudders so they could buy their freedom. I knew my Daddy well enough to know that couldn't be the real story but I never asked what really happened.
I know Aunty Inara will never marry Captain Mal because they both love their freedom too much. At least that's what they tell themselves.
Serenity keeps us free to do and say and think what we like. I knew it wasn't all true. It was one of the little lies that get told to children. But on Serenity Mom and Dad were free to love each other. So were Uncle Simon and Aunt Kaylee, and Aunty Inara and Captain Mal.
I think Captain Mal knew I would lead the fight for that freedom for all of us one day when he found me reading about he Browncoats on the cortex.
"You know we lost, little one."
"But you're free on Serenity, so how did you loose?"
"Maybe one day you'll just have to remind the Alliance that you really won."
"I'm a little to old for that. Maybe you can do it for me."
*G* is for *Guns*
I got my first gun for my ninth birthday after I killed three people. Zoe gave it to me. It was a little automatic 9mm holding twelve shots, thirteen if I kept one in the chamber. It was tiny with just enough kick to make me strengthen my arms but not so much that I couldn't use it. It wasn't shinny or girly. It didn't have a pearl handle or gold inlay. Zoe always said a gun shouldn't look like anything other than what it was. My hands grew out of it by the time I was thirteen but I still kept it clean and loaded under my bed.
Being kind of a genius like Mom meant I got into everything really early and on a ship like Serenity it meant they had to lock away guns in a way they hadn't since before Mom's head began to get better. Finally Captain Mal gave up after I'd gotten past a bunch of locks down in storage.
"Ok I want every gun on this ship in the kitchen, right now!"
Captain Mal sat me down at the kitchen table in my booster chair and showed me how to clean, load, unload, disassemble, and reassemble every gun on the ship, starting with Daddy's Vera and ending with Auntie Inara's little single shot that no one had known she had.
"Uh Mal, why you showin' my little girl all them guns?"
"'Cause I figure she being a genius, like her mama, is just curious, and if she learns everything about them right quick she'll stop being curious, or at the very least will be less likely so shoot anyone unless she means to."
A long time later the boy that would become the man I would marry sat at the table and watched me clean Vera.
"Your folks sure have a lot of guns." I shrugged.
"Your folks have a lot of cows. Ya don't hear me mentioning it."
*H* is for *Hell. The Special, Special Hell*
"Oh darlin' don't you just look lovely."
"My man looks very nice as well."
"Is that the dress I bought you for my birthday?"
"Didn' we shred that all to pieces?"
"I mended it."
"So we can shred it again."
"Oh darling I'm goin' to end up in the Special Hell cause of you."
"We you can ke…"
"Abigail Kaywinnit Tam-Cobb!"
"Lurking in hallways is not proper behavior for a lady."
"Go to the engine room and help your Aunt Kaylee."
"But she doesn't need any help."
"Go translate Machiavelli. _Art of War_. Into Mandarin."
"Mommy, that'll take hours."
"3.62 hours." Stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp "Where were we?"
"Figurin' out the best way to spend the next 3.62 hours."
Elsewhere in the ship.
"Yes little one?"
"How do you get the Special Hell?"
*I* is for *Inara*
Inara took it upon herself to teach me how to behave like a lady. Daddy wasn't too happy about that. Neither was Captain Mal
Every Friday I would go to her shuttle and sip tea with my fingers curled and my back strait. Inara would _suggest_ books to read, and music to listen to. She got me a calligraphy set as a _gift_ and suggested I practice when I showed up complaining of boredom. Mom didn't mind. I knew she sometimes missed the Core, or more accurately missed bits of culture that didn't make it to the rim like dance, and opera, and perfectly made cups of tea. She didn't mind if I cultivated a bit of civility as Uncle Simon called it. In Inara's shuttle I used proper grammar and no swearing. Except of course when Mal and Daddy got involved.
"You are not teaching our little Abby how to be a whore!"
"No Mal, you _tah mah duh hwoon dahn!_ I'm teaching her how to be a lady."
"And that's really lady like language there."
