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The Path of a Shepherd

By P.J. Lowry

Adventure / Scifi

Chapter 1

Even though it was raining down hard on the planet, Captain Malcolm Reynolds didn’t seem to really mind. With the many planets that he visited, rain was actually something he seldom saw so he always took a moment to sit down and appreciate it. He also needed the water, as Serenity wasn't able to create the stuff out of thin air. So whenever he encountered it, Mal always thought it was his lucky day. Not having to pay for this month's supply of water was always put a smile on the Captain’s face. It was good to have a little change lying around just in case something else onboard broke off. Mal was sitting on one of the many crates they were booked to deliver just watching the water fall when Zoe emerged from the rear door of the cargo bay.

"Is everything all right?" Mal asked, watching her walk in out of the corner of his eye.

"Everything's fine," Zoe said, walking out to watch the rain with him, "We don't see this very often, do we?"

"No, we don’t." Mal agreed.

"You're refilling the water ducts, aren't you?" she asked.

"Want fresh food for supper?" Mal countered.

"Of course I do, but just remember to replace the filters to clean up this stuff." Zoe said as she started to walk back inside.

"I will." Mal called back but she likely didn't hear him. He sat there and continued to be engrossed with the falling water. It was like watching money fly back into his pocket, something he never got tired of. It was at this moment when he spotted him, walking down the platform and towards his ship. The man was covered in a cloak, likely to keep him dry but had a pace about him that got Mal's back up. His instincts told him to not trust this person, and they rarely led him astray. As the man walked closer and closer towards Serenity, Mal grabbed his pistol and slowly pulled it out of its holster and slyly put the gun behind his back to give him some element of surprise. When the stranger finally made it to the base of Serenity's loading bay, he removed the hood of his cloak to reveal himself to the Captain. Mal’s first instinct was to shoot him dead, but curiosity was getting the best of him.

"I could have sworn that I told you only to show yourself here if you wanted to kill yourself." The Captain told him.

"That was over a year ago, Captain," The man replied, "I was hoping we could talk about this… like men."

Mal paused when the man standing before him, as the former operative of the Alliance took the time to address him by his formal rank. Such respect was something he hadn't extended to him during any of their conversations. Something was different and it had changed him.

"What are you looking for?" Mal asked.

"Passage," The former operative replied, "I have some money and unlike the other ship captains, I know you well and can trust you'll do the right thing."

"Why do you need transport?" Mal asked, somewhat eager to know what was going on in this man's life lately.

"Pilgrimage," He answered. "My destination is the location of my new parish."

"Parish?" Mal repeated.

The former operative opened his cloak up a little more to reveal his new line of work. He was wearing the formal dress of a Shepherd. He was now a man of God. Mal face cringed when he recognized it.

"You have got to be kidding me!” Mal called out, “You're a Shepherd?"

"I have been for almost six months now.” The Shepherd replied, “I've spend most of my time since we last meet at the monastery, waiting for a sign to guide me towards my future. I found it and want to take the first step towards making it a reality."

He took one step onto Serenity's boarding ramp. Mal responded by whipping out his pistol and pointing it right at the man's chest.

"Why a Shepherd?" he asked, "You could have made a lot more money as a mercenary for hire. Why live what is mostly a life of poverty?"

"Believe it or not Captain," The Shepherd responded, "Many men in my field choose to become a Shepherd if they live long enough to see retirement. Do you really think Mr. Book was a Shepherd his entire life? He started just as I did: an operative for the Alliance."

"Bad mouthing my friends,” Mal snapped back, “especially those who have passed on is not a good way to get on board my boat."

"I'm sorry. I meant no ill will." The Shepherd replied, "If anything I have nothing but the highest respect for him and his work for the Alliance."

"Well, I'll be honest.” Mal said to the Shepherd, “I'm a little iffy about whether or not I should give you a lift, regardless of what you can pay."

“So we are at an impasse,” the Shepherd observed, “how do we get past this little predicament?”

Mal said as he put his gun back into its holster. "I'll have to speak with my co-pilot."

"Speak to me about what?" River said as she always knew when Malcolm was talking about her. She then turned to realize who he was talking to. "What's he doing here?"

"He is asking for a lift." Mal answered.

"We don't take strays." River replied.

"I have money." The Shepherd retorted, "I am willing to pay what I can for my transport."

River looked and finally noticed his garb. "You're a Shepherd?"

"That remains to be seen." Mal said as he still had a finger on the handle of his pistol, ready to draw it again any moment.

"Where are you going?" River asked.

The new Shepherd passed River a small piece of paper. Written on it was the name of his eventual destination. River read it and grinned at the irony. "Did you choose this place to start your parish yourself?"

"I like to think that it chose me," the Shepherd replied with the up most respect.

"Okay, he can come with us." River decided.

"Are you sure?" Mal asked, somewhat surprised.

"Yes," River answered. "We need the money, and I would like to get a new dress."

"Thank you," Shepherd replied, "I am sincerely grateful for…"

"Just remember," Mal coldly interrupted, "My boat, my rules. If you break any of them or so much as piss me off, do you know what I’ll do?”

"Let me guess," The Shepherd answered, "You'll toss me out the airlock?

"No," River called back, "I will."

“Then I accept,” the Shepherd said.

“Welcome aboard,” Mal said to him with grit teeth, “Do you have any other baggage to carry on?”

“Just what I have on me.” The Shepherd answered.

River then smiled and took his arm. "Come inside. We're just about to have supper!"

"Thank you," The Shepherd said again, this time with a coy smile. He then walked on board fully aware of what he was getting himself into.

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