Part I—Labor Day
Author's Note: This story arc was conceived and co-authored by the wonderfully talented Midnight-Obsidian, who never fails to inspire me.
Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. Just playin' in Joss' sandbox.
Summary: Follows "Labor of Love". Heading to Persephone to look for a job, Mal and the crew run into a bit of trouble.
Hannah Reynolds detached her rosebud lips from River's breast with a satisfied slurp. River expertly turned the baby over her shoulder, patting lightly to elicit the requisite series of burps. When Hannah complied, River handed her to Mal, who slipped out of their bed to put the baby down for the night.
Thinking that the idea of Hannah sleeping through the night was a stretch, Mal placed her gently in the bassinet which had mysteriously appeared the night she was born. He and River had agreed that she could sleep in their own bed until Daniel outgrew the crib Jayne had made for Adam. Buying another crib seemed an extravagance that they could ill afford. So, they were both delighted when the bassinet showed up and though no one would admit to being their benefactor, Mal was fairly certain that Inara had gotten it for the child, seeing as how it was ridiculously festooned in all manner of feminine folderol.
Pulling the down-filled eyelet comforter up to Hannah's chin, he smiled as her lips continued their sucking motion even in sleep. Though Hannah was named after his mother and Regan Tam as well, she looked very much like her own mother, with her dark shock of hair and her huge eyes. They were still blue, but Mal could see every day that they were darkening a little more, and he conjured that soon enough, they would be the dark brown of River's eyes. Thinking ruefully that if she looked any more like River he would be well and truly lost, he turned back to see his wife grinning at him.
"You readin' me, woman?" he asked, with a mock frown.
"Surely am," River said, sliding over in the bed to give him room to climb in. "And you're wrong. You're already well and truly lost. I don't have to be a Reader to know she has your heart in her hands."
"Does not," Mal said, though he knew it to be true. Something about his baby girl just made him all manner of tender inside.
River laughed happily. "Does too," she replied. "You and every other man on this boat."
"Well, maybehaps Jayne….and Simon," Mal conceded, grinning. "And Jim."
"And Adam," River added. "I do believe he's just as attached to her as Simon was to me."
"That's a good thing, I'm thinkin'," Mal said. "Bein' an only child myself, I wasn't rightly sure if Adam was gonna take kindly to splittin' the attention."
"Well, I'd say he's….." River's words were interrupted by a sudden stomach-lurking jolt in the ship.
Mal was on his feet instantly, pulling his shirt back on and heading to the bridge. By the time he got there, Zoe was white-knuckled with the effort of holding Serenity on course. "What…" he began.
"No idea, sir," Zoe replied tersely. "But it's a gorram struggle to hold her steady."
Mal hit the comm.. "Kaylee?" he yelled.
Her voice filtered onto the bridge. "Think you need to get down here, Cap'n," she said, her voice betraying the extent of her worry.
Without further preamble, Mal made his way to the engine room, pushing past Jim, who was on his way to the bridge to see what he could do to help Zoe hold Serenity on course.
"What in the sphincter of hell is goin' on, li'l Kaylee?" Mal shouted when he saw Kaylee's hands disappear into the inner workings of Serenity's engine. He jumped back as a bright orange flame licked out from under the engine.
Kaylee jerked backward, narrowing avoiding being burned. As she extinguished the flames, Mal said, "That don't look any too good."
Kaylee looked at him with thinly concealed irritation. "It's the fuel flow compensator. I told you four months ago we needed to replace it, and you said…"
"I know what I said," Mal replied, his own frustration making him yell. "You know how much that kinda part costs?"
"Not as much as buyin' a new ship, which is what we're gonna have to do if'n we don't get Serenity landed pretty gorram quick," Kaylee said, losing the last of her own temper as a new set of flames licked out from under the engine.
"Ain't payin' you to let go se like this happen to my ship," Mal growled, grabbing another extinguisher to put out the new fire.
"Chu ni duh," Kaylee muttered, not quite under her breath.
Before Mal could make an angry reply, Simon came into the room. "What's happening in here?" he asked worriedly.
"Your wife is making suggestions as to what I can do with myself," Mal said angrily. "She kiss you with that mouth?"
In the interest of continuing to be kissed by that mouth, Simon wisely did not answer. "Kaylee, what can I do to help?"
"Ain't much can be done until we can land somewhere, and even then, we need the part," she said, glaring at Mal.
Mal huffed out an angry breath. "We're six hours from Persephone. Nowhere closer for us to land. Can you get us there?"
Kaylee wiped her hand wearily across her cheek. "Reckon I'll have to if there ain't nowhere else. But you best get River at the helm. Maybe she can figure a way to cut some time or something. I ain't real sure we got six hours." She turned back to her task. "Simon, get the extinguisher. You see fire, put it out."
Mal handed the canister to Simon and went to get River.
"Still won't be enough," River said, adjusting their course to shave off an hour. "Won't be able to get to the docks. We have to find somewhere else to land."
