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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
What is that thing attached to Serenity’s hull? Who put it there? Reaver Studies
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1946 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
Follows ONE MAN’S TRASH (08). Precedes TWO BY TWO BY TWO (10).
The series so far:
A LION’S MOUTH (01)
ADVENTURES IN SITTING (02)
SPARKS FLY (03)
BREAK OUT (05)
THE TRIAL (06)
ONE MAN’S TRASH (08)
What is that thing attached to Serenity’s hull? Who put it there? Reaver Studies
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* * *
Mal and Kaylee made a brief spacewalk to retrieve the foreign object Kaylee had spotted on her shuttle flight with Simon. Mindful of what had happened during the last spacewalk he’d made with Kaylee when the navsats failed, Mal was on the lookout for signs of sabotage or booby trap, but none was evident. If not for the fact that the object didn’t belong there, it seemed benign.
Mal and Zoe reviewed the security vid taken portside. It was 狗屎的 gǒushǐde footage, due to the poor quality of Serenity’s aging security cam, but one thing became clear: the object wasn’t there when they left Persephone with the cargo of cattle, and it was there when they landed on Beylix. It had somehow been acquired during the journey, so either it was something leftover from the Shadow experiments, or it had somehow been attached to the ship by stealth somewhere along the way. Ip, River, and Jayne had made the spacewalk during the Shadow fly-by on that journey, and Simon and Kaylee had been involved in prepping the scientific instruments for that spacewalk, so Mal called them all into the dining room to see if they could identify the object.
River immediately spoke. “That’s not one of ours.”
Kaylee agreed. “That’s not anything I had a hand in prepping. See how they got the hypertronic phased array rigged? I’ll have to open it up to check, but it looks like they got an indirect connection. I woulda wired it directly to the power amplifier—save energy and boost the signal.”
Simon nodded sagely in agreement, although Mal suspected he had no idea what the object was.
“Don’t look at me, Mal,” Jayne said. “River and Ip had a dozen a’ them blinky boxes set up topside—I couldn’t tell one from t’other.”
“Do you recognize it?” Mal asked Ip.
“Sure do,” Ip replied readily. “It’s a locator beacon. Just like the one I put in the lander unit I sent down to Shadow’s surface. Only this one has a much bigger antenna, and a more powerful amplifier. It’s designed to transmit over a huge distance. The one I sent down to Shadow—I could pick it up from near orbit, maybe, but not much farther. This one—hard to say, but it’s quite possible it could be read even as far away as the Core.”
“The Core?” Mal wouldn’t have guessed. The device looked so simple. “So this here’s not so much a locator beacon as a tracking device.”
Ip looked directly into the Captain’s eye as he agreed. “I believe you’re right.”
“Now who’d want to be tracking us?” Mal asked, almost rhetorically.
River replied with a look that startled Mal with its intensity. She said nothing, but he understood exactly what she meant.
“Can you disable the transmitter on this thing?” Mal asked Kaylee, but it was Ip who replied.
“Sure can. I used these all the time, when I worked for Blue Sun.”
“Then get to work.” Mal wasn’t about to leave a Blue Sun tracking device on Serenity. “Kaylee, I want you monitoring this process, every step of the way. Make sure you understand exactly what Ip is doing.” He shot a look at River, not that it was necessary, but it was his habit to accompany all his silent communications with Zoe with a look. Follow every move like a hawk, Albatross. Can’t afford to take any chance this tracking beacon is still working.
“It’s alright, Captain,” River answered, trying out a look of her own on the Captain. He’ll do the job.
It is not alright, Albatross. Mal shot River another look. I know you like that young man, but don’t let that sway you for a second. I don’t know him well enough to trust all our lives to him—not yet. “That’s what’s at stake,” he said aloud. “Is that understood?”
“Understood, Captain,” River answered.
* * *
“Understood,” River repeated at the Captain’s retreating back, “but not comprehended. It doesn’t make sense.”
“What doesn’t make sense, River?” Kaylee asked, as she readied her tools. Ip shot River a look.
