BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

REGINAROADIE

You Can't Go Home Again Chapters 6-9
Wednesday, December 13, 2006

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.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3310    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Hey all

Here's the next clump of past chapters that I'm re-posting to refresh the collective memory and hopefully get some new people interested (keep waiting to hear from a newbie). I've rearranged the order of a few chapters, so that Regan's interactions sandwich the bands first gig at The State.

Once again, thanks to KaySky, misskitten, TamSibling, ScrewTheAlliance and anyone else I've forgotten to mention that has helped me out with this epic.

Enjoy. Those comments make the writing go faster on the new chapter I will be posting tomorrow.

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

The sun had been up for a while behind the overcast weather by the time River woke up. A beam of dull light shined through the windows of the loft, lightly illuminating the large, cluttered room. As she glanced around, she saw that Keith was laying flat on one of the ratty couches; George and Cliff were each curled up on separate recliners, and The Dude was sleeping peacefully on his cot in the corner.

She had taken up residence on another old couch, her guitar close to her like a stuffed animal. They had played for a few more hours after that first song together, establishing the dynamics of their sound, and establishing exactly what kind of a band they wanted to be. Johnny, in one of the few times he spoke, said that they should be first and foremost a political band. To “give a voice to the fucked over generation we’re a part of and say what we’ve all been wanting to say.” Keith countered that while they should have a political edge, they should also throw in some general “good times” song in there to balance out the political rhetoric. “They already know they’re being screwed over. What they need to know is that there’s something to live for.” River kept out of these debates, still unsure as to whether or not this applied to her as well. After some debates as to whether this move would be considered prematurely selling out, they resumed their impromptu rehearsals. And after a while, they decided to take a break, which lead to them sleeping off their exhaustion.

She sat up and took in the environment. Johnny was missing. Ever so slightly, she could hear the strumming of an acoustic guitar outside. She followed the notes, which lead her to the fire escape next to the window. She poked her head out, but saw that no one was there. The notes seemed to be coming from the roof. She climbed out and began to ascend the metal staircase. She only went up one flight before she saw what was going on.

Johnny was sitting on the ledge of the roof, singing along to an acoustic beat that he was strumming. As she got closer, she noticed that he too was also playing an Allen One guitar. It was dark green, as opposed to the cherry red model she was used to playing. Johnny paid no attention to her as he continued playing, already halfway through the slow and steady song.

“He’s got kung-fu grooves that can never be…imitated….She’s got a fashion queen walk and she wears her blue jeans faded…He’s got moves with a puck that we never ever seen…and his girlfriend’s 22 and he’s just 17…and she gives advice…that’ll ease your paranoia.” He switched to play a mellow electric theme and continued the beat before going into the solo. River merely let the slight breeze flow through her hair as she tapped to beat with her fingers on the concrete ledge.

Johnny then stopped and looked over at River. “Just for the record, this song ain’t about you.”

“I know,” she replied. “And for the record, I don’t like grunge.”

He furrowed his eyebrows. “Really? Why’s that?”

She shrugged. “Too depressing. Like something with more energy.”

Johnny raised his eyebrows as he put the guitar aside. “Figured you be more into grunge, given your background. You know, what with all the constant pain and living out there in the big nothing.”

“We call it The Black.”

Johnny countered. “It’s not totally black, if you think about it. It’s filled with stars and other celestial anomalies. The Big Nothing would be more appropriate, not to mention sound cooler.”

River nodded at this and looked out over the buildings that made up the urban environment that she was starting to get used too.

“Why did you feel it necessary to tell me you’re not into grunge?” He asked.

“If we’re gonna be co-fronting the band, then we might as well make clear our influences and likes and dislikes.”

“I thought you hadn’t decided whether or not you want the gig.”

River smiled. “I’m weighing my options. Outside of grunge, china-doll, and heavy metal, I’m for anything and everything. Most of the time it’s the legends, although I’ve been branching out into punk. But I do enjoy some country and mindless pop.”

Johnny looked at her in a surprised fashion. She looked over at him and shrugged.

“Hey, you can’t be all doom and gloom all the time. You gotta give the audience something to enjoy listening to.”

“And you would know this how?”

“The crew I ship with. They like it when I vary the music that wakes them up every morning. Captain likes some dark country interspersed with the legends, and my mei-mei-in-law loves the silly little love songs as well as some pop.”

Johnny smiled. “Sound’s like you have a good gig going along with them.”

River nodded at this. “Yes. And in more ways than you’ll ever know.”

“So why you hanging out with us losers?”

River laughed at this. It sounded so much like something Wash would say. After a few moments of laughing, she quieted down and looked at Johnny. “This is the first time in a long time that I’ve been on my own. Making my own choices as to the overall flow of my life. I’m just going where the dominoes fall and those dominoes have led me to you guys.”

Johnny had an uneasy smile on his face. He looked down and said something very quietly.

“I know. I’d be hostile towards you if you showed up randomly and threatened to take my place.”

“Only I wouldn’t be able to kill you with my pinkie like you could. I’m just a bit wired that way.”

River looked away and closed her eyes. She searched Johnny with her brain and was startled to see familiar sights.

"Abused..." she muttered.”Mother left... Father hurt you... Then fire... Scars burned you deeper." Her eyes opened and she glanced at his instrument. "Guitar was your escape."

Johnny looked down at his instrument. "Yeah, that's my story. That and a stint in juvie as well.” He looked back up to her. “Ain't nothin compared to what you went through, so I shouldn't really complain."

Despite the serious topic, she couldn't help, but shoot him a ‘you're being silly’ look. "Pain is pain. Can't be measured."

"No", Johnny replied, "but it can be put to good use in singing about what gave you that pain in the first place." River nodded at this. "Can't be all pain, you know. Sometimes it's ecstasy you sing about." Johnny scoffed at this. "Never sang because I was happy, I can tell you that right now."

"But you will." River proclaimed this simply, with the traces of a knowing smile on her lips.

Johnny cocked an eyebrow. "I will, will I? And what makes you so sure about that?"

"You will sing with me."

"Yeah, that is a given. We are co-fronting the band." He gave her a "you think I'm a idiot, don't you" look.

She laughed at this. "Not what I meant."

"So what did you mean? Is this some kind of riddle I have to figure out, because I havn't had my coffee or cigarettes yet, so I'm not in the mood for a brain buster."

"My mood infects." River shrugged. "And I plan on being happy."

Johnny was surprised by this statement coming from her. "How can you be happy? With all the shit that's happened to you and the entire galaxy nearly bankrupt, I kinda find it hard to be in a jolly mood."

Her eyes met his and she smiled. "I found Serenity."

Johnny was confused at first as to what she meant by that. But as he was about to ask her, he saw a glint in her eyes that more or less explained what she had found. "I think I get it now. Let's hope everyone else out there gets it too."

Johnny shrugged and swung around so that he could stand up on the roof. “Well, we should probably go back down. The Dude usually likes to take us out to breakfast, ‘fore we rehearse some more.”

River and Johnny got up and moved towards the fire exit staircase. As they descended, River suddenly realized something. “I don’t know your name.”

“Yeah you do. I’m Johnny.”

“Yes, but not your full name.”

Johnny looked away with a look on his face as if he were trying to avoid something. “It’s a dumbass name that I’ve been trying to live down.”

“It can’t be that bad.” Johnny looked at her with an expression that said it was. “Well come one, what is it?”

Johnny looked away and said through his teeth, “Full name is Jonathan Brian Goode.”

River processed this, and then failed to repress a long, deep, belly laugh.

“Shut up.” Johnny replied as they stepped through the window and back into the building.

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

Simon stirred as the dull light from outside inched across his face. He opened his eyes and sat up. He rubbed his eyes and looked around the sparse room that he and Kaylee were sleeping in. He remembered that this room used to be his room. The bed was a few feet away from where his bed was set up in when he was a child. It was strange to feel that the room that had been his childhood sanctuary no longer had that sense of protection it used to have. It was just another room to him.

He swung around and got out of bed, making sure not to wake Kaylee. He grabbed his medical bag, which concealed his and her toiletries as well as the usual med kit supplies and headed towards the door, on his way to one of the many bathrooms that was down the hall. As he closed the door, Simon looked across the hall to his mother’s room. He sighed in regret, as he realized that he hadn’t really treated or even talked to her since yesterday. He tip toed across the hall and lightly knocked on the door.

“Mom?”

A light moan was heard through the wood of the door. Simon opened the door, and upon seeing what had happened, he bolted.

Regan had fallen out of bed. The white sheets were wrapped around her, tangling her in pain. One of the drawers was open, and Regan was trying to reach it. Simon rushed to her side and kneeled down, instinctually checking the more vulnerable areas to see if she was hurt. “Mom? Are you all right?” he asked in a tone that was as concerned as it was fearful.

“I’m fine.” She said, gritting her teeth in pain. “Just trying to get to my medicine.”

“You should have called me.” He said with the nerve of a doctor as he helped her back up into bed. ”You’re in no position to try to move.” After he got her back into bed, with the sheets loosely covering her as she reclined into her pillows, he looked into the drawer and pulled out the bottles of pills. He checked the labels and shook his head disapprovingly.

“Aspirin? You’re dying of leukemia, and Dad has you taking watered down, drugstore aspirin?”

“Only thing that was available that we could afford. The prescription medications got to be too expensive.”

“Doesn’t your health insurance cover your prescriptions?”

Regan scoffed at that idea. “I’m afraid that “total economic breakdown” isn’t one of the things covered in our premiums.”

Simon then put aside the aspirin bottle and opened his medical bag. “It’s a good thing that I brought these with me then.” He took out a needle, a bottle of pills and a vial of clear liquid and placed them on the table. Regan furrowed her eyebrows as he took out a long rubber tube as he set his medical bag to the ground.

“Didn’t you use to have a red plastic kit?”

Simon looked at her as he began to fill the needle with the clear fluid. “Yes. But Jayne accidentally ran over it once with the mule, so I picked this up at a bazaar.” He chuckled as he remembered Kaylee’s joy over seeing it for the first time. “Kaylee thought it was the cutest thing she saw me hold. Said I looked like a real country doctor.”

Regan smiled softly at this, but her eyes betrayed her as she showed regret in them. Simon didn’t notice this as he tapped the side of it to get the bubbles out and then wrapped the tube around her right forearm.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Morphine. It’s the only bit of it that I have, so unfortunately you’ll have to take these pills as well. They’ll prolong the effects of the morphine for about two hours.”

Simon then tightened the tube around his mother’s arm, making sure that it was snug enough, but not too tight to cause her more pain than was necessary. She gasped when he inserted the needle into her vein and injected the serum into her bloodstream. As he removed the needle and released the tube, he pressed down on the cotton ball to keep her from bleeding even more than if she wasn’t running the risk of bleeding to death. The room was silent with the exception of her shallow breathing. The awkwardness between them was starting to make the atmosphere unbearable. After a few strained moments, Regan decided to break the silence with a question that had been on her mind.

“Were we that bad as parents?”

Simon blinked in surprise. “Shenme?”

Regan breathed in deeply and began to express what had been bothering her for a while. “I’ve been watching your wedding video every day for the last few weeks since Mr. Anyong left us a copy of it for us to watch. All in all, I was very happy with the whole thing. Seeing that you and River were all right and surviving on your own out in the Outer Rim made me feel better for the first time in four years. But there was one thing that’s been bothering me.” She sighed and took another deep breath. “In the video, you made a comment about us. You said that Serenity had become more of a home to you in two years than this home ever was your whole life.”

Simon sat back, surprised that she remembered that one specific detail, as well as feeling slightly guilty that he said it, now that she had seen and heard him say it two years ago.

Regan continued. “I’m not saying this to make you feel guilty. Considering what had happened, you have the full right to think and say it. But I’m wondering if you would still say that even if River never went there. If you were still working at General. Would you still say that we were horrible parents?”

Before Simon could respond, Regan interrupted him and continued, “Because, and correct me if I’m wrong, I honestly felt that we did a very good job as parents. Yes, we had servants and a nanny to help with your upbringings, but I remember that both Gabriel and I made an effort to be the best parents possible. When you were babies, I never let someone else do the mothering. When you were older, no matter what Gabriel was working on, he always found time to play with you and engage your intelligence. I always tried to be a good role model for River. Gabriel might have been a bit strict with you two, but I was always a bit indulgent to your desires when I felt it was well earned. And any time you and her had problems; I would always be there to help you out and to guide you and your sister morally.”

