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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
River re-writes the future
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1344 RATING: 8 SERIES: FIREFLY
River sat, swinging her legs against the cold metal of the catwalk platform edge. She loved to sit there, watching form a vantage point high above the action in the cargo bay below. Not part of the proceedings but, like a spectator in the Royal Box, with the best possible view. But for once she didn’t feel quite as comfortable as she normally did nor as serene. Her unease was mostly due to the smell.
Serenity was grounded at New Dodge City on Endymion II and the Captain, Zoë and Jayne were loading cargo. Large crates were filling up the bay and there was considerable grunting and laughing going on below. River wasn’t entirely sure what was in the crates, but the part of her she called her craft-brain was telling her it wasn’t organic. So just what was that sharp, overtly animal, rancid smell with just a hint of richer, warmer, butteryness that seemed to be enveloping her? A snort some small way below her and to her left made her sigh and wonder why she hadn’t placed it before.
There, hanging from the bottom of the lower catwalk, just to the left of Jayne’s exercise grips, swayed a bag like contraption on rubber leashes and strapped tightly therein swung Little M, the baby of Serenity. He seemed just as content as River to waft above the action, watching the events with the beady eye of a connoisseur. Like her, River knew that Little M appreciated a good bit of space theatre, provided there wasn’t too much danger involved. Although he did seem to welcome the appearance of a gun or two rather more than she herself did. The rotten smell was obviously the sign of a full diaper, whilst the half of rusk he was gently consuming provided the overlying perfume. Although, to be fair, he didn’t seem to be so much eating the rusk as chewing it to mush and then allowing the resultant mess to drop to the floor far below with a satisfying plop, like some strange, biscuit-coloured, pigeon guano.
Zoë, walking below with a smallish box in her hands and consequently not looking at the floor, stepped unwarily on one of Little M’s droppings and skidded, box precariously balanced in her outstretched hands, towards the Captain. He turned and caught her just as the box would have fallen.
“Easy, Zo. That ain’t no pig iron you got there. That’s one carefully calibrated machine. Thought the Doc might like ta take a look at it in truth and he won’t be doin’ that if you’ve introduced it to the deck up close and personal like.”
Zoë glared, “*Tzao gao*! Its your gorram nipper, Sir!” She glared up at the swinging babe, “He’s doin’ his trick with his rusks again! I slipped on one a his ruttin’ droppin’s, the little varmint!”
Jayne lumbered up, another box in his hands, “yeah an’ is it me or does the bay have a fairly ripe atmo? Reckon you should take ya critter in hand, Mal, before I pass out from the stink!”
“He don’t smell half so bad as you, Jayne!” retorted Mal, “but mayhap yer right. River, ya couldn’t pull that there babe up could ya, see about gettin’ him a new diaper and sommat less splashy ta chew on?”
River sighed resignedly. It seemed to her that more often than not she trailed round Serenity with Little M in tow. She could see the logic. She was the only one without a real job on the ship and everyone seemed to accept that, a little bit nuts as they might all think she was, she wasn’t likely to hurt Little M. She didn’t really mind either. Little M was the only person on Serenity that looked at her without the slightest trace of fear. He didn’t have hang-ups about her proficiency with weapons or her mind reading capabilities. He just tracked about with her, mostly in a sling or set free to crawl around wherever she pitched up, not saying much and looking for things to put in his mouth.
She yanked on the leashes securing him to the catwalk and pulled up the smelly parcel. Little M grinned and held out hands covered in biscuit goo, wavering in front of her face as if he couldn’t quite reconcile where his eyes thought she should be and where his hands placed her.
She undid his straps, keeping well clear of the messy fingers and then, holding him out at arms length, as much for the sake of her nose as her dress, she marched him up the stairs towards the galley.
Wash glanced up from the galley table as River marched in, a kicking baby in her outstretched hands. He blanched.
“*Wuh de ma*! Not again. Hat, what the hell are you feedin’ that thing?”
Hat turned from the stove, wiping her hands on her apron. “I dunno, but I’m fair certain we should stop. Better still, how’s about we exchange him for something less ookey next time we stop for supplies?”
“Sounds like a plan,” agreed Wash. “I believe I once mentioned something about beagles?”
River didn’t speak. She simply held the baby out, standing on one leg in the doorway.
Hat reached out and plucked the child from River’s hands. “Aw! I didn’t mean it, little pickle, come to mummy.” She crooned, “let’s get you tidied up.” She smiled at the partially toothless grin of her son and rolled him onto the table. “Wash, pass us a diaper.”
