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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
The Confession of Dr. Rendell.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2313 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Simon waited patiently for Dr. Rendell in his lab – what was left of it. While it had been ages since Simon had been in a real laboratory, it was obvious to his unpracticed eye that several major pieces of equipment were missing. What was left was mostly minor things, and several places had large containers of lab supplies stacked up for what had apparently been months. Maybe years. This wasn’t a working lab any more, it was a glorified storage closet.
Simon knew that Dr. Rendell was being relentlessly prepped by Dr. Romano for the interview, but he didn’t care. As exciting as it was to meet the man most directly responsible for the birth of the Reavers, he was far more excited about the possibility of curing River’s brain. Hopefully his desperate attempt to bribe Romano would produce the insight he needed to undertake the process – if nothing else, it would point out the direction of his future research.
Finally the door to the lab opened and a haggard looking man in a shabby lab-coat ambled in. DR. RENDELL was stenciled on the coat, with GROUP THREE PROJECT LEADER below it. Below that someone had taken a permanent marker and added MAD SCIENTISTS UNION LOCAL 781 and a crudely drawn cartoon of a psychotic-looking lab mouse, complete with bulging cranium. At least he had a sense of humor.
“Dr. Rendell,” he said, standing and bowing formally. Rendell returned the bow with a minimum of formality. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.”
“Likewise,” Rendell said, smiling. For a man whose head was on the proverbial chopping block, he seemed much too at ease. Simon realized that the man was serious – he was looking forward to this. “I’ve been wondering when you would show up. I’ve been waiting for you for more than a decade, now.”
“I . . . beg your pardon?” Simon said.
“Inspector, I killed thirty million people. Someone was bound to notice, eventually.”
“You seem pretty cavalier about the whole thing, Doctor,” Simon said, warily.
“I’ve just grown used to living with my own personal horror every day,” he said, rolling a comfortably battered office chair over to the seat Simon had found. “In a way, I revel in it. What I have done is so profoundly evil that the very least I can do is suffer through the thought of it every day. Not all of my colleagues were so moralistic, I’m afraid. Guptil turned, Soal hides among the mice, and Serberg committed suicide. Stevens went mad. I, alone, am left to face the consequences of our collective actions. And I am relieved to finally do so. You see, there is no punishment the Parliament can give me that is equal to my crimes – death would be a welcome luxury.”
“That’s an unusual position to take,” Simon offered. “Most of your peers, it would seem, are hell-bent to blame anyone else but themselves.”
“Oh, not me. I’m responsible. You caught me. I’m ready to talk. As a matter of fact, talking to you, now, is really the only reason I didn’t follow Serberg out the airlock. Someone had to know the truth – the whole truth – about Paxalon. And I am the only one who knows the whole truth.”
“You and Romano,” Simon supplied.
“No, Inspector, there are things about Paxalon and Miranda that even Dr. Romano doesn’t know,” he said, sighing. “I think I need a drink – join me? Scotch? Real Scotch from Celtia. I’ve been saving it for a special occasion. This very one, actually.” He got up and opened a box marked EXPIRED REAGENTS – DISPOSE OF PROPERLY!
“Why not?” Simon asked, though he knew it was a violation of protocol. “So what can you add to the narrative that Dr. Romano failed to?”
“Oh, a great many things I would imagine. Romano never did read our reports as carefully as he should have, of course – senior administrators rarely do. If he had he might have guessed, but I suppose the destruction of his career had him distracted. He just read the summaries and abstracts. I put it all there for him to find, but he lived up to my expectations and missed it completely.”
“What did he not find?” Simon watched the amber liquid flow into the two dusty tumblers Rendell had produced from the box.
“My deepest, darkest secret. I purposefully sabotaged the experiment.”
It took a few moments for that information to sink in. “What?” Simon asked, dully.
“I sabotaged the Paxalon experiment. Almost from the beginning. The fact is, Inspector, I never intended to get into this line of research, and once I realized its implications I knew I had to do something. So I did. Miranda and the Reavers were the result.” Dr. Rendell said it matter-of-fact, as if he had practiced the speech for a decade or so.
