"I'm guessin drug number two's no good either," Mal said, wiping the blood from his split lip, "and this is one of those triflin little side effects you mentioned."
Doctor Simon Tam was too busy to answer, being fully engaged in strapping down his sister's wrists. Jayne struggled to hold the kicking, thrashing girl down on the exam table while her brother pinned them one at a time and secured them. Once her wrists were cuffed, Jayne grabbed one flailing leg and held it in the ankle cuff with both hands, unmindful of the kicks to the head he was taking from the other, until Simon drew it snug. Then he lay across the last free limb while the doctor finished with it, and they stepped back, breathing heavily, their faces blank masks as they looked at her.
Mal studied the girl's wide rolling eyes and bared teeth, spit flying from her mouth as she tossed her head and screamed. He'd rescued more than one horse trapped in a burning barn, and had had to listen to a few he couldn't; the resemblance wrenched at his heart. He took a quick breath and put his 'captain' face on before he spoke. "Put her out."
The two men turned their battered faces to him. "I'm not sure sedating her's a good idea," Simon said, placing his fingers on her wrist. She writhed at his touch and started speaking rapid-fire, nothing understandable. Rather, they were words Mal had never heard before. But cussing sounded the same in any language.
"Well, we've gotta move her, and we can't do it like this."
"Move her?" Simon drew a breath, no doubt to protest.
Mal cut him off. "You can't leave her, doc. She doesn't need to be here, and she's just in the way." And besides, the passage leading past sickbay was a busy one, and he had no intention of letting the rest of the crew see her like this every time they passed by. "We need this space freed up for wounded."
"Startin with you," Jayne said to Simon, raising his voice to be heard over the girl's babbling. "While you can still work."
"It's just a scratch," the boy said, touching his cheek. "It won't interfere with my ability to-"
Jayne seized Simon's wrist and brought the boy's hand up between them at eye level. "Talkin bout that." He held it there long enough for the doctor to notice the scalloped semicircular tear in the web between thumb and forefinger, then released him. "You get bit in a fight, it allus gets infected. People's mouths is dirty."
A minute later, Simon grimaced – not at his injuries, but at his sister's sudden silence and panicked expression as she stared at the approaching needle. "Hold her tight." Jayne applied both hands and considerable weight to River's arm and heaving shoulders while the doctor shot her up.
Half a minute later, Mal said, "When's it gonna start working?"
Simon watched his sister squirming silently in her restraints, looking at nothing. "It should have already."
"Hit her again."
"I know you didn't give her all you could. Finish this."
The doctor wouldn't meet his eyes. "I don't know what effect it will have combined with the other drug in her system."
Mal grabbed the boy's shirt front – no roughup, just to hold his attention and steer him. He brought their faces close. "You put her down, get her to her room, bind her to her bed. Make sure she can't reach one hand with the other."
The boy's look was painful to see. "For how long?"
"Till she's over this." Mal released him. "Look at her. That ain't your little sister right now. That's a wild animal. And I do not let wild animals run free on my ship. Jayne need to pull up his shirt to show you why? She's not getting a chance to lay hands on a gun or a blade in this condition."
Simon studied his sister's rocking head and jittering limbs as he prepared another injection. "I might need help with her in the mess and the bathroom."
"Doc. I said she's confined to her bed till she's over this. Think. Just a moment's distraction at the wrong time is all she'd need to get away from you and melt into the walls. Then we'd all spend the next six weeks workin and movin about in pairs, and sleeping behind locked doors with guns in our hands."
River spoke up again, in the same nonsense talk as before, only now her voice was frantic and pleading. Mal held his voice steady. "Feed her by hand, or by tube. I'm sure a doctor knows what to do for a patient can't use the bathroom. Any supplies you need, we'll pick up at our next stop."
He watched the needle go in and the plunger run home. River's eyes closed, but her head and limbs still stirred in unquiet sleep. "All right. Get her secure, and tend yourselves." He turned to leave. His shoulder thumped the jamb on his way out.
"What was that jabber? What was she sayin?" Jayne had carried the unconscious girl to her room, and he held her in his arms, her head on his shoulder, while her brother made her bed ready. He could feel his cheek and nose swelling, and doubted he'd be seeing out his left eye tomorrow if he didn't get a cold pack on it soon. That discomfort was nothing compared to the fear that gripped him when he looked at her still face, or remembered the way she'd been when they'd cornered her in the infirmary. The feel of her now, so light and frail and helpless as a newborn kitten, afeared him in a way that being shot at had never done. No denying it, Jayne Cobb, he told himself. Don't know just how long it's been coming, or where you're headed with her, but she's yours now. And she's in trouble deep.
