For a few seconds, the majority of people sat at the table looked at each other in a mixture of confusion and disbelief.
“Will somebody please explain just what the Kalahari is?
Before I could reply to Simon’s question, a barrage of answers from multiple mouths tried to do it for me.
“It’s a myth / a legend / a ghost ship / I heard Reavers captured it / Reavers weren’t around when it disappeared! / I heard it was sucked into a black hole… / so where is the black hole now Jayne?”
While the more outlandish theories were aired around the table, I headed into the kitchen and made myself a coffee. By the time the pot had boiled, and I'd made it, I'd heard every theory that ranged from from a ship that had been sucked into another dimension, to one that the ship is still travelling around the rim with an immortal crew…
“Ok, as fun as all these stories are, none're actually tellin’ Simon what the Kalahari is, although he should’ve guessed.
The Kalahari was a cargo transport ship. Used mainly for carryin’ ore from minin’ planets to refineries, it travelled from the outer rim and border worlds to the core 'bout 50 or 60 years ago. On its last trip, all contact was lost, an’ it was never seen nor heard from again. So the story goes, its cargo on that last journey, in its 3 holds which were filled to maximum, was gold, platinum and diamonds. If that’s true, then the cargo was probably worth more’n a hundred million credits. An’ thats just a best guestimate.
Nobody knows for sure what happened. At least, that’s the story…”
“The estimated value of the cargo in the separate holds of the ship at the time that it was reported missing in 2465, would have been around 90 million credits of gold, 170 million credits of diamonds and 70 million credits of platinum. Taking into account inflation for the time that has passed in the 53 years that it has been missing, the value for the total cargo today would be in excess of 500 million credits.”
I looked at River in awe. It had taken me the better part of two days to figure that out, and she looked like she had done it without even trying.
“So, you’re tellin’ me, that there's a ship out on the rim somewhere, with enough coin in it to buy a gorram planet!?! Why don’t nobody try lookin’ for it? A ship that size cant be hid, an’ if it crashed, well, you'd find it sat at the bottom of a real big hole, wouldn’t ya’!”
Again, the theories of what had or could’ve happened to the ship were bounced back and forth, with Jayne coming out with the most outlandish ones, until Mal asked the question I'd been waiting for someone to ask.
“…now hang on a minute. You'd said ‘at least that’s the story’…are you tryin’ to say you know what really happened?!”
All talking stopped. All eyes were on me. I put my coffee cup down real slow, trying to control myself, trying not to say too much.
“Yeah Mal, I am. Not only do I know what happened to the Kalahari, I also know where it is, an‘ I have the proof too. I aint gonna tell though, so don’t go pressin’ me on that matter any more. When the time comes, I give you my word I’ll show you everything that I have that proves what I say aint no lie, but, ‘til then, that secret stays with me.”
“Are you boo tai jung tzahng duh?? Mal! You’re not actually listenin’ to this steamin’ great pile of turd, are you?!?”
Jayne had jumped to his feet and looked like he was ready to back up his words with his fists. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Book slowly slide his chair back, ready to intervene if need be. Kaylee seemed to shrink in her seat, hating the tense atmosphere. Wash sat looking bemused, Zoe looked impassive. Simon looked like he hadn't believed a single word of what I had said. River…she sat there looking at me, her head slightly canted to one side, a small smile on her face. Mal on the other hand, sat with an expression on his face that was hard to read. I couldnt tell if he had believed me or not to be honest.
“Jayne, if you don’t sit yourself back on that chair, you better leave this room now!
Taylor, I don’t rightly know if you’re all there in the brain or not, an’ if I find out you’re lyin’ for whatever reason, then in years to come, someone’ll find your bones bleachin' in the sun out on a moon in the rim, dong ma? I don’t care for fairy stories, what I care about is this crew. I take a job, I want payin’. This contact of yours on Regina'd better be on the level…an' after we get paid for our troubles, if I need to ask you more’n once to tell what you know, that’ll be one askin’ too many. Now, I’ll take your word that you aint lyin’, but I promise you, you don’t wana push my patience.”