“You killed thirty million people? And made the Reavers? On purpose?” whispered Simon in horror.
“Yes, Inspector,” Rendell said, setting the glass next to Simon before taking his seat. “It was a tragic necessity, but a necessity all the same.”
“That’s going to require a little more explanation,” he finally was able to manage after he sipped the liquor. It was exquisite, a pure delight on the palate, but Simon barely registered it.
“I figured as much. Very well, Inspector, consider this my full confession: I knowingly, and with malice aforethought, falsified the results of my early tests and purposefully introduced elements into the final Paxalon product that didn’t just abate aggression in the primate central nervous system, but actively shut down all higher ambitions. And I likewise introduced the factors that allowed a small percentage of the subjects – victims – to experience the extreme aberrant reaction to the drug.”
“For the love of God, WHY?” Simon pleaded. “I’ve . . . been to Miranda! It’s . . .” he couldn’t continue, struck speechless by the horror he felt.
“It was hell,” agreed Rendell. “Oh, I know – and I saw it when it was fresh. But my soul was destroyed long before then, Inspector. There wasn’t anything left to give. But it was better than the alternative. You see, Stevens and I didn’t fail. We succeeded. Brilliantly. We had perfected a Paxalon formulation that established a perfect balance, allowing the subject to achieve a complete cessation of aggressive thoughts and behaviors without further impairing his ability to function. It worked spectacularly on our patient populations here. No side effects, airborne, the perfect drug. We had produced exactly what we were asked to.
“And that was . . . problematic. You see, once Stevens and I realized what we had accomplished, we also realized just how insidious our work was. Imagine it, Inspector, every world in the Alliance living peacefully in harmony with each other. No more war, no more security issues, no more violent crime.”
“It sounds utopic to me,” Simon admitted.
“I’m sure the Argonauts felt the same way about the Land of the Lotus Eaters,” agreed Rendell. “But that did not change the result. Yes, aggression would have been rooted out. The masses would be completely, tranquilly happy . . . no matter what. Starvation, deprivation, human misery would all become minor inconveniences to them, as long as they were under our original formulation. They would not fight. They would not revolt. They would not rebel. They would not complain. Ever. At all. Which means that our fearless leaders would be able to govern at whim without fear of opposition. I was not designing utopia, Inspector, I was forging the bonds of tyrrany.”
“That’s . . . a policy decision, isn’t it?”
“And so I shouldn’t worry my pretty little head about it? ‘Above my pay-grade’?” He laughed, bitterly. “That’s what Einstein and Oppenheimer said, essentially, wasn’t it? They let the warriors take the gifts of science and abuse humanity with them. No, Inspector, when it is my work that is concerned, my pay grade is perfectly sufficient for this determination. I have a responsibility, not just to my employer, not just to the Alliance, but to all of humanity. And handing the ultimate tool of repression over to the government – any government – would have consigned us to an endless stagnation and inevitable totalitarianism. All of us. Tell me, inspector, what man would you trust with that kind of power? Can you think of one person in your life with whom you would trust it?”
“Not offhand,” Simon admitted.
“Oppenheimer gave us atomic weaponry, but with Pax weaponry wouldn’t be needed at all. Any non-violent behavior could be compelled from the Pax-infected populations. The leadership, whomever that might turn out to be, would be in absolute control . . . indefinitely. We would become a quiescent slave-race, with no recourse to abuses of power. Entire worlds enslaved, abused by corporate interests, at the mercy of whatever government structure evolved. Certainly not a representative democracy – those days would be behind us. I could not be responsible for that, and Stevens and I determined that it was worth any price, any sacrifice, to ensure that it did not happen.”
“So why didn’t you just, I don’t know, quit? Jump out an airlock? Disappear?”
