It was the year 2538. After the discovery of Miranda and the news spreading through the ‘Verse like wildfire, the Alliance was forced to step down. The people decided that those in the higher level were not trustworthy, thinking of controlling the instincts and natural urges that kept humans living was too great a risk for the citizens that were held under this government. Those in the lower rings of the Alliance government, those who knew very little if anything at all of the Reaver business, were allowed to stay in office long enough to divide the planets into six equal sectors, each voting on one representative, and among the representatives was voted one overseer. It was more like the older days, back before the war, but it still held a bit of the Alliance feel to it. In some parts, the economy grew, and business was booming, for others, they kept to their old business even if it didn’t always make them the money they wished for. Some would even call their line of work piracy.
"Gorram girl," was the harsh huff of air that slipped from Captain Malcolm Reynold’s lips as he scurried down the stairs towards the cargo bay.
"Who?" Jayne inquired, readying one of his lovely friends, shining it up and making sure there wouldn’t be any jams. He, just as Mal, was graying from his scalp to his facial hair. Both men were gaining a bit of weight in their faces, as well as other places, as they reached their golden years. Half a century give or take a few years, and still they were clawing their way up from the ever-present fear of poverty that came every so often with their freelance.
"Our girl, who else?" the captain growled. He paused a floor above and crossed his arms in frustration. "She begged ‘n begged to go out on a run ‘n then she up ‘n disappears."
"Lookin’ for someone, Cap’n?" a young man, fair skinned with short, neatly trimmed dull strawberry-blonde hair stepped into the room. His sharp hazel eyes looked from Jayne to Mal, a smirk on his face as thumbs hooked into the belt loops of his trousers. His lightly toned muscles were shining under the fluorescent light of Serenity, a dog tag hanging around his bare neck, gaining a shine while surrounded by a light patch on his chest. In much of the way, he almost resembled Jayne in his prime years, except his words held a bit more intellect.
Shaking his head, Mal rose his brows, “We have to git goin’ to take care of this gorram job, ‘n she’s out gallivantin’.”
"Oh, you mean, Washburne."
"Look, Chantity," Jayne growled, seeming a little fed up with situation already. Time was money, and so long as they weren’t out there, they were losing both time and money. Jayne was not fond of losing money. "D’ya know where she is, or doncha?"
The young man scoffed, “I don’t keep tabs on her. She ain’t my kid. If you need to ask anyone, ask Sallwin. Or, better yet, use the gorram intercom.”
"No," Malcolm waved his hands. "She knew the time of departure, if she don’t show up, she gets left behind. Those the rules."
"Okay, then. So, just us men, then? Ms. Zoë ain’t comin’?"
"Nah, she said if Emma goes, she goes on her own. We ain’t got the time to wait for Zoë to grab her essentials."
The blonde clapped his hands together, grinning, “All right! Let’s go!”
"You gonna put a shirt on first, or what?" a smooth voice teased from above.
Three pairs of eyes shot up to see a young woman with light brown skin, save for the dark freckles that spread across the bridge of her nose and her cheek bones, with curly dark brown hair with a single highlight on the strands that curved about the right of her face. A dark green headband held back most of her bangs, her curls fanning out like a backwards crown. She crossed her arms with a smirk of victory over her tanned leather vest, arms bare but wrists covered in fingerless gloves.
"Emma!" Malcolm’s hands planted themselves on his hips. "Young lady, we’re runnin’ late! You best have your gear."
"Of course, Shūshu,” she chuckled, showing off the jacket that was crumpled in her palm and hiding from view while her arms had been crossed. A gun holster on her hip.
"Can we all j’st git getting on then?" Jayne spat.
"Right," Malcolm gestured. "Skia, get a shirt on. Let’s go."
"You sure you’re gonna be all right without your mama?" Skia inquired as he touted the carrier easily on his own. He was smirking down at Emma who was scowling up at him. He was only a few years older, yet he continued to treat her like a child.
