Disclaimer: recognisable characters, places and so on
belong to the mighty Mouse and the god that is Joss.
Once it became clear that crashing was about the only option, Mal just had time to yell out some sort of warning and hit the button that was supposed to keep the shuttle from sinking. Then he hung on to the console and closed his eyes.
The impact was hard - harder than he expected, considering what they were hitting was water and not earth. But the shuttle did not start sinking, and Mal opened his eyes to see the surface halfway up the window.
He turned around. Zoe looked right back, an arm around Kaylee, who gave him a watery smile. Jayne, meanwhile, still had his head tucked between his knees.
"Looks like we've crashed," Mal observed. He bent under his seat and began pulling out the lifevests. "So now would be about a good time to start bailin' out of the boat. Jayne?"
"That would be now."
Somehow the four of them got into lifevests and Jayne, roused from his brace position, forced the ceiling hatch open. They clambered out on to the shuttle roof, and looked about at the wide blue sea that surrounded them.
"Did I ever happen to mention how I can't swim?" asked Jayne, hauling up his gun.
"Don't look like you'll have to," Kaylee said, tapping Mal's shoulder. "Look, Cap'n."
Mal looked. Tried to stop his jaw from dropping, and almost succeeded. On the horizon there was a boat. But not just any boat - this was a big boat, with tall masts and sails like black wings, and she was sailing straight for the shuttle.
"Well," he said.
They sat and watched her approach. Soon they could see small figures hard at work high up the masts, gathering in the sails, and she slowed and then stopped. A smaller boat was lowered from the side; five men clambered into it and began to row, with long steady strokes, towards the stranded shuttle.
"We'll be peaceable about this," said Mal in a low voice, watching the boat approach. "Till we know what sort of folk they are. Looks like this might be a backwards sort of world."
Jayne hefted his gun and looked vaguely mutinous. Mal gave him his best 'captain' glare, in an effort to tame him, as the boat drew up to the half-submerged shuttle. There came the click of pistols being cocked, and Mal looked around to see three tough-looking fellows pointing the guns in the direction of him and his crew. Resigned, he raised his hands.
"If you'd just hand over your weapons," said the man perched in the stern of the little boat, "we'll know you mean no 'arm and we'll be getting you off this thing."
"Don't suppose you'd take our word f'r it?" asked Mal.
The grizzled man shook his head. "Nope."
Mal unholstered his pistol, and handed it over butt-first. Reluctantly, but without fuss, Zoe and Jayne followed suit. Once the formality was over, their rescuers seemed happy enough to allow the stranded crew into the rowing boat, after which they took their seats again and began stroking back towards the sailing vessel.
"She's so pretty!" exclaimed Kaylee, as they got close.
"Don't look like she'd move very fast," observed Jayne.
"Don't you be mistaken," said their hairy rescuer. "She fair flies, does the Black Pearl."
Mal stored the name away, for future use, and mused that it was fairly chosen.
They came alongside, and someone on board threw down a mooring rope, followed by a ladder. One of the sailors went first, scampering nimbly upwards; Mal and his crew went a little slower. Clambering over the rail, Mal found himself on the deck of the massive ship, surrounded by men with wicked-looking if antique guns. And swords.
He exchanged a glance with Jayne, who was looking close to angry about the pistol hovering by his temple, and smiled reassuringly at Kaylee, who looked terrified.
"You're a bedraggled-looking bunch," a voice commented, dragging Mal's attention from his crew. "Welcome aboard the Black Pearl."
Mal squinted into a golden smile. "Uh. Thanks," he managed. "Good of you to rescue us, Mr …?"
The owner of the smile gave him a little bow. "Captain. Captain Jack Sparrow."
"Oh," said Mal, before giving himself a good kick up the mental backside and realising that of course this ship had to have a captain too. "Captain Mal Reynolds," he added. "My first mate Zoe; Kaylee, ship's mechanic; and that's Jayne."
"Captain of what, captain?" asked the oddity that was Jack Sparrow, flicking a beringed hand in the general direction of the crashed shuttle.
"My ship," said Mal. "Serenity. She's prob'ly lookin' for us right now, so we won't be troubling you long." He turned to Kaylee. "We ought to send Wash a wave."