“We were very close as a family. For sixteen years or so, we did everything we could to be the best parents that we could. So should all of that be destroyed because we made a mistake?”

If Gabriel had said that to him, Simon would’ve erupted and turned it into another screaming match between him and his father. But coming from his mother who was dying of leukemia, genuinely remorseful of her mistakes and quite possibly would never hold her granddaughter in her arms, Simon couldn’t help himself but feel saddened for both his mother and himself, as well as angry over how lightly she had described what had happened to River.

“I can’t.”

“You can’t what?”

“I can’t disregard what happened. I can’t pretend or imagine that it didn’t happen because it did. Remember when I showed you the letters River sent me, the ones with all the spelling mistakes? I kept thinking that if you were real parents, you would know that your daughter making a spelling mistake would be a clear sign that something is wrong. But you just passed it off as just another game between her and me.”

Regan countered at this. “I honestly thought it was a game between the two of you. You two basically had your own language that you spoke to each other with.” She stopped to catch her breath, and then continued in a calm tone. “You have to understand. When you and River grew up, and we saw how far advanced both of you were mentally, we honestly felt overwhelmed. It’s a startling idea, that your children were already surpassing your intelligence. Most of the time, we were just trying to keep up with you two, River especially. When we heard about the Academy, it seemed too good to be true. You might not be able to understand it now, but as a parent you’ll try anything that comes across your way to help you out.”

“I wouldn’t send Brooke to a school that was shrouded in secrecy. I would make an honest effort in trying to figure out who exactly my daughter was. I wouldn’t place my social standing over the well being of my children.” Simon was tapping into his anger towards his parents over the whole thing. He would have continued with this if he didn’t notice that this was giving his mother more pain than the symptoms. He had done it again. He thought he had licked this problem with Kaylee, but it seemed to come naturally to him to say the most hurtful things unintentionally to the women he loved. He looked at her with apologetic regret.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry for having to say those things, but you of all people would have to realize the truth in that.”

“I have.” She whispered to him. “And it’s that truth that makes me think that I’ve forever failed you as a mother. And that thought is killing me more than the leukemia, Simon.”

Simon swallowed as he felt the lump in his throat that had been growing since he had given her the medication. “Up until the Academy, you had never failed as a mother.” As she looked at him in a new way, he sat up and began talking.

“I remember how whenever I had a bad day at school, you would always took the time to listen and talk to me about what was bothering me. I remember when River was a baby you showing me how to hold her and change her and to take care of her. I remember how when Dad would tell us to go to bed when River and I were playing a game, you would always be behind him, telling him to let us stay up for another hour or half hour. And I particularly remember that one charity drive you took me to. I must have been four or five. You were pregnant with River at the time, and you bought all these really expensive toys at this toy store around Christmas. But instead of giving them to me, you took me to a community hall and gave them all out to these poor children. And after you were done, I asked you “Why did you do this?” And you said something that I still remember. You said ‘Because it’s our responsibility as human beings to do what is right.’ I think that was one of the reasons I became a doctor. To show you that I was responsible enough to do what was right.” Simon paused as both of them realized the tragedy of that line.

“I can’t ignore what happened with River, but I also can’t ignore all that you’ve done for us beforehand. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s all that I can really say.”

Simon patted her hand with his and then stood up. He went to the door and exited the room, resuming his path to the bathroom. He thought to himself, “This is not how I wanted to start today.”

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

“Well, we’re off to a bit of a late start, but I think this is going to be a good day.” The Dude had proclaimed this as they were all sitting down. They had arrived at The State to get some breakfast for all of them before deciding to head back and rehearse some more. While The Dude was filled with enthusiasm, George was asleep. His head was slightly nodded as he was sitting up at the table. Cliff and Keith were rubbing their eyes and shaking their heads as they were trying to wake up. Johnny was lighting up another cigarette, clearly ignoring the NO SMOKING sign that was screwed into the wall. River sat next to him, just observing the gang and reminded of the similar dynamic between them and the crew.

“You think you can keep a lid on the morning attitude at least until we’ve had some coffee?” Johnny asked casually.

“What morning attitude? It’s 5 till noon, morning’s long gone.” The Dude replied.

“Be that as it may, we’re still a bit groggy from last night, so until we’re all fully awake, just keep the boundless enthusiasm to a minimum.” Johnny then took a drag and blew the smoke in the air.

“So should we be ordering for breakfast or lunch?” George chimed in inquisitively.

“Don’t matter. S’long you wash it down with a shot of vodka, you should be fully awake. Get some hair on your chest while you’re at it.” Keith answered this while shaking his head to wake him self up some more.

“Hey, if I want some actual hair on my chest, I’ll just lop off some of Cliff’s dreadlocks.”

“Don’t you be goin’ anywheres near me hair with that knife, boy.” Cliff responded. Then in a joking manner continued, “I’ll have Miss River hear remove your drumkit so you’ll miss out on our groupies.” George and Keith chuckled at this. “I’m serious, man. I got these locks here just the right size. Grow your own hair, ya lazy bastard.”

“You think we’ll actually get some groupies?” George asked inquisitively. ”Wouldn’t mind a groupie just to make up for the long hours and no pay. Is the singular for groupies groupie or groupi?”

“Hey,” The Dude replied. “When the economy picks up again, then you’ll get paid. Just keep in mind whose footing the tab and getting you guys breakfast. And as for groupies, just so long as you don’t let any bedroom gymnastics get in the way of your real job, you can call them whatever you want. Just not in front of the lady here.”

“Wouldn’t mind a boy toy.” The guys fully woke up upon hearing this. She looked back at them and read their stunned faces. “What? I’ve been on a ship for four years. Current toy goes through batteries too quickly. And I sure as Hell ain’t gonna screw that man-ape we got.”

Johnny was the first to break the silence with a snicker that turned into a laugh that turned into a coughing fit. “Baby-girl, you made my day. And we ain’t even started.”

Before River could reply, the bartender from last night came over to their table. “Morning guys, what’s it gonna be today?”

“You still have any of that pancake mix left?” The Dude asked.

“Just add water.” The bartender replied.

“We’ll have six plates of those, some simulated bacon, simulated eggs and some of those strawberry cubes, if you got any.”

“And your biggest strongest coffee for me. Black. No sugar or cream.” Johnny stated this nonchalantly, and then added, “Gotta watch my figure.”

“What figure?” Keith asked Johnny in a mock puzzled tone. “The only thing you consume is caffeine and nicotine. The shite you put into your lungs’ll kill you ‘fore the stuff you put in your gut.”

“Call it the rock diet.” Johnny said gleefully. “At least you’ll leave a good fucken corpse.”

The guys laughed while they continued their discussions about various things. A few moments later, the bartender returned with their simulated breakfasts, which everyone except River wolfed down. As the final fork clattered on the plate, the bartender came back to the table. The Dude was reaching for his wallet when the bartender stopped him.

“That won’t be necessary, Dude.”

“Oh c’mon. This is one of the best meals we had in a while. The least I could do is pay.”

“Well, if you insist, why not let her pay for it by doing a few songs?”

The bartender then turned towards River, ignoring the confused looks from all of them. “Miss, I gotta thank you for showing up last night. I don’t know what that was, or how you played it, but it really got the place going. It was the first time since the day before Blue Tuesday that I actually made a profit. And some of the folks that are here now have been asking me if you could go up there and play for us.”

Everyone sat up at this info. Johnny took a long drag from his cigarette and exhaled. “You’re go se-ing us, right?”

“I go-se you not. And there’s no smoking in here.”

Johnny took another drag on his cigarette and dropped it to the floor. He stamped it out and looked at River, still surprised by this request. A few moments passed in silence as she thought about this. She looked over to The Dude and asked, “You think we’re ready to play publicly?” The Dude raised his eyebrows in surprise and shrugged. “We have to eventually.”

She turned to the bartender and stood up. “I’ll play, but on one condition. These guys have to play as well.” The bartender looked at her and shrugged. “Sure thing.”

River smiled and turned back to the guys. “How long would it take for you guys to get your instruments over here?” The Dude checked his watch and looked up. “If we leave now, we’d probably be back and set up in about an hour. We’ll go now.” They all stood up, but River interrupted. “George, you stay. I need someone on drums.”

George looked over to the drum set in the corner with a startled look. “Oh, uhh jeez, I dunno. Wasn’t really expectin’ right this minute to…”

“Go ahead, man.” Keith responded. “We’ll be fine. You need a little warm up anyways.”

“But in front of these people?”

Johnny patted him on the shoulder. “Trust me, all eyes are gonna be on her.”

George looked apprehensively towards the stage, took in a deep breath and exhaled. “Guess I got no choice.”

River smiled and the both of them walked towards the stage, while The Dude, Johnny, Cliff and Keith headed for the door. George stepped timidly onto the stage and took his seat behind the drums. River unfastened her guitar case and took her guitar out, as the bartender turned on the mike and amps and reintroduced River. She went to George and told him that the first song was just going to be her, but the second song was to start upbeat, but then go to common time. George nodded and clenched the sticks tighter. River then turned and went up the mike.

“I would like to do a song of great political and social import. Goes like this.” River then began tapping her foot loud enough to establish a beat, and then began singing in a different tone than from before. Her voice was husky and coarse, but had a hypnotic quality.

“Oh, Lord…won’t you buy me…a Mercedes Benz…my friends all drive Porsches…I must make amends…worked hard all my lifetime…no help from my friends…So Oh Lord, won’t you buy me…a Mercedes Benz.”

The reaction from the crowd was similar to that of last nights. But the words that she was singing had a greater potency to the crowd than before. Last night, she sang about herself. Today, she was singing of the disenfranchisement of the collective masses.

“Oh, Lord…won’t you buy me…a high def vidscreen…blue handed agents…are tryin’ to find me…I’ll wait for delivery...each day until 3..so Oh, Lord…won’t you buy me…a high def vidscreen.”

As River sang the lyrics, updating them to make them more contemporary, she added a little more to each line delivery. She emoted with her face as she crooned into the mike.

“Oh, Lord…won’t you buy me…a night on the town…I’m counting on you, Lord…please don’t let me down…prove that you love me…and buy the next round…Oh, Lord…won’t you buy me…a night on the town, everybody”

The people did not join in with her. She didn’t expect them to. But what she didn’t see, but could sense was the admiration that George was showing as he looked at her from behind. George might be a top hacker turned amateur drummer, but he sensed the signal that she was giving through her body right now. And all he wanted to do was to be a part of that.

“Oh, Lord…won’t you buy me…a Mercedes Benz…my friends all drive Porsches…I must make amends…worked hard all my lifetime…no help from my friends…So Oh Lord, won’t you buy me…a Mercedes Benz.”

She let the last note hang in the air, until she cut it off and said humorously, “That’s it” and then gave a small laugh as the crowd applauded. She then took the jack end of the cord leading to the amp and plugged it into her guitar. She grinned as she heard the familiar crackle over the speakers. She looked over to George and mouthed a quickened common time beat. Both of them then started. Her with blistering opening chords, and her with a fast yet underlying beat on the drum set. She riffed with intense energy as she wailed “Oh, come on, come on, come on, come on!” She and George calmed down on a dime as she began to croon into the mike. “Didn't I make you feel like you were the only man?” She belted out a “Yeah!” then quieted down with the next line. “Didn't I give you nearly everything that a woman possibly can? Honey, you know I did!” She then changed her delivery so that she wasn’t singing to herself, but addressing the audience, regarding the people in the bar as if it was an individual she was arguing with. “And each time I tell myself that I, well I think I've had enough. But I'm gonna show you, baby, that a woman can be tough.”