"My little girl don't need all that fancy shit. Long as she can shoot and fly she'll be fine. Aren't that right darling?"
"_Yu bun duh._"
"Don't talk to your father like that."
"Well he is."
"I'm sure he can't help it."
The Captain took a big breath ready to launch into a new rant. Inara cut him off cleanly.
"Mal, does the Alliance know that Abby's alive?"
"What? You know damn well they don't."
"Well don't you think if would be nice if someone on this ship not in position of a criminal record or an arrest warrant were able to walk around on a core world _without_ sticking out like a sore thumb?" Captain Mal shuffled his feet a bit. "And Jayne, wouldn't it be nice if maybe one day Abby could give up this life of crime, maybe go to a university, and _not_ get thrown out for brawling in the first five minutes?" Daddy shuffled his feet to.
"Well if that's what she wants I guess." Inara sighed.
"Mal, Jayne, go away." The Captain and Daddy headed to the door.
"This ain't completely over."
"Yes, Mal." Inara smiled at me when the door closed. "At some point you'll realize that men always need to get in the last word."
*J* is for *Jobs*
Ammo was my first word; Job was my second. I don't think Mom was too happy about either of those but at least the second was better. My first sentence was "Ma, Da, job?"
"That's right little one. Your Ma and Pa and Zoe are on a job. And you and me and my sprung knee are going to stay here and fly Serenity. Doesn't that sound like fun?"
That was Mission One on Serenity. Do the job. Get paid. Keep flying. I was twelve when I went on my first job. Uncle Simon yelled at the Captain about it. Daddy yelled at the Captain about it. Mom settled it.
"She can go if both Mal and Abby feel she is ready." Captain Mal took me up to the cockpit and closed the door.
"You don't have to do this if you don't want, Little One."
"It's time I earn my keep."
"Earning your keep don't mean you have to go on jobs. Kaylee don't. Your uncle surly don't."
"I'm not a doctor, or a mechanic, or a pilot, or an ambassador."
"Surly you're not. You're still a little girl, and while we'll need every hand I got on this job I don't much like thinking of you as a killer."
"Captain. I am the genius daughter of two killers born on a smuggling ship. What else am I meant to be? I've had to kill already. You were there." The Captain got a sad look and gave me a hug, something he almost never did.
"I am surly sorry for this Little One. Bring your Daddy's sniper riffle as I'll not have you in the thick of things just yet."
Daddy still wasn't too happy but he let me use the good scope and told me if I was goin' on jobs then I better be takin' my turn at kitchen duty to. Mom told me that when it got to be too much to just stop feeling and do the math.
I did that job. I got paid. I kept flying.
*K* is for *Kaylee*
When I was small Aunt Kaylee would watch over me in the engine room while she worked. I had a little baby hammock that swung over hers. She would talk about what she was doing telling me what every piece was. Later she let me crawl around the engine room until I pulled on a few wires and Serenity stopped. Aunt Kaylee thought it was funny. Captain Mal, not so much.
Inara taught me to be a lady but Aunt Kaylee taught me how to be a girl. Kaylee let me run around Serenity in her frilly dress and parasol. She let me win at jacks the first time.
When I was eleven Aunt Kaylee had babies of her own. It was harder on her than it should have been. There were two fighting for space. Uncle Simon wanted her to go planet side 'till the babies were born. Aunt Kaylee said no and they fought a lot because of it. When she was seven month pregnant Uncle Simon got done by some local authorities for transport of stolen goods and was shipped off to a labor camp before anyone really knew what happened. Mom and Dad had to break him out right quick. Mom somehow knew the Aunt Kaylee was going to have her babies early.
Dad got shot in the leg and never quite let Uncle Simon forget it.
In the end Uncle Simon had to do a cesarean and only one of the two came out breathing. They buried baby Rose next to Shepherd Book and Wash and Mr. Universe. I was allowed to hold baby David while the sun went down on Haven. That night Mom and Dad let me sleep between them. Mom told me that it would take a long time but that had to be the one to teach Aunt Kaylee how to be a girl again.
