There was a knock on the metal door of Jayne's bunk. He ignored it and tried to pretend that it had not just woken him. He rolled over and pulled his thin, gray, not-washed-even-nearly-enough blanket around his broad shoulders. He ground the side of his head into his pillow in order to make a comfortable nest for his cranium and began to drift off again.
The knocking returned. Soft and quiet, as if the knocker didn't really want it to be heard, but insistent none the less. Jayne gritted his teeth. He was now awake; properly awake, and it was not a state he wanted to be in at this time of his day. He felt cranky and irritable and perhaps even a mite excited as to how unreasonably he could justifiably behave towards whoever it was knocking on his door. He rolled onto his back and waited to see who was feeling brave enough to bait the sleeping boar-bear in its cave.
The knocking stopped and Jayne heard the soles of hard shoes move against the metal grill of the walkway surface. Someone stood up; a male he reckoned by the grunt they made as they rose from a squatting position. They turned and Jayne listened as their footfalls decreased in volume as each successive step that took them further away from his bunk and towards the kitchen. Jayne relaxed his breathing and pressed one ear against the metal internal-hull partition.
An ocean of sound from Serenity filled his head in the darkness of his bunk. Vibrations, rattles, squeaks, groans, clanks, sputters, strains, sizzles and slams emanated from around the boat. He concentrated and the feathery tickle of human conversation fluttered over the mechanical din. Zoë's distinctive laugh came first; she was in her bunk or perhaps the cockpit having a conversation with that idiot husband of hers. There was more talking. It was coming from the kitchen. And now footsteps detaching from the conversation; the same shoes as before. They were climbing the metal steps to the walkway. Now they were outside his bunk. He heard a knee joint crack as someone hunkered down and the knocking started on his door again. The door of his bunk opened and a pool of diffuse light illuminated his stairwell and the floor underneath the entrance to his bunk. A shadow moved across his doorway and Shepherd Book's mellifluous voice filled Jayne's darkened bunk like chocolate that could only be enjoyed by the ears.
'Jayne? Are you awake?'
Jayne rasped his goatee and croaked a non-committal response.
'Jayne, I need to ask a favour.'
Jayne Cobb was a man who called in favours, not gave them out. He folded his arms across his chest and waited to hear what came next.
'It's just that I wanted to make some dinner for everyone.'
Good luck with that, thought Jayne. There wasn't a pick of food on the whole ship. He had swept the last fragments of broken noodles from the corners of the dried-foods cupboard himself.
'You see I have a stone. It's a very special stone, blessed by Saint Algernon herself, the most revered teacher of my order.'
Despite his uncooperative disposition Jayne's interest was piqued.
'And you see this stone, well, it has properties. You could call them magical properties if you were of a certain inclination. Anyway, the stone has been blessed with the ability to make a hearty broth that tastes like its straight from your mother's pot using nothing more than water as an ingredient. You just drop the stone into some boiling water and a few minutes later you've got enough to feed a family. It never wears out and it never goes off. It is in fact a miracle stone.'
Now that was quite a useful thing to have, thought Jayne. If the soup was really as good as the Shepherd claimed then it could be a real money-spinner. Jayne wondered what the Shepherd might want in order to trade for a stone like that.
'I've just made a soup for the whole crew. There's enough to last us until we get to Persephone.'
Jayne's stomach began to grumble in response to the thought of food.
'It's just that, as good as the soup is,' continued the Shepherd, 'I couldn't help thinking that a little garnish might just make it a bit better. Do you happen to know where I might be able to find some?'
Jayne considered the question as he lay in the dark. How much was a little garnish worth? Quite a lot if he played his cards right. It just so happened, by complete coincidence, and utterly out of the blue, that Jayne did know where there might be some greens and tubers that could be used to garnish a soup. They weren't exactly his to trade with, but he had had the foresight to stash them away for a rainy day so that made them as good as his. Perhaps a deal could be struck.
'Sorry, did you say something?' asked the Shepherd.
'Show me this stone,' demanded Jayne.
'I can't. It's still in the pot. I can show you later if you want.'
'It might be that I do know where there might be a few dried herbs and spices about the place,' said Jayne, 'but I'd be wanting something in return.'
'Of course you would and right you would be to do so,' agreed Shepherd Book, 'what did you have in mind?'
'I'd trade you some garnish for that stone,' said the dark hole that led down into Jayne's bunk.
'A miracle stone in return for a little garnish? I don't think that sounds like a very good deal for me.'
'It's not just garnish. There may be that I might be able to put my hands on some tubers and root vegetables… might be is all I'm saying… not sure of course.'
'Of course. But even still that is not a very good deal on my part. Perhaps if you knew where I might be able to find a few morsels of protein block and maybe a little salt to lift the flavour. Maybe then that might be a bit more attractive to me.'
Protein block? Salt? Next he'd be wantin' some wine into the bargain.
'Could be that I do know where there'd be a few cubes of protein just this side of edible. Would that do the deal?'
'Well in any other circumstances I would not trade a magic stone for so little,' sighed the Shepherd.
'Beggars can't be choosers,' reminded Jayne from his bed.
'You are correct Mister Cobb. Yes, it is a deal. I will get you the stone now.'
The sound of the shepherd's feet on the walkway sounded as he walked away. Jayne sat up in the bed and chuckled to himself and rubbed his hands together. He mentally roamed all his favourite nooks and crannies about the ship that he liked to fill with resources. He chose one that had the oldest, driest and least appetising selection of food-stuffs in it and waited for the shepherd to return.
A minute later Shepherd Book's arm appeared in Jayne's stairwell. He was holding a small wooden box.
'Here you go,' he said, 'the stone of Saint Algernon, just as arranged.'
'Just let it drop and you could take a look under the scuffed panel behind my weights-bench. Seems I remember we all stashed some vittels in there a good time ago.'
'Pleasure doing business with you Mister Cobb,' said Shepherd Book. As he swung Jayne's bunk door closed with a loud clang he could hear the man letting out a barely contained snort of triumph. Book turned to River.
'You get all that?'
'Affirmative,' said River, 'even a place he has stashed some wine.'