"Mal, why do we gotta do this?" Jayne asked from his seat at the end of the table. Everyone was in the dining area while Mal filled them in on the latest plans.
"Because it needs doin'," Mal said with a stern look at Jayne.
"If we don't get the credits to repair the Grav Boot ain't gonna be nobody on the ship to worry about," Kaylee piped up from next to Simon. They'd taken to sitting real close together after the Broadwave, and they hadn't gotten out of the habit.
"Do you not remember what happened that last time we picked us up some passengers?" Jayne asked, ignoring Kaylee and looking pointedly at Simon and River.
"I surely do, but that don't change nothing. If you've got a problem you're more than welcome to get off at Persephone. Otherwise just shut it, dong le ma? " Mal looked around the table. "Does anyone have any real problems with this stop on Persephone?"
Simon nervously put his hand up. "Actually, I do."
"And what's that, doctor?" Mal asked.
"There could still be people looking for me and River," he said hesitantly. "Persephone is a dangerous place for us to be."
"Hey, now this is starting to sound better," Jayne said.
"Jayne! Your mouth is talking. You might wanna look to that," Mal snapped. "Doctor, You ain't gotta worry about the Alliance no more." Simon still looked nervous, but didn't say any more. "Anybody else? Shiny. Let's get this boat prepped for some company, folks."
Just like last time, Kaylee was placed out on the street as barker while the rest of the crew wandered. After some debating, Simon and River had stayed inside; there was no way they could hide them for a whole trip, especially a long one, but they didn't have to advertise their presence. Kaylee sighed wistfully and twirled her umbrella, waiting for her first customers.
She turned a few shadier people away outright, but she liked the look of one young couple walking by; they looked very lost. "If you're looking to go offworld, Serenity's your best bet," she said as they passed and they stopped.
The man had short black hair and blue eyes, his wife bright red hair in a long braid and green eyes. There were both dressed in simple, well-worn but well-maintained clothes and were each clutching a suitcase. They looked in their twenties. "We're looking to get to Jiangyin," the man said. "Is that too far out of your way?"
"No, ain't nothin' too far for Serenity ," Kaylee said. "She's the best ship in the 'verse." she added with a proud smile.
"What's the price for a trip that distance?" the woman asked, clutching the man's hand a bit tighter. It looked almost as if she was bracing herself for the worst.
"Shouldn't be too much, but you'll wanna come back and talk to the cap'n," Kaylee said brightly, and the pair relaxed slightly. "He's just off gettin' some supplies. Should be back in about two hours."
"We'll see you then, xieni ," he said and they both headed off. Kaylee settled back in her chair to wait.
She didn't have long to wait, for only a few minutes later a big black man with dreadlocks stopped in front of the ship. He was carrying a leather satchel over one shoulder. He looked Serenity over and then approached Kaylee."Where are you taking her?" he asked, nodding towards Serenity .
"Where are you headed?" Kaylee countered.
"Me? I'm just traveling," the man said.
"Our first stop is Jiangyin, but Serenity can go to any of the border planets on route," Kaylee said.
"Jiangyin will be fine," the man said without hesitation.
"The cap'n will be back in about two hours to talk about credits," Kaylee said. The captain had told her to rustle up some business, but he would be the one discussing money.
"Credits won't be a problem," the man said, and Kaylee couldn't help but look at him strangely. "Good day to you," he said with a slight bow before leaving. He sounded a bit suspicious; Kaylee was going to have to warn Mal about him.
No one else came by for about an hour, and Kaylee was starting to get a little bored. "I hear tell you're heading for Jiangyin," a voice said, and she started out of her reverie. It belonged to a man who looked pure-blooded Earth-that-was Chinese. "Is there still room available?"
"If you're looking to go, we can take ya. And there ain't no ship better to get ya there."
"Yes, I've heard that about Serenity ," he said and Kaylee blushed. "What are the payment arrangements?"
"Cap'n will be back in about an hour to talk to folks about that."
"Then I'll see you in an hour."
"Shiny!" Kaylee said as the man turned away and disappeared into the crowd.
"Mr. and Mrs. Caedmon, Mr. Taleb, and Mr. Tan, hello," Mal said, addressing each in turn. They were all seated around the table in the dining area, bags at their feet. The rest of the crew -- minus Kaylee, Simon, and River -- was standing behind him. "As I understand it we're here to talk credits. This is a long trip and it don't come cheap. I'm askin' seven hundred credits a head."
"That will not be a problem," said Bahadur Taleb, the man with the dreadlocks. He wasn't carrying any more in the way of baggage than he'd had when he'd first come by.
"I am able to do that as well," said Tan Xun Shui, the Chinese man. He'd reappeared with a single small suitcase just before Mal had returned.
Diarmuid and Fiona Caedmon looked at each other uneasily and talked quietly for a moment, but finally Diarmuid said, "Yes, that will be fine for us, too."
"Good," Mal said. "While on Serenity you'll have private rooms and access to most of the ship. Obviously there are some parts of Serenity that will be kept closed to you for safety reasons. We have a doctor on board, should any of you need doctorin'. The dining -- "
"Cap'n!" Kaylee interrupted, hurrying into the room. "There's another two that wants to go to Jiangyin. Have we got the room? They say they're willin' to share."
