NEW HOPE

Dragonlots aka Dana Bell

"You want me to what?" Malcolm Reynolds stared at the big man dressed in buckskin sitting across the table from him.

The big man smiled taking a swig of the local moonshine. "Come now, Captain, surely you don't need me to say it again?"

"Sounds like a good job to me," Jayne put in with a leering smile on his unshaven face.

"Serenity ain't got that much room." Mal was desperately trying to find a way not to take the job, no matter how much they really needed it.

"Heard your ship carried a herd of cows once."

"Justin Bolt," Reynolds began. "Transporting cows is one thing, but what you're askin'…"

"Nothin' illegal about it. Thought I explained that."

Right then, Mal missed Zoe's clear head and input. Yet on this stop, she'd opted to go shopping with Inara and Kaylee, something about needing some new clothes. What for, he wasn't quite sure, especially with Wash now gone.

"I'm offering a good wage plus expenses." Justin smiled charmingly. "For fifty brides transported to New Hope." He chuckled. "Not as many as a famous ancestor of mine once brought for his men on the Earth that was, or so the story goes, but a good start for our colony."

"Wouldn't be knowin' about that," Mal replied without thinking. "Not sure about this job either."

"You have a good reputation, Captain Reynolds." Justin finished his mug and carefully set it down. "And in these tough times, I'm not sure how many brides I'll be able to transport before-"

He didn't really need to finish his statement. Since the transmission on what had happened on Miranda had been broadcast to the entire Alliance, the Parliament had had a difficult time governing the many planets and moons. Small rebellions had broken out all over, reminding Mal of war the Independents had fought against unification - a conflict he'd been on the losing end of.

"New Hope is on the edge and I had a hard enough time finding marriageable women as it is." He sent a warning glare at Jayne. "And since we've been hit by Reavers a few times, well, it's was a hard sell."

"Been hit recently?" Mal wanted to know. He wasn't sure how many of the demented flesh eaters had been killed by the Alliance fleet during a battle he'd deliberately provoked.

"No, can't say we have." Bolt's blue eyes met Reynolds' hazel ones. "Will you take the job?"

Mal knew he was in a bind and needed the work. Between the Alliance tightening its grip and the continuing unstable political climate, work was getting harder and harder to come by, not to mention the deaths of many of his contacts.

"We'll take it," he finally agreed.

"I'll have my proper young ladies on your ship at dawn."

When Mal saw the gaggle of women and their piled trunks, he wondered what he'd gotten himself in for. Their attire reminded him of bright colored butterflies as they hurried about greeting one another and casting concerned glances at his ship.

"Shiney," Kaylee's bright voice greeted him. She smiled warmly and he grinned at her grease-smudged face. His engineer had been up all night fixing the drive. She even had grease on her tan pants and short sleeved bright blouse.

"Sure you want to take this job, sir?" Zoë surveyed the group outside, her gun resting easily on her thigh as if it were part of her. Her dark face still held the signs of grief.

"Too late now," he replied as Justin Bolt approached the ship.

"Good morning, Captain Reynolds." He extended his rough hand and shook Mal's. "We're here as promised."

"Where're we going to put everyone?" Simon asked as he walked up and put an arm around Kaylee. She snuggled happily against him slightly mussing his white shirt. It had taken them a long time to get together and Mal was happy for them, even though he frowned on romances aboard his boat.

"Oh, the girls know they'll have to rough it," Justin reassured them before Mal could respond to the doctor's question. "I told them to bring quilts, pillows and the like."

Zoë looked shocked. "You want them to sleep in the hold?"

"Well, you know how much room a firefly doesn't have better than I," Bolt returned with a wink.

"No wonder you knew about the cows," Mal muttered, now understanding Bolt's comment from the day before. "Surely you don't think these women are."

"Of course not." He stepped closer. "But I don't have enough to rent a liner."

Mal had one last question. "Do they know?"

"They will." He trotted down the ramp and raised his hands to get the women's attention.