She and George intensified as she taunted the audience with the chorus. “I want you to come on, come on, come on, come on and take a...” River fired off a chord from her guitar as if it were a round. “Take another little piece of my heart now, baby!” She snarled it as if she were taunting a large man to try to violate her. “Oh, oh, break it!” BAM!! Another chord was fired. “Break another little bit of my heart now, darling, yeah, yeah, yeah.” George was feeling the intensity of her singing in his chest, even though her back was to him. “Oh, oh, have a!” A third chord was fired. “Have another little piece of my heart now, baby…” She relaxed slightly as she finished. “You know you got it if it makes you feel good, Oh, yes indeed."

She and George settled back down into their grooves as she sang the next verse. “You're out on the streets looking good, And baby deep down in your heart I guess you know that it ain't right.” She squeeze her eyes shut and shook her head as she wailed “Never, never, never, never, never, never hear me when I cry at night. Babe, I cry all the time!” She and George began to rise in volume and tempo as she continued on. ”And each time I tell myself that I, well I can't stand the pain, but when you hold me in your arms, I'll sing it once again.”

With every beat, the song intensified again as she wailed, ”I'll say come on, come on, come on, come on and take it!” The signature chord blasted from her fingertips. “Take another little piece of my heart now, baby. Oh, oh, break it!’ Bam! Another blast of music rang out. “Break another little bit of my heart now, darling, yeah, Oh, oh, have a!” Bam! ”Have another little piece of my heart now, baby,” River winked at the audience and finished the chorus. “You know you got it, child, if it makes you feel good.”

River then went into her guitar solo for this song. At first, the notes seem disjointed and random as she screeched them out. But as Georges beat continued, the notes began to take form and began to resemble the refrain of the song. The notes pierced the air for a few moments before she began singing the chorus for a third time. By now, the audience was even more enraptured under her spell. And when she dispensed with the final line of the chorus and replaced it with a banshee wail, everyone in the building went nuts. She and George repeated the chorus once more, and River ended the song by letting a note hang in the air. She smiled and nodded in approval as they applauded her and George again.

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

River and George played for another hour or so before Johnny, The Dude, Keith and Cliff returned with their instruments. As the guys set up and did a quick sound check, she and George took a short break to catch their breath and have some water before going back on stage. When they got back onto the stage, they went into a huddle to figure out what they were going to play. After a few deliberations over the play-list, they went to their instruments. A second mike had been set up and Johnny stood in front of it. He was right to River, who had moved her mike off to the left side of the stage. Keith was behind her to the edge of the stage with his rack of various instruments. At the center of the very back, George was seated in front of the drum set, trying to twirl the sticks in his fingers, but not quite mastering them yet. And behind Johnny, Cliff was seated with his double electric piano. For all intents and purposes, they were a band.

Now they just needed a cool sounding name.

Johnny had imagined this moment for the longest time. Sure, he had played in a few smoky bars out on the Rim. That was where The Dude found him. But in those cases, the stained napkins on the table got more attention than him. This was the first time that the people in the bar were actually paying attention. And for the first time in his life, Johnny actually felt stage fright. For a few seconds, Johnny stared nervously out into the crowd. He swallowed and said simply, “Hello. I’m Johnny Goode, and this here is our band.”

Aside from some scattered polite applause, the place was silent. Johnny was starting to feel a nervous sweat come one. He glanced over at River for a second and saw her give him a look of faith. For some odd reason, it actually calmed him. Something in him told him that he was a great guitarist and that he had nothing to worry about.

Inspired by this, he looked over to Keith and nodded. Keith was holding a stick in one hand and a cowbell in another. Cued by Johnny’s nod, Keith began tapping the cowbell to a beat. After a few seconds, George came in with a similar beat. Johnny then started to play the melody on his guitar. He looked over to River, who was playing base this time around and got a wink from her. That one wink didn’t completely get rid of all his nervousness, but it certainly helped him to sing the following lyrics with meaning.

“I met a gin soaked, bar-room queen in Shadow,” He looked out to the slightly larger audience and swallowed before singing, “She tried to take me upstairs for a ride.” He looked over to River to gain some of his courage back. “She had to heave me right across her shoulder.” And oddly enough, it worked. “'Cause I just can't seem to drink you off my mind.” He turned the capping phrase into a sweet melody and then went into the chorus.

”It's the honky tonk women”. As he stretch the o in ‘honky’, he began to loosen up and groove to the music. “Gimme, gimme, gimme the honky tonk blues.”

As he heard the music they were creating course through his ears, he heard a few female whoops from the audience. He grinned as he realized that he was doing something right. This fueled him into singing and playing the next verse with a little more swagger and flair.

”I laid a divorcee in Lon-din City,” He began to move and bop his head along to the beat. “I had to put up some kind of a fight.” He looked over to River again and decided to make her the lady in the song. “The lady then she covered me with roses” He raised his eyebrows when she looked at him. “She blew my nose and then she blew my mind.” That same sweet phrase he was playing was now in tribute to her, his newfound muse.

They repeated the chorus, this time with River joining in on back-up vocals. As they went into the solo, a strange feeling was starting to spread through the room. The initial awkwardness was starting to fade away, and they started to sound like a band that had been playing for years. Johnny’s guitar playing was softer than normal, but still determined the flow and direction of the song. River was more than comfortable in just playing the base line over and over and letting Johnny move around in his own onstage dance that oddly enough resembled a peacock. Keith was now playing a saxophone in harmony with Johnny’s guitar. The bluesy notes added a much needed dimension and flavor to the song. Cliff was playing the piano, matching the harmony of the song alongside Keith and nodding his head along to the new groove they had uncovered. And George was keeping all of them in time with his drums.

As they repeated the chorus two more times, the crowd was starting to get larger and larger. People passing by on the streets were coming in to hear this new sound that was unfamiliar to them. They had no idea what it was, but it sounded better than anything they had ever heard before. It sounded commanding and dominant, but had a subversive and confident feel to it. It was as if they were hearing something that was finally saying what they were all thinking. The gal that was up there was good enough on her own. But with these three guys added into the mix, they became something greater than the sum of its parts. When they ended the song, the entire bar burst out into applause. People were on their feet, clapping and pumping their fists in the air, roaring and cheering as they rocked out.

“All right, all right then.” Johnny said into the mike and beginning to get a hang of it. “Let me re-introduce ourselves.” He cleared his throat and said with more confidence and showmanship, “Hello, I’m Johnny Goode. And this here is our band.” The crowd cheered at it this time around. It suddenly occurred to him that he had no idea what they were gonna call themselves.

Anticipating this, River said into the mike, “We’re still trying to come up with a name, so bear with us.” This got a few laughs from the crowd and a chuckle from Johnny.

“We’re an assorted crew from all over the verse, and we’re here to play some real honest to god music for ya.” The crowd applauded this as Johnny turned around and said quickly, “We’re doin “Gimmee Shelter” now. Just try to keep up.”

As the crowd quieted down, Johnny started to play the haunting melody of the classic tune. The tune started out softly, but began to rise in volume with every repeat. River began to croon into her mike the back-up vocals of the piece while George set the beat of the tune and Keith rapped his stick against the instrument with the ridges that the song needed. When Cliff finally joined in with the piano, the song fully emerged and the band regained its power over the audience.

Johnny began to move and swagger to the beat of the song as he sang to the audience. “Oooooh, the storm is threatening…my very life today…if I don't git some shelter…Oooh yeah, I'm gonna fade away.” The tone of this song was different from the last song. It had a more political edge to it as people sensed their own connection to the lyrics. Here was a song that wasn’t telling them what to think, but was saying what they were all thinking.

The chorus was being sung with a sense of urgency to the words. “War, children…it's just a shot away, it's just a shot away”. As they repeated the lines, the people were starting to nod their heads in agreement and groove along to the combined internal mantra of the disaffected people of the verse voicing what they were thinking. River sapped it off with a haunting “yeah” while Johnny channeled both legends that made the song what it was through his guitar and voice.

”Oh, see the fire is sweeping…Down through the streets today…Burning like a bright red carpet…another fool who lost the way.” Johnny and River repeated the chorus again with a more rhapsodic flair as the song became louder and louder. Whether it was the music, the lyrics, an unexpected byproduct of River’s telepathic abilities or a combination of all three, the song was putting the people in the bar under a spell. They were all enraptured by the music and were clamoring for more.

When the guitar solo kicked in, Johnny began to caress and wield his guitar over the crowd. River intuitively tuned into his wavelength and was awestruck at the amount of soul and energy he was putting into his playing. He was playing for the same reasons she was. To exorcize her demons and turn her abuse and torment into something positive. As she began to sing “Rape, murder, it’s just a shout away, it’s just a shout away” over and over again, she felt another thing. She felt a sense of purpose. She sensed that she was doing more than just giving entertainment. She was tapping into a collective consciousness and touching something that hasn’t been touched in a long time. Something that could lift them out of their lethargy and give them a sense of hope and inspiration.

As they repeated the verse and the chorus one more time before fading out to the applause of the building, the band started to sense what she was sensing. That they were doing more than just playing covers. They were on the pulse of the public and giving them the thing they needed the most. And like River did the night before, they all did what anyone in their position was taught to do.

They gave the people what they wanted.

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

It was roughly 5:30 PM Osiris time when the bartender came up to The Dude. He had to fight his way through the immense crowd that was making the room almost impossible to navigate through. In the nearly six hours that the band had been up there, more and more people were coming in to listen to them play. The chatter was deafening enough, let alone the screams that came with the end of every song they did. They had an endless supply of song ranging from funny and hopeful to political and angry. They had only scratched the surface of everything they knew and they didn’t want to stop now. There were even people outside the bar that were clamoring to hear them. It was this reason that the bartender needed to talk to The Dude right away. The Dude was smiling in a Buddha-like manner as he was operating the sound board that controlled the volume of each of the instruments and River and Johnny’s singing. He still smiled when the bartender finally managed to get to him to tell him the news.

“Hey, man.” The Dude said energetically. “This is some wild shit here, am I right?”

“Yeah, definitely.” The bartender replied apprehensively. “Listen, I need to talk to you.”

“Sure. Then next time they do a slow song we’ll talk.”

“No, we have to talk NOW!!!” The last word was screamed into The Dudes ear in an attempt to be overheard the music and the crowd.

The Dude glanced over and saw the seriousness of the bartender’s face. The Dude turned away from the band and leaned in closer to hear the bartender.

“The manager says to have to leave. We’re past full capacity here. All these people are a potential fire hazard to the building. You have to stop.”

The Dude looked at him in astonishment. They were witness to the resurrection of a dead art form that could save billions of people’s lives, and they had to stop it because there were too many people? “You gotta be fucking kidding me!!! Look around you. Thanks to these guys, your boss if probably making the first profit since before Blue Tuesday. We can’t stop now!!!”

The bartender shrugged apologetically. “I’m sorry, but that’s what he’s saying. We would be making a profit, but it wouldn’t begin to cover the property damage that all these people are causing. They’re literally tearing down the house.”

The Dude shook his head in frustration. “So where do you suggest we go? We can’t stop this, especially not now.”

“I dunno, but you gotta be out of here in half an hour.” The bartender then started to head back through the crowd. The Dude then began to fight his way through the crowd as the band was starting the final chorus repeat. As they finished and the crowd was cheering, The Dude finally got to the stage and got up onto it. He stepped towards one of the mikes and smiled to the audience.

“Now that was something, wasn’t it?” The crowd cheered in answer to this. “Let me introduce you to the hardest working band in the ‘verse.” He took the mike out of the stand and started walking around. “On keyboard, we got Cliff “ Keys” Robertson.” Everyone cheered at his name as Cliff stood up, bowed slightly and sat back down. “On drums, we got George “Sticks” Henley.” George raised his hand clenched drumsticks into the air as the crowd cheered some more. “On woodwinds, brass, cowbells, bodhrans and just any instrument we can find, we have Mr. Keith “Lover-boy” McCann.” All the women in the bar seemed to scream at a higher pitch as he stepped forward and beamed to the audience. The Dude stepped in between River and Johnny and said in his best showman voice, “And last, but certainly not least. On vocals and guitars, two musicians whose presence it is an honor to be in. Ladies and gentlemen, “Rushing” River Tam and Jonathan Brian “Johnny B.” Goode!!!”