“Our work was too well documented – it wouldn’t have taken a competent researcher but a few years to re-create it. No, the Paxalon project had to fail, and fail utterly, spectacularly. That’s why Stevens created the aberrations.”
“He . . . created them?”
“Yes, while he was ostensibly conducting basic research he was actually figuring out how to reverse the process. His first few animal models were . . . terrifying. Nightmarish. We thought their emergence would poison the project, make everyone back off that line of research. But no, Romano pressed ahead despite the aberrations. In fact they seemed to excite him. He wanted human trials. We were reluctant to inflict that madness on another human being, of course, but the stakes were too high, and we were already committed. Of course, volunteers for that kind of research are few and far between. We never thought that they would actually find anyone, much less convince them of the necessity of the tests.
“But then one day a team from the Corps of Engineers shows up, expands the ship, and the next thing you know they’re off-loading POWs from the Rim, and turning this Petri dish into a prison camp. We had all the human subjects we could ask for.” He sounded bitter about it.
“But aren’t prisoners-of-war covered by treaty obligations? Going back to Nuremburg, at least. Didn’t you see it was unethical to subject them to research? They are a textbook definition of a ‘vulnerable population’ – they can’t say no. And, therefore, they cannot give consent.”
“Which is why Romano and his military liaisons were able to arrange a special Public Health declaration and quarantine that effectively overrides those regulations.”
“It didn’t remove your ethical responsibility to them,” Simon pointed out.
“No, it didn’t. But the prisoners were willing enough to cooperate, at first. Compared to some of the real prison camps, this wasn’t so bad. And we had enough innocuous experiments – like Romano’s frankensteinian intelligence projects and some interesting blood work we were doing – to keep them from getting upset. Believe me, we didn’t want to experiment on them, but by that time the ship was full of soldiers. One of my early colleagues, Dr. Ro, she objected violently to using the prisoners in such a way. She demanded to be let off the project – insisted on it. So Colonel Ho let her off the project. Out an airlock. Without a ship on the other side. During a staff meeting.”
“Barbaric,” Simon sighed.
“After that the ethical objections were . . . more muted. Stevens and I were in a panic – our work was going too well. Our first three trials were great successes, despite the occasional aberration. The prisoners were docile, obedient, model citizens. We looked around and saw them shuffling back and forth through the corridors and we knew then that we were looking at the future of the human race, if we succeeded. Every successful trial made Romano and his superiors that much more anxious to proceed. And it convinced Stevens and I of the importance of us failing.
“We produced more aberrations, but that didn’t deter them. Romano even gave us ‘acceptable’ levels of aberration, up to five percent. Five percent, Inspector. Imagine if Miranda had had a level of aberration of five percent. Instead of a few tens of thousand Reavers raiding the outer colonies, there would be an army of a million and a half. A million and a half. That was an ‘acceptable’ risk to my superiors, at first.
“Eventually we had too many aberrations to house comfortably and securely in the lab. The Captain ordered the lowest three decks on the ship to be sealed off and the aberrations were forced into them. There were protein dispensers and plumbing in place, so they could be fed and watered remotely. We expected them to kill each other off, but they didn’t. They don’t usually attack each other, at least we don’t think so, but honestly no one who has ever ventured Below has returned to give a detailed observation.”
“The last time I really objected to anything around here was when Ho began sending ‘intractable’ prisoners into the area for ‘special work assignment’. I was asked to accompany the first party down Below, to observe the aberrations’ behavior. I got my fill. Five men were sent Below, and while I stood there and watched with a squad of heavily armed guards, the aberrations attacked them. Two of them. And then we were treated to the horrific sound of them being raped, one at a time, for over an hour. Raped and tortured. The prisoner detail that was with us was justifiably horrified, and it worked admirably as a tool to keep the prisoners in line. And the aberrations fed.”
“But the work continued. The pressure was on – there were some in Parliament who thought that a single barrage of Paxalon would be enough to gas any Independent world into submission. They didn’t understand how it works, of course, and with four layers of mis-direction – not to mention a whole lot of vacuum – between me and the committee who authorized the project, they weren’t going to. It was a magic bullet to stop the war, something both the doves and the hawks could get behind. What were a few thousand nameless POWs, anyway, compared to the sanctity of Unification?
