Rating: PG for girl talk
Prompt: 29) Life is full of surprises, I try to capture these precious moments with wide eyes. -- Sofonisba Anguissola (c. 1532-1625), Italian painter of the Renaissance.
Summary: Kaylee and Inara find themselves stranded with no way to repair their ship, and no way to contact Serenity.
Author's Notes: Thanks to queerlyobscure for the beta, and to planejane for providing the first line!
Inara didn’t mind getting her hands dirty.
That was the good part. Kaylee had been afraid that, dressed in her Companion finery, Inara would be of absolutely no use in helping her fix the stalled shuttle, but at least they’d found something for her to do: she was handing Kaylee tools and holding various engine parts while Kaylee figured out how to put them back in and make the little ship work again.
The bad part was that the shuttle had broken down, the comms weren’t working, and the rest of the crew on Serenity had no idea where they were. Oh, and Kaylee didn’t have all the tools or parts she needed to fix the transport. And it was hot: blindingly, searingly hot!
That was about the point Kaylee had stopped listing everything that was going wrong and did her level best to turn her mind to more cheerful matters.
It was difficult. Even for her.
“Do you need the…fuel intake...yet?” Inara held out the grease-covered part in question as if it were a dead animal that were starting to smell.
“Nope: not yet, thanks! But I sure appreciate you holdin’ it…don’t want to put it down on the ground where the sand can blow into it and gum up the works. We certainly don’t need anything else going wrong today.” Her Momma woulda cussed her out good for saying that without finding something wooden to knock on, and sure enough, no sooner had she said it than a rubber hose hanging next to the engine part she was working on burst. The hose let loose with a thick, oily geyser of grime that managed to spray both women before Kaylee could find the valve to shut off the flow.
“Gorram it!” Inara’s generally unshakable cool was coming dangerously close to falling apart at the seams.
Kaylee had never even heard her curse before. The words just sounded so…strange coming from the Companion’s elegantly-painted lips. Kaylee did her best to suppress a giggle as she searched among her pile of rags for the cleanest one to offer to Inara.
Who happened to look up and catch her eye before Kaylee had time to compose her features. Her voice was close to anger. “This isn’t funny!”
Kaylee held out the rag she’d chosen and bit her lower lip. “Nope—no-how, not funny one bit…”
Inara eyed the proffered rag skeptically before deciding it was better than nothing. Daintily, she began to dab at the red silk of her gown. “If it isn’t funny, then why is your lip still quivering?”
Completely caught out, Kaylee couldn’t help but burst into full-on giggles. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry, ‘Nara, but I just ain’t never heard you cuss before!”
The other woman was indignant. “I curse!”
Kaylee smiled at her. “Yeah, when?”
Inara rolled her eyes, but smiled when she realized she didn’t have an example to hand. “All right, so maybe I don’t! But this is a special occasion. We’ve been stuck out here for hours, you can’t fix the shuttle, we have no way of contacting Serenity, it’s hot, and this dress was expensive!” She punctuated that last remark by throwing Kaylee’s rag onto the ground in frustration.
It’s the most flustered Kaylee’s ever seen the other woman. In an effort to appease, she starts tightening the bolts of the part she’s working on faster, as if that will help get them out of here any quicker. Kaylee’s been working on engines long enough to know what’s possible and what’s not, and now with the latest malfunction on top of everything else that’s gone wrong, she’s pretty darn sure it’s not going to be possible to get them off this rock of a moon anytime soon.
It was only going to be a short trip they’d left on: Inara was spending a day on Pandora visiting an old client, and Kaylee was going with her to make a few big ticket purchases the ship had been needing for awhile. The last job they’d pulled had been a good one, and Mal had decided it was about time to overhaul some of the systems Kaylee had been warning him about for over a year now. The rest of the crew would spend the time fencing the rest of the goods from that job, and they’d rendezvous with the shuttle on the second moon of Calpurnia.
Except they’d never made it to the second moon of Calpurnia. All that time Kaylee had been spending worrying over Serenity, she hadn’t been paying particular attention to the spare shuttle. Turns out that was going to need some work, too, and it was a little late now for them to be thinking about buying parts. They’d gotten only halfway from Pandora to Calpurnia when the alarms started blaring, signaling major systems failures. The only choice was to put her down on the closest rock with a shred of atmosphere, and that was where they were: a floating chuck of rock and sand called New Sahara.
The first thing Kaylee had tried to fix were the comms: if they could hail Serenity to come and pick them up here, she’d have everything she needed to fix the shuttle and be on their way. But an electrical failure had completely fried the wiring and there was no way they were going to get a signal out until it was replaced. She’d looked for the emergency pack, which would have contained a distress beacon, but then she remembered: they’d cleared out the back of the shuttle to make room for all the parts they’d be hauling back to Serenity.
“’Not the emergency pack’, I told ‘em, I know I did…” Kaylee grumbled under her breath.
“What was that?” Inara looked up from trying to salvage her ruined dress.
“Nothin’.” Kaylee sighed.
“If only we’d taken my shuttle…”
“Oh, and where would we have put the new drive shaft converter? On top of your satin sheets?”
Inara’s silence told Kaylee she’d taken the point.
It was no use fooling around under there anymore. They had enough water and food to last out here for a couple days, but who knew how long it would take Serenity to find them? No, they couldn’t count on a rescue. Luckily, as they’d been making their emergency landing, Kaylee had spied a town not far from where they’d landed. Probably one of the only towns on the whole damn moon, so it was lucky they’d landed so close. She estimated it was maybe 8, 10 miles away—if they were going to get out of here, they were going to have to walk it.
