The sun was starting to set against the dusty plain as I headed over towards the ship, and I could only see its squat, friendly proportions by shading my hand against the light, which was awkward with all that I was carrying, but I *wanted* to see it. This firefly transport was going to be my home, for... well, I didn't rightly know how long I'd be staying with her and her odd crew, but I could hardly wait to get started. Between the carrying and the hand-shading, I completely missed Bester as he came up from aside me, shaking me by my shoulders so that the biggest suitcase fell on the dry packed ground. He even raised his hand and threatened my face, but seemed to realize that he'd be hitting a girl and thought better of before letting the slap land at least.
"You truly ARE a prairie harpy," he muttered. "Why'd you have to go and spout off about the grav boot for? I... I knew that it wasn't that, but I had to tell old man Reynolds SOMETHING..."
For a second I was really worried, then spotted somebody watching from the open cargo bay of the ship and heading over. Whoever it was, wouldn't let Bester hurt me, I was somehow sure of that, and I used the safety of that to give him a piece of my mind. "I didn't tell your Captain... my Captain now I guess, nothin' but the truth. Ain't my fault if you don't know a bad reg couple from your own big toe! I won't apologize neither for showin' you up, not if it got me this opportunity. If you took care of that there Firefly right, and nothin' would have happened to your job. But you didn't, an' she was cryin' out for someone who would put her to rights. I'm just the one that heard her, is all."
"Very poetic," Bester sneered. "But what am I to do now? Reynolds threw me off, nothing but the clothes on my back and half a week's pay he owed me. How am I gonna find more work on a fleapit moon like this one?"
I smiled very slightly, and didn't step in to defend my home world, because there was some truth to the line that there was little work to be had, especially for lazy strangers. "I dunno, but the nearest town is over that away. Don't let the airlock close on your big butt as you go." Not the best wiseass I've ever come up with, I know, since he was well out of any airlock, but it was the best I could come up with.
"And I'm glad you won't be able to come crying to me when that miser won't let you have the right parts and tools you need to keep proper care of your baby firefly," was Bester's parting line as he tromped off, which probably cut a good deal closer to the bone than anything I'd said to him. I understood about good working equipment being scarce, it was that way when I'd worked in my Daddy's garage, but... something about the thought of this magnificent machine not having the right supplies to see her fixed up nice just gave me a pang, and I wondered if it was something I'd be feeling over and over again during my time with her. Oh well. I picked up the box and headed over towards the cargo bay ramp. The man who had been heading over had turned around and wandered back when he saw Bester leaving, and I fell into step next to him. It was a man, and not Captain Reynolds, who had offered me the job. He had pale yellow hair that stuck up a bit here and there, a full and neatly trimmed blond moustache above his lip, and a friendly, happy-go-lucky face.
"Hello there - you'd be the pilot, right?"
"Yeah. Everyone calls me Wash. And your name is Kaylee, right? Can I help you with some of that?"
"Um, sure, thanks." After a moment, I passed the big box over to him just because it was the easiest thing to off-load first. "Actually, Kaywinnit Lee Frye, but nobody uses my full name either." I thought about that. "What's your full name?"
"Nah-eh," he said, shaking his head. "I don't even tell it to just anybody, and though you seem nice, you haven't earned it yet." That made me blink in surprise for a bit. "Ever worked on a Firefly transport before?"
"No, but I expect I've got practice on everything that goes into making one, just not put together this way before."
"Okay. I wish you good luck - we can probably use some." By this point we were walking up the wide ramp together, and 'Wash' checked the controls after he put my stuff down inside. "Captain wants us to lift off as soon as may be - do you want to make a final inspect of the engines before I go?"
