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Fertile Ground

by G Thing

Author's Note: This is the fourth story in my seemingly endless series that follows the crew of Serenity three years after we last saw them on that short-lived cult show called Firefly. "The Tall", "Serenity Waits", and "Just a Few Small Gorram Details" are the first three installments. I chose to write each one as a stand-alone story with just a few small gorram pointers about what has happened before. For "Fertile Ground", I'm afraid that is not an option. So, at different points in "Fertile Ground", this author will step on in and reveal excerpts from earlier installments. That way, people who have not read them won't feel left out.

Here we go . . .

"Fertile Ground"

Simon, River, and Kaylee are the subjects of this first segment. For what's going on with River, let's begin with this excerpt from "Serenity Waits".

"What have you got there?" Mal asked. He walked closer and saw a portrait she had made of herself. She was sitting alone on her bed holding her sculpture of a swan in her lap. River in the painting was admiring the swan almost as if it were alive in her eyes. Though Mal did not acknowledge it, the outfit she was wearing in the portrait was the same one River wore when she and Simon were kidnapped in the hills at Jiangyin. Her red sweater caught Mal's eye, but only for an instant.

"Ran out of things to paint?"

River looked at him as if she were surprised at what he had asked, but Mal knew better. "No," she said. "I always have lived experiences that I can paint from my memories. This is about grounding myself."

Mal could only recall how foolish he felt talking with Book. "I'm not so sure I understand."

River closed her eyes and took a breath. It was not a sigh of impatience with Mal's questions; it was a moment of reflection. Afterward, she said, "I needed to step back from lived experience and focus on where I am today; who I am today."

"So, you don't want to live in the past," said Mal with little confidence.

River stared thoughtfully at her painting and said, "I have decided never to answer again for what those people did to me; those bastards. I used to blame myself for my insanity. I wanted to go to the academy; look what happened. I affected everyone around me, and I became their burden. It is important now that I live the rest of my life separated from that distant memory."

Mal was so unusually moved he was speechless, and River looked back at him taking notice. By that time, she had read what Mal had come to her room for and what he had expected to find. River then looked surprised again and said, "Gee Cap'n, what brings you here?"

*In other words, River has recovered significantly from her experience at the academy. After three years, she now is an enormously useful member of the crew. She can read each of her shipmates and can talk in various ways each of them can understand.

This next excerpt from "Serenity Waits" focuses on the relationship between Simon and Kaylee. It speaks for itself.*

Simon Tam's voice could be heard ever so softly. "On the Earth that was, little mechanic lady, there was a time when women existed to serve their husbands in their homes and to be faithful in all circumstances."

Simon had played this game before, but with different angles; Kaylee had come to know them well. "No Kidding!" she said with slight sarcasm.

"Today, it depends on where you go, what planet you're on. Societies are now being judged by how they treat their women."

Kaylee had grown very tired of Simon's go se, but, at that moment, she decided to play along for just a bit. "Tell me, is Serenity being judged?"

"All I see is a lovely lady doing all the housework making sure the boat stays in the air. So, do you think Serenity is being judged?" Simon, at times, would ask himself such questions. They represented his desire to end his monotonous existence on this boat that sailed to the middle of nowhere.

"Gorrammit Simon!" said Kaylee with impatience. "Why can't you just buy me flowers like a normal boyfriend?"

And now for the story . . .

"Simon," she said. Without even a knock, River entered Simon's infirmary. The air in the room said confrontation and caught Simon's attention. River saw to it. "Simon, you need to talk with Kaylee."

River and Simon were standing at opposite sides of the examination table. She caught Simon naked in his casual street-wear; he was no doctor at that moment. With brutal honesty that really was subtle sarcasm, he responded, "I talk to Kaylee all the time. You should be more specific."

"Talk to?" River said as judgmental as ever. "You should have an actual conversation with her - one that, you know, actually makes sense."

"River, what do you know about me and Kaylee?"

"Everything," River said firmly and without hesitation. "All I see is a lovely lady doing all the housework making sure the boat stays in the air. So, do you think Serenity is being judged?" River raised both eyebrows - thoroughly convincing Simon that she was well ahead of him. An uncomfortable interval of silence followed.

