Mal and his crew are back. Always looking for a payday, Mal accepts a job from an old nemesis and occasional client: Badger. The payoff? More than he or his crew can imagine. But with such an astounding amount of scratch comes an equally astounding helping of danger. Read on!
The Village Doc and His Psychic Nurse
It didn’t seem so long ago that Mal thought he had lost the good doctor and his sister to hill folk on this dim bulb of a border planet.
This soon-to-be-invaded dim bulb of a border planet.
He had a grim choice to make: go in search of medical help to save the life of Shepherd Book, who had been shot here in yet another easy deal gone south, or let him die while searching for these two, probably the most wanted individuals in the entire goram Verse.
He made his choice. Book survived with the unlikely assistance of that very same
Alliance, and Serenity returned just in time to save Simon and River before they
were burned alive for some religious nonsense, which to him was redundant.
They broke atmo, everyone safe and sound, and Mal thought that if he could, he’d never park Serenity on this world ever again.
Funny how times change.
Not three months after liftoff from Miranda, Doctor Tam received a wave—from Jiangyin. From the very village that tried to make him and his sister shishkabobs. The religious nutjobs had been driven out, so said its new mayor. They wanted him to come back to see to their sick, young, and elderly. They’d searched high and low for Serenity, and had no interest in being treated by anyone else.
“How can you ensure my safety?” Simon had asked as Mal looked on. “How do I know this isn’t some sort of trap?”
The mayor adjusted the brim of his hat back. “Truth tell, Doc, I can’t give you any assurances that won’t stray into the land o’ lies. So I won’t. Word is that you and your sister have a price on your heads. ‘Tain’t none of my business, but it’d be wrong not to let you know I know.”
“It’s true,” said Simon. “Which is another reason why you may want to reconsider your choice.”
“I ain’t all that worried about the
in these parts,” said the mayor. “There’s a benefit to them thinkin’ your world
is a toilet. Keeps ‘em outta your hair. And I know you don’t know me from Adam,
but I’m in no way part of ‘em.”
“We got plenty of hidin’ places here, Doc, don’t you worry none. This rock has caves galore, ‘specially in these parts. Hell, there’s even an abandoned Independent garrison in one of ‘em not two clicks outta town. Needs be we can hide ya in it, Serenity too! It’s big! I’m pert sure the
knows nothin’ of it; and if they came a-lookin’ for you they’d never find ya in
it: the damn hole even has anti-sensor shielding shelved into the rock! Still works,
“Listen, Doc. One of our townsfolk was a destitute old woman who came suddenly into an inheritance—enough to buy half this planet outright. Seems some cousin or other had been searchin’ for years for her; said it was her rightful inheritance long since stole by his father. He wanted it to be returned to her. She got it not three weeks before she died. I’m the executor of her estate. One of her last acts was to bequeath the entire amount to the village, long as we drove the fanatics who’d kept it under their greasy thumbs out. We did.”
“That’s quite a story,” said Simon, a bit flummoxed.
“Every grain of it is the truth.”
“Don’t you have a doctor there? Don’t the … er … non-hill folk have a physician or two? What do you do if there’s an emergency?”
“We do the best we can, that’s what we do. As for the townies’ doc, we don’t trust ‘im far as we can throw ‘im. On the take. He won’t see ya if you’re not carrying a bag of loot in with ya, and his treatments are more snake oil than castor. To hell with ‘im. He’s an ass boil. I never met ya, Doc, but the sick and injured you treated talk about ya like you’re the second comin’ of … of …”
“Some famous doctor person from the past?”
“That’ll do,” said the mayor. “So whaddya say, Doc? If ya want, I’ve even got a volunteer contingent of armed villagers who’ll look after you and your sister day n’ night.”
“I …” Simon glanced helplessly at Mal, then glanced back.
“Oh, and did I mention your fee?” said the mayor, who had to be sensing a no coming. “Five hundred platinum for a week’s worth of work, more if we can git ya on an agreeable timetable.”
