Zoe found Aeryn Sun on the cargo bay ramp an hour before they were set to leave. Mal and Jayne weren’t back yet from their wheeling and dealing and the others were off checking out the local color for as long as possible.
“I hear you’re looking for a pilot,” the black haired woman said as soon as Zoe took two steps toward her to see what she wanted. She wore cargo pants and white tank under a black leather vest. Gun sitting easy on her hip and a toddler on her back, two blue eyes poking over his mother’s shoulder. “I’m good in a fight and I can fly anything.” She had a funny accent and didn’t smile, but looked like she meant every word. Zoe looked back at the child, noted the old fashioned ring on the woman’s finger and nodded her aboard to hear what she had to offer.
Mal didn’t like her at first, mostly because of the boy who he was terrified of in his own way. Claimed the kid would get underfoot, get hurt, cause the crew to lose their minds – which did happen along with plenty of spoiling – but Aeryn kept him with her most of the time, talking and singing in a language that sure wasn’t Chinese.
One day, she came out of her bunk with more of a frown than usual and told Mal and Zoe over breakfast that she was leaving in a month. “I need to be somewhere at a certain time,” she said, fingering her cup of tea. “I’m sorry, but it’s our only chance home.” The somewhere turned out to be way out in the Black and the time when a big blue thing appeared and spit out a tiny little ship. Hope was in her eyes when they were hailed. It was the first time Zoe saw her smile.
Kaylee found John Sheppard in a junk shop. She was making a wish list for parts the next scrap heap over when he let out a curse and started shaking his hand, no doubt to throw off the pain. The interesting thing was that his curses were all English, not a Chinese tone to be heard. He grinned ruefully when he saw her watching, waving slightly with a hint of self-mocking. It was a nice smile and he had kind eyes.
“You okay?” she asked, coming over.
“Yeah, thanks,” he replied. “It’s just a scratch.”
“Here, let me help.” Kaylee tugged on the cylinder that’d been trying to shift and held it while he fished out something blue underneath that lit up when he touched it. “Ooh, what is it?” Kaylee reached out to touch it too. It was unlike anything she’d seen before, pretty and sparkly.
“Just a little something from home,” said the man. “Kind of a good luck charm.”
“Does it work?”
“Well, I haven’t crashed since I got it,” he shrugged. “I’m a pilot,” he explained.
Simon didn’t like him at first because Kaylee spent time with him. She was just trying to be friendly, and John was really quite nice and had all sorts of stories to tell about drowned cities and ships that flew with a thought. He flirted and made her feel like a grown woman the way Simon sometimes forgot, but he didn’t mean nothing by it and never made a move on her.
One day, on a job he disagreed with Mal’s plan more so than usual and went off and got himself caught by the mob boss trying to swindle them. He was halfway free when Mal and Zoe and Jayne rescued him but he didn’t back down and admit he maybe had been wrong – and Kaylee wasn’t sure that he was seeing as how Mal’s plan had turned into chaos quicker than normal. Mal wasn’t in the mood for forgiving though, and three shouting matches later, John happily left the next time they hit Persephone. When he said goodbye to Kaylee he shrugged and said, “Story of my life.”
Jayne found Han Solo in a bar looking for a mechanic to help him fix his ship. He’d given up by the time he landed himself at Jayne’s table – the only one left with a chair empty at this hour – poured himself a drink and said, “I hate this mudball.” Jayne figured he’d hit the guy up for a few drinks only to learn that that’s what his new friend was up to and being broke was his whole problem with finding a mechanic in the first place. They bonded over not being able to pay their tab and being too drunk to not get in a fight about it.
Kaylee didn’t like him at first because he kept pushing the engines too hard and trying things Serenity just wasn’t up for. He broke a catalyst and two drive pins and got in her way when she was putting her boat back together. He did have good smuggling ideas though and helped them out of more than one jam with Alliance patrols that he was just as vocal about not liking as Mal was. He and Jayne stayed up late at night talking about jobs they’d pulled and how confounding women were over a bottle of whatever they could get their hands on.
