BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

REGINAROADIE

You Can't Go Home Again Chapters 1-5
Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Set after THE SERENITY GIG, BLUE HAND BLUES and SHOTGUN TAM, this story takes place in an AU where the BDM never happened, although there will be refrences to it. With the social and economic breakdown of the Alliance, the Tam's are finally free. But a message from home forces them to deal with a larger issue at hand.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3841    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Hey All

Well, it's been nearly six months since I've posted a new chapter of my epic. But after working my ass off during the summer spiking railroads for 13 hours a day in 30 degree heat (that's in celcius), and then putting it back on during my fall semester, I'm finally getting back to work on the story and finishing it up. So I figured to remind longtime readers of the story, as well as to get newcomers interested, I've decided to re-post the first nine chapters in two collections. There'd be chapters 1-5 today (Wednesday), 6-9 tomorrow (Thursday) and then Chapter 10 on Friday with hopefully the next few chapters each day (I'm thinking 15 chapters).

It helps if you read my earlier stories in this order. THE SERENITY GIG, BLUE HAND BLUES and SHOTGUN TAM. The story is a culmination of those events.

Thanks to TamSibling, ScrewTheAlliance, the late KaySky, misskitten and anyone else who has helped me out with this story.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As the shuttle engines faded away, three people picked up their belongings and began to walk towards the estate. One of them carried a medical bag, the brown leather faded like an old jacket with the stitching of the handle starting to come apart. Another one carried a square metal box. With every step the clink of metal could be heard coming from the box, which seemed to shine bright red despite the overcast weather. And a third one carried a battered guitar case. Stickers in English and Chinese covered the case as much to repair the rips and tears as for decoration. Two of the carriers would be returning to a place they had not seen in years, while a third one, filled with joy and hope, would be visiting the place for the first time.

The estate was fairly large. The grounds around it gave it sense of isolation from the outside world, which was heightened by the old force field posts surrounding the area and the big iron gates with the hand scan pad and video screen to the side. But despite its stately surroundings, the house seemed depressed. If Serenity represented freedom and peace, the estate represented a time of long ago prosperity. Of a time when estates like these were compared to palaces. Only now, the only things it housed were painful memories, thick silences and all consuming guilt.

The man with the medical bag commented. “It’s strange. I always thought it would be brighter. More fancy.”

The woman with the guitar case replied. “Memory has a way of making everything seem brighter than it actually was.”

The woman with the metal box asked solemnly, “You feeling okay?”

He searched his thoughts and emotions and simply replied, “Not really.”

“You know, we can still call it off.”

“No, we have to do this.”

The guitar carrying woman plainly commented, “Can’t close a book without reading the final chapter.”

The man with the medical bag gave the woman with the red metal box a squeeze, then went over to the isometric scanner and pressed his palm on it. After a few beeps, the video screen flickered on, and he saw an old man, grey in hair and disposition move into frame on the screen.

“Who is it?” he asked impatiently.

“It’s me, Dad.” He paused. “We’re home.”

FIVE MONTHS EARLIER

It was like Book had said to Shooter at Simon and Kaylee's wedding night: the Alliance would fall eventually. Just no one expected it to happen so soon, so quickly and without a single civilian casualty. While Serenity kept on flying, and the news broadcasts were telling everyone that everything was fine, in reality a full blown meltdown of galactic-political proportions was happening. In-house bickering, backdoor deals and rampant corruption, as well as escalating economic and social unrest had brought the once-mighty Alliance to a self destructing course of events not seen since the final days of Earth-That-Was.

Over the course of a bad day of mythic proportions, the stock market plummeted so low that the Dow Jones tunneled through the financial bottom, mercenaries, hired by key members of Parliament to assassinate high ranking government officials ended up wiping out nearly the whole cabinet. And the immoral schemes of the Blue Sun Corporation, as well as the horrifying truth about the Reavers and Miranda, had been exposed to the public. Like a creature of un-Godly size, the Alliance had become so big and corrupt, that it rotted away from the inside and collapsed under its own weight.

The events, referred to by the galactic masses as Blue Tuesday, sent shockwaves throughout the ‘verse. The Alliance had no more authority over the colonized planets. New governments and presidents were starting to pop up. With the class barriers torn down, Core planets were being stripped of resources that had been only available to the elite. Such things as fresh fruit, honest to God chocolate and bread could now be savored by even the poorest child of the most far flung moon. The idea of democracy was finally being embraced after nearly a decade of autocracy. And while there was some initial friction between former Alliance and Independent soldiers, it quickly became apparent that old battles were not worth fighting again. Blue Tuesday was not ignored by the crew of Serenity. Mal looked as if for once in his life, he was truly free. Upon hearing that the Alliance had fallen, he had ordered Wash to land on the nearest planet with an Alliance friendly bar on it. With some well chosen words, and Jayne with Vera and Zoe supporting his arguments, he was able to raid the bar of its entire liquor stock. He had ordered Wash to contact Monty and any remaining Independent soldiers, and invite them to a party on Serenity. The festivities, which were only supposed to last an evening, ended up stretching into three days, in which everyone rejoiced in drunken revelry of the Independent’s long delayed victory.

Well, almost everyone. Simon was certainly happy that the system that turned his sister into a lab rat had collapsed, and that he and she were no longer wanted fugitives. But a truth that he had been avoiding these past few years was finally facing him. Now that they had no reason to be on the run, their tenure on Serenity was drawing to a close. But he didn’t want to leave. The ship had become more of a home to him than Osiris of the hospital ever was. River was flourishing ever since she picked up the Allen One guitar he had bought her, and of course, there was Kaylee. He could never abandon his wife, but he was unsure of what would happen to them now.

Kaylee was feeling a little more apprehensive about the downfall of the Alliance than any of the other crew members. She was having mixed emotions over the day when her husband and sister-in-law were no longer fugitives. Mostly she was afraid that he was so homesick that he would hardwire the ships autopilot and navigation programs himself so that he and River could return home. She knew that he would do the right thing. She was just wondering what it would entail. Would she have to leave Serenity? Would she have to find a job in the Core, or give up being a mechanic entirely? If she did find work, would there be any pay at all. Would she see her biological and made up family ever again? What would all this mean for her and Simon? There was so much at stake; it was making her more nervous than ever before.

After the three days of celebrations, most of the crew were in their bunks, sleeping off the hangover of their lives. With this much needed silence, Simon decided to confront his wife with the issue. He found her, of course, in the engine room with a grease gun, going to each nipple and filling it with the thick, green solution. As he came in, she stopped, smiled and kissed him.

“Hey you. How’s my recently pardoned husband feeling today?”

“I’m relatively shiny. How’s the engine doing?”

“You know, I think all this excitement and change in the verse has affected her. She’s humming along more happily than ever before.”

“Who could blame her?”

There was an awkward pause between them. This only happened when there was a pressing matter that both of them were reluctant to talk about. The only sound was the humming of the revolving engine. After a few minutes of silence, Simon sat down on the hammock.

“Kay, we need to talk.”

“Ain’t I the one whose supposed to say that?” she said with a chuckle.

He smiled and shrugged. “Well, yeah. But I though I should say it this time.”

Both of them laughed at this insight but they realized they were still skirting the issue. Kaylee put the grease gun down into her toolbox, and sat down next to Simon.

“So…”

“I know. I don’t want to talk about it, but we have to.”

“Yeah, I know. Just didn’t think it would be so . . . sudden. I figured maybe there’d be a trial and a daring escape and speeches and all that.”

“So did I. For four years, I kept waiting for the Alliance to come crashing in to take River back there. You feel so paranoid that when it’s over, it almost feels anticlimactic. It’s jarring to have something you’re used to suddenly vanish.”

“Well, it’s what you’ve wanted, isn’t it? River’s cured, or at least can deal with her abilities and can speak coherently and be normal and stuff. And like the Capt’n said, the blue-handed guys that did all this would have either been killed or arrested.”

“Yeah, but now that it’s gone, it’s like all of this is at an end. I can go back home if I wanted to and not be arrested on sight. My old apartment’s gone, but I’m sure that I could find something similar to it near the hospital. I’m sure I can go back to being a doctor at the hospital. I can feel the rush and exhilaration of the late shift. That’s where the really serious injuries come into the ER. I could make a difference in a person’s life. I can actually resume my old life.” He paused and looked at her. “But you know what’s the oddest thing about it all is?”

“What?” she asked nervously.

“I don’t want to.”

Kaylee’s eyebrows narrowed. She thought she had figured him out, after all these years. She thought that at the first sign of his and River’s pardon, he’d ask Mal to turn the ship around and head to Osiris. As much as he loved her and had gotten used to Serenity, she always felt in the back of her mind that he would rather be home than here. She was silent, for the first time in a long time. Simon just stared at her, confused as well by her reaction.

“Kay?”

“Yeah, I’m sorry,” she said, distractedly. “Could you repeat that? I just want to hear it one more time!”

“I don’t want to go back. Compared to life here with you, my life back in the core was just. . . hollow. Doing what was expected of me, constantly trying to impress people. Buying into a manipulating system that only ended up betraying me. It’s not something I want to resume. If anything, I want to further develop what we have. But I want to know what you think. Do you want to keep flying, or do you want to settle down somewhere?”

Kaylee sat back and looked at him. So many different thoughts, elaborate scenarios and ideas played through her head. After a little bit of thinking, she hit upon that Occam’s Razor that Simon had told her about, and figured that the simplest solution was the best.

“You know what, let’s just play it by ear and see what happens.”

She leaned in and began to kiss him. He kissed back, and wrapped his arms around her. As his hands went up and down her back, he pulled at the straps holding up her coveralls and brought them down. They both put their hands under each other’s shirts and roamed their backs. As she felt the fabric of her bra unfasten, he felt the grease in her fingers being rubbed into his back, meshing with his sweat. Two minutes later, both of them were naked and going at it on the engine room floor, rubbing each other with the grease. They hadn’t done it there in such a long time. The sense of being free and dirty was too erotic to pass up.

And in the early hours of the fourth day of galactic freedom, in the engine room of an old Firefly transport gliding through the black, Brooke was conceived.

FOUR AND A HALF MONTHS LATER

It was a busy time for both the new governments and planets of the ‘verse and on Serenity. Along with the news that Kaylee was pregnant, the demand for the ships services quadrupled. With new societies springing up almost every day, and the vast stockpiles of Alliance goods being liquidated throughout the galaxy, the crew was working overtime to deliver all their new cargo and make all their drops on schedule. The crew had never been so busy than now. And there was so much platinum being transferred that Jayne actually got sick of the sight of it.

After dropping off two shipments of medicine, five crates of fresh fruit and a kennel full of recently legalized beagles, the crew was getting a much deserved break. Most of them were planning on taking advantage of the new benefits that used to be pleasures of the privileged. The only ones that decided to stay on the ship were Mal, Simon, Kaylee and River. Kaylee pooled her resources with the Captain and decided to buy and install a brand new engine that was left over from a ship building subsidiary of the Blue Sun Corporation. It would cut their shipping time in half and use less fuel than usual.

It was already a challenge for Kaylee to maneuver around, given her slowly expanding womb. But she was eager to install the new engine, which was double the weight of the old one, and was looking forward to the challenge, despite Simon’s insistence that she rest. He ended up compromising by helping her in the engine room, although ‘help’ was an overstatement. River was in the cargo bay as usual, listening to some new music that had been released to the public after the Alliance Censorship Board was dissolved. It was nice for her to listen to Green Day without violating half a dozen bans. Mal was just idling wandering the ship, thinking about his intrepid crew and all the memories that came with each step on his ship. He was killing time before he met with his newest client, even though he had made the strange request of meeting Mal on the ship. Mal walked down the metal stairs over to River, who was engrossed with the lyrics and playing style of Billie Joe Armstrong. River looked up at him and smiled.