Inara took the suggestion about as well as Kaylee thought she would. “We’re going to walk 10 miles through the desert?”
Kaylee tried her best to make her smile convincing, and nodded. “Inara, we have to! I just can’t get this shuttle working without parts! Maybe they’ll have what we need in town, but at least they’ll have comms we can use!”
Inara looked down at her thoroughly impractical shoes and sighed. “You’re sure there’s no other way?”
“Well, you could stay here while I walk to town, ‘cept I don’t know much about how safe this moon is, and you really shouldn’t be stayin’ here all by yourself, and…”
“Enough!” A perfectly manicured hand came up to stop Kaylee’s rambling. “I get your point. If we must do this…we must.” Her Companion training had kicked back in, and the mask of calm was back in place. At the heart of her, Inara was a practical person, and Kaylee was thankful for that.
She beamed her gratitude at Inara, and started gathering up her tools and supplies to stow away in the back of the shuttle. “’Nara, can you start packing up some water and a bit of food for us to take? And if you have anything more practical with you to wear…”
“I’ll…see what I can manage.”
Inara was able to find at least a dress made of light cotton and some soft-soled slippers without heels to put on. As far as practicalities went, that was about as close as her wardrobe got, so Kaylee was thankful for small miracles.
They’d packed up what they had in the way of food and water, and set off in the direction of the settlement Kaylee has spotted on their way in.
About 3 ½ miles into their walk, and things were looking pretty good. The ground was dusty, but hard and flat, and not particularly difficult to walk on. The sun was hot, definitely, but there was a breeze that cropped up every now and again to give them a break from the searing heat of the late afternoon sun. They’d even managed to find a tree or two, here and there, with a scrap of shade to stand under as they took their water breaks.
So far, so good.
It wasn’t until mile 6 that the lethal combination of the searing heat, the physical exhaustion, and her impractical footwear began to shake Inara’s steely determination. Kaylee may not have heard Inara swear before that day, but she certainly had plenty of examples she could call to mind from now on. She tried her best to maintain her usual level of cheerfulness to boost her friend’s spirits, but she was starting to grow weary herself.
At mile 7, they were starting to hallucinate. Nothing extreme--just the occasional glimpse of a building on the horizon that turned out to be a tree stump, or what Kaylee thought was the hum of an ATV’s engine but was, in fact, just the wind carrying the persistent drone of insect activity over the sandy hills. Once they both acknowledged that they were starting to imagine things that weren’t there, it was Kaylee’s idea to make a game out of it.
“Oh hey, look--wow, that’s the most attractive man I’ve seen! And he’s carrying a cheeseburger and an ice cold beer! And riding a winged horse!”
After that, it became a competition to see if they could top each other.
“Look, a luxury cruiser with fully-functioning climate control!”
“A hot guy on a motorbike with a pitcher of iced tea!”
“A 7 star hotel with a swimming pool!”
“A hot guy selling watermelons! And oh, he’s got a friend! And they seem to have misplaced their shirts!”
In spite of the tremendous pain in her feet and the discomfort of her long, thick hair plastered to her face with sweat, Inara couldn’t help but almost collapse in a fit of giggles. “We’re in the middle of a desert on a backwater moon, about to drop from heat exhaustion, and you can still think about sex?”
Kaylee grinned at her. “‘Nara, I ain’t met the disaster yet that could stop me thinkin’ ‘bout sex! Not when it’s been this long!”
Inara smiled, and was going to press her to confide more, but she saw something up ahead. “Oh, Kaylee! I think we’re here! We did it!”
For the last half mile, Kaylee had barely taken her eyes off the slow, steady progress of her feet across the ground. She frowned down at them now. “‘Nara, that ain’t a funny one!”
“No, but really: Kaylee, that’s the town you saw!”
As towns go, it wasn’t much more than a cluster of buildings. When Kaylee looked up to see where Inara was pointing, she had to shield her eyes from the incredible glare that came off the solar sheeting that covered nearly every inch of each structure. From the distance they were at, she could just make out a few vehicles and a horse or two milling and around.
It wasn’t much, but to their tired and weary eyes it was glorious! “‘Nara, if I weren’t so hot I could boil an egg in my armpit, I’d hug you right now!”
Inara snorted. “And if you weren’t covered in enough sweat to drown a rat, I’d let you!”
To their great fortune the very first building they approached in the town happened to be a tavern. The proprietor was more than a little surprised at the arrival of these new strangers: dust-covered and bone-weary, Inara was still more glamorous a sight than had ever set foot in his establishment, and Kaylee had a smile to win over the devil himself. They’d barely had time to get out their story before he had them set down at a table, enjoying two cold pints of his best ale.
Kaylee was saddened to hear that they didn’t have much in the way of machine parts to offer her, but she was more than happy to accept the use of his comms. After she finished her pint, she sent a wave to Serenity and was relieved to get a hold of her on the first try.
“Kaylee! Where have you been?” Wash’s voice was crackling with static, but more than audible over the ancient and dust-covered comm set.
She hadn’t the time to reply before Mal was butting his way into the conversation. “Kaylee, where the hell have you been? You missed the rendezvous by about 8 hours! And where’s Inara? Is she all right?”
She assured him that both she and Inara were more than fine, and explained the situation and how they’d ended up where they were. She then gave out the coordinates of the little village they’d wound up in, and then sat herself back down across from Inara at their designated table.
“Did you get hold of Serenity?” Inara asked the question, though the look on Kaylee’s face told her that she had and everything was fine.
“Yep! I informed them that we are hot, tired, and got some mean blisters on our feet, but are otherwise none the worse for wear!”
Inara smiled back at her. “Yes, and isn’t that a mercy?”