"Huh?" That took me by surprise. I'd hardly had a chance to take out that reg couple before heading off to tell my parents that I'd been offered a job, and -- well, I'd gotten a good look at the engine room when Bester had taken me in there for our 'date', (which hadn't ended so well for him,) but I now remembered a few things that could also bear checking on in closer detail, and much better while we were sitting on the ground than up in the air - or in the black of space, as far as that went. Suddenly the enormity of what I'd agreed to hit me - I wasn't a complete homebody, and had toured my moon some over the years, being to the one small city and the boonies that few people visited, but I'd never actually made it into space, not even for a group tour in orbit. It was strange to think that I'd signed onto a transport ship heading who-knew-where in the great wide 'Verse! (And coming back here who-knew-when.)
But - but I *did* want this, no matter how much it was to bite off at once, and there was hard work that obviously came along with it. Captain wanted to be gone from here yesterday, that much had been obvious from his fighting with Bester and the quick way that he'd signed me up. So I had to go do what needed doing as quickly as might be, and worry about settling into my new home later.
"Yeah, I'll do a quick tune-up and let you know when she's ready." Something that Bester had said about being tossed off with only his clothes and a bit of back pay made me think a moment. "Are Bester's tools still here?"
"Yeah, I believe so... well, Captain paid for most of them, so he insisted on keeping them. In the engine room for the most part - I can go down into his bunk and see if there's anything useful there."
"Thanks, it'd save some time," I told Wash with a smile, putting my bags down - except for one that I'd need to get to work, and I rummaged through the big tote for a few other supplies that would be useful in tending to..."What's her name, anyway? I don't think that was ever mentioned."
"Who, the first mate?"
"No." I knew Zoe's name - she'd ended up coming over to my Dad's place to help explain the offer - I'd felt that he'd be more agreeable if it didn't seem like a fella was whisking me away to the stars. "The SHIP. She's beautiful, but I need to know what to call her if I'm going to work with her."
"Oh, the ship," Wash repeated with a small smile. "Mal named her 'Serenity.' Didn't think much of that at first, but I think that it's starting to grow on me."
"Serenity," I repeated, tasting the syllables as they came off my tongue, thinking of the feeling that the word as a whole brought inside me. "It's a perfect name. Give me just an hour, and I'll have your heart doing its thing better than fine, Serenity."
"Not bad," Zoe said as the engine rotor picked up speed and the whole room vibrated in tune with the unseen exhaust ports. I jumped just a bit, because I hadn't seen her standing there outside the open doorway. "You definitely know your way around a trace compression block. I was a bit suspicious of Bester from the start, but the Captain, well..."
"I'm just glad I could help, I guess," I said, feeling a little nervous around the formidable first mate. I'd only just given Wash the okay to take off about a minute past, and we were probably... what? Four miles up already, I'd guess. "I thought about staying in here for a while to make sure that everything's in good shape, but... it almost seems silly to now. If something wasn't right, she'd have let me know by now."
"She?" Zoe shot me a what-the-gorram look, but she caught it quicker than Wash had. "Oh, the engine? The whole ship??" I nodded. "Fair enough. I brought your stuff up to the dining hall, close to the crew's bunks. I guess you'd want to settle in now?"
"Sure, I guess," I said, getting up, but something caught my attention, and I turned around before leaving, deep in thought.
"What is it?" Zoe asked.
"Umm, nothing important, I guess, but... do you think that there's a spare hammock on board or something? Might be good to rig one up right there..." I pointed to a spot between two support beams on the starboard side of the room, (as it were, since there's stars in all directions in space I guess,) near the exit to forward. "So I could grab a little rest without - without being too far from the engine itself."
Zoe was surprised, I could tell, but also impressed by that suggestion after a moment. Maybe she took it as dedication to the job, but - well, I hadn't meant it that way. Maybe it showed that I was dedicated in a way that went beyond choices or decisions, I ain't sure of anything like that. I just wanted to do the best I could by Serenity any way that I could. Hadn't been but a few hours since I'd first laid eyes on her, but I was in love with this ship, and couldn't hardly believe that I was moving in so quickly. "Yeah, I think that there are a few old military hammocks tucked away somewhere. Take up just about no space when they're not being used, after all. I'll see what I can do."
