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EBFIDDLER

WHAT BEGINS WITH AN APPLE (11) Part (10)
Thursday, June 28, 2012

River damages Saffron’s calm. Simon and River trade horses in mid-stream. Saffron damages Jayne’s calm.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 4032    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

WHAT BEGINS WITH AN APPLE (11)

Part (10)

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Follows TWO BY TWO BY TWO (10). Precedes ENDS WITH A HORSE (12).

The series so far:
A LION’S MOUTH (01)
ADVENTURES IN SITTING (02)
SPARKS FLY (03)
EXPECTATIONS (04)
BREAK OUT (05)
THE TRIAL (06)
SHADOW (07)
ONE MAN’S TRASH (08)
BANDIAGARA (09)
TWO BY TWO BY TWO (10)

River damages Saffron’s calm. Simon and River trade horses in mid-stream. Saffron damages Jayne’s calm.

A/N: I want to thank my sister especially for her contributions to Simon’s scene. Chinese and other non-English expressions are translated in mouse-overs as well as in the glossary at the end.

* * *

When she got out of her room the next time, Saffron moved very carefully and stealthily, waiting until she could pass unnoticed through the passenger lounge, up the stairs, and through the corridor. Outside the dining room she paused and listened. Her goal lay ahead, beyond the dining room, and it was here that she was most likely to encounter a crew member. Satisfied at last that no one was there, she quietly entered the room.

“Going somewhere?”

Saffron spun around. River stood on half-point, elevated high on the ball of her right foot, with her left foot held gracefully in aerial position and her arms spread in a dancer’s pose.

“Can’t throw me off balance,” River declared, as she held the pose for an impossibly long time.

Saffron watched in silence as River moved her arms through first, second, third and fourth positions to end with one finger pointing gracefully at her own head.

“Already off-balance. Any perturbation promotes regression toward equilibrium.”

Saffron had nothing to say.

“You like to throw people off-balance,” River continued. “Take advantage of the confusion and sow your seeds where they’ll do most harm.”

“My seeds?” Saffron asked faintly.

“Seeds,” River replied. “Seeds of contention. Magic pebbles. ‘They grew into a big tree and they climbed up the tree into a magical land with unicorns and harps.’” River mimed the actions with balletic grace.

Saffron was completely confused.

“Honey, there are children present,” River stated, looking past Saffron. As soon as Saffron turned her head, River executed a series of pas de bourée, re-positioning herself to cut off Saffron from her goal.

Saffron looked over her shoulder. There were no children on this boat. Perhaps she had misunderstood.

“Tiny, helpless children,” River added, in a small, timid voice, subtly shifting her position as she danced pas de basque avec coupé, one of her favorite steps.

Saffron was tiring of this game. The girl was just plain off her nut. Cracked. Bonkers. Whacko. Remembering the incident in the cargo bay, Saffron unconsciously rubbed her jaw. She eyed River, assessing the chances. That girl wasn’t exactly tiny and helpless, was she?

“You think it’s a game,” River said softly, drawing up one leg in preparation for a jeté that could easily be converted to a snap-kick, should the need arise.

“It is a game,” Saffron answered, on surer ground.

“And have you studied Game Theory?” River demanded. She gave Saffron a superior look. “Because I have.”

Jayne entered the dining room, and saw River holding a noticeably ruffled Saffron at bay. “What the hell you doin’ outta your room?” he demanded of Saffron, as he pulled out his gun. “Good work,” he said in an aside to River. “You seriously damaged her calm. What didya do, confuse her to death?” Turning back to Saffron he remarked, “She can kill you with her brain, ya know,” as he escorted her back to her room.

* * *

Alerted by Jayne that Saffron had somehow flown the coop, Mal and Zoe did a thorough search of her room. Wherever she kept her tools, they were well-hidden. They failed to find any contraband. Mal stood, stony-faced, his weapon at the ready, watching as Jayne finally got his chance to pat down Saffron.

“Strictly business, Jayne,” Mal warned.

“Aw, Cap, can’t I mix business with pleasure?” Jayne protested.

“Sure, go ahead, Jayne, if ya want to die,” Mal replied, as Saffron rolled her eyes.

“I ain’t so chicken-hearted as all that. Just ’cause she got the drop on you, Mal—”

嘿 Hēi. Don’t underestimate her. She’s got more wiles than a—than a Companion.”

Jayne snorted.

“Not kidding you, Jayne. If it ain’t chickens, it’s feathers.”

Now what the 地狱 dìyù did Mal mean by that? Jayne wondered, as Mal directed Saffron into her room. “I didn’t grow up on no ranch, Mal.”