*L* is for *Love*
On Serenity there is always love. Mom and Dad love each other. Aunt Kaylee and Uncle Simon love each other. Mom and Dad love me. Zoe loves Captain Mal but not he same way she loved someone called Wash. Captain Mal and Inara love each other but in a strange way where their thinking gets in the way. Uncle Simon loves Mom and gave up everything for her but really got something better in the end. Aunt Kaylee loves Serenity but not in the same way Captain Mal loves Serenity. Captain Mal truly loves Serenity the most and Serenity loves him back.
I met my maternal grandparents once, before the second war. All of Serenity was there. Mom held Dad's hand and Simon kept one arm around Kaylee and the other around David. I remember the look my grandfather gave his children. There was no more love for them and certainly none for me or David. My grandmother gasped and hugged her children but quickly hurried back to the side of her husband. Later my grandfather and Uncle Simon fought. Captain Mal had to break them up. Dad never left Mom's side as Uncle Simon tried to explain to my grandmother exactly what had happened to Mom. That resulted in another fight with my grandfather, this time between him and Dad.
In the end Mom stood on her toes and kissed her father on the cheek.
"Father I am loved where I am. That should be enough for you."
*M* is for *Mom*
My mom is River Tam-Cobb and she's the smartest person in the 'verse. She says she's not but I never believed her. Still don't. Mom isn't like other moms. Not just 'cause she's smart, or a little crazy, or a government experiment got loose. She's special 'cause of the things she taught me, and the way she taught them. When she though I was old enough she showed me the Academy. She showed me her memories of it, twisted and fractured. I was the only one she could do that with but she proved the scientists wild theories right.
"We should breed her in a few years. Imagine what she could teach the offspring in utero."
After Zoe taught me to shoot Mom taught me how to do the math. Angles and velocities. It was easy, like watching Dad and Captain Mal play pool, only faster. Mom taught me how to fight, how to hit with speed and grace. She put the knowledge in my mind because she wanted me to be safe.
When I was older we tried to spar in the cargo bay. I was the only person almost as fast as Mom. She was quicker but I was stronger. Dad, Zoe, Captain Mal and Uncle Simon pulled us apart.
"She needs to know!" Mom screamed "If they ever find her, she needs to know, needs to be quick, no safe word, faster, better, so she can get out!" Uncle Simon sedated Mom then put weaves on our injuries. Mom slept in the infirmary that night. I sat outside the door.
That's what they didn't understand. The Academy had tried to take away her ability to love, it didn't work but they did manage to twist it into strange shapes. I know Mom loved me even before I was born. I was her daughter. I was also her revenge. The others never understood that but I did.
*N* is for *Nightmares*
Mom and I never talk much. Not in ways people know. I remember her humming to me before I was even born I think. She sang songs right into my head. She always knew where I was, and if I was safe. She let me hide if I needed to, and wouldn't find me until I wanted to be found (except at bath time). She's a good mother but there are always drawbacks. Mom has nightmares, and not just her own, and cause Mom has nightmares I have nightmares.
She's always sorry and the drugs help some. I learned really early how to tell the difference between my nightmares and other peoples. Mom dreams of the Academy, cold dreams of needles and knives and blue hands.
Daddy had nightmares that Mom hears and then I hear. Funny thing is most of Daddy's nightmares are of Mom. Mom fighting, fighting Reavers, fighting bad guys. Sometimes Mom gets killed, all three of us wake up and hold each other. Sometimes Mom doesn't get killed. Sometimes she keeps fighting cutting down Daddy and the Captain and everyone else, leaving Serenity empty. I think these are worse.
Captain Mal has nightmares about the war, Kaylee has nightmares about the engines breaking, Uncle Simon is in a hospital looking for Mom but people keep grabbing him, begging for help. Zoe dreams about Wash who I never met but I have all his dinosaurs, and Inara has nightmares of a baby. I never figured that one out.
*O* is for *Operations*
I looked at Captain Mal. He was being, what Uncle Simon called, stupidly manly.
"Retractor." I put the retractor in Uncle Simon's hand. Captain Mal winced as the metal went in him.