“Doesn’t make sense to disable it.”
“Sure it does, River,” Kaylee answered. “Cap’n don’t want nobody tracking our movements.” Ip looked at her with a question in his eyes, so she added, “’Cause it ain’t nobody’s business where we’re goin’.” That seemed to forestall Ip’s imminent question. Then she added, “And it certainly weren’t nobody’s business to put a tracker on Serenity without the Cap’n’s say-so. We don’t even know who done it.”
“Can find out,” River replied.
“Well, I don’t know about that,” Kaylee answered. “It weren’t there when we lifted off from Persephone, but it was there when we landed on Beylix.” She smiled innocently at Ip. “Guess we could just wave all the folks what live in space along the way between and ask ’em if they misplaced a locator beacon.”
“Kaylee, just who do you think actually lives—” Ip began, before he realized he was being had.
“You are such an easy mark,” River snickered.
“So it must have been attached during the course of our journey.” Ip spoke with logical precision as he attempted to repair the shreds of his dignity. “There really aren’t many possibilities. Only the stealth ship and the Reaver ship that chased us around Shadow were close enough to Serenity. Could one of them have—I don’t know—fired it at our hull? Stuck it on with some kind of—?”
“It’s got a magnetic adhesive,” Kaylee told them, as she examined the beacon’s surface.
“Not Reaver-made or modified,” River pronounced, as she cocked her head at the device. Kaylee and Ip swung their eyes to her. How did she know? “Rotational symmetry.” Ip and Kaylee were still staring, so River added, “Reavers prefer asymetrical designs.”
“So, not Reaver,” Kaylee mused, with a shudder. “Well, that kinda leaves the stealth ship. And that means we better get on with frying the electronics on this thing.” She picked up a screwdriver, and offered Ip his choice of tools from her box.
“Shouldn’t.” River blocked Kaylee’s access to the beacon’s housing.
“Why not, River?” Ip asked. “The Captain wants it disabled.”
“Don’t bring home the beacon and fry it up in a pan,” she replied, with an intense look. “Better to set it free, teach it to fly on its own. By indirections find directions out. How it gets there is the worthier part.”
“Sorry, River, I don’t get what you just said, honey.” Kaylee’s eyes expressed her worry that River was lapsing into one of her less-than-lucid periods.
“Speak in English or Chinese, River, not Metaphor,” Ip commanded. “It sounds like word salad when you throw something like that at us out of the blue. A person might be inclined to think you were losing your grip on sanity.” Kaylee gaped at him. No one on Serenity confronted River that way. He wasn’t done. “Don’t fall into the Sidonius trap.”
“Sidonius?” asked Kaylee, not comprehending either River or Ip at this point.
“Sidonius. Fifth century Gallo-Roman aristocrat, renowned for writing with an overload of literary devices. ‘Literary artifices, applied with an unshrinking hand’ is how I’ve heard it. Sidonius would mix metaphors with any man, and was notorious for excruciating puns. In fact, one of my professors went so far as to call Sidonius an example of ‘literary pathology’ and ‘diseased language,’ and went on to claim that his prose ‘calls aloud for the amputation of platitudes, pomposities, and verbal conceits’.” Ip was pleased that he remembered the exact quote—it had struck him as very funny at the time Professor Forsdyke had said it, and he’d written it down verbatim in his notes. “Not all of us here have studied ancient texts and cultures the way you have, River. We simply don’t have the tools to understand all of your metaphors, and I don’t think we even want to understand all of your puns.” He grinned at River, who, to Kaylee’s surprise, grinned right back. “Besides, I thought that one was a real groaner.”
River giggled. “It’s better to keep it working, but send it on its way. Out the airlock. It will take a while for them to figure out it’s no longer with us,” she translated.
“That makes sense,” Kaylee agreed, “but the Cap’n said—”
“We change course after parting ways with it,” River said with a mischievous look. “It won’t know where we’re going.”
Kaylee nodded in agreement.
“We can find out whose it is,” River added.
“I can?” he echoed, his voice rising.
