"That's never a firefly!"
"It surely is!" Kaylee sang out from her sling high up on 'Serenity's' hull. She gave the rivet one last twist before looking down - and nearly fell off the board. The figure
squinting up at her from dockside was outlandish even by Border Moon standards; long ropes of gray-white hair falling over a gaudy, poncho-like upper garment, the full leather skirt showing beneath fancy with beads and fringes. Kaylee recovered herself; "You know about ships?"
"Just enough to appreciate a classic." the woman admitted. "Don't see many fireflys plying the Black these days."
"Only 'cause they're not taken proper care of." Kaylee said, busying herself with the ropes that would lower her to the ground. "My girl's sound through and through and she's got a heart that won't quit."
"That I do believe." said the woman. She was a shade shorter than Kaylee with a face too young to go with that gray hair. "Looking for work?"
"Always. You got a cargo?"
"I do. Includes livestock." Kaylee hesitated, remembering Sir Warrick's cows. "Saddle horses," the woman said, "I'd care for them myself."
"That should suit." Kaylee said, relieved. "Captain's not aboard right now. You can come in an wait or come back later, whichever suits you."
"I'll come back." the woman decided, "got a few things to arrange before I go." she held out her hand: "Margot."
"A name? All you got was a name?" Mal said for the ninth or tenth time.
"I thought we wasn't taking on any more livestock." Jayne complained.
"She's gonna care for them herself." Kaylee told him. "I wouldn't want you near any horse of mine either!"
The three of them stood argufying in front of 'Serenity's' yawning hatch.
"In case it escaped your notice we've got two wanted fugitives aboard." Mal pointed out.
Kaylee rolled her eyes. "Everything's shiny, Cap'n. She ain't no center dweller that's for sure. Could even be wanted her ownself. Makes Patience look positively respectable."
"We need us a job." Jayne mused. "As long as I don't have to do any mucking out..."
"I don't suppose she talked money either." Mal said to Kaylee.
"That's your job, Captain." she answered coldly and flounced inside.
"Wonderful, just what I need, a tetched off mechanic." Mal muttered to himself.
"Got no one to blame but yer ownself - 'Captain'." Jayne said right back. "A body'd think you don't want work."
"A body'd be wrong." Mal answered, ending the subject.
The afternoon wore on. Jayne went off, looking to get sexed. Zoe and Wash got back from wherever they'd been, laughing and clinging to one another. Mal ignored the comings and goings, sitting on a crate in the cargo bay trying to make the accounts come out any way but red.
Shepard Book wandered in from the passenger dorm. "Still no sign?"
"Nary a one. Either she's changed her mind or she was funning Kaylee all along."
"I wouldn't fun such a sweet young thing. Nor turn down a chance to ride in a firefly, Captain -?"
Both men turned - and goggled. Kaylee hadn't exaggerated a bit but she'd left out a few details; like the horse tails dangling from a beaded belt around the hips and the red coup marks painted on a smooth face that didn't quite go with the gray hair.
It took Mal a full second to remember his name. "Reynolds, Malcolm Reynolds. This here is Shepard Book."
The woman nodded politely but her attention stayed on Mal. "My name's Reyer, Margot Reyer. I need to ship some freight, including five saddle horses, to Athens. Kaylee said to talk terms to you."
Athens? "I, uh." Mal forced himself to get over his startlement and concentrate on business. "That's quite a voyage. We'd have to charge you fuel costs as well as shipping and board."
The woman didn't so much as blink. "Would ten thousand cover it?"
Would it ever! Mal stood there seriously conflicted. Here was the best money they'd been offered in a good long time - but the Tams...
"Captain." he looked at Shepard. "I can vouch for the lady."
Margot flashed Book a smile with more than a little mischief in it. "I appreciate your good word, Derrial." then turned sober. "No need for you to worry, Captain, I'm not the kind of honest citizen who looks to make trouble for those who already have more than enough."
"Nor all that honest either." said Book dryly. And she laughed out loud.
"Fine. It's a deal then. Get you cargo on board." Mal turned to go, hesitated: "You told Kaylee you'd take responsibility for tending your beasts?"
"Absolutely." Margot answered firmly. "They're mine."
"Good...fine..." he headed up the steps to warn Simon, and have a word with Zoe too.