Simon studied her as well, his face a mask of anguish as he cinched a strap around her mattress and attached the wrist restraints to it. "I don't know. I have some Greek and Latin from my medical studies, and some Chinese curses I mostly picked up from the crew. She was fluent in four languages before she went to the Academy." He moved his head in a shrug, or maybe just a twitch. "Or it might not be a language at all."
"Great," he muttered. "Maybe we need the Shepherd in here to do an exorcism."
"Sorry. I'm just shook. It ain't every day your little…" He swallowed the word sweetheart; it had more than one meaning where he was raised, but he'd never heard it used but one way since he'd left home. "Ain't every day your little friend turns into a Reaver."
The boy nodded, accepting. "Thanks for helping me with her."
Jayne laid her in the bed, and watched Simon strap her wrists down at her sides. "Gonna need more help than that, maybe."
Simon stroked the girl's pale forehead. "I'll feed her and clean up after her."
"Not what I was talkin bout." Jayne waited until River's brother turned his head to face him. "You didn't tell Mal the worst of it." The boy didn't answer, but the way he stilled told Jayne he was on the right track. "You said the drugs you're feedin her weren't made for what's wrong with her, that they might just be close enough to do her good. You can't be sure what this stuff will do to her. But you know it's meant ta make permanent changes." He watched her struggling in the grip of a bad, bad dream, sweat beading on her upper lip and plastering her hair to her temples, and fought down something he couldn't put a name to that would have left him feeling weak and stupid. He couldn't afford that right now. "Truth is, you don't know for sure if she'll ever come out of this."
"We'll know in six weeks at the latest," Simon said quietly. "When it metabolizes."
"Yuh. And then? If she's not back to normal crazy?" He lowered his voice. "She wouldn't wanna live like this."
The silence stretched as the two of them avoided each other's eyes and watched River stirring in her unquiet sleep. Finally, Jayne said, "Time comes, judge her chances like a doctor, not a brother. Give me a nod, and I'll help her." And then I'll leave the ship, he thought. Even if the womenfolk forgave me, I couldn't meet their eyes ever again.
"No." Simon locked eyes with him. "If that time comes, I'll do it. If I lost her, I couldn't stay here, no matter how it happened."
"Merciful God," Inara said. "It's been three days. How can she not be too hoarse to scream?"
Mal tried to pull his attention from the faint sounds of terror and misery drifting up to the galley from passenger quarters. "Thought you were a Buddhist."
"I am. And pious. I don't blaspheme my own Deity." She sipped her tea, galley fare in a chipped mug rather than the fancy brew and service she stocked aboard her shuttle. "The poor thing. Surely she can't go on like this much longer. Can't Simon do something for her?"
"Well, he could keep her drugged insensible for six weeks." He feigned an interest in the apple he was slicing onto a small plate. "Doubt it's safe. And a course he wouldn't know if she came out of it early. Guess that's important for next time."
"Next time." She looked away briefly. "I don't think I could find the courage."
He finished and tossed the core towards the receptacle reserved for fixings for Kaylee's still. "From what I could tell, she's willing to take her chances. And maybe she won't remember any of this. Like a bad dream, over when she wakes."
"I meant Simon. Experimenting on her like that."
"Ah. Well, I spose he's seen all manner of unpleasantness, bein a doctor in a big Core World hospital and all." He slid the plate across the table to her. "You want this? Don't know why I cut it up. I'm not particular hungry."
She picked up a slice in three delicate, tapered fingers. "You haven't been 'particularly hungry' for three days." She brought it within a thumb's width of his nose. "In the mouth or up the nose, your choice."
Startled, he opened his mouth and she slid the apple slice in. The feel of her fingertips on his lips was beyond describing, and he almost choked on his food. He looked on her in wonder while she watched him chew with her chin propped on her fist and her elbow on the table. Inara was a lot of things, but playful wasn't one of them. He swallowed and said, "I'm, ah, glad you changed your mind about leaving."
"I haven't," she said, the good humor gone from her face. "My sense of urgency is a bit lessened, is all." She stood and went to the sink to rinse her fingers. "Sihnon is three stops away, if I understand our itinerary. My rent will be up about the same time."