“We’ll see you in two days,” said Mal.
The mayor smiled. “You just made my day, Captain, Doctor …”
“See you then,” said Mal before Simon could protest, and switched off.
After some initial handwringing, which lasted, oh, two days, Serenity set down just outside the village. The mayor had gathered with a dozen villagers who actually applauded when Simon walked down the ramp to greet them. River was by his side, and he introduced her to them.
“We’re sure sorry for how they treated you,” the mayor said to her. “You look like a fine, upstandin’ young woman.”
She smiled dreamily. “Malt whiskey and chewin’ tobacco and nice-fittin’ boots. And you love your grandkids.”
While he blinked, bewildered, she glanced at her brother. “He’s good. We’re safe here.”
“Oh, never mind her, Mr. Mayor,” said Mal, shaking his hand while pushing her behind him. “She enjoys the occasional swim in my psyche too.”
“Hebus,” said the mayor. “Name’s Hebus Corporal, Captain. Good to meet ya.”
“Mr. Corporal, it’s a pleasure to see a little sanity hereabouts …”
“Why don’t you and your crew come on into town for a spell? Shake the space dust off. We’ve got a little potluck set up for y’all. I’d say just lookin’ at ya, Captain, that you’re a Settler’s Wild Nicky man.”
Mal smiled, shook his head. “You’ve got me pegged, Mr. Corporal. I haven’t enjoyed any in quite some time.”
“Just Hebus, Captain. I got a case waitin’ at the saloon. We’ll give you the five-dollar tour and then we’ll eat, whaddya say?”
“Sounds mighty fine to me,” said Jayne, piping up. He bounded down the ramp and towards some young village women who were smiling his way. (He hadn’t been bewitched by Lenore by that point, who with Kaylee was working to repair Mal’s latest set-down.)
That week turned out to be one of the better ones Mal and his crew had had in a good long while. Simon decided to use the ship’s infirmary as a walk-in clinic, and so Serenity’s ramp would descend bright and early every morning and stay down well after sunset. His Core-trained skills spread like wildfire, and before the week was out even the townies were showing up. They paid separately. The corrupt physician got wind of what was going on and threatened to inform the
but quieted down real quick when the mayor countered with hacked documents that
showed how much he was cheating on his taxes.
When Mal raised the ramp for the last time and Serenity lifted off (with a promise to return every six weeks), he couldn’t keep the satisfied grin off his face. For once a deal didn’t go south. In fact, it couldn’t have gone more north than it did. Simon’s haul was over two thousand platinum, of which he gave nearly half to him.
“I don’t really need it,” Simon said without fuss as he busied himself with cleaning the Infirmary. “With the exception of resupplying the meds and such. Besides, you’ve got repairs to do. Honestly, Captain, I’ll sleep much better at night knowing the ship isn’t about to fall to pieces.”
“Well, Doc, that’s mighty generous of you,” said Mal. “It almost makes me glad that you and your sis got tied up.”
“Captain!” scolded Kaylee, who’d walked in. She kissed Simon. “Why would anyone ever torch the best doctor in the Verse?”
Two days later, at dinner, Simon got down on his knee and proposed to her. Mr. Corporal ran an illegal diamond-selling operation on the side, and Simon had picked a small but radiant gem which the mayor set in an elaborately engraved ring. He pushed it on Kaylee’s finger as tears ran down her cheeks and the crew applauded.
The wedding was on Kerry, Kaylee’s home world, two months later. It was a very simple affair: Kaylee’s folks and younger sisters were there, and a passel of her childhood friends showed up, too. River was her maid of honor, and, believe it or not, Jayne consented to be Simon’s best man. Mal, along with Inara, officiated. Kaylee’s father and Mal hit it off right away, and yet another regular gig landed in his lap when Mr. Dirk Frye hired him to haul junk (he ran a used lander outlet) to Newhall and to bring upgrades back for a very respectable fee, one Mal couldn’t ignore. Inara had in the meantime arranged for the newlyweds to honeymoon on Pelorum, a beautiful resort world that, in her words, was “all but run by Companions.”