“Do you have a friend in marketing?”
“Marketing?” Ip squawked. “River, is this another metaphor game? Am I supposed to play ‘Guess the Relevance’?”
“Marketing,” River snapped. “Blue Sun marketing. Check the ID codes. Correlate with the Rewards Program.”
Kaylee shook her head. She didn’t get it. But Ip’s eyes suddenly lit up. “Oh.”
“Mind like a steel trap,” River stated, looking at him.
“That’s a simile, not a metaphor,” Ip smiled.
“One that’s been left out in the rain and rusted shut,” River finished.
* * *
“Got this thing disabled yet?” Mal asked as he strode back into the dining room some time later.
“Uh, well, Cap’n—”
“Captain, we thought—”
“No,” River answered, looking him directly in the eye.
“No?!” Mal exclaimed, astonished. “Is there any reason why it ain’t done yet? Thought I made myself perfectly clear.”
“We just, uh, thought of another way—” Kaylee began, but was unable to continue in the face of the Captain’s thunderous look.
“It would be…better—” Ip started, but couldn’t keep it up as the Captain’s look was transferred to him.
“It makes more sense to keep it working.” River again addressed the Captain unflinchingly.
Insubordination! Mal thought, as he glared at River. “I don’t recall givin’ you leave to countermand my decisions, River,” he said with great annoyance.
“This way is better,” River countered, not backing down.
Mutiny! Mal had never had his orders disobeyed so blatantly. Well, not since Wash had made a regular practice of it. Or since Book had objected—or since Inara had argued—or since Zoe had told him “Yes, sir” but acted “Hell, no”—or since Kaylee had turned him from his purpose by making use of those sad puppy eyes—or since Simon had just plain refused to go along with him—oh hell, weren’t a body on this boat hadn’t disobeyed him. He threw up his hands, venting his frustration with this gorram disobedient rabble of a crew. “鬼 Guǐ, what do I know about runnin’ a ship? I’m only the captain! So feel free to do as you please. No need to consult me.”
“Sarcasm doesn’t become you, Captain,” River replied.
“It doesn’t become me?!” he exclaimed. “I’ll tell you what I’m becoming, River. I’m becoming seriously angry. And I’m armed.”
Kaylee and Ip had already backed down, but River wasn’t budging. She stood her ground, nose-to-nose with the Captain (or what would have been nose-to-nose, had he not had seven inches on her plus an extra one on account of she was barefoot). She interrupted—actually interrupted!—him.
“If the tracking beacon stops transmitting, they will know. They will conclude that it was damaged or destroyed. They will deduce that we found it. They will determine where we were when we found it.”
“River, I am not listening to this insubordinate 狗屎 gǒushǐ—”
She talked right over him. “Better to keep it working, transmitting. Send it away. Like a crybaby. Can even plan its trajectory to maximize the deception.”
“River—” he objected, but she could tell she was reaching him. She knew his whole tirade had more to do with the fact that their decision had been made without consulting him, than with any rational objection to the plan.
“Can also discover its broadcast frequency and signature. We can track it ourselves. That way we will know if someone comes to pick it up.”
“Albatross—that’s just—” he sputtered a moment “—a 聪明 cōngming plan, and it’s exactly the kind of independent thinking I’ve come to expect from you,” he finished.
“Make it so!” he ordered Kaylee and Ip. “I take it you already figured out the best trajectory and heading for us to dump this spyin’ piece of 狗屎 gǒushǐ out the airlock?”
“Do it, then. And that’s an order!”
River did her best to hide her giggles, and the Captain did his best to give her an exasperated glare, but he couldn’t keep the mirth out of his eyes.
“Captain, would you like me to find out whose locator beacon this is?” Ip volunteered, as Mal turned to leave them to it.
“You can do that?” Mal asked, surprised.
“Well, I think I can,” he replied. “Every Blue Sun-manufactured locator beacon has a unique identifying code imprinted on it. This beacon’s code has been obliterated, but I probed the CPU when we had it opened up, and pulled the serial number off of it. We just need to look up the purchaser for this particular unit.”
