"You watching the gauge?" Kaylee asked quietly.
"Yep," Mal answered.
"Should I be worried?"
"Nope, I'll tell you when to worry," Mal said.
"'Kay," Kaylee said. But when she glanced at the life support readouts again, he stood and threw her rag over it. "Wish I had a pack of cards," she said.
"If I were wasting time on wishing, it wouldn't be for a pack of cards," Mal said.
"We got the time to waste." She glared up at him, but continued sulkily, "Fine. I wish I had the core field screw system here, 'cause I need to strip and rebuild it."
Mal nodded. "See now, that's a sensible wish. That's a wish worth wishing. If wishes were worth anything, which they ain't."
She rolled her eyes, crossed her arms, and leaned against the bulk, careful to not touch him with any part of her body or clothing.
Neither mentioned wishing for rescue.
"So Kaylee, after Zoe finds us, what are you gonna do? There's enough in this for a splurge or two."
"Hotel. A big fancy hotel like where Inara goes. Where they put fruit in your room and have unlimited hot water. And I'm gonna take a hot shower 'til I turn pink and them I'll take a bath. With bubbles and a glass of wine by the tub."
He smiled slowly, not looking up, and asked, "Where'd the wine come from?"
"They brought it with the fruit, silly. This is a really posh hotel, with lace in the windows and velvet in the lobby and white towels. And I'll sit in that bathtub and drink the wine and eat my fruit. A pomegranate."
They sat for a moment and considered that in silence.
"You know, Kaylee, I've often wondered, just what's a pomegranate look like?"
She shot him a look that would make a lesser man blanch. Mal just grinned.
"It's red and it has seeds. Oh, you're just mean," she said as she leaned forward and poked him in the arm, hard. "I know what a papaya looks like."
He leaned back against the wall, feet up on the cargo chest again. "I like oranges."
She settled in again for the wait. "Yeah, all things considered, I think I like strawberries best."
"I don't get why I have to wear a knife." Wash tugged the scabbard forward, then back, wrinkling his pants and failing to wrinkle his shirt any more than usual. "I'm really not planning on eating and that's pretty much all I can use one for anyway."
"Not at all darling. You strip wires very nicely," Zoe said as she tested the draw on her ankle sheath.
"Yeah, but I use my teeth for that."
"Then think of it as a backup knife for me."
"Oh good, now I've traded one set of worries for another."
"It just don't seem right, captain."
"I cannot begin to count the number of ways that this ain't right, Kaylee. You care to be a little more specific?"
"The stars aren't moving. Even planetside, they move." She flapped a hand at him before he could speak. "Don't start, I know it's us that's usually moving and all, but they look frozen up there. Dead."
"Could you do me the special personal favor of not discussing either freezing or death at this moment?"
They went back to listening to the labored burr of the overtaxed airscrubber.
"Not in the last five minutes, Jayne, no," Zoe said. "Go clean your guns or something."
"Already did. And there's no reason to get cranky at me. I ain't the one wandered off and got myself lost."
"No, you're the one breathing down my neck while I'm wondering where my captain and mechanic are." The console beeped and she triggered the read-screen.
"You know where I am."
"And that fills me with elation. Now shut up." Zoe keyed a brief response.
"So what's the captain say?"
"Nothing, that was Hong. And you're about to be cranky. We're meeting him."
"I'll get my guns."
"Don't bother, we're meeting on Korins. No propulsion weapons of any kind."
"Damn." He scratched his hip. "I can bring the long knife though, or maybe just the Bowie?"
"Go wild, bring 'em both." She punched in co-ordinate numbers and brushed past him.
Mal leaned in the netting, arms crossed, and watched the soles of Kaylee's boots wiggle as she rummaged hip deep in the console. "Hey, captain, we got lucky."
"I'm waiting with bated breath to hear how lucky we are to be adrift in a disabled shuttle."
"Well, when they killed propulsion, they pulled the catalyzer. Can't go anywhere without that. All they did to nav was yank the map files. Guidance, they got physical and cut free the TK system and let it set there. If I had a torch, we could steer, but I'd need to be able to lift about 700 pounds while welding, so..."
"Still waiting, Kaylee."
"That's 'cause I ain't finished yet. Communication is fixable."
"What? Why would they leave us comm?"
"Well, they probably didn't think it can be used." She wriggled out and unfolded herself. "But if I pull the copper board from the nav plate, I can rig it as a sound board. We won't be able to whisper or fine tune, but we can shout."
"I'd be right pleased to be able to shout."
"The rest of it's just little stuff. Yanking wires is just silly; I can pull wires from anywhere, and…"
"Save your breath. What do you need me to do?"
She threw herself face down, sliding into the floor access panel until she was bent at the waist. "Hold my feet, would you? And here, take this."
"Zoe's in position," Jayne said as he joined Wash at the door. "What've we got?"
"Just the three -- Hong and two goons. Goon one is a snappy dresser. Short hair, nice suit and twin blades, one on each hip, both an easy foot and a half."
Jayne nodded. "And the other?"
"Hong's wearing his usual sword thing, and the other guy doesn't show any weapon. But he's got a top hat on, so he could have anything under it."
"No, I know him, name's Kormos. He likes switchblades. Thought he'd quit working for Hong though."
"With that hat, I suspect he's come a-carolin'. Or maybe wassailing."
"Ain't nothing wrong with a good hat."
"Jayne, that's not a good hat." Wash hit the cargo door release. "That is a hat that proclaims 'I have more character than the person wearing me.'"
"Hunh." Jayne nodded. "I've seen guns like that."