Zoë came to stand next to Reynolds. "He's trouble, sir."

"I know. But we need the cash. Do what you can to get them loaded." He turned to go and asked Simon, "Your sister on the bridge?"

"Yes. She said to tell you she's ready to leave when you are."

"Good."

He trudged up the walkways as the women nosily boarded his ship, Mal trudged up the walkway still not quite believing his hold was about to become a dorm. He'd be able to put Bolt in one of the guest cabins, but at least two of the others were occupied by Simon and his sister River. Inara had taken up residence in her shuttle again, although she wasn't working as a registered companion anymore. Nor was she paying him rent, yet he didn't really mind. It was just nice to have her back on Serenity. Sometimes.

Mal stopped on the upper gangway. Jayne stood there gazing hungrily at the women below.

"You stay away from them," he warned the mercenary before moving on to the bridge.

River glanced up at him as he came in. Daylight trickled down through the front windows. She was playing with one of Wash's dinosaurs none of them had gotten around to moving. Somehow, it seemed fitting they should stay.

"We leaving soon?" she asked pushing a bit of sun streaked hair out of young face.

"Soon enough." He took the chair on the lower level, automatically checking readings. "Got our course figured?"

"Yes." She put the dinosaur back on the console.

"Everyone's on board, sir," Zoe's voice floated through the com.

"Then close her up and hang on."

The board showed him when the hold was closed, and he powered up his ship. Effortlessly Serenity lifted off and headed out to the stars.

"More homey than I expected, "Tawny Phillips commented to the small group of women as she gazed around the bright yellow room with red roses and green vines painted along the edges. The plain wood table in the center with the mismatched chairs added a certain charm and would make feeding everyone much easier. She hadn't really expected such a luxury on an old wreck of a ship.

"I've always enjoyed living here," a cultured voice replied from one of the doorways. Inara stepped into the room, completely comfortable in her flowing low-necked blue dress with matching stone jewelry, despite the more prime and proper attire of their guests. She noticed the knowing look on one of the young women's faces.

"You're a companion," a very horse-faced woman stated.

"I was." She walked over to the warmer where tea water was always ready. She found a mug and set a bag to steeping.

"Was?" Tawny inquired.

"Was,' Inara repeated, not wishing to go into detail. She still dressed the part, but with the continued unrest, she'd decided not to search for clients. At least, not yet. "Do you need help settling in?"

"No." Tawny replied, nervously touching her own put-up auburn hair. She was considered pretty on her world, but beside this refined lady, she felt plain as the Firefly they were traveling in.

"You have beautiful hair," Inara complimented. "If you'd like, I can show you several different and flattering ways you can put it up."

"You can?" Tawny's vanity got the better of her. She knew all about companions and how they were trained to please men. She'd always thought of them more like, well, plainly put, whores.

"All you have to do is ask."

"Could you do mine?" the horse-faced woman asked.

"Certainly…?" Inara let her question hang.

"Liz. Liz Amden."

"Certainly, Liz. Just come up to my shuttle. Anytime." Inara gave all the girls a gracious smile and glided out.

"A lot nicer than what I'd heard," Liz tactlessly commented.

"Yes, she is," Tawny agreed. "Now, let's get set up for dinner. And girls…" They all turned their attention to her. "Don't forget to make enough for the crew. We don't want them to feel like we've taken over their ship."

After a week of homemade meals, Mal wondered if he and the crew would be able to go back to eating bland protein, in all its various forms, again. With a contented smile he leaned back in the pilot's chair staring out into the star- glittering black.

"Quite a site," Justin said from behind him.

"I never tire of it."

"You like being out here. Free."

"Yeah. I do."

"Captain," Justin hesitated.

Mal turned to face him lacing his fingers behind his short, dark brown hair.

"I have a proposition for you."

"You want me to transport more brides?" The idea now wasn't as bad as he'd first thought. The women had been fine, so far, with only a few snapping words at each other now and then. They'd been most considerate toward him and his crew, which put them in a more positive light to his way of thinking.