“Uh-uh!” Wash had kicked back his chair and was starting to back away slowly, “if yer gonna do that now, I’m outta here! That baby is its very own fluctuation in the space time continuum – there’s always a ways more inside than can possibly fit in anything with that outside! Its freaky.” He turned and legged it through the doorway. River watched him go. She shrugged, smiled at Hat and headed towards the passenger dorms.
River moved on through the ship. She peeked in through the window of the infirmary where the Captain and Simon were bent over a large box propped on the examination table. As she watched, Simon, a look of sudden sparking enthusiasm on his face, reached in and pulled out the gadget inside.
“Don’t rightly know ‘xactly what it does,” Mal was saying slightly uncertainly, almost as though he was giving a present and was apprehensive of its reception, “but thought you might like to take a look.”
“Oh absolutely!” Simon looked up at Mal and grinned. Mal’s look of anxiety dissipated. “It’s a portable brain wave scanner. I’m sure I can get some pretty good information about River with this. ‘Course it’s not as finely calibrated as a fixed model would be, but it should be quite useful.”
Mal was gruff and depreciating. “Well, just thought you could get some use of it, Doc, before we pass it on, is all.”
Simon nodded enthusiastically, already engrossed in the mechanics of the machine, “oh definitely. I’ll start right away, just as soon as I find River.” He glanced round the infirmary vaguely, as though he expected her to have suddenly materialised in one of its corners.
River ducked swiftly below the window of the infirmary through which she was observing, lest she be spotted and experimented on and, still keeping low, inched her way to the stairs and freedom. Once there, she turned for a quick backward glance, only to see the Captain, a grin on his face, watching her from the doorway of the infirmary. She grinned back and put a finger to her lips. He nodded, rolling his eyes as though he could completely understand her reluctance to allow her brother to begin another of his emotionally invasive procedures, and turned towards the cargo bay, saying nothing and allowing her to continue on her way.
There just seemed to be so much green mush hitting the table, the walls and her baby, yet hardly anything seemed to be going in the wide mouth of the wriggling infant. Hat glanced around the galley and wondered whether it was easier to redecorate in strained pea green or to try and get the food off the walls.
She and Little M seemed to be currently in dispute over control of his meals. His insistence on holding his own spoon coupled with his inability to coordinate the food to mouth action resulted in a somewhat messy feeding time. She carefully set down the bowl beyond the arms’ reach of her son, who squealed and wriggled, reaching out vainly with his spoon to try and connect with his lunch. She wiped a tired hand across her face, only to discover that she had ground mashed pea into her hair. She glared at Little M and swore gently.
Am arm snaked around her shoulders from behind and her husband, pulling her lightly to him, kissed the top of her head. “Mmm, peas?”
“Yeah, knowing your predilections for head kissin’, I though I’d spice up our love life with some shiny new flavours.”
“Or, alternatively, my gorram son can’t find his own mouth with both hands?”
Hat sighed, “Yup, that’s about the size of it.”
“You sure Jayne ain’t his father? I’m reckonin’ his behaviour puts his paternity in some doubt.”
“I’m pretty ruttin’ sure, thanks. You wanna give it a go?”
“Nu-uh! I’m a strictly hands off kinda father, as you know. But Zoë and I’re goin’ into town, see Monty about this cargo we’ve got. I can take the critter along if ya like?”
Hat grinned. “I like it a lot!” She swivelled round in her chair and kissed Mal deeply. He smiled against her lips.
“Reckon as I’ll take Junior out more often.”
Hat sniggered, “the Captain Malcolm Reynolds father extraordinaire is indeed a very fine figure of a man.”
“And the strained peas give you an indefinable allure. Shall we see if someone will baby-sit this afternoon and I’ll show you some of my more specialised parenting skills?”
Harriet looked deep in to Mal’s dark eyes, almost all pupil. “Sounds like a seriously shiny plan to me. I’m sure River’ll oblige!”
River realised that she was running out of options. She was avoiding Harriet and the Captain because she didn’t much feel like being saddled with Little M and she was avoiding Simon and his intrusive research. Normally she’d head for Inara’s shuttle, always a place of refuge and retreat, but Inara had taken the opportunity of their few days stay at New Dodge to go and visit one of her favourite clients and her shuttle bay was empty. She headed therefore for the engine room and Kaylee.
