Space. Deep, dark, beautiful and gorram boring space. Wash had seen his fair share of it over the last week. So as he sat at the helm of Serenity, his backside as numb as his mind, he was thankful to finally lay his tired eyes on something that wasn’t just a vast expanse of black with little white dots all over it. Even if it did look like a giant booger had been rolled in the dirt and then flung into the far reaches of the system.
“Ahoy there, Captain,” he said without turning around, as he heard the distinct clanging of Mal’s boots entering the cockpit. He found it reasonable to assume that if the boots were entering then the captain probably wasn’t far behind.
“That Argolis?” he asked, resting a hand on the back of Wash’s chair. Wash hated it when people did that – it was his special pilot’s chair. But he didn’t say anything. You know, due respect, chain of command and all that stuff. “Ugly some bitch, ain’t it?”
“Well, you know what they say Captain, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.”
“That’s what the miners thought too,” said Mal. “Until they dug the place dry and left behind a hollowed out husk, floating in space. Send ‘em a friendly greeting, let ‘em know we’re commin’ in,” said Mal. “I’ll go tell the others to get ready.”
Serenity touched down with as much grace as a buzzard fighting for the last scraps of a carcass, whipping dirt and dust into the air and spooking some nearby cattle.
The cargo bay door lowered with a long, drawn out hydraulic sound before coming to a rest with a thud in the dirt. Mal, Zoe, Simon and Jayne emerged from within and walked down the ramp, squinting against the sun.It was about midday, judging by its position.
The air was hot and dry. Despite the heat, Mal still wore his heavy brown coat, just as Jayne wore the knitted hat that his mother had made him.
They entered a small town called Oreton. Well, maybe town was
too strong a word for it. Collection of wood would probably be a better
description. A collection of wood, heaped vaguely in the shape of buildings.
Fortunately, one of those heaps was labelled as a trading post. So while Mal
and the others went to see a man about some cattle, Simon sought out some much
needed medical supplies.
He felt conspicuous as he entered the dusty old building, like every eye in the room was lingering on him. Still, it was no different to how he’d felt walking through the streets of town. Really, it was no different to how he felt most places he went with Mal and his motley crew.
He moseyed on over to the counter, doing his best to avoid eye contact with either of the two big guys playing cards, or the man with the big moustache who was polishing a rifle. The floor was covered in a thick layer of dust; Simon got the impression that people didn’t move a whole lot around there.
The proprietor slid behind the counter – a matchstick of a man with orange hair sprouting from beneath his bowler hat and a matching moustache which took up most of his face.
“What ya want, boy?” he said, spitting into an unseen spittoon.
Simon noted that one of his hands was beneath the counter. He wagered that there was a weapon hidden down there.
“Medical supplies,” he said, trying not to let his eyes linger for too long. “Um...antibiotics, sedatives, some first aid and minor surgical supplies. Here, I can give you a list,” he said pulling a piece of paper from his waistcoat pocket.
Suddenly, the door burst open and Simon spun around to see three armed men standing there. In a flash, the man with the rifle fired a shot, hitting one of them in the arm. The two card players pulled out handguns; one got a couple of rounds off before being hit in the chest, but the other poor bastard was down before he’d even squeezed his trigger.
Simon dove behind the counter and crouched next to the proprietor, who pulled out the shotgun which he had tucked away, sprang up and began pumping out rounds. By Simon’s count, he got off two shots, before three bullets sprayed clear through his chest and out his back, leaving him to flop lifelessly to the ground by Simon’s left foot, blood running onto his shoe. He had to fight to keep his breathing under control; he closed his eyes tight and took deep breaths.
“Don’t think you can hide back there, fella,” said one of the men. “We saw ya, in ya fancy yellow vest. I’m guessing you ain’t from ‘round here, so why don’t you come out and we can settle this all peaceful like.”
Simon looked up at a mirror that hung behind the counter. He could just make out the men. It looked like the one with the bleeding arm was leaning against the doorway, his gun held limply in his hand. The other two though, were moving in on his position, coming in from either side. One was dragging his leg, probably shot. But the other guy seemed fine and they were both holding their guns, ready to fire.
He looked down at the old man – his shotgun was by his side. Simon reached over and picked it up. He expelled the empty shells and then loaded it with shaking hands, using a box of ammo that sat by his head. Using the mirror, he timed his attack and then, taking a deep breath, he fired a shot that smashed a jar of liquid, just by the limping man’s head.
“Next one won’t miss,” he bluffed, standing up with the gun aimed at the uninjured man. He hoped that the shot was close enough for it to be believable as a warning shot.
The men all shared a short laugh, trading glances with one another. The uninjured man – a tall guy dressed all in black – took a step forward. Simon pumped the gun and the man stopped, raising his hands slightly.
“Easy there fella,” he said. “This don’t concern you. We just want what’s rightly ours and we’ll be on our way.”
“Well, I suggest you just get to the ‘on your way’ part,” said Simon.
“And what makes you think you can make us, son?” said the man with the bleeding arm. His face was pale and it looked like he could barely stand, let alone hold his gun. The one with the leg wound didn’t look much better.
“Two of you are bleeding,” said Simon. “Badly. And it won’t take much for me to make it an uneven three,” he said, looking at the uninjured man. “So I suggest you go and get some medical attention before you all bleed out and end up like those guys,” he said, indicating the corpses strewn all over the floor.
The men traded glances once more and then, as if by psychic conference, they all began backing out of the store, keeping their guns trained on Simon the whole time.
“You shouldn’t have got involved,” said the uninjured man. “You’re a dead man now.” With that they disappeared from Simon’s field of view.
He kept watch on the door for a while with the gun raised, but then after a few minutes his arms began to shake and he just dropped the weapon and slumped to the floor, his back against the counter. He looked at the corpse of the proprietor.
“Well, I suppose I can’t complain about my day.”
Back at the edge of town, where he was supposed to meet the others, Simon was surprised to see a small crowd gathered around his crew mates.
“What’s going on,” he said cautiously as he approached the crowd.
The townsfolk all eyed him, much as they’d done when he’d arrived. But this time it was different. It wasn’t distrust or Xenophobia, it was something that looked a lot like...adoration.
They all murmured and pointed to him, with sentences like, “It’s him” and “That fella? No way,” fluttering around.
He made his way to the others and whispered, “What’s going on?”
“Make some friends over at the tradin’ post, eh Doc’?” asked Jayne with a crooked grin on his face.
“You heard about that, how?”
“It’s all these people can talk about,” said Zoe. “Apparently some folks passing by were rubber neckin’ and saw the whole thing.”
“Congratulations,” said Mal, “seems like you’re somethin’ of a hero round these parts now; drove out the toughest outlaws this side of the moon.”
Simon was speechless.
“Never thought I’d see the day Doc’,” said Jayne as he gripped his shoulder in what he assumed to be a friendly gesture. “You got guts, I’ll give ya that.”
“Well, I-I didn’t really...”
Suddenly a small man in a tattered brown suit, with fluffy white hair on his cheeks stepped in.
“Excuse me,” he said, addressing Simon, “But are you the man who drove the Clementine boys outta the tradin’ post?”
“I suppose I am,” he said, glancing at Mal.
The little man breathed in deeply, spreading a smile across his face.
“Well then sir, it is my honour to give you this.” With one swift motion he planted something on Simon’s chest, causing him to grunt as he felt something sharp prick his skin. He looked down at an old, dented, tin star, sitting crookedly on his waistcoat.
“Welcome to Oreton,” said the little man, “sheriff.”.