"Forceps." I handed over the forceps. Uncle Simon dug around a bit a pulled out a bullet. I held out the specimen pan without being asked. The bullet went in with a plink I kind of liked.
"Abby would you like to close?"
"Yes!" I said.
"No!" Said Captain Mal.
"It's a useful skill and she needs to practice."
"Not on me."
"I offered you a general when we started."
"So I would never have known."
"Exactly." I held up the needle and tread.
"Is this the right gage Uncle Simon?"
"Yes it is. Now start at the top and be sure to get live tissue." Captain Mal took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
"Doc we're going to have to have a discussion concerning the Little One's practical education."
*P* is for *Piloting*
"You hear that hum Little One?" That means she's ready for take off. I nodded, my hands shaking. "Now just push forward a little." Serenity leapt into the air and Captain Mal had to grab the back of my chair to stay standing.
"Sorry." I squeaked.
"That's ok. Just keep going. Feel that shaking. We're about to break atom so don't let up or we'll crash back down." I saw the atmosphere burn firry red across the nose of Serenity. I must have made a noise 'cause Captain Mal put his hand on my shoulder. "Keep going. We're coming up a little flat, tilt her nose up." I pulled her nose up 'till the colors streaming past changed. A moment later the vibrations stopped and all I could see was black. "Now switch to space mode." I stood on my toes and flipped some switches. I heard Serenity's jets turn over. Captain Mal turned on the ships intercom. "Attention, this is the Captain. There will be chocolate protein tonight to celebrate Abby's first successful solo take off." I smiled up at the Captain. He turned off the intercom. "I think we'll wait a couple weeks before trying a landing."
*Q* is for *Questions*
I knew the answer to the question before I asked it. I knew because Mom had explained in her own way when I was very small. But sometimes I needed to hear things twice. Once the way Mom tells me and once the way everyone else speaks. It was hard to find the right time. Another kid could have blurted out "_Why is Mommy crazy?_" but I'm too smart and they all know that.
I asked while Uncle Simon gave me a checkup and Daddy was there. I think I was as tactful as I've ever been.
Daddy used a lot of words I probably shouldn't know as Uncle Simon tried to explain what the Academy did. He didn't try to talk down to me. He knew that would get him a kick in the shins, but he tried to keep it clinical, like it happened to someone else and not my mother.
Except I realized I knew things even Uncle Simon didn't. He said they striped her amygdala. Mom had told me what those days of terror felt like. They'd cut into her frontal lobe. I knew what it felt like to wake up and hear the scream of other people's thoughts.
They told me about the blue hands, and hospitals, and I got almost as mad as Daddy. I got a little mad at Daddy for trying to sell Mom out but I knew he loved her, and me, and that things were very different now.
I was shaking when they were done and I guess they thought I was going to cry, but I was shaking in anger my head full of plans for catching men with blue gloves. Daddy put his arm around me and Mom walked in floating like an angel in her blue dress. She kissed Daddy then took my chin in her hand.
"Abby," It was so rare she said my name. "If they knew about you they would want you. You are as smart as me but you'll be taller and stronger like your father. I've found serenity, but I'll loose it if I loose you."
Years later during the war I found a group of men with blue gloves. I made sure they took a long time to die.
*R* is for *Ribbons*
"We'll be late."
"I'm almost done. They're not going to start without you."
"Why couldn't we have done my hair first?"
"Because it would never have survived getting that dress on."
"You're the one who wanted all these ribbons in your hair."
"It's the only way my hair stays in place. You know that."
"Oh I don't know. The time we braided scrap wire into it, it worked pretty well."
"First off I was eight, secondly there's no way in hell I'm going to my wedding with scrap wire in my hair."
"Ah come on, it comes in almost as many colors as ribbons."
"Aunt Kaylee, No."
"Well it hardly matters cause I'm done. Want a mirror?"
"How'd you get a hold of all that ribbon anyways?"
"Badger sent it."
"'Cause I think he loved mom. Come on. I don't want to be late."