“Look up,” Mal echoed. “You mean there’s a list somewhere on the cortex, where you can just look up who bought this thing?” It gave him an uncomfortable feeling, truth be told, to know that someone, somewhere, was keeping track of who purchased goods like that. For what purpose? Even if it might work to his advantage this time, to find out who’d bought this gorram tracking device from Blue Sun, it made him all kinds of uneasy to think someone might find out the same kind of information about him through his legal purchases.
“Not on the cortex,” Ip replied. “It would be available through the records at Blue Sun Marketing Division. They track the purchasers of everything through a rewards program. The rewards program is voluntary, of course, but everyone participates because the prices are ridiculous unless you do. Blue Sun Marketing tracks buyers’ purchasing habits and uses the data to direct advertising toward them, as well as to regulate production and distribution of products.”
Mal thought this was an argument for black market dealing, under-the-counter and off-the-record, if he ever heard one. He didn’t want Blue Sun analyzing his every purchase. It was just giving away too much personal information. “So you can just look up this sales information?”
“Well, not directly,” Ip answered. “I’m not a Blue Sun employee anymore. But I can get one of my friends to do it.”
“Won’t somebody get suspicious, we go nosin’ around?”
“If you went nosing around, sure. But I know someone who can just go to inventory tracking and look it up. Sales information is proprietary, not classified. Easy enough for a Blue Sun employee to find out.”
“Huh,” Mal responded, then settled in to watch as River, Ip and Kaylee set to work on the tracking beacon, preparing it for its journey of deception.
“There is an art to flying,” River stated, “or rather a knack.”
“That so, Albatross?” Mal replied, as they floated slowly out the airlock in their spacesuits, with the tracking beacon held between them.
“The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.”
Mal pondered for a moment, re-configuring his thoughts of flying from a deep-space to a planet-side perspective. “Huh,” he responded, “reckon that makes sense. If you fall toward a planet from space, for instance, and miss, that just means you’ve put yourself in orbit. What’s got you thinking such poetical thoughts about flying?”
“Wasn’t thinking,” River said. “Was quoting the twentieth-century philosopher Douglas Adams.”
Not for the first time, Mal marveled at River’s fondness for quoting ancient texts. “I’m amazed you been reading twentieth century philosophical texts, River. Sounds kinda dry and boring.”
River giggled, and rolled over upside down. (Or maybe not—it all depended on your point of view. Maybe he was the one who was upside down.) “Not boring. Very amusing.”
“Hafta take your word for it, Albatross.”
She rotated slowly, taking in the multitude of stars in all directions. The view from the bridge of Serenity was stunning, but limited in scope. Out here, out in the Black, nothing but the comforting form of Serenity obscured the view. “I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth…”
“You’re twisting up the tether,” Mal replied, but couldn’t hold back a smile. Truth to tell, he felt a bit of the same awe and joy that he saw in River’s face. He’d always loved the Black.
“…done a hundred things you have not dreamed of…” She stretched out her arms and legs, extending from a tuck to a pike.
River was a creature of natural grace, Mal thought. Like a soaring bird, great wings extended, riding the currents of air…
“…wheeled and soared and swung,” River chanted, suiting action to word.
…like an albatross, Mal thought. Her nickname suited her in more ways than one.
“Just like an albatross,” River said, speaking directly to Mal. “Highly efficient. Use dynamic soaring and slope soaring to cover great distances with little exertion,” she declaimed, moving her arms and body gracefully to describe the actions. “A twenty-three to one glide ratio.”
“That ain’t half bad,” he agreed. “The shuttle don’t top that glide ratio, though a high performance glider can easily top fifty to one.” With gloved hands he steadied the tracking beacon, and when satisfied that it was unperturbed, he released it, careful not to put any spin on it.
“Learned to fly, and learned the language of the birds.”
“Don’t get carried away, River,” Mal smiled. “Get yourself into a spin, might not get you out of it again.”
“A sign of great wisdom.”