Simon was not exactly sure how to react. However, he chose at that instant to be snide. "Well then, you know too much; too gorram much. Gwon nee ju jee du shu." Simon had become so good at being snide.

Jayne then entered the infirmary in the intruding manner his shipmates came to know so well while Simon and River glared at each other. "Doc, where'd yah put the morphine?" Jayne asked.

Almost too angry to say anything professional, Simon responded, "It's in that cupboard right above you, Jayne." Whenever Jayne walked into the infirmary, it reminded Simon of when Jayne trashed his home away from home looking for a bandage. From that day on, Simon made it a rule to be very clear to the mercenary about where he might find something.

Upon opening the cupboard, Jayne saw the morphine right away. "Ah, great! Thanks Doc!" He immediately grabbed an alcohol pad and a syringe; Jayne knew how to use those, fortunately.

"What do you need it for Jayne?" River asked with full knowledge that Jayne was becoming addicted. She only wished to know what his answer would be. Her glare, though, was still focused on Simon.

"Badger hurt my feelings."

"Figures," she said. "He hurt mine too."

Simon was still angry, and he wished to get back to the subject. He said to River, "This isn't your relationship."

"I won't watch you hurt Kaylee. She's forgetting who she is. I see her playing her favorite games less and less. Her old fun side is disappearing."

"She's growing up."

River sneered and said, "Look at you Simon, you're not even listening!"

"Ahh," said Jayne in a relaxed tone. "This'll help a whole lot." It failed to help Simon's mood.

The good doctor then focused his attention on emptying the large infirmary garbage pale. "The way I want to live my life is my choice; not yours."

"Let Kaylee live hers."

Simon did not respond to River. He simply tied the garbage bag up and stormed off toward Serenity's dumpster. He was ready to throw away all the parts of his life on Serenity that were once important to him.

River, meanwhile, could see that Simon was secretly searching for his own answers to many of his own questions. For all his efforts, he believed he deserved better than to still be stuck on an old Firefly.

This dialogue from "Just a Few Small Gorram Details" reveals Shepherd Book's whereabouts.

"Hey, what time is the Shepherd due back?" Jayne asked Mal.

"His friend is lettin' him stay at his hotel room for the night. We can expect him back sometime within the next couple of days."

"God, it's beyond me what Shepherds take so much time doing."

"Book doesn't know," said River. Mal and Jayne both gave inquisitive looks to her. "His friend has something planned for him."

"That makes sense," said Mal. "Holmes wants to recruit Book for setting up some mission somewhere. Book told me that's the kind of thing he does."

"Book keeps findin' some reason to take a leave of absence," Jayne added.

"Your tea is quite nice," said Book to Holmes. "You don't seem to have changed much at all." Book knew he could always count on hearing Chopin waltzes and drinking mint tea whenever he visited his old colleague. Holmes also had a soft spot for coffee tables, and Book could not resist admiring the one his saucer and cup rested on. The oak finish was exquisite.

"I have become far wiser," Holmes responded. "At least, I hope so." Book naturally had noticed that Holmes' long black hair had remained long and black.

"I must say I believe I have become wiser as well," said Book. My companions, as different as they are, have strong spirit. They care for one another, and I feel privileged to be among them." Book felt privileged to be visiting this house on Persephone. Holmes owned the house among many others on other planets. His specialty was agriculture, and his research contributed to many breakthroughs. His successful endeavors had made Holmes a rich man and a generous man.

"All people should be so fortunate."

"If only that were so," said Book before he drank more tea.

Holmes liked focusing on matters at hand. "I invited you here to ask you if you would accompany me on a great journey."

Book put the cup and saucer down and asked, "To where?"

Holmes gave a small smile and said "All over - the border planets specifically. The people out there have suffered far too long. A century of terraforming and they still suffer."

"Many of them would say different," Book said with his companions in mind. "Still, I agree too many people are suffering."

