I used the toilet for the first time, just because I could. I arranged my small amount of possessions as best I could in the room, and made mental notes of what would need to be bought when we got to Haven. I sorted out the split in my lip, and bathed my eye. It would be a beauty of a shiner within a day or so. The vibrations on the deck plating changed as the ship broke atmo’ and we left orbit. Wash was a damn sight better pilot than Carlo was. I hadn’t even felt the lift off. I climbed the ladder to the front hallway, and almost walked into Zoe as she walked from the bridge.
“Cap'n says to come meet the crew in the kitchen.”
A woman of few words it seemed. She didn't wait for a reply before she headed off down the hallway. I followed, not so much out of politeness but for the fact I didn't know where the kitchen was yet.
I walked into what would have once been a very sparse, very functional room, only doing just enough for its purpose. Over time, it had been transformed from a cooking area into a kitchen, from a seating area to have a meal in, into a living space that was homely. Stencilled patterns chased themselves across the walls and bulkheads. What would once have been cold grey coloured walls were now warm rustic yellows. This was more than a ship, this was a home. Sat around a large wooden table, all looking at me, were the crew. At the head of the table, Mal. And around the table, Kaylee the mechanical genius. Jayne the mercenary. Shepherd Book, the unlikely spiritual soul of the ship. The young well dressed man that I imagined to be the Doctor, Simon. Zoe pulled a chair and sat just as Wash the pilot entered the room from the hallway behind me, and made for the empty space next to his wife. The only person that I didn't have a ‘place’ for in my head, when I had mentally catalogued the crew, was the young girl sat next to the Doctor. She looked at me with an intensity that was off-putting to say the least. I stood there, at the bottom of the steps, unsure what I was supposed to do.
“Have you started the ‘inquisition’ yet? Have I missed any juicy gossip? Honey, you'd said you wouldn’t start without me!?”
Wash had broken the mildly uncomfortable silence, and suddenly the room was filled with chatter.
“Give the boy some room, let him sit down”…Shepherd Book.
“Did Monty let you work on his engines? I told him the last time we met up that his port thrusters looked like they were on their way out, did he listen? Did they fail, I bet they did, didn’t they…”…Kaylee.
“What was your cut of the profits with Monty? Did you pull any big jobs?”…Jayne.
“Mal says that you are a cook? I would be glad to help in the galley if I may, I have been doing my best with what supplies we have.”…Book.
“Guay Shepherd, you call that cookin’? That last meal you did had me sat on the toilet for almost an hour…”…Jayne.
“Ewww Jayne / Oh wow I needed to know THAT! / Jayne, I’ve told you to keep a civil tongue at this table, bai tuo, an jing yidian!… / That’s too much information for me…”…practically everyone.
“Can he be trusted?”
For the first time, the Doctor had spoken, and in the mix of rough and ready speech patterns of the crew, formed from years of travelling all over the outer planets, his well educated and articulate voice was as out of place as a red rose in a snow field.
And, with his four words, he stopped the chatter dead. As one, everyone looked at me, then at the Doctor, then at Mal.
“There was a time Doc’, we didn’ trust you if you remember. If I’d listened to Jayne, we woulda left you an' your pretty little sister on the first moon we came across. I tell you that he can be trusted, an' if you doubt my word…”
“I do not doubt your word Captain, its not my safety I am worried about. I take it that he doesn’t know?”
I stood there, and wondered what the hell was going on. I decided that I'd had enough, and felt it was time to take a more active part in the proceedings.
“Seeing as it looks like my word's in question, I s’pose the only way to gain your trust Doc’ is to earn it, dong ma? Now, I can tell that you've some big secret, an' obviously, I aint part nor privy to it, an' if you don’t wish to tell me it, then that’s fine. But, on a small boat such as this, secrets can only cause harm. I could try guessin' what it is, but chances are, I'd be far off the mark. An' trust is a 2-way road Doc‘. 'til you trust me, how do I know I can trust you? I will, as its obvious that everybody here does, but, I'd rather earn your trust, instead of just acceptin' you as bein' someone I should trust.”
The silence seemed to echo around the room. Suddenly, almost fluidly, the young girl sat by the Doctor rose from her chair and approached me. I towered over her slender frame, but I couldn't help but feel she was looking down at me…her large brown eyes were framed by her wavy chocolate coloured hair. When she spoke, her accent was a mirror image of mine. Having been brought up in the mining settlements on Kerry, our accents had stemmed from the old miners on Earth-that-was, the old country of Wales. I hadn’t heard it since I had left home. She leaned her head back to look me straight in the eye, and asked a rather bizarre sounding question, bizarre that was, to all but me.
“The last time you lied was to a friend of yours, wasn’t it? You betrayed his trust, an' he died, an' to this day, you still want to find a way to ask his forgiveness, don’t you… “
“…Well, you've no reason to feel guilty. David'd still've ridden in the race, even if you'd told him that the front brakes were still loose. You've felt guilty since you were what, 15 years old?, that your best friend died cos the cart that you'd built for the derby, that you told him was safe, wasn’t.
If you could go back, what'd you tell him?”
It’s a question that I had asked myself over and over for years, but one that I had never told anyone about. When I tried to speak, my throat struggled to form the words.