The crowd exploded after this proclamation. River and Johnny looked over at each other, amazed by this incredibly enthusiastic response. As soon as the crowd died down, The Dude piped up again. “I’m really sorry to do this, folks. But I’ve been told that we have to stop now.” The crowd immediately started yelling and booing at this proclamation. “I know, I know. I hate to have to stop this now, but we’ve been deemed a fire hazard.” The Dude was about to continue when River stepped next to him and tapped him on the shoulder. “Uhh, just a sec, folks,” The Dude said before cupping his hand over the mike. “What, River.”

“Why don’t we just move?”

“There’s about three times as many people outside as there are inside. I don’t think any bar would be able to hold that many people.” “Then we don’t go to a bar.”

The Dude frowned in confusion. “You got any better ideas?”

River thought for a few seconds and then smiled. She knew the perfect place to go to.

“We go to the Metro.”

The Dude raised his eyebrows in surprise at the suggestion. “You’re joking, right?”

She shook her head. “No joke.”

The Dude thought for a few moments about the implications of the suggestion. He did a few quick calculations and then grinned back at her. “Well, we’ve come this far. Might as well go out swinging.” He took his hand off the mike and spoke to the audience. “New plan, ladies and gentlemen. We are going to continue this at another place. We will be moving to the Metro.” The crowd cheered at this announcement. As The Dude began giving directions to the Metro to the crowd, River, Johnny and the other guys huddled in the center of the stage to discuss their plan of action.

“We should do one more before we go, just to tide the audience over.” Johnny said to them all.

“What should we do? We’ve already done a lot of the classics.” Cliff replied in query.

“We’ve done a lot of the basics. And our last few songs have been a bit overly political. We should do something fun, but still with a ‘fuck you’ attitude.” Keith said this knowingly from experience.

“We haven’t touched any Aerosmith yet.” River said in a suggesting manner.

Johnny gave a short nod in agreement and went along with it. “OK, sure. Which one do you guys wanna do?

“Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing?” George asked timidly.

Everyone but George scoffed at this. “That’s not a ‘fuck you’ song. That’s an overwrought power ballad.” Johnny responded.

“Walk This Way?” Cliff mentioned.

“Too short.”

“Janie’s Got A Gun?” Keith suggested.

River shook her head at this. “Don’t really want to do that. Too obvious.”

All the guys nodded their heads in sudden agreement. Johnny then said “How about ‘Cryin’?”

Everyone considered this for a split second and then agreed. They broke off and went back to their instruments. Johnny quickly asked River, “You wanna take this one, or should I?”

“Let’s make it a duet.”

“’Cryin’ isn’t a duet.”

“You take the first verse, I’ll take the second, and we both do the third and the chorus.”

“OK” Johnny said quickly before stepping back in front of the mike, picking up from where The Dude left off. “We got one more to do before we go. So let’s do this right.”

The crowd cheered at him as they took their stances. Keith grabbed his baritone sax, George loosened his shoulders and tightened his wrist, Cliff set his piano to the right setting, and River primed herself to take the base line. The band was silent for a brief moment before all four of them burst out in volume at the exact same time. They all played the exact same chord deafeningly before Johnny came in with the lead guitar. If they were disorganized before, then they were all in perfect harmony as they went into their final song at the bar.

“There was a time,” Johnny sang into the mike with a confidence that River admired. ”When I was so broken hearted…Love wasn't much of a friend of mine.” He played the repeating scale with a strong tenderness that seemed newly discovered. “The tables have turned, yeah…'Cause me and them ways have parted…That kind of love was the killin' kind.” George interrupted the smooth flow with a perfectly timed drum beat. “Now listen...All I want is someone I can't resist” Johnny began raising his vocal pitch as this and the following lyric went on. “I know all I need to know by the way that I got kissed.” Along with his guitar playing, Johnny lung capacity seemed to increase with the chorus as he sang in his broken angel singing voice.

Both of them sang the chorus as they complimented each other with their guitars. ”I was cryin' when I met you…Now I'm tryin' to forget you…Your love is sweet misery.” The guitar refrain doubled by the baritone sax at that moment was the sweetest thing anyone in that room had ever heard. “I was cryin' just to get you…Now I'm dyin' cause I let you…Do what you do - down on me, yeah”

The ba-da-dum-buh of the baritone sax got louder and louder as River took over the song. “Now there's not even breathin' room…Between pleasure and pain…Yeah you cry when we're makin' love” At this moment, the gals in the room gasped and laughed in surprise at this while Johnny just shrugged at the implication. “Must be one and the same.”

As they had done before, Johnny and River switched their guitar parts so that River was now playing the main melody of the song while Johnny was now playing the base line. “It's down on me…Yeah I got to tell you one thing…It's been on my mind…Boy I gotta say.” Her guitar roared during the pause. “We're partners in crime…You got that certain something…What you give to me…takes my breath away.” The last two lines and the next part of the verse was sung by her with complete sincerity. “Now the word out on the street…Is the devil's in your kiss…If our love goes up in flames…It's a fire I can't resist.”

The two then sang the chorus together again. This time, there seemed to be a connection forming between the two. As if the act was starting to become real. And when the chorus was done and the guitar solo came in, instead of just one of them playing, they went off the music and began to riff to compliment each other as a musical mating dance. While it only lasted a few seconds, it was enough to give them a jolt.

Both of them got back to their mikes in time to sing the same part together. ”'Cause what you got inside…Ain't where your love should stay…Yeah, our love, sweet love, ain't love, If you give your heart away” They were so in sync with each other that both of their aways turned into a wail.

As they repeated the chorus once again, the crowd got even louder. In retaliation, the band began to crescendo. They did this until they reached the “dyin’” part. At that point, Johnny raised his fist to silence the band as he held the high note even longer than was normally required. The crowd then quieted as he kept that high note going for an insane amount of time before bringing down his fist, causing both the band and the crowd to explode in volume. River and Johnny finished up the chorus, calling each other “baby” before wailing to Cliff who dispensed with the piano briefly and produced a harmonica. As he did his short solo, River and Johnny caught their breath as they played their guitar parts, all the while exchanging glances at each other.

They both sang the chorus one more time and then faded out slowly until they couldn’t be overheard the crowd that was making the place deafening. When the song finally ended, they all got up to the front of the stage and bowed to the audience. Johnny then took the mike and said to the crowd, “We’ll see you in a bit.”

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

Kaylee woke up late to an empty bed the next morning. Simon must have slipped out earlier in the morning, she decided, because she could not find him, River or Gabriel anywhere in the house. Her initial instinct was to find Mal and tell him that they’ve been snatched. But then she realized how silly that sounded now that they were no longer in danger. They just weren’t around.

After getting dressed, she decided to walk around the mansion, feeling a little silly about carrying her toolbox around for security.

She wanted to really see and explore where her husband and sister in law played and grew up. She found it intriguing to get a sense of how the estate had shaped their lives. Perhaps she could figure out how something that should have been so good ended up so bad.

She started off in the main hall of the mansion. She was amazed at just how big the whole place was. Her childhood home could’ve fit into this room itself, with half of the shed. The floor was a dark marble, everything else seemed to be made of oak, which had really detailed carvings all around it with a shiny look to it. There was an elegant, octagonal shaped skylight directly above her that brought a warm light into the house. But the weather was still overcast, so all that could be seen through it was grey.

She walked through the dining room (the plates from the night before were still there with flies beginning to hover around the food), and into the living room. She sat on the expansive sofa couch, and was surprised to discover that Shooter was right. This really was the most comfortable couch she had ever sat on.

She looked around and noticed that even though the room was smaller, it looked similar to all the other rooms she had seen. All oak and veneer. But the time of its eloquence was past, and it now seemed shabby. Maybe without the love of a family to keep it warm, the wood now seemed cold. While the place was in slight disarray, it still seemed so sterile to her. As if you weren’t supposed to know that anyone had lived here. She shook her head in sadness. This place seemed so different from her home. How could any child live in a place like this?

She pulled out a digitext off the bookshelf, looking for clues-this was her family too, now, and she wanted to know more about them. Upon powering up, she saw the title page pop up: “THE TAM FAMILY. 2480-“.

After skipping ahead a few years, lingering to look at some people she didn’t recognize, but was now related to-somehow, she came across a file that said “GABRIEL AND REGAN’S WEDDING.” She smiled as she saw how elaborate the wedding itself had been, and she was impressed at how alive and healthy the two seemed.

She was also slightly startled at how much the two looked like Simon and her on their own wedding day. Gabriel actually looked happy and content as he held young Regan in an embrace during their first dance as husband and wife. She imagined that they must have been thinking that they were the only people in the ‘verse as they held each other in their arms. Did they dream that what they were feeling at that moment would last for the next thirty years? Could they have had any idea the horrors and tragedies that would visit them and their children? And what about her and Simon? Would their love disintegrate over time? Would Simon end up as bitter of an old man as Gabriel? Would she die a slow and horrible death like Regan? Would something terrible happen to Brooke and any other children they might have? Kaylee couldn’t help but feel here eyes water up as these depressing scenarios played through her head. She took some breaths and resolved not to let that happen to them. She rested her right hand on her belly and patted her stretched skin. “Don’t you worry about this. I ain’t gonna let that happen to you.” A small kick from inside made her laugh. Already her daughter was talking back at her.

She skipped ahead with a wicked glee to the file labeled “SIMON.” Maybe there were naked baby-pictures – she HAD to find some naked baby pictures! The first few pictures were of Regan pregnant with him at various stages. Then the first batch of baby pictures. They were of simple things, the kind of stuff any mommy cherished about her baby: mostly just him learning to crawl, and stand, and roll over, that sort of thing. She recognized his blue eyes, sparse hair and large chin that was already pronounced at a young age. She giggled when she saw him in a small white lab-coat with a tiny stethoscope around his neck and a goofy grin on his face. As the pictures progressed, Kaylee was treated to a photographic timeline of his life. He may have grown up, but he still looked the same.

She went back to the main page and accessed River’s file. It started out with more pregnancy pictures of Regan carrying River, and then progressed to the usual baby pictures of River. The thing that caught Kaylee’s attention the most was her eyes. River always had large, brown eyes that seemed to peer into infinity. But even at 3 weeks old, those eyes already seemed to possess a large knowledge of the world around her.

She skipped forward, seeing River age and progress. By two, she was already writing on pieces of paper. By four, she was sitting at a piano bench on a stack of books, reaching with her small arms to the piano keys. By eight, she was in a leotard, performing at some big formal occasion. And by twelve, she was holding up a digitext she had written with an A+ on it from the Alliance Education Board. For the first time, Kaylee had a better understanding of who River was before she was mentally raped by the government, intent on transforming her into a killing machine.

And with the next batch of pictures, she fully understood why Simon did what he did.

The file simple said “S AND R.” All it consisted of were photos of the two together. The first picture she saw was of a five year old Simon holding a baby River in his arms. He was sitting on the exact same couch that she was sitting on now. He was so small that his feet barely reached the edge of the cushions. River was still wrapped in a silk pink blanket, with a small ident tag attached to it. The look of brotherly love on Simon’s face was one of resolve and purpose. As the pictures progressed, she saw the two doing the usual play activities any child would do. They toys, the games and the environment all around them were of an elaborate and rich nature. But the closeness of the two, the humor, the bond and the general love was similar to the bond had with her brothers and sisters. Whether they were reading a storybook, playing in the snow or doing some project together, she saw that the sterile childhood he spoke of hadn’t kept them from indulging in a healthy amount of old-fashioned dirty fun.

The next file was called “FAMILY”. Various pictures of parties, clear days on yachts, nights at the opera, and the annual Christmas portraits were all there. She noticed something peculiar about them. The earlier ones were very warm and happy. But there was a drastic change in tone to later ones, around the time when River was at the Academy and Simon was at the hospital. They seemed more urgent and distant. The newest picture was four years old, and seemed like the last bit of evidence that there even was a family.