“Huh? What’s this got to do with growin’ up? Or not growin’ up, as the case may be,” he added in a mutter, as he pulled the door shut, and locked it. The two men hadn’t even noticed Saffron’s dirty looks, delivered as the two ignored her as a person, treating her like nothing more than a sack of chicken feed. “You let down your guard for an instant, Jayne, she’ll be on you like a chicken on a June bug.”

“Look, Mal, I understand the job. But what’s chickens got to do with it? Or feathers?”

Mal rolled his eyes. “Just guard the door, Jayne. And don’t try to talk to her. ’Less you want to get plucked.”

* * *

She started off by quoting Virgil.

Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.”

“Beware of Greeks bearing gifts,” Simon translated. “Why do you say so, River?”

“What begins with an apple, must end with a horse.”

River had been saying that ever since they left Beaumonde. As soon as he had a moment’s peace to think about it, Simon had recollected where he had heard that phrase. According to ancient Greek mythology, the goddess of discord, displeased at being excluded from the marriage feast for Peleus and Thetis, threw a golden apple in amongst the gods and goddesses in attendance. It was inscribed, “To the fairest.” Three goddesses claimed the right to the apple. Zeus, in a characteristic shuffling off of responsibility, had declined to judge, and left it to a mortal man, a Trojan named Paris, to render a decision. Paris chose Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and in return, she gave him Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world. The fact that Helen was already the wife of the king of Sparta, a man with connections among the most powerful Greek princes, precipitated the war.

While this placed the quotation in context, it did nothing to explain why River had the Trojan War on her brain.

Simon had of course observed that River’s behavior since the incident on Beaumonde had not been especially stable. Her speech, in particular, had been more than usually cryptic, almost as if she couldn’t speak a straightforward sentence. In fact, he hadn’t seen her in this kind of state since before Miranda. For the most part, she’d been remarkably coherent for the last several months, aside from a few minor episodes that soon passed. Her behavior in general was not exactly what he’d classify as completely “normal”—but River had always been unique. He couldn’t attribute all of her differences to the torture and mistreatment she’d experienced at the Academy, because River had always been an unusual girl. She was an extraordinarily gifted genius, and, though it was hard to say it without sounding like an insufferably 狂妄自大 kuángwàngzìdà 崖岸yá'àn, he was quite familiar with the differences associated with genius, being so very smart himself.

On Beaumonde, he had been truly shocked by her mode of arrival back to the ship. Ip had carried River onto the ship in his arms, and Simon’s first fear was that she had been shot. It turned out to be much worse. River was in a state of complete incoherence, and as soon as Ip had set her down in the infirmary, she had leapt off the exam table and tried to escape from the room. Simon had reacted quickly to cut off her access to the door, a move that, in retrospect, was incredibly stupid. She could have inflicted serious bodily harm—on him, on Ip, on both of them at once, had she been so inclined. Luckily, she had taken a defensive stance, and after ten or fifteen minutes of attempts to soothe and approach her, Simon had managed to sedate her. Simon’s attention had then been fully claimed by other matters, and it wasn’t until much later, when Serenity was well on her way, that he’d been able to investigate the incident that had caused River such distress.

To get at the root of the matter, he had questioned Ip in detail about how the incident unfolded. Understandably, Ip had seemed uncomfortable with the recall, but Simon steered him away from the emotional details and was able to confirm that River had heard at least half of the safeword, and that this seemed to be the trigger for the abrupt change in her behavior. Ip had heard one of the Blue Hands use the term “safeword,” and turning the questioning around in typical Ip-fashion, he asked Simon what it was and how it worked. Of course Simon did not reveal the whole phrase to him, nor did he give Ip any further details of River’s experiences at the Academy, but he told him that as part of her martial arts training, River had been conditioned to break off an attack if this phrase were used. Unfortunately the Blue Hands knew about this phenomenon and also knew the safeword.

Then Ip had asked the obvious question that somehow everyone else had missed: “Why don’t you just change the password?” If only it were that simple! Or was it? The advantages were obvious. If River’s “password” or safeword could be changed, then neither the Blue Hands nor anyone else would be able to play that card again. It would be reserved for Simon to rescue River from another incident like the Maidenhead Bar, should that be necessary.

After kicking himself for never having thought of this possibility before, Simon reflected that he didn’t even know how to go about “changing the password.” In fact, he didn’t really know how it had been “installed” in the first place. His imagination ran wild over all sorts of possibilities. It had to involve conditioning of the limbic system—that much was obvious. It could have been as benign as repeated rehearsals with positive feedback for the correct response, but given the intensity of the reaction (and given what he already knew about the Academy’s ways) he suspected that the actual process involved significant aversive and noxious negative feedback conditioning methods. Pain and suffering. He shuddered to speculate about it, and he was loathe to question River about it. Any time he tried to draw River out about her Academy experiences, it seemed to trigger more post-traumatic stress. And even if he were able to learn all about it, he couldn’t imagine repeating such a process in order to “install” a new safeword.