"Show me where you conjure we'll end up," Mal said, leaning over to hold the yoke steady against Serenity's jerking as River worked feverishly at the console.
"Here," she said, pointing to an area a hundred kilometers away from the Eavesdowne docks.
Slipping back out of the pilot's chair to let her take the yoke, Mal studied the topography of the area she had indicated. After a moment, he smiled. "Might be the first bit of good news we've had all night," he said.
"How so?" River asked, concentrating on her piloting.
"If I ain't badly fooled, this area is part of Lord Harrow's land," Mal answered. "Maybehaps we can contact him to arrange a landing there, and not have to go down in tiny bits trying to get to the proper docks."
"Think he's like to let us land there, sir?" Zoe asked. "Can't imagine he'd be all that eager for folk to know he deals with us."
"You see another option?" Mal asked. When Zoe remained silent, he added, "Besides, we'll offer to do his next delivery free of charge for the favor. He's a shrewd businessman. Won't object to that, I conjure."
"But we won't have a ship to do the job for him unless we get the part we need," Zoe pointed out logically.
"One thing at the time," Mal muttered. "One thing at the time."
"So, if you could see your way clear to give us the use of one of your pastures, we'd be willin' to work it out in trade for your next cargo delivery," Mal said, smiling charmingly at the man on the cortex screen.
Lord Harrow looked at him steadily for a long moment, making his decision. "The far pasture is empty right now," he said finally. "You picked up the first herd for me there. Do you remember where it is?"
"I surely do," Mal said, smiling gratefully. "We'll probably be makin' landfall in about…." He glanced at River, who held up one finger. "…an hour."
Harrow nodded. "I'll tell my men to expect you. Will you be requiring accommodations?"
"No, no, we'll be stayin' on the boat," Mal replied. "Don't want to disrupt your operation at all. Just needed a spot to set down. I'm obliged to you."
Harrow nodded, a slight smile curving his lips. "Glad I could be of assistance, Captain Reynolds. Hopefully, your ship will be repaired by the end of the month. I'll be needing a reliable transport ship by then."
"Oh, you can count on it," Mal said heartily, though he had no idea how such a thing would be possible. As he cut the transmission, his smile faded.
"How we gonna do that, sir?" Zoe asked from the shadows of the bridge.
"We need to find a job we can do fast that pays cashy money in large amounts, and don't require a ship."
"Oh, is that all?" Zoe answered dryly.
River wrestled Serenity's controls into submission long enough for an almost smooth landing in Lord Harrow's farthest pasture. Mal kissed her soundly, grateful that his ship was still in one piece, if not in working order.
Knowing he was risking Kaylee's wrath, he entered the engine room with a small amount of trepidation. "We good?" he asked.
Kaylee sighed wearily, wiping her hands on her overalls. "I ain't mad at ya' no more, if that's what you're askin'," she replied. "But I can't get her up in the air again without the fuel flow compensator. I been nursin' it along for four months, and it's just broke now. Can't be fixed. But I can work on repairin' some of the wiring that got burnt when it went out on us. Got the supplies for that."
"That's good then," Mal answered, relieved at least a little that something could be done right away. "I'll get you the part soon's I can, Kaylee." He reached out to hug her. "You do know you're the best mechanic flyin', right?"
"Damn straight," she said, smiling despite her best efforts to look stern.
Having thanked Lord Harrow in person, Mal, River, Jayne, and Zoe took the mule into the capital city, in search of employment of some sort. Badger had been their main contact in Persephone, but since he had attempted to wrest control of Niska's organization from the Widow Niska, he had been forced underground and was nowhere to be found.
"Don't see how we're gonna get a decent payin' job without a workin' ship," Jayne grumbled after they'd been trying for some few hours to come up with something.
"Maybe Monty's somewhere close by," Zoe suggested. "Could be that he wouldn't be averse to workin' with us, if we could find a good enough transport job to split the take."
Mal shook his head. "Already checked with him. Monty's out on the Rim, nowhere close by, though he said he'd try to make his way back toward Persephone in a month or so."
"Only folks would pay enough up front to get Serenity up and runnin' are slavers, Mal," Jayne said reluctantly. "Deliver one load for them, and we could be back in the air with no problem."
Mal's jaw set in a firm line. "Ain't runnin' slaves," he said, his voice low and deadly. "Not an option."
"We hire on as day laborers somewhere, maybe we could get enough together in a month or so to get the part we need," Zoe said, breaking the sudden tension between the men.
The thought of being dirtbound for a month while forcing his crew to do some kind of back-breaking labor made Mal's head hurt. "Reckon that's what's left," he said tiredly. Taking note of the lateness of the hour, he added, "'Spect we'll have to wait 'til tomorrow to find something like that to do. In the meantime, I could use a drink."
Jayne's face instantly lit up, but River frowned. "You know what day it is, don't you?" she asked with a warning in her voice.
Mal thought for a minute, and grimaced when he arrived at the answer. "All the more reason to have a drink," he said, setting off determinedly for the nearest Alliance-friendly bar.
To be continued