One day, after a good haul he turned to Jayne and said, “I think I got enough.” They were at the table divvying up and everyone looked over. “To fix the Falcon.” He stayed on until they were near where they’d picked him up. He and Mal shook hands and Jayne gave him an extra credit for a drink.
Simon found Kara Thrace, or rather Kara Thrace found him. They were on one of the border planets and Simon was trading medical services for produce in the market place when she came up, dropped a bag of soft tomatoes next to him and presented an infected cut on her forearm for inspection. It was long, jagged, and deep, probably from a knife.
She grimaced when he felt it and winced once when he cleaned it out with antiseptic that stung like hell. “I need that arm in order to work you know,” she hissed through clenched teeth.
“Maybe you should steer clear of knife fights then,” he answered absently as he rummaged for his suture kit.
“Maybe you should shut up and do your job,” she snapped back, causing Simon to look up and blink stupidly as he realized that this woman could probably kill him, injured or not, without breaking a sweat.
“Sorry,” he said, going back to his work. Then to break the tension, “What do you do?”
Jayne didn’t like her at first because everything he did, she did better, and she rubbed his face in it. They sparred regularly, though calling it sparring was an understatement and Simon spent more time stitching them back together than helping the rest of the crew combined. She was brash and arrogant and argued with the Captain until he said enough and made it an order to which she talked back and behind his back about but did it anyway. She told them she had never played cards before but learned too quickly for anyone to believe her and soon had racked up a number of chores she didn’t have to do, ending up bored at the helm more often than not. She was restless and didn’t sleep well, and it was clear cargo hauling didn’t quite sit with her.
One day, they came across a crashed fighter in a desert of a type no one had seen before that had both Kaylee and Kara drooling over it. Kara wanted to fix it up, Kaylee to scavenge it for parts; it hadn’t been picked over much yet and it sent Kaylee into fits of joy. When Kara pulled her gun to get Kaylee and Mal to back off that was it. She didn’t even go back on Serenity to get her stuff. Zoe threw it out the back as they were leaving.
Book found Teal’c when he was visiting the Abbey. The tall black man caught his attention not for his size, but for his utter stillness as he gazed up at the cross. Book joined him, letting the peacefulness of the moment sooth him until the bells rang. “Would you like to come in for prayer?” he asked.
The tall man looked down slowly, face blank but not unkind. “I do not believe in your God, or any that claim such a title,” he said plainly. There was no mocking or bitterness, just the world as he saw it.
“Then what brings you here?” Book asked.
“I am stranded,” said Teal’c, “and the people in this neighborhood are not hostile.”
“Maybe I can help with that,” said Book speculatively. Teal’c didn’t have any money or anything else of value to trade, but he did offer his skills as a warrior and pilot which Mal took him up on.
River didn’t like him at first, saying that he was too noisy and loud and stop the explosions and snakes and priors, and then avoided him for a week. Teal’c merely raised an eyebrow at her and continued unbothered and unquestioning. He was a competent pilot, better than good in a fight, and near silent. He nodded greetings and told Mal his ideas were “unwise, Captain Reynolds, but I have heard of more foolish things.” The rest of the crew was jumpy around his unruffled composure but Book was intrigued, and a little startled by the depth beneath the few words that Teal’c did speak. The first time he found him meditating in his room, Teal’c nodded an invitation. It wasn’t until their eyes met after a caper discussion two days later that Book realized Teal’c considered him a friend.
One day, after a textbook perfect landing, they opened the cargo bay doors to find two men and a woman waiting for them. Mal was understandably suspicious when they asked for their pilot, but when Teal’c came down the steps at his usual dignified pace and saw them, a tiny smile emerged. Their welcoming committee was grinning and it was clear that they knew each other and were as close as Serenity’s crew. When he took his leave, Teal’c handed Book all the money he’d earned in his time on Serenity. “Use it to help people be free,” he said.