Simon woke with a start to find himself on the exam table in sickbay. He'd come in to dress his wound while River slept, and perhaps grab a bite from the galley to take back. How he'd ended up on the table, he couldn't remember. But a bleary glance at the wall clock told him he'd been out for four hours. River's medication must have worn off by now, but he didn't hear her shrieking and crying as she had every time she'd regained consciousness – or whatever one might call her undrugged state. Feeling panic rise, he hurried back to passenger quarters.
He slid open the door to River's room. She was sleeping quietly, but not alone. Kaylee looked up from a doze in a chair next to the bed, startled. Her hand was in River's, gripped tight; a thread of blood ran from the palm of the little redhead's hand and down her wrist.
She tracked his gaze. "It's nothin, she just needs her nails trimmed down some. They're so pretty, like jewels. Wish I could grow em out to my fingertips without breaking them on something."
He gently prized Kaylee's hand from his sister's, very conscious of the feel of the little mechanic's fingers. It was the first time he'd touched her since he'd wakened beside her a month before, and he cringed at the memory.
She must have felt his flinch, or guessed his thought, because she pulled her hand away. "Just a little puncture, like I said. Done ten times worse with a screwdriver."
"I should take you to the infirmary."
"No need." The wary look in her eyes made his heart ache. "I need doctoring, for sure I'll come to you." She looked away and rested her eyes on River. "Hope you don't mind me bein here. I was just outside and heard her whimper. I knew you couldn't be in here, not with her carryin on like that. I just couldn't pass by."
He swallowed. "Not at all. Thank you. You… it was kind, Kaylee."
She shrugged. "You can't be here every minute. You need food and rest, and you got a job same as everyone. And you just plain need time away, so you don't go crazy. I'd help more if you'd let me. We all would."
"I'll keep that in mind." He stepped to the doorway and put a hand on the door. "For now, though, I think I need to examine her. So…"
She nodded and stood. When she passed through the doorway, they both turned sideways to avoid touching, and averted their eyes.
Serenity put down at local sunrise on a desert plain littered with big outcroppings of rock that stuck out of the sea of sand like volcanic islands. Wash nestled the little freighter among a group of sharp peaks close-spaced as teeth. From the bridge, Captain Reynolds watched the pilot drop his ship into the deep shadow between the crags without the aid of a beacon or any landing lights but the dim floods used for outside work. He smiled to himself once again over the lucky catch he'd made when Hoban Washburn had signed with them, and how well things had worked out for the bait as well. Dust billowed around the ship just before touchdown, but Wash brought her down with just enough forward momentum to keep the intakes and windows clear, and a minute after the engines wound down, Serenity was invisible to anyone a mile away. Mal ordered the ship powered down to further reduce their chances of discovery. This little world was quiet enough, but he had extra reason to worry about the Feds lately, and he wasn't wholly sure of the people they'd come to meet.
Past few months, their little enterprise had found itself in a right peculiar situation: they'd been slowly going broke while awash in job offers.
Serenity's crew had always done occasional work as hired muscle; a lot of former Browncoats and ex-soldiers did, out here where folks often had to buy their own protection. But the set-to at Heart of Gold, and especially the one at Niska's skyplex, had given them a certain unlooked-for reputation. Niska's humiliation hadn't damaged his status among the unsavory element, really – no one who'd ever dealt with the wicked old crime boss doubted his reputation – but the people who'd smashed down his front door and walked over his private troops to take back what he'd stolen from them had cemented their repute as people who took crap off nobody.
Well and good, Mal thought, if that had been as far as it went, but it wasn't, because folks wouldn't believe (and rightly so) that an ordinary tramp-freighter crew could and would do what they'd done. The Cortex enabled news to travel fast, but it didn't guarantee accuracy; despite Niska's attempts to shush it up, the story had spread, and got wilder with every retelling.
Recently, Mal had spent an hour in a dockside saloon, quietly standing at the bar nursing a drink while he waited for a potential client. A conversation from a nearby table had pricked up his ears, because the men were talking about 'that bunch' from the Firefly newly docked at the port. He'd learned that its captain and mate were diehard Independents with a history of violence, who'd as soon shoot a Fed as look at him. The rest of the crew were mysteriously overqualified for jobs on a tramp freighter, from the pilot who drove it with military-level skill, and the big well-armed deckhand who met every stranger on the ramp, to the 'passenger' without a destination, a spy or confidence agent it was rumored, who liked to dress as a preacher. And it was said that witnesses had caught glimpses of others aboard not included on the crew or passenger manifests.