Jayne came back in the midst of the loading and tried to make a quick escape to his bunk but Mal hooked him in, not liking hired porters in his boat.
"So, what have you been doing on Comanchero - or shouldn't I ask?" Mal ventured to his new employer as the two of them quieted the horses.
"I've been riding with the Free Folk." she answered.
Mal goggled again. That surely did explain the coup marks on her face but - "Thought they didn't like outsiders."
"No more do they, and for good reason." she agreed.
"Then how -?"
"Got myself captured in a raid." she said matter-of-factly. "Just about the only way to get entrance into a Folk band."
Okay...but - "From what I hear tell they have quick and unpleasant ways with captives."
"Sometimes." she agreed serenely. "It depends. Like just about everything else with the Folk." she shot him a glinting sideways glance. "I got their respect by showing them I was as mean and ornery as any man in the Band."
Mean and ornery? for all her wild looks she seemed a might small and delicate for either. But then there were those coup marks... "You set out to join with them?"
"Oh yes. I'm an anthropologist, Captain, a student of mankind in all his manifold forms."
Was there no end to this woman's gift for startlement? "You don't look like no scientist I've ever seen."
"And how many field anthropologists have you seen, Captain?" she smiled.
"Explains why you're going to Athens." he conceded.
"I'm a Fellow at the Athenaeum." she continued.
He shook his head. "Can't say I'd care to be one of your students. Not if you're mean enough for the Folk."
She laughed. "Lucky then I don't do much teaching. I'm a research Fellow."
"Oh it is. But I'm not especially."
Jayne grunted as he shoved an especially large crate into place. "What you got in these gorram things anyhow?"
"That one holds my tent and fixings." Margot answered. "The others got my various spoils in them." she smiled. "I did pretty good as a raider."
"Mmmm." said Mal, not quite believing it. Still, there were those coup marks... "Close 'er up, Jayne." then to Margot, "This way." they went though the lower hatch into passenger country. "This here is the common room, bunks are down that passage."
The Tams were there, sitting on the sofa, giving the newcomer the wary eye the girl blessedly quiet for once. Mal introduced them; "Simon, our medic, and his sister River."
Simon stood up and stuck out a hand. "How do you do." he said, all stiff and Center-formal.
"Very well thank you, and you?" Margot answered her accent sliding from Outer-drawl to a clipped one Mal wasn't familiar with.
Simon blinked. "Uh, fine." he glanced aside at his sister. "Um, I just wanted to warn you, River's a little - uh -"
"Crazed." said Mal.
Simon glared at him. Margot looked at River. "That so?"
Limpid brown eyes gazed up into hers. "'Crazy' is vernacular for mentally ill.'"
"So it is." Margot said tranquilly. "And are you mentally ill, River?"
The girl nodded. "I see what isn't there and hear voices in the silence."
"I saw a little man upon the stair," said Margot. "a little man that wasn't there. He wasn't there again today. How I wish that little man would go away!"
River stared a moment, then giggled. The two men just stared, Mal wondering if maybe he had two moonbrained passengers on his hands.
"Seeing what other folks don't isn't necessarily craziness." Margot told them, shifting back to Outer-speak.
The Captain cleared his throat. "Be that as it may. You'll be sharing passenger country with Simon and River here and the Shepard." he pointed. "Kitchen's up that way, open twenty-fours and we have sit down meals three times a cycle. Guess that's all you need to know?"
"Guess so." she agreed cheerfully and turned back to the girl. "So, River, which bunk should I take?"
"They are substantially identical, there is no logical basis for preference." said in that flat way of hers - when she wasn't being manic or hysterical.
"What about an illogical basis?"
River giggled again. "Eeny, meeny, miny mo -"
"Catch a tiger by his toe -" continued Margot as the two moved towards the passage.
"If he hollers let him go - "
"My mother told me to pick the very best one - "
"- and you are not - IT!"
The silly choosing rhyme ended in a fusillade of giggles from old woman and girl alike.
Mal looked at Simon, Simon looked at Mal.
"'Nother crazy like to make ours worse?" the Captain wanted to know.
The doctor smiled faintly. "I don't think so."
Mal climbed back up to crew country in two minds or more about his new passenger.