"How did you find us?" Captain Malcolm Reynolds asks, face hard.
The woman across from him is young, in her mid twenties maybe, but something about her seems so much older, something about her eyes. In a way, she reminds him of Zoe. Her clothes are simple and built for combat, even as her waist length hair and almost exotic beauty hint at something else. "A mutual friend, who wouldn't appreciate me talking about it."
"Doc?" The captain calls back over his shoulder. "We need her. I don't know that I trust these people."
Dr. Simon Tam nods. "I'll get her." He turns and leaves.
"You understand, don't you, why I don't work for just anyone?"
The man answered this time. He's older, but not by much. The two of them are an incongruous pair. She is beautiful despite her simplicity. He drowns in extravagance, all leather and bleach and make-up that lost favor on men a century ago. "I understand. But you will take this job. We're offering you twice the money you've seen in recent months." He smiles. "You can't afford not to take this job."
Zoe shrugged in her place behind Mal. He could feel it. "We've been in rougher spots. We don't work for anyone we don't want to, no matter the money."
Simon returns with a young woman tucked in close at his side. Her long dark hair hangs wild and free around her face, and she is the first person they've seen on this rock in a dress. It's light and flowing. She has a small smile on her face as they walk closer. "I really don't mind, Simon. We all have gifts and we have to use them for the good of the crew."
Mal gives her the most open look he's had since the two arrived. It's affectionate and a little protective. They have to wonder how Simon cannot see that look. "Okay, princess, time to work your magic."
The girl skips out from under Simon's arm and over to stand next to Mal. She sees the man first and her face scrunches up. She drops to her knees. "No, so much. It's too much."
At a look from the woman he scrambles back and away from her. "I told those bloody boys they shouldn't send me to retrieve a psychic."
The woman places herself between them and reaches out her hands, laying one on each of River's arms. "It's okay. Look. He isn't that person, not anymore."
River calms almost immediately, but she doesn't get up and the young woman drops to her knees next to her. Mal's hand is on his gun, and Simon looks ready to physically remove River from the situation when River gets back to her feet and looks up at the woman wonder on her face. "So many lifetimes. How do you keep them all straight."
The woman smiles. "Sometimes I don't."
"He really did that. He really asked for it back even after everything." She glances nervously at the man.
"He really did."
River nods and turns to Mal. "They were sent by the man with a face but no name. They are telling the truth but not. We should go."
Mal looks more than a little put out. "What was that all about."
"It's not my secret to tell." River says, turning from him. "Don't worry, Simon. I like her. She's named for the sunrise, and like it she brings hope."
"It's an endorsement, sir, if not exactly a ringing one. He was right about one thing. We need the money." She speaks with a clear easy confidence never taking her eyes off of the man still in the corner. "What I don't understand is how they knew about the girl."
"That is a bit troublesome." Mal looked between them. "Any explanations."
The woman shrugged. "Can we do business. If we can, everything will be explained before we're through."
Mal looked between Zoe's impassive face and River's still awed expression before sighing himself. "Okay. First thing's first, names. You seem to already know ours, puts us at a bit of a disadvantage."
The woman reaches out a hand to shake his. "Dawn. My name is Dawn. This is William. We're business partners of a sort. We own a rock way out on the rim. That's where we're going."
The man steps forward then, and while River still seems a bit skittish she smiles at him. "It's official designation is something long and boring, but the locals in that part of the 'verse call it the Academy."
Mal looks a bit disturbed at that, but he continues on. "You've told me the price, what's the job?"
"Nothing difficult, and it's legal work, even. Mostly, transport, but it will take a good while. We have passengers who need to go a lot of places, and they'll need some help getting settled when you get them there. We're figuring that the whole thing will take you the better part of six months. The amount I named is for each journey." Dawn said.
"How many passengers are we talking?" Zoe asked.
"Roughly thirty, all of them young women. And before you ask, we have our reasons for wanting to keep this under the radar. We're happiest when the official presence of the Alliance doesn't get too close to our operation. And as for the size. Your crew comes highly recommended both for their discretion and their ingenuity. If we wanted someone to simply dump the girls in a new city, well anyone could do that and for a good bit less money." Dawn replies.
Mal scrutinizes them again before he speaks. "We can't take more than a couple passengers at a time. That's fifteen trips. You have that kind of credit?" Zoe hands him a small portable palm scanner which he holds out to Dawn.
"Oh, yes." She says and lays her palm on the scanner. "Your pay won't be a hardship on us."
Mal pulls the scanner back and whistles low. "I almost feel like we should ask for more, but I won't. We'll go with you at least. Get the details."
"Very good, Captain. I'll send the coordinates across the link as soon as we get back to our ship."
"One last thing, why don't you just take them yourselves?"
Dawn gave him a wry expression. "Too little time, Captain, too little time." She turned and strode out of the bar where they'd been talking.
In truth, Mal had a million questions, why did they insist on meeting at night. What had River meant about so many lifetimes or the man with no name. Something in his gut still told him this wasn't a good idea, but he'd taken the job. He couldn't back out of it now. "Let's go people." His crew followed behind him as they made their way back to Serenity.