Even Serenity had got the spin treatment. Rumor had it the old girl wasn't really a Firefly Class Three at all, but a salvaged Cerberus-class: a sort of corvette, assault boat, and all-around troublemaker from the Independent Navy built on a hull derived from the Class Three, and closely resembling it. But, the rumor went on, Serenity hadn't been fully decommissioned; at least once, its pilot had threatened to turn a building full of people into 'a crater' using the ship's armament.
Mal had felt ice travel up his spine as he'd eavesdropped. Stories of dangerous and mysterious folk who didn't think the War was over were bound to find their way to Alliance-friendly ears, he'd thought. This would mean having to operate farther out on the Rim, where the central government's presence was thinner. And that very lack of government would make every job they could find riskier, legitimate or otherwise.
Then one of the men had confided to his tablemates that Serenity's captain was a rake and a swashbuckler who'd put a master swordsman in the dust on Persephone in a duel over the favors of a Companion.
Mal had snorted into his glass. Companions loved every man they accepted payment from, and none they didn't; who knew better than him? But winning the heart of a Companion was every man's fantasy, it seemed.
The small sound had drawn the attention of one of the men, who took a single glance at Mal's duster and spoke some low and urgent words to his tablemates. Conversation had dwindled almost to a halt as Mal tossed down the rest of his drink and walked out.
Since shortly after the skyplex raid, their offers of legitimate cargo, and even low-profile petty crime, had almost dried up. No one with that sort of work to offer wanted a share of the attention the 'Reynolds bunch' was drawing lately. Instead, Mal and crew ashore were constantly being approached by oily characters in need of ruthless people with skill in murder and mayhem. He refused even to hear them out, and instructed his people to brush them off as well. Whatever else Serenity and her crew were, they weren't mercenaries. Mercenaries couldn't afford consciences, and besides, their lifespans were short. Money wasn't worth his people's lives – or souls, he might have said, but everyone knew he wasn't a religious man.
The contact they were waiting for was a little different. He had unspecified goods to transport to Halifax, a moon in the Athens system. He had also selected Serenity by their damnable reputation, but his job offer required only that they be prepared to do violence to keep his cargo safe. That prompted some questions about the cargo they'd be expected to risk their lives for. Instead of answering, the man's agent had abruptly raised his offer – doubled it, in fact. Mal had been ready to refuse right then, but their prospect had offered an advance, non-refundable, if they'd meet his associate to discuss the deal further. The money being offered was suspicious but too good to turn down without reason.
Serenity had come to this meet with no agreement but a promise to hear the man out. Mal only hoped the discussion wouldn't get too pointy.
After Mal stalked off the bridge, Jayne stood by Wash's console and looked out on the floodlit landscape. "Powers. Who'd ever think ya could put a ship down in a spot this tight? Musta took some paint off on the way down."
"As if this bucket had any paint left on her. And I never got within twenty meters of anything hard or pointy."
"'Twenty meters.' Why you Core Worlders gotta have your own way of measuring everything, anyway? A day's walk is the same whether you measure it in klicks or miles."
"I'm sure a day's walk for you isn't the same for me. Neither's the width of your thumb, or the length of your foot or your arm. That's where Rim measures come from."
"Well, they're standard now, ain't they? A foot's the same length anywhere on the Rim. And most a the units folks use every day are near the same in Core measure, too. A liter's a quart, near enough, and a meter's a yard. Five klicks is three miles, twenty-five centimeters is ten inches. Big deal. Why you got to be different?"
"It's not really about the units." Wash flipped off the outside lights, turning the view out the windows to ink. "Metric's easier to calculate with. Everything's in powers of ten, instead of twelve inches to the foot and five thousand two hundred eighty feet to the mile, thirty-two ounces to the quart and four quarts to the gallon. It takes a computer to make sense of all that."
"Hmph. Central Worlds got computers for everything from traffic control to flush toilets. Every kid older'n six has a little handheld that's smarter than our autopilot. Why the hell you need to make things easier to figure? No, it's just another case of forcing your way of doin things down other folks' throats."
"Careful, big man. You're starting to sound like the captain."
"Doesn't mean I'm wrong. Alliance even has to bring their own money out here. Two Alliance credits to three platinum, or some such. The ruttin coins got pictures of people I never heard of, and they rattle instead of ringin when you toss em on the counter. What kinda go-se is that for a man to carry around in his pocket?"