“…I'd tell him that I wanted to ride in the race, that I wanted to be the winner, even though we both knew he was the best rider an' I was the builder. If I’d crashed, I was bigger than him, I might've been able to get away with it, but David was small. If I could, I’d tell him that I didn’t want him to race as I didn’t want to share the prize. I might’ve lost his friendship, but he would’ve lived. I would’ve said anythin' that would’ve stopped him gettin' behind the wheel of our cart. It should’ve been me, I built it, I knew it wasn’t fully safe, yet I let him think it was.”
She stood looking at me, in fact, everyone was. I felt the tears drip from my chin, and couldn't stop them. She leant up to me, and pulled my ear to her mouth, and whispered…
“…he knew the brakes were loose, he checked them himself, but he still wanted to race as it was your cart too, and he didn’t want to let you down…”
I feltl like I had been punched in the gut and winded, and at the same time, almost fifteen years of guilt seemed to lift from my shoulders, and I suddenly felt lighter than I had in a long time. The sob I let go, seemed to erupt from me.
Everyone bar the girl was in a state of complete shock. Through my tears I saw Wash open and close his mouth, trying to say something. Again, it’s the girl who broke the silence, only this time, all trace of my accent was gone, and she was talking to her brother, the Doctor.
“Well, I trust him.”
“Wuh duh ma huh tah duh fong kwong duh wai shung…what just happened?! How'd River make him cry? Did I miss somethin'?!” Wash wasn’t the only one wondering that, I was too..
Two hours later, and it seems I had been accepted by all. Jayne thought it was hi-larious that an 18 year girl half my size had made me cry. Kaylee thought that my crying had shown my manly side, Wash is happy that there appeared to be another joker in the crew, Simon agreed begrudgingly that if I am to be trusted by his mei mei, then he too could trust me. Shepherd Book appeared to allow his trust to be granted to everyone, Mal had already stated that Monty’s word was enough for him, and as for Zoe, if Mal trusted me, then that was enough for her.
By the end of the evening, I had learnt why River is indeed so special, and why Simon had been so anxious about wanting assurances on my trust.
“Taylor, you'd said earlier that you've contacts on the border planets? Well, as part of my crew, aint it high time you shared some of them?”
I took a deep drink from the mug in my hand, and deliberately placed it on the table in front of me.
“3 months ago, an old friend of mine was made senior foreman of the diamond minin' complex on Regina. What he told me when I last saw him, made me prick my ears an' no mistake. Each month, a train leaves the complex for the space dock, carryin' that months consignment of diamonds bound for the refineries on Ariel…”
“You want us to do a train heist? On Regina? That could be a problem as we're already known faces to a Sherriff there…”
“No, not a train heist, somethin' more subtle. Each month, the mine produces more diamonds than is needed for the monthly quota. They keep the excess in reserve, in case they have a month where they're low on the figures. If they are, they top up the shortfall, an' the refineries're never none the wiser. Marlow, my contact, says that there a trucks full of diamonds, held in reserve. That if they wanted to , they could shut the mine down for a month an' Ariel would never know.”
“…so you want us to rob the trucks?…”
“…actually Jayne, no…”
“Wuh de Ma! Mal, are you gonna let this hoe tze duh pee goo talk in riddles all night?!”
“Hoo tsuh! Jayne, let him speak without you flappin' your gums an' he may just finish!”
“Marlow says that as well as an excess of diamonds, they also have an excess of Trynamite4. They receive shipments every 6 months, in a secure container from an Alliance Frigate. They keep an accurate tally of what's delivered against what's ordered, but in the mines, there're often mistakes made, and charges don’t always go off. Marlow told me, that in the 3 months he's been in charge, he's collected around 200lb in weight of explosive that the Alliance think has gone up in smoke.
Marlow has a buyer on Bellerophon for the diamonds, but no way to get 'em to him…”
“…so…we're to smuggle the diamonds out?…”
“…not just the diamonds. I want the explosives. The payment for the diamonds will be a bonus.”
“…Yeah. I want to use the money from the diamond payment to fund an expedition, an' I need the explosives for that expedition. My only problem, is tryin' to find what Marlow will want in exchange for the explosives themselves.”
Until this point, Mal had been sat listening, and not said anything. After a few seconds of deliberation, he leant forward…
“So let me get this straight. We risk goin’ back to Regina where we could get pinched by a possibly unfriendly Sherriff, to pick up a consignment of diamonds that the Ariel refineries don’t know exist, an' also to somehow obtain about 200lb of Trynamite4, which as we all know, is a high explosive of military grade that the Alliance get mighty tetchy about people other'n them havin', but its ok, cos they don’t know that exists either. We don’t know how to get the T4 yet though… anyway … after we’ve got the diamonds an' the T4, we then mosey on over to Bellerophon, again a place where we could get pinched thanks to a previous visit, to drop off the diamonds, but not the T4. Am I right so far…”
“…dahng ran, then, after we make the diamond exchange for what I imagine'll be a very hefty profit, instead of findin’ a nice little place to spend our new found wealth, we then use that to fund an expedition that you've been plannin‘ for some time?”…
“…ok, I’ll bite. What’s the expedition?”
I paused, unsure how the assembled group would react to what I was about to say.
“…what do you know of the ‘S.C.T. Kalahari’?…”
“Shun sheng duh gao wahn! You cant be serious!?!”
All eyes, except mine and Mal’s, turned to a flabbergasted Wash…