However, Emma didn’t respond to him. She knew he was just trying to cause trouble and the look from Mal meant that he knew that as well. She didn’t even understand why he let Skia join them if he knew he was just gonna be a Pi Gu. So, she turned her attention to Jayne. “Just to be clear,” she started, and he blinked in confusion when he realized she was talking to him, “like I said, I don’t want any special treatment. Pretend I’m my mother. Understand, Jayne?”
The poor mercenary didn’t get a chance to say yay or nay as Malcolm chuckled. He heard those words before, from the other side of her tree. As she got older, it wasn’t hard to see that she was that pilot’s daughter, even as she was insistent on learning his trade. “Emma,” he peeked over his shoulder for a second as they lowered down a hill of sand, the valley below with a single lake with bright greenery, a stark contrast from the surrounding area of dull nothingness, “I’ll say it again, groundwork ain’t nuthin’ like the cockpit. I’m lettin’ you come along so you can see that first hand. Understand?”
"Yes, Shū-uh, Captain Sir.”
"Anyways," Jayne cut in, "we gunna be puttin’ a plan together ‘r what? Not sure Scourie’s all that trustworthy, t’be honest."
"He’s the more honest ones we’ve come by," Malcolm replied. "He hasn’t done us wrong yet, so for now, we keep our arms crossed, ‘n hands away from the trigger. Got that?"
Jayne was silent but Skia and Emma complied with the affirmative. As they arrived at the ring of the lake, they were quick to realize they were either stood up, or just the first ones to show. Hopefully it was the latter.
"This was exactly what I was sayin’," Jayne grumbled. "He ain’t never gonna show."
"Never say never, Jayne," Skia chuckled, placing the carrier down on the dirt. "I’m sure he’ll be poppin’ up shortly. Cap’n was just in such a rush to get here, we got here a little early, ‘s all."
Malcolm shook his head, “No, he’s late. But, he’s never been one for punctuality. Doesn’t hurt to get here on time though. The one time we’re late, he’d be here on time and who’d get the boot end of it? Now, no more complaints. I don’t wanna have him come marchin’ on up to hear you all chatterin’ away like old hens.”
"Aw, Captain Sir, you’re really soundin’ like an old grampa," Emma chuckled, hands on her hips as if ready for action.
Never thought he’d be saying it but, “Well, I never married.” Book wouldn’t mind if he took his old line now would he?
It was then, soon after, that a trio came riding on in on horseback. From atop one of the hills was a lanky man with a top hat, curled mustache of gray and furrowed brows as thick as caterpillars. To his left was a round boy nearing the end of his youth with red curls and the attempt of his own mustache speckled atop his lip. To his right was a young woman, sun-kissed with golden curls down her shoulders, eyes bright green.
"Charles!" Mal threw his arms out in greeting, a wide grin on his lips. "You’ve made it!"
The thin older man stopped his horse as they neared, his laugh seeming more like a cackle as he stepped down, nearly tripping off of his horse before he regained his stride. “Malcolm Reynolds! You sly dog, I thought I’d seen the last of you!”
The two men gave a quick embrace with a pat of the back to the other. The Serenity captain taking a step back, adding a handshake as he looked upwards towards the younger two who slowly joined them on ground level. “Look at that, those yours?” he scoffed. “Look nuthin’ like ya.”
"They’re my brother’s kids. Stupid Ta Ma Duh got himself into some real trouble. Left me with ‘em.” He gestured to them, “Jack and Padma. Them’s good kids, they listen well.” Charles rose a brow, “Wouldn’t be lookin’ for one more to take with you onto your crew?”
"Not until I get rid of some of them," Mal chuckled, hands on his hips with squinted eyes, smile remaining. "You’ll be the first to know when I do."
"Excellent!" Charles clapped his hands together, rubbing them as his lips upturned devilishly. "Now, onto the goods! Bring ‘em out!"
Chest out in pride, Malcolm gestured to Skia, “Go ahead.”