"Wash." Mal's voice over the intercom. "Jayne still admiring the view up there? We got company comin soon."
Wash keyed the mike. "He just left." The pilot keyed off and grinned at him a moment before his expression changed. "You're going outside?"
"Sure, soon's I grab some tools." By which he meant a rifle and pistol.
"Ever been here before?"
"I don't even know the name of this rock." Jayne was put off by Wash's question and the odd way the pilot was looking at him.
"You're not going out there in that shirt."
He looked down at it: a button front, one of two he owned, and the brightest. "What's wrong with it?"
"You can't set foot on a strange world in a red shirt. Everybody knows that."
"Why not? And who's 'everybody'?"
Wash shrugged. "You know, everybody. It's bad luck."
Jayne scoffed. "Well, that's real scientific. You're bout the last I'd ever expect to hang onto some dumb superstition." He headed for his room.
Mal stood at the bottom of the open ramp with his boots in the sand, listening to the faint whine of an approaching vehicle echoing from the rock faces. "This is bout the time our man said he'd show, so it's likely him. That speaks well for his intentions, I suppose. I want you two looking sharp just the same. Jayne, if I send you to the bridge to check on Wash, take up sentry on the catwalks and cover the door. If I tell you you're excused, hightail it to the bridge and make sure Wash and Kaylee got us ready for a jackrabbit takeoff. And if I call you 'Brother,' start shootin."
"'Brother'. Yeah, that'd pull the gun outta my holster, alright."
Zoë looked down the dim and narrow pass with cool eyes. It was still early; the sun was lighting up the rock faces, but it wouldn't touch the floor of their landing site for a while yet. "And me, sir?"
"Like you won't know what to do before me." The engine sound abruptly got louder and less echoey as a hoversled slid into view. It approached Serenity dead slow, giving them a good look at it and the three men in its open passenger area. "Here he comes. Be polite, now. This fella seems prosperous, and we could use a decent job. Don't scare him off."
"Right now, I'm rememberin them wobble-headed dolls with affection," Jayne said. "Things get any leaner, the cows might even start lookin good."
The vehicle settled to the sand fifty yards from the ramp. One of the men called out, "Sitting out the dust storm?"
"And the wind that follows," Mal said, completing the code phrase he'd been given.
The men climbed out of the flitter, throwing open their coats to show they were unarmed. They showed no surprise or unease that Mal and company were armed and kept their weapons. When they drew near, one nodded. "Captain Reynolds, by my man's description." He turned to Zoë with a tiny smile. "And you're the first mate, Zoë Alleyne. Also just as described."
"Apparently not just," she replied, breaking her usual rule of keeping silent and letting Mal talk during negotiations. "It's Zoë Washburn now."
"Pardon." He turned to Jayne. "You're a lucky man."
Jayne took a small step away from the first mate. "Gor. Sooner bed a rattler."
"Now, dear," Zoë said dryly, "no need to air our marital problems in front of company."
"This ain't her husband," Mal said, laying hands on hips, one very near his revolver. "Friends, to business. Who are you, and what sort of cargo you offerin that needs to be carried by the likes of us?"
The man stared up at the ship's gooseneck hanging overhead, unconcerned about any danger posed by the three armed crew at the ramp. "I'd prefer to answer those questions a bit at a time, Captain. I need to satisfy myself about you as well. As to who I am, the name is Sessions, Albert Sessions, and I'd be surprised if you ever heard of me. Which is one reason I've flashed a lot of platinum at the start, to establish some credit with you."
"Well, it got us here, right enough, but that's all."
"Understood. You got a problem with hauling cargo that can't be shipped legally?"
Mal shifted. "In principle, no. Depends on what law we'd break, and whose. I step careful around the Alliance."
Sessions tilted his head. "Step quick to stay ahead of them, more like. Those settlers on New Beginnings who got charged with insurrection, they didn't talk much, but the only ship put in at the right time to deliver those guns was a Firefly with a fake registry beacon. And you led a series of raids on Core World hospitals and cleaned out their drug lockers, I heard."
Mal gave a small shake of his head. "That's what you heard, the story's grown some in the telling."
"Did it just once then, I'd guess. The first time. Smart." Sessions nodded. "The last couple crews who tried it never got past the front door. So you'll tweak the Alliance's nose if the price is right."
