Jayne brought drinks from the bar, but he still remained silent. Zoe seemed to relax more, but only a little. The only person who seemed at ease was Mal himself. For the next twenty minutes, he quizzed me in a conversational manner about the capers that I had been part of when I was on Monty’s crew. It was when he asked about how I knew Monty, did I sense a more personal rather than professional curiosity.
“Old Monty said you'd served with him, 'fore I knew him. I served with him in the 57th Overlanders, so did Zoe. After the war, there were few of our original unit left. He once said you'd served on Hera, but not in the battle for Serenity Valley. Where'd you serve?”
The question was a loaded one. I knew of Malcolm Reynolds by reputation after the war, even before Monty had told me about him in passing. He had volunteered for the Independent Faction, rising through the ranks to become a Platoon Sergeant. By the end of the war, he had effectively commanded over two thousand soldiers, after the ranking officers were decimated in the Battle for Serenity Valley. After that battle, the war for the Independents was effectively lost.
“My unit fought at The Plain of Reeds. We were finished as a unit before Serenity Valley was even a skirmish. At wars end, I was one of a handful of survivors.”
At the mention of ‘The Plain of Reeds’, I caught an almost imperceptible exchange of glances between Mal and Zoe.
Before anything else could be said or asked, a voice carried from the bar…
“…I fought the Browncoats durin' the war. Cowards, all of ‘em. What were they fightin' for? To prevent progression, that’s what. All of 'em were inbred, back-birth, good for nothing scum! I reckon we should've left 'em alone, I mean, if you don’t wana be educated, or be civilised, then fine, live like that. As it was, every time I fought against 'em, they were fallin' over themselves to surrender, havin' soiled their pants at the first sign of our attack. Like I said, COWARDS!!”
I looked at Mal, he looked at Zoe. At some unseen signal, we put our glasses down, and slid our chairs back.
“If you don’t mind, I'd like to finish what I started the other day on that piece of gos se!”
I walked up to the bar, and placed my hands flat on the counter top. The bar-keep could tell that I wasn't there to order a drink, and slowly stepped backwards.
“You know, my friends an' I were havin' a conversation…”
…I turned to face the chou ma niao and his friends…
'“…about how a woman as fine an' decent as your mother, could ever've given birth to such an ugly child as you. You see, I reckon that you were hit in the face as a child, which left you lookin' like that. My friends over there though, think that its all natural talent, an' that you’re pure ugly. So, what was it handsome, were you hit in the face, or not?”
I'd been in far too many bar fights to recall, and a winning tactic is to get your opponent so angry that he loses his head and sees red. I could almost see his blood boil, and when he threw his punch, I was already dodging it.
The next few minutes were a whirlwind of punches, kicks, head butts, Jayne threw people bodily across the room, Zoe laid men out cold, and Mal pulled a guy off my back that was trying to strangle me.
By the time the fight was over, I had a split lip and a soon to be black eye, Mal had a bloody nose, Zoe didn't seem to have broken a sweat, and Jayne seemed to be finally warming to me. And we were the only ones standing.
I left the barman a large tip taken from the pockets of the unconscious loudmouth to cover the damage, and we went to my lodgings to collect my things.
An hour later, and I walked up the loading ramp of Serenity.
“Hey Cap’n, was there trouble?! I thought you were goin' to meet Monty’s friend? How come when you go to meet people you always have a fight? Shall I get Simon?”
The barrage of questions came from the prettiest little grease-monkey I had ever seen. A greasy overall, tied at the waist, big boots, and a t-shirt with little hearts on it, came running up from a hatchway at the back of the cargo hold.
“No Kaylee, we’re ok. Have you fixed that compressor coil yet? I don’t want it packin' up like it did last time. You said it was fixed, then boom its busted. If it goes again, I'll be most angry, an' you wouldn’t like to see me angry Kaylee, I go red, an' shout the bad words, an' I don’t wana do that, ok?”
“When I fixed that coil 6 months ago I told you it was only a short term fix, an' that she needs a new one. I can't be blamed for things that just don’t wana stay fixed. An' you wouldn’t shout the bad words would you Cap‘n? You know, you’re my favourite Captain, did I tell you that before?”