"Okay." I let Zoe lead me forward, through the dining room and past the stairs down the engine room that I'd come up. All of my things were piled there, and I took two of the bags.
"I've carried what I could out of Bester's bunk, and piled the rest up in the corner," Zoe said grimly. "Figured that you'd want to take it over - there's a fifth bunk spare, but it isn't much. Anything that you don't want can get taken up to dump or sell off if we can find someone to buy it. Here we go."
She was opening one hatchway to reveal a sort of a trap door down into a room beneath the forward hall, but I couldn't pay any more attention to that. "Just, just a..." From where we were, I could catch just a glimpse outside through the cockpit windows, and it was a sight that I couldn't resist the urge to see more of. Wash was at the controls, not that that was such a pretty sight, but in front of Serenity and below her... the sun was rising over my home moon of Three Hills. *RISING* - even though we were facing west, and it had only just set - because the ship was flying so fast above the surface that we were catching up with the sunlight again. My heart went out with the beauty and magic of it. The dim ground was probably sixty or seventy miles down, and the stars above and around were starting to fade out slightly, overwhelmed by the returning light of the sun. "Sorry, I just had to see this."
"First time off your world?" Zoe asked softly.
"First time up into orbit around it, even," I said.
"I should have thought to invite you up here for this," Wash said cheerfully. "First takeoff is something that a person should remember more of."
"No, there'll be plenty more like this," I swore. "Lots to do tonight, getting moved in and such."
"I can carry your stuff down to your new bunk," Zoe insisted. "At least stay and watch that long."
"Okay, I guess." I sat down in the other seat in the cockpit, the co-pilot's chair or whatever, though I definitely made sure not to touch the controls there. "What about the Captain, is he about?"
"Yeah, I expect he'll be poking his head in here soon, just to make sure everything's okay," Wash said. "Was on the Cortex a few minutes ago, I believe, telling our clients that we were fit to be moving again and they'd have their cargo soon."
"Oh, right." I hadn't really thought about that, that a ship like Serenity wasn't just a pleasure craft to be zipping about the 'Verse in, (or chugging about?) but a ship that could and usually would haul tonnage. "What *is* the cargo?"
"Cargo?" For a second, Wash seemed surprised that I was asking about it. "Umm, fertilizer and herbicides mostly, I think. Hauling them out to a colony on Whitefall."
"Fertilizer?" I repeated. "For farmland? Why can't they just make it there?"
"Couple reasons. Every world is different, and I think that Whitefall doesn't have much of the stuff that they need to get their crops to grow right." Wash sighed. "And from the way Zoe tells it, the Alliance has their own ideas about how people should be running farms, which don't actually work so well either, so that's why they're paying top price for us to smuggle in what they need."
"We're smugglers?" I asked, shocked.
"Frequently, when we're not being even more disreputable low-lifes." Wash laughed heartily, and then he must've caught the look on my face. "Oh, I guess that Mal didn't mention anything about underhanded business when he asked you on?"
"No, though I suppose it would've been smart to ask. Didn't realize I'd be casting my lot in with criminals..."
"Listen, don't let what Mal and Zoe do to get the bills paid make up your mind about them. They're both good folk, among the best I've ever met - just have a few differences of opinion with the government about how things should best be done. The alliance is often wrong about such things, and criminal definitely isn't the same thing as 'evil' in a 'verse like this one."
"Yeah, I suppose so," I said. Come to think on it, even my Daddy wasn't too worried about being on the right side of the law as being a man who the neighbors trusted and respected. Things weren't so different here.
It was then that Mal, (I soon stopped thinking of him as anything formal, just 'Mal', or 'Cap'n',) popped his head in and asked a few questions, quizzing Wash on the time it'd take to get to Whitefall and any Alliance patrols we might have to sneak past, and sounding reassured by what I'd told him about the engine. We were up high above Three Hills by now, beyond the sky I guess, in that there wasn't any blue around even though we could see the sun - I knew it was air bouncing the blue of sunlight every which way that gave the sky its color, so guessed that we were above all the air. I said goodnight to Wash and to Mal, and headed down the trap door that Zoe had shown me. All of my stuff was down inside the cozy bunkroom, along with the pile of Bester's things that she had mentioned, and a few furnishings like a comfy mattress and a simple cortex screen. No Zoe - she must have finished already.