She spent the next few hours going through these digital photo albums, glimpsing at the memories of this family that she thought could be fixed like a finicky reactor. After she powered it off, she began wandering the mansion again. She then wandered into the kitchen. It was a room full of white surfaces. As she peered into the fridge, she saw that it was loaded with food, but that it was all rotten and past the various expiration dates. She peered into the open cabinets, but found very little in the way of anything edible. She made her way down a hall, which lead to a side door. She opened it and saw that it was their wine cellar. Rows upon rows of wine racks filled with bottles of red wine were on display. As she checked the labels, she wondered if maybe a bottle of her wine would be a good peace offering for Gabriel. Her foot brushed up against an empty bottle. She looked down and saw that numerous empty bottles were lying on the ground. Corks were strewn around, as Kaylee smelled the faint aromas of wine that tinged the air. Kaylee was surprised by this evidence. She never thought that Gabriel would be an alcoholic.

As she descended further into the cellar, she discovered a door that lead to an underground garage. When she turned on the lights to the place, she noticed a vehicle that was under a canvas tarp. She went over to it and pulled the tarp off. What it revealed made her gasp in delight.

It was a cherry red, 2456 Saturn XR hovercraft. Her brother Mac had pictures of this craft in his room when they were growing up. Amongst collectors, this was one of the Holy Grails of vintage hovercrafts. Only 750,000 of these cars were ever produced. She wondered why such a fancy craft was just sitting there, like some forgotten relic. She opened the door, too excited to care if an alarm went off. She purred when she felt the leather interior. Her heightened hormones, Brooke’s movements and the seats oiled, smooth surface got her excited down in her nether regions. But on breathing in, dust came flowing through her lungs. She coughed, popped the hood and got out. “You’ve been here a while, havn’t ya girl?” Kaylee asked as she went over and lifted the hood up. She stuck her head inside and saw that the internals were all in a mess. “Don’t worry, honey. We’ll get you all fixed up.”

After jacking up the craft and grabbing her trusty tools from her toolbox, she figured out what exactly was wrong. First of all, the battery was completely drained of power. All the filters needed to be either replaced or fixed. The wires leading from the power cells to the hover cells were stripped and fried. And some of the transistors between circuits on the circuit board were damaged.

But these were things that she could handle. She took the battery out (which would have been easier if she wasn’t five months pregnant) and took the jumper cables and with a little creative wiring was recharging the battery by drawing power from the house. She had taken out the circuit boards and with some spare transistors she kept in an envelope in one of the drawers of her toolbox, was able to replace and sauter them. She took out the filters and with the air compressor that was in the corner began blowing the decades of dirt and crap out of the filters. Now all that was really left to do was replace the wiring.

She was so enraptured by uninstalling the wires that she didn’t notice Regan entering the garage and sitting on the steps.

"Kaylee, honey?"

Kaylee was startled for a brief moment, which was interrupted by the sharp pain she got when she bumped her head on the bottom of the car. She pulled herself out from underneath the car and sat up. “Mrs. Tam, hi.”

“Are you all right?”

“Oh this?” she inquired. “That’s nothing. Try getting shot in the stomach. That’ll definitely hurt.” She chuckled awkwardly. She felt a bit uncomfortable upon seeing her there. Why was she down here? Shouldn’t she be in bed? She asked kindly, “Can I get you anything?”

Regan smiled at the girl’s politeness. Right now, the morphine she took so that she could move around was beginning to wear off. She had enough of her bed and the wedding video and wanted to move around. None of this registered with Kaylee as Regan just waved her hand. “No, no, I'm fine. I may be dying, but I can still walk.”

Kaylee still felt awkward. “Well, if you need any help, just think of me as your pregnant crutch.” She gave a short laugh to try to break the tension. “Might be the only chance you can ride your daughter-in-law.” She winced at such a lame attempt at a joke and looked around as she felt another awkward silence coming on. “So...I was telling Mr. Tam I thought you had a really nice home.”

Regan looked around as well and sighed apprehensively. “Yeah, that's why I thought at first. But after a few years, the massive scale of it gets to you. It feels so cavernous and empty. But when Simon and River were younger, their screams and footsteps made it seem less empty.” She contemplated the past for a brief moment and decided not to dwell on it. She was on borrowed time, and she wasn’t going to waste it. “Do you come from a large family?”

Kaylee laughed for the first time since they got there. “Large would be an understatement.” Kaylee felt the tension drift away as she laid back down and pulled herself underneath the vehicle. ”There was never a boring moment growing up, I can tell you that. We can keep talking, you know. I can talk and work at the same time.”

“Who is in your family?”

“Let’s see, there’s my folks, Katie and Cole Frye. They’ve been together for about thirty odd years or so. Mom’s just a regular housewife, which in my family is an even bigger job than my dad’s. He’s a mechanic, when there actually is work. But we’ve gotten by. We always do. And then they’re my brothers and sisters.”

“How many?”

“Three brothers and two sisters. All older than me. I’m the baby of the family.”

There was a strange silence filling the air. Kaylee pulled herself out from under the car and saw Regan’s surprised look.

“Mrs. Tam?”

“Six? Your parents had six children?”

Kaylee shrugged. “Yeah. Folks out on the Rim have lots of kid’s actually.” Her eyebrows furrowed. “Why, you concerned?”

“Oh, no…no. It’s just so…large of a number. I thought two was a handful, even with a nanny and a housekeeping staff. Around here, some people would think three is stretching it. But…six, really?”

Kaylee chuckled. “Aw, six ain’t nothing. I heard of a farmer up in Jansen who had about four wives, and he had about five children with each of them. It’s weird. You’d think that rich people would have tons of kids, since they could afford it, and that regular farm folk like my folks would be a bit stingier when it comes to the offspring count.”

“Well, socio-economics and emphasis on social resources, as well as the norms of a particular society can…” She trailed off and stopped. Rambling on about her professional field of interest was a bad habit Simon picked up from her. She wasn’t going to lecture this lovely girl: she was obviously intelligent. “You know what, it’s not important.”

Kaylee shrugged and got back underneath. “How about you?”

Regan frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Well what do you do? I know you’re family’s real rich and elite and all that. But what exactly did you and your husband do?”

“Well, before Blue Tuesday, Gabriel was a top executive at a trading company here in Capital City. He was into finance and negotiating interstellar trade between the Core planets and some of the closer border planets that specialized in agriculture and textiles. And before I married him, I was a professor at Osiris University.”

Kaylee raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Oh, so you were a teacher. What did ya teach?”

Regan smiled as she recalled her college years. “I taught Sociology. But after I married Gabriel, I retired my academic career to take on the perils of motherhood and being a wife of high society.”

Kaylee began unscrewing the clamps that were holding the wire to the car. “That must’ve been tough for ya. Givin’ up doing the thing you love to raise kids.”

Regan shrugged. “It was just a job. I managed. Nothing was more important than my little ones. The first few years were tough, but after the two of them started going to school, I was able to do some charity work.”

“Like what?”

“Oh, sending clothes, food and medicine to the Outer Rim planets. Convincing recent graduates from the Education programs to teach at schools in the Outer Rim or disadvantaged neighborhoods. Just regular goodwill services.” She laconically drawled, “Despite what your Captain might say, we are not evil with a capital E.”

Kaylee shook her head. “Naw. Cap’n’s just a little grouchy is all. I know he might hold a grudge against the Alliance, what with the whole war, but I always had more faith in people.”

Regan looked down, her expression confused.

“Why are you here anyways, working on that hunk of junk?”

Kaylee was startled. “Junk?!?!? This is one of the Holy Grails of hovercars and it’s just sitting there. Just instinct for me to fix something that’s broke. Couldn’t just walk past this sweet thing and not fix it any more than Simon could walk past a sucking chest wound and not try to help. I’m surprised it’s even here. Why is it?”

“Oh, when Gabriel was younger, he was into cars. I think more for the prestige than the actual mechanics of it. After Simon left, he had a sort of mid-life crisis thing. Bought that and said that he would give mechanics a try. I don’t think he’s seen the damn thing since he first bought it.” She looked back down at Kaylee and tried to peer underneath the car. “Are you sure you should be under there like that? I'd hate to think of what my grandchild would be at risk of with you around engines in your condition.”

Kaylee chuckled again as she pulled the last bundle of wires out from under the car. “Hell, the radiation from the reactor probably took care of that. I thought I felt more than two feet in there.” She pulled herself out and saw Regan’s horror stricken look on her face. She laughed heartily and replied,” I’m kidding! Don't worry about Brooke. My momma was always around the stuff with me. Worst case scenario, she'll be born with a knowledge of engines.” Kaylee giggled as she went over and began pulling lengths of wire out of her wire spool. “I do wonder what she's gonna be like. Simon and I are so different. It's hard trying to imagine a blended version of us.”

As Kaylee began putting the fresh wires under the car, Regan recalled her children’s childhoods. “Well, both of them were very quiet as babies. And both of them could read even before they began to walk. They were always happier reading books or doing some sort of math or knowledge games. I imagine your childhood was the polar opposite.”

“A whole different 'verse.” She recalled some childhood stories as she installed the wires and got up to get the battery that was fully charged by then. She kept eye contact with Regan as she hauled the heavy battery back to under the car hood. “It's kind of scary when you think about it. How are two people from such extremes going to raise a child? I mean, I've been around babies all my life, but they've never been mine. What if I screw up? What if I'm not a good mom?”

“Every mother thinks that. And when they're little children, you're always on guard to make sure they're ok.” She looked down in shame as she continued. “It's my experience that it's when they're older that you tend to fail them.”

Kaylee gave the second clamp nut a final turn and went over to Regan. The old woman was looking like she was about to cry again. She squatted down as best as she could and put her hand on her shoulder. She said plainly, “I don't think you failed them.” Regan looked up, startled at this unexpected gesture of kindness. “Maybe made a mistake, but you didn't fail either of them. Simon and River are good. Maybe they ain't how you would have pictured them, but they're happy and Simon came home because he wanted to see you. I can't say he isn't mad about what happened, but he's never once said you failed him. Families fight, your family just had a long, spread out, big one. He still loves you. I don't think he ever stopped.”

Regan smiled weakly through her tears. “You're very kind.” She choked back her tears and took in a deep breath. “Tell me something about you. I saw the video and all, but I still don't know that much about you. While you’re working, just tell me something, anything. Tell me, what's your favorite thing in the world aside from engines and my son?

“Strawberries.” Kaylee grinned. “Lots, and lots of strawberries.”

Kaylee started jabbering away about who she was as Regan kept asking question after question, while Kaylee fixed and installed the filters and reinstalled the repaired circuit board. The questions ranged from family pets, to childhood friends, to what her family did for fun, summer nights on Newhope, to Kaylee’s many conquests, both with machines and with men. After Kaylee slammed the hood back down, Regan asked the big question.

“Why did you fall in love with him? After talking with you this last hour or so, I can see why he would love you immensely. But I’m wondering why you love him. I'm just curious as to why you two decided to fall in love and start a family of your own.”

Kaylee leaned back on the car and shrugged. “I was horny and he was cute.” Regan chuckled at this, but then gave a look that required a serious answer. “I suppose it was cause he was so different. Ain't any other boy I know that would have given up everything for his sister. And he had a different way about him. He was off in the Black, but he still kept bein' proper. Everyone else thought it was annoyin’, but I thought it was sweet.” She stopped as she tried to rack her brain to find the right words to express her initial infatuation with Simon. “I don't think words can really explain how he made me feel. Every time he'd look at me, I'd feel special, like I was the only girl in the 'verse. My heart would race, my palms would sweat, and I'd feel happy, happier then ever before. Even now, he can still make me feel that way. Marrying him was the best thing that's ever happened to me.” She placed her hands on her womb for emphasis. ”Brooke wasn't planned, but she's going to be here in a few months, and as scary as that might be, I can't wait to meet her.” She looked up at Regan. “You must think I sound so foolish.” Regan gave a small smile and shook her head. “No, not at all. You sound just like me when I met Gabriel. The circumstances were a little bit more formal, but what you just said was how we got along when we met.” She suddenly felt compelled to defend him, even though he had changed drastically over the years. “I know he may seem harsh and cruel, but you have to understand. All his life he's been in control. Nothing has come his way that he couldn't take care of. But I think all that has happened to us these last few years have really taken toll on him. He doesn't know what to do, so he lashes out at the things he can't control.”

Kaylee shrugged. “I don't judge him. If anything I hope Simon and him can work past their differences. For every ones sake. And if they can’t do it on their own, then maybe Jayne and Vera can act as go betweens.”

