The attack came just about where Wash had predicted. About twelve hours from Beaumonde, and roughly six from Aberdeen. We were well off the established trading routes, and when Wash had set our course, he guessed that the empty zone that we would cross would be as good as any for a hijack to take place in. I hate when that kind of guess proves to be correct.
Wash spotted them on long range sensors first, which gave us about a half hour. We had prepped everything hours before, but the adrenalin rush when things were starting to happen was still enough to make you feel sick. Kaylee swapped all the circuit boards onto the backup systems, my part of the plan was to stay hidden, and not to show myself in case it tipped Jimmy off in any way. Wash made a good show of trying to outrun them, but like Jimmy had said, he had picked up a beauty of a boat. Fast but not that manoeuvrable. Wash could’ve easily outrun them if he had tried, but then, he wasn’t trying. When the EMP hit, there was no explosion like you see in the cinema-plex. It was as if someone had simply turned the power off to the ship. Emergency lights came on within seconds, casting a red glow everywhere, and Zoe came back to the kitchen, and told us that in a few minutes Mal was going to let them board into the cargo bay, but that any further than that and there could be problems.
I felt kind of useless, truth be told. Everyone had a part to play, and mine was to stay hidden… Jayne was positioned up on the walkway on the port-side of the cargo hold, with a good field of fire, Shepherd had agreed to be on the middle catwalk with a rifle for show. Wash was to come back from the bridge and position himself on the walkway opposite Jayne on the starboard-side. Mal and Zoe would be down in the cargo bay itself. Kaylee would be waiting in the engine room ready to get Serenity’s heart beating again. Simon was waiting in the infirmary, just in case. Which left me sat with River and Inara in the lounge at the back of the dining area.
The one plus point of what I was doing, was that as we sat in the dark, and listened to the noises echoing through the corridors and the deck plates, I felt a hand search out mine, and grip it tight. In the dim light, I could see River smile at me, and for the briefest of moments, I wished Inara was somewhere else.
“Its ok, there’s nothing to be afraid of, I’m here…”
I honestly didn’t know what River could do to protect me and Inara if it came to it. A 110lb girl who stood about 5’6” tall. But, holding her hand was nice regardless.
It had been about 5 minutes since the ship had shook when the docking was made. In that 5 minutes, we had heard muffled shouting, periods of silence followed by metallic clangs. Then there was the vibration as the docking clamps were released. Footsteps came bounding along the corridors, one set disappeared off to the cockpit, a second headed off to the engine room.
Shepherd appeared out of the gloom.
“Well, that went as well as to be expected.”
“What happened Shepherd, did they buy it?”
“Oh yes, they bought it, but only after the Captain took a pistol whip to the face, and had a gun put to his head. Zoe played her part well, giving up the location of the case to ‘spare the Captain’s life’ as it were.”
“It’s ok Inara, the Doc is with him now, I’ve seen him suffer a lot worse.”
Even in the dim light, the look of concern on Inara’s face was plain to see.
“Your friend Abraham is a mighty unpleasant fellow, if you don’t mind me saying so Taylor. You say he was a good friend of yours?”
“Once upon a time Shepherd, but that’s a story long since finished. This is my home now, an’ you’re all my crew. My loyalties’re here, don’t worry about that.”
“I’m not concerned about your loyalties now, lad…” his eyes fell to my hand in River’s, her head resting against my shoulder. “…my concern is what he may do when he realises that it was you who masterminded this little plan. He doesn’t seem to be the type to forgive and forget for old times sake.”
Before I could reply, the over head lights came back on as Kaylee restored power to the ship. That was the signal for us all to move. Mal’s voice came from the aft passage, in what seemed to be an argument with Simon.
“Look Doc, I’d love to sit in your shiny chair an’ let you stitch me to your hearts content, but we’ve things to do, the weave’ll be fine..”
“But you didn’t let me set it properly. It will tear unless you stop moving around so much, or, you can spare me 30 seconds and then you can play at being the tough-guy all you like…”
“Run tse duh fwotzoo Mal! Look at your face! Let Simon fix you Mal, please!”
Inara had seen Mal before I had, and for someone who professed not to care for him, she wasn’t fooling anyone at this point in time. But then, when I saw him, I was concerned a little too.
“Jesus Mal, are you ok?!”
“I wish everyone’d stop fussin‘! So I got hit in the head, its happened before, chances are it’ll happen again too. Ok Doc, you got 30 seconds. An’ Inara, I do believe you look worried about me… OWW Doc, take it easy will ya?”