"Possibly." The other man scratched behind his ear. "What I was really thinkin' is that we need someone to run between the moons. You see, New Hope has two sister colonies, and…"

"You're offerin' me more work?"

"Steady work."

"Have to think on that. Talk to the crew."

"Whatever you decide," Bolt jauntily replied as he left the bridge passing Zoë on his way out. Mal noticed she wasn't wearing her clothes as tight as she had before. He wondered about the change.

"Been more peaceful than I expected," she commented.

"Bolt just offered us steady work."

"Might be good," she agreed, her hand lightly touching her belly and falling away again.

"Everythin' okay with you, Zoë. You seem a might quiet, even for you."

"Fine." She picked up the T-Rex Wash had always played with, looking at it like she'd never seen it before. "We'll need to talk to the crew."

"Know that."

"New Hope is far enough out. Sky might not be too crowded."

"Was thinkin' about that too. Has seemed a might crowded of late."

"Justin Bolt has offered us steady work," Mal said without preamble

Everyone on his crew gazed at him with shocked expressions. . They'd eaten during the last shift for dinner, so he could talk with everyone at once, rather than having to arrange a meeting later.

"We want to git tied down?" Jayne asked. He leaned his muscular forearms on the table, his T-shirt looking like it never got washed.

"I've had several of the women ask if we were going to stay close by," Simon Tam added. He was a contrast to Jayne since he always looked clean, well- groomed and dressed as the wealthy gentlemen he once was. "They're concerned about having babies out here with no doctor."

"New Hope doesn't have a doctor?" Kaylee seemed very concerned.

"Lot of the outer moons and planets don't," Zoë affirmed.

"I learned to be a mid-wife at the academy," Inara put in. Mal liked the fact she wore dark curly hair down tonight. It made her look very lovely. Best if he turned his thoughts away from that fact.

"River?" The youngest member of his crew seemed unusually quiet.

"They think about getting married and having babies," River commented off-topic but not unusual for her. "Zoë thinks about her baby."

Mal started. "Zoë?" Even as he saw Dr. Tam nod out of the corner of his eye, he demanded, "Why didn't you tell me?"

She shrugged. "Wanted it to be secret for a bit."

"But we're your family," Kaylee objected.

"Congratulations! That's wonderful!" Inara voiced what they must all be thinking.

"How long have ya known?" Mal couldn't believe, after all they'd been through together since the war, she hadn't told him.

"A long while. Found out just after," she swallowed hard. "Wash was killed."

Her chocolate eyes took on a dreamy look. "I'd always told him we'd make one beautiful baby."

"You mean we're goin' to have a squally little brat on board!" The mercenary had risen to his feet, disgust written all over his face.

"I can put you off anytime you want." Mal didn't want anyone making Zoë unhappy. After all that had happened, she deserved something good to happen to her.

"Ah, it will be fun." Leave it to Kaylee to find the bright spot of a situation. "We can all take turns taking care of the baby. I can show it how Serenity works." She turned to Simon. "Is it a girl or a boy?"

He glanced over at Zoë. "Zoë doesn't want to know."

"You can tell me."

"No. I can't."

"He's a doctor and its not allowed," his sister River put in. "I know though."

"Best you be careful who you be readin'" Mal warned. "Might cause us a heap of trouble out here."

"Thought that was my job."

"Only when I need ya to."

"Like during a robbery."

Nervously he checked the doors to make sure no one but his crew heard the girl's remark. "You best be keepin' that to yourself. If we take this job, don't want them to know about some of our more...questionable jobs."

"If you want." River pulled her legs up and rested her chin on her knees, pulling at her brown gauze skirt to keep herself modestly covered.

"You gonna take this job?" Jayne demanded an answer.

"That's what we're here decidin'."

"I say take it." Zoë was the first to express her opinion. "There's too much unrest around the core planets. Maybe further out it'll be calmer. I could use some of that. My baby, too."

"Long as I can keep Serenity in the sky, I say yea." His engineer took Simon's hand.