“Hey, Capt’n.”

“Hey, Janis. How’s the composing coming along?”

“OK. I think I want to branch out into punk, now that it’s no longer illegal. I know I don’t have the proper background for it though, living in the lap of luxury all my life.”

“Some could say that. But the way I see it, you were royally screwed over by the culture you lived and believed in. That should entitle you to musically give the finger.”

River chuckled at the Captain’s logic and went back to listening to her music. Mal just kept walking and opened the cargo bay doors. It was time for the meet, and the client said that it was too important to be late for. As the metal ramp descended, a lone figure was standing there. His clothes showed a lack of maintenance and weariness. In one hand there clutched a camera. His head was downcast, with the top covered by a black felt outback hat. The head then tipped up, revealing a bearded face, filthy rectangular glasses and a face filled with enthusiasm.

“I came here to kick ass, and screw bridesmaids. And I’m all out of bridesmaids.”

“SHOOTER!!!”

River ripped off her headphones as she shot up and bounded towards Shooter. The Allen One got in between them as River gave Shooter a big hug. Shooter actually didn’t back down at all. It seemed like he hadn’t had any real physical contact in a long while.

“I see the Doc finally took my advice. How long have you been playing?”

“About two years now. Check it out.”

River stood back and began to jam the first couple chords of a Prince song, which not only brought a smile to Shooter’s face, but brought out another girlish squeal which emanated from near the infirmary.

“Lucas!!!” Despite the additional weight around her mid-section and the grease all over her coveralls and feet, she still ran full force to give her old childhood friend another big hug.

“Jeez, I should’ve come back a long time ago. Here I am settin' foot on this ship, and I’m being accosted by two fun loving women. And one of them apparently has been having a bit too much fun, loving.”

“Yep. I’m almost five months along.” Kaylee then took Shooter’s free, calloused hand and placed it on her womb. “Can you feel her kicking?”

“Yeah. She packs a punch definitely. Is it a she?”

“Yes, it is.” Simon said as he came up to them in a more reserved tone, but still smiling. “Were calling her Brooke. After her, of course.” He nodded over to River, who flashed Shooter a devilish smile.

“Well, this is all fine and dandy,” the Captain said in a sarcastic tone, “but I believe you’re here on business. You mind telling me what the job is for us?”

“Actually, Mal. I’m the one doing the job. And me setting foot on here was half the job. Now, I’ve been traveling the verse for the last two weeks trying to track you guys down. And it certainly makes a man hungry for anything after eating only dust and exhaust fumes. So as much as I’d like to finish the other half of the job, I certainly can’t do it on an empty stomach. River, you mind reminding me where the kitchen is?”

“Sure, it’s right up here.”

River then headed towards the catwalk, followed by Shooter, Kaylee, Simon and Mal. By the time Mal set foot in the kitchen, Simon was helping a large Kaylee down in her seat, River was idly strumming an acoustic number, and Shooter was gorging himself on anything he could get his hands on.

“Hey, hey. You’re eating more now than Kaylee does every day.”

“Sorry Mal. But after not eating for the longest time, even processed protein and freeze dried stuff begin to taste good.” And in less than five seconds, Shooter had swallowed two protein bars without chewing and drank an entire quart of powdered milk.

“Well, before you make us have to go to market to re-stock our cupboards, why not you tell us why you’re here?”

Shooter wiped his mouth with a dusty sleeve and cleared his throat. “Well, the reason I’m here actually has to do with our recently pardoned siblings.” He sat down as the attentions of the other crew members were now hanging on his words.

“About two weeks ago, I was doing a wedding on Osiris. Despite the fact that romance should be the last things on these peoples minds, these formerly wealthy Alliance families still wanted to go ahead with the wedding. The whole thing, including my fee, was paid up front, so I still had an obligation to do this wedding. Which I would’ve done anyways. Never like taking money from someone and not doing the job afterwards. Guess I ain’t cut out from criminal life, huh?” He noticed that he was losing his audience and decided to get back on track. “Anyhow. It was during the down time between shots, and I had gotten back to my seat. The only seat available was at this table in the back. The only people there were this old couple. The wife seemed pretty sick, while the husband seemed to be really distant and angry. I struck up a conversation with them, and oddly enough they seemed happy to have my company. So we were talking for a while, and eventually the conversation steered towards children. And then the mother, who had been fairly quiet the whole evening, suddenly launches into this long monologue about how she failed her children, how she never truly appreciated them, and how she’d give anything to see and hold her children one last time. To which the husband replied “If wishes were children, River and Simon would be here right now.”

The room was deathly silent. Pretty much everyone was in a shocked silence as they realized why Shooter was telling this story. After a while, Shooter kept on.

“I actually had that same reaction when he said those two words. I inquired a bit as to see if this was the same Simon whose wedding I did two years ago out in the black. And it was. Right then and there, we decided that as soon as I was finished, we had to get out of there. Half an hour later, I was at their estate, telling them everything about the gig. I didn’t mind telling them everything, since I figured any arrest warrant would’ve been erased after the collapse of Blue Sun and the Alliance Judicial System. I even showed them the video. I always keep a copy of everything I do, just in case. Guess my OCD actually helped me out for once. I’d like to say they were happy seeing the video, but it was only for one of them. Your father had this sour, angry look on his face pretty much the entire night. Your mother had a smile during the big moment, but there was sadness in her eyes. Anyways, after it was done, they excused themselves to talk about what they just saw. They told me they would be a few minutes. Ended up being three days. Didn’t mind, really. Got to edit the video, helped myself to some real food, even if it was a bit old, and slept on the most comfortable couch I’ve ever slept on. Anyways, on the evening of the third day, the husband came down and handed me a bag full of platinum. He then told me this is payment for a job he wants me to do. Essentially, he wanted me to find you guys, and give you a message. River, do you think you can get the lights?”

Shooter then took the camera that was sitting on the table, and pressed a few buttons on it as River went to turn down the lights in the room. As the lights dimmed, a square figure appeared on the white pained cupboards, which acted as a screen. The light projected from the lens as it was set on “Projector” mode as Shooter focused. After lining up the frame exactly, Shooter pressed PLAY. As the shot started, all that was in the frame was an old chair near the fireplace. Simon recognized this chair as The Chair. The chair that no one but Gabriel was to sit in every night . But then the man himself stepped into the frame and sat down. The last four years had not been good for him. He had gained a considerable amount of weight, his hair, once as black as space was between light gray and pure white, and his face was filled with wrinkles, which contoured with his bitter look. The purple robe he wore for so long was now old and faded. The man seemed to be aging drastically by the minute.

“Hello Simon. Hello River. I hope that this message finds you. This Shooter fellow seems to be trustworthy enough.” He paused. He seemed to be trying to say what was on his mind in the right way, so as to not shoot himself in the foot. “I know that the last time we spoke, we didn’t leave on the right note.” At this point Simon snorted. “But a lot has happened in the last four years, and I would like to resolve these issues, at least for your mother’s sake. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a trap for you to walk in. I’ve made sure that there will not be any police interference. Not that it matters.” Gabriel paused again, but now had a look of desperation on his face. “Children, your mother’s dying. She has leukemia. We don’t know how long she has left. All the doctors here in the Core seem to be off on other planets, leaving only incompetent med students around. She wants to see you and you’re…wife…before she goes. She wants to have some closure. Thinks it’ll be good for her. Look, I don’t know if this will find you, and if it does if you want to come home. You two seem happy…where you are. But please consider coming back home.” He paused again awkwardly and then gave a look to Shooter, as to say “I’m Done.” The image then cut out and went to blue. As the lights turned back on, Shooter shut off the camera.

There were various looks on each of their faces. Shooter looked around, wondering what was going to happen next. Mal had a poker face look. While he did want to give his medic and Greek choir a chance to go home again, something he personally never had, he didn’t like the idea of having Wash fly them all the way to Osiris just to drop off three of his crew. Not if there was a chance for shipping cargo, at least. River was concerned about Regan, and was curious as to why no one was saying or doing anything. Kaylee had a look of reserved sadness and nervousness on her face. She was trying her hardest to suppress her tears for the people on both sides of the screen. She wanted so much to go there and fix everything herself, but was unsure if she’d be welcome. Her last interaction with Core people was a mixed experience. It all seemed to hinge on what Simon thought.

But Simon had a blank look on his face. It was hard to tell what was going on inside him. But very suddenly, he sat up and banged his fists onto the wooden table simultaneously and stormed out of the kitchen. After a few moments, Kaylee maneuvered herself up and followed slowly.

Shooter looked over at Mal. “Should I stick around?”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

As Kaylee stepped slowly down the metal staircase while maneuvering her pregnant girth, she heard a soft thump and some muffled words. As she got closer, there was another thump, accompanied by louder words. Ever step she took, the tempo of the thumps and words increased. When she got to the doors of the infirmary, the thumps became the sound of pounding flesh and bone against wood with the words being the longest string of English and Chinese swear words put together.

Normally the sight of Simon swearing would make her laugh uncontrollably. But these words were spoken out of pure hatred, anger and desperation. The look of pure anguish and rage on her husbands face as he slammed his fists against the cabinets he had re-stocked so well actually scared her a little. Any more pounding, and he’s punch right through the wood. She had seen him angry over her sister and what happened to her, but it was a reserved anger. A simmer, really. He never once raised his voice in anything. Now he was screaming so loud in anger that the others were soon coming down the stairs as to see what’s going on. Kaylee waved her hand at them to keep their distance as Simon began to calm down and take a series of deep breaths.

“Simon. Are you okay?”

He took another deep breath. “Yeah. It’s just that it really pisses me off.”

“What exactly?”

“Everything. That smug look on his face. His avoidance of the big issue at hand. His arrogance in thinking that he can just buy us back, like it never happened. And I’m also pissed at myself. If I had given a damn about them, I would’ve tried to convince Mal of sneaking us home earlier to see them. I would have noticed if anything was wrong with her. I would’ve taken her in for treatment. I would’ve made sure she’d survive it. I’d make sure that he wouldn’t disregard her physical state like he did with River’s mental state.”

Kaylee stared at him. She gulped and asked “Is that it?”

“That, and also…" Simon turned his head towards her and shamefully admitted, "I never wanted to go back. But even without the Alliance hunting us down, they still find a way of bringing us back.”

“Simon, I know how you feel.”

Upon hearing this, a very dark side of him emerged. “No you don’t. You had a great family upbringing. You had a mom and dad and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins that loved you unconditionally. You’re childhood is a gorram storybook." As he continued, his voice raised in volume and anger. "You’ve never begun training at a young age to be a prominent member of the bourgeoisie society. You’ve never had the experience of getting scolded for getting a B plus on something you’ve pored you heart and soul into just to make your parents proud. You’ve never lived and believed in a way of life your entire life and then have it taken away from you overnight and abandoned like the sister that only you seemed to give a god damn about.”

Despite her body being in a state where the slightest thing would set her off emotionally, Kaylee had learned not to walk out on Simon when he said something stupid. She knew he was just getting over-emotional about it, and justifiably so. She just sat up on the examining table and looked him straight in the eye.

“You’re right. I haven’t had that experience of losing faith in everything I believe in. I suppose I would have to need something like that or to be in Serenity Valley to happen for me. But my childhood was no Saturday morning anime. I’ve had my share of family squabbles and arguments and times where I wished my folks were dead. But you know what? You deal with them. Instead of avoiding the issue, you confront it, you talk it out and you don’t go to bed until everything’s resolved. My daddy taught me that and my daddy proved it. Ain’t no different anywhere else in the verse.”