"Everything comes down to guns with you, doesn't it?"
"Yeah, pretty much."
"Sorry Captain, I'm just getting sleepy."
"No reason you can't take a nap. Of course, I'll wake you up the moment there's work to be done."
"Yes, Kaylee?" His mouth was tight, his eyes dry in the poor mix of air. She opened her mouth, sighed, and closed it again.
"Scoot over so's I can use you for a pillow. They didn't build this thing for comfort, that's for sure."
"I'm at your service." He moved into the corner so she could pull her feet onto the bench. Neither of them touched the cargo box any more. She laid her head in his lap and they both waited long enough to pretend she'd fallen asleep before he raised one hand to rest on her shoulder.
"There you are," Wash said as Jayne came back down the corridor. "Zoe headed back on up to the ship. Where'd you go?"
"He ran. I had to chase him."
"And you wonder why I make dog jokes."
"No, I wonder why I let you keep on making them." They continued out of the warehouse district and headed to the port gates. "Zoe get what she needed?"
"Mostly. Hong's not real happy with us, but she's not real happy with him, either. We've got a rough location on where Mal and Kaylee probably are." Wash ducked through a crowd of people; Jayne just brushed stragglers out of his way. "Nice knife, by the way."
Jayne glanced down at the slim filigreed blade thrust awkwardly through his belt. "Yeah, well, I broke my big one on him. I figure he owed me."
Mal stood in the hatch to Engineering, one hand slowly stroking the hatch edge. "How you doing?"
"Hunh?" Kaylee looked up, then pulled her left hand behind her guiltily, "This? This is nothing, I just banged my hand."
"What?" He was at her side in a step and she gave a long-suffering sigh as he pulled her hand up into the light. "I was talking about today, as a matter of fact, and what the hell did you do to yourself here?"
"It looks worse than it is, really, I didn't want to bleed on the backstay, so I kind of smeared it around to keep it from dripping."
"Yeah, and shoved two kinds of lubricant and what-all else in there too. You're going to the infirmary right now and put a weave on that, young lady," Mal said. She rolled her eyes, but rolled out from under the grid bank, letting him pull her to her feet. "What are you doing down here anyway? Get some rest."
"I don't need rest. I've been away from Serenity for the better part of a day. I wanted to make sure nothing happened. I was worried while we were gone."
He let her take her hand back and smiled despite himself. "You were worried about Serenity?"
"You, your own self, were in deep space after a cheap hood middleman tried to cut out Hong; failed to pay us; forced the two of us into a disabled shuttle at gunpoint; and abandoned us to be found at some unspecified date by disreputable scavengers."
"Watch yourself there. Some very nice people are disreputable scavengers."
"We are reputable scavengers. What Zoe did to Hong made sure of that, now answer the gorram question, please," he said, the laughter in his voice belying the sternness of his words.
"No, I wasn't worried." She faced him squarely and smugly continued, "Should I have been?" She blinked up at him in challenge.
And at that he did smile openly and pulled her into a one armed hug, resting his chin on the top of her head for a moment, before pushing her out of the bay. "You go clean up that hand and get some rest. I'll close this up."
"Hell, captain, you had a good quarter hour of air left in here. We shouldn't have hurried."
"Never crossed my mind you would, Jayne. Help Kaylee strip anything usable out of there, but I want the skeleton of that thing gone by supper. I'm tired of looking at it."
"Um, captain, the cargo…" Kaylee started to say before being interrupted by Mal.
"That? That's empty."
Jayne kicked it. "It's heavy enough." And after a moment of fuss, the lock gave way to reveal a handful of lead ingots and a lot of sand.
"Hey, I can use those!" Kaylee said. "Not as much as the actual payoff, but…"
"They set us adrift in a sabotaged shuttle. Why would they pay us? On the other hand," Mal tossed a sheaf of paper at Jayne, who caught it hastily on his way up the stairs. "We at least paid for the trip. That'll get us to 'Boros. We can get a cargo, maybe pick up some paying guests there."
"Not a lot of profit in passengers, captain," Zoe said.
"Not a lot of profit in working for a man who won't pay, neither," Jayne added, leaning over the landing railing.
"Expensive trip for not a lot of profit," Wash said as they watched Kaylee disappear into the shuttle again.
"Call it a lesson learned," Mal said.
"And we thought Kaylee was always the one to find the shiny side of the coin. Dare I ask, oh captain, what lesson we learned? Besides the fact that Jayne is big and likes weapons, which quite honestly, I already knew."
"We learned not to do business with Hong's friends," Mal pointed out.
Zoe rubbed the back of her neck and smiled ruefully. "Um, actually, Hong's friend is kind of out of the picture now. Along with one of Hong's henchmen. Jayne took him out while I was talking to Hong."
"Anyone we know?"
"Just some overpaid hired gun with fancy knives."
"Then that's a reminder to us. Never overpay Jayne; it'll get him killed," Mal said.
"And we should always encourage him to use his hands," Zoe continued.
"Well then, there's another lesson right there about the creative abilities of the crew of Serenity."
"It's a little late for Hong or his friend to actually use that knowledge, sir."
"He wasn't the one needed to learn it then, was he? All in all, this day's been chock full of lessons. I found out that Kaylee here is very very good with machines."
"We knew that one, too," Wash said.
"She learned I like oranges. She likes strawberries."
Zoe and Wash looked at one another, silent and amused. After a moment, Zoe slapped her hands to her knees and stood. "Well, then, that's good enough for one day, I suppose. 'Boros it is."
They left Mal in the cargo bay, leaning against storage blocks, breathing Serenity's air and thinking of fruit.