When Book had said that he had been pistol whipped, it would appear that it was more than just the once. The left hand side of Mal’s face was swollen and cut. A deep gash above his eye had splashed blood across his face and clothing.
“Taylor, head up to the bridge, see if Wash needs a hand with anythin‘. Soon as the Doc here patches me up, I’ll get on the Cortex an’ wave Badger, see what he has to say about this. We give it an hour, then we head for Beaumonde, just as planned.”
In the cockpit, I found Wash hunched over the nav’ screens. A small dot that was Jimmy’s ship slowly moved across the screen, headed towards Beaumonde. He looked up as I sat in the co-pilots seat across the bridge, and flashed me one of his big silly grins.
“So…you and River huh?…”
And like that, everything went back to normal after the excitement of earlier…
We had waited an hour before setting course to Beaumonde. Wash had taken a slightly different route than Abraham had, just to be safe. Mal had waved Badger, who had cussed and hollered at Mal, saying that it was his fault that he lost the cargo, that we must be trying to pull a fast one on him. The telling sign though, was that at no point did he mention money. If he had been genuine, then the first thing he would’ve said was that Mal was now responsible for him being out of pocket. Instead, all he said was that he would think twice before putting work Mal’s way from now on. After that conversation was ended, Mal waved Sir Warrick to say everything was going according to plan, and we should be at the drop off in less than twelve hours.
I made food for everyone. After the events of the day, I made something special, to help us all relax. Grilled meats and creamed potatoes in gravy, with vegetables and fresh bread and salted butter. As a joke, I made soup for Mal, just in case his face was too sore to chew… I swore that for a second, I thought he was going to sulk.
At last, everyone had accepted the fact that me and River, although not being a ‘couple’ couple quite yet, were getting there. At the end of the meal, when we were all relaxed and telling stories, I found myself sat in the lounge, with River’s feet across my lap, mirroring Simon and Kaylee sat opposite us. From the table, I heard Inara speaking to Mal and Zoe.
“I've been meaning to ask. If the case that Abraham took wasn’t the case we are to deliver, what was in it? You said he opened it and seemed satisfied with its contents, so it must have been convincing to him…”
“Well, p’raps Taylor’d better explain it, seein’ as it was his idea.”
I looked up, and saw everyone that hadn’t been present in Sir Warrick’s office was now looking at me.
“To be truthful it was Jayne who gave me the idea. We were tryin’ to figure out the best way to perform the switch, Mal an’ Zoe were talkin’ with Sir Warrick, an’ I was lookin’ at a picture on his wall. Jayne started bein’ curious ‘bout the amount of semen a bull makes, an’ what it’d look like. I realised the best thing to swap the prize bull specimen with, would be more bull semen. The picture on the wall was the final piece of the puzzle… It was a picture of Sir Warrick stood amongst a group of little cows. I thought they were toy ones at first, until Sir Warrick explained they’re pygmy cows, specially bred for long range cargo ships, or as pets for the rich. When I asked how much they’re worth compared to his bull Zeus, they’re practically worth nothin‘, maybe two or three hundred credit’s an animal if that.
We filled the second case with 30 vials of unchecked pygmy bull semen. Instead of each vial bein’ worth, what, eight thousand credits, they are worth more like eighty, or there abouts.
When Abraham makes his delivery, an’ the scientists do their checks, it’ll probably be a couple of hours ‘fore they realise somethin’s wrong. Harwoods & Morris’ll think Badger is tryin’ to pull a fast one, Badger’ll think it’s Abraham, Abraham will think Badger’s set HIM up an’ that this is his way of tryin’ to con him out of his share. Whatever happens, I’d love to be a fly on the wall when they all start pointin’ the finger at each other.”
As I’d been talking, I had watched as smiles of amusement and amazement had appeared on the faces of everyone save Mal, Zoe and Jayne.
“Jing Tsai…for all intents and purposes, to a layman, the contents of the vials would be what you expected. And I doubt if Badger will figure out who double crossed who. Captain, does this mean I can have my medicine cabinet back now?”
For the rest of the evening, I was the toast of the crew. Even Jayne admitted that I had done good. I sat, with River’s legs across mine, my hand in hers, sipping a cold bottle of beer that Jayne had gotten me, and for the first time in as long as I can remember, I felt truly at home.