Author's Note: This is an indirect sequel to "The Tall". In that story, we find out that Wash is anxious about Zoe's pregnancy, and Simon is scaring everyone with the risks he takes. That's all you really need to know.
Out of all the funny things in the verse in the late afternoon, the preacher and the professional smuggler talked about ancient literature. Serenity was there to hear it as they entered her enclosure.
"I rather admire Virginia Woolf's prose myself," said Shepard Book while he and Captain Malcolm Reynolds were in the cargo bay making their way up to the mess hall. "Rhythmically, hers was quite subtle and strong."
Unable to comprehend, Mal replied, "Were those pros strong enough to outdo the cons?"
Book took a healthy silent look at Mal and began laughing through his teeth. Mal could never catch what made that so funny. The captain was relieved, however, that Book had managed to avoid discussing spiritual subjects throughout their outing.
As they walked up the last set of stairs leading to the mess hall, Mal concluded that it was his turn to begin a new topic. "I keep catchin' gossip on that Mei Mei Cluster. You heard any?"
"I've heard about their resources. The economy over there is booming beyond the experts' predictions."
"Sounds like now might be a good time to do business there."
"That is a good proposal Captain; if only we had the fuel."
Mal got a little snippy, and said, "Hey, no one's stopping us from gettin' fuel."
"Come to think of it, there were noteworthy missions established in that region in space not long after the war. Many good things come from faith, Captain," Book said with an obvious touch of pride.
"That figures," said Mal with sarcasm. Book would take it as a compliment.
Their small errands on Persephone were completed, and they brought their groceries up to the mess hall. Mal had arranged an appointment for later that evening; he expected to land a good job out of it. The captain hoped Wash and Jayne would arrive on time. Tardiness was an unfortunate habit Wash had picked up ever since Zoe announced she was pregnant.
As they were putting each good in its proper place, Zoe joined them in the mess hall from the bridge with a message for Book. "Shepard, you've received a waiver from a fellow named Shepard Holmes," she said. "I haven't read the message, but it appears friendly enough."
"Of course, Holmes, how could I forget him? Yes, he found his calling and departed from our abbey about a year before I left."
Mal asked, "Did he ship out in anything like this?"
"Not exactly," Book said. "I came to know him as a natural leader, and he would want to find his own crew."
"Think he wants to recruit you?" Zoe asked.
"I doubt he would go to Persephone simply to find me. He probably just heard I was here from some contact we share."
"Catchin' up on old times, eh?" said Mal as he arranged some frozen goods in their crowded freezer.
"I'd imagine so," said Book.
Due to religious commitments on Persephone, it had been two weeks since Book was last on Serenity. The Shepard then turned his attention to Zoe and said, "You look like you're carrying well."
"Five more months," Zoe replied.
Book smiled and said, "I'm looking forward to it."
"That's sweet," said Mal with a small hint of sarcasm. Zoe didn't like hearing him talk that way about her baby, and Mal knew it. To avoid any argument or resentment, he changed the subject right away. "At this point in the here and now, however, I have to meet Badger in a couple hours. He's got some job for us; apparently involves a pickup in a remote location. Badger'll fill us in on the details."
"Good," Zoe said. "I have to gather my husband's dirty clothes. Excuse me." There she went continuing to distance herself from her captain. Mal's concerns when he first heard about the pregnancy were justified. The kid would have to go to school, make friends, and have places to play - experiences that were not likely to happen on Serenity. He or she would have to face challenges far different from a child growing up on a colony. It didn't matter which one; the kid would be living in one place learning the local way of life - everything that should concern a child.
As Zoe began making her way down, Kaylee Frye was headed the opposite direction. "Hey, does anyone have a spare monkey wrench up here?"
"I think I saw one in the tool chest near the counsel over here," said Book. "I'll take a look." He then walked off to the bridge.
"Repairs?" Mal asked.
"It looks like one of our grav boots might have a loose connection. I've been hearing some funny noises in the engine room."