He squeezed it in answer. "I know my medical skills can be used out here."

"You're a very good doctor, Simon," River praised. "That's what you should have been doing."

"I have been, River. I've kept the crew patched up."

"Yeah, you have," Mal agreed. "I think we should take this job, too. Jayne?"

"Don't like the idea of bein' in one spot."

"Steady money," Serenity's captain reminded him.

"We hope. You talked with Bolt about pay."

"Not yet."

"Best make sure it's worth our while afore you goin' and commit."

"He's honest," River said. "And he likes us. That's why he wants us to stay around."

"And he paid us well for this trip. I think he can be trusted." Mal nodded.

"Be sure. Or I might jump ship."

Sometimes, Mal didn't think that would be a bad thing.

"Inara?" She was the only one who hadn't voiced her opinion.

"Why not? Maybe I could begin a new client base."

That thought disturbed Mal even more.

River landed Serenity on New Hope smoothly. The brides poured out onto the desert-like surface greeted by nervous-faced men who didn't seem able to believe they'd arrived. Mal stood on the gangway gazing around at the small town.

A few metal buildings made up the town. There was the obvious saloon, a church with a battered steeple minus a cross, a building that looked newly added, probably a dorm for the brides, a store, and a couple of houses.

"I know it doesn't look like much," Bolt said. "But it's home. For you as well if you want."

"Serenity is home," Mal automatically replied.

"Of course. Wouldn't have it any other way." He raised a hand in greeting as two younger men and a young woman came running to meet him. "My brothers James and John, and my sister Judith."

His siblings threw their arms around their brother, and the group descended to the ground everyone talking at once. Mal wondered how they kept track of who was saying what.

"We've visited worse," Inara commented standing beside him.

"No respectable clients here for you."

"Oh, I don't know." She crossed her arms. "I was thinking Justin Bolt might make a good one."

"Thought you'd decided you didn't want to be a whore anymore."

She glared at him. "That's the last time you call me a whore."

"Wanna bet?" Jayne breathed as he pushed past them, joining the maylee in the town square.

"Looks like it's gonna be a great party," Kaylee said. "Think I'll go put on my frilly dress."

"Let me help me with your hair," Inara offered. following the engineer back into Serenity.

"If she's going to dress up, think I will, too." Simon retreated as well.

River watched the growing crowd with glee, her feet moving to silent music even as a small band set up to play.

"I have the perfect dress for you." Inara reappeared behind the girl. River went with her to change.

"Don't expect me to dress up," Mal yelled, even though there was no one there to hear him. His usual brown attire would do just fine.

The townsfolk had seated them at a table of honor and fed them food until they couldn't eat anymore. Mal lounged back in a chair while Simon and Kaylee danced together, and River joined the group dancing alone. Jayne had vanished to somewhere, though he'd drunk enough to probably have long since passed out, and Inara sat next to Bolt smiling and flirting with the big man. Mal found himself becoming jealous and tried to concentrate on the dancers instead. Zoë had tired and gone back to the ship to sleep. Being pregnant wore her out.

"Captain Reynolds." Tawny and Liz approached him. "We never did get a chance to thank you for transporting us here. Thank you for all your gracious hospitality."

"Seems you fed us enough to more than make up for the discomfort. But you're welcome."

The two girls shyly smiled and then were claimed by dancing partners.

"You've done a good thing here." Bolt sat down next to Reynolds. "Having brides will help settle our little town."

"How long do you think before they're all hitched?" He wasn't really curious, just making conversation.

"Won't take long. I have plenty of men wantin' to settle down and start families."

"Simon said they were concerned about havin' no doctor."

"Yes ."

"My crew and I decided we'd take you up on your offer of more work. You'll have a doctor available."

"Good. I'll come by your ship in the morning, and we can talk about your contract. But tonight, Captain," he raised a mug full of local brew. "Tonight we celebrate!"

"I'll drink to that."