“So we were forced to increase the degree of aberration, while reducing its over-all impact. And we had to skew our test results to bring the levels of quiescence to lethal levels. And we had to do it all without being noticed by Romano. The war was raging back then – about the time we had finished the first human trials here, the battle of Tietam was just finished, and pressure for our solution was heavy. It was still thought that just releasing Paxalon into the atmosphere would stop the Independents. They didn’t understand that to keep the effect constant that the atmo towers themselves would have to be modified, or the effect wouldn’t last. They even did field tests on Athens and Bellarophon, and despite our best efforts to sabotage them the results were promising enough to convince the Alliance to proceed with a larger test. They considered the risk of aberration to be a minor inconvenience. They apparently interpreted ‘overly aggressive behavior’ listed in the reports as being on par with a belligerent drunk – you can thank Romano for that interpretation – and saw the benefit worth the cost.”
The man sighed and rubbed his eyes with his hand. “After the Athens tests we were ordered to perfect a Paxalon agent for planet-wide dispersal. It was ludicrous, of course – you don’t subject an entire world to such an experiment without decades of study. But they were adamant, and insisted on our team defining specification for the experiment. We wanted it to fail, if you recall, so Stevens and I hacked together some wild arguments about needing a population of at least twenty million to make it a fair test.”
“That seems . . . excessive,” Simon observed. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from the scientist as he calmly related the story. There should be spooky music for this kind of revelation, not the hum of electric lights and ventilation.
“That’s what we thought – it was outrageous. There were only three or four planets on the Rim who had that kind of population – and they were in enemy hands. Use one of the precious Core-worlds? Impossible. Too close to home. We thought we had stumped them, given them impossible conditions. But then, this was the Universal Alliance we are talking about. They found a way.”
“Miranda,” Simon said, simply.
“Yes, Miranda. It was a failed project, one of the many that had gone into receivership back in ’91 during the recession. It was in the Delta system, as you know, far beyond the easily inhabited areas. A plutonic remnant, hardly worth the effort. But when the Alliance acquired it and put some effort into it, they brought it up to habitability within eighteen months. It took a massive soliel to bring the sunshine, and even though the gravity and atmo had somewhat stabilized, and there was a small ocean, the planet was still rough. But it was Alliance territory, and they started resettlement immediately.”
“I’ve always wondered how they got to move 30 million people to a planet and not have anyone notice. In the middle of a war.”
“That’s actually how they did it,” Rendell admitted. “They were conscripting people by the hundreds of thousands a month in the Core, even back then. They selected people with families and told them that they could skip their military service if they and their children would consent to emigrate to a special colony. They would be given housing, jobs – they had built several munitions and equipment factories there – and would play an important role in winning the war. They weren’t even told where they were going until they arrived – the bloodbath at Tietam and the mess at Sturges were making everyone in the Core nervous, and had they known that Miranda was on the Browncoats’ doorstep, well, they might have been more hesitant.
“But they weren’t, and two years after we had given them the initial specs, I was told that a world was ready for the test. I was shocked, when I found out about Miranda, but by that time it was too late. We were committed. We either had to give them the effective form of the drug, or we . . . we had to ensure that the experiment was an utter failure.”
“That’s a difficult position to be in,” admitted Simon. “I honestly don’t know what I would have done.”
Rendell laughed. “You? You’re a spit-and-polish Parliament lackey – don’t tell me you would have made the sacrifice I did.”
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me,” Simon said, evenly.
