Malcolm Reynolds was a restless man by nature. For more years than he cared to number, he had wandered from world to world, never stopping for long on any one ball of dirt and rock. Movement was freedom, and freedom was the closest thing left to happiness he had.
Tonight was no exception. A nagging ache from a days-old bullet wound made sleep an ornery and elusive beast, and so Mal found himself wandering the cramped halls of Serenity long after the rest of the crew had gone to their bunks. He knew Simon had patched him up flawlessly as ever, but he still mentally cursed the doc for giving him such a small supply of painkillers. You'd think the prissy hundan enjoys seeing me suffer, he thought, just because I still take River on field trips when we need an extra set of eyes. He rummaged through the infirmary cabinets until he found the right bottle. Another couple of times getting shot by some backwater lowlife, and I'll have the doc's filing system etched into my own mind. He smirked darkly. As long as the lowlives keep missin' the important organs, at any rate.
Mal slowly made his way back toward his abandoned bunk, listening to the soft hums and clanks of Serenity. He marveled briefly at the smoothness of it all, at the fact that she'd been running for weeks with hardly a hiccup since they'd left the Persephone shipyard. S'pose there's an upside to having your ship damn near torn apart, he mused. Once you commit to repairs that extensive, you get 'em to last. Still, doesn't feel quite right to go this long without hearing some odd little sound or other...
Mal paused just outside the door to his quarters, interrupted by a small rustling sound down the hall. Well now, that's a mite odd. He followed the noise to the bridge.
He stopped short just at the doorway. Serenity wasn't the neatest of ships by a long shot, but this was a little outside his accepted norms. "What the..."
"Sorry. Would have cleaned up if I was expecting company." River sat in the midst of a scattered mass of paper, scribbling notes on one sheet while staring intently at the cortex screen. "Better to work when everyone's asleep, not as much noise."
"While I am sorry to interrupt you in your... whatever, may I ask just why you've decided to add to the chaos of my ship?"
"Not trying to add any. I'm trying to make some sense of the chaos already present." River kept her her eyes on her work, fingers flying between the screen and the nearest sheaf of paper. "We're lost in the vastness of space, with few lights to guide us. No maps, no path, no idea what we'll run into next, Scylla or Charybdis. No destinations to speak of, just endless journey through the black." She held up a sheet of heavily annotated diagrams for examination. "In days of old, sailors would navigate by the stars. Only tiny points of light in the deep black, but enough to get them safely through dangerous voyages for centuries." She looked up at Mal with startlingly clear brown eyes. "I'm making star charts for us."
"Okay, that almost made sense." Mal was glad he'd taken that extra dose of painkiller, he was afraid he might be at risk of a headache otherwise. "But is there something wrong with the cortex that you need paper charts all over the place?"
"I'm tired of the dinosaurs, and they're not mine anyway. Wash had his anachronistic toys, now I want some of my own." River broke into a grin that was becoming refreshingly common after Miranda.
Mal reciprocated with a quiet chuckle. "Alright, Little Albatross. Just keep seein' that we don't get et up by space monsters."
"Will do, Cap'n. Now go get some sleep, I need to finish plotting the Bell and Hammer."
Mal turned to go to his bunk. Least that's one thing I don't have to worry about, he thought with a wry grin. May not have a particular destination, but I've never felt lost as long as I have a good crew on this boat.