The crew of the Serenity walked out of the cargo bay into the sunny, dusty marketplace on Persephone; except for Simon and River who were staying behind and out of site. Wash and Zoe were going to find a bath and quiet time alone. Mal was off to various different areas on ship errands. Book was off to the Abbey for tea with his fellow Shepards and to see if they had some vegetables to spare. Inara had left the ship in her shuttle prior to Serenity landing in Persephone on her way to a short engagement. And Jayne was off to find a drink and a woman, in that order.
As they all scattered their separate ways a small figure, of rather indeterminate age, watched from the shadows eyes narrowing in on Mal. A medium height man with a gun belt slung low across his hips. He looked like he could be a good mark; the gun wasn’t too big of a deal. Everyone wore one if not two or three and he would never notice his money missing. Caroline squared her shoulders back and headed out from the alley mimicking his stride on the other side of him and generally making a little nuisance of herself; an amusing little nuisance. It was an act that she had perfected over the last couple of years; sometimes people gave her credits, other times she took them. At first the man tried to ignore her; but, she wouldn’t let that happen. After five minutes of watching him laugh at her antics she pinched his wallet vanished into a convenient alley. Darting quickly from that alley into another alley she finally stopped and checked out the Ident Card and tried to sound out the name – M, Ma, Mal… something – reading wasn’t her strong suit. “Some fancy pants name” she thought to herself as she shoved everything inside her coat. “Maybe ma’s feeling good today;” it was nice when she was feeling good then if Caroline brought home wallets with Ident Cards they’d play a little game guessing about the lives of the people on the cards. If she was feeling really good they would go out for walk in the marketplace and buy fruit, real fruit with the money she got from selling Ident Cards to Two Snouts or Badger. But, that didn’t happen too much. Usually the money went to Badger for drops to stop ma from hearing the screams and whiskey to make her forget about the dead people. Lately they’d been coming more then they used to. Badger told her that her Ma’s mind was broke in the war – “the dammed Alliance.”
Creeping into the darkened room at the edge of Persephone, Caroline yelled: “Ma, Ma, I got a good one. The pic is a dandy, some fancy pants.”
“Lemme-shee, sweety” Golensa drunkenly slurred.
Handing over the Ident Card Caroline watched Golensa’s eyes widen as she looked at it. Golensa felt her mind snap back to sobriety as she looked into the eyes of the man who fathered her baby girl. She sat for a minute and thought back to the night that she got pregnant. It was the war for Independence and she’d been a foot soldier like Mal; they were pinned down in an abandoned warehouse. And, well needs were needs, and fear was fear. It wasn’t making love so much as an act of desperation; but, the result was someone who gave her a reason to live.
Golensa sat and stared at the picture of the man who gave her the only true love of her life. An idea started to form. She would give Caroline, her darling Caroline her childhood back. If Mal was in port then Zoë would be here too. Zoë always had Mal’s back. They would make Caroline good parents. Now how did she get Caroline to Mal and Zoë?
A plan, she needed a plan. The hard part would be getting a letter to Mal; a letter that he wouldn’t open until after his boat took off. And was far enough away that they wouldn’t turn around. Golensa hauled up her scrawny, used up body, and dug around in the small box of “savings” she and Caroline had. With the money from Mal’s wallet there should be enough credits there to purchase passage. Now to find the boat.
Slitting her eyes she staggered out into the harsh afternoon sunlight and went down to the loading area of the marketplace looking for Mal and Zoë and any sign of whatever boat they were on.
Kaylee was sitting in front of Serenity talking with Book about the thronging masses milling around, life at the abbey, the growing season for strawberries, women’s fashion, and whatever else came to their minds.
“ ’Scuse, me does this shi-ip carry cargo?” Asked Golensa, as she tried desperately to look reputable.
“Yep, she does” replied Kaylee looking at Golensa.
“That’s good, really good; I got a box that needs to go to Boros. Pretties and such for my family.”
“We just came from Boros; not sure when we’ll be going back there.” Interjected Book, feeling a little concerned about this woman who was an obvious drug addict.
“Don’t really matter when it gets there, just that it gets there. How much?”
“Well,” answered Kaylee, “probably not too much.”
“That’s good; real good. I don’t got too much. Is this enough?” Asked Golensa pulling out a bunch of credits. The credits from her savings and some that had been in the wallet that Caroline had slipped from Mal’s pocket.
“It’ll do; I’ll ask the Cap’n just to be sure.” Was Kaylee’s light hearted response as she was twirling her colorful paper umbrella. “You come back with your box, Cap’n wants to leave this afternoon.”
“Ok, ok, I’ll be back before Sarg… urr Cap’n Reynolds’s wants to leave.” Golensa hurriedly took here leave almost stumbling over Kaylee’s chair. She really hoped that no one noticed her missteps.
“Wonder what she wants us to take to Boros?” Kaylee idly wondered as she watched the woman walk away. “Hope it’s something interesting.”
“Mmm…hmmm” responded Shepard Book as he turned his attention to book of poetry he’d been reading before Kaylee had started talking with him.
Traveling this way wasn’t unfamiliar to Caroline. It was much cheaper for one person with luggage to travel then for two people with nothing to travel. So it was without much thought that Caroline climbed into the crate on top of everything she owned; which really wasn’t much: A change of clothes, and a ragged stuffed doll that resembled a horse, or had once when it still had all four legs. Zoey, the horse’s name, was missing a leg, most of its tail, and an eye. She just needed to make sure she was out of the box before night; that was when ma got bad. Clutching Zoey, named after one of ma’s friends from the war. Ma had told her stories of Zoë and Mal, and how they were the good guys. When she gave Caroline the horse, she said its name was Zoey, because Zoey was incredibly loyal, and gentle; but, you never wanted to get on her bad side for then you would feel the power of her rage. A rage much like that of horses when you tried to hurt something or someone that they loved and viewed as family.
Caroline took the soother, and accepted the warm blanket of sleep as it swept over her as she hoped that Ma wouldn’t forget about her this time. Last time Ma got drunk and forgot about her.
Golensa used more of Mal’s credits to find a deliveryman to take the box to Serenity; along with an envelope with the last of the credits and some brief directions of what to do with the box once it got to Boros. Although, she didn’t think that they would ever be used, and fervently hoped that they wouldn’t. She had also packed her old brown coat for Caroline, and letters, letters to Caroline, a letter to Mal apologizing for not telling him earlier about Caroline. And a letter for Zoë, apologizing for everything; and hoping that they could carry Caroline until she could walk on her own; for Golensa was no longer walking; but, crawling and did not want anyone to see her in the condition she was – a used up junkie whore.
The delivery man, Mal, and Zoë all arrived at Serenity at the same time. Mal was cussing his luck about his wallet; and Zoë was saying something about the footpad being quite talented.
“Delivery, one box, for Serenity – bound for Boros. Someone’s got to sign for this thing.” Rattled off the rather bored delivery man as he pulled the box off his mule and set it down at the top of the ramp.
“Hmph, I will; I’m the Captain of this ship.” Grumped Mal as he turned to sign for it taking the papers and envelope the uniformed man handed him.
“Payment should be with it, Cap’n. Lady promised. She said it don’t matter when it gets there. Jess some family fei hua.” the deliveryman just about sprinted down the ramp when Jayne showed up growling about moving more gorr-am crates around.
“Wash, get this boat in the air.” Shouted Mal as he made his way up toward the bridge to go and do Captain-y stuff.