Chapter 7: Serenity: shuttle bay
"Welcome back, Inara!"
The companion embraced her greeter before turning the attention to her fellow travelers. "Kaylee, I want to introduce you to Shepherd Derrial Book and Simon."
"Pleased to meet you," Book said extending a hand to Kaylee.
Simon gave a slight nod, hoping he wasn't blushing. Even in overalls and smudges of grease on her face, he thought she was beautiful.
He wanted to follow Inara, Book and Kaylee for the rest of the walk, but he felt tired by the time they reached the steps on the catwalk. He lowered himself slowly, leaning against the rail, impressed with how far he made it and disappointed with how much further he had to go.
Book noticed he had stopped. "Simon, maybe we should-."
"I'll stay with him," Kaylee offered eagerly. "Inara, Cap'n wants to hear the latest, I'm sure. So…go. Go on and Simon and I will sit a spell."
Inara looked at her cautiously; Book smiled approvingly and Simon felt ashamed. But it was decided and he found himself alone with her.
The first thing Simon felt was her exhilarating joy. He suspected that her outlook on life was perpetually bright. He hungered for that, and felt guilty in holding her back. "Kaylee…" Even her name sounded like a chime to his ears. "May I ask…?"
"Ship's mechanic," she said. "I could show you the engine room, when you're up to it, that is." Kaylee leaned against him, unafraid. "You don' strike me like one who be needin' a companion."
Simon chuckled. That was twice he heard that now, he thought. "Thanks?"
She turned and smiled at him. "You look so tired. Maybe you ought lay down proper and rest."
He knew he needed it, but didn't want to. "I'll be fine. Give me a …, if that's all right?"
A couple of voices came up the stairs from below. "But honey, I'm telling you that-."
"I don't care how you think you're going to sell it, it isn't going to work."
"But, sweetheart-," he said as he reached the top of the steps.
"Do you want to sleep in the common area?" the woman said with her back to Simon and Kaylee.
The first thing that struck Simon was the statuesque height of the woman. Perfect posture, no-nonsense tone and… Taking in the rest of her outfit, he noticed she was wearing military boots. He wondered…
"Um, Zoë, honey, we've company," the man said pointing to Simon. "Hi. I'm Wash." He walked past Zoë and leaned forward to firmly shake Simon's hand. To Kaylee, he said, "You didn't tell us you ordered up yourself a boyfriend. I'm impressed."
Simon smiled at Wash, Inara's comment earlier making sense to him now. Before he could introduce himself, Zoë spoke up. "You're here with Inara?" He nodded. "I'll prepare the Captain."
Kaylee smiled, "Oh, she and Shepherd's doing that all ready. Simon and I are just-."
"Nice to meet you, Simon," Wash said, as if to properly finish the formalities. "This is Zoë, the Warrior Woman of a peacemaker, I proudly call my wife. Um, you've already been claimed by Kaylee, I see, so that leaves you with our captain and our…public relations man."
Zoë shot her husband a look that didn't go unnoticed by Simon. It was a warning, but given lovingly in a way. He never saw that between his parents. She turned her attention back to Simon and said, "If you need anything don't hesitate to ask, all right? None of us are mind readers and the only foolish thing around here is not asking. Dong ma?"
Again, Simon nodded. He hadn't heard Chinese Mandarin so much since his father stopped speaking it around him. Simon found it refreshing to hear even that small bit.
Wash stepped back to his wife, taking her arm in his. "Well, Simon, you should go take a nap, given how you've tuckered yourself out with all that talkin'. Dinner's in a few and Zoë's cooking. So, you may want to fill up on some prot-."
Zoë elbowed him in the stomach. "Kaylee, dear, remind me that I don't want a patient to deal with later, all right?" Kaylee laughed as Zoë's mock anger dissolved into a smile. Zoë gestured to her cheek while giving a nod in Simon's direction. "Need me to look at that for you?"