"Everything I have done and every service I have performed has involved gaining personal wealth. I wanted to have enough to give some back. Those people out there are lost, scattered and wandering aimlessly in a vast fertile frontier. Terraformed planets now exist to separate them from our upper class."

Book shook his head in agreement and disgust, "We've made so many breakthroughs in technology but virtually none in our own precious species."

"We can no longer live in our wealth without living better than many others. Some people would call that a sin. I choose not to see it that way."

"Then, how do you see it?" Book asked.

"I see a vast limitless fertile landscape that could serve humanity, but it isn't; it never has. Simply having their own faith can only do so much to hold those people together. It is important that they learn how to use that faith - in service of each other. They can evolve - all of them."

"You should meet my captain," Book said wishing to insinuate that many of these people have no faith. "He gave up the faith he had after he lost the war. His old world ended, and he wanders throughout charted space with no clear purpose."

"Are you familiar with Joliet and Marquette?"

"Yes," said Book. "They were missionaries and explorers if I'm not mistaken."

"They came to North America on the Earth that was, and they were among the first band of Europeans to explore and chart the upper Mississippi River. They also worked with people indigenous to that region; learned their way of life and offered them new ways of living. Of course, the indigenous people weren't entirely in favor of changing their faith."

"There is nothing sinful about never losing one's faith no matter what their affiliation may be."

"You're quite right, Book. Now imagine what we could do with the technology we have. We could chart unknown sites on dozens of worlds. We would learn much about local customs, introduce faith to people who have serious problems finding any, and teach them new ways to thrive. Now, I know you have done much good on Serenity with visits to many colonies, but this would be limitless."

Book clearly was reluctant, but his interest was substantial. He said to Holmes, "As much as I may serve God's will, my past will always be a part of me, but it shouldn't be a bother to you or anyone else. However, it may become a burden for you if I go. There are people all over, who know about me."

In a tone appropriate for inviting outsiders into a church, Holmes said, "Tell me what I need to know. Confess if you believe it's appropriate. God will guide us if honesty prevails."

"While I trust you, do understand that the information you're about to hear is confidential. All my work at that time was confidential. My captain is the only other person I have told this to. I did it, because I needed him to trust me."

"I will turn my chair away from you. This will be treated as a confession, and it will be in anonymity." Holmes then turned his chair away. He made it a guideline to own swivel chairs for just such an occasion.

At that moment, Book could feel as though it wasn't a man he had known for years who was listening. It was a faceless servant of God. "Before I came to the abbey, I was an Alliance special agent - one of the first. During the war, I hunted Independents; searched for factions. Much of it was guerrilla warfare - depended on the planet. They needed that type of intelligence to bring and end to the horror."

"When the war started we heard about how these terrorists would come to our planets and kill us. They told us that the Independents would kill our children with horrible biological weapons and that they were savage murderous people. Someone had to destroy them. We needed to eliminate all the evil in the verse, and good must triumph over evil. The government even arranged public prayers for good to eliminate all evil."

"Two months after Serenity Valley and the surrender, I was assigned to Beaumonde, which was far enough away from the central planets to find a few Independents. Indeed, there were rumors that some flight crews were hiding there. They never reached Serenity Valley during the battle. No one was giving them orders. We were warned that they would take arms and kill anyone trying to capture them."

"When I was there, I came across a village - one that interested me with their old ways. They had developed traditions comparable to the old stories from the Earth that was."

"Frontier life?" asked Holmes.

Book nodded and looked up toward Holmes. There was a sense of comfort in that Holmes could appreciate the setting Book remembered.

"Those people watched modernization come to their planet - ways that had become alien to them. They were not lost; however, they had each other. They passed their ways of living through each generation. When the war ended, it looked like the Alliance would take all of that away. People openly said they would never let anyone bring their advanced technology into their industries or their agriculture. They wanted to live entirely as an independent community. There was a group - a mixed group. They held meetings at their church on weekdays; discussed ways they could rebel against Alliance influence. It was about non-violent revolution - anything that would make the Alliance look bad.