The young blonde pushed the carrier out to sit at the front of Charles Scourie’s feet. Eyes meeting for just a blip of time, Skia removed the cover to reveal stacks of bound papers, separated by damaged hard covers with printed ink fading off the faces. Charles picked one up, as he opened the front cover, the spine crackled and the pages flapped stiffly. His smile grew unexpectedly, eyes flying upwards towards Mal’s as he slapped the book closed.
"You’ve gone ‘n right outdone yourself this time, Malcolm," his hat slipped a bit to the side as the man’s body visibly trembled with joyous excitement, the laughter rumbling in his chest.
"Knowing you’re a collector of the olden days’ history books, encyclopedias and whatnot, I had to send you a wave," Malcolm slipped his hands into his pockets. "Found them in the cargo of a ship that was left to its own defenses. These books got left behind with some food, but I know where your interests lie."
"Good man!" Charles slapped a hand to the other’s shoulder. "Mighty fine good man! Jack! Git these goods up on Padma’s horse."
"Why Padma’s?" the round-faced youth frowned in a puzzle.
"Boy, when did I say you could ask questions?"
Charles clicked his tongue as he pat his vest down, reaching into the inner pocket he pulled out a thick envelope. “Your pay, Cap’n,” he stretched his hand out in offering and Malcolm took it happily, immediately placing it in his coat pocket. “You’re not gonna check it?”
"I trust you," the graying brunette nodded. He quickly reached out for one last handshake. "Pleasure doin’ business with ya."
"Pleasure," was the delighted hum just before the two turned away, corralling their groups in opposite directions.
"And, that, kids," Malcolm whispered with a giggle in his voice, either arm on the necks of Emma and Skia, "is how you close a deal. That is what smooth looks like.”
"How’d it go?" was the first thing to pop from Zoë’s mouth as the group pulled into the cargo bay. Not much of her changed, saved for the lighter shades that streaked her hair, and the weathered areas around her lips and eyes. She was making her way down the stairs with a smile on her face as the rowdy crew seemed to celebrate.
Jayne hit the intercom button, calling loudly, “We’re all in, River. Git ‘er goin’.”
As Serenity clammed up and started her engine, the crew split apart. Malcolm followed Emma up to her mother while Jayne slipped into the belly of the ship as his own belly was rumbling. “She did well,” Mal called up, as Emma embraced her mother giddily. “Didn’t say a peep, didn’t start nuthin’. She’s a real pro.”
"It wasn’t nuthin’ like the ones Mama always talked about," Emma sighed, but her smile was bright. "Though, I’m just glad I got to go out into the field. I love the helm, but it was such a great change of scenery to see actual deal-goin’s. Thank you, Shūshu.”
“Mei Wen Ti.”
"Well, Captain," Zoë hummed as she rubbed her daughter’s shoulder, "Inara is waitin’ for you in her room. Says she’s got somethin’ to show you."
Malcolm’s brows rose in intrigue, but before he could say anything, Skia gave a hoot and clap of his hands, “Way to go, Cap’n!”
"Skia," he growled the young man’s name. He turned to glare down at the cargo bay. "Why don’t you follow Jayne into the mess? Get dinner started."
"Sure," he half-smirked, bobbing his head towards Emma, "if Washburne helps."
"Excuse me?" the young woman cocked her head to the side with an offended scowl.
"If I remember correctly, it’s your turn anyway. Well, Cap’n?"
With a sigh, Malcolm Reynolds looked to Emma, eyes saying it all. “Go on.” She gave her own huff before placing a kiss to her mother’s cheek, followed by one on Malcolm’s, and so she made her way down, ignoring Skia the best she could as he followed her to the galley.
"So, the jobs really have been gettin’ easier, haven’t they?" Zoë inquired rhetorically.
In response, the aged browncoat shrugged, passing his first mate with, “Well, Inara really wants me in her room, don’t she?”
There was a scoff, “It ain’t like how you say it.”
Continuing up the stairs, there was a grin in his voice, “And how is it then?”
"She brought someone back with her."
Immediately, Malcolm swerved around, eyes wide and round, “What?”