Simon brought a hand up to the bandage, not soaked through with blood - a good sign; he shook his head.
The couple disappeared down the walkway where Book and Inara had gone down earlier. Simon looked in that direction for a while, loving them instantly. He'd give anything to call this group 'family' and give even more to bring River to this 'home.'
He stood up, with Kaylee's help, and walked toward the other shuttle, if anything to have something to hold on to along the way.
"That's more storage than anythin' really," Kaylee said holding his hand. "But, if that's where you want to begin the tour…" She opened the door and shook her head as she pointed about the mess. "See? Ain't like we ever make use of it, so it's fine for now, considerin'. Although…."
Simon leaned against the doorway and listened to Kaylee go on about shuttles and other craft; which ones were inferior to the Firefly and which ones were just too 'rich' and useless. When she finished, she took Simon by the arm and turned him around. "How about showing the rest of the ship that matters?"
As soon as he turned around, Simon felt his head spin. Despite his grasp for control, Simon collapsed onto the deck.
"Let me get this straight," Malcolm Reynolds said, arms folded over his chest as he paced about, ready to make a point, "not only did you bring two folks on my ship without my permission-."
"For your information, I brought them because it's my business why I brought-."
"Without my permission," he repeated, "and now you're tellin' me we're making a detour for one of 'em because….why again?"
Shepherd Book stepped forward. "If I may, it's-."
"No, you may not." Mal said. "I said nothing about taking on paying passengers."
Wash heard the last part. "Paying passengers? Mal, we're expanding to take on passengers? Oh joy!"
Zoë didn't share his sentiment. "Sir, we haven't even cleaned out the passenger cabins. I'm sorry," she said to Book, "you are…?"
"Shepherd Book," he said, shaking first Zoë's then Wash's hand. "Ms. Serra-."
"Inara," the Companion corrected.
"Inara," continued Book, "was requesting that Simon and I might be given passage to a medical moon?"
Wash smiled. "It's not so much a moon as it is a station near a moon...sometimes. Zhi Ismat doesn't like to stay in one place too long should the Alliance come looking for him." To Mal he said, "I can hail him on the Cortex. Doubt we're too far and-."
"No one's hailin' nobody. Inara, you are not telling me where we're going. As for you, preacher, I'm surprised that you'd take up traveling with a wh-."
"Wouldn't advice that, Sir," Zoë said interrupting him. "Shepherd, aside from that nasty cut on the cheek, the boy looked fine to me, and you-."
Book brought his hands together in front of him and said, "Looks can be deceiving."
Wash sat down at his station, pulling up a wave. "It wouldn't hurt, Mal. Besides, we might be able to stock up on some medical supplies or something. Zhi's good at spotting us some credit."
"We're not going. Dong le ma?"
"You're the one who doesn't understand, Mal," Inara said turning to go back to her shuttle. From the Bridge, the group heard Kaylee scream.
"What the hell happened?!" Mal said as he knelt down by the fallen passenger. Blood seeped through the bandage and now spread slowly along the boy's face.
Kaylee's hands were shaking as she held on to Simon's. "Don't know, Cap'n. All we were doing was turning 'round to walk this way and he fell; hit his face on the rail. That's all."
"Jayne, is that true?" Mal asked, thankful the boy still had a pulse.
The mercenary shrugged his shoulders. "How should I know? All I did was come by and-."
"Right," Mal said, picking the boy up now. "Zoë, tell Wash to hail Zhi; Kaylee, prep the infirmary. I'll-."
"Mal, let him rest in the shuttle and-," Inara suggested
He descended down the stairs. "Can't examine him from there, Inara." He turned to look at her as he lay Simon on the examination table. "Get Zoë. Kaylee, I need you to get back to work."
Mal took in the Shepherd's appearance. "You don't seem surprised by this."
"He's having a rough time," Book said, keeping a hand on Simon's shoulder. "Inara said you could get us to a facility faster than her shuttle."