Simon sighed another heavy sigh and sat across from her. The darkness fled and was replaced with guilt. “Now it’s your turn to be right. I just don’t have that same level of optimism as you do.”

“Well, if we were to go, it wouldn’t be just to patch things up between you and your dad. There’s your mom. Can’t imagine you and River wouldn’t want to say goodbye to her before she died. And I imagine River would like to visit home just for old times sake. She seems to have forgiven your folks for what they did. Maybe you should too.”

Simon looked up at her. She had her hand placed on her belly, feeling the kicks from inside her and rubbing it back and forth. That image was enough to let some of the stress in him melt away. He came over and began feeling her stomach as well.

“What about you? The last time you were on a Core planet, the high class treated you like go se. I imagine Dad wouldn’t be impressed by you off the bat.”

She just shrugged. “I also managed to win the charm of a few gentlemen just by talking about engines. So maybe it won’t be too bad. And even if it is, I know you’ll defend me like always. Besides, who wouldn’t like the woman who’s carrying their grandchild.”

Simon leaned in and kissed her. After breaking the kiss, he put his arms around her and hugged.

“I’d rather not do this. I’m happy here.”

“So am I.” She leaned back and looked at him with complete honesty and grace. “But I think the only way you’re going to get past this is by going. For your parent’s sake, for River’s sake, for Brooke’s sake, for my sake and most importantly, for yours.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

As much as the three of them wanted to get back to Osiris as soon as possible, various things kept them from going home immediately. For starters, the new engine wasn’t completely installed yet. And even with Kaylee working from morning till night, it would still take about three days to have it fully operational with all the bugs worked out of it. And there was still the matter of getting there. Demand for the ship was still high out in the furthest reaches of space, and it was only after dropping off more cargo that they were able to land a job that took them back to Osiris. It was only two weeks later that Simon, Kaylee and River were able to touch down outside the old Tam estate. As Serenity fueled up and packed with more cargo with the help of Shooter who decided to work for Mal on a temporary basis, Inara took them out in her shuttle to Evergreen Gardens, the high society section of Capital City, and the Tam’s estate. During the flight, she gave the young couple some encouraging words, although they did little to relieve the tension that hovered around them. Simon’s mind kept racing over what to do and what to say. The estate that was his home for the longest time felt like an Alliance facility. He kept trying to think of ways to get out as fast as possible. But as he said those six words to his father and the iron gate creaked open, he realized that there was no turning back. River slew her demons. It was time to slay his.

As the gates clicked onto the side latch, the three of them began walking up the concrete driveway. Simon remembered how during special occasions and holidays, the servants would line the trees and hedges with Chinese lanterns and pipe classical music (usually Mozart) through the speakers in between. The driveway stretched out for another hundred yards before reaching a main parking area with a large Victorian fountain. Normally, water would be cascading from it, but now it was empty, with dried leaves nestled in the blue marble basin. River remembered how on nice days she would take her books and read near the fountain. On occasion, she’d even get Simon to re-enact legendary sea battles with their toy ships. Kaylee was a little intimidated with the environment around her. It was a strange experience for her not to hear the crunching of gravel as she walked up the driveway. While the grounds were in disarray, there was still that sense of sterility that permeated from the estate. The three of them stepped up the wooden steps of the porch that lead to the large oak door. As Kaylee took her last step onto the porch, the door opened slowly. It swung wide open, and an aged Gabriel Tam stood there, his presence taking up most of the door frame. In Simon’s mind, he remembered a scene from one of Shooter’s movies he showed them last week about Wolfgang Mozart. Every time his father’s presence would show up, the opening notes for “Don Giovanni” would play over the soundtrack, instilling the fear of God into Mozart. In Simon’s mind, those same notes were playing.

“DAD!”, River squealed as she ran forward to Gabriel. She had set her guitar case down and gave her father a huge hug. He was surprised at the sudden affection he received, and very sternly patted her on the back.

“Hello, bao-bei. How’s my little girl?”

“Exceptionally wonderful. How is my daddy?”

Gabriel looked at her with his usual fatherly look. “Tired. Weary. Happy to see you.” If it came from Mal, it somehow seemed genuine. But seeing it come from the man who betrayed them, it just seemed hypocritical in Simon’s mind. Gabriel rested his hands on her shoulders. “Did they treat you all right?”

River simply shrugged. “Simon’s been a good big brother. A boob, but still good.” There was an awkward silence between the two. That’s not what he meant by that, but they both didn’t want to talk about it. It was in the past, and reflecting on the past never does anyone any real good.

“I mean on that ship. Out in the uncivilized regions.” That remark shot through Simon like a bullet.

“They treated me like family. They took good care of me, and I took good care of them.” She said it with the same cheeriness that she picked up from Kaylee. A flicker of sadness and regret came over Gabriel and he took his hands off her shoulders and looked at his daughter.

“I imagine you want to see your mother. She’s upstairs in her room.”

She walked back, picked up her guitar case and began to walk away, but then noticed that no one was following. She looked back with a puzzled look. “Aren’t you coming?”

“In a minute. I need to speak to Simon and his…bride.”

River looked at him one last time and then walked away, going up the old staircase towards her parent’s room. It had been so long since she was home, but it felt like it was only yesterday when she was stepping up the stairs.

Gabriel then turned around and faced his son. He walked up to them and paused. “Simon. Aren’t you going to introduce me?”

“Oh, yes. Yes, of course. Kaylee, this is my father, Gabriel Leopold Tam. Dad, this is Kaywinnith Lee Frye. We call her Kaylee for short.”

“It’s a real pleasure to meet you, Mr. Tam.” Kaylee put down her tool box and shot her hand out to Gabriel. He very reluctantly took her hand, still keeping his stern look. “That fountain of yours outside is really something. If you want, I can take a look at your plumbing and can fix it for ya.”

Gabriel shook his head and waved his hand. “No, that’s not necessary. We’ve been cutting down on some of the more lavish things on the estate to save money. So remind me again what you do?” Kaylee grinned from ear to ear and pronounced proudly, “I’m the mechanic on our ship, Serenity. I’m in charge of making sure she’s still flyin. Just installed a brand new engine on the ship. A Herc 12 thousand prototype, no less. It's an experimental engine that only deep space explorers use. Put that on our ship and she’ll outrun anything. Not that we couldn’t outrun anything with the old one. I made sure of that.”

“That’s…interesting.” Simon could tell that his father was more interested in the sleeve of his robe than what Kaylee did. “What schools did you attend?”

“Well, I never really went to one. There weren’t any schools on Newhope, actually. Just kinda stuck around the farm and learnt from wherever.”

There was another long silence between the two. “Are you…” he looked down to her stomach “expecting?”

Kaylee giggled as she cradled her womb in her hands. “Yes..Yes I am.”

Simon reached over and put his arms around her. “We’re delighted.” He gave her a small kiss on the cheek. “Five months along. It’s a girl. We’re naming her Brooke.”

“After River. Interesting simile. Cute.” Gabriel smirked at this. To him it was funny in an ironic, hick-like patronage kind of way, which Simon could see in his smile. “I imagine you must be tired. The guest room is upstairs, third door to the left. Huge room, king sized bed. You don’t need to worry about clothes. We have far more than we need now.”

Kaylee smiled and thanked him. She then picked up her toolbox and headed inside and up the stairs. Now it was only Simon and Gabriel. They waited until Kaylee’s footsteps had faded away before they began talking. It was Gabriel who broke the silence by saying something that Simon would’ve expected to hear from Jayne, but not his father. “I imagine she must be great in bed.”

Simon looked at his father, shocked at the sudden, strangely eloquent vulgarity that had come out of his mouth. Gabriel merely looked at him with a smirk.

“She must be the virtuoso in that department. Can’t imagine why else you’d be interested in her.”

“I’m interested in her because she was my saving grace. Or were you not paying any attention to the video.”

“How could I? It was the most blasphemous thing I’ve ever seen. My two children, whom I’ve dedicated everything this family has to offer, associating themselves with unruly criminals and disenfranchised Browncoats.”

“We may have had some illegal jobs, but we also did the right thing. Havn’t you heard? Were Big Damn Heroes. I even took out a drug baron and a pedophile a while back myself. Even Jayne, the man-ape gone wrong is the Hero of Canton. They’ve done more for River and me in the last four years than you have ever done for us in your life.” “How dare you lay that fahng-tzong fung-kwong duh jeh on me. Who put you through school? Who pressured you when push came to shove during your finals? Who got you the job at General? This family has made you who you are, and this is how you re-pay us? By abandoning us to live out in the Black and turn your sister into some degenerate!” Simon was beyond furious. “You make it sound as if I had a choice. I didn’t. Desperate acts call for desperate measures.”

“Well you were desperate, all right. Desperate to fulfill some half realized delusions of Campbell-esque mythology you instigated unto yourself with your sister being your ticket to fulfilling those delusions.”

Simon took a deep breath and began to laugh at the incredulousness of his father. “You still think this is all about me. You think that all of this has happened because of whatever excuse you dumped on me. Well let me tell you something. Four years ago when you essentially told me and River to gunkai, you pretty much sealed our fates as to what’s happened to us. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a sick mother to attend to.”

Simon turned around and headed up the stairs. He knew he wasn’t being proper. He knew that he had just said something to his father that years ago would’ve been way out of character for him. But he didn’t care. Already he felt like coming here was a waste of time.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

It was common amongst the wealthy families of the Core planets that the husband and wife share separate rooms. In its own strange logic, the separation of the wedding bed between husband and wife insured the sanctity of it. But then again, maybe it was because spouses commonly took other people to bed with them, and they didn’t want evidence of their significant others surrounding them.

These thoughts were as of late typical of Regan Tam. Ever since she was a young girl, she had been trained and prepared by her bourgeoisie parents and peers to become a member of the elite society. For most of her life, she had never doubted or even questioned her various social roles and what accompanied each of them. But the last four years have made her reconsider everything she had been taught.

After Simon and River had vanished without a trace, she started having small pains in her stomach. At first she thought these were mere stomachaches or ulcers. Something that could be cleared up soon. But they still persisted the next day. And then the next week, then month and then year. It had taken her that long to realize that it was her conscience acting up. That something was indeed wrong with her daughter and that she was doing nothing.

Despite Gabriel’s insistence that Simon’s concerns were unfounded, she began looking into his accusations that something was horribly wrong at the Academy. She would contact other women who had sent their sons or daughters there as well to see if her concerns were shared. She began counseling with the best lawyers their wealth could buy. She even decided to spearhead a civil case against the Academy. But as she was close to getting the right amount of signatures and funds in place, the pains in the stomach returned. Only this time, the pain spread into her bones. Guilt had never felt this bad before. And after visiting the hospital where Simon used to work, she and Gabriel found out that it wasn’t guilt. It was leukemia. It was so far along that there was nothing left to do but wait. Regan had never felt so crushed. It was as if there was a giant cosmic joke going on, and their family was the punch line. And with the events of Blue Tuesday confirming their deepest fears, euthanasia wasn’t sounding too bad. The only sliver of hope that came their way was the staggering coincidence of a wedding videographer being at the right place and time twice. It had been weeks since the young man had left to find her children, leaving behind a copy of the two year old wedding video.

Regan had spent all her time since then in bed, propped up with huge pillows and a remote in her bony hands. She had tiredly watched the movie every day for the past few weeks, her breathing beginning to short with ever passing day. In watching the video over and over again, the screen became her window into the past. At times, she felt that she could touch them.

The door creaked open. Regan paused the video. “Yes, Gabriel. I know I shouldn’t be-“ She paused. She rubbed her eyes and looked again. Her mind was going. It had to be. Only a combination of stress and a deteriorating body could explain why her daughter was now standing in her doorway, holding a guitar case.

“Mom?”