"I haven't forgotten why I hired yah," Mal said with a complimentary smile. "Hey, did Inara take off already?"
"Yeah Cap'n," Kaylee replied. "She had some errands to run first. Didn't she tell you?"
"She ain't comin' back till she's done with her client, then, huh?"
"Yeah, I thought she told yah."
"Guess it vanished from my memory. Did she have time to say goodbye to everyone else?" Mal asked.
"Of course she did, Cap'n. She bids everyone goodbye as long as they're decent to her."
"Decent to her?" said Mal. "You sayin' I haven't been decent to her?"
Kaylee shrugged her shoulders and said, "Beats me, Cap'n."
"Huh," Mal grunted in a puzzled tone.
Book then returned holding a monkey wrench and said to Kaylee, "Here, I found one."
She returned to her charming state and said her thanks to the Shepard before making her way to the engine room.
Inara had gradually become more detached from Mal. Her leaving as seamlessly as she did made him even more aware of this. Mal also silently began to wonder why it bothered him so much. Work, at that moment, would be his first priority though.
Wash and Zoe longed for their own serenity ever since they were married. They dreamed of growing old together and settling down away from the chaos that had plagued their lives. Now, it appeared serenity would just have to wait. As she sat alone on her bed, the anxiety Zoe felt for the future of her family was becoming too familiar.
Why isn't he here? Why do I not believe him when he tells me he thinks everything will be okay? We didn't ask for our baby; it is coming on its own. I never told anyone I wanted to create a life, but I realize how much I wish to do so - now that I have the chance.
I want him to give me honesty. We need to have this conversation for the sake of our marriage. With each passing day, it is becoming clearer to me that I want to have this baby. I believe it's important that we move forward, but where is he?
I want good things for my children. I want them to know that they don't have to be afraid of everybody. There are decent folks in the verse, it is important for our existence to find them; to not be alone. But there are an overwhelming number of things they should be afraid of; no ... not afraid of ... angry at. Those things shouldn't be here; to hell with them. We'll teach them how to be angry. But where is he?
In River's world, there were always problems to solve and some significance to find. To almost everyone else, she explored the meaningless. Even the smallest subtleties would fascinate her, and often she could find every little bit of meaning that lay within.
Mal always expected some surprise whenever he entered River's room. A part of him welcomed such surprises; River knew how to appeal to each of her shipmates. Mal walked in seeing River wearing her violet paint cloak, and she was examining her new piece of artwork.
"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?"
It took a few seconds for Mal to regain his composure. "Oh ... yes ... uh ... Badger has a job for us. We have an appointment to meet him and get the details. I need your psychic mojo down there."
River gave a giddy smile and said, "Glad to be of service, Cap'n. When's the meetin'?"
"In two hours," Mal replied. "Hopefully, your brother and Wash and Jayne will be back by then." Mal started walking away before turning around and saying, "Oh, one more thing ..."
"Inara," River said. Mal once again appeared uncomfortable, and River tried to remedy the situation by saying, "What about her?"
"I never mentioned Inara."
"Yes you did," River replied quickly and firmly.
"I was here. I know I didn't say her name."
"It was written all over yah, Cap'n."
"Well, I think I may have upset her. She went to see a client without so much as a `see you later'. It would just be nice if you could use your talents to tell me if anything's wrong."
River nodded and said, "I'll look into it. Is that all?" She already knew the answer, and Mal had no doubt of this.
"What do you think?" asked Mal. He chuckled and left the room; didn't need a response. Mal then returned to the world he knew, where most things were black and white with a manageable number of subtleties.
Kaylee had success finding and solving the problem with the grav boot. She was getting better at fixing such problems all the time. Hence, she had nothing left to do in the engine room. She had already inspected Serenity to make sure she didn't leave something dangerous out in the open. Now it was time for Kaylee to relax in her cabin so she could enjoy her new updated engine technical manual.
On her way down the ladder, she noticed all the lights were on. Once she reached the bottom, Kaylee could see a mysterious but familiar figure sitting on her bed with his back against the wall.
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?"
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