"Genesis nineteen," Book muttered softly, turning the thin and tattered pages of his Bible. "Genesis ni-- ah, here it is." Clearing his throat, he leant back in his chair, spared a glance to the dark-haired, wide-eyed girl sitting cross-legged in front of him, another to Kaylee sitting in a chair across from him. The former was curious, the latter obviously uncomfortable. The details of the specific chapter weren't well known, but the gist certainly was.
His throat cleared once more, the shepherd began to read. "The Depravity of Sodom: The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom."
Interrupted, Book blinks and smiles at the girl before him. "The nephew of Abraham - the man God had promised a child to in the last chapter."
"Genesis eighteen, A Son Promised to Abraham and Sarah, Hebrew thirteen-two," River replied idly, her eyes calm and unwavering from his. "'Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.' She had already experienced menopause and was no longer menstruating, therefore unable to carry a child."
Trying not to sigh aloud, and ignoring Kaylee's smile, Book leaned forward to set his elbows on his knees, closer to River's level. "In scientific terms, yes, but God is not scientific, River. We've had this conversation before, remember?"
"Yes." She was sitting on the floor, legs stretched out before her, hands back to hold her weight, dress and leggings and long hair making her look exceptionally young. Seemingly satisfied, almost too satisfied, with his answer, she nodded expectantly toward the book in his hands.
Not bothering to hide the sigh this time, Book raised his Bible and leaned back again to catch the light from the sun outside the ship. "When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed down with his face to the ground. He said, 'Please, my lords, turn aside to your servant's house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you can rise early and go on your way.' They said, 'No; we will spend the night in the square.' But he urged them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate."
He glanced twice from the passage - once to River, once to Kaylee. He knew, or at least thought he knew, why River wanted this specific passage read to her, but why Kaylee was here was beyond him. He was fairly sure, however, that River would be raising a few questions he didn't necessarily want raised, and whose answers were never satisfying to any who asked.
"But before they lay down," he continued after his pause, ignoring the raise of Kaylee's brow, "the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, 'Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.'"
"To engage in forced, sexual intercourse with them."
There it was. Book's eyes closed before he could see Kaylee blink and stare, open-mouthed first at River and then at himself, but he couldn't close his ears in the same manner. "No, they-- the Bible don't say things like that!" He waited after the pause for the quiet, searching tone of voice, imagining Kaylee's wince as she spoke her next, soft question. "...Does it, Shepherd?"
He sighed, opened his eyes and looked between the two women. "There are... unpleasant things in the Bible, as well as in life. God seeks to fix them, not encourage them."
"Please, keep reading," River instructed, calm and matter-of-fact, her eyes on him.
Sometimes, Book regretted taking certain vows. In this case, he regretted that of taking every opportunity to educate those around him, because River asking about the Bible was never a good sign. And certainly not this passage.
"Lot went out of the door to men, shut the door after him, and said, 'I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; onl--'"
He sighed deeply and closed the book, setting it aside before turning to Kaylee's shocked face, his hands clasped before him. "Kaylee, the... the Bible talks about a time that isn't our own. A time when it... meant less for a woman to be treated like that and God--"
He couldn't help but glare at the girl who understood so much and so little all at once. There were ways to say things and ways not to, and Kaylee's expression said enough that this was a way not to. "Kaylee--"
"They call the next moon over Sodom," Kaylee said suddenly, peering out the window toward the orange circle, lit up by the sun beside it. "And this one's Gomorrah. Why do they do that, Shepherd? I know some of th'planets got Greek and Chinese and Bible names, but why do these moons got those names? Who'd name a planet after a story like that?"
Book didn't even have to see River's eyes, so expectant and waiting on him, to know that this was the reason why she had asked him to read and brought Kaylee along with her. And as he explained the history of the border moons of Sodom and Gomorrah, filled with brothels and failing farms, popular with men who liked to take and not look back, he could not for the life of him understand what River had against the Bible specifically or what her interest in this one story had been.
He didn't notice when the girl rose from the floor to walk toward the window, her hand rising to brush fingers against the glass that separated those inside the ship from the blazing sun, the smoke, the salt of the earth. And he didn't notice when she spoke, either, softly to herself as she watched a single figure make his way across the desert.
"Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground...and he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the Plain and saw the smoke of the lake going up like the smoke of a furnace..."
When he got the building in his sights, Jayne didn't smile. No reason to - it was an ugly building and it was crawlin' with people anyhow, women from too-young to too-old wearin' too little and pushin' too close. He pushed back but not how they liked and he had to fight his way t'the front to find someone who knew him and what he wanted and was willin' to take 'im there.
She'd moved rooms. She always moved rooms, hell, she moved buildings, too, but she usually told him when she did so she weren't too hard to find. Just had t'find the owner and she always left 'em a picture of 'im so they'd know when he came by who t'take him to and how much t'charge. She didn't like them chargin' him, but he didn't mind and just didn't tell her 'bout it to keep from a fight.
The little rat of a man that owned the buildin' now led him down the hall. He remembered the days when he was led up three flights, but they kept 'er on the ground floor past few years. She got roughed up too often and was gettin' on an' it was overall easier f'her. He snarls at the man when he asks for a tip, and the little rat runs off like the go se he is.
But she opens the door and she smiles at him, missin' a few more teeth than last time, sportin' five finger-shaped bruises on one arm, and her clothes're as raggedy as ever. Still, it's the first time he's smiled since he's set down on this rock and he lets her tug him inside before she pulls him down, wrapping her arms around his shoulders for as bear of a hug as he's ever gotten in his whole damn life.
"Welcome back, Jaynie."