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River of Guilt

By Kenneth (Ken or KW) Finley

Adventure / Scifi

Long distance calling

Malcom Reynolds is sitting at the dining table in the Firefly class freighter’s dining area/galley. It is a comfortable place with worn, lived-in appliances, large table, and mis-matched but comfortable chairs. For a brief time, activity within the ship is living up to its name – Serenity. He has his pistol out of his holster and is using saddlesoap to clean the holster. He’s immersed himself in comfortable things, the warm feel of leather, the sharp tang of saddlesoap and gun oil. Wash’s shouted “Mal” startles him and he spills the soapy water in his lap.

“Mi Tian Gohn! What?” He grabs a couple of rags nearby to use as towels. Wash is his pilot, and spends most of the time on Serenity’s bridge.

“Mal, you’ve got a wave from Mr. Universe.” The voice floats down from the short passage way leading to the bridge.

“D'un yi shia.” Mal grabs rags to wipe futilely at the spreading stain on his lap, and  to keep any more water running off the table and onto either his pants or the deck. “What does he want?”

“He says it’s private, Mal. You wanna take it up here, or in your quarters?”

Mal throws the sodden rags at the offending puddle on the table and stands. He moves the holster and pistol to a dry spot on the table before heading toward Serenity’s bridge to find Wash and Zoe huddled at the pilot’s station. Wash and Zoe are a study in opposites. Wash is blond haired, blue eyed, short, stocky, and very laid back. Zoe is dark - dark skin, dark eyes, and dark hair. She radiates controlled power. They are living proof that opposites attract as they are husband and wife. Zoe takes one look at Mal’s sodden pants and her smiling face goes blank, except for the mischief in her laughing eyes.

“You didn’t do that when in battle, Sir.”

Mal looks perplexed. Zoe had been his non-commissioned officer during what the winners called the Unification War. “What?” Realization dawns. “Oh … I was just cleaning my pistol and holster when Wash called. I – uh – spilled the soap.” He points both hands toward the dining area. “There’s a big mess down there.”

Zoe gives one brief nod. “I see, Sir. Anything you say, Sir.”

“No, really. I spilled the soap when I stood up.”

Zoe starts to edge around Mal toward the door. “I’ll take care of it, Sir. Why don’t you see what Mr. Universe wants.” Her full, red lips flash a quick grin at Wash’s smiling face and ducks through the hatch. She’s halfway down the corridor when they hear a muffled, unladylike snigger.

Mal glares at Wash who stops smiling and reaches for the com. “He’s using a really low band of the TeleFonix, Sir.” Wash uses a lot of 'Sirs' when he talks to Serenity's Captain. It's hard to tell if it is respectful or sarcastic.

Mal positions himself so that whoever is watching on the screen can’t see his soaked pants. “Go ahead.”

Wash flips switches and the young geek who calls himself Mr. Universe comes on, surrounded by his usual army of panels, switches, blinking lights, and monitors. He smiles when he sees Mal.

“Hey, Mal. How ya doin’?”

“We made profit on the last job, we’re free in space, and the Alliance doesn’t know where we are. Until a few minutes ago you could call it a good day. Now I get a call from you I wasn’t expectin’. Seems you might have something worthy?”

“Hey, Mal, you know. Mr. Universe rides the waves.” His hands wave expansively. “Sees all, knows all,” brings thumb and forefinger of his left hand to within an inch apart, and his voice drops to a whisper, “tells little.”

“I expect that should be the way of it.” Mal’s patience seems strained, but he knows that he has to let Mr. Universe’s spiel run its course.

“Oh yeah. But I got this interesting little tidbit that I thought you’d want to hear. Or at least, some of your passengers.”

“I be listenin.”

“Seems a wealthy daddy did some investing on Newhall. Now that he’s dead, passengers of yours that it is better to leave unnamed stand to inherit. There’s an Advocate looking for them and wants to settle up. I’ve ported the name and address over to you. Interested parties have no idea that I have the information or that I passed it on. If you know what I mean.”

Mal nodded. “I copy. I’ll keep that under advisement. I’m obliged.”

“No problem. Just drop in the next time you come by. You always have interesting stuff.”

The screen went blank. Wash looked puzzled.

“What was that about?” There was never any question that Wash would eavesdrop on a supposedly private conversation.

“I surely don’t know if you don’t have wealthy parents.”

“Bai Lih Mohn, Mal.”

Mal nodded. “I sorta calculated that. I’ll get the others together. Why’n’t you set a course for Newhall. Might be some money in this.”

Mal reaches for the overhead com mike, flips a switch and keys the mike. “This is your Captain speaking. Would everyone please report to the lounge? I’ll be there shortly. Captain Out.” He heads for his quarters to change pants.

Untangling the Mystery

Mal steps into the lounge to find Jayne, Shepard Book, Zoe, Kaylee, Inara, and Simon waiting. Mal looks at Simon.