Kaylee was using the down time at New Dodge to overhaul the gravity drive and the engine room was a carefully laid out maze of thousands of tiny parts. Intent on her task, she did however look up and smile as River peered round the door.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Need to hide. Too many people wanting too many things.”
Kaylee smiled her wide, warm smile, “sure, come on in. You can help me reassemble the grav. drive. It’s sorta like a big ol’ jigsaw puzzle… ‘Kay, I’m lookin’ for a piece, looks kinda like a bit a flattened metal with a tiny wheel on the tip.”
River squatted down next to her. Occasionally River thought of her brain as a camera. The image of the tiny pieces scattered about the engine room had imprinted itself in negative on her retina and would, she knew, hover in her mind’s eye for the rest of the day. Consulting her internal picture like a map, she reached over to the far side of the engine and withdrew the piece from its fellows, handing it to Kaylee.
Kaylee beamed at her, “shiny! This is gonna go so much faster with you here!” Her tousled head bent over the mechanics as she worked the piece into place. River watched her with envy. So relaxed, so positive. Kaylee was possessed of that most excellent of natures that could never be held down for long. She knew Kaylee worried about Simon, but not the same way River did. Kaylee was content to let the future roll in, unexpected and unsought. ‘Till then, she’d just take every day as it came.
River loved to sit in the comfortable and tranquil atmosphere Kaylee created around her, but recently she felt she could never really be alone with her. She couldn’t escape the hint of Simon that lurked about her. She was sure Kaylee didn’t notice it, but it was almost as if Simon’s ghostly hand was superimposed over her own, incorporeal and insubstantial, but irrefutably there. She could feel his breath, his very heartbeat moving like waves on the shore through Kaylee as she worked. She wondered how the two of them could not have noticed. Like two apple trees grafted together and set to grow for several seasons, their whole beings wound and coiled around each other until they had become truly inseparable and intertwined. They had seeped into each other and melted together like grains of sand joining to become a lump of glass, smooth and shining.
River could never be like Kaylee, never let the future go hang and wait and see, more in expectation than trepidation. She was cursed to see it whether she wanted to or not, she couldn’t hide her face and turn away. And right now, she felt the future rushing up to meet them all. Her skull felt light, almost as though it were about to float away. She knew something was coming and from the reverberation of its footfalls in her brain, she knew it was going to be big. As she felt the weight of the future both pressing her down and yet making her feel light enough to fly away, her craft-brain was still methodically picking out the pieces of the gravity drive as Kaylee called for them, untroubled by such prescience of disaster.
River felt nauseous at the thought of splitting these two now. How a grafted tree is split and shows its white and wounded heart, torn along the grain of its wood, sap bubbling form the injury like tears. Or how glass is smashed so easily, smooth one minute and split into a thousand biting, stinging shards the next. Amid the turbulence that was her normal state of mind, River had a single moment of total clarity and stillness. She must not; she would not, let that happen. She could not allow something so strong and beautiful, just recently beginning to show its leaves and with a capacity, yet untried, to bear fruit, to be destroyed. River would protect them, just as she’d tried to protect her lovely brother when the bounty hunter came. But this time, she would be successful.
But she needed, as Wash would say, to plan and plot and possibly to scheme. She needed quiet. Although she was currently successfully drowning out Kaylee’s joyful chatter, she felt it was unfair, even mean, not to listen. She was, therefore, almost relieved when her brother’s head came into view round the corner of the corridor, followed, of course, by the rest of him.
“Hey,” he looked exasperated. “River, I’ve been looking for you everywhere! I should have known you were here.” Then, with the special half smile full of secrets he kept for Kaylee, he turned to her. “Hey, you look busy.”
“Oh, you know, just doin’ my job!” Kaylee returned his smile more openly and he blushed slightly, turning a light pink in contrast to the livid white of his usual complexion. “I’m overhaulin’ the gravity drive, with River’s help.” She winked at River, “it’s a little awkerd to do normally, seein’ as we’re pretty much always usin’ it.”
“Well, if you don’t mind, I might have to borrow River. The Captain’s given me the use of one of the gadgets we’re “transporting”, but only until he’s arranged for delivery. It’s a brain wave scanner. It might be able to tell me quite a lot about River, always supposing she’ll let me try it out.” He smiled with slight condescension at his sister and she wondered whether either of them was aware of their tendency, rife throughout the ship, of speaking about her in her presence as though she were a baby or an idiot.
“Oh, for sure!” Kaylee, nodded, “You should definitely go do that. I can survive without my excellent helper if needs be.”
