The Alliance colonel looked over the prisoners, seated in the auditorium of the ship.
“Gentlemen. As you know the Independents have signed the surrender and part of the agreement was an amnesty for troops.
“With a very few exceptions, some high ranks and accused war criminals, this will be considered an honourable discharge. We are all citizens of the Chinese-American Alliance and you will have the full privileges of citizenship.
“You will be released to your home planet or to the planet of your choice. The Alliance will provide transportation. You will receive your back pay, in Independent scrip, which can be exchanged for Alliance coin or scrip at par for the next 60 days. After that Independent scrip will be demonetized.
“You will receive a new set of clothing, the same clothing that discharged Alliance troops will receive. There are to be no differences made between the soldiers of each side.
“Some of your fellow soldiers still require medical care. They will be treated in Alliance military hospitals until they are capable of being discharged. If necessary, this treatment may continue for the rest of their lives.
“You will receive an Alliance ident card. You have the choice of being chipped with it or not, like any other citizen. If you have any personal identification, including dogtags or papers, please have them ready for the clerks.
“Are there any questions?”
Zoe looked over at her sergeant. “I reckon we’ll pass on being chipped, sir?”
“I just want to get home to Shadow. The ride will help, money will help more. But I don’t even want the gorram ident card. And I definitely am not bein’ chipped like a steer.”
“I dunno where my family ship is. With luck the purplebellies will be allowing us to send waves.”
“Come to Shadow, if you have any trouble findin’ ‘em. My mother would be right delighted to meet you.”
“Will do. And that’s us dismissed. I’m in the A line – the R’s are over there.”
The Alliance clerks were surprising fast at processing the few survivors of Serenity Valley. Most had no ident except dogtags. A few claimed not to have even those. New lives and new identities were being formed.
The Alliance ship was set up like a military base on the edge of a small town, with a civilian population catering to the off duty needs and desires of the uniforms. The released prisoners could stay in barracks or with luck find a hotel room and privacy for the first time in months.
The next morning found Mal Reynolds lining up at a public Cortex. He spotted Zoe just back of him and called out , “Found your ship yet?”
“No response from my mother. My father’s account is closed. I think that means we’ve lost him. I’ll try my brothers next”
“I’m up next. Stay with me. I’ll introduce you to my mother. “
“You’re really looking forward to goin’ home? There was some heavy fighting on Shadow I hear. Things will have changed.”
“Everything will have changed. But with a ranch, nothing changes. Cattle need tendin’, buyers need findin’. Be nice to see a clear horizon and purple skies again.”
“Yeah, somethin’ to do with protozoa in the oceans. I was surprised the first time I saw a blue sky.”
“You’re up, sarge” said the Browncoat leaving the console. ” Best of luck with your wave.”
“By your manner, you found your folks?”
“Yep, off home to Canton. “
Mal punched in his mother’s code and his own. “Account closed” flashed on the screen.
“Please hold for verification.”
“That’s odd,” said Zoe. “There was nothing about verification on my father’s closed account.”
“Please print out this document and bring it to Alliance War Reparations.”
“Naw. Just government gettin’ in the way. I’ll try it again.”
The clerk looked at the printout and asked Mal for his ident card. “Ah, Browncoat. Well, this is usually connected to a payment for expropriated property. Give me a moment, Lieutenant.”
“Zoe, I don’t have any property. The ranch is my mother’s, free and clear. No mortgage, no husband, no partners.”
“I’m not happy about this either, sir.”
The clerk returned. “Looks like this will take a little longer than I thought. Could I ask you to return tomorrow at 1400 hours?”
Mal agreed, puzzled.
“And, soldier? I am sorry for your loss.”
“Your mother’s death. During the fighting on Shadow.”
“Fighting. She’s a rancher, not a soldier. What happened?”
“I’m sorry, sir. I don’t have that information. Perhaps I will have more information when you return tomorrow.”
Zoe had found one of her brothers near Persephone, running ‘transport’, which was probably smuggling, since that had been the family specialty for generations.
“Alleyne is a Cornish name from Earth-that–was. We’ve always run to smugglers and pirates. Kinda traditional for us.” she explained to Mal.
“So you have a job to go to?”
“Guess. Not my favourite brother and he don’t know where mamma is. Not her favourite son come to that.”
“So what now? I’m up for gettin drunk, gettin laid, and having a meal with some food in it. Not necessarily in that order. Wanna come along?”
“Up for the food. Up for the drunk. But not for ruttin', if you don’t mind. At least not us two. War’s over.”
“Huh. Okay, fair enough, let’s see if there is a restaurant good enough for us on this boat. Then a bar bad enough.”
Both were still hungover when they got back to War Reparations.
The clerk had a thick file ready for Mal. “The fighting on Shadow was short and sharp. Alliance troops landed without trouble and requisitioned civilian products for resupply of troops in the field.
“The civilian leadership acquiesced and terms of payment were worked out. Whether those terms were unacceptable to the farmers, ranchers and manufacturers or whether they were Browncoat sympathizers is not clear from the records. There was armed resistance to Allied troops collecting.
“It remains unclear whether troopers got out of hand, or whether they were acting on orders, but many ranchers and farmers were killed. Your mother is recorded as one of the fatalities. “
Mal sat stunned. Zoe put her hand on his thigh.
“I don’t know if this is worse or better, Captain Reynolds.” continued the clerk. “As Ms. Reynolds’ only relation, you are her heir. However, as part of the subjugation of the rebellion, all the livestock of the rebels were seized and the properties razed. There is no ranch any more. The land, at this time, is unusable from herbicides and fire. Again, it is not clear if this was a rogue action on the part of troopers or if orders were given from a higher authority.