“What’s a sign of great wisdom?”
“The power to understand the language of the birds. Sigurd roasted the heart of the dragon, burned his finger: put the finger in his mouth and understood the language of the birds. Goddess Athena gave the seer Tiresias the ability to understand the language of the birds. The mystical language of the angels in Persian poet’s Conference of the Birds. The secret language of the Troubadours. Heiroglyphic writing the alphabet of the birds to the Egyptians.”
“Seem to recollect I heard something about a Parliament of Fowls once upon a time.” He shook his head. “Reckon I’m too much of a bird-brain to conjure your meaning there, River.”
“Not you,” she replied, pointing at her own head. “Bird brain. Albatross brain.” She extended her arms again, floating in space.
For a while the silence of the stars reigned, and he heard no sound but his own breathing. They should be getting back into the airlock, but one look at River’s delighted face made him willing to stay out just a bit longer.
“He started to fall, got distracted by a piece of left luggage, and missed the ground,” she explained, smiling.
“Left luggage?” Mal asked, wondering what luggage had to do with anything.
“A somewhat large, black leather hand-bag, with handles to it. An ordinary hand-bag, in fact.”
“Can you get back to the tellin’ me what this has to do with flyin’? Or the language of the birds? Or anything at all? Where does the hand-bag come into this?”
“In the cloak-room at Victoria Station.”
“You’re talkin’ wild, Albatross.”
She gave him a brilliant smile, like he’d just got the right answer to a riddle. “Technically, I’m quoting Wilde,” she said, “but I’ll give you full credit.”
This left him shaking his head in earnest. No telling what went on in that brain of hers. His albatross.
“Douglas Adams,” she said.
Right, the 20th century philosopher, he thought. The philosopher what wrote amusing philosophical texts.
River smiled at him. “In Adams’s book, the man learned to fly when he got distracted by a piece of left luggage, and missed the ground.”
“You mean he just clean forgot to hit the dirt?” Mal chuckled, giving it right back to her. “Neglected to kiss the dirt. Didn’t bite the dust. Kept flyin’.”
Keeping the tracking beacon in sight, Mal eased Serenity away into her course change with the lightest touch on the attitude jets.
“Don’t want to hit it with the wash,” he explained unnecessarily to River.
“Wash?” River looked through him, like he was transparent as a ghost.
“The wash from the attitude jets.”
River picked up a plastic stegosaurus and intoned in a sad dinosaur voice, “No Wash.”
“I can honestly say I know very little about Reavers, Simon,” Ip said. “Most of what I know I learned from that Miranda broadwave, just like you. You know, I worked at Blue Sun for almost three years as a research fellow. It was my first post-doctoral job, in fact, and I knew a guy who worked in Reavers—his name was Hari Nyiri, used to eat lunch with him, in fact—”
“‘A guy who worked in Reavers’,” Simon quoted. “Just what do you mean, Ip?”
“I mean he worked in the Reaver Studies Department,” Ip said, as if it were a given that there would be such a department.
“The ‘Reaver Studies Department’,” Simon repeated. “You mean Blue Sun had a Reaver Studies Department?”
“Sure. A department devoted to the study of Reavers in all their aspects—biology, technology, habits, culture—”
“Culture?!” Simon exclaimed, appalled. “Reaver culture?”
“I wasn’t privy to the details, Simon,” Ip explained calmly. “It was classified work, and I didn’t have that kind of security clearance. They studied questions like, if Reavers fly without core containment, why don’t they all just die of radiation poisoning? Are there female Reavers?—there are, by the way—If there are female Reavers, are they perpetually raped? Or do the female Reavers also rape others? Can Reavers reproduce, or are their genes too severely damaged by the radiation for that to be possible? Since Reavers cut on themselves, why don’t they die of infections? Where do Reavers get fuel for their ships? What do they eat—strictly cannibals, or are they omnivores? Do they raid perpetually or just occasionally? How long do they live? Are there juveniles? Are Reavers enough different from other humans to be considered a separate species?”