"Fine, bring 'em in." Kaylee left the room and returned with two women each carrying a pair of bags.
"Cap'n, everybody, this is Akiko Sugimoto and Katarina Lindau," Kaylee said with a smile.
"Kaylee, why don't you show these folks to their rooms, while I catch these ladies up," Mal said.
"Sure, Cap'n," Kaylee said with a nod and gestured for them to follow her out of the room. "If you'll follow me I can show you where you'll be bunkin'." The group around the table stood, clearing seats for the two new women, and followed Kaylee out into the back hall and down the stairs into the cargo hold and then past the med bay to the passenger dormitories, which were situated along two short corridors off a common room.
"Mr. Tan, here's your room." Kaylee said pointing to the first room on the left. "Mr. and Mrs. Caedmon, we'll be bunkin' ya here on the right. This wall will come down and we can take out the spare bed if you'd like it, you being newlyweds and all."
"If it's not too much trouble..." Fiona said, a bit embarrassed
"Not a bit. There ain't nothing wrong with...being newlyweds," Kaylee said with a knowing smile. "Mr. Taleb, your bunk is just around the corner here." They walked over to the second hallway. "Here ya go! Looks like you'll be neighborin' with Ms. Sugimoto and Ms. Lindau. I guess the Cap'n already told ya everything else ya need to know. If there's anything we can help you with, just ask! There's always someone wanderin' around Serenity ." She smiled brightly at everyone and went back to the dining area where Mal was wrapping up his intro to the ship.
"Hey Cap'n! I done my part, you finished yet?" Kaylee joked.
"Am I? Yes, I'm finished. Just now actually." Mal said.
Kaylee looked at the two women. "He tends to go on a bit, doesn't he?" she asked. The women smiled.
"I do not go on," Mal turned and faced the women. "Did I?" They turned away, still smiling.
"You did a bit," Jayne said from the other end of the table. Mal glared at him and Zoe chuckled.
"When the hell did you get here?" Mal asked. "And who asked you, anyway? Shut it, Jayne. Kaylee, show these women to their room."
"Ms. Sugimoto, Ms. Lindau, we've got your room pretty much set up," Kaylee said. "We've got a spare bed that will be put in there as soon as -- "
"That won't be necessary," Katarina said.
"One bed will be fine," Akiko agreed. The room was silent, broken only by Jayne dropping his mug.
"So you guys are like -- " Jayne began after a long moment.
"Jayne," Mal warned.
"Mal, I'm just saying, they're -- "
"So what if they are?" Mal asked. "Ain't none of your business who they're sleeping with unless it's you."
"Oh yeah, that'd be -- "
" Da-shiangbao-tza shr duh lah doo-tze! " Mal curse. "One more word out of you and you will become intimately acquainted with the airlock, dong ma ?"
"It's okay, Captain Reynolds," Katarina said. "He's not the first stupid hundan to give us trouble."
"I dare say we could cause him more trouble than him us," Akiko said, expression still perfectly composed.
Jayne grumbled and left the room, Zoe a step behind him. "Come on, I'll show you your bunk," Kaylee said, and soon Mal and Inara were left alone in the dining room.
"You did the right thing, Mal," Inara said, walking over to stand at Mal's side.
"Hey, we need the money a lot more'n we need Jayne's filthy mouth," Mal said dismissively. "I swear, one day that boy's gonna -- "
"It's not important right now," Inara interrupted "What is important is that you've given everyone equal respect, just as it should be."
"Anyone who puts Jayne in his place is okay with me," Mal said. Inara smiled and shook her head.
"All right, since we've got everybody here it seems like a good time to do introductions," Mal said that evening as everyone gathered around the table in the dining area. It was a tight squeeze to get everyone around the table, but after gathering additional chairs and stools and things, everyone had a seat. Mal settled at the head of the table and the rest took their seats. "First I'll start with the crew. This here is Zoe," Mal said, pointing to the woman on his left. "She's my second in command. She tells you to do something, there's a pretty good chance that order needs to be followed. On my right is Kaylee. She's Serenity 's mechanic and all around overly shiny member of the crew. Next to Kaylee is Peter," Mal continued, gesturing to the dark-haired man sitting next to Kaylee, chairs pulled close together. "He's the ship's doctor, and he's damn good at what he does. So if you got a problem you can usually find him in the med bay, which is right by your bunks. There on the other side of Peter is Inara. She's just helpful all around," Mal said vaguely, and Inara smiled slightly. "Here on the end is Jayne. Some of you have already met Jayne, and I apologize for that." Akiko and Katarina smirked but didn't say anything.
A small, dark-haired young woman walked into the room, movements as graceful as a cat. "And this young lady just coming through is Nahal, she's our pilot." She looked at each of the newcomers in turn and then nodded slightly. She took a plate of food and then left the room. "A little odd, that one, but nothing to worry about. As for our guests, we're joined by Diarmuid and Fiona, Akiko and Katarina, Shui, and Bahadur," Mal said, indicating each in turn. "All right, now that we got that done with, how about we get to eatin' some of this fine food Kaylee and Inara put together?" There were hearty agreements and everyone dug into the food.