Surely he could find a better way. He would have to ask River about the conditioning process. And be prepared to deal with the consequences, if it brought back horrible memories. He sighed and ran his hands through his hair. Most likely the answer would come the same way he’d learned most of what he knew about River’s life at the Academy: River would reveal it, one bit at a time, on her own initiative.

Meanwhile, Simon was still puzzling out what River meant by all her references to the Trojan War. “What begins with an apple,” he repeated, “must end with a horse. River, do you mean the Trojan Horse?”

She rolled her eyes.

“Oh. Of course, silly me,” Simon responded, sarcastically. “Why didn’t I think of it myself? That phrase applies so obviously to our current situation.” River gave him that You Boob look. He absolutely detested being on the receiving end of that look, not the least because she was usually right, he was missing something obvious. “I’m not stupid, River. I know you made that pronouncement over the bowl of apples in the dining room. But so far I haven’t seen anything resembling a horse, Trojan or otherwise, on this ship.”

木馬 Mùmǎ,” River said.

“Does it elucidate the meaning if one speaks in proper Chinese?” Simon inquired, switching effortlessly to the polite and stylized Chinese frequently used in Osiris high society.

“Perhaps it may, 哥哥 gēge,” River responded in the same language.

“I can think of several references to horses in classical Chinese,” Simon remarked. “馬面 Mǎ Miàn, the guardian of the Underworld, for instance. Or 兵馬俑 Bīngmǎyǒng, the statuettes of warriors and horses buried with Qin Shi Huang, the first Chin emperor.”

千軍萬馬 Qiānjūnwànmǎ.”

“Ye-es,” Simon responded, still uncertain of where this conversation was headed.

分道揚鑣 Fēndàoyángbiāo.”

“Part ways, River?” Simon questioned, confused. Then he saw what she was driving at, and racked his brains for other expressions involving horses. “I see. We might as well 死馬當活馬醫 sǐmǎdānghuómǎyī.”

做牛做馬 Zuòniúzuòmǎ,” River responded, her eyes dancing with delight now that she knew that Simon understood the game and would play along.

千里馬 Qiānlǐmǎ,” he offered.

黑馬 Hēimǎ.”

鞍馬 Ānmǎ.”

跳馬 Tiàomǎ.”

作馬 Zuòmǎ.”

跑馬 Pǎomǎ.”

Simon gave River a sharp look, saw that she was perfectly aware of the alternative meaning of what she was saying, and retorted, “心猿意馬 Xīnyuányìmǎ.”

馬屁 Mǎpì,” River fired back.

“Hey, let’s be civil here,” Simon responded with a grin. “And let’s not forget some of the obvious ones, River. Like 特洛伊木馬 Tèluòyī Mùmǎ—the Trojan Horse, of course.”

“A horse is a horse, of course, of course,” River sang, “And no one can talk to a horse of course…”

“Or 木馬病毒 mùmǎbìngdú,” Simon interrupted, “a Trojan horse virus.”

中箭落馬 Zhòngjiànluòmǎ.”

“That’s for sure. I wouldn’t want to think of the damage that could cause.”

River paused. She’d only been trading another horse-related phrase, but Simon had interpreted it as if she were commenting on his last. That was it. Key to the lock. Solution to the puzzle. “Gotta see a man about a horse.” Go to the Captain, and explain….She reached for the correct mode of expression, tried to grasp it. The words…the words wouldn’t come. She needed to communicate, but allegory was the only avenue for outlet. What begins with an apple must end with a horse. “Trying to figure out how to move forward without sacrificing Iphigenia.”

Simon didn’t say it, but his whole face expressed his confusion at her abrupt change of topic. He looked at River, and saw that the sparkle that had lit her eyes as she traded horses with him was now replaced by a cloudy look. She was considerably less lucid than she had been just a moment before.

“What begins with an apple must end with a horse,” River repeated, with an exhausted look.

“Yes, 妹妹 mèimei,” Simon agreed, and wrapping an arm around her shoulders, he guided his sister into her room, and saw her settled comfortably in her bed.

* * *

Mal had warned him not to talk with Saffron. Jayne didn’t intend to do no talkin’. All he had to do was stand there lookin’ menacing, and the woman ’d toe the line. Jayne had his menacing look down cold—it was his stock-in-trade, how he got his job in the first place. He posted himself outside the door, ready for whatever trick the Cap’n’s blushing psychotic bride tried to pull next.

A couple hours later, he was still waitin’. Woman hadn’t made a peep. He didn’t exactly consider the silence to be a good sign, so he determined to open the door and check up on what sorta 狗屎 gǒushǐ she was up to.

“I’m comin’ in,” he announced, rapping on the door. A thought struck him. “You decent in there?”

“Sure am, sugar plum,” a sexy voice answered.