The only other thing noteworthy about the wedding was Jayne, who pounded two men who’d crashed the party and were abusing Lenore, having recognized her as a love bot. From that point on he had eyes for no one else.
Deader had set Serenity down so gently that Mal wasn’t sure they had even landed until he heard the high whine of her mains settle down. Kaylee was waiting in the bridge with them, but bolted now for the ramp.
Simon and River were waiting with the mayor. Kaylee flew into Simon’s arms as Mal and the rest descended the ramp at a more leisurely pace.
“Mal, it’s good to see ya,” said Hebus Corporal. They shook hands.
“We’ve got the supplies you requested,” said Mal to Simon, who was busy kissing his wife. “Uh … Doctor?”
They broke apart long enough for Simon to say, “Thank you, Captain. I’ll see that they’re unloaded right away—”
But he and Kaylee started kissing again. River sighed and walked by them and into Serenity. “Get a room,” she murmured.
“She’s a real help, that one,” said the mayor. “That gift of hers, readin’ people and such, big help in diagnosin’ their ailments. Smart, too. Seems she knows a bit about doctorin’ as well. And I don’t mind sayin’ she’s a damn sweet kid. Got time for a snort and some dinner, Captain?”
Mal, who had taken a real liking to this man, said, “I’d love it. Oh—” he motioned to Deader, having just noticed her—“this is—apparently—my new pilot. Tannis …er … Deader Brocius.”
“Just Deader, Mr. Mayor,” said Deader, extending a confident hand after giving Mal a stern motherly glance. The mayor shook it. “Never been on Jiangyin before,” she said. “The captain says you’re the prize bull in these parts.”
Hebus adjusted his hat and said, “I’m afraid I’m too old to be a prize, ma’am.”
“Nonsense,” she shot back. “You look orneryer n’ a rattlesnake in a jock strap.”
are fixin’ to herd a bunch of us into slavery, are they?”
Hebus Corporal cut into his steak and snorted. “Not satisfied with starvin’ us out here on the Rim, I guess. Bastards.”
He looked up. “I’m guessing we ain’t gonna see ya around these parts for a while, I take it.”
“If all goes to plan,” said Mal, who’d finished his dinner and sat back with a mug half full of beer. “Which truth tell don’t sit too well with me. Don’t feel right leavin’ ya shorthanded.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that none,” said the mayor. “Doctor Tam has been trainin’ up several of our own. They ain’t doctors, and they ain’t him by a damn sight, but they’ll suit us good enough while you’re gone. You take care of your business, Malcolm, and we’ll take care of ours. ‘Sides, if what you’re sayin’ is the truth, war is comin’ and doctors are gonna be in damn short supply.”
“I’d offer to leave him behind if I didn’t think that with war coming he wouldn’t find himself suddenly surrounded with assassins and bounty hunters and whatnot,” Mal offered.
Hebus swallowed, nodded gruffly. “Rules don’t apply in war.”
“That’s been my experience,” said Mal.
They stayed the night, and in the morning were treated to an omelette breakfast. Simon introduced his nurse-trainees to the crew, and with Kaylee and River unloaded medical supplies.
“There aren’t enough,” said Simon while Mal looked on. “They’ll run out before we get back. If we get back ...”
He looked at him with concern.
Mal had come to taking a real liking to this village. “Don’t worry, Doc. I’ll have Deader send a wave to Badger. Seems I’ve got a little pull now with him. He wants this mission to be completed, so the terms are in my favor. Did you get that feeling, too?” he asked Zoe, who was standing nearby.
“That’s how I see it,” she responded.
“Let your trainees know you’ve got their backs, and I’ll inform the mayor.”
And that was that.
There were hugs and waves, and a few minutes later Serenity lifted off.
Their destination: Bellerophon, to pick up Inara. There was no goram way Mal was gonna take his boat into the very Core of the
Alliance without her aboard.