“Ok, see you later, *bao bay*.” He added the endearment softly. “Come on River!” Simon didn’t even turn to see if she was following him. River sighed, quickly grabbed up the next half dozen pieces Kaylee would need, thrust them in to her hand and followed her brother out the door.
“Malcolm Reynolds, as I live and breathe!” Monty lunged forward to enfold Mal in a hug, but then paused, glancing at him. “Hey, what you got there, Mal? You playin’ nursemaid? Who’s papoose is that? Ain’t yourn, is it?”
Mal grinned as only a pound father can, “certainly is, Monty, old man. Yer lookin’ at the next generation of Reynolds men. Allow me to introduce Malcolm Reynolds Junior!”
“Aw!” Monty’s huge face melted into a soppy grin, “come ta uncle Monty, small fry, let’s be havin’ ya!” He clapped his hands around Little M, who seemed not the slightest bit bothered. He had been sleeping on his father’s shoulder and now, relaxed as only a sleeping child can be, he continued to snore, rocked in the warm, fur and leather embrace of the big man.
“So, come on Mal, Zoë, How ya been? I seen you been busy, Mal an’ no mistake.” He dug Mal in the ribs heftily and chuckled. “Come on, the two a youse, have a seat, gorramit! Have a drink.” He eagerly led them to a table, conveniently placed towards the back of the bar in which they had rendezvoused and glanced round for a waitress. A bored looking woman with dull greying hair and too much lipstick came to take their order.
“What’ll it be, folks?” she asked without bothering to look up and, taking the pencil from behind her ear, she licked the end.
“Oh, we’ll have three o’ ya finest whiskeys.” Monty ordered magnanimously, “I’m guessing as the sprout here ain’t drinkin’?” Mal shook his head and smiled.
Zoë smiled reflectively, “my husband and Little M, only folks I know prefer milk to liquor!” The waitress stoically ignored them and went to fulfil the order.
“*Tyen shiao-duh* but he’s got the look of you, Mal.” Monty gazed in rapt fascination at the sleeping child in his arms. “I ain’t never seen yer woman, but I’ll bet she wonders sometimes whether she had a hand in this moppet at all!”
“That she does,” laughed Mal. “But, if you’d a seen her, you’d vouch for his lookin’ a mite in her way o things too. Got her hair for a start.”
“And the way he has of looking at you sometimes,” put in Zoë, fondly, “you’d swear as it was Hat her own self a glarin’ at you!”
“Hat? Mighty strange name for a lady!”
“And so it is.” Agreed Mal, “in truth stands for Harriet, but you know how you all gets to shortening on a boat.”
“Well, I hope some day to say how do to the woman as domesticated you, Malcolm Reynolds. I thought for sure as how you’d remain a bachelor forever. ‘Specially after that Bridget caper. ‘S far turned me off the females, I can tell ya. I’m a might warier now than ever I was.”
“Then you probably don’t want us tellin’ ya what happened the very last time we met that she-devil!” grinned Mal with some embarrassment.
Zoë punched him on the arm. “Weren’t in no way funny, Sir. Least ways, not at the time, as I recall.”
Monty raised an enquiring eyebrow, “sounds like there’s a tale there and no mistake.”
Mal shrugged, “lets just say she got the drop on us fair and square and leave it at that. Now to business.”
But attempting to head Monty off at the pass was clearly not going to work. He sniffed a ripe story and there was an end to it. “Ah now Mal, that don’t seem reasonable,” objected Monty, “I’m fair sure there’s more to the story than that!”
“Yeah, but the truth is somewhat mortifying,” admitted Mal.
“She saw through our merc like a belly dancer’s skirt, shot the Cap and left him for dead.” Explained Zoë with more honesty than tact.
“Hey, Zo!” exclaimed Mal, “was more to it than that. I had her on the run in no time. Sure, there were a few wrinkles at the start, but let me tell you, Monty, you should a seen her…”
“After she’d shot you and left you for dead, Sir.” Insisted Zoë. Mal closed his mouth and glared. “Was the women of Serenity got the Cap out of his predicament,” explained Zoë to Monty, “that’s why he don’t like to dwell.”
“Hey, again!” protested Mal, “no it ain’t. Is just that I reckon I had a mite bad press on our last Saffron encounter, is all. So Monty, anyhow, the deal is solid. You in?”