After the meal, everyone dispersed, most to their rooms, Mal to the bridge. Kaylee and Peter went into their bunk, only to find Nahal waiting for them. "Don't like the name change," she said. "Does renaming a thing change the essence of it?"
"I'm still Simon, mèimei , and you're still River," Peter said. "Don't worry, it's only until they're gone. It's to keep us safe." Nahal nodded, but she was frowning as she left their bunk.
"Come on, Shui, yer playing like a girl!" Jayne called to his team mate as Bahadur stole the ball from Shui for the fourth time in ten minutes. A chorus of "Hey!"s rang from around the cargo bay from Zoe, Kaylee, River, Akiko, and Katarina, and Bahadur smirked.
"You should only be so lucky," Kaylee said with a bright smile after she effortlessly tossed the ball into through the hoop. Akiko slapped her a high-five.
"You offering me a chance to get lucky?" Jayne joked.
"I believe she's already got a lucky guy," Shui said. He managed to get the ball away from Zoe and dribbled around the court to make a try at the hoop.
"Who, S--Peter?" Jayne said dismissively, catching the ball Shui had thrown. He tossed it to River, who made a spectacular leap to dunk it through the hoop. "Please, that boy ain't nothing but a pretty face. What she needs is a real man."
"Hey!" Simon protested from his position on the walkway above the cargo bay. He sat down next to Fiona. "Hello. How are you enjoying your trip so far?"
"It's been great," Fiona said "I also really enjoy these games."
"You know, you can go down and join them," Simon suggested.
"Oh, no, I couldn't," Fiona said, blushing. "I prefer the view from up here," she added quietly, blushing harder. "Plus, I'm keeping score."
"I know what you mean." Simon said with a smile, eyes on Kaylee. He then heard a cry from down in the cargo bay, and someone calling his assumed name. Shui was on the floor, clutching his ankle. Simon quickly made his way down to the cargo back floor. "What happened?"
"We was playing and he just fell," Kaylee said, worry clear on her face.
"Stepped down wrong, I think," Katarina said, standing up from where she was kneeling at Shui's side to let Simon look at him.
"It's hardly a problem at all, probably just a sprain," Shui said.
"It looks like you're right about that," Simon said after he tried to bend the joint and Shui cried out. "Still, I need to get you to the med bay to wrap it up." Simon helped him up and towards the medical bay. Bahadur watched carefully as they hobbled off.
"Wood carvings of what?" Zoe asked, and Bahadur laughed. The entire crew and guests were gathered around the table eating dinner. Thirteen people in the small space was a bit of a squeeze, but almost a week on the ship had already made them comfortable with each other.
"Anything. Mostly animals. Most of them badly done," Bahadur said with a smile as he spoke of his home planet. "But it was a tradition held over from Earth-that-was, something they held onto."
"Why kind of animals?" Jayne asked, ladling more soup into his bowl.
"Bears mostly, rabbits, moose," Bahadur listed. "Sometimes the statue was small as your thumb, sometimes taller than your head."
"That don't make no sense.," Jayne said. "Who in their right mind is gonna want a badly carved, seven foot moose in their house?"
"Jayne..." Mal warned.
"Mal..." Jayne said back.
"It's okay, Captain Reynolds, I actually agree with Jayne," Bahadur said with a chuckle. "Though it's a popular part of the culture where I come from, I'm not fond of them."
"I think it's kinda neat," Kaylee said.
"Well there's a surprise," Jayne started, and Mal gave him a warning look.
"No, really, holding on to somethin' like that for so long and havin' it be such an important part of your life," Kaylee said as if Jayne hadn't spoken. "Even if they ain't so, you know, pretty."
"I agree with Kaylee," Inara said. "It's important to hold on to one's heritage."
"Thank you, 'Nara," Kaylee said with an unfriendly look towards Jayne.
"So, you said mostly animals," Katarina asked. "What other kinds of things do they make?"
"Well, they make large carvings of people sometimes, too," Bahadur said thoughtfully. "Usually as a memorial or tribute to someone who has done something of great importance for the community. Those generally stay outside though, as they are too tall to fit in the average house. Sometimes they carve gardens, and when done well these are beautiful creations."
"What do you mean 'carve gardens'?" Simon asked.
"Some of the more...skilled artists are able to take large, thick pieces of wood and create multiple layers of carvings in the same piece," Bahadur said. "You could look at one spot in the carving and see a flower and in front of it a different flower, and in front of that pieces of grass. I can't explain it well enough to give you the true experience," he added with an apologetic shrug.
"It sounds amazing nonetheless." Simon said. He finished his soup and pushed his bowl away slightly. "If you'll excuse me, I think I'll turn in early," he said, standing up and kissing Kaylee's hair. He put his dishes in the sink and left the dining area. That seemed to be the cue for everyone else to leave the kitchen and disperse, Mal and River to the bridge, Kaylee to the engine room, and the passengers to their rooms, leaving Zoe and Jayne to argue over who would wash the dishes and who would dry.