Kaylee grinned at the private joke while Regan nodded and looked towards the car. “So does the gorram thing work now?”

Kaylee leaned forward and came towards Regan. “Does Gabriel still have the keys for it somewhere?”

“I imagine so.”

Kaylee grinned. “Well let’s find out.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * Kaylee was helping Regan up the hallway when she heard the ringing of their Cortex link. Kaylee had Regan’s one arm draped over her shoulder as Regan had her other arm bracing her up against the wall. They were taking baby steps back up to the main hall where it would be easier to get to a place to make her comfortable. After the first few rings, she looked over to Regan.

“Go answer it.”

“But Mrs. Tam-“

“Answer it. No one’s called here for a long time. Might be important.” Kaylee looked at her, wondering about her condition. “I’ll be fine. I need to rest anyways. Go get it.”

Kaylee quickly but considerably helped Regan sit down against the wall and then went as fast as she could to the kitchen. She quickly picked up the link and said "Hello...?" Immediately, she realized that she was still in The Core and uncertainly added... "um... Tam residence...?"

Even though she had no idea who was calling, she certainly did not expect to hear River’s voice excitedly asking over the link, “Kaylee, is that you?”

Kaylee was both startled as to who was on the other end and unsure if it was actually her. There was a lot of background noise on the other end of the link. "River...? What...uh... hi?"

River talked louder into her end of the link. She was nearly shouting. “Kaylee, you're going to have to talk louder and faster. We're moving out real quick here to beat the crowd.”

Kaylee suddenly had a confused look. "Crowd...? What crowd? Where are you?"

River suddenly realized that they didn’t even realize she had left the house. “Didn't Dad tell you I'd gone?”

Kaylee just shrugged. "Haven't seen 'im today. When did you go out?"

River was too excited to care about this miscommunication and kept on going. “I left last night after the fight. Didn't want to be there so I took the subway to Downtown. Ended up playing at The State and met The Dude. Told me that he wanted me to lead this band he was putting together. They're all real good, 'specially Johnny.”

Kaylee was getting more and more confused with every word River was saying, and not for the normal reasons. But upon hearing her mention Johnny, she found something to latch on. "A guy...? He cute?"

River paused for a moment. Up until then, she hadn’t payed attention to Johnny’s looks. But as she thought about it for a first time, she shrugged. “Kinda, I guess. Pretty good for a burn victim. He's a guitarist like me. And he can really play. Anyways, we got to playing here again to pay for breakfast. And we just kept playing and playing and all these people kept coming in to listen to us and really liking what we're playing. And there are so many people here that we have to move to a bigger venue so all these people can hear us.”

Kaylee blinked and raised her eyebrows in surprise. "Wow, that sounds real neat. So it'll be like a concert or sumwat? Where you headed?"

Over at the bar, River smiled like a Cheshire cat and replied, “It's bigger than any concert you've ever seen.” Before she could continue though, The Dude came up to her while hauling one of the instruments and yelled to be heard over the crowd, “River, we gotta go now if we wanna beat the crowd and set up in time.” River yelled back into the phone. “I gotta go, Kaylee. Tell Simon, Mom and Dad that we'll be at the Metro. They'll know where it is.”

"When... like now?" Kaylee had more questions than answers, but before she could get an answer, the line went dead.

Kaylee hung up the link in astonishment. She didn’t know what she was expecting to happen when they were here, but this was clearly not what anyone had in mind. As she stood there, trying to put all the pieces together, Simon walked past the kitchen and notices her standing there with a confused look. “Kaylee?”

Kaylee looked up at Simon and asked in an unsure voice, "Did everyone go out today and not tell me?"

Simon now gave a confused look as well. “I was just walking around the estate. What do you mean everyone?”

Kaylee giggled at the realization that they’re all pretty much in the dark. "Sorry, I jus' hadn' seen you all mornin' an' now River jus' called an' said she's been downtown playing all night."

At the mention of River being downtown, Simon suddenly snapped into his protective mode as he realized that she was gone. “Riv...She's not here!?! Where is she? What's happened?”

Kaylee smiled as she saw how overprotective he could be even when there’s nothing to be worried about. "She's fine, she jus' needed to get out last night, so she went downtown. She was speakin' a mite fast on the phone, something 'bout a dude an' a fella called Johnny... or maybe Johnny was the dude... I ain't sure..."

Simon relaxed slightly as he realized that River wasn’t in trouble. “Oh, for a second I thought she was taken. What else did she say?”

Kaylee leaned against the table island in the middle of the kitchen and continued. "Well she said something 'bout playin' at some place and there bein' lots an' lots of people comin' to hear'em, so they're gonna hold a big concert at this place... I think it was called the Metro or sumthin'..."

Simon suddenly blanked at the mention of the location. “The Metro?”, he asked in an even more puzzled tone.

Kaylee looked up when she realized that he knew what she was talking about. "Yeah... 'least that's what I think she said...She said you'd know where it was...What is it anyways?"

“It's the Metropolitan Opera House that's downtown. Our family used to go there all the time to see the operas.” As he remembered the countless times they’ve been there, a grin came over him as he realized the significance the place had for River. “River once said she always wanted to dance there.”

Kaylee chuckles at this as well "Maybe she finally will..."

Simon inhaled and looked at her. “Well, what do we do? I don't know how we can get there.”

Kaylee gave him a weird look. "Well don' look at me... I dunno where it is."

“Well I know where it is and how to get there. I mean, do we walk or take the subway? We were always chauffeured there, but even a taxi would be too expensive now.”

Kaylee pondered for a few seconds before remembering her pending quest for the keys. "Well... when I was walkin' round the place, I found this old car of theirs..."

Simon blanked again. He was finding out about stuff too quickly. “There's a car?”

"Yeah... real pretty too, but wasn't workin', an' I couldn' jus' leave somethin' so pretty jus' collect dust like that, so I fixed it. Before the phone rang, I was gonna look for the keys..."

Simon’s demeanor suddenly darkened as he realized who would know where they were. “I imagine he'd have them.”

“Damn right I do.” Simon and Kaylee’s heads turned to the sour angry voice, and saw Gabriel leaning against the door frame. “And I'll be damned before I let you take em.”

Simon crossed his arms and got on the defensive. “Dad, she's not a teenager. She can take the car if she wants. Especially if it's to see her sister-in-law play.”

Gabriel responded nonchalantly. “Call a cab if she's wants to go out. I'm not lending her what's mine.”

Kaylee looked down and mumbled, "Was jus' gonna test drive it, make sure I did right"

Gabriel caught this last bit and stood up in attention. “Did right? What are you talking about?”

Kaylee looked up and decided to tell him what she did, hoping that maybe this would cheer him up. "That car of yours in the underground garage wasn't in workin' condition when I found it, so I spent the afternoon fixin’ it up for ya."

Kaylee smiled, hoping that with this news Gabriel would start treating her with a little more respect. She knew from experience that fixing something broken just out of general goodwill always made people happy. But instead of easing him up, this news seemed to make him even more angry. He had a look on his face that reminded Kaylee of the look her mom made when she was angry at her brothers for ruining her flower bed. He seemed more disgusted than pleased.

“You touched that? You just went and messed with an antique car without my permission? Without my knowing? Did I ask you to do that? Did you even think of asking me?”

Kaylee was taken aback by this reaction to her doing something nice for her. "Messed with...?” Her hormones then kicked into overdrive as she got good and angry towards him again. “What's the point in a car if it ain't workin'? Thought I was doin' ya a favor."

Gabriel responded venomously, “If I wanted your gorram charity, I would have asked for it. I wouldn’t have stuck my nose into business and things that didn't concern me.”

Simon stepped in between the two and directed his anger towards his father. “Bi zuie, dad. She did a nice thing for you and all you can do is yell at her because she didn't ask your permission to turn some junker into a working car.”

Kaylee snorted as she looked at Simon. “Don't bother yellin’ at him for that. It's the only thing he can do.” She looked directly into Gabriel’s eyes and went on the offensive. “That and ignore everything going wrong around him and drink like a fish.”

Gabriel’s anger shot through the roof as he stepped towards her with a wild and vengeful look in his face. Simon stepped forward to block her and stared at him. With a forceful tone, he asked him, “Have you been drinking?”

“Don't you believe her?” Gabriel incredulously asked him.

“I'm not asking her. I'm asking you.” He asked the question again in the same tone Mal would have asked him. “Have…you…been…drinking?” Gabriel stared back at Simon for a few moments, before breaking away and walking in a huff out the kitchen through the dining room and out into the main hall.

Simon, and then Kaylee followed him, determined to continue the fight. As he stepped into the main hall, he yelled at him, “Were you drunk last night? Is that why River isn't here?”

Gabriel stopped and turned around. “She is not here because you and your "family" has taught her to bail on her responsibilities and high tail it at the first sign of anything going wrong.”

“And exactly what responsibilities was she bailing on?”

Gabriel began to point and wave his hands as he dug himself deeper and deeper. “To THIS family and to OUR legacy that you're so determined to drive into the ground.”

Simon and Gabriel were now entering round two of their verbal smackdown that had started 24 hours ago at the dinner table. The same venom and intensity that was between them was going into overdrive as they did everything to verbally destroy each other. “There are more important things than this facade you call legacy. And had you paid more attention to other things than dinner parties, balls and heiresses, then maybe you wouldn't be drowning yourself in wine right now.”

“Oh it is easy for me to make the wine cellar the only thing in my ‘verse when I see my life’s work knocking up mechanics and screwing around with loser Browncoats and musicians. If that's what you call legacy then you can just-“

“GABRIEL, STOP IT!!”

The commotion between the three of them stopped as soon as they heard the banshee wail. All three looked and saw Regan slowly making her way up the corridor towards him. Like a freshly buried corpse rising from her grave to exact revenge, Regan had an angry look that Simon had never seen in his mother’s eyes before. Gabriel was even more shocked at this development than anything in the last few weeks.

“What are you doing out of bed?”

Despite going at a very slow pace and looking at times like she was about to collapse, Regan maintained a pissed off eye contact as she made her way to them. It was definitely one of the scarier things any of the three had seen in their lives. “I am not going to spend what few remaining moments I have alive watching you make an ass of yourself.”

Gabriel swallowed his sudden insecurity and continued. “No more so than River playing karaoke and Simon breeding with this-“

“This what? This nice, intelligent useful girl who has far more good sense about her than an entire room full of dumb blonde heiresses?” Regan was now on par with her husband’s wavelength and was not going to take his shit anymore.

“Those heiresses had connections that would’ve advanced our standing and elevated us more than ever.”

Regan scoffed and sneered at the pathetic rationalization. “Oh don’t give me that fei yu. You keep talking about sublimity this, and legacy that. Has it ever occurred to you that maybe it would’ve been better if we just left our children’s futures to chance?”

Gabriel was not about to lose his ground. “Chance leads us nowhere.”

As Regan got closer and closer, her speaking became more intense and forceful. “Chance is what brought Simon and Kaylee together. Chance is what saved River from succumbing to the destruction we’ve wreaked upon them. Destruction that you’ve caused with your fucking arrogance.”

Gabriel was speechless at the sudden expletive that she said to him. Simon was shocked on so many levels, one of which was the fact that the sickest person in the building was the strongest one in the room. Kaylee was equally surprised to see this frail woman holding her own against her husband and admitting the truth that had poisoned them.

“In the last four years, you’ve let these hundan’s hunt our two children down across the galaxy all in the name of sublimity and properness. It’s about time you knew what constitutes just behavior. Just behavior is doing what you know in your gut is the right and honorable thing to do. And in this life, it could be anything.” She was inches away from his face when she said intensely through her teeth, “I could peel you like a pear and it would be called just.” When she said it, they actually believed she could. “Now, unlike you, I don’t want my son’s last memory of me being some weeping willow in denial. You are going to take those keys and get the car. We are going to take the car and go to the Metro and see our daughter perform and be the parents we should be. That, Gabriel, is the proper thing to do.”

The silence that filled the hall was as loud as Serenity’s engine on take off. Simon and Kaylee were staring at the elderly couple intensely as Regan maintained a hard gaze into her husband’s face. After a few intense breaths, Gabriel reached into his right pocket and produced a set of keys. He palmed them in his hand, with the key to the car pinched between his index finger and thumb and walked away, muttering “Bring it out front” to himself, but loud enough for all to hear. When his footsteps finally faded away, Regan looked back at Simon and Kaylee.

