Simon is the first to spot him. Through the dust and yelling, through all the sounds he’s not used to when they’re on a planet, he sees the man. Other people avoid him, somehow sensing this is not a man to try and fool. His walk is slow, ambling, and the small smile on his face doesn’t invite anyone to talk to him. The temperature on Theadora is sweltering and even Simon had taken off his vest and unbuttoned more than two buttons on his shirt. There isn’t any sweat on the man’s face. Beside him, Kaylee is chatting, talking about the various ships that surround Serenity.
Simon takes a few steps that bring him midpoint on Serenity’s loading ramp. The man is almost in front of the ship. Simon curses his curiosity as he steps off the ramp. He steps in front of the man and gives him a small smile. This close he can see the differences. This man may look like the captain but his eyes are dead. Sure Mal can give a good imitation of the same thing, but this is the real deal. Blue eyes; cold and calculating look Simon over. Simon has the strongest urge to back up. He has no clue what to say. Should he even bring up the resemblance? His skin feels tight and he narrows his eyes. The man smiles at him and looks at Serenity. His smile gets even wider when Kaylee joins them.
Now Simon knows he’s made a mistake. He should have distracted Kaylee, maybe pulled her inside for a few moments until the man passed, but now she’s smiling at him, unaware that the smile aimed at her is full of hate and passion.
“Why, hello little lady. This your fine ship?” Kaylee laughs and Simon wants to drag her back onto the ship, push her into the cool darkness and tell her to hide. Can’t she see?
“No, well, it’s mine in that I take care of her. The captain’s out right now. You look just like him! Your last name wouldn’t be Reynolds would it? Wow, I can’t wait for him to see you. Though he’d find it mighty strange that you’re a shepherd.” Other people avoid them, walking around them and Simon wishes Mal and Zoe would show up. Jayne is gone too. The man laughs, seemingly charmed by Kaylee. Simon doesn’t believe it for a second. He wants to go and call Wash, but leaving Kaylee here with this…man would be a bad idea.
“I don’t know any Reynolds. The names Caleb. Now why would your captain be upset that I’m a shepherd?” Simon clears his throat and grits his teeth as blue eyes focus on him again. It’s like spiders crawling over his skin. He answers the question.
“He wouldn’t be upset. The captain just has a strange sense of humor.” He grabs Kaylee’s arm and pulls her closer. He walks backwards up the ramp, not taking his eyes off the man. “We have to go now. There’s things that we need to do.” Kaylee’s about to object but Simon squeezes her arm tight and gets a look of confusion in return. Footsteps sound behind him and he risks a glance back to see Inara coming toward them. He wonders if her training will be a help or a hindrance. He sees her look at the man who looks so much like the captain. Her eyes flicker towards him and then back at the stranger. She nods at the man.
The smile on Caleb’s face grows wider, more sinister. He looks as if he’s discovered something so fantastic it’s unbelievable.
“I see this boat has an unlimited amount of surprises. Is there passenger space available?”
Inara has a hold of Kaylee’s other arm so Simon lets her go. Inara drags Kaylee back up into the ship. Her voice is gentle and doesn’t betray a hint of what Simon saw in the Companion’s eyes.
“Kaylee, I need your help. You said you would help me find my belongings. Come on.”
Simon stays where he’s at, his attention on Caleb while the preacher’s attention is on Inara and Kaylee. He’s looking at them like they’re ripe fruit, ready to be picked from the vine. It makes Simon want to snarl at him. Instead he crosses his arms and tries to imitate an immovable object.
“No. We don’t have any room. We’re expecting too much cargo. You’ll have to find other passage.” The eyes are back on him, assessing him. It’s hard to stand still under the weight of the threat in those eyes.
“You’re not the Captain. Why don’t we see what he has to say? I know for a fact there’s not a lot of men would turn down such easy money.” Simon’s about to object again, when Mal speaks up behind him.
“I’m the Captain. What’s the problem?” Before Simon can speak Caleb steps past him and studies Mal. They both look at each other. Mal’s dressed in his usual attire of suspenders, brown shirt and tan pants. His gun belt hangs low across his hips. Caleb’s dressed in complete black. Boots, pants, shirt, all black. Even his luggage is black. The only breath of color is the glossy white square on his collar.
“The young girl was right. We do have a passin’ resemblance to each other. You got room for a passenger trying to make it to Riadorna?” Mal is silent. His eyes take in Inara and Kaylee in the cargo hold. His eyes lock with Simon’s and for the first time, Simon hopes the expression on his face is easily read.
Mal’s gaze swings back to Caleb’s and his hands casually grip his holster. “Like Simon here said, we got too much cargo this time around. You’ll have to try somewhere else.” Caleb stops smiling and he seems about to insist when his eyes shift to something over Mal’s shoulder. Simon turns and sees Jayne and Zoe behind Mal. They’re standing around like they don’t have a care in the world, but their eyes are alert.
Caleb nods and says, “That’s too bad. I was lookin’ forward to getting to know you and your lovely crew. I’ll let you all get back to the whole ‘cargo’ thing.” He turns away and Simon lets out a little puff of relief. Zoe and Jayne walk up the ramp and Mal is behind them. Quick as a snake, Caleb turns again and grabs Simon’s arm. He pulls Simon close and hisses into his face. His breath smells like ashes and smoke.
“I’ll be seein’ you again, boy. I’ll make you watch as I teach them daughters of Eve a thing or two.” Simon wrenches his arm away and backs up into the solid warmth of Mal’s chest. The light in Caleb’s eyes glow with madness. Simon swallows the knot in his throat. “You come near anyone on this boat and I’ll kill you.”
Caleb smiles again. “Been dead before, son. Didn’t hurt all that much.” He tips his head in farewell and walks off. The tune he whistles make Simon’s ears hurt. He looks at Mal to find him staring, eyes narrowed at the figure disappearing into the bustling crowds. He looks back at Simon. “You attract the strangest people, doc. I swear I can’t leave you alone for a minute.”
Simon follows him onto Serenity. “Me! There is no way you can blame this on me. That was a chance meeting with some crazy guy who looked at Kaylee and Inara like he couldn’t wait to see them without their skin. Maybe it’s you and your wonderful ship that attracts such crazy bastards.”
Mal slings an arm around Simon’s shoulders. “Whatever. If we ever see him again, I strongly suggest you go the other way.” Simon shrugs off the heavy arm.
“And if that’s not a choice?” Mal rubs the fabric of Simon’s shirt between his thumb and first finger.
“I think it’s time I showed you how to shoot a little better. How about that?”
Simon watches the cargo deck rise, the light from the sun disappearing. “I think that’s a plan.”