Regan gasped in shock. She was real. She was really there. “River.” She grabbed the edge of the sheets and tried to pull them off. It was too much and she gasped in pain. She wanted to hold and hug her little girl so much, but the pain was too much to bear. River then rushed over, placed her guitar case on the bed and hugged her. Tears were flowing out of both of their eyes.

“Oh River. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I ever doubted you and your brother. I should’ve known something was wrong. It was only after you’ve gone that I tried to do something about it, but then it was too late.”

River was hugging her mother, trying to instill some warmth into her cold, frail body. “No need for dwelling on the past. Forgiveness fills the room, it embraces the present.” River saw into her body and soul, and saw that both were breaking down and deteriorating from the inside. “In acute myeloid leukemia, the stem cells develop into a type of immature white blood cell called myeloblasts. The myeloblasts in AML are abnormal and do not mature into healthy white blood cells. Sometimes, too many stem cells develop into abnormal red blood cells or platelets. These abnormal white blood cells, red blood cells, or platelets are also called leukemia cells or blasts. Leukemia cells are unable to do their usual work and can build up in the bone marrow and blood so there is less room for healthy white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. When this happens, infection, anemia, or easy bleeding may occur. The leukemia cells can spread outside the blood to other parts of the body, including the central nervous system, skin, and gums.” River leaned back and looked at her mother. “We can’t make you better. We’re too late. We could’ve noticed earlier. I could’ve noticed earlier. I’m so sorry.”

“Hush, bao-bei.” Regan slowly wrapped her arms around her grown daughter again. Now it was her turn to give forgiveness. “There was nothing you could’ve done for me anyways.” River started talking breathlessly as she speculated. “We'll never know. If I had been around, Simon would have been around. Maybe instead of spending the last few years focused on me he could have spent them focused on you. He's smart, not a genius like me, but he could have come up with something. He always does.”

Regan smiled lightly at her daughter’s errant wish to make her better. It was nice to hear that at least one of her children wasn’t resentful towards her. She patted her on the back and assured her. “Even if he did, I'm refusing treatment. I am very old and very sick. Who knows? Maybe this is my punishment. For robbing you of your teen years, I won't be around to see you blossom into a young woman.” She pushed River back up and looked into her large watery eyes. “This is why I want to know everything that’s happened to you in the last four years. Tell me of your adventures. Tell me more about the crew.” She looked over at the leather guitar case. “Tell me how you got this.” She leaned over and tapped her hand on the case.

River sniffled and brought the case closer to her. She unfastened the latches on the side and opened the lid. As she assembled the instrument together, she spoke of the origins. “Simon ran out of other treatment options. I thought it was stupid, but Wash, he had the most incredible music collection. It's nothing like what I played as a child. It’s all these old songs from 20th Century Earth-That-Was. You’ve probably never heard any of it, but it's so incredible...it’s so….inspirational. I find that a song from that era can say what cannot be put into words so easily. It's a channel. It's my way of releasing what's inside me.”

She set the guitar to a viola mode and began to play it with her bow. She played the opening notes of some random piece of classical music. She hadn’t played this kind of music since she was 7, but she figured that it would be something that she would’ve wanted to hear. The only thing she did listen to was CBC.

And so it was to River surprise and delight when her mother said, “You wouldn’t happen to know "Hey, Jude" would you?”

River looked at her mother in shock. She paused for a second to make sure she heard it right. Regan looked at her. “I’ll hum it for you.” Regan began humming the opening notes to refresh her daughter’s memory. Very weakly, she croaked “Remember, to let her into your heart. Then you can start to make it better.” By that time, River had reset the guitar to an acoustic and began strumming along to the familiar tune. “Hey Jude, don’t be afraid. You were made to go out and get her. The minute you let her under your skin, then you begin to make it better.” River joined in with a soft heavenly background vocal as she smiled, enjoying her mom's soothing yet weak singing voice. They only paused midway to allow for a coughing fit for Regan. After it subsided, River looked at her mother with admiration. “That's real pretty, mom. I had no idea you liked that sort of music....have you always?”

Regan sank back into her pillows and looked at her, as if recalling a better time. “Not always. Mostly classical music and operas. Not that I didn't enjoy them, I did. But when I was about your age and going to college, a friend of mine once played me that song. After that, whenever I got the chance I'd listen to them. God, I hadn't thought about that in years.”

Regan looked away wistfully, recalling old memories of times before everything went to Hell. River merely resumed strumming along to the old tune and quietly singing the lyrics. It was around the fourth “Hey Jude” repeat when the door opened. Kaylee began to step into the room and then began to back out.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I was looking for... I thought this was the guest room. I don't want to interrupt or anything. If this is a bad time-“

River looked back at her sister-in-law and smiled. “Not interrupting.” She nodded towards the bed. “Kaylee, this is my mom, Regan. Mom, this is Kaylee”

Regan sat up again to get a good view of Kaylee, who was very nervously approaching the bed. “Hi... That was a real pretty song you were signing there.”

Regan looked at Kaylee with the maternal warmth she thought she had lost so long ago. ”Yes, it is. Come closer, child. Don't be shy. I want to see my daughter-in-law up close.”

Kaylee laughed at the remark as she looked down to her extended womb. “Well, there’s kind of a lot of me to see these days.” As she came in closer, Regan smile grew wider as she saw what Kaylee meant by that. “How far along?”

Any apprehension Kaylee might’ve had about meeting her husband’s mother vanished with that remark. “Five months. I felt her kick for the first time last month. She's got quite a set of legs on her for being so small. I can't wait till it's finally time for her to come out and meet the 'verse.” As if on cue, Brooke gave Kaylee a mighty kick from within. Kaylee brought her hands down to her denim covered womb and giggled. “I think she's getting restless.” Regan blinked and asked softly. “May I touch it? Might be the only change I get.” Kaylee shrugged. “Sure.” Kaylee took a few steps closer and brought her belly towards Regan. She weakly raised her hand and placed it on her denim covered womb. As she felt the fluttering of movement from her granddaughter within, a strange wave of emotions came over her. This coming home of her children and the revelation that the bloodline will continue gave her a sense of elation. Of a future. And then she realized that she wouldn’t be a part of that future. This drove the elation and hope out of her and replaced it with a crippling sadness. Regan withdrew her hand and starts crying again. It was at that point that Simon came into the room and rushed to his mother’s side. “What's wrong?” he asked breathlessly as he reached the bedside. “What happened?”

Kaylee merely looked at him in a panicked tone. “I don't know. She was just... I was just..."

“It's nothing anyone's done.” River stated this blankly as Simon and Kaylee looked at her. River turned her head so as to address them directly. “She's just saddened by the "what ifs" and "what could have beens"."

Simon just looked at Regan and for the first time in a long while, was unsure as to what to do. He waited for his mother to calm down, and when the tears finally dried up, she looks at him for the first time and smiled weakly.

“It's good to see you Simon. It's been so long. Too long, son.” She weakly brought up her arms to touch her son’s face. It was coarser and more rugged than she remembered it as. His hair had grown out a bit, and there was a slight weariness to his face, not to mention the tiny scar on his cheek. Simon brought her thin, bony hand to his face for her to feel. It was then that he noticed how frail her body had become. Her skin had a waxy look to it, enunciated with black sores and blemishes all over her arms, shallow breathing and a wig that matched her old hair color that was slightly out of alignment. “I'm sorry...for everything. For not believing you, for not being a mother to both of you when you needed one, for not doing anything until it was too late....I'm truly sorry.”

Simon leaned in and gave her a hug. The remorse he was feeling now was tempered by the assurance he was giving to her. “I don't blame you. I blame Dad for abandoning us. I blame them for what they did. I blame the entire gorram system that rightfully collapsed. But I never once blamed you.”

Regan broke the embrace and looked into her son’s sad eyes. Part of her maternal strength was back, so now was as good as any time to say it. “Simon, you shouldn't be so hard on your father. While I am in no way justifying his actions, I feel the both of you should reconcile your differences. Forgive each other and start fresh. Family is something terribly important and unfortunately many of us never realize that until it’s too late. I don’t want that to happen between you and your father.”

What she was asking him to do in his mind was in his opinion, an impossible task. There was nothing he could do to repair the damage he had done to them. And even if he did try, would Gabriel see beyond his petty delusions to realize the ramifications of his actions. The thought of it all made him sigh in stress. He looked back at his dying mother and shrugged. “I'll try. Can't say that it'll happen. But I'll try for your sake.” Regan patted her son on his cheek and smiled. “Good. Now, you take Kaylee to the guest room and get all set up, and River, you can play whatever you want for me.”

All of them smiled at this proclamation. Simon got up from the bed and went to the door with Kaylee following. River began strumming along to an acoustic song that she had made up. River’s twangy singing voice sang aloud as she sang about flying. Kaylee looked back and saw how the setting sun was flooding the room in a heavenly way. She loved the image of that light illuminating a reunited mother and daughter. “Not even Shooter could’ve made it more perfect.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

What Shooter, or anyone else for that matter, could’ve made better was the general mood and feeling of the dinner they were having. A fire was roaring in the dining room of the large mansion. The room itself was roughly about the size of the cargo bay. When Simon and River were children, they’d shout in the room just to see if it would echo. The mahogany table itself could seat twelve and was about twenty five feet long and 8 feet wide. It sat on a red carpet that was wall-to-wall. Painting of ancestors adorned the walls of the room, the people in them looking down on the diners as they ate.

What they were eating were warmed over leftovers from long ago. Like everything else on the estate, the Tams had to severely cut down on groceries. Of course, whenever Gabriel went to the bulk superstores (an alien experience for him), he only shopped for one. Despite his insistence towards his wife, her appetite had severely decreased. The only thing she did consume were sips of water. What would’ve normally been an elaborate meal that would’ve taken the whole day for the cooking staff to prepare with the utter most precision was now warmed over stir fry from last week put in the microwave for five minutes.

But the food was not the main cause of tension. There was a general sense of malaise and unease as the four of them sat at the table, idly poking away at the food. At Gabriel’s insistence, Regan was not moved from her bed out of concern for her health and was still in her room. Gabriel sat on the right side of the table, the fire place framing him against the flames. He just stared at Simon and Kaylee, who were sitting opposite him side by side. Simon stared back at his father, their gaze unbroken in a high stakes staring contest. The tension was so thick between them that not even Kaylee’s arc welder could’ve cut through it. River merely sat at the foot of the table, idly plucking away at strings, playing random notes.

It wasn’t always like this. The dining room was once the heart of the building. Every night, the Tam family would sit down and talk about their days. Gabriel would discuss business, Regan her various social groups she was a part of, and Simon and River with the new things they had learned that day at school. For an hour, the room came alive with intellectual debate, funny stories, imitations and general family bonding. After dinner, the plates and silverware were cleared and the table became the hub for their activities. Gabriel and Simon would work on their paperwork across from each other and play metal games with each other to keep them alert. Regan and River would play cards or do a number of mother/daughter bonding activities. And if the mood struck, they would often do board games of an elaborate nature. And if the daily evening dinners weren’t enough, the parties they held made them pale in comparison. Christmas dinners, weekly dinner parties with Dad’s executives and Mom’s socialite friends, and the most lavish birthday parties any child of the Core could ever hope for. But over the course of the last four years, the dinners became quieter and less elaborate, the games began to collect dust in a closet, the dinner parties became less frequent, and the Christmas and birthday parties stopped. Their dates only served as painful memories of what was once but now no longer. The four of them merely sat in silence, picking away at rancid food and nursing seething resentment. This silence during dinner was driving Kaylee nuts in particular. Dinners shouldn’t be silent.

“So... “Kaylee said aloud nervously, trying to break the ice. “Y’all got a nice home here.”