“Ain’t talkin’ with you,” he answered, as he unlocked the door. “Time for you to visit the head.” He pulled open the door, to find Saffron lying sprawled on top of the bed…naked.

“No need for talkin’, big guy,” she said, rolling towards him and allowing her legs to part langorously. “I’m ready.”

Jayne didn’t doubt it.

“You’re very…big,” she said, directing her sultry gaze at his midsection. Men were natural 鳥人 niǎorén, and this one was no exception. He was already preening. “Is it true that every part of you is…big?”

“Ulp,” gulped Jayne, as he unthinkingly slid the door shut behind him.

“Sshh,” she said, “No talkin’, like the Captain said. I’d rather learn the hard way, just how big ‘big’ is.” Her hands were already on his belt buckle.

Jayne’s voice was a deep bass growl. “I’m warnin’ ya, I never kiss ’em on th—”

Saffron did not reply. Her mouth was already busy.

* * *

*

*

*

glossary

嘿 Hēi [Hey]

地狱 dìyù [hell]

Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes. [Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. (Latin)]

狂妄自大 kuángwàngzìdà [conceited]

崖岸yá'àn [arrogant person]

木馬 Mùmǎ [Wooden horse, or Trojan horse]

哥哥 gēge [elder brother]

馬面 Mǎ Miàn [Horse-Face]

兵馬俑 Bīngmǎyǒng [the Terracotta army, the statuettes of warriors and horses buried with Qin Shi Huang, the first Chin emperor.]

千軍萬馬 Qiānjūnwànmǎ [A magnificent army with thousands of men and horses (idiom meaning “an impressive display of manpower” or “all the King's horses and all the King's men”)]

分道揚鑣 Fēndàoyángbiāo [lit. to take different roads and urge the horses on, (idiom meaning “to part ways”)]

死馬當活馬醫 sǐmǎdānghuómǎyī [give medicine to a dead horse (idiom meaning “to keep trying everything in a desperate situation”)]

做牛做馬 Zuòniúzuòmǎ [work like an ox or a horse (work extremely hard)]

千里馬 Qiānlǐmǎ [a ten thousand mile horse (a fine steed)]

黑馬 Hēimǎ [Dark horse]

鞍馬 Ānmǎ [Pommel horse]

跳馬 Tiàomǎ [Vaulting horse]

作馬 Zuòmǎ [Sawhorse]

跑馬 Pǎomǎ [Horse race or riding a horse at a fast pace (also means “a wet dream”)]

心猿意馬 Xīnyuányìmǎ [Heart like a frisky monkey, mind like a cantering horse (an idiom meaning “hyperactive, uncontrollable”)]

馬屁 Mǎpì [Horse’s ass]

特洛伊木馬 Tèluòyī Mùmǎ [the Trojan Horse]

木馬病毒 mùmǎbìngdú [Trojan horse computer virus]

中箭落馬 Zhòngjiànluòmǎ [to be struck by an arrow an fall from one’s horse (idiom for “a serious setback”)

妹妹 mèimei [younger sister]

狗屎 gǒushǐ [crap]

鳥人 niǎorén [pricks (lit., “bird people”]

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COMMENTS

Thursday, June 28, 2012 9:16 AM

BYTEMITE


Horsefeathers AND chickenfeathers, it seems.

I am hoping that this experience between Jayne and Saffron will be part of a beautifully dysfunctional relationship. Like maybe in future stories he'll fantasize about her, or name a gun after her. They'll cross paths, she'll laugh and kick him in the head. Ah love.

Thursday, June 28, 2012 9:28 AM

NUTLUCK


Poor Jayne, I don't think things are going to end anywhere near as happily as he is hoping they will.

Thursday, June 28, 2012 1:42 PM

AMDOBELL


I loved River confusing the *goushi* out of Saffron but groaned and shook my head at Jayne. Silly man, trust him to let the wrong part of his anatomy do the thinking or 'not thinking' for him! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Thursday, June 28, 2012 1:44 PM

GWG


From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cassandra "In the cult television series Firefly, the character of River is based on Cassandra: she is a genius and knows things, but was driven insane and speaks in jumbled riddles no one understands until it actually happens. [citation needed]"
From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iphigenia The second reason is that Iphigenia sees this as a patriotic cause. Iphigenia realizes that if she dies, then the men can sail to Troy and win and protect their own women. If the men did not get to Troy to defeat the Trojans then all the Greek women would be raped and possibly killed

Thursday, July 5, 2012 5:33 AM

EBFIDDLER


No one seems surprised by the way Saffron gets the drop on Jayne! :-) Gwg, you're on target with the Trojan War-related references. You'll see more of them as the story goes along, however, the story only loosely references them, so don't be expecting a complete re-telling of the Iliad here. :-) Thanks to all of you for your comments.


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