Chapter 10

"Goddam, stupid fushi dui!" Kaylee ground her teeth together as she yanked the wrench tighter.

Normally she'd feel bad for calling Serenity names but right now the damn underpinnings were so rusted through that she was surprised they hadn't fallen outta the sky eons ago. It would be a miracle if they lasted another six weeks and an even bigger miracle if Mal forked out for new ones. "Cheap space trash!" She hissed as she dropped the wrench and hammered at it with the side of her fist.

Immediately Kaylee felt guilty and she reached over and patted the ship.

"Sorry, sweetie. I'm a bad friend. It ain't your fault Simon's being a bèn dàn and I got no right ta take it out on ya. Even if you are being a might ornery." She grinned at the steel and imagined the ship smiling sheepishly back at her. "But like Captain like ship, huh."

She picked up the wrench and sat up, swiping grease all over her nose as she tried to rub away her frustrations.

Last night's dinner hadn't gone as smoothly as she'd hoped with their newfound friends but it wasn't a complete disaster- Jayne hadn't mentioned nothing about gynecology for a start- but it had been tense.

Once it was all done and they were set to hole up for the night Kaylee had gone back to their bunk only to find Simon in a royal snit, murmuring about the new genius Doctor on board ship.

It seemed that Sheldon had got under his skin just fine and no matter what Kaylee did or said, Simon was determined to dislike Sheldon.

"Smug," Simon had said with gritted teeth, "just because he completed his schooling at fourteen doesn't make him a better person, or a better doctor than me. It makes him a freak."

"Simon!" Kaylee had been horrified at this side of Simon. "He didn't mean nothing, he probably wanted to fit in is all, ain't no reason ta be picking on him."

"Picking"? Simon glared- actually glared at her. "He practically called River simple!"

"No, he didn't." Kaylee frowned. "He said her reasonings were simple. Anyhow River didn't seem to mind."

"Oh, so you're defending him now?" Simon shook his head, "I'm going to the infirmary."

And he'd left in a temper and hadn't come back. Kaylee assumed he'd spent the night hanging around the lab or even in the guest quarters where he still stored some of his things.

The fight left her confused and unhappy.

She stared down at her tools, her normal good mood a distant memory.

Out of the top ten things she disliked, fights ranked first. Too many memories of her thirteen million siblings with their hands around each other's throats and screaming matches that lasted days. Two of her brothers, Sam and Drew, somehow managed to share a room and not speak to each other for five weeks. Despite Kaylee's begging them to make up they only reconnected when Athan needed to be taught a lesson. Sunshine Kaylee had sat on the edge of the porch with her fingers in her ears as the three brothers tried their best to beat each other to death. It was only when Leah intervened and called them all out for making Kaylee cry that peace was restored in the Frye household... for about five minutes.

Kaylee hated fighting and she hated even more that it was her and Simon that were doing it and she didn't even know why.

So Simon hadn't got along great with Sheldon. Simon never got along with Jayne and he and the Captain weren't exactly best friends neither. Why had this man infuriated him so much? Was it because he was a doctor and Simon figured he should be the only one? Or was it that Sheldon was so damn smart when Simon was used to being the most intelligent one in the room?

Kaylee poked her toe into a hole in the lower casing of the engine and gave a half-hearted smile.

"Space monkeys been eating at ya, huh?"

"I beg your pardon?"

In her misery she hadn't even noticed the footsteps and the surprise of someone else being there made Kaylee yelp... which caused Sheldon to yelp and back away from her, banging into the far door.

He glanced over his shoulder at the grime encrusted metal and yelped again, yanking himself away and standing in the center of the doorway.

Kaylee stared at him. He'd obviously not gotten much sleep, if those bags under his eyes were any indication and his clothes were rumpled. Kaylee suspected that he'd maybe scrubbed them out in the sink rather than borrowed someone else's things.

He was a strange one alright.

"Hey, Doctor Cooper," she tried for a smile.

He mimicked her strained expression. "Good morning, Kaylee. You may call me Sheldon."

"Shiny," she got to her feet, "what can I do for ya, Sheldon?"

"I—I-" Sheldon trailed off, his eyes darting around the room, seemingly taking in every detail. "I- I-"

Sweat broke out on his forehead and his hands started to shake.

Kaylee leaned forward, reaching out with one hand to steady him. "Hey, are you all right?"

Sheldon was not all right, not anywhere in the vicinity of all right.

In fact if the sofa had been his point 0,0,0,0 he was light years, centuries and galaxies away from being all right. All right? Ludicrous. He'd be shaking his head in derision of he wasn't on the verge of passing out.

He'd been into Wolowitz' lab many times. He'd turned his nose up at the primitive machinery but he'd secretly admired the clear white table tops and the well maintained equipment, the shiny metal and the organized environment.

He'd somehow assumed that the engine room of the ship would be the same, perhaps a few parts laid out on a sheet to be fixed but tidy, orderly and pristine.

It was increasingly obvious, however, that 'pristine' was not in their vocabulary.

He'd ignored the rusty walls and the dirty tiles assuming that space travel made cleaning somewhat difficult, especially if they were concerned with their jobs which made them not fall out of the sky.

He'd even been lenient on the battered state of the outside and the dilapidated furnishings and linens...but this...

Wires slick with grease protruded from every orifice, dragging along the floor, draping the walls, half cut and showing their inner workings, fire hazards each one. Fragments of shrapnel littered the floor all jagged edges and vicious corners waiting for some unsuspecting sap to step on it the wrong way. Oil spills danced rainbow in the overhead light taunting the sure footed and walls sliced open, spilling their innards wires and boards and technology that you weren't supposed to see.

The engine itself held together with bits of tape and (oh my god was that a spoon?) old spare parts, nothing matching, nothing fitting, nothing safe and secure and this- THIS- was keeping them in the air?

Sheldon paled, the logistics of space travel combining with the probabilities of one of the those haphazard, make-shift fittings failings.

He gasped and gaped, his heart pounding, sweat soaking the back of his shirt.

Then Kaylee, dear, sweet Kaylee reached out a hand.

A hand covered in thick, black grease.

Sheldon fainted.