I felt tired, but couldn't quite turn in to go to sleep - so much had happened. Straightened out my stuff a bit - would need to find a proper trunk or dresser that would fit in here to keep my things in. Set up this diary in the cortex source panel. In fact, now that I've told it all, I'm starting to get a lot driftier. Probably gonna close the file soon.
My first day on Serenity, or part of a day. I think I'm gonna like it here, but I'm not sure what life here is going to be like aside from that. I've stepped away from everything I knew at home, and don't think I realized what it meant, stuck in a ship with just three other crew. They're all okay in their different ways, but - well, older than me, for one thing. Zoe's sort of too strong and silent to be much of a girlfriend, and the men - both really cute, but not sure if I'd really want to try charming either, or if they'd have me if I did. Still remember the thrill that went through me when I saw Bester in the pub this morning... but he's back on Three Hills, and I'm out here. I wonder if there'll be any cute guys on Whitefall, wherever we have to deliver this stuff.
'Til next time.
Okay, this is the only time I'm actually going to say it. Dear diary, what an exciting day I've had!
It might not seem like that much, really, since we've been in space, but... well, people have been showing me around 'Serenity' mostly, and it's all just fascinating stuff. Like those parts in a romantic comedy 'vid where the boy and the girl have met up, and been through the first few obstacles and get a chance to really enjoy some time together, and they talk all night about what their lives have been like and what they think about all of the smallest things. (Do you suppose it's weird that I keep thinking of stuff like that, when it comes to HER?)
Let's see. On the bottom level there's the passenger quarters, which have been empty for a while now, because when you're doing smuggling you don't want to have nosey-bodies around who might report you. Empty of people, I mean - Zoe's been using 'em as storerooms and such. That was where she found my hammock for the engine room. It'd be nice to have a few passengers around, I think, but it's okay that we're going just us for a little while I guess. Also the infirmary, for getting wounds patched up and so on. Apparently Zoe learned a few medic skills back in the war, which she and Mal were in together, but still there's a lot of stuff that she doesn't use much, like the surgical table. Mal said that we'd probably never be able to afford having a genuine doctor on board, though it might help out in rougher situations. Just outside the infirmary is the common lounge, a nice enough place, but the walls look kinduv bare and white. Might have to see if I can so something about that.
And the cargo bay, of course, is on the lower level too... even with all of the stuff that they're carrying it's not full up, leaving an open space that people could even play games in. Mal challenged Zoe to a game of round ball, and she picked me as her teammate - I helped out all that I could, for the honor of the ladies and so on, but Mal's tall and muscle-ey, with a great sense of aim, and even Wash is pretty agile and energetic. I wondered why she hadn't picked him, but couldn't figure it out.
There's a big catwalk over the cargo bay, that's fun to look down from, even if it feels a little unsteady sometimes, and a crosswalk between the two little shuttle bays. There are two little shuttles, that each mount on one side of the ship, to detach and fly off. According to Zoe, Mal's been talking about renting one of them out to an 'independent professional' like a prospector, who was willing to follow the same overall route as the ship takes, but go off on his own business whenever possible. The few times he's tried making the sales pitch, he usually gets laughed at though. They're good shuttles though, and often get used for traveling to client meetings or to make deliveries, if the cargo is small enough, when it would be dangerous to risk the whole ship. In the extremely dire circumstance of something crippling Serenity's engines, they could be used to go and bring back help, or maybe even, so she says, to evacuate the ship.