“There was a lot I didn’t know about myself,” agreed Rendell. “I never thought I would be in the position of settling the war, all by myself. But then I found myself crawling around inside atmosphere plants on a raw world, knowing that I was willingly consigning to death all the hard-working, friendly people who were assisting me. But I couldn’t let them be the first of a new breed of slaves, either. The entire experience was . . . surreal. And, of course, we didn’t know if our sabotage would be effective. Stevens and I could have been facing a firing squad for what we were doing, instead of walking around with a military escort. But no one checked our work. Hell, it was so classified that no one actually on Miranda knew the full extent of the modifications we were making.”
Rendell re-filled his glass, and Simon stifled the urge to ask for another. He had to stay on his toes, after all, and the story was just too enthralling to miss.
“So when did you first learn about the Miranda disaster?”
“Three days after we returned here – that was the last time I left this hell-hole, by the way. Contact broke down with the colony. That raised a red flag, of course. The Alliance diverted a few gun-boats from patrolling and had them land 4,000 troops on Miranda to investigate. They lost touch with the troops. A frigate was dispatched six weeks later. It never returned. Well, not as an Alliance ship.”
“The Reavers,” Simon nodded.
“Yes. The Reavers never would have left Miranda had not the Alliance sent those ships. Unfortunately, the break-down in the aggression centers indicative of the aberration has little impact on cognitive ability. They might be inhuman savage cannibals, but the men and women who were unfortunate enough to become Reavers still recalled their technical training and still had possession of their skills. And they could work together, as we found out. When those Alliance ships landed, they allowed the Reavers to escape off-world in heavily armed war ships and spread their taint to other places. The only remote reports we had were the confirmation of the dead. Thirty Million. That’s the night that Stevens went mad and Serbug took her space walk.
“Of course by then the Independents were pressing hard, and the failure of the project and the needs of the war kept any further rescues from being attempted. Military Intelligence proceeded to wipe Miranda from the record – all of the colonists had been prepped for ‘classified’ work, and had told their loved ones that they would be out of communication for a while, so there wasn’t much blow-back. There was a war on . . . that covered a lot of territory. And anyone who asked too many questions got a visit from the government. After a while, people stopped asking questions.”
“That’s . . . amazing,” Simon said with a sigh. “Honestly, it’s too big for me to take in, all at once.”
“The recriminations were strong – Romano shut down the whole program for a while, and at first I thought we were off the hook. Then, just before the war official ended, the Alliance sent a science team to Miranda. I assume you’ve seen the one and only transmission they waved back.”
“Yes,” Simon said, recalling the pretty young researcher who had delivered the captures and commentary on Miranda’s status before she had been raped, killed, and eaten by Reavers. The Alliance had possessed that knowledge for almost a decade, now, but the message was no doubt labeled extremely classified and hidden within the bowels of the Citadel on Londinium. It had taken Malcolm Reynolds and the crew of Serenity to bring it to the public – and they had paid a terrible price for the trouble.
“After that all official work on Paxalon was stopped. Oh, we did a few minor follow-up studies, but that was make-work. At that time it was also decided to conduct the ruse that the war was not yet over – a temporary thing, they told us. But we didn’t work on it any more. In fact, the only place where the legitimate formula for Pax remains is in here,” Rendell said, tapping his temple, “and in a file on this card.” He took a single data card out of his pocket. “That’s it, right there: the secret to total control of humanity.”
Simon stared at it like it was a snake. “That’s it? The only place?”
“As far as you know,” he agreed. Unlimited power, in the right hands. Or wrong hands, as the case may be. I carry it around with me to remind me of the awesome responsibility God put in my lap. I didn’t ask for it. I didn’t want it. But I was put in a position and given the chance to change the ‘verse, and I did what I had to do.”
“You are aware that I’m recording this conversation, aren’t you?”
“I’m counting on it. In fact, here is another card I carry around. It has a three-hour capture of me detailing my experiences on the Suri Madron, it names names within the military and government, it demonstrates malfeasance and unethical behavior on the part of nearly everyone involved, and it contains copies of the data we faked. I did all this in the hopes that someday – someday! – it would get played before Parliament, so that these people will be held to account for their actions. Myself included.”
“So you fully accept the responsibility for killing thirty million people,” Simon summarized.