“Doctor, I thought you were an educated sort.”

Dr. Simon Tam is a tall, slender young man with wavy dark hair, pale complexion, and intelligent eyes. His grooming and dress screams money. Right now, his thin, handsome face looks defensive but says nothing.

“I thought I said everyone should report to the lounge. That would include your sister, although I ain’t sayin’ she probably already knows what I want. It’d still be good for her to be here.”

Simon rubs his chin. “Today hasn’t been one of her better days, Captain.  She’s … sleeping.” Everyone in the lounge knew that once again, Simon had had to drug his erratic sister to keep her from hurting someone, possibly herself. “I don’t advise waking her, but if you think it is important …” His cultured voice, and word choice reinforce the perception of breeding and wealth.

Mal considers for a moment. “Like as not, it won’t matter.”

Simon nods gratefully and the whole group looks at Mal expectantly. Zoe pointedly looks at his pants, then to his face, her expression carefully blank.

Mal takes a deep breath. “I got a whole lot of mysteriousness here, and I don’t generally like mysteriousness, except this could lead to some profit.”

He pauses to order his thoughts and Jayne interjects. “Profit’s good. I like profit.” Jayne is large, dark haired, scruffy, and convinced he could do a better job as leader than Mal. He just isn’t ready to challenge him openly. Says he’s just waiting for the money to be good enough.

Mal looks annoyed. “I just got a wave from Mr. Universe. He passed on a message that someone on board Serenity has wealthy parents that have passed away and left that someone a passel of money. It’s on Newhall. I know who to call, but not who should be doin’ the callin.”

Jayne looked disappointed. “Shucks. That lets me out. My mom never had nuttin.”

Shepard Book shook his head at Mal’s inquiring gaze. “My parents have been gone for many years. They would have had nothing on Newhall.” Mal looks a moment longer at the Shepard. He wonders for the hundredth time how that mahogany face could look so open and friendly and at the same time, conceal so many secrets.

Mal shifted his gaze to the most beautiful woman he has ever seen - Inara. “Ambassador? I figure your parents would have plenty to send you to school, or maybe a rich client looked upon you in a fatherly way, while dealing with you manfully?”

Inara stiffened. She is a well-schooled registered Companion. She leases one of Serenity’s two shuttles to meet with clients as Serenity wanders about the ‘Verse. She and Mal are constantly at odds about her profession, but both seem unable to terminate their platonic contract. It doesn’t help Mal that her professional mode of dressing accentuates her inherent sexuality. “Neither my parents, nor my clients are any of your business. However, any Advocate would contact me directly. As the only legitimate business person on this ship, I’m posted on the Cortex.”

Mal shrugged and looked doubtfully at Kaylee. Kaylee is his mechanic. She seems way too young for her job and responsibility, but her natural gift for engines has won her a place on Serenity’s crew. Where Inara is a carefully nurtured beauty, Kaylee is naturally cute. Where Inara is poised, Kaylee is open and exuberant. She gave Mal a big, cheerful smile. “My parents are farmers. They don’t invest, especially on Newhall.” She pauses, looking as Simon. “I’ll bet it’s your parents. You never talk about them.”

Simon looks distinctly uncomfortable. He scratches his upper lip. “No I don’t. River doesn’t know our parents are dead.. I haven’t told her, yet, that they died in an accident while she was away in school. I spent our inheritance getting her out, so there isn’t much left. I’ve still got her cryo unit, which is worth a good bit. I’ve been thinking about selling it. But, I thought I’d exhausted all our other resources. It’s possible, I suppose, that Father may have had investments on Newhall, but I don’t know.”

Book looks from Simon to Mal, his face pensive. “It occurs to me that we could be facing a trap.”

Mal nods. “Pears to me that’s a possible thing. Could be worrisome.”

“I-I-I don’t want to risk anything, or anyone. It’s just money.”

Mal looks at Simon. “Could be you’re the only one on this ship could say that. I’m thinkin’ we could all use some of that money and you’d still have enough to buy ID’s for you an’ your sister and a place to hide on one of the better rim worlds. That money could buy you some freedom.”

“Shiny!” Kaylee reaches over to Simon. “You could have your own place. You could have the kind of life you miss.”

Simon looks scornful. “I doubt that I would find the kind of world I had on some Godforsaken Rim world. I’d probably end up a dirt farmer.”

Kaylee instantly bridles. “My parents are dirt farmers. They ain’t got much, but they’ve got respect. At least they aren’t constantly looking over their shoulders.” Kaylee gets up to leave the room. A muttered “Hwoon dahn! Da Chung Wu Dahn.” hangs in the air behind her.

Book attempts to get his eyebrows under control. Jayne grins hugely. Inara fixes Simon with a look of cool appraisal. She stands to leave.

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