“If you weren’t so jing tsai with my engine Kaylee, I may consider tradin' you for a nice pair of comfy slippers, really, I might.”
“Kuh ooh duh lao bao jurn…..” muttered the little mechanic with a smile as she walk back into the hatch.
“HEY! I heard that!”
In the quick minute that I had listened to the banter between Mal and Kaylee, other members of the crew had appeared. On a gantry up above, that led to the cockpit, a blonde haired guy with a cheery grin and wearing a beach-surfer style shirt lent on the rail. From the same hatch that Kaylee had disappeared through, two men emerged, as different from each other as could be. One, an older coloured man dressed in the clothes of a Shepherd, and the other, a young well dressed man, who looked decidedly out of place in the rough and ready interior of the ship.
I stood there, feeling like a prize on display, or something being auctioned to the highest bidder. My duffle bag, containing all my possessions, suddenly felt heavy as I realised that for the first time in six years, I was the stranger amongst friends.
“Wash!, we ready to leave this pile of luh-suh!?”
“Ready when you are Mal. We've a headin' when we break atmo'?”
“I was thinkin' its time we headed for Haven. We could look for work there, an' I can see about gettin' Kaylee the parts she wants."
“Haven it is.”
“Would you like a hand with that, my boy?”
I looked up, and the Shepherd was stood before me holding out his hand. Behind me, the cargo bay doors closed up, the ‘clunk’ of the pressure seal sounded through the cargo bay. Zoe had already headed off to the bridge area, no doubt to make sure her husband the pilot got us off safely, and the well dressed man had disappeared back through that hatch too.
“Shepherd Book, if you'd be so kind as to show our newest crew member to the spare crew-bunk, Jayne an' me will see 'bout the arrangements for Haven. Taylor, when you’re settled in your bunk, come find us in the dinin' area, an' we'll see about gettin' someone to give you a tour of the ship.”
I followed Shepherd Book up the stairway to the landing that led to the front hall. Down below, I heard Jayne and Mal laughing about the fight back at the bar…
'“…wooo, that was fun Mal! I didn’t even see that guy comin' at me ‘til you hit him with the chair! An' that Roberts, did you see him wade into the 2 by the window? Seems to me that he knows how to take care of himself that’s for sure, not like our lily-livered Doc’ anyways! Maybe we found someone who we can have decent tussles with now, not that Zoe isn't handy, but it just seems wrong fightin' with a girl, y'know?”
“Monty'd said he was a good man to have around, an' that we'd be lucky to have him. I know that when he was splittin' his crew up, Wade, Johnson an' Churchill all waved Monty askin' if Roberts was lookin' for a new ship. He gave me first refusal for old times sake. If his contacts're good an' he puts some payin' work our way, then all the better. Now, c'mon, lets go an' see if Simon is ready to earn his keep. You’re still bleedin' from where you were hit with the bottle you know…”
Their voices trailed off into the innards of the ship. I hadn’t realised that Monty had pulled strings for me.
“Here you go lad, its not much, but then, you look like you have endured worse.”
I had to ask, it would of burned me if I didn’t.
“Tell me Shepherd, why're you on this crew? I mean, I can understand Zoe 'n' Jayne, an' Wash 'n' Kaylee, but what does a Shepherd do on a boat that skirts the outer rim? Is there much call for God out here?”
“Maybe not God, but guidance yes. I admit, I do miss giving mass, but when we make landfall, there is always a need for a Shepherd in the settlements, I’ve found. And, on Serenity, I like to think I am the conscience of the crew as it were. Besides, I am always ready to listen if you want to talk.”
I couldn't place it, but there was something about Book’s attitude and his way of carrying himself that seemed out of place with his vocation in life.
I sat on my bunk, and looked around my new home. It was a damn sight better than my last one. I’d needed to share a room with two others, and a crew of twelve shared two toilets…this room may have been small, but it was my own at least. A bunk that was comfortable, a small closet space for clothes, and a collapsible toilet and sink unit! When Mal had said about a private toilet, I woulda signed on the crew for no pay if he had forced the issue.....