It was late when the only people left in the kitchen were myself, Mal and River. After the rather animated objections from Jayne had been heard repeatedly, he had called it quits and stormed off to his bunk, shouting abuse all the way down the hall as he went. Before he turned in, Wash had made sure of our heading, then he and Zoe called it a night. Kaylee went to potter about in her engine room, and Simon and Book continued their conversation about whether a black hole could possibly appear and disappear and never be recorded as they headed for the passenger dorm down below.
“I take it that your bunk is to your satisfaction? All the comforts of home?”
I saw the merest hint of a smile on Mal’s face, and could understand how Monty had gotten on so well with him.
“The home I grew up in Cap'n, was one large room shared by 4 of us, me, my dad an’ 2 older brothers. As soon as I could, I left. Joined a ship headed 'round the rim, an’ swore I’d never go back. I never did as it happens. So, as for my room bein’ like home? I’m inclined to say its better than. A bunk, sink, toilet. Its like bein’ in a hotel compared to what I was used to. Here’s to Monty, and to the garden he plans on growin‘ on Haven!”
I rose a toast, and watched in amusement as both Mal and River joined me. If you had stood River next to Monty, he would have seemed like a giant compared to a waif. I had noticed that throughout mine and Mal’s conversation, she hadn't taken her eyes off me.
“Change of plan. We should be at the Space Bazzar instead of Haven within a day, so while we pick up supplies there, you can wave your man Marlow. It’ll take us about 5 or 6 weeks at least to get to Regina along the main routes, so we wont go straight. I’ll see about gettin’ some work ‘twixt the Bazzar an’ Regina, to keep food on the table. If you didn’t think to bring a gun with you, then you can get one at the Bazzar. I hope you got somat in mind for dinner tomorrow…an‘ welcome to the crew.”
“Part of the family, not just crew...”
With a smile at River‘s words, Mal stood, and that was the queue for both me and River to call it a night too.
I drifted off listening to the sounds of the ship, little rattles and hums, as generators switched off and on, and pipes cooled and heated, creaking as they did. Its sounds like those that soothe, and within minutes of my body hitting the bunk, I was asleep.
My first attempt at cooking was not a success. Not being used to the cooker, I not only managed to burn some of the food, but also served some that was undercooked. Jayne offered colourful commentary as expected, and the rest of the crew did their best to hide their amusement. My second attempt was more successful. Using spices that I don’t think anyone had realised were in the pantry, the meal I made even met Jayne’s approval. At least, the fact that he returned for third helpings while everyone else either had seconds or at least left nothing on their plates showed that as far as cooking went, I hadn’t lied.
When we docked at the Bazzar that evening, the plan was to stay only as long as it took to refuel and re-provision the ship. Mal wanted us flying as soon as we could. Understandable when you remembered that Simon and River were high on the most wanted list in every Alliance and Fed' security office across the ‘Verse.
After I collected a gun or two and also a rifle, and all the ammunition I would need in the Bazzar weapons shop, I then bought spare clothes for my new closet. I went over to the Postal office and used one of the public booths to send a wave to Marlow. We made arrangements to meet up, after I'd send him a wave to let him know we were within a day of Regina. That done, it was my chore to pick up the food supplies. I had an unexpected helper, in River. I bumped into her outside a shop that sold live animals. Some people bought them as pets, others as food. River was sat cross legged, oblivious to the hustle and bustle around her, while she watched a small puppy sat in a cage. In the day that I had been on Serenity, she had always seemed to have been there when I turned around. Instead of being annoyed, I found it kind of comforting, and Simon at least seemed pleased that his mei mei was acting calmer. Book had told me about her problems, so even though I tried to think of her as being ‘normal’ as that was how she seemed to act, I had to remember she ‘wasn’t’, which sometimes, was quite easy…
“Hey ‘bao bay‘, you can’t sit here you know, people may trip over you.”
“It’s ok. They don’t see me. I’m invisible…is a dog really a dog if it has never been allowed to run and play?”