Monty had been watching Zoë and Mal’s exchange with amusement. “Seems to me, Mal, you’ve been fair hobbled like a prize bull as is put to stud, but it comes to us all eventual like I guess.” He knocked back his whisky and beckoned for the waitress, who ambled slowly over. “Its certain that I like the look a ya cargo. Got a contact on Persephone who’d dance a jig ta see it. I’ll set it up. If you can get the goods to Persephone in a week, I’ll arrange a pick up.”
“Easy peasy!” smiled Mal. They sat back to finish their drinks and reminisce. In time Little M woke up and Monty jiggled and swung him, much to the baby’s delight. None of them were walking too straight or too warily by the time the three adults and one nipper left the bar. Just outside they paused, Monty clapping Mal in a hearty embrace and fair squeezing the life out of Zoë. Engrossed in their ardent goodbyes, none of them noticed the bored waitress. She was leaning against the outside wall of the bar, facing into the alley that ran down it to its small back yard.
“’Parently, they’ll be on Persephone in a week, droppin’ off some cargo or other.” She was saying quietly to a figure, who, standing in the shadows, could not be seen. The chink of coins changing hands followed, but the three friends had gone their several ways by then, heading towards their ships and the exchange went unheard.
Supper that evening was an odd affair. River practically growled across the table at her brother, who had insisted on attaching coloured wires to her head for the entire afternoon and passing low-grade electric currents through her system. Frankly she would have rather babysat little M. Little M himself had been fed and bathed and was now sleeping peacefully in his Moses basket down by the oven in the warm. The Captain and Zoë had returned very late from their tryst with Monty and were, at least to River’s eye, twisted drunk, yet clearly making every attempt to appear sober.
Jayne appeared to be sulking, probably because Mal and Zoë had met Monty without him. Hat looked beady eyed and cranky and was all but monosyllabic. The only happy people appeared to be Kaylee, Book and Wash, who was lapping up his wife’s inebriated chatter and quietly laughing at the tensions around the table.
Kaylee glowed. She’d finished reassembling the gravity drive and was talking of starting on the oxygen generator tomorrow. Mal shook his head.
“Sorry to bring you up short, Little Kaylee, but we’ve got to get goin’ tomorrow. Soon as ‘Nara joins us, we’re off out. Got a drop in Persephone in a week or so.”
At that moment, as if on cue, Inara swanned gracefully into the galley and smiled at everyone. “Hello, all! I see I’m just in time to join supper.”
Kaylee smiled at her, “good session, ‘Nara?”
Inara smiled mysteriously, “very good, thank you, Kaylee. Its such a blessing to see old friends!” She reached for a plate and slipped in beside the Captain. “Did I just hear right, we’re heading back to Persephone?” She raised a curious eyebrow at Mal, who nodded, his mouth full of food.
“We’re goin’ back to Persephone?” Jayne butted in, curious and finally cottoning on, “thought as how you’d piss yer panties at the though a goin’ back there, Mal. Weren’t there sommat about bein’ powerful afraid a Badger and them folks?”
Mal glared, “right enough, Jayne, I am fair uneasy. If you’ll recall we almost lost Kaylee and Zo last time. But, Jayne,” he emphasised the mercenary’s name and glared some more, “we go where the work is, *dong ma*. And if, Jayne,” this time his voice was icy, “you don’t like my style of leadership, you can find yerself another situation, get me? Preferably somewhere cold, without atmo and the sooner the better.”
Jayne grumbled, “okay, Mal, no need to get tetchy! Was just sayin’ as how seemed to me we wouldn’t be headin’ back to that moon any time soon, is all!”
Mal sighed, “Don’t get me wrong, ain’t through choice as we’re goin’. But its gotta be done, gotta get this cargo shifted. Don’t mean we ain’t gonna take precautions. Serious, not trivial, precautions, mind!” He glanced round the table significantly.
Simon looked visibly defeated, “or to put it another way, ‘River, Simon, say hello to Mr Bunk, you and he are gonna be fast friends by the time we leave Persephone’!”
Jayne sniggered, “oh yeah! Knew there had ta be an up side!”
Mal looked slightly smug, “actually no, Doc. We need you to help shift the cargo an’ make sure all those doodads are still in workin’ order when we’ve shifted them. But, yeah, you ain’t wrong about one thing: River ain’t puttin’ either one a those dainty little feet on shore this trip.” River narrowed her eyes at him petulantly, “and it ain’t no good lookin’ at me like you’ve got the gift of the voodoo curse, little miss,” said Mal sternly, “won’t do no good. We all know you can read the future, but I ain’t heard nothing about no hoodoo practices, so give it up!” River shrugged indifferently, stuck out her tongue and returned to glaring viscously, dividing the force of her stares equally now between her brother and the Captain.