Mal began the diagnostics as best he could. Was nothing else visibly wrong with the boy - except for how thin he was, and taking a beating or two recently. The cheek, Mal could stitch up easily enough. He was thankful when Zoë showed up. "What do we got?" he asked, focusing on the stitching.
"Heart rate's going a mite fast for him, Captain. Plenty of bones broke here, too. Want me to draw some blood?"
"Hasn't he lost enough?" Book protested.
Zoë ignored him as she prepared a hypo. "Need to test what's in his system, Preacher."
"Good luck getting a clear reading, then," he said.
Mal looked up at him, annoyed at the unshared information. Finishing up the suturing, he said, "This ain't my best work, but it'll fair better than piling bandage after bandage on him. "Care to tell me what happened?"
"Not yet," Book said, not backing down from Mal's challenge.
"Make you a deal," Mal said, "you tell me the story and I'll offer you and him room and board."
Book held his ground. "You offer Simon and me room and board, and maybe then I'll tell you the story."
Zoë shook her head during the exchange. She knew the moment she saw the boy that he'd be staying with them. As for the Preacher, if he was as protective of the boy as she was of her crewmates…. "Captain, it would be best to let them stay on board."
Mal gave her a look as he washed up. "First Inara, now you? I s'pose Kaylee will be givin' me the next order, right?"
"More than likely, Sir. I'll even help Preacher pack." It wasn't a suggestion or a rhetorical offer and he knew it.
"Fine." With that, he went to the bridge to see how long it would take to get to Zhi Ismat.
Once the captain left, Zoë said, "I'm sure you'll fill me in on the essentials while we transfer, right, Shepherd?"
Zhi Ismat looked over the patient on his table. "Tyen shiao duh .In the name of all that's sacred…. Mal, what did you bring me?"
"So, it's worse than we found?" he said, arms folded over his chest waiting. He was losing patience and he was right here; while the Shepherd, on the other hand, was under Jayne's watchful eye.
"Well, it's any wonder the boy's alive and not completely paralyzed, but…yeah, this is at least a year's worth of torture I'm looking at. And the way these arms are," Zhi pulled up a video image, "someone stomped on them hard. Some nerve damage, but it looks like he beat most of the odds."
"What'll it take to heal him up properly?" Zoë asked.
Zhi shook his head. "Can't bring him to one-hundred percent, but darn near close. I'm going to have to redo your stitchin' job here, too, try to minimize the scar a bit more. If I didn't know any better, I'd say his skin was torn open by a jagged piece of metal, like someone backhanded him."
Mal wanted the rest of the story. "What else is there?"
"He's been detoxifying himself, it looks like. Barely out of the woods, so to speak, but this…" He pulled up another image, "If I didn't know better, I'd say that bit of damage was done from JJF use."' Off of Mal's look, Zhi said, "Popular drop or gas of choice for some rebellious types. Sometimes you hear it called-."
"Flare or Jumpin' Jay?" Zoë offered. "How would one find that on a Core planet?"
Zhi waved a finger at Zoë as he pulled up yet another screen. "If there was a collection of concoctions given, then maybe the wrong one would be the right one – I mean, closely resemble JJF and its effects."
"Meaning what?" Zoë asked.
"Tremors for life. They can be controlled, to a certain extent, but there's no complete elimination of them. Mind if I keep him here a spell to further the detoxifying and such?"
Mal was hesitant. "How much longer?"
"Maybe a week at most. Gets him well on his way as far as the toxins. In regards to the bones and nerves…He'll need at least the majority of the week to recover, if you two help me operate on him today."
Mal shook his head. "I don't have that kind of payment available to-"
Zhi brushed him off. "Won't charge you. But I will tell you….There will be a bounty out for this one."
Before Mal could ask, Zoë leaned over and whispered in his ear, "If you do turn the boy in, Sir, prepare to go to a special kind of hell."