"Can't, cap'n," Kaylee said, displaying her radio - broken.
"Dammit!" Mal swore. He turned back to Jack Sparrow. "She's lookin' for us, but it might take a while."
"Appears you'll have to take advantage of our hospitality, then," said Sparrow. He grinned. The effect was somewhat disconcerting, and Mal gave him a half-smile in return. "Captain, a word?"
Mal shot an eyebrow-raised look at the others, and Zoe gave him a reassuring nod. Jayne sat down on a handy coil of rope.
Sticking his thumbs into his belt in a hopeful, devil-may-care sort of way, Mal followed Sparrow through a set of doors and into a lavishly-decorated cabin filled with trinkets and glittery stuff. Sparrow flung himself into a seat and put his booted feet up on the table that dominated the centre of the cabin, taking his leather tricorn off and laying it on the tabletop. Underneath the hat he was wearing a red scarf, knotted over tangled hair.
Mal pulled out a chair and sat down himself.
"Nice cabin," he said.
"Ta," Sparrow returned. "Will you take a glass o' somethin'?"
"I don't think I will," said Mal.
Sparrow shrugged, and poured himself a cup of something from a bottle on the table. "Peculiar sort of boat you were in, out there," he commented. "Care to explain?"
"We crashed," Mal said. "Thrusters cut out. Wasn't the plan."
"Crashed from where?" asked Sparrow. "Didn't see another vessel out there."
Mal pointed upwards.
"If I hadn't had an altercation with a curse a few years back," said Sparrow, "I might not believe you. But men don't fly."
"This sure is a backwards sort of world," Mal said. "You mean to say you've no form of space transport here? You're surface-bound?"
"I'm bound to no one," the other man said, "and to nowhere. I'll go where the Pearl takes me, and she goes where the wind takes her. Only confined by the sea, and nobody's yet run out of that."
"Well," said Mal, "guess you and I have something in common, Captain. Only my boat's up there, and currently I'm not, seein' as how we came to crash."
"Explain the flying thing," said Sparrow.
So Mal did - or tried to, at any rate, although he was soon wishing he'd called Kaylee down to try instead. During the course of trying to explain flying to Jack Sparrow, he established that they'd managed to crash land the shuttle on possibly the only world that had done away with all forms of technology. Indeed its ways seemed to resemble those of Earth-That-Was before man first stepped into the most primitive kind of spaceship. There were no radios, no batteries, no shuttles - just the power of the wind and wave.
When he was done Sparrow sat back. "So how long d'you think it'll be afore she comes to fetch you?"
"Serenity? Just as soon as Wash tracks us down. Oughtn't to be too tricky. You could put us ashore at the nearest port, if you're not minded to have us on board."
"Nearest port's Tortuga, three days' sail with a fair wind," said Sparrow. "Which we haven't got, presently. Reckon we could get you there in five."
"Five days. Huh," Mal said.
"But it could be longer," Sparrow continued. "You see, Captain Reynolds, we may run into some work while we're on the way t'Tortuga, and if so I don't want you in me way."
"Surprised you ain't guessed."
Mal looked about him, at the bits and bobs lying about the cabin. He nodded.
"Seems to me we're in the same sort of business," he remarked. "Doin' what you can to bring in a living, even if them in power don't always agree."
Sparrow raised his cup. "Aye. That's it. The technical term's pirate."
"It's been used before," Mal acknowledged. "'Long with a deal of others I ain't got no notion to repeat."
"I reckon we could get along," Sparrow said. "How's your firepower?"
"Before your man took our weapons, it was okay," said Mal. "We can manage ourselves in a fight. Though Kaylee won't be handling a gun."
"And if we were boarded, would you fight for me?"
Folding his arms, Mal considered the question. "Might not fight for you," he said after a pause, "but we'd fight for ourselves. No desire to get killed, not right now."
"That's good enough for me, mate. I'll let you stay, on one condition."
"That when your ship comes, you'll allow me to have a look at her."
Mal could find no argument to this. "Done."
"We have an accord?"
"I guess we do."
The two captains shook hands.
"Excellent!" said Sparrow. "Now, come up on deck and let me introduce you to me crew."
