You were little, once. The others probably wouldn’t believe it, but it’s true. You remember the feeling of being
small and helpless, even though you don’t want to. You hate remembering that feeling, which is why you act the way
You remember crawling into the space under the stairs, twisting your body to fit the cramped contours. You could hide there,
it was safe. You could stay there until the footsteps moved away and the smell of cheap whiskey faded a little. And then
you could stay there a little longer, just in case.
One night you’re hiding there, waiting for the footsteps and the cursing to fade, when a shot rings out and your mama
calls your name. You crawl out of there and run to her side, staring down at the body on the floor. Mama’s still holding
the rifle. You can feel the heat radiating off it.
“Guess that’s that, then,” Mama says, prodding Pa’s body with her foot. “You’re gonna
have to help me bury this, Jayne. Don’t think nobody’ll miss the lousy son of a bitch, but better safe than sorry.”
You nod and run out to the shed to get the shovel. Far as anybody ever knows, your pa just runned off. That’s what
you tell everybody. Eventually, you almost start believing it yourself.
You like going down to the bar in town, slipping in the back door, finding a table in a corner. Mama tans your hide whenever
she finds out you’ve been there, but you keep going back. You like to sit in the dark and listen to all the men telling
lies over drinks in the middle of the afternoon.
They get used to you after a while, even start to like you. They take you out into the fields, teach you to shoot and track
and cuss like a man. On your birthday, they pour you your first shots of whiskey and teach you to drink and puke like a man,
You like the men at the bar, so you don’t mind when some of them come around to court your mama. Even when one of
them takes you out behind the barn and shows you some other things, things you really didn’t want to learn all that
bad, you don’t mind too much. You don’t make a fuss. He makes your mama happy, after all, and you don’t
want to wreck that. Besides, it’s all part of being a man, it must be, and you want to be grown up so bad.
You hold your new baby brother in your arms, marveling at how tiny he is. “Too tiny,” the midwife says, spitting
on the floor. And now you’ll have to clean that up, because there ain’t nothing Mama hates more than spit on
her flooring. “Won’t live out the night, I’ll bet.”
“You shut up,” Mama growled from her bed. “Bring him over here, now, Jayne. I want to see him.”
You carry Matty over and hold him out for her to see. Careful, now, be right careful to hold his head up. Babies are wiggly
and easy to hurt.
“He’ll live,” Mama said with a satisfied grunt, relaxing back into her pillow. “Us Cobbs are too
damn stubborn and mean to die, ain’t that right, Jayne?”
“Yes, ma’am,” you tell her, wrapping the baby up tighter in his blanket. He’s so small. Leslie
and Jesse weren’t this small when they were born.
“And you’ll take care of your sibs till I get back on my feet.” Mama’s voice is fading, her eyes
are closing. She’s tired. You nod and head for the door, shifting the baby in your arms so his head won’t flop
back on his weak little neck.
“Course, Mama,” you tell her. “You know you can count on me.”
You ain’t never actually shot nobody before.
You feel the gun shift a little in your sweaty palms, and tense up your elbows to stop the tremor threatening to start in
your hands. This is your first job, your first trip off that gorram rock you were born on. You ain’t gonna screw it
You’ve shot cows and pigs and wild critters on the farm your whole life. Shooting a man won’t be that much different.
Just think of ‘em as a couple of big walking pigs over there. Yeah. That’ll help.
You’ve heard tell there’s a war on, but even wars don’t bother to come all the way out here on the fringes.
You’re glad; shooting somebody one-on-one, you think you can handle. Just like killing a pig. But in a war, they can
drop bombs on you when you’re not looking. You don’t like the idea of being killed by something you can’t
Boss man’s yelling now, waving his arms around. Deal’s going south. You shift your finger on the trigger, choose
your man, adjust your aim.
Ain’t never shot nobody before, but there’s a first time for everything.
You've had whores before,of course. First one in the rooms behind that very bar back home, on that first drunk birthday.
When it was over, you threw up on her sheets, and she slapped your face.
But this is different- Cap'n says this one was Companion-trained, went to one of the academies in the Core for a whole half
a year. She's pretty and she smells good and her hands are so soft it makes the back of your neck sweat.
Cap'n bought you time with her as a reward for a job well done. You were the only one to see the ambush, only one to get
your gun up in time. Saved all your asses from being left for dead in that valley. Saved the cargo so you can sell it somewhere
else some other day.
Right now you wish he'd just increased your cut. She's lighting candles and asking if you'd like any music and every time
she looks at you you feel huge and clumsy like an ox tied up in this pretty room. You can feel every smear of dirt and grease
you missed cleaning off your skin, and the look on her face when she turns to you, before she puts on her smile, makes your
stomach knot up something awful.
You push past her and out the door, telling her to forget the whole thing, keep the money, you don't give a damn. You fumble
through your pockets for some credits and go looking for a woman down on the rough side of town, one with dirt on her hands,
one who smells like sweat and hard living, one who won't look at you like you're something beneath her.
This Firefly captain is good, but he ain't good enough.
You walk slowly around the little gully, eyes digging through the brush and dust, looking for the footprints they didn't
know they left behind.
"Ain't nothin' there, Jayne. They lost ya." Murray grinned his ugly gap-toothed grin and spit into the dust. You don't
call him "Captain" inside your head, stupid piece of feyu don't deserve it.
"Shut up," you mutter, turning to the south slope. Right there, clear as a flag. "This way."
Firefly man's talking real fast, and the woman with him's looking bullets. They're trying to play you, get you to switch
sides, and it's pretty gorram obvious. Half tempted to shoot the browncoat in the foot for thinking you're that dumb
Something kinda like respect in his eyes when he mentioned your tracking, though. And the deal he's offering sounds good.
Better than Murray's. Ten percent, not having to share your bunk with that diseased rat-weasel. Makes sense.
You ain't never been burdened with extra concerns and moral codes. No room for those in your kind of life. Got to take
each situation and make your judgments as they come.
'Sides, it's hotter 'n hell out here and you don't really feel like tracking down where they hid that cargo. Not if they
can take you there on a motored cart.
Murray's still yapping on. You twist your gun to the right and pull the trigger.