“What is clear, is that the Alliance is making reparations for the collateral damage of the action."
Mal just looked at the clerk. Zoe had seen that look in Serenity Valley after they had been told to lay down arms. She tightened her grip on his thigh.
“The Alliance has made funds available to purchase the expropriated lands at their pre- war value. In addition, the seized livestock will be paid for under the agreement made by the Shadow authorities before hostilities erupted.”
“Well, yes, “ said the clerk, “Would you like a cup of tea?” She smiled nervously. “I’m not allowed anything stronger at my desk.”
“Give us a moment, please.” asked Zoe. “this is a lot…”
“Of course. I’ll make that tea and give you a moment to reflect.”
“混蛋官僚窝囊废。他妈的茶。” swore Mal. *
“She means well. She is tryin' to be kind.”
“Well, it’s not workin'.”
“Try to cool down. This is a lot to take in. We could pretend last night all was shiny, but this is today and this is reality, sir.”
“Zoe. All I want is to go home. Rebuild. Take care of my mother, maybe find a girl and make a new family. Now…”
“We can still go to Shadow, sir. There may be something there for you.”
“No. Folks out our way… it wasn’t the expropriation. They were all Independents. There were half a dozen signed up same time as me, with their families’ blessing, just like I had. Now they’re all gone, murdered by some rampaging purplebellies… 为人类肮脏的 卫生纸中央政府道歉.” **
“I’ll say it again, sir, I’m not disagreeing. But let’s see where the path leads before we start hittin’ people.”
The clerk reentered the room with a tray. She poured for Mal and Zoe, then took her own mug. “World’s Best Mom” it said. Mal looked at it bitterly.
“Oh. I’m sorry. My girl gave this to me for my…” she extended her hand to Mal, who pulled back swiftly.
“Perhaps we should keep this business-like.” Zoe said flatly.
“Yes. Well. The proving of the estate will be expedited. The inspectors who are looking into Shadow have already approved the funding and all we need is to prove that you are in fact the heir. Your ident from yesterday will be enough for that. “
“Well, Ms... ? , I’m sorry, we were not introduced."
“Corporal Zoe Alleyne. 57th Outlanders. I served under Sergeant Reynolds until we were ordered to surrender at Serenity Valley. We were mustered out with battlefield commissions. Still seems strange to us.”
Mal was still staring at the mug.
“I’ll assume you are in his confidence, then. The estate comes to 250 thousand platinum. That should be enough to set up a new operation on another world. Frankly, from what I saw in my research yesterday, it will be a long time before Shadow is inhabitable again.”
Zoe was, if possible, even more expressionless than usual.
The clerk forged on, "We will set up a bank account that Captain Reynolds can access. We prefer a second signer, because many of the recipients are still a little,..”
“You think the sergeant would try to drink that 250 thousand platinum 'thout supervision?”
“Sadly, Corporal Alleyne, it has happened. These times are difficult for soldiers. On both sides of the peace.”
“Sir. Are you up to speed yet?”
“Shall we set up the account? Are you willing for me to be your second signer? “
“Yeah, yeah. Fine. Then what….Let’s get out of this"
“Could you set up the account for him. If you need time..”
“I will, but if you came back at this time tomorrow, I should have the paperwork processed and ready to sign.”
“Thank you , Corporal Shen. And I apologize for the sergeant’s less than pleasant and calm demeanor.”
“He didn’t try to stab me, like the guy this morning, so I’m fine. Tomorrow at 1400?”
Zoe took Mal back to the hotel room they had shared the previous night.
” Sir. If I can make a suggestion?”
“What is it Corporal?”
“Come with me to Persephone. It’s an urban world, mostly. I’ve been there before, as a kid, we based there when us kids was doing our Federal Twelve prep. Take a look around, some R&R. Mebbe get a picture of where you want to go from there.”
“What’s in it for you?”
“Someone to stand with me against my brother. Suspect I’ll need that. A friend, I hope. And maybe I have an idea for a business opportunity….”
* Paperpushing deskrat. Fuck your tea.
**Shitty Alliance promises written on toilet paper.
The War Reparations are based very loosely on the Marshall Plan set up in Europe after World War II. The Americans encouraged the rebuilding and growth of Germany, having concluded that the oppressive Treaty of Versailles which ended WWI, was a root cause of WWII, and planning to prevent a re-occurrence.
Any large bureaucracy loses track of what is happening on the fringes. I don't see the Alliance as an evil empire. To some extent, they were probably right that the Rim worlds would be better off with Central controls. Look at the oppressive local Rim governments we see on Canton and in the episode Heart of Gold.
The Alliance also has a medical outreach as we see in The Train Job, where the central government is supplying, apparently free, medicine to the miners, which is stolen by the Serenity crew for the criminal Niska.
Canon has it that both Mal and Zoe were recorded by a grateful senior officer with their battlefield ranks. They then received mustering out pay based on those ranks. I am assuming that they are already aware of this.
Mal was from a rural world. His family, which had 40 employees , would have been quite comfortable. Today an employee is generally expected to make 10 times his salary for his employer to be worth hiring. Between the loss of a large ranch and several thousand beeves , I don't think 250,000 is particularly generous. And how much is an abandoned, non-running spaceship worth anyway?
It makes sense that Zoe would be the one to think of shipping as a future. She has the background in the field, even though she would have joined up at about the same age as Mal, she is a few years older. And the mention of piracy was intentional. The Alleynes are not necessarily criminal, but they do have an eye on the main chance. And Zoe here has the trust of a shell shocked friend with a suddenly fat wallet.