They stood up, and Mal followed Sparrow out of the cabin and up into the bright sunshine. Mal noted that the pirate walked with the motion of the ship, while he himself found its gentle rock more than a little disconcerting. He wondered what it would feel like when they were actually sailing.
The others were grouped together, none of them saying anything and Kaylee picking at her hands nervously. Zoe looked up as Mal and Sparrow passed, but in her soldier's way said nothing.
Sparrow led the way up a set of steps to a raised part of the ship, which on closer inspection proved to be the helm. At least, Mal noted a sailor looking after a large wheel; just a lad by the looks of him.
The pirate captain glanced upwards quickly, before turning to face the rest of the ship and calling out a series of confusing orders in an impressively loud voice. Instantly the crew began to follow the orders, swarming up ropes and ladders and letting down the vast black sails.
"Huh," said Mal to himself, wondering why his crew could not be so quick to respond to what he said.
Sparrow watched for a few moments, nodding in satisfaction, and then indicated to Mal he should come to the helm.
"Captain Reynolds, me first mate Anamaria."
The sailor at the helm pushed back the brim of a large hat and looked critically at Mal, and he saw that his assessment of "just a lad" was more than a little wrong.
"Ma'am," he said, nodding at her.
"They're staying?" she said, to Sparrow.
"Until Tortuga," Sparrow confirmed.
The first mate said nothing, turning her attention back to the wheel. Now that the sails were up the ship was beginning to move.
"Setting a course for Tortuga, cap'n," she said. "West-south-west."
"West-south-west for Tortuga it is," Sparrow said. "I'll be about."
Beckoning to Mal, Sparrow led the way down the stairs back to the main deck. "She may seem a right termagant," he said as they went, "but I'd trust me life to Ana."
"You're not … you and her, aren't …?" Mal asked.
Sparrow laughed, the sun catching his golden teeth. "Bloody hell, no! Not that she ain't a fine woman, but she's too prickly for me, savvy? How about you and your lovely first mate?"
Mal raised his eyebrows. "Zoe? No - she's wed to my pilot. We fought in the war together."
"Married? Pity," said Sparrow. "Ah, Mr Gibbs."
The bearded fellow who had rescued them from the shuttle looked up from the rope he was busy coiling. "Cap'n."
"Mr Gibbs is me bo'sun," Sparrow explained. "Sees about the ropes and such. Knows what he's about. Josh, can you find Cap'n Reynolds and his crew a bunk? They'll be with us till Tortuga. They've two lasses with 'em."
Gibbs nodded, and disappeared below decks. For the next few minutes, Sparrow pointed out a variety of capable-looking men busy about the ship, naming names Mal knew he would forget soon enough. Shortly Gibbs reappeared.
"There's hammocks in Ana's cabin for the ladies," he said. "Cap'n Reynolds can have me cabin; I've slung an extra hammock with the men for t'other fellow."
"Excellent work, Josh," said Sparrow. "Lead 'em below. Cap'n Reynolds, I'm at your disposal should you 'ave need." He put his hands together and bowed. Mal and Gibbs watched him go.
"Well," Mal said, at a loss.
"If you'd follow me," Gibbs said.
They collected the others from their seats. Zoe came close to Mal, and asked, "Everything all right, sir?"
"Shiny," Mal confirmed, thinking that the word was particularly apt aboard a pirate ship.
Below decks they paused first outside a small cabin, and Gibbs pushed open the door. Inside there was a bunk built into the wall, and two hammocks strung across the room.
"A bit cosy," said Gibbs, "but there ain't anywhere else we can rightly put a couple of ladies. Hope you don't have a problem with a hammock."
Kaylee dimpled a smile at him. "No problem. Got one myself, back on Serenity."
"It's very kind of you," added Zoe.
"Ain't me you'll be sharing with, 'tis Anamaria," Gibbs said. "We'll leave you to settle in."
He led Mal and Jayne a little further along the passageway, opening another door into a similar small cabin.
"Small for two," Jayne said.
Mal pushed past him into the cabin. "Ain't for two, Jayne," he said. "The loan of the cabin's appreciated, Mr Gibbs."
Gibbs touched his hand to his forehead. "There's a hammock for you along 'ere," he said to Jayne, heading off down the passage.
"I ain't sharin' a gorram room!" Jayne grumbled, following him. Mal smiled to himself, and closed the door.