Jayne still hadn't reappeared by morning. Mal was somewhat concerned but not overly so. If they lost the mercenary it would mean one less gun, yet maybe life on board would be calmer. Simon and Jayne still didn't get along well, despite all of them nearly getting killed recently. He'd have thought the experience would have bonded them

"How long we stayin'?" Zoë inquired as she stopped beside him.

"Depends on Bolt. Said he'd be by with a contract."

"Kind of like New Hope," his first mate continued. "Might be a nice place to settle down."

Concerned he turned to her. He'd hate loosing one of his best friends and assets. "Gettin' sentimental?"

"Just thinkin', sir. Got more to be concerned about than myself."

"True enough." He didn't like the idea though.

"Mornin', Captain," Justin greeted with a wave. He trotted up to join them, pulling a rolled parchment out of his leather jacket.

"Can't say I've done much work with an official contract," Mal honestly told him.

"Most of mine have been verbal."

"Caused you a heap of trouble from some of the tales I've heard," Bolt returned.

"He's right about that, sir," Zoë muttered.

Mal glared at his first mate and followed Bolt to one of the tables still set up from the party the night before. Zoë sat beside him so she could also see the wording.

"Just a standard contract stating you'll transport goods between the moons."

"Don't mind if I read it first?" Mal inquired. When he finished, he met Zoe's eyes. She nodded her agreement and he signed the document.

"Splendid." Bolt took the top copy and handed Reynolds the bottom one. "As it so happens, " the big man continued, "my brothers and I have a shipment all ready for transport. We can have it loaded by tomorrow mornin'."

The captain wondered if Bolt had known all along or if it was just a coincidence. "You're offerin' mighty generous payment."

Bolt gave him a wide smile. "I just consider myself fortunate to have a ship and a captain ready and willin' to work. Hard to come by out here, remember?"

"Surely do."

"Be back in a couple of hours with the first load." He hurried off.

"He's a slick talker, sir."

"I know it. Need the work."

"Not disagreeing, sir. Just suggestin' we watch him."

"Hasn't crossed us like Patience or Badger."

"Yet you mean," Jayne announced his presence with those words.

"Never had a bad deal from a colonist."

"Cept maybe the time Book got shot and Simon and sister got themselves snatched." Jayne was determined.

"Nothin' to do with the original deal, Jayne, and you know it," Zoë reprimanded him.

"Got paid well for the cattle." That deal hadn't been a total loss. Even if it had raised more questions about the Shepherd than would ever get answered now. His fault for running Book off. And getting him killed.

"So, what's the cargo?" Somehow, Jayne seemed just a might more smug than he should be.

"Don't know." One catch in the deal, the contract stated whatever needed to be transported. He just hoped they didn't start another cycle of botched jobs. Or having to clean up cow pies.

"Hope it ain't cows again," Jayne muttered. "I'm goin' to clean Vera."

"What is it with him and his gun." Zoë didn't really expect an answer.

"Least it'll keep him out of trouble."

Mal heard the man's yell even up in the control room. He darted out, almost knocking off one of the dinosaurs. River caught it before it hit the deck, replaced it on the console, and followed.

"Where's the cargo?" he asked as he hurried down the metal stairs.

"Outside in the wagons." Justin's eyes narrowed. "But we have a more pressing problem. Where's Jayne?"

Mal felt his blood congeal. What had the mercenary done?

"I'll get him," Zoë offered. She hurried off to the crew quarters.

"It's about one of the brides," River said as her bare feet touched the cold deck.

"I told him- " Mal began.

"Don't jump to conclusions, Captain," Bolt reassured him. "Probably just a misunderstanding. I'd like to clear up."

Zoë with Jayne in tow, appeared. The rest of his crew, curious about the goings on, trailed behind.

"Where were you last night, Jayne?" Bolt questioned.

"None of your business," he retorted.

"You'll answer his question," Mal ordered.

"I will not."

"'Member what I said about what would happen next time you crossed me?"

Jayne shot a guilty look at Simon and River. "I was with a girl."