Simon had never considered Reavers from a purely scientific standpoint—somehow, he’d been too busy worrying about the prospect of imminent death to consider them so abstractly—and his shock began to manifest itself in his expression.
Ip was continuing on in the same vein. “And since seeing the Miranda broadwave, I’m sure the researchers have added a few more questions, like, what triggers certain members of the population to turn Reaver and not others?”
“A Reaver research project! Treating it like gorram scientific research!”
“It was scientific research, Simon,” Ip stated drily. “There was a problem. They were trying to solve it.”
“Trying to solve it,” Simon returned, emotionally, “by taking unsuspecting teenagers away from their families, conditioning them with triggers to fight Reavers, cutting into their brains—”
“Whatever are you talking about?” Ip looked at Simon as if he had gone off his gourd.
Simon suddenly realized that he probably shouldn’t be talking, and shut his mouth. Mal didn’t fully trust Ip Neumann, and maybe Simon shouldn’t trust him either.
But Ip Neumann was a sharp young man, and although he didn’t always read people well, he had an excellent memory, and was very good at putting things together. “River,” he stated. “You think Blue Sun experimented on your sister.”
“I don’t think so. I know so.”
As if on cue, River drifted into the room and joined the conversation just as if she were not the subject under discussion. “They cut into her brain,” she said. “They opened up her skull and cut into her brain.” Ip gave her an appalled look. “And they did it over, and over, and over.”
Ip stared. At last he found words and said to River in a constricted voice, “They did this to you?”
Simon answered. “They did. They told our parents it was a school—”
“It was a school,” River interjected with a smug and creepy smile. “Taught me how to kill Reavers.” Ip gave her an utterly creepified look, as Simon continued.
“—a government-sponsored academy for gifted children.”
“She was a gift,” River inserted.
“It was government-sponsored? I thought you said Blue Sun,” Ip broke in.
“Two by two, Hands of Blue,” River chanted. “Two by two…”
“River won’t say, she’s too traumatized by what happened there—”
“You found me broken,” River said in a small voice.
“—but she’s always referring to Hands of Blue—some kind of Blue Sun secret operatives, I think.”
“I never heard of Blue Sun secret operatives,” Ip said. “Are you sure this is real?”
“Your own reality is what no other person can ever know,” River inserted.
“Real enough,” Simon answered. “They’ve chased us.”
“How do you know they work for Blue Sun?” Ip queried.
“Ip, they’ve chased us—in a high tech stealth ship.”
“Couldn’t that be the government?” Ip was astonished with himself. A few short months ago, he never would have considered it. But since the Miranda broadwave, and the evidence that someone—government?—Blue Sun?—someone had covered up what happened there, his perspective had shifted. Despite his Core upbringing, he had, without realizing it, lost his unshakeable faith in the Alliance.
“Parliament’s Operative was as good as his word,” River stated, looking at Ip.
Simon didn’t talk over and through River this time—he spoke to her. “You know this, River?”
“Ip’s friend,” River answered, non-specifically. “Confirmed what he said. The Tams are no longer a threat.”
Ip was having trouble following the meaning of the siblings’ exchange, but nonetheless found a question he wanted the answer to. “No longer a threat. You mean, you were?”
“I broke River out of that so-called school when I found out they were torturing her there,” Simon answered, looking Ip directly in the eye. “We fled. Because of this we were fugitives. The Captain took us in and kept us safe.” He looked at River, who was now dancing around the room unconcernedly, fluttering like a bird. “Since Miranda, we’re fugitives no longer. And River is healing.”
Ip looked doubtfully in River’s direction, more disconcerted than ever by her detached behavior. Unmindful of the others, River balanced on one leg and flapped her arms like wings. Simon folded his arms and blocked Ip’s access to the doorway with his body. “Now you know all about us. Time to reciprocate. Tell us everything you know about Blue Sun.”
Ip opened his mouth, and did.
狗屎的 gǒushǐde [crappy]
鬼 Guǐ [Hell]
狗屎 gǒushǐ [crap]
聪明 cōngming [brilliant]
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