Gabriel merely glared at her for a few seconds, repelled at the idea of yokel terminology being spoken within these hollowed walls. He then replied with a simple courteous acknowledgement. “Yes. Yes it is. This house and the grounds have been in our family name for the last two hundred years. Forgive us for not having it totally clean. Due to Blue Tuesday, we've had to cut down our house and grounds keeping staff.” He paused before he made his next comment. “Of course, I'm sure you're used to things being a bit dirty.”

This last bit was pointed directly at Kaylee, but shot through Simon, nonetheless. Kaylee merely bit her tongue and never broke her smile. “Being a mechanic and all does involve somewhat of a mess.” “I can imagine. Tell me, how did you become one? A mechanic, that is. A female mechanic seems rather anachronistic.”

Kaylee merely shrugged. “Ain’t so where I’m from. My daddy was a mechanic. Since I was in diapers he had me by his side while he was workin'. Engines have always been part of me. They talk to me. I can't imagine not being around 'em.”

Gabriel poked at his stir-fry with his pair of chopsticks and replied in an amused tone. “And I imagine..Creek...will be at your side while you tinker away at a grav thrust and engage in lively conversation with an oil filter?”

Any consideration and politeness Kaylee was broadcasting was cut short with that remark. Through her teeth, she replied “Her name is Brooke.” There's a slight tone of anger in Kaylee's voice as she corrected him.

"Tomato, tom-ah-to. It's all the same."

Simon finally had enough. "No, it's not. We're calling her Brooke in honor of River. And if you were any grandfather, you'd show some respect." Gabriel set down his chopsticks to the side and said coldly, "It's hard for me to show any respect towards a child of a backwater slut who dares to associate herself with criminals."

Kaylee had never heard anything so insulting directed towards herself and her unborn child. “I'd rather be a backwater slut than a heartless old man.” Kaylee threw her napkin onto the table. “I may not have a fancy upbringing, but one thing I did learn while growing up was the meaning of family. Guess that's just something all the money in the verse can't teach a person.”

Simon looked at her. “Kaylee you don't need to defend yourself against this jackass. It wouldn't make a difference anyways.” He stared directly into his father’s eyes. “Nothing gets through his thick head.”

Gabriel pushed away his plate. He was good and angry as he stood up. “The only thing that gets through my thick head is something you two will never understand, and that's legacy. This family was on the path to greatness. We may have had money, but we were on the verge of sublimity. Of producing integral people in human history. But you just had to screw it up. We could've taken her out of the Academy years ago. We could've exposed what they did and have everything back to normal. Instead, you break her out, make her and yourself fugitives, ally yourselves with disgruntled Browncoats and criminals and shack up with some random speck of dust in the grand scheme of things and turn River into some punk slacker. And to add insult to injury, I only find this out two years after the fact because of some amateur videographer.” He stared at his son, with an anger and fury unseen by anyone in the room. “You have destroyed everything that this family has stood for. Dong ma?”

“I've destroyed everything this family's stood for?” Simon inhaled and screamed. “I'VE DESTROYED EVERYTHING THIS FAMILY'S STOOD FOR?” In a furious outrage, Simon stood up violently, his chair skidding back and toppling over due to the force. “The day you knowingly subjected River to that place is the day any legacy of this family died. Children aren't some science experiment. It's disappointing as hell to know my father thinks otherwise.”

Kaylee looked up at her husband and saw the flaming rage that was finally being let out after all these years. And if the sudden burst in kicks from within here were any indication, this wasn’t going to end well. She reached up to grasp his arm. “Simon, you should calm down.”

Simon pulled away his arm, not breaking the intense eye contact he had with his father. “No, I'm not going to let him talk to you or me like this.”

Gabriel waved his right hand. “No, go right ahead. If it's been boiling up in you the last four years, why not get it all out.” Gabriel began to move away from his seat and began walking the perimeter of the table. “And for the record, it's just as disappointing to see your once logical son fly off the handles and disregard doing things the proper way, like you should have done all those years ago.”

Simon began doing to same, on an intercept course with the elder Tam. “And since when is submitting your daughter to torture the proper thing to do?” Gabriel exploded in volume and rage. “THAT IS NOT THE POINT. We were misguided. We were lied to, like so many other families. But if you weren’t so arrogant and self-righteous, we could've brought them down a long time ago. We could've saved her and repaired her with the proper medical treatment, while still keeping her and you on track for being integral beings in the history of mankind. Instead, you decided to abruptly take out a trauma patient, pump her full of random drugs and put her in a hostile environment while you were off "playing Doctor" with Barbarella here.” Both Kaylee and River were now holding onto each word the two men were saying.

Simon’s veins were popping in his forehead. The indignation of what his father was saying was blinded him in fury. “First off, I went to you with my concerns and you thought nothing of them. Had you known your daughter you would have believed me and I wouldn't have been left with the only choice I had. Secondly, I was not off "playing doctor" like you were playing "father". I actually know a thing or two about being a doctor. I can proudly say I graduated in the top 3% of medical school. You don't even fit in the bottom 3% of fatherhood. That would be giving you too much credit. And if you ever insult my wife again, I assure you, we will leave. The only family you ever had will walk right out that door and never come back.”

“Fine then. Go. Leave. Take your foul baggage with you and never come back. Leave your mother behind like you did four years ago and let her wither away. The shock of her son abandoning her should kill her. The final turn of the knife you’ve been twisting around for the last four years. Be no different then the Alliance officials who carved into Ri-“

Simon finally let it loose. The ball that was his clenched fist shot out and collided with his father’s face. In one go, Gabriel crumpled to the floor, just like when Mal hit Simon the first night he boarded Serenity. Simon stared at him as he flexed his fingers to ease the pain. He looked up at Kaylee, and then at River. Simon looked back at his father, and then stormed out of the room. His loud footsteps up the staircase echoed through the cavernous mansion and faded away. Kaylee then got up and followed.

Gabriel sat up and brought himself to his feet. He dusted himself off, smoothing out the wrinkles of his bathrobe and poking at the tender spot of skin from where Simon hit him. He looked over at River. She was already clasping her guitar case shut. She took the case by the handle and began heading towards the front door.

“River? Where are you going?”

River stopped and turned around. She looked at her father and said in her regular voice.

“Saw that coming.”

She turned around, opened the door, stepped through and closed it, leaving her father standing in the main entrance of the mansion all alone. * * * * * * * * * * * *

It was already dark by the time River had climbed over the iron gates and picked up her guitar case. She began walking quickly away from the place she once called home. Whatever was going on inside, she just had to get out. She walked for about twenty minutes before she came to the subway depot. She heard the oncoming woosh of the monorail cars and ran to catch them in time. She bounded up the steps eagerly, to be there when the compartment doors slid open. She skidded to a halt just at the edge of the platform, and just stood there to feel the rush of wind as the subway train rushed by and then slowly stopped not only on a coin, but at the exact tick of 8:45. “Still on time.” she thought as she stepped in and sat on one of the surprisingly comfortable seats. A few moments passed, and then the doors slid shut and the train began to move again.

If there was one thing that she did miss about living on the Core, it was the subway. Ever since she was old enough, River loved riding the subway. Her father once proclaimed it “the most effective mode of transportation ever devised by man. The end of the world could happen and it would still run.” She chuckled at this prophetic claim and remembered what she loved about it. She loved how fast it went through the city at speeds that any teenager with a hovercar couldn’t even begin to approach, no matter how souped up it was. She loved how the insides if the windows could double as vid screens so that on her way to school, she could watch cartoons, instead of the boring morning news. She loved seeing all sorts of interesting and fascinating people bumping shoulders and talking to each other about anything and everything. All of civilization was there on display. And being a part of that was indescribable.

After ten minutes of residential areas, warehouse districts and industrial areas, the train began to approach the downtown area. She looked out the window and saw the entire city alight. Buildings thousands of feet high towered up into the sky, reflecting and retracting light from all around. Hovercars, neon and tail lights criss crossed and flowered in all sorts of directions. It was strange. She had seen these sights before almost every day of her whole life. But now, after four years of running, uncertainty and pain, the sight of Capital City at night was too beautiful for words. For once, she didn’t feel like a priority. She wasn’t a reader, or an orphan or a commodity or some savant like pariah. The fate of the verse wasn’t in her hands. She was just another face in the crowd, with a wide eyed look on her face. A tiny cell in the bloodstream of a gigantic body. Insignificance never felt this good.

At 9 P.M., she stepped off at the Younge Street station and descended down into the streets. She began walking around, just taking in everything that was around her. The buildings, the vidboards, the vehicles and the people. It was the people that caught her attention the most. All sorts of people from all over the verse were congregated in this area, going about their usual night lives. What was odd about the whole thing was that the people all had blank faces on them. There was a sense of desperation in their speech as they talked with each other in various circumstances. As she walked past the various restaurants, she noticed that the food that would’ve normally been lavish and expensive was now paltry. People went to pay for the bill, only to end up exchanging looks of embarrassment and negotiations for some sort of trade.

As she wandered from one street to the next, she saw the early stages of poverty in everything. A lot of the buildings and stores were either looted or abandoned. The homeless people that were a common fixture on the streets had equal numbers to match the people who were out for the night. Women and men in evening wear were walking around in a daze. The intention was to boost their spirits, but there was nothing to do, nothing to buy and nothing to buy with. Trash and dust whirled around the corners as a man in a business suit shared a bottle of saki with a dirty, toothless bum on the hood of a crashed hover car. It was as if the people were in a broken down loop. Doing what they were programmed to do, but more out of habit than comfort. Their lethargy needed to be broken.

Her attention was seized by a brownstone building. The neon sign proclaimed it as “The State”, both in English and Chinese. It was a regular bar and grill restaurant, with “Open Mike Night” typed hurridly on the window. She stepped up the wood and glass doors and stepped in. The place was dimly lit, with people sitting at the tables eating, and men at the bar drinking. In the corner, there was a small stage set up with a mike, amp and a drum set in the back just standing there by themselves. She went over to the bar and signaled the attention of the bartender there. A thin middle aged man walked up to her with a bar towel over his shoulder and a concerned look on his face.

“What can I get ya, little girl?”

“Who you calling little?” she asked in a peeved tone. “I’m not here to drink.” She held up her guitar case. “I’m here to play.”

The bartender looked at her for a few seconds and then gave a short laugh.

“What’s so funny?”

“And here I was thinking I’d be getting a hundred platinum tonight.” He leaned in and motioned her to come closer to hear over the murmur of the crowd. “The folks that have been coming here ain’t exactly here for entertainment, you know what I’m saying. They want a cheap bite and an even cheaper drink. If you want to go up there, go ahead, be my guest. But don’t expect them to warm up to whatever estrogen laced folk go-se that you gals seem to peddle. I give you five minutes max before they either boo you off stage or toss you out.”

River merely shrugged. “Whatever. I just want to play.”

The bartender shrugged back. “OK. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

The bartender lifted up the divider and stepped onto the stage as River clicked the latches off the case and brought out her guitar. The bartender tapped on the mike to get everyone’s attention. “Howdy folks. Well, it’s Open Mike Night and we have our first, and probably only act for tonight. So please give a round of applause for-“ he looked over to her to get a name.

“River Tam.”

“River Tam, everyone.” He half enthusiastically clapped his hands as she got a very scattered applause. River merely got up to the stage and plugged the amp into her guitar. It crackled briefly as she squinted from the bright spotlight that was on her. She got up to the mike, looked and felt out over the crowd and cleared her voice.

She didn’t bother to introduce herself, or say what she was going to play. She just jumped right into it with a blistering opening, and the following lyrics.