I knelt down beside her.
“Ummm, I think it is… an’ if you’re invisible, how can I see you?”
“Because I want you to see me silly. Now come on, if I am to help you with the shopping, then we cant sit here all day can we?”
Picking up the food supplies with River, turned out to be more fun than I had thought possible. After picking up tinned foods, we haggled with a stall owner over the price of his fresh produce. Out of nowhere, River started haggling with an obviously experienced stall owner, in such a pitch perfect manner, that soon I had bought all the fresh foodstuffs I wanted for half of what I had expected to pay. As we walked away, arms full, I looked back at the stall owner who looked completely nonplussed at being outdone by a teenage girl. As a thank you, I decided to buy her the puppy I had seen her looking at. When we got back to the shop though, the cage was empty, and I could only hope that it had been sold as a pet…
“Thank you Taylor, I would’ve called him Boomer if Mal had let me keep him.”
I almost dropped what I was holding. Not only had I not mentioned what I had wanted to do, but my dog as a child had been named Boomer. My brother had named him. When I left home, he was what I missed the most.
We stacked everything away in the pantry and cold room, and I mentally made note of what needed to be used first for when I made the meals. I heard Jayne walk into the kitchen, and let out a low whistle. I had left my weapon purchases on the table as I stacked the pantry.
“…semi-auto pistol with double stack magazine, auto range finder, with threaded barrel for a silencer…7-shot revolver with counter-weight balance, customized trigger and rosewood grips…a Callahan assault rifle, special edition! Double capacity magazine, interchangeable ejector port, telescopic stock, mountin’ rail for telescopic sights and fittin’s for optional tripod and silencer! Hun dan! Those are some shiny delivers of hurt!”
Before I could say anything, River motioned me to stay silent. Mal walked into the kitchen, and again Jayne’s voice carried into the pantry.
“Mal, I been ‘round guns longer’n I care to admit, and I wouldn’t trade Vera for anythin‘, but you see these?… these you cant jus’ walk into a shop and buy! These are custom made! Hell, the Callahan alone must be worth more’n 1000 coin! How much do you know about this guy, 'cause whatever Monty told you 'bout him an' his war record, I bet you it aint half the truth. This guy has secrets!”
“Don’t worry 'bout Roberts, Jayne. I know more 'bout him than he conjures I do. I aint gotten the full story yet, but I waved a couple of old contacts earlier, so did Zoe. By the time we reach Persephone, I should have a more clear idea of our friend Taylor. If he served on Hera, I aim to find out just which side he fought on…”
“Wha? What the hell you mean Mal? He said he fought for the Independents, at where was it?…’The Plain of Reeds’?”
“That’s just it Jayne. Both Zoe an' me fought in The Plain of Reeds. The only reason it goes unknown is ‘cause Serenity Valley started ‘bout a week after the fightin’ there stopped, an’ nobody cares ‘bout it, ‘cept those who were there. Our unit was the only Independent unit there, our Company ‘gainst an advance Battalion of Alliance. We were almost wiped out, save for a miracle. Me an' Zoe know for a fact he wasn’t fightin’ with us, so if he was there…”
“You think he may be a ruttin’ Alliance spy? Lookin' for Simon an' River? But he shipped with Monty for years! There aint no way he coulda known he woulda been sent for them!…”
“All I know Jayne, is that there’re a few things about our new cook that don’t add up. Now, c'mon, lets stow that gear in the hold.”
I heard them walk out of the kitchen. River’s soft hand on mine snapped me back to reality from a memory of a nightmare that I could never really forget, of death, blood, dirt, terror, of watching friends who were closer to me than family die in front of my eyes.
“It’s ok, I wont tell them your secret unless you want me to. I know that Mal needn’t be wary of you…”
With a single touch, my shattered nerves were healed, my heart stoped racing, and I became calm, as River placed the palm of her hand on my cheek.
“…but I think its something you should tell them yourself, before he makes his mind up wrongly.”
THAT story, could sound more far fetched than the true story of the Kalahari…