Author's note: This story takes place after the events of my story "Symbols of Freedom" though it's not essential to have read that first. I'm not stopping you, but not forcing you either. Hope you enjoy.
Captain Malcolm Reynolds stared at the rotating hulk two klicks directly ahead of them and felt an indistinct sense of anxiety fill his chest. He was seated in the co-pilots seat of Serenity, River sat to his right in the pilot's position and Jayne was behind him at the comms panel. Mal scratched at the stump of his shoulder through his coat and tried to compose his thoughts. He wasn't sure what they should do next.
Jayne was hunched over the panel scanning the radio emissions in the area. He shook his head as he removed a headset from one ear.
'That bird ain't givin' out a peep Mal. Nothin' 'bove background 'n any frequency.'
"Dead air." thought Mal.
'River,' he said, 'Take us in closer. See if we can't get some visual ID on it.'
River pushed Serenity forwards, gently nudging her guidance jets until they were less than one hundred meters above the stricken ship's stern. She angled them downwards and turned one hundred and eighty degrees. The flat, grey hull filled their view out of the windows. From a distance they would have looked like a Remora picking at a docile shark.
'You getting any readings lil' albatross?'
River had been checking her panels continuously during the manoeuvring and shook her head. As far as she could detect there was nothing giving out any power on board the other ship.
Mal rubbed his stump. It didn't make any sense. Ships were never completely inactive. There was always some power left in circuits and relays. Maybe not enough to drive an engine or run life-support, but enough to maintain the computer systems in hibernation. They should be able to pick up that small charge in the other ship's circuits from this close proximity.
River sat back in the pilot's seat.
'Nothing.' She said. 'It is empty.'
Jayne took off his headphones.
'Thought you was s'posed t' be sane now-a-days,' he said, 'so whit you still doin' talkin' crazy? That ain't empty. That there is a fortune just waitin' t'be lye-burr-ate-ted.'
River gave Jayne a dark look.
He sent a mock-scared expression back to her.
'Ain't nobody goin' to be liberating anything 'til I figure out exactly what we're dealin' with here,' said Mal.
He unhooked the intercom microphone and opened the broadcast channel.
'Kaylee! Get your greasy little face up here pronto. Your captain needs your expertise.'
He hooked the mic back in its rest.
'Either of you forgotten what happened the last time we came across a derelict floating all ripe for the pickin'?' he asked, 'Alliance. Reavers. Bodies hangin' from the ceilin'. Big scary bomb stickin' itself to our bottom. Any of that ringin' a bell?'
'Yeah. But sure, we couldn't be that unlucky twice in a row,' said Jayne.
Mal stared him.
River stared at him.
'I refuse to believe you are as stupid as you act Jayne,' said Mal, 'Just isn't possible for a human to be able t' walk 'n talk and be that dumb.'.
'I am open to belief,' said River.
Kaylee walked into the cockpit wiping her hands on a rag made from one of Wash's old shirts, a particularly repellent shirt that Zoe had donated to the engine-room rag-fund long before he had died.
'Hey Captain,' she said, 'Ooooh. What you got there?'
'Was hopin' you could tell me. Thing ain't givin' off a blip. If it weren't for our pilot's excellent senses we'd now be nothin' more than a smokin' crater in the side of her hull.'
'That a fact? Well done you River, savin' our lives and findin' treasure all into the bargain.' She patted River on the shoulder and the younger woman could not stop a smile spreading across her face.
Kaylee tucked the rag in her belt and took a seat at the top of the stairs that led between the two pilot positions. She stared down at the mysterious ship and sat for a moment in silent contemplation then pointed up to their right. 'River bring us about that way. Take us over to those rows of panels.'
River pulled back and round on the stick giving Serenity little boosts as she synchronised their position with the slowly spinning ship. They were less than twenty meters away from the other massive hull. Kaylee pulled a torch out of a pocket and shone it through the windows. She illuminated a section just under their nose.
'Anyone read that?' she asked.
'Kessel…?' attempted Mal.
'Slick…?' attempted Jayne.
'Silver Kestrel,' said River.
'The Silver Kestrel,' said Kaylee, 'Now that's just plain impossible.'