“Do you have the time….to listen to me whine….about nothing and everything all at once…..I am one of those…..melodramatic fools…..neurotic to the bone no doubt about it.” She riffed some more as she chuckled at the private joke of the matter. “Sometimes I give myself the creeps…..sometimes my mind plays tricks on me….It all keeps adding up…I think I’m cracking up…..am I just paranoid.. Or am I just stoned?” Her hands flew up and down the guitar at a velocity no one in the room had ever seen before. If they didn’t care before, they were rapt in attention now.

“I went to a shrink…to analyze my dreams…he said it’s lack of sex that’s bringing me down…I went to a whore…she said my life’s a bore…So quit my whining cause it’s bringing her down…. Sometimes I give myself the creeps…..sometimes my mind plays tricks on me….It all keeps adding up…I think I’m cracking up…..am I just paranoid.. Or am I just stoned?”

River was cascading with raw energy as she ripped into this song by a band 500 years old, but had only now been deemed legal to play. Trouble is, since this kind of music had been censored long ago, very few people actually knew how to really play it. But if this young woman whose hair was flailing all round and fingers were so red it looked like they were about to pop was any indication, then maybe it was true what was proclaimed so many centuries ago. Rock and roll will never die. As she finished up the last repeat of the chorus and let the final note fade away into the air, the crowd clapped again with more fervor and attention. River was feeling doubly pleased. Not only with herself in actually playing that song well, but also the pleasure of having a room full of lethargic people suddenly feeling energized. The entire building was in her grasp and she did what any entertainer was taught.

She gave the people what they wanted.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Simon burst into the guest room, still fuming over what had transpired downstairs. He thought that he couldn’t possibly hate his father even more than he had before he came here. But right now his hand was shaking in fury over him calling his wife a slut and blaming him for everything that had happened. He went over to the closet and pulled them open. He started grabbing shirts, pants and any other clothing they could use. After piling the clothes on the bed, he grabbed the suitcase from under the bed and popped it open. He went over to the chesterfield and started pulling drawers out. Upon grabbing extra pairs of socks, he heard the faint audio of the wedding video from the next room.

Even though he was still furious, he had calmed down upon hearing it. He placed his hands on the oak counter and took some more deep breaths. In his mind, his thoughts raced in debate as to whether they should stay or go. He couldn’t stand the idea of being in the same building as that excuse for a father that was downstairs, but he knew he’d hate himself for the rest of his life if he left her. Gabriel was right about one thing. If he, Kaylee and River left, it would kill her.

The door creaked open, and Simon saw Kaylee slowly enter. She looked nervous as she went over to the bed and sat down.

“How long would it take?”

Her eyebrows narrowed. “Shenme?”

“How long would it take for Mal and Serenity to get here?”

Her eyes narrowed as she did some quick calculations. “Well, if there aren’t any hold-ups, I’d say in about three or four days.”

Simon stared in the mirror in front of him. Kaylee stood up.

“Why? You ain’t thinking about leaving, are ya?”

Simon took a deep breath and looked down at his hands. “I’m thinking that tomorrow, we wave Mal, tell them to pick us up, and we go. We find some hotel to stay at, and if Regan’s condition changes, I could come to tend to her.” He paused as he looked back at her. “I can’t leave her, but I can’t even look at him without wanting to bash his head in over what he said to you.”

Kaylee sat back down onto the bed. She took a deep breath and looked up at Simon again. "I don’t care what he says. He's still your father.”

Simon chuckled darkly at her remark. "I figured he would have least made an effort to fix this. But I think he’s actually going out of his way to make me hate him even more." He turned around and leaned back against the drawers. "It's your call. You wanna stay or go?"

Kaylee looked away to where Regan’s room would be and then looked back at her husband. "We should stay, if for no other reason but her. She needs you." Kaylee said looking at him.

Simon scoffed at her remark. "She doesn't need me. There's nothing I can do at this point, so why should we stay any longer than we have to?"

"Because she’s your mother." Kaylee said plainly.

"A mother who stood aside while her husband turned their daughter into a lab rat." He stopped, realizing what he just said and did some breathing exercises to calm down. "I'm sorry, that's Gabriel talking. God, you see how much he's tainted us. I'm beginning to be like the bastard."

"No, you ain’t nothing like him." Kaylee walked towards Simon and placed her hands on his shoulders. He looked into her eyes and felt guilty.

"But I was seriously thinking of leaving here. And he's right in one way. If I were to leave her to die would be like those bastards cutting into River's brain."

Kaylee lightly kissed him and then looked back into his eyes. "You are nothing like your father. And we’re gonna prove it to him by staying here and taking care of her."

After a few silent moments, Simon simply said “OK.” He turned around and put the pair of socks that were on the top of the drawers and put them back into the top shelf. “I'm tired. My throat's a little sore from all that yelling. You wanna go to bed?"

Kaylee yawned and walked towards the bed. “I am a bit tired, actually. Been a real long day for all of us. Maybe some sleep’ll do us good.”

Simon nodded to himself as they both began to take off their clothes. In the beginning, the idea of them undressing in front of each other would get them excited more than anything else. But the day had taken its toll on them, and they were so used to each other’s intimacy that they just got into bed and spooned without any cause for excitement. Kaylee turned off the side table lamp and Simon lazily placed his right hand over her belly.

It didn’t even occur to them where River could be.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

River was ripping into her final song of the night. She had been playing for two hours non-stop, working the crowd into a frenzy as she not only played the entire AMERICAN IDIOT album from beginning to end (she regretted not having a simple drum beat backing her up), but any other song that seemed appropriate. She was finishing up a song of her own, her fingers red and calloused from picking, strumming and streaking the guitar strings, her voice beginning to sound hoarse after singing/screaming nonstop for two hours. But her energy had not dwindled at all. If anything, she was so pumped full of energy that she couldn’t think of stopping.

She boomed out the last note of the song and let it hang in the air as the crowd put their hands together and cheered. The sound inside the place was deafening. She merely smiled and took a bow. As she got off the stage, the bartender came up to her with a shot glass in his hand.

“For you.”

River took the glass and stared at it. She had never taken in any alcohol before. It was unnecessary, since she was fucked up enough on her own. But she just shrugged and drank the whole thing in one go.

“Thanks, I guess.”

“Compliments of the gentleman over there.”

River looked to where the bartender was pointing and noticed an interesting man looking at her, with a similar drink in his hand as well. He was a young man, mid to late thirties, with a large frame, slicked back hair, a shaggy beard, leather jacket and an eternally pleased grin. He looked like a businessman who had discovered the meaning of life and was reveling in the pleasure of being. To other’s he looked like the sleazy type. But upon seeing him, River felt soothed and strangely compelled to sit at his table.

She walked over and sat at the chair across from him.

“I suppose I should be thanking you for the alcoholic beverage.”

“You could. But I’m just the guy who made the order. He’s the one who actually paid for it. I made a bet with him that if he were to advertise for an Open Mike Night, he’d actually get someone off the street to play.”

River stared at the man intently, trying to get a sense as to who he is.

“You were in money.”

“Yes. But emphasis on were. I used to work as an investment banker. Pushed into it by my family. Gorram hated the whole thing. Got out in time before the whole thing crashed.”

“Lucky you.”

“No. Just smart and knows a good thing when I see it, like you up there.”

River shrugged. “Not really. With no percussion beat to expand the sound, the general ambiences of the tunes were flat.”

“Well, yeah. But you were pretty kick ass with just a guitar. With a fuller sound, you can be so much more. And I want to be the one to help you get that sound.”

River furrowed her eyebrows. The bearded man realized that he was coming on too strong and backed down.

“I’m sorry. Please allow me to introduce myself. I’m a man of wealth and taste. Well, maybe not too much wealth, but I do have a refined taste for all things musical. My name is Jeffery Rabbitte but call me The Dude. The other guys christened me that, and it just kinda stuck.”

“You collect sounds. Harmonies and melodies, crashing and fusing together to create new and old symphonies.”

The Dude paused. He had never heard anyone talk like this before in his life. Come to think of it, the girl did have a strange, ethereal quality to her. He glanced at her arms to check for needle tracks. Seeing as there were none, he realized that she was for real. He smiled like a cheshire cat.

“That’s a nice way of putting it. But if any foolish mortals ask, I’m a manager for a new an upcoming rock band.” He sat up and began talking excitedly. “Along with a degree in finance, I also took a few art history classes. And one thing that I learned is that times of economic and political struggle produce some of the best movements in art, music, literature, everything. And now that the Alliance and the mass media aren’t shoving that techno-China doll go se into the minds and ears of the people, the true musical artists of the verse can flourish. And along with it, the sleeping giant that is rock music can once again thrive. I have been searching the verse, putting together a band that I hope can resurrect the genre. We’re supposed to meet in half an hour, but the guy I had in mind to be our front got all Kuin Xang’ho on me and OD’ed.” The Dude calmed down and asked River politely. “I don’t know what your deal is, but you are without a doubt the best thing that I’ve heard since I started this. Would it be too much to ask if you could come with me, meet the guys, jam with them and see if you’re interested?”

River was surprised at the offer on the table. She sensed that this guy was not a threat, and was desperate to find that missing piece in the puzzle he thought she was. She looked at the clock. It was getting late. Then again, she wasn’t eager to get home anytime soon.

She shrugged. “Sure. Why not?”

The Dude leaned back and grinned. As he got up, he asked “Where have you been all my life?’

“Here. But in the last few years, I’ve been sent to a top secret government facility, had scientists cut up my brain and turn me into a psychic and psychotic killing machine, was broken out by my brother, been living on a Firefly transport, battling blue handed agents, Reavers, my own mind, and a verse full of thieves, swindlers, soldiers and government officials who made me a pawn in an intergalactic battle that would determine the fate of the ‘verse.” She said all this as she packed her guitar into her case and clasped it shut.

The Dude stared at her for a few moments, and then burst out laughing.

“Well, at least it’ll make for great publicity.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

After a half hour ride on the subway system, in which River talked to The Dude about her musical background, influences and songs of her own, they arrived at The Dude’s place. It was in a former warehouse district that had been renovated as low rent apartment lofts, designed for the artistic community that was slowly emerging in cities like these on all the Core planets. As they climbed the stairs to the top floor of the building, they could hear the random notes and phrases of a base guitar, a baritone sax, an electric piano and a drum kit.

When The Dude opened the door to the floor, River stepped into a large room. Judging by the cot and personal affects in one corner, and the boxes, crates, old and battered up couches and easy chairs and construction materials and tools that cluttered the walls, The Dude had only moved here recently. In the center of the room, there was a basic set up for an emerging rock band. A set of drums sat predominantly in the space that was surrounded by bongos, a bodhran, amps, mike stands, various wires, an electric piano and a rack of instruments that ranged from brass to woodwind.

At each of the various instruments were four guys. The guy that was playing the drums was a gangly type, with glasses and pale skin. His thin wrists were beating the drums in common time, as he listened intently to the surrounding music around him. Of the four there, he seemed to be the most disciplined one. To his left, there was a guy who was in his late twenties. His neck long hair shined in the lights that were on as he first tested out an Irish flute, and then put it back in his rack to test out a baritone sax. He played a single note, altering his airwaves before he stopped, unfastened the mouthpiece and began replacing the reed. Across from him, a man in his early thirties was playing a Stevie Wonder refrain. His dark skin glistened with sweat as his dreadlocks waved slightly to the beat. A satisfied grin was on his face as his fingers danced across the plastic keys.

And in front of the three, there was a lone man strumming a base guitar. While he gave an aura of experience, he looked to be about River’s age. His short, dark hair stood up on its end as callous, nicotine stained fingers tuned a g-string. He was dressed all in black. His scarred cheeks were upturned in a way that indicated that he was pissed off either because they were off to a late start or that he wasn’t getting the sound that he wanted.