“Never too late.”

She smiled softly at them, and then collapsed onto the floor.

“REGAN!!” Kaylee screamed as the two rushed towards her. Kaylee helped her to sit up while Simon checked her. “She’s too weak. Must’ve used all her remaining strength to stand up. We have to get her back into bed.”

He and Kaylee were already preparing to move her when Simon felt a weak grip on his arm. He looked and saw Regan with a determined look. “No.” she grimaced through her teeth. “We…are…going!”

“Mrs. Tam, couldn’t we at least-“

“No.” She looked over to her daughter-in-law and then to her son. “I don’t care if I break every bone in my body. I am going to be the parent I should be and see my daughter perform. If I can’t even do that, then I have no right to call myself a mother.”

Simon and Kaylee looked at each other and then to Regan. Very slowly, they helped her up and began moving towards the front door and the driveway where Gabriel was waiting for them.

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

The Metropolitan Opera House was one of the oldest buildings in Capital City. One of the oldest in the Core, actually. When the settlers first arrived on Osiris after the Great Migration, the building was initially set up as a temporary hostel for those who were getting tired of living on the bulk cruisers. In an attempt to keep these weary masses enlightened, the managers of the hostel asked anyone with an entertainment background to put on shows of any kind for the people. At first, this was seen as a mere distraction in the building of a new society. But as the attendance for these shows became larger as well as the cash flow, the higher ups realized the need for entertainment became just as important as the need for food, water, shelter and order for the people of the new worlds. Thus the hostel was renovated into a general theatre, which showed everything from vaudeville, burlesque, musical acts, old movies and tv shows to Chinese puppets, dance routines, symphonies and operas. Any kind of performed entertainment you could think of was done at this building at one point.

As the centuries went on, the Opera House expanded until the whole facility took up a considerable size. As more theatres and arenas of various kinds popped up, the Metropolitan (or the Metro for short) focused primarily on symphonies and operas to entice the higher social class that was becoming the predominant class of the Core. Wealthy families could buy balconies reserved in their name for their own enjoyment. This patronage, as well as a generous sum from the Alliance every year, allowed The Metro to have it’s own in house symphony, ballet troupe and roster of opera singers, as well as technicians and employees to keep the place running.

But like nearly every other remnant of the Alliance, The Metro was hit hard on Blue Tuesday. With the Alliance and the patrons of the opera house bankrupt, The Metro had to shut down to save costs. Over a thousand of their in house staff was put on stand-by, which was taken as a sign of truly bad times. In the nearly 350 year history of The Metro, they had never closed. Not even during the renovations when the building went from the simple three story hostel to the massive complex that took up a whole city block. Or when Capital City was under attack by the insurgent Browncoats, threatening to burn the Metro to the ground. No matter what, the show went on. But with the social and economic collapse of the Core, so did The Metro fall into disarray.

It had been five months since the lights went off and the doors were closed. The place was beginning to collect dust and trash. A few vandals had broken into the place a few times and did some property damage to the immaculate insides of the building. The spray painted Chinese symbols were a spit in the face of the gorgeous interior design of the building. Aside from these vandals, the only person that set foot in the hallways of the theatre was the manager and owner of the theatre, one Mr. Calvin Arnegie. The Metro was a family business, and he had been the 12th generation to run the place since it was first built. He was a thin man between his late forties and early fifties who lived in the apartment on the top floor of the complex. Every day, he would wander the hallways to scare off any vandals who had broken in or kick out the derelicts who would sometimes camp on stage, in the auditorium or even in the box office. Even if they were closed for business, it was no excuse to break routine and make the place somewhat presentable.

So it was with some surprise and alarm when he came to the lobby and saw a number of people with various instruments banging on the doors and trying to get in. He quickly rushed forward, activated a sensor in his watch that unlocked the doors and opened one of the main doors.

“Excuse me, but who are you people?”

The large man with the beard turned to him and walked over with an outstretched hand. “Name’s Jeffery Rabbitte, but call me The Dude. Everyone else does. And this here is our band. Haven’t come up with a name yet but-”

Calvin raised his hand to interrupt him. “That’s not my primary concern. What are you doing here?”

The Dude scratched the back of his head as he began to explain the situation. “Well, here’s the deal. We were playing at this bar for a few hours, and the people there were really digging our stuff. I mean, REALLY digging it. There were people on the street clamoring to get in to listen to what we’ve been playing. And the people at the bar told us we had to go because all the people there constituted a fire hazard. And this is the only place that big enough to hold all these people. So we really need to get in and set up for these folks.”

Calvin balked at what he had just heard. He took a quick glance at them and shook his head.

“I’m sorry but no. You’re going to have to find someplace else.”

Now it was The Dude’s turn to balk. “Didn’t you just hear what I said?”

“Clearly. And I am not about to let your kind come in and degrade the respectability that this institution represents.”

The Dude peered over Calvin’s shoulder and got a good look at the place. “Yeah, because graffiti, soiled newspaper and dust are so valuable to a place like this. Wouldn’t want to upset Miss Havisham up in her balcony.”

Calvin didn’t want to deal with this anymore. He was about to close the door when Keith came forward. “Mr. Arnegie. It’s me, Keith McCann. I stepped in for Mr. Sarsgaard when he had to go in for his operation.”

Calvin recognized him and shook his hand discreetly. “Yes, yes I remember you. Our conductor couldn’t stop raving about you.” Keith grinned. “I tend to have that effect on people. Can I talk to you privately?”

Calvin looked at them again and ushered Keith indoors before locking the doors again.

“Mr. Arnegie, please. There are hundreds of people coming this way to see us play. I know that we might not look like much, but we really have something here that people are clamoring to hear. Besides, you don’t do only operas. Didn’t this place used to show everything? Even old rock concerts?”

“There hasn’t been a rock concert here in over two hundred years. We aren’t set up to cater to that kind of music. Even if we could, there’s no way we could be able to pay to operate this place for even one night.”

Keith shook his head in disappointment. “Forget about the money, Mr. Arnegie. We are clearly not doing this for cash. And your staff. I’m sure that after sitting on their ass for five and a half months, that they’d be willing to do this for free.”

Calvin scoffed at this. “Yeah, well good luck with that.”

Keith was about to continue the argument when he heard something outdoors. It sounded like a slight rumble. He stepped forward and unlocked the doors. As he opened the doors, his face slackened.

What was once an empty street was beginning to fill with tens of dozens of people and vehicles. Hovercars of various makes and models were being parked on the street. No one bothered putting their thumbprints onto the electronic meters since they were out of order. The majority of the people there were normal, working class folk in civilian clothing, while there were a few members of the formerly elite peppered through the crowd, their once fancy suits, tunics and kimonos now slightly in disarray. Any sign of hostility or barriers between the people were gone. They were all united for one single purpose.

They wanted to see a show.

Calvin went over to The Dude and starting talking to him quickly and quietly.

“How soon can you set up?”

“How many on your staff are on call?”

“About a thousand. But I wouldn’t be surprised if only a few dozen showed up.”

“Get them down here now. With them, we’d be able to go in maybe about an hour. Don’t want to keep these people waiting too long.”

“What about admission? I still need some cash flow just to cover the basics utilities. Power, water, that kind of stuff.”

The Dude looked at the crowd and did some quick calculations.

“How about the first two hundred or so are free, but 4 platinum for those on welfare and 2 for those who aren’t.”

Calvin looked at the crowd once more and shrugged. “Aw, what the Hell. I got nothing better to do.” Him and The Dude shook hands and as the band began to move their stuff into the building, he pulled out a portable link out of his pocket and called his stage manager.

“Call everyone and tell them to get down here. We’re a go.”

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

The sun had nearly set as the car carrying the Tam’s flew over the city. While the initial take-off from the ground wasn’t totally smooth (Kaylee made a mental note to take a look at the connectors once they got back), the car was, for all intents and purposes, fully functional. They were cruising along at five thousand feet, following the skyways that showed up on the dash’s computer. Gabriel had not drunken anything yet, so he was in the driver’s seat, flying the car in a reserved manner. He merely kept his eyes ahead, not even glancing at the other passengers in the car. Simon was next to him in the front seat of the car. He too was staring ahead, although he kept an eye on his father. While he didn’t seem inebriated, he still wanted to be able to engage the auto pilot on a moments notice.

Kaylee and Regan were in the back seat of the car. Kaylee was attending to Regan, who still was very weak and breathing laboriously. She was doing her best to stay awake and not drift off. The pain that she felt earlier was slowly beginning to rise. But this didn’t deter her from trying to accomplish the simple task of seeing her daughter perform. So she merely clenched her teeth and made eye contact with her pregnant daughter-in-law who looked so worried. She didn’t like that look on her.

“Brooke.”

Kaylee blinked and furrowed her eyebrows. “Shenme?”

Regan inched her right hand towards Kaylee’s womb. “How did you settle on Brooke?”

When Kaylee realized the question, she chuckled. “Didn’t put too much thought into it, actually. When we found out it was a girl, everyone was giving us names. I initially wanted to name it River Jr. But they thought it sounded weird. I told ‘em that there were plenty girls named Jr. where I’m from, but after asking River herself, she suggested Brooke as a compromise. Said she didn’t want the baby to be in her shadow.” Kaylee looked down at her expanding belly. “I wanted a simple name, and I think they wanted the name thing to be over and done with, so we just settled on Brooke.”

Regan weakly smiled. She remembered the florid and ridiculous names of all the children Simon and River grew up with, and liked the fact that there was now a family member that had a regular name.

“I like it. Although…I always liked the name Oja.”

Kaylee frowned in confusion. “Oh, Yeah? That’s a Core name?”

Regan laughed a genuine laugh for the first time since God knows when before coughing. “Not ‘Oh, Yeah.’ Oja. It’s a Croatian name. Every past generation of my family has tried to name a daughter after that. But for some reason it’s never stuck.”

As she paused, Kaylee smiled sadly and looked at Regan once more. “Well, I can’t promise anything, but if we ever have another girl, I think we might name her that.”

Regan was about to interject and tell her not to worry about it when her face slackened. The sun had completely set and the car was surrounded in darkness. But as they approached the downtown of Capital City, a soft smile came over Regan. Kaylee was surprised as she saw the smile inch over her face. She became astonished as she saw a faint light come over her face.

“Mrs. Tam?!? Are you all right??” Kaylee was starting to panic. She had heard about people going into the light when they died, but she never thought it would be real. “Simon, I think something’s wrong.”

But as Simon turned around to see what was wrong, Regan merely shook her head. “No dear. Nothing’s wrong. Nothing’s wrong at all.” She looked past Kaylee and nodded towards the window. “Look outside, you two.”

Confused, both of them turned around and looked out their windows. While Simon’s face showed recognition and a tinge of regret, Kaylee’s face figuratively and literally lit up. “Ta Ma De!!!” she said, not caring about swearing in front of her in laws.

Ever since she was a little girl, she had heard bedtime stories about how the Core planets were the most beautiful places in the whole ‘verse. How at night, whole planets were alight. As if the stars themselves came down to visit and play. Despite Mal and Zoe’s abhorrence of the Core worlds, she always dreamed of going to one of them just to see if the stories were true. Part of her devotion to Inara was to be in the presence of someone from that world. And while she had gone to a Core world, the only bit of extravagance she saw was the junkyards of Ariel. But nothing could prepare her for the immense beauty of Capital City all lit up.

Building’s unfathomably high were breaking the cloud level. Millions of lights were on display, showing off the skyline that Capital City was famous for. The skyway grid that hand in the air moved like a river with the various lights of the hovercrafts and shuttles that made it up. Millions of electronic billboards and vidscreens displayed all the colors in the visual spectrum to create a 100 mile bit of abstract art. Hundreds, if not thousands of year of human history and endeavors had created this. The fact that they were flying across this made her giddy. The lights almost blinded her, but she could care less. “It’s all so beautiful.”