Upstairs, we have the engine room, which I've already mentioned, the cockpit, and the bunks... I guess that even though I mentioned the dining room in passing, I have a bit more to say about it now. Sort of feels like an extension of the Rec lounge, even though it's upper deck fore and the Rec lounge is lower deck stern. Usual custom is for the crew to gather for one meal a day, usually dinner, and everyone sort of fixes for themselves if they're hungry aside from dinnertime. It's a homey space and I like it, though again, I think the decor could do with just a bit of cheering up, all those plain yellow or grey spaces on the walls.
There's a lot of stuff that I saw that I'm not going to go over in full detail, the little airlocks for providing exit while we're 'in the black', along with the spacesuits used to protect against nothingness. There was a spare suit that's around my size, but it's not a good fit, and Mal said that he'd get one tailored to me when we had time, because eventually I'd probably have to go fix something outside when we couldn't put down for repairs in time, and it was always better to have a suit that fit you perfectly well. That thought scared me a little bit... I thought that all I'd have to take care of was the engine room, but I guess there's a lot more to being a mechanic than that on a little ship without much crew.
Wash had lunch with me and talked more about all sorts of things, which helped me get over the 'what am I really doing here' sensation. He's an amazing pilot, (second in his flight class, he said, and there's a long story about how someone who wasn't as good as he was got top marks that he'll tell me about another time,) and did a lot of freelance work, letting some big-time operations try to bid him into a more regular gig. Then Mal and Zoe come with this ship, which they'd bought out of a scrap yard apparently, (I could just about believe that, but refuse to let that reflect on how I think of her,) and wooed him away from all of them, even though Zoe always seemed to treat him with an odd kind of distaste. "Okay, why?" I asked. "If you had better offers, why go with this ship? I mean, I'm glad that you're here, but..."
"I didn't say that they were better offers, just bigger outfits," Wash said. "Mal treats me very well, no matter how tight things get for him. Some of those guys back on Beaumonde - there were criminal syndicates, and a robber baron, and Alliance subcontractors, and I'd given up on keeping them all straight. Some of that stuff could have gotten me killed. I figured that there was only so much trouble that Mal and Zoe could ever get me into."
"Alright." And from there, the conversation started to turn to Serenity herself. Even though his perspective, as a pilot, was a bit different, Wash knew all kinds of stuff about the Firefly '03 class, and Serenity in particular, that I longed to have memorized myself. Whatever he could, though, he told me, even repeating it over and over again, and told me about resources on the Cortex and so on that I could visit to look up the stuff that he didn't know himself offhand.
"Right," I said. "Speaking of the Cortex... do you know if we've got class B dynamic signal processors, touch-sensitive film, button controls, and some spare memory chips?"
"Umm... probably most of that - the rest we can pick up somewhere. Why?"
"Oh, just... back home, I did a bit of custom work on my cortex terminal, and - well, I didn't even think about bringing it along. Daddy wouldn't have liked me ripping it out of the wall. So I sort of want to start tweaking all over again."
Wash smiled. "I think that should be possible. We're going to get along great, Kaylee."
"Yeah, I think so too," I admitted.
Zoe told me more about the kind of work that the Serenity tended to get itself into a bit later, as we worked together in the cargo bay on the little mule buggy that would be used to tow the cargo out to the buyers - and probably not all of it at once, either. (I kept noticing that Zoe never wanted to spend much time around Wash unless she had to, and those were usually times when the Captain was there too.) Smuggling was part of the routine, as was more usual cargo hauling, wreck salvage, and 'retrieving lost valuables.' Serenity wasn't up to serious piracy, though I was a bit worried that I'd fallen in with pirates - she didn't have any ship-to-ship guns, though Mal and Zoe had some personal firearms. I asked about outright theft, and though Zoe didn't talk about it much, I got the impression that they considered planetside robbery on a case-by-case basis, depending on how much they might earn from it, and who it was they'd be ripping off.