"I managed to infiltrate that village and investigate the situation. It was obvious to me they had no wish to take arms against Feds. I mean they knew that was hopeless; wasn't worth it at all. I reported that they were no dangerous threat, but it would be near impossible . . . to assimilate them." Book began breathing heavily through his nose.

"The Alliance found a way to beat those odds?" said Holmes.

Book's throat became lumpy as he nodded. He closed his eyes and said, "They bombed the church during one of the meetings. It was the early afternoon so there would be many witnesses. The Feds then moved in and surrounded the wreckage. The outsiders were too frightened to do anything. I was there as an outsider, and I did not have the means to do anything. The Alliance occupied the whole village, and went about modernizing it." Book's face then became tense. "People brought their children to those meetings." He began breaking down.

With a stone cold but understanding face, Holmes said to Book, "Let me get you some wine." Book looked up and gave Holmes a smile of gratitude as Holmes got up and walked to his kitchen. He could still hear Book from the living room.

"Those people taught me the value of community and tradition. Becoming a preacher was the only way I could bare that nightmare I was a part of. Now, I have a small sense of redemption with everything I have done since I left the abbey. Despite the smuggling Serenity gets involved with, such values are important to them as well."

As Holmes returned with the wine, he said to Book, "Your knowledge of those values would serve us well."

"Not if the people we meet find out about Beaumonde. They will have every reason to fear the Alliance should they come, and make our jobs even harder. Rumors were spread about that massacre, but most people did not believe them. It would be better for our mission to keep it that way."

"I understand your concerns," said Holmes. "People can surprise you - especially when they have faith."

Book then looked very sinister. "I have come to know all too well that people don't fight, wage, or win wars; they butcher them. They come up with reasons for their butchering. That bloodshed was no justice; it was a demonstration. They wished to send a message to those who had fought and lost - that they were weak and that the Alliance would hunt them down."

Jayne was in his bunk relishing on his state of euphoria. Fortunately, his morphine addiction was still in the stage where that was the primary effect. He wasn't taking the drug to avoid the pain of withdrawal yet. Nope, he just lay there and relished on his lack of impulse. He didn't even bother to remove his pants.

Jayne later awoke to hearing River's voice, "Yo Jayne! We got a ruttin' job. Gotta get up!"

Slowly regaining focus, Jayne smiled and said, "What is it, baby?"

River had not dressed completely. She was wearing her cutest tank top - a favorite of Jayne's. She wore navy blue shorts and flip-flops. "Tell yah what, Jayne. I'm gonna help you end your morphine addiction before it even starts."

"Help me?!" said Jayne with a touch of excitement.

River could tell Jayne was eagerly imagining how she might help him - with snuggling. "What the hell! Let's do it once more for old time's sake." She took both of his hands and helped him up.

"Give me a couple minutes to take my shorts off."

River grabbed his chin with both hands in an interrupting manner after he had unzipped his pants and began removing his belt. "Not yet, big dog."

Jayne looked puzzled and asked, "What the guai you talkin' about lady?"

"One week without the stuff, and you'll get what's comin' to yah." She grabbed his hand and commenced dragging Jayne to where his shoes were.

The next two excerpts from "Just a Few Small Gorram Details" cover everything Mal and his crew know about their new job.

Badger reached over to the front of his desk and turned on his holo-imager. An image of the city and northern outskirts lit up. "A' six o'clock tomorrow evening, a Constellation class cargo ship named Leo will arrive at this ridge twenty miles from `ere." The imager highlighted the spot. "Her crew has smuggled fif'een tons worth of diamonds from mines on Ariel. You folks get to take dah goods to dis area east ah Dubland." A second page turned up on the imager with a spot east of Dubland clearly highlighted.

River chimed in and said, "That's three hundred fifty miles south of here, Captain."

Badger then said, "There'll be freighter waiting for yah - Chin-wah class called the Kai-shek. Leo's Cap'n Earl will give you the instructions for the drop-off." Badger turned the imager off and pulled out his RAM disc. "All information I have for yah is here. The passwor' for enterin' Leo is `dead weight'." Badger placed the disc at the front of his desk next to the imager.