"Other things bein equal," Mal said uneasily. Sessions was dancing around too much. This was starting to smell like a bad deal. "Even the Alliance has some laws that make sense to respect. We won't be hauling atom bombs or poached organs or anything like, not for any money."
Sessions' face smoothed out. "I look like a man who'd do that kind of thing?"
Mal kept his hand from inching toward his gun. "Far as I know, I never met a man who'd do that kind of thing. No way to compare."
The man seemed to be thinking it over. "Captain, I've got a cargo worth worlds to the Alliance, but not much to anybody else. I need transportation that knows the quiet ways from place to place, but someone I can rely on not to sell it to the Feds."
"Crooked, but the right kind of crooked," Mal said.
"None taken. But I want to know more about this cargo before I say yea or nay. And even if I agree, I won't promise the lid won't come off the box if I suspect you've been less than truthful."
"That can't happen, Captain. If you don't feel comfortable working with me, walk away, and all you owe me for my advance is your silence." He shifted his feet. "We might be talking awhile yet. Would you mind if we sit down somewhere?"
Mal turned his head slightly towards his 'public relations' man. "Jayne, go to the bridge and check on Wash for me, will you?" When he heard the big merc's boots on the stairs, he went on, "Mr. Sessions, I'm not easy about this whole situation. Crates in the hold is all the hospitality I'm willin to risk right now."
"That'll do," the man said. "Just need to get off this leg. Hasn't been right since I took a bullet in the thigh during the War. Broke the femur. Standing's worse than running on it, I swear."
That grabbed Mal's attention. "Alliance or Independent?"
The man grinned. "Would it make a difference?"
Mal shrugged. "It might, if I was the one shot you."
Sessions shook his head. "Can't think of anything unlikelier."
Simon knew he was cutting it close, but he was just too bone-weary to think clearly or move with alacrity; he'd only gotten ten hours' sleep in the last four days, and he was living in a fog. He'd shuffled to the galley for a meal and nearly dropped his face into his bowl between bites. He shoveled cold rice and protein cubes into his mouth and chewed mechanically, watching the time slide by with unbelievable speed. River's meds would be wearing off very soon, and she hadn't taken well to being restrained the last time she'd wakened. He had to get back.
He went out the wrong doorway from the kitchen, and had started down the fore companionway before he realized his mistake. He shrugged mentally and went on down the stairs, resigning himself to the longer route past the sickbay.
Practically sleepwalking, he smelled fresh air, and found himself on the floor of the cargo bay without remembering how he'd got there – another wrong turn, he supposed. He saw the open cargo hatch, and dimly remembered that the ship had landed somewhere, part of a job or something. Then he saw the group at the bottom of the ramp.
The captain and Zoë were meeting with three men at the bottom of Serenity's ramp. The man in the middle was dressed no differently than his companions, but he was doing all the talking and was clearly in charge. Something in the sound of the leader's voice stirred Simon's unease through his fog of exhaustion, and he cautiously moved forward a few steps for a better look.
The sight of the man's face froze Simon in his tracks. He'd seen him before, and more than once. The first time, on Osiris, dressed in a modest business suit; his was the first face Simon had seen when he'd had the blindfold whisked from his eyes at the start of his earliest negotiations for River's rescue from the Academy. The second time, months later on Persephone, the man had been in a dockworker's coveralls when he'd presented Simon with the storage box containing his sister in cryo.
The hissing sound and a movement on the catwalk above the cargo bay floor finally caught his attention. Jayne stood on the catwalk, rifle in hand, urgently gesturing him back. But he couldn't move.
River suddenly screamed, clearly audible even from her room deep inside the ship; all seven people present started at the sound. Then she cried, "No... let go… no..." and began groaning and huffing like a laboring machine, no doubt fighting her restraints. "Stop! Leave me alone!" Simon was torn between a need to go to her and another to learn what this man was doing here, and what he knew.
The visitor's mouth thinned. "That the sort of trade you're in these days, Reynolds? I heard better of you."
Zoë didn't move, but something indefinable about her changed, and Simon was sure she was contemplating violence. The captain stiffened, but his voice stayed offhand. "Sick passenger, Sessions, not merchandise. Another reason not to let you past the hold. Our doc says it'll pass, but right now she's delirious and a mite dangerous."
The man's eyes flicked into the open cargo door and rested on him, standing frozen in the middle of the bay. But Sessions' expression didn't change, and Simon thought he'd gone unrecognized until the man said, "That case, shouldn't your doctor be with her?"