Inara found Luke Skywalker following her. He came up and apologized as soon as he noticed she had noticed. He was very polite and offered to get her a warm drink out of the chill but Inara just as politely refused. He came out then and said he heard Serenity was looking for a pilot and if she would introduce him to the Captain. Afterward, Inara wasn’t sure why she said yes.
Book didn’t like him at first. There was something disquieting about how he managed to calm Mal down when he and Inara went at it when she brought Luke aboard. It was nothing he could put a finger on, but something wasn’t quite right. He chatted with Inara more than most, their conversations quiet and private, and Book wasn’t the only one not liking the fellow. He was a very good pilot but he didn’t like violence and tried to resolve things peacefully – which surprisingly succeeded more than it failed. River was calmer around him too, normally a good sign, and cautiously taken for one for a time.
One day, though, Luke stopped a bullet coming at him by pointing at it. It caused chaos and after the dust had settled, Mal kindly asked him to leave, citing the fact that one crazy person with strange powers was enough per boat. Luke nodded sadly but didn’t seem surprised. He gave Inara a gift wrapped in cloth and cylindrical in shape that she didn’t show to anybody.
River found John Crichton making pictures in the clouds from a rooftop. He had pretty drawings on his arms that danced in five dimensions and talked to the creature in his head who wore funny memories. He was surprised when she talked back to them both.
“Get out of my head,” he said brushing her out and into the sky where rabbits huddled under the penguin. Funny, cold, tuxedo. It was very cute.
River liked him. There was strength and love and broken pieces, cracked liked her. “We need a pilot,” she said. It took convincing: the lure of the Black and an argument on disruptions in space time to get him back to Serenity. Around other people he was surprisingly good at normal. River paid attention and took notes.
Inara didn’t like him at first because he wouldn’t look her in the eye, and not because he was shy. He didn’t trust her and it bled through their every passing only no one else felt the shame and anger and self-hate that River felt too, mixed up with the Her he hated and the Her he loved. He was sociable otherwise, with a comment for everything and stupider ideas than the Captain’s. Zoe didn’t talk to him much and everyone was surprised when it turned out he could shoot straight and fast. They were even more surprised when he talked to River as if she were sane.
One day at dinner, he stopped with his fork halfway to his mouth and inhaled sharply. Without a word, he dropped everything and ran for the bridge. Alarmed, everyone followed but it turned out to be nothing the rest of them could see. John’s attention stayed on the bridge when they went back to the table, and after everyone was in bed, River followed him to the cargo bay. She didn’t have to say anything as she helped him prep a suit, it was already there between the three of them. She opened the airlock and saw the patterns on his arms spring to life. By the time the Simon and Book ran in, awakened by the noise, he was no where in sight.
Mal found Hoban Washburn in a bar frequented by pilots. He’d spread the word to the bartender that he was looking to hire, and Wash was the first of three to join him at his table. He made a show of having other offers, but Mal could tell he wanted the job. He asked around after about all who’d come over and by the end, Wash was the one he wanted.
Zoe didn’t like him at first, said there was something about him that bothered her. The bright shirts were a little much and the mustache ridiculous looking, but he was smart and competent and knew what he was talking about when it came to the controls. Sarcastic too but he got on well enough and after some fancy flying through and away from an Alliance patrol, Mal didn’t care what his first mate thought. Wash made overtures toward her and it was funny to watch Zoe dance away until Mal realized they were courting, and damn if Zoe didn’t accept his proposal.
One day, when a crazy plan of Mal’s called for attacking the Alliance with Reavers to save all their skins, Wash flew the gauntlet of weapons fire from too many directions and landed Serenity miraculously in one piece. “I am a leaf on the wind. Watch how – ” A spike from the Reaver ship skidded to a halt in his belly. He died instantly.