"It's all on account of losing that war," Zoe muttered under her breath. "Captain had the right idea when he bought this boat, though it took me a while to see it. Alliance thinks that they own the whole verse, and they're getting big enough to poke their noses and their fingers into more and more of it. People like us - we've got to make our own way, our own lives, without anyone telling us from on high what to do. We've got to take what jobs what we can, do whatever presents itself as long as we can keep moving. You're like that too, aren't you, Kaylee? I don't think you realized it before you came here, but you're too much a free spirit for a tied-down place like Three Hills."
"Hmm, I dunno, maybe," I said. "What was the war like? Were you and -- and Mal together long?"
"A year and a half, maybe... seems like much longer," Zoe said in a small voice. "He was sergeant and I was a corporal. Fifty-seventh Overlanders. Serenity Valley itself - I felt like I'd been in that goddamn place for two years, but it was only two months or so, according to the calendars."
"You were both in Serenity Valley?" I whispered, awed. I'd heard about that battle - everybody knew about it. And - and the name, Serenity... suddenly I realized that there was a sadder, less peaceful side to it. Maybe that gave her more personality. "What was that like?"
"I'm not going to tell you war stories, girl," Zoe said, climbing up onto the mule to turn it on and rev the engine. Purred beautifully. "At least, not today. Maybe another time."
"Okay, well... thanks," I said. "Any idea what's up after this delivery on Whitefall? Mal told Bester that there was a job waiting on Paquin..."
"Yeah, that's after we're finished with this one," Zoe said. "Believe that there might be some thievery going on when we arrive at Paquin - but you and Wash shouldn't concern yourself with that, it's our business. The port town there is mighty hospitable, and you should be able to get some social time in. I haven't missed how blue you've been to be cooped up with us here. We might even be able to take on passengers there."
"Yeah, that'd be good," I said. "But I think that you're wrong - about it not being our business. As long as we're all together on Serenity... what any of us do is all of our business, I suspect."
"Up to a point," she agreed. "You're probably right. And if there's something we need your help on, I'll ask." And with that, she just turned and left the bay, heading back towards the infirmary. I wondered what she was up to, but didn't go and follow her.
Well before we got to Whitefall, no matter how much I loved Serenity and liked Wash, I was getting the cabin fever. It was just so *odd*, the sensation of my life being lived in the same nine or ten rooms, never being able to go out and walk on the plain. I did what I could to keep busy - tinkering with the engine as much as I could while it was moving, learning more about those parts I couldn't tinker at the time, I did spend some time on the Cortex, and not just learning about Firefly type transports... but after a while I stopped chatting much with my mother or the few friends back home who had sources - it just made me feel more homesick to talk with them and not know when I was going back or be able to explain why I left so suddenly in any terms they could understand beyond the cliche 'I wanted to see the 'Verse.' Well, I'm going to get to see plenty of it I guess, but most of it is dark and full of empty but star-shine.
Food is something that I'm going to have to get used to as well. Know that a lot of time it's hard to get good fresh food, but I hadn't thought of how long a spaceship had to go between supply stops. Zoe bought some good provender from my Dad, partly to make him feel better about letting me go, but all of the best of that is gone already. There's a fair amount of stuff that keeps well dry, and a few supplies kept in a sort of flash freezer that works by venting off into the cold outside, but still.... oh, what I wouldn't give for just a handful of juicy strawberries.
We're to get to Whitefall tomorrow, the seventh day after I came on, more or less. Mal and Zoe have been going over the plans - apparently the buyer, Patience, is this mean ol' bat who runs things tight and crisp, and wasn't happy about the delay they had when Bester couldn't fix Serenity up, but they don't expect much trouble with her. Oh, and I'm just mentioning this because it seems kind of weird: Wash shaved his mustache off entirely today. I asked him why, and he said that he just wondered if it was starting to look kind of silly. I didn't really think so, and was surprised by how much younger he seems without it. Maybe he started growing it in the first place so he'd look more dignified and people would take him serious. Well anyway, that's about all for now. Hope I'll have more to say in the next update.
TO BE CONTINUED...