“Guys…..GUYS!!” The Dude yelled over the disjointed sounds that were being created. They silenced as the four guys looked up and noticed The Dude. “Bout time you showed up,” the base player said with a Welsh snarl.

“Yeah, sorry for the lateness.”

“Why?” the horn player asked with a maritime accent. “Did the guy bail on you?”

“Kind of” The Dude replied. “He OD’ed on me.”

“I told you he was no good.” The piano player responded in a rastafarian voice. “I knew it the moment I saw his arm. You could run a monorail on those tracks of his.”

“Did it to drown the pain.” River stated blankly. “Felt pain all his life. Mother saw him as a mistake. Thought he could purge it with music, but sound waves did nothing to calm him. Decided to swim the light fantastic, but jumped in before he realized there was no water in the pool.”

All of them stared at her in surprise, and a little in unease. After a few moments, the base player broke the silence. “The fuck is this?”

“She,” The Dude replied, “is River Tam. River, this is the band. Let me introduce you to them.” He walked over to the drum player and put his hands on his shoulders. “This is George Henley. George grew up here in Osiris in the Black Out Zone. Skilled with hacking abilities that he learned from his dad, he initially took up drumming as a front. Now he’s doing it full time for us.”

River shook his hand politely, while a look of amazement dawned on his face. “Holy shit, you’re her!!”

The horn player looked puzzled. “Yeah, she’s a girl. So what?”

George shook his head. “Oh you don’t know the half of it. This is River fucking Tam. The only gal who escaped from the Alliance’s Blue Sun Programming facility. For years, there’ve been rumors that the government had been taking prodigies and turning them into psychic assassins. She had managed to get the word out to her brother, and he ended up breaking her out there himself to save her. He and her had been on the run for years, apparently.”

The base player frowned. “I heard that conspiracy theory too. It’s a bunch of fei fei du pee.”

River looked back at the base player and walked up to him. She stared at him for a few moments, and then brought her hand up to her hair. She tilted her head and ran her fingers through her scalp. She tapped on a specific spot and he leaned forward. He squinted and saw a hairline scar that resembled a zipper. She lifted her head back up and stared at him again.

She then turned around and focused her attention on the horn player. “This long haired freaky guy,” The Dude proudly proclaimed, “is Keith McCann. He’s a musical jack of all trades. Played brass for the Londinium Philharmonic, woodwinds at the Ariel Metro, and has subbed for every maritime band in New Melbourne.

Keith stretched out a thick, calloused hand towards River’s and shook her hand, which was tiny in comparison.

“Evening to ya, miss. Tis a pleasure to be in the company of a graceful lass like yourself.”

“Don’t worry about him.” The Dude cracked. “He’s only talks like that when he’s trying to get into another gal’s pants. But he’s harmless enough, so don’t go all psycho assassin on him.”

River nodded at this and raised an eyebrow. “EVERY band in New Melbourne?”

Keith winked at her. “Only the real good ones, miss. You’d be surprised at how much shite can be redeemed with a simple lute and a good attitude.”

“I know. My mei-mei-in-law loves the maritime tunes from there. Made me play Great Big Sea for two months after we dropped off some cargo one time we were there. You think we could weave some of their stuff in?”

Keith gave a subversive smile. “You never know. Maybe these stuffed up rich kids could use a little salt air to give them a jolt.”

The Dude then forwarded her attention to the piano player. “This here is Cliff Robertson. This guy spent his entire life traveling the Outer Rim Delta lines. He’s rubbed shoulders with some of the best blues, rock and country artists in the ‘verse.”

“I should warn ya, miss,” Cliff said as River shook his outstretched hand. “The Dude here has a pre-disposition towards embellishment. But oi think you might be impressed with me and me synthetic ivories.”

Before River could reply, Cliff began to play some Mozart for her. She smiled upon hearing a phrase of such delight before hearing him transition from classical, to blues, to funk with a mix combination of Ray Charles, Elton John, Dr. John and Stevie Wonder to bring it to a close. And all in the span of five minutes, no less.

River brushed some hair away from her face and gave a small applause to Cliff. “That was…”

“Incredible, fantastic, experienced?” The welsh guy interrupted. River looked over at him. He was clearly not OK with her being here. “Yeah, he is. He’s been doing this all his life. So have all of us. And we know what we’re doing. So why are you here? Are you our groupie?”

The Dude came up to River and put his hands on her shoulders. “This is no fuckin’ groupie. This gal,” he said with a reserved glee, “is the missing piece. This is our new lead singer and guitar.”

The reaction to this was mixed. George was flabbergasted by the news. If this gal was supposed to be a prodigy that would make Mozart look like a slacker, then they were in for a treat. Keith was amused by this. He remembered the distinction of bands that had a single female voice in them, like Fleetwood Mac. Maybe this could work to their advantage. Cliff was concerned with this development. While he trusted The Dude’s taste in music and managerial decisions, he wanted to hear this gal play before they let her into the fold.

But the welsh singer just looked away, and snorted. “I can’t fucking believe this.”

The Dude looked surprised. “Why? We needed a lead guitar. We need someone to help us push us from merely adequate to sublime. No offense. You good, Johnny. But you’re just one guy, and one guy can’t fully front a band of this magnitude.”

“And this former mental patient and supposed prodigy is supposed to do this? Look at her, man. She’s a pixie. She probably doesn’t even know how to string two notes together.”

“Yeah, well you weren’t there at the State to see her turn a bar full of suicidal drunks into a full blown rave.” He came closer to emphasize the following. “She knows the entire AMERICAN IDIOT album. And pretty much every single classic rock album ever made. She’s a human music pocket-box.”

“That’s what I told you about me.”

“Oh, here we go with another pri-madonna ego trip. You want some ganja weed with that too?”

As The Dude and Johnny started arguing, River went to the side and unfastened her guitar case. She took her guitar out, set it to acoustic mode, walked back to the band, and plugged into an amp. The crackle of the amp roared like thunder, quieting the arguing manager and bassist. The two looked at her in surprise, while the remaining three reacted and got into position.

River began playing a simple acoustic melody. The notes had a quiet, hypnotic feel to them. She hit a button on the side of the guitar and a single electric note emanated from the guitar as she finished the acoustic notes. She looked over at George, who then began a double time beat on the drums, before doing a drum roll.

River then burst into a raw, scraping lead guitar melody as Cliff caught on and began surrogating for the missing base on his guitar. Keith grabbed a baritone sax and began playing a single note accompaniment. It was on the lower register, and blended with the base with such subtlety that you wouldn’t think that there was a sax. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a good start. River then exploded in volume as she took charge of the music they were creating and began to sing into one of the mikes.

“Well I let go of the world that was holding…a passenger that could not fly…in search of souls… in search of something…who let it go…and let it slide.” Her voice turned up into an appropriate whine at the last word before belting a ranging “Yeah”. She felt the band and the mood crescendo before belting into the chorus.

”When I find out…what went on…I'll bring it back, but it won't be easy…They won't believe…how a man, he could drown in…a starseed, starseed.” She gave a low moan that went from sexual to painful as she sculpted the sonic symphony that was emanating from her and these three men.

George was keeping up with the beat and concentrating as hard as he could. He was maintaining the beat, and it was imperative not to slip up. She might have been the lead, but he was the spine. Keith was maintaining a subtlety that not many would notice at first, but would make the song crash if it was missing. Cliff was grooving along to the sound, his dreadlocks swaying to the energy of the song as his fingers caressed the keys of the electric piano, pumping up the beat of the tune. All were working together to support this cascading force of musical power that was blasting away from this rock goddess.

”I hoped to find why this world wasn't glowing… it darkens as we end this ride…We've fallen back under the equator…Were back inside, were back inside.”

River repeated the fluctuating “Yeah” and then repeated the chorus with more snarl, veal and swagger as she began to preen like one of the legends she emulated. By the time she had finished the chorus, Johnny had gone over and plugged his guitar into a separate amp. He knew this song by heart. She might know the lyrics, but she wasn’t going to take away his solo. As soon as George finished his drumroll that popped, Johnny joined in with the guitar solo that was part of the song.

His sudden burst in energy was matched by the restrained abandonment of form. Even though the notes had been embedded in his brain, his delivery seemed unchained and wild. Spontaneity exuded out of him as he raced his fingers across his instrument. River was temporarily distracted by the look of ecstasy and showmanship that was on his face, before she realized that he had to switch from lead to second. He played like her. She was impressed.

They both leaned in to their mikes and belted out the chorus for the last time before repeating a varied version of the chorus. ”When I find out what went on…We’ll bring it back but it won't be easy…they won't believe the man he could…but I'd choose starseed over nothing…nothing.” All five of them were now merged in a unifying sound, with Johnny and River tying it up with a repeat of the last line, with “I’d” embellished into a melodious whine as they, Keith, Cliff and George appropriately tuned out the song. They then relaxed, took a breath, some drinks of water and booze from various bottles to the side and looked over to The Dude. He had taken a seat in his chair, a ratty old recliner that was suited more for burning than sitting.

“So what you think, man?” Johnny asked.

The Dude inhaled deeply, as if the sounds were an aroma and then exhaled. He then shrugged.

“It’s a start.”

“Ta ma de!!” River exclaimed as she stepped forward. “That was perfect.”

“No, it’s not. Johnny”, he started as he pointed at him. “You need to keep a lid on your ego. You are a great guitarist, lead, second, base or otherwise, but you need to learn how to play nice. This is a band, not a solo act. Otherwise, you’ll split apart the whole band before we even get out the gate. Keith, you need to find some ways to incorporate your other instruments. The sax was a nice touch, but slightly out of place. Cliff, you’re no longer subbing for base. Get back to what you can do in your sleep. George, you have to tighten your wrist, give the notes a tighter sound. And River,” he stared directly at her. “Just because you’re this psychic prodigy doesn’t mean that you can do all the work by yourself. You need to let these guys do their thing. They’ve been doing this just as and longer than you.”

“So do we suck?” George asked timidly.

“Like I said, it’s a start.” The Dude then leaned back and showed off his cheshire grin. “But I’m a firm believer in starts. Once we have the start, then everything else will fall into place. And if that’s our start, then the moment we click is going to be historic.”

The guys nodded to this and to each other. River kept looking at The Dude.

“You talk as if I’m a member of this band.”

The Dude shrugged. “Well in my mind, you are. Like I said, you’re the best thing that we’ve heard since we started all this. Without you, we got nothing.” He raised his eyebrows in anticipation. “You want the gig then?”

River was torn at that moment. She was there to see her dying mother and to give forgiveness to her first family. But what about after that? What would happen after her mother had passed and she was back on Serenity? Simon and Kaylee would have Brooke to take care of. The crew didn’t really need her, now that they were making an honest living. The guitar had done so much for her. It kept the voices at bay, gave her a confidence she thought she had lost, and defined her for who she wanted to be. And these guys looked to her and her talent not for destruction, but for creation.

But at the same time, Serenity was her second home. Her second family was all there. The people who had come to her rescue so many times and helped her out in more ways than they could realize. Polite society dictates that to just leave them without notice would be rude, even amongst smugglers and thieves. Who would be there to taunt Jayne with metaphorical musings? Who would fix Book’s broken books? Who would serenade Kaylee and Inara to sleep with silly little acoustic love songs? Who would comfort Mal and Zoe in their dark reminiscing of the past? Who would jam with Wash over the legends? And most importantly, who would be there to take care of her brother? He needed so much looking after, especially with a baby on the way. After all they had gone through; it wouldn’t be fair to leave him for a band on a quixotic quest to resurrect a dead musical genre.

But working with a group on a quixotic quest for their own bit of paradise was nothing new to her. And it was nice to feel like she was on her own. To be true to her own self. And the music was so enthralling.