"So," Jayne said as though he was having difficulty understanding. The password being "dead weight" clued him in however. "We're not stealin' nothin'. We're just smugglin'."

"Penny for the big fellah," Badger said with a dry sarcastic smile.

Let's skip to the second excerpt.

River then said, "Badger, you're not even in on the real details of this operation are you? Someone else is in charge, and you're just answering for him."

Badger looked a little like someone had outwitted him in a chess game. "You know yah right," he said. "A professional smuggler named Nolan is dah pencil pushah. I'll be gettin' a healfy reward from `em for the booty."

Jayne said, "So, are there anymore small gorram details you neglected to mention when we made this appointment?"

Badger looked sinister and said, "I'm telling yah now, mate. I wasn't gonna le' yah leave without knowin' all I know."

River had read him to near perfection. "What you know is go se."

Badger gave a light sigh. "Look Deary, yah young," he said in a serious tone. "It's abou' time yah learned abou' those deals where yah don' ask questions. Yah do exac'ly wha' they tell yah. Now, does anyone else wish dah get snippy, or are we gonna talk abou' yah payment?"

River dragged Jayne out of Serenity to join Mal, who was overlooking the ridge. Jayne could walk on his own, but River had to encourage him to work. They had counted on Jayne lifting the goods onto Serenity, and River wouldn't let him disappoint his shipmates. "They comin'?" Jayne asked. He had forgotten to zip his pants, and River wasn't interested in telling him.

"Any minute now," said Mal. "I hope Badger can at least trust Captain Earl. He sure didn't trust any of us."

Still under euphoria, Jayne patted him in the back and said, "Ahh, give him time, Mal. Badger'll start remembering what we mean to him. He'll look at his records and see Serenity over and over and over and over and over . . ."

Mal interrupted him and asked, "How's that morphine, Jayne?"

Jayne would ramble on further. All throughout his rambling, River looked at the clouds. She could recognize fifty-six dissipations in a thirty-second period. In a partly cloudy sunset, River normally could not spot that many so quickly. Immediately afterward, she grabbed her communicator and said, "Serenity, do you read me?"

"Yes River, I read you," Wash answered with some anxiety and confusion. "I just spotted twelve ships entering the atmo heading our way. They are converging. We have about five minutes until they're right above us."

"What the hell's goin' on?" said Jayne.

Mal walked over and took the communicator from River. He had been listening in. "Wash, get Serenity ready for liftoff."

"I've already started the sequence," said Wash as he flipped all three switches above him. "We can take off with a head start. There is a chance we could get off world before they can catch us."

"Let's do it," said Mal as he signaled River and Jayne to follow him. "We're on our way back. Get Kaylee in the engine room. Be ready for us. Over and out."

"We're leavin'?" asked Jayne. There was no time for an answer.

As they jogged, Mal asked River, "Did you get anything from Badger?"

River answered, "No, he believed only one ship would come. This is a trap. An old enemy wants us out of the way."

"Right now," Mal said. "I'm taking your word for it." He then spoke through the communicator, "Wash, are we ready to go?"

"Yes, we can take off as soon as you're onboard." Three seconds later, Wash asked, "Hey! Should we send any message to Inara and Book?"

"Not right now," said Mal. "If we send a message, they could trace us to them. Let's not get them into this."

"What time do you want me to meet you for breakfast?" Book asked Holmes as he opened the front door.

Holmes followed Book outside wishing to continue some conversation. "Eight o'clock works for me."

"It works for me too. I hope you understand that it's important for me to sleep on your offer. I don't want to be an inconvenience."

"Don't worry; there's no inconvenience. I didn't want you to believe I needed an answer right away. It would be a big commitment after all."

Book shook Holmes' hand and said, "It's good talking with you again."

"Likewise," said Holmes. He then heard a noise and could see Serenity flying over the northern part of the city at an illegal speed. "What's the hurry?"

Holmes' house sat on a hill with a good view of the city from outside the front door. Book turned around soon enough to catch a glimpse of Serenity as she began increasing altitude to leave the atmosphere. With definite concern, Book said, "I wish I knew."

If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to G Thing

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