*S* is for *Serenity*
I once went to Serenity Valley. We had a job near there. Captain Mal hadn't wanted to take it. Hadn't wanted to be anywhere near that world but the Core had clamped down and we were short on cash. After the job I took the shuttle and took a little trip. There were no monuments, no grave markers. It was just a valley covered in grass, thick and lush, but the grass grew in strange pockets and lumps.
When the sun went down and the shadows got long you could suddenly see the trenches only half filled in, the craters blasted out of the soil, the ships half rusted and rotted in the earth.
I took a walk and dug my hands into the soil. I found a femur, a bit of brown cloth still clinging on. A bird sang somewhere and I got mad at it. I pulled my gun looking around for the little bird. I wondered if the bones under the valley had found serenity.
When I got back to the ship Captain Mal had figured out where I went.
"Learn anything there Little One?" I was nearly as tall as him.
"I don't like birds." I said and went to bed. That night I had dreams about a war I never fought, but later finished.
*T* is for *Teachers*
I didn't need teachers like other kids. I remember Captain Mal lamenting that fact as I spelled words with my letter blocks. There weren't enough E's to spell exoskeleton.
"Captain, it's not as though she would be going to school anyways. On Osiris, if she has a fraction of River's intellect she would have been given private tutors."
"Still think she should have proper teachers."
"I'm sure she'll manage to learn what she need to."
Captain Mal taught me how to fly sitting on his lap.
Uncle Simon taught me how to sew people up.
Daddy taught me how to throw a punch and ride a horse.
Auntie Kaylee taught me how to take an engine apart a put it back together.
Zoe taught me how to shoot (and some facts about dinosaurs that aren't in the books).
Aunt Inara taught me calligraphy and how to be a lady.
Mom taught me physics, and math, literature, navigation, tactics, dance, fighting, survival and love.
I had a whole ship full of teachers, and it really didn't matter too much that I never had privet tutors or a proper school house. I learned everything I needed to know.
*U* is for *Uncle Simon*
_"Simple Simon met a pie man going to the faire"_
"You _had_ to teach her that rhyme miemie?"
_"Said simple Simon to the pie man let me taste your wares."_
"It's a classic old earth poem."
"It's a nursery rhyme you used to skip around torturing me with."
_"Said the pieman to Simple Simon 'Show me first your penny'"_
"There is nothing wrong with simple childlike amusements."
"I had hoped when you had a kid of your own you'd stop being a brat."
_"Said Simple Simon to the pieman 'Sir, I have not any!'"_
*V* is for *Violence*
"I feel the atmosphere of this ship may be too violent for Abby." I remember Uncle Simon saying that when I was little. I don't think it would have mattered. Daddy was violent. That was easy to know. He was violent 'cause it was the best way for a man like him to survive. It was either guns or the mines. Mom was violent but not of her own free will.
Sometimes when Mom had nightmares I'd see bits of them. First time I saw Mom lash out it didn't scare me like it should. Some pirates trying to take Serenity. I remember thinking she looked like an angel. Aunty Kaylee didn't understand when I told her that. I'd read a book left on Serenity. It had belonged to someone called Book. There were pages missing but I read about angels. How when God wanted someone punished, or something fixed or something destroyed he would send an angel. Mom snapped the back of a man twice her size wearing her favorite blue dress. I thought she looked like an angel.
When I was eight I killed three men who chased the Captain and Daddy and Zoe back to Serenity. The Captain thanked me, Daddy had to pry the gun from my hand I was holding it so tight. Later Zoe found me shaking in one of the holes where they put stuff for smuggling.
"If it didn't feel like that little one, I'd be worried about you."
"Will it get easer?"
"It shouldn't but it will."
"Mama and Daddy do it. So do you and Captain Mal."
"Captain and I learned in war. There, if they're shooting at you, you're kinda obliged to shoot back. Your Daddy aint always a good man but I'm willing to bet he shook like you the first time. As for your mama. Well there are reasons she can do what she can do." Zoe actually held me. First and last time she did. "You were protecting your family, your crew mates, your home, and your ship. Only worry if you start enjoying it. Ok little one?"
Zoe gave me a gun for my next birthday. It was little and fit right into my hands. Uncle Simon sighed and gave me a doll.