"Liz Amden?" Now Bolt looked very concerned.

"Guess so."

Zoe's face filled with disgust. "Knew he looked too smug."

"There's a clause in the contract about compromising any of the brides," Bolt growled.

"Nothin' happened," Jayne protested.

"Still, you were out all night and unchaparoned." Bolt looked stern and crossed his muscular arms.

"So?"

Inara stepped forward. "Proper young ladies do not spend the night alone with a man without a chaperone,' she supplied. "Jayne, you should have had someone go with you two."

"We got lost. What were we supposed to do?" He seemed embarrassed by the admission.

"You've put our contract in jeopardy." That single fact worried Mal. "He can pull it."

"Unless we can set it right immediately," Inara suggested.

"And how do we do that ?" Mal rounded on the companion.

"He can marry Liz." Inara tried not to smile.

Jayne paled. "Me? With a wife?"

The idea had merit and somehow seemed fitting, particularly since Jayne had once tried to trade Vera for a wife - Mal's short-term wife. "Does the poor girl know what she'd be gittin'?" He felt sorry for the plain young woman.

"I think she'd prefer marriage to becomin' an old maid," Inara explained.

"Don't want to git married," Jayne objected.

"Excuse me." Mal grabbed Jayne and pulled him aside. "Now I put this crew together with the promise of work, and we all agreed to take this contract. Now you do right by that girl or I'll put you off here and let Bolt do with ya what he wants."

"Means I git married either way."

"Most likely."

"Ain't fair."

"Neither does not listenin' to me when I warned ya. So, what's it goin' to be?'

The mercenary grunted. "All right. I'll marry that - that horse-faced girl."

"Now Jayne," Zoë warned. "You be nice."

The ceremony was a short one performed by the local pastor. Liz threw the bouquet, and it was caught by her friend Tawny. There were rounds of good- byes and Jayne lugged her trunk aboard, trying to dodge the stacks of huge logs all around the cargo bay.

"Now remember," Bolt said as he walked with Mal. "The delivery is to a man named Stemple."

"He runs the mill." Reynolds did remember all the details of the deal.

"Yeah, he and I butt heads on a regular basis, but he'll be glad of the wood. He's got a nice deal going with the next moon. They just settled there about a year ago and still short on basic supplies."

"Like lumber to build homes."

"That's right. Now, I'll bet you're beginning to understand why we needed a ship out here."

"I do indeed."

"And captain, do me a favor. Make sure Jayne treats that girl right."

"Oh, he will. My word on it."

"Good. Safe voyage." He waved as he rejoined his brothers and sister.

Zoë closed up as he boarded. "River's on the bridge."

"Spect she would be." He ambled up the walkway and joined the girl on the bridge. "Course set?" he asked , knowing he really didn't need to.

"All set." She grinned at him. "Love keeps her in air."

That being said, he took control of Serenity and blasted out of atmo and into space. A clear and uncrowded sky met his gaze and he knew the hope and happiness of freedom once again.

Originally printed in Of Dreams and Schemes 22 edited by Catherine Schlein, May 2007, with a few editorial changes by the author.

It was also nominated for the Fan Quality Award at Media West Con.

A little background on this story: I had just finished watching the entire first season of 'Here Come the Brides'. The idea come to me that it might be a fun crossover with Firefly. Since I didn't want to add a time travel angle, as Barbara Hambly did in "Ishmeal", the now famous 'Star Trek/Here Come the Brides' crossover, I thought it would be better to use instead their descendents. Even Cathy liked what I did, even if it was a bit confusing since she'd expected to see Jason Bolt, his brothers, Candy Pruitt, Aaron Stemple, and other familiar characters. The new Bolt clan, plus Tawny and Liz are loosely based on the originals, changed to fit the verse, and many of the plot elements came from series. This is the first story in a trilogy. I had decided to wait about posting all of them until my contracts expired with the zine. That way, my readers would get to read all three of them in a short expanse of time – rather than waiting a year between each installment.