“In exchange for saving fifteen billion from eternal slavery, yes.”
“And you have no fear of any actions that might result as a consequence.”
“I eagerly anticipate them. I assure you, no amount of torture or misery is enough. I deserve every bit of it and more. We all do. Simple execution. . . it would be far too merciful, in my opinion. For what we have done . . .”
Simon shook his head as the man trailed off, his eyes less bright, now. He felt uncomfortable in the face of his confession. That story certainly shed new light on the Miranda situation, and the data he provided would no doubt be very valuable to the Browncoats and their silly quest. It was clear the man was teetering on the edge of sanity, now, and now that he had unburdened himself to Simon he seemed relieved . . . and old.
“Dr. Rendell,” Simon said with a sigh, “I don’t know if you are the greatest villain since Shan Yu or the greatest hero. Unlike you, I have to defer that judgment a few pay grades above me. I will say that you have my sympathy for what you were forced to do.”
“I don’t want sympathy,” Rendell said, flatly. “I don’t need it. I don’t want it. I don’t deserve it. I deserve . . . well, at the very least, a bullet in the brain or a trip out the airlock.”
“As you said, that would be a mercy. And the Parliament isn’t known for its mercy. Particularly now that the Miranda story is in the public reckoning. I cannot promise that you will be treated well.”
“I shouldn’t be. We should all be hanged . . . or turned over to the Reavers. What we have done is wrought horror and abomination on a pristine solar system. War was bad enough – but the inhumanity of Pax and the politics behind its development – if you have any moral courage at all, you will lobby for executions.”
“As I said: above my pay grade. But I don’t mind telling you that I will personally testify on your behalf, if that makes any difference.” It was a metric ton of fe hua to say so, but Simon felt compelled somehow to reach out with some show of compassion to this man.
What would he have done? He could just imagine it: a detour from emergency medicine and trauma surgery, discover his aptitude and growing interest in neurology, eventually get into theoretical work, sidetrack into research . . . Simon had no illusions about his intelligence. He knew he was a genius, by definition, and if River hadn’t been around as a child to keep him humble, a task at which she excelled, he probably would have grown up into an insufferable twit. (He reflected that there were some who might argue that he had.) He could very well have ended up as the kind of brilliant surgeon who ended up in places like the Suri Madron . . . or the Academy. Superior intelligence and a first-class education did not keep the baser drives at bay, the great motivating emotions: lust for success, achievement, recognition. He very easily could have ended up in Dr. Rendell’s shoes.
So what would he have done? He wondered. Presupposing he had taken that track, and he had found himself suddenly and un-enviably in Dr. Rendell’s shoes, had he been presented with the same dilemma, could he have made that choice?
Was he even entirely certain it had been the right choice?
He suddenly had new respect for this man. He could see him as a young man, at the bleeding edge of theory, gallantly hacking the unknown into small, easy-to-digest bite sized bits. Once a highly competent, respected researcher content to push the boundaries of science in his own narrow field in pursuit of fame, fortune, and a trophy wife, then forced by fate and circumstance to make an impossible choice between two futures for humanity. Simon hoped he would have had the fortitude and courage to make a similar decision, but he also knew that it was just as possible that he would have shut up and done what he was told, allowing those ‘above his paygrade’ to rule the fate of billions by using him like a particularly sharp tool. The difference between that other Simon, he suddenly realized, and the one that sat here and listened to a truth that only a few souls in the ‘verse were privy to, was the compassion and determination that he had developed protecting his sister from his domineering mother – and, by extension, the rest of the ‘verse. River was special, he knew, and he had known it since childhood.
Not just as a mega-genius whose intellect dwarfed everyone else’s, Simon realized, but because of the effect she had had on his development. She had kept him from becoming into the intolerable elitist Mother so desperately wanted him to be with her constant challenges and maddening games . . . and her gentle nature, when she wasn’t ambushing him in some psychotic game only she knew the rules to. With River as a playmate, mere social position and achievement, status and class became unimportant to the adventure. When your every word is subject to the cool and laser-sharp scrutiny of a determined genius who always seemed to know more than you, vapid social pursuits were pointless and you learned to choose every word with the utmost of care.