*W* is for *Weapons*
Mom's favorite weapon is a sword she took from a Reaver. It kills up close, personal. Dad's favorite weapon is Vera which can kill a whole space station from a mile away. Captain Mal tells me that story is actually true.
They started giving me weapons when I was still really small. At five I got my first knife. Dad said it was a 'utility knife' but mom had already shown me how to use it in other ways in my dreams. Zoe gave me a gun when I was nine. I took two off of dead men when I was twelve. They had tried to do bad things to me. Captain Mal said they were my first trophies and didn't try to take them away. Auntie Inara gave me what I thought was a jar a perfume until she told me what it could really do. Even Uncle Simon was sure to tell me what medicines were good until you gave someone a little too much.
No one ever told me having all those weapons wasn't normal.
*X* is for *Xanthomatosis*
Xanthomatosis, exoskeleton, pedantic, epistemology, deoxyribonucleic acid, pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcaniosis, antidisestablishmentarianism, ethylenediaminetetraacetic.
A girl in the Black shouldn't know words like that, doesn't need words like that. I know them because Mom and Uncle Simon know them. I don't talk with Mom much. We've never needed to talk. Uncle Simon and I talk about things and when I start using big words he wants to talk more. He finds books full of big words. Aunt Inara says it's because I'm like my mother before the Academy did things to her. Uncle Simon in some ways has gotten his little sister back, except there's no reason for me to know the words. I won't be a physicist, or a doctor, or lawyer, or biologist. I was born on a smuggling ship to a couple of mercenaries. Even if one of them is one of the smartest people in the 'verse I can't walk into a university on the Core.
I read the books with big words because it makes Uncle Simon happy to have someone to talk to. After the second war, after I'm married and have another name and scars and memories I send in a series of papers on the epidemiology of border worlds to a couple of journals. They get published and I get invited to give talks where lots of people will expect me to use big words. I don't take the offers 'cause I'm the daughter of two mercenaries and even though I know words like hemorrhagic fever, I feel naked without my guns, and have scars, and memories, and use the word aint far too often.
*Y* is for *You and Yours*
"She's a good looking ship."
"I'd rather she was Serenity."
"Well no ship is quite Serenity. Besides Serenity ain't gonna to fly much longer."
"Bullshit. You'll keep her in the sky through force of will."
"Possibly, but you're a big girl now. War hero and all. Time for your own boat."
"I don't know Captain…"
"Come on. I've always looked out for me and mine. That's what I'm doing here. Time for you to get a boat. Time to look out for you and yours."
"Mom and dad…"
"Do not need you hovering. You buy this wreck and they're gonna to have a second honeymoon. Plus Kaylee says she can get the engine spiffed up before you have to break atmo."
"Can I call her Serenity II?"
"Only if you fill her with good people and take good care of them."
"Of course I will. What else have you been teaching me to do all these years?"
"Well then be my guest little one, be my guest."
*Z* is for *Zoe*
Zoe taught me how to shoot. She wasn't Aunt Zoe like Aunt Kaylee or Auntie Inara she was always Zoe. First mate of Serenity. Daddy wanted to be the one to teach me how to shoot but he always got weird about it 'cause I was his little girl and Daddy said it was weird the thought of me killing someone.
Zoe took me to the woods when we were planet side. She pointed to a stump and put the gun in my hand.
Mom knew of course. Mom knew everything.
A few months later a job went bad. Really bad. Captain and Daddy, and Zoe came running back to Serenity like hell was on their heels. I hid under the mule and shot three men. I didn't do the math like mom did. I _could_ do the math. I always won horseshoes 'cause of that, but mom hadn't taught me how to shoot. I shot like Zoe did, like people did.
No one was too pleased about it. Thought I was too little to be shooting people. Maybe I was.
Years later when I shot a boy in the leg who was trying to do things I felt he shouldn't, Zoe was the one who laughed the hardest at the story. Ten years after that, after the second war, I decided to marry the same boy. Zoe took the leather from around her neck and put it around mine, then helped me sew a wedding dress that could hide a gun or two.