“Hard to believe that it’s all bankrupt.” Simon broke the rapture Kaylee was in as he looked down at the place he once worked in and considered home. “Hard to believe that after all that The Alliance has done to preserve this, that they lost their hold on it. That now this place has no more economy or power than the most far flung moon on the Outer Rim.”

Kaylee thought about it and just shrugged. She looked at Regan, leaned in and whispered, “Still looks pretty to me.”

Determined to change the sudden grimness of the atmosphere in the car, Gabriel hit a button and turned on the radio to the local news station, hoping to hear about anything else than what was going on.

A strong, authorial voice came in over the speakers. “-orting live from the downtown area, here is Orson Bowie with this latest report.”

An energetic voice then came in over what sounded like a large crowd inside a building that was growing restless. “Thank’s Tom. I’m here live from the Metropolitan Opera House where an amazing development has happened. This theatre, one of the historical jewels of the verse, had been closed due to Blue Tuesday. But just hours ago, the doors were opened for hundreds, if not thousands of people who are here for an impromptu concert that started earlier today. They are here tonight to listen to a band play some kind of music that, up until Blue Tuesday, had been on the blacklist of banned arts for the last two hundred years. Here with me now, is this band’s manager, a Mr. Jeffery Rabbitte. Good evening, Mr. Rabbitte.”

As everyone in the car perked up and paid closer attention to the news report, a relaxed and drawling voice came over the radio. “Mr. Rabbitte is my father’s name. I’m The Dude. That’s what you call me. The guy’s named me that, so that’s who I am. Either that, or The Duder, His Dudeness, uhhh…El Duderino, y’know if you’re not into the whole berevity thing.”

Kaylee and Regan burst into laughter as the reporter tried to comprehend this. After a few seconds of dead air, he continued. “Could you please tell us what has lead to this.”

If they could see The Dude, they would have seen The Dude shrug and say nonchalantly. “Not really much to tell. Been trying to put together a band to bring back rock music, now that’s it’s no longer illegal. Finally found this gal last night that really rocked The State by herself. Asked her to be in our band, she said yes, we jammed this morning for our breakfast, and we’ve been jamming non-stop for the last seven hours or so. More people kept coming in off the streets to listen to them, and we had to move here to accommodate all these people. And as soon as we’re all set up, we’re gonna rock the house.”

The reporter paused and then responded rather condescendingly, “Yes, I see. Tell me, what is this ‘rock’ you speak of? Is your band scientifically grounded in geology. Do asteroids play a part in this?”

Now it was the Dude’s turn to pause in uncertainty. “Nooooooo” replying to the question as if he were addressing someone slow and stupid “…this has nothing to do with actual rocks. This is an art form that hundreds of years ago was the battle cry and saving grace of our ancestors. It gave people a voice to sing about whatever that was pissing them off. And as you can hear, it’s coming back.”

“Yes, but what exactly is this kind of music?”

“Lemme put it to ya this way. If you think you’ve heard it all, you ain’t heard nothing yet. Oh, sorry. I gotta go. I think we’re gonna start real quick. Ticket’s are 4 platinum for those on welfare, and 2 for those who aren’t.”

There was another pause before the reporter chimed in. “Well, there you have it. This is Orson Bowie, CBC News, The Metropolitan Opera House downtown in Capital City.” There was another lengthy pause as everyone listening was waiting to hear the main newscaster’s voice. Very faintly, they could hear Orson Bowie going “What?...You’re kidding…Well find someone…there’s no one else?...Ta Ma De.” He then returned to his reporter voice, but it was obvious that he was miffed that he had to stay there longer. “Uhhh, ladies and gentlemen, I’ve just been told that since, amazingly enough, there are no more stories to report, we will be broadcasting this concert live over the airwaves and over the Cortext. This is Orson Bowie, reporting live from the Metropolitan Opera House.” There was another silence before the follwing was said even louder than before. “Well you hold the damn mike. I’m gonna see if the bar’s open.”

As the women giggled at this, Gabriel reach up to turn the radio off. Very quickly, Simon’s hand shot out and clenched it. He gave his father a dirty look. Gabriel merely pulled his hand away before placing it back on the steering wheel before looking forward again and driving onward.

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

Calvin Arnegie pressed a finger to the comlink imbedded in his ear. “Mr. Goldstein, do you copy?”

A rough voice replied, “Goldstein here, over.”

“Do a final systems check. These people are here for a show and it has to go on now.” He said this while navigating through the now packed lobby as he began making his way backstage to the dressing room where the band was waiting.

As he walked, various voices came over the comlink to confirm the proceedings.

“Electrics, are we a go?”

“We’re running on a few generators, but we’re also hooked up to the main grid. We are a go.”

“Lights?”

“Most of the lights are fine. We have a few burn outs, though. Could you wait ten minutes for us to change the bulbs?”

“That is a negative. We need to start right away. Get down from there now, lights. Sound?”

“Had to drag out some of the old programs, but we are a go.”

“Maintenance?”

“Yeah, we got a backed up toilet on the third floor and some minor damage here on the floor, but we can get that all fixed up in half an hour.”

“Do we have running water?”

“Just got it hooked up ten minutes ago. Other than the toilet and the minor damage, we are a go.”

“Beverages?”

“We got some alcohol from some places nearby, but I think we’ll need more. There’s this reporter guy here whose already drunk a whole case of saki.”

“Kick him out. We don’t need lush’s sticking up the joint.”

“Other than that, we are a go.”

“Stage, are the amps and instruments in place?”

“Just got them on and powered up. We are a go.”

“Mr. Arnegie, we are good to go.”

“Thank you, Mr. Goldstein. Over and out.”

Calvin said this as he opened the door to the backstage area. Unlike the lobby and the hallways, the backstage area was strangely quiet, aside from the few stagehands that were going around, making sure everything was ready. He was surprised at how many were here, doing this impromptu concert, and for free no less. He couldn’t help but feel a little excited himself. He approached the dressing room and opened the door.

All the members of the band were there. Johnny was leaning back on a chair, inhaling one more cigarette before they went out. Keith was downing a beer mixed with an energy drink to get him pumped up. After finishing the drink, he began to jump up and down to get his heart racing. George was pacing around slightly nervous and Cliff was warming up on a keyboard that was off to the side of the room. Only River was still. She merely laid back in her chair, eyes closed and smile on face as she ran her fingertips over the guitar strings.

“Gentlemen, lady. I’ve just gotten confirmation from my stage manager. We are a go.”

They all got up and began making their way to the stage. As they stepped out of the room, they could hear the chatter of the main auditorium all the way out there. As George closed the door behind him, The Dude came running up to them out of breath.

“Dude, where were you?” asked Johnny.

“I was being interviewed by some reporter. Apparantly, we’re live.”

“What?” Keith asked in shock.

“Yeah, the CBC is broadcasting this live over the radio, and I think they got some cameras from when they used to broadcast old shows here over the Cortex out of storage. We’re going out over the ‘verse.”

“Sweet merciful Buddha,” George replied. After a beat, he replied enthusiastically, “That is so cool. Guess you can’t stop it.”

“Stop what?” The Dude asked.

“The signal. It’s this thing this one hacker I used to know kept saying over and over. You can’t stop the signal.”

As soon as he said that, River’s eyes lit up. “Signal. That’s what we should call ourselves. That should be the name of our band.”

The Dude registered this and thought about it for a few seconds. “Yeah…” He nodded his head in agreeance. “Yeah, we should call ourselves that. It’s simple, it’s catchy, it’s out there, and it tells the audience who we are. What do you guys think?”

They each nodded and sounded off in approval. “Then it’s settled.” The Dude stood up and held his hand over the group. “I officially dub thee Signal. Now go out there and give ‘em Hell. River, you have my permission to break some legs if we need the luck.”

River smiled as they headed towards the stage. When they reached the wings of the main stage, The Dude went off to the side and told some stage hands to get him a mike to introduce the band. Signal, on the other hand, huddled together before they got ready to go on stage. River couldn’t help but feel accepted as Johnny and Keith pulled her in so close that all their heads were together. “This is something we normally did in other bands.” Keith said to her quickly before addressing the rest of the band. “Repeat after me.” He then began to sing, “Come on my back for a piggy-back ride.” The rest of them joined in with the second “Come on my back for a piggy-back ride.” And they all reached a crescendo with the third “Come on my back FOR A PIGGY-BACK RIDE.” They then broke off and got ready to walk onto the stage. Johnny said to them quickly “We start off with some Green Day to get them on their toes. After that, we do the classic classics. The Stones, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Who, Zeppelin. And if you don’t know them completely, just make it up as you go along.”

As the house lights dimmed, the crowd went from a chatter to a roar as they cheered for what was about to happen. Over the freshly activated loudspeaker, The Dude’s voice rang out over the excited audience.

“Coming to you live from the Metropolitain Opera House here in downtown Capital City of Osiris, here is a band that has been in the making for two hundred years. From all over the ‘verse, these gifted souls are here tonight to blow your mind, and rock your world. The hardest working band in Osiris, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, PUT YOUR HANDS TOGETHER….FOR SIG-NAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLL!!!”

The place practically exploded in volume as River, Johnny, Keith, Cliff and George walked out onto the stage and looked out into the crowd. It was a good thing the stage lights were nearly blinding them. Had they seen that the place was literally crowded to the rafters with people desperate to hear what they had to play and sing, a few of them would have shat bricks. As they took their positions on stage, they braced themselves for what they were about to do.

As River plugged the amp into her guitar, she took a deep breath as she let in the hundreds, if not thousands of souls that were in that building into her own. She felt the intense energy that was coming from them all and smiled. She had heard thousands of voices in her head before, but this time they were not in pain. They were in anticipation of something to believe in. Of something that River had found both four years ago and 24 hours ago. It was only fair to give it back to people who needed it the most.

She looked behind her, getting the guys’ attention. She looked over to Johnny, raised her eyebrows and mouthed ‘base’ as she pointed at him. And as he switched over to a base setting, she interrupted the roaring with a melody line that shot through the air like a missile. The rest of the band joined in at the same level of intensity and were off like a shot. Johnny doubled the melody line River was playing at a fevered pitch and joined in with her as they sang the first few lyrics of the night.

“Don't want to be an Alliance idiot,” they snarled into the mikes as they heard the beating of George’s drums before playing the familiar phrase again and again in between the lyrics. “Don't want a ‘verse under the new media….And can you hear the sound of hysteria?...The subliminal mindfuck Allaince-a.” Johnny screamed an “All right” as River played the tune on her guitar. They roared into the chorus in unison.

“Welcome to a new kind of tension…All across the alien nation, everything isn't meant to be okay…See the Cortex dreams of tomorrow, were not the ones who're meant to follow, well that's enough to argue.”

They sang the last line of the chorus as a rhetorical question, but the audience took it as a call to arms. The cheering became louder (if that was at all possible) as they went into the second verse, updating the lyrics to make them more relevant.

“Well maybe I'm the Browncoat Alliance-a…I'm not a part of a purple agenda...Now everybody do the propaganda…And sing along in the age of paranoia.” As they repeated the chorus, they began to move around. Rather than be confined to their mike stands, they added some showmanship into the playing. They began to jump up into the amps and then jump off. Of course, this was nothing compared to when during the guitar solo, River slid onto her knees and began ripping into the strings of her guitar. Her right hand became a blur and she channeled the energy she was getting from the audience into her playing, which went back out and into the people in the crowd. It was a circuit that got more powerful with every note she played. She quickly got up to her feet as she went back to the mike and sang the first verse and the chorus over again with Johnny. As they winded down the song and then abruptly ended, they looked out to the audience again. As they saw the sea of upturned faces jumping up and down to their will, they realized that they were truly on the threshold of something monumental. They looked around, to George, Cliff, Keith and then to each other. River could see the smallest hint of a smile in Johnny as he looked at his destiny.

“Well, there’s no stopping now,” she thought as they began their next song and continued what they came there to do.

COMMENTS

Thursday, December 14, 2006 2:15 AM

AMDOBELL


Oh yeah, Can't Stop the Signal!!! My favourite part was Regan dragging her dying self to face up to Gabriel and tell him what for. Loved that River gets to play in the Metro AND show her folks a new side of herself. If that doesn't get through her father's thick hide nothing will. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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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.

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