She looked back at The Dude. “We’ll see. Let’s see what else these guys can do.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

As Simon, Kaylee and Regan were fast asleep; Gabriel was making his way towards the wine cellar. As he opened the door to the out of the way room, he fumbled around to hit the light switch. As the lights came on in the dark room, racks of green bottles were illuminated. In the center of the room, there was a wooden bench, which was surrounded by the evidence of late night visits. To one side of a worn out spot, there was a silver corkscrew. An aged cork was still embedded in it, and it lay at a 45 degree angle. To the other side, a crystal wine glass stood silently as one could see the tiny pool of an 85 year old wine nestled near where the stem met the cup. And on the floor surrounding the bench were a half dozen empty bottles and their corks, either standing or laying on their sides.

Gabriel moved forward and grabbed a random bottle off the rack. He didn’t bother to check the label. All of the bottles were considered to be the best wine the cultured vineyards of the Core could produce. The youngest bottle was 60 years old. And any one drunk by a single man could get said man very drunk in a short amount of time. He sat down and set the bottle to the side. He pulled the aged cork in the corkscrew out and let it slip through his fingers onto the floor. He then took the fresh bottle, and began to screw in the ornate corkscrew. After some initial resistance, he pulled the cork out and set the screw to the side. He picked up the wine glass next to him and poured out a generous amount of aged wine. So much in fact, that he ran the risk of overflowing.

“My cup runeth over.” He thought darkly to himself as he first sipped at the rich drink and then gulped at it. This obviously was not the proper way of savoring such a refined and now impossible to find bottle of wine. But at this point, with Simon’s punch still making the left side of his face sore, he was more interested in dulling the pain than caressing the texture of aged grape juice and alcohol with his senses.

Dulling the pain. He had been doing this a lot lately. With the realization of what the Academy had been doing to River, as well as the complete social and economic breakdown of the world he knew, he had been trying to find ways of dulling the pain of the immense guilt he was feeling. At first, he tried to find some solace with Regan. She always managed to be his support. Gabriel had never been a person people could get along with easily. Whether it was his family’s past or his own personality, he always found it hard to socialize with the people around him. But Regan had that quality of making a complete stranger feel at ease with her. He admired her for that. No, he loved her for that. And whenever he had moments of doubt and despair, she would always be there to take solace in. To make him feel like a human being. But with her sickness disintegrating her body and the truth of the matter revealed to them, they had grown apart when they should’ve been closer than ever before.

“This is their fault”, he thought. “Why should they blame me for all this? I’m just trying to fulfill this family’s legacy. How the hell was I supposed to know they were doing this to her”. It didn’t make sense in his mind that he was made out to be the bad guy. It wasn’t as if he was the one who cut into River’s brain himself. Or was he? Did he really have something to do with all that had happened? “No”, he thought determinedly. “It’s their fault. It’s their fault they did this to her. It’s Simon’s fault for acting so rash. If he just waited it out, they would have saved River themselves. They both wouldn’t be fraternizing with Browncoats, knocking up prairie shrews and playing guitars.” His thoughts grew darker and darker as he gulped more of the wine, dispensing with the glass and taking it straight from the bottle.

He thought back decades ago to when he was about Simon’s age. “My God,” he thought. “Has it really been that long since the auction?” He remembered that day. That hot summer day when as a young student at the Osiris School of Finance, he attended an auction of an estate that was being liquidated. It was the estate of the Chang family. This had been a family that had enormous wealth and influence in the Core worlds. But through excess and bad decisions, the family lost everything and bankrupted themselves. Watching as all of these mementos of a history were being scattered amongst a society, he came upon a realization. The Chang’s had not done a single worthwhile thing in their generations. They had no legacy or significance, other than tales of excess and debauchery. Given time, their name would fade away into obscurity. And as hears the bang of the gavel over and over again, a chilling truth struck him.

This could very well happen to him and his family.

Ever since then, he had always kept in mind the world around him. Every business decision he made, every charity Regan ran or donated too, every associate in high places he managed to charm, everything he did was all done to establish their family name. To make the Tam name synonymous with quality, refinement and significance. But as much good work was done in their name, he knew that he was only one man. That it would be up to Simon and River to continue on with his legacy.

He was shocked and surprised to see how advanced they were mentally as children. They far outstripped any of the other children of the wealthy families of the Core. Upon realizing their potential, he prepared himself to be more than just a father to them. He planned on using his wealth and influences to make sure that they would be the best they could possibly be. They would be prominent people in not just the Core worlds, but in human history. He had fantasized about his son making a startling medical discovery that would shape the course of human physiology. He imagined his daughter, after her ballerina phase, to be a force to be reckoned with in any field she chose. And so, he set out to make sure those dreams would become a reality.

In retrospect then, he thought, maybe he should have taken a closer look at the Academy. Done more research into the facilities, as opposed to looking at the brochures, glanced at the campuses and listened more to the sales pitch, rather than his own conscious. This place wasn’t in any of the recommended schools for gifted children. Wouldn’t a place with such a top alumni boast about its successes, as opposed to be highly secretive about it? He shrugged them off. It was a government sponsored school. The Alliance had been good to him and his family all his life. Surely there was nothing insidious about this at all.

He didn’t need any reminding of how monumentally wrong he was. He thought forward to Blue Tuesday. The day had started bad enough as it was. He had gone to pick up Regan at the hospital after her latest round of chemotherapy. It was when he asked the driver to turn on the radio on the way home that they heard the news. First was the story on the assassination of the whole cabinet, which startled him considerably. Then was the story on the massive stock market crash that effectively made the Core worlds nearly bankrupt. But it was when he was frantically dialing his accountants to see how much they would be in the red, that they heard the final story.

It was a story on the Academy. A leak in the parliamentary chain of command had brought documents to the news stations, giving explicit details on the procedures that were being done there. Evidence of invasive surgeries, numerous lobotomies on healthy brains, and unethical and illegal medical practices were exposed, as well as a detailed web of lies and deceit that stretched all the way to the key members of Parliament. The gut reaction to news of some of the most heinous medical experiments ever done in the name of humanity was nothing compared to the overwhelming sense of horror and guilt upon realizing that their son was right all along.

They had just pulled up to the estate when Gabriel asked the driver to turn the radio off. As he clicked the radio off, Regan fumbled for the handle, as she began breathing frantically. Even though at the time she was nowhere as weak as she was now, he had requested that the staff was to help her out of the car and to have a hoverchair ready for her. But she bypassed them all opened the door herself. She had fallen onto the pavement, her hands bloody and bruised on impact. But she didn’t care.

She then took a deep breath, and emitted the most horrible scream he had ever heard.

It was the scream of a woman whose children might be dead. It was the scream of a woman who had realized the role she had played in her daughter’s rape. It was the scream of a woman who had refused to believe the truth that had been handed to her in coded letters. It was the scream of a woman breaking apart from the inside. It was the scream of a woman who had failed her children.

The screams then transformed into sirens of sobbing. The staff had rushed forward to help her up, but she had feebly pushed them away. It was two hours before anyone was allowed to come closer to her. By that time, Gabriel’s own form of guilt had externalized. He was furious at the staff for not tending to his wife, despite her refusing their help. He had fired them all, and it was he who helped her to her bed. Aside from that, she refused to acknowledge him. She screamed at him to get out and to leave her alone. And unsure of what to do, he headed down to the wine cellar. It was the first of many nights there, consuming the various wines he and previous generations had spent centuries collecting.

He should be grateful. He should be happy that they were all right. That they had survived for four years out in the Black. That she had learned to live with her psychosis and powers and found something that made her happy. That he had married and was about to become a parent. He regretted being so harsh towards Kaylee. In a vague way, she reminded him of Regan. And that before Regan died, they were all under the same roof as a family. So why wasn’t he? Why had the dinner that should have been a celebratory feast turn into a shouting match between him and Simon? Why was he so hostile towards the woman who was carrying his grandchild? Why was he like this? He should’ve gone up to Regan’s room to tend to her and talk it out. He should’ve found Simon and Kaylee and apologize to them. But he didn’t.

Instead, he finished off the bottle, set it aside, reached forward to grab another bottle, pulled one out, pulled out the cork, and spent the remainder of the night trying to drown out the guilt he was consumed in.

COMMENTS

Tuesday, December 12, 2006 8:32 PM

FREDIKAYLLOW


still as good as i remember it. i'm glad you'rereposting this for those who didn't et the chance to read this wonderful story the first time round.
i'll be gladto read the next installment again.
-Fred

Wednesday, December 13, 2006 4:46 AM

AMDOBELL


I am ecstatic that you are writing again, so many thanks for coming back with news that there is more to follow. Really appreciate the chance to refresh my memory as well. This is simply superb! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, December 13, 2006 2:46 PM

GOBLUEGUY


Glad to hear you're back, this story was just as good this time as it was was originally. Can't wait for more.
-goblueguy

Friday, December 15, 2006 8:53 AM

TAMSIBLING


I really do like how you're building the 'verse post-Miranda, this is an interesting timeframe and I think it deserves some introspection. And I like how you're writing Kaylee and Kaylee with Simon. It's good to see her sticking up for herself and trying to do what's best for Simon even if he can't see it.

River as a singer, I'm not so sure about. It's not so much the singing as the types of songs - something tells me that 500 years from now we won't be remembering Green Day - it's not quite Mozart, even though it is really good. I think it's the juxtaposition of our 'verse with the modern music that throws me.

But the story is great!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008 5:43 AM

MSB


Wow really good:) I especially like your story line


POST YOUR COMMENTS

You must log in to post comments.

YOUR OPTIONS

OTHER FANFICS BY AUTHOR

You Can't Go Home Again - Chapter 15
Kaylee goes into labor. Hilarity and drama ensues.

You Can't Go Home Again - Chapter 14
Wash and Shooter discuss death and dinosaurs, Gabriel tells Kaylee about Regan, River brings her family together one last time, and Simon and Kaylee face an uncertain future.

You Can't Go Home Again - Chapter 13
Everyone returns to the mansion, Johnny helps a grieving River with some Van Morrison, and Gabriel asks Mal to end it all.

You Can't Go Home Again - Chapter 12
Gabriel is confronted by his family with the news, Kaylee makes a call to Inara, some unexpected guests arrive, and Gabirel is confronted by a familiar demon.

You Can't Go Home Again - Chapter 11
Signal rocks the house, Regan makes a realization, and three major things happen to River in the span of half an hour.

You Can't Go Home Again: Chapter 10
The Tams make their way to the Metro, Johnny get's spiritual clarity with the help of thousands, River plays a favorite of hers, and Simon and Kaylee go on a long delayed date.

You Can't Go Home Again Chapters 6-9
The next day of Simon, River and Kaylee's journey to the Core. Simon comforts Regan in more ways than one, Kaylee makes some figurative and literal repairs of her own, River and Johnny go from the top of a warehouse building to front and center of the Metro in less than 24 hours, and Regan shows it's never to late to make things right.

You Can't Go Home Again Chapters 1-5
Set after THE SERENITY GIG, BLUE HAND BLUES and SHOTGUN TAM, this story takes place in an AU where the BDM never happened, although there will be refrences to it. With the social and economic breakdown of the Alliance, the Tam's are finally free. But a message from home forces them to deal with a larger issue at hand.

You Can't Go Home Again: Chapter 9
The Metro opens its doors, Kaylee sees what she's dreamed of, and the first rock concert in two hundred years goes under way with an updated classic.

You Can't Go Home Again: Chapter 8
This is the all singing, no dancing chapter as River and the band play in public for the first time and tap into something big. The Tam's and Kaylee get wind of this and round two of the fight is interrupted by an unexpected source.