Simon remembered a time when he actively disliked River for her maddening games, when his sister had seemed to be a constant annoyance. Then she had been gone, and the hole that she had left in his life could not be filled by mere school, career, or social climbing. There was no adventure, there, and no challenge. Simon knew that before he had figured out something was amiss at the Academy, he was headed towards the same sort of droll banality that might have lead him to someplace like . . . here. He would have become susceptible to the lure of prestige and money and recognition. They would have offered him interesting work and out of boredom he would have taken it. They would have invoked duty and class and patriotism and all of those other bribes and levers that the powerful use to gain the talents of the geniuses of the ‘verse. Toys and pretty baubles as the carrot, and then the threat of losing them as the stick. Simon realized with shame that he very well have found himself there, even as a surgeon.
And when they asked him to cut into the brain of a perfectly healthy 14 year old test subject, and all the paperwork was filled out, would he have been able to drill into her skull and surgically maim her in the interest of science? Would he have considered her as a sister or a daughter, or would he have consigned her as a mere patient number and a procedural record and started cutting because that was what he was supposed to do?
He very deliberately decided not to pursue that thought further. He was terrified of the answer.
But it did make him appreciate his sister on a whole new level. Even if he hadn’t been offered some sinister secret career in some clandestine government lab, without River’s influence in his life he would have headed in the direction that would have at least made him susceptible to the offer. He thought about the kind of person he would have become, and he definitely didn’t like that thought. Saving River from the Academy had been an act of determined desperation, but it had saved him, he suddenly knew, just as much as it had saved her. When seen from the perspective of Dr. Rennell’s life, Simon realized just how grateful he was to River for jerking him back into the wild adventure that challenged his humanity.
He owed her far more than he ever dreamed. She had made him the man he was, and compared to how he would have become without her, he preferred this man to that unequivocally. As much as he pitied Dr. Rendell and the other researchers on the Suri Madron, he couldn’t help that part of their predicament was their own damn fault. Too many geniuses sitting around playing god was just too big an attraction for the military and the politicians. The people who wielded power saw science and research as a tool, and the people who performed the magic were just as much a tool. The scientists here had consented to be that tool, and so they shared at least some of the blame. They had allowed the warriors and the chiefs to steal their magic.
Simon couldn’t help but learn from the lesson. As his old life on Osiris faded away into memory, only to be taken over by his new and far more exciting life, he knew that he preferred this life, as chaotic and dangerous as it was, to how he would have turned out if River had just gone to the Bohr Dance Academy like she had wanted. They would have drifted apart, become mere acquaintances, not real friends, sharing only a few brief memories of childhood at obligatory family holiday gatherings before returning to their busy lives. Sad. Pathetic. He would gladly have traded that secure, joyless existence for all the times he had held River in the middle of the night in Serenity’s passenger dorm as she thrashed through another nightmare.
While Simon mused and put away the data in his recorder, Dr. Rendell stared into space. He finally looked Simon’s way.
“You know, I always thought that when—”
He didn’t finish the thought – there were three distant pops echoing down the corridor.
“Are those . . . gunshots?” the startled old doctor asked, confused.
Before Simon could answer in the affirmative – he had become something of an expert, lately – there was a much louder boom from a different direction, and the unmistakable – and inherently terrifying – sudden drop in air pressure. Dr. Rendell’s eyes were wide as he frantically sought a working terminal in the lab. Simon looked at his chronometer and saw that there was still hours yet before the operation was supposed to start. This couldn’t be the rescue party. Not yet. Something had gone wrong, he knew. And that did not bode well for his future.
“Yes, well, you just can’t buy this kind of fun back home,” he muttered to himself under his breath as he checked the power cell in his sleek laser side-arm.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008 4:31 PM
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