“So, now we got the immediate future,” Mal went on, a swift smile and a nod to River as he mentioned the future, “all mapped out, would anyone mind if I finish this very fine meal my good woman has made me in some kinda peace?” He smiled down the table towards Hat, who looked implacably back. He sighed, “but I see as that ain’t like to happen, so, Wash, once yer done, think you could set us on course sooner rather than later?”
“Consider it done.” Wash smiled, kissing his lightly smiling wife gently and heading off from the table.
Mal gathered the rest of those seated at the table to him in a wide and slightly mischievous grin, “righty-ho then, there’s some crime to be done and it won’t wait forever! I say we head for Persephone and do a little sinnin’.”
“I suggest you take some care there, Captain,” Book returned his smile with just a hint of irony, “I’m tempted to point out that there’s a good book I know that says “the wages of sin is death”. You might have call to remember that!”
“Well, yeah, Preacher,” Mal said lightly, “the pay ain't great, but it rates mighty high on job satisfaction.” He flashed a swift beam, “and I wouldn’t go quoting yer Bible verses at me again, Shepherd, unless you want me to hand yer book over to River and ask her to critique it for ya.”
“So, you gonna tell me what’s got ya all crotchety?” asked Mal as he climbed down the steps to their bunk, “or is it the sorta crotchety where I don’t get to sleep in my own bunk, let alone speak to my wife?”
Hate turned round and glared. “Well, now let me see… I vaguely recall a certain Captain, one with whom I am sure you’re fair familiar, a decent sort, but tends to forget his loved ones, who promised he’d spend the afternoon makin’ sweet love to his wife, but who chose instead to go get hideously drunk with his first mate and an old war buddy. What could possibly be upsettin’ me ‘bout that?”
Mal rubbed a tired hand over his eyes, “*Gou shi*. Sorry, I forgot the ruttin’ thing. But it was Monty, Hat. Hell, Zoë and I ain’t had a good tongue wag with Monty in years!!”
Suddenly Hat laughed, which frankly shocked and terrified Mal more than her resentment had. Little M stirred in his basked and mewled gently at the sound. Hat moved over and laid a gentle hand on his head, tucking the blankets round the sleeping child more securely.
Then she turned to Mal still laughing, “sorry, lover, I just realised that that sounded not unlike a sordid domestic argument. I am not and gorram it, despite all scary evidence to the contrary, I will not become, anyone’s housewife! Not even yours! *Wuh de tyen, ah*! I don’t give a good gorram that you spent the afternoon getting hammered with Monty. I’m frankly glad you had a good time and I ain’t got no notion why the hell I was aggrieved. We got all the time in the ‘Verse to make out!”
Mal grinned rakishly at her, “We can call it a rain check if ya like an’ I can make up for it right this instant.”
“Hmm!” Hat smiled sweetly at him, “Lets see… baby’s asleep, that won’t last so we better make the most of the opportunities given us, the rest a the boat is quiet, my husband’s hopefully sobered up a tad… yup, can’t see any reason why the good gorram not!” She reached out and pulled the Captain down on to the bed.
Simon was exasperated. The Captain had looked in a while ago to let them know that they would be landing at those dingy docks on Persephone in under an hour and he only had a few minutes left to gather what final bits of precious data he could from his sister’s head. But she was being way more recalcitrant even than usual. Dear lord! She was almost unmanageable. Refractory was one thing, but saying such things to Simon, let alone the foulness she’d directed at Mal, was down right insubordination. Plus, where in the ‘Verse had she picked up that kind of language? She’d had a retired childhood and then been secluded in a military academy. Where did she hear people who swore like that? Or, worse, did she make these things up herself? Well, if she did, all the more reason to get a good look at the workings of her brain. If only she’d sit still.
River in her turn was angry. Angry with Simon her beloved brother and angry at the ‘Verse in general. She loved Simon so much, but, more, she was happy with him just as he was. She couldn’t see why he couldn’t extend her the same courtesy. Of course he had his imperfections, little things that she would change in him if she could, but she didn’t demand it of him. She was big enough to appreciate that those deficiencies were as much her problem as his. She accepted his flaws as the blemishes of an individual and didn’t try to perfect him. But wasn’t that exactly what he was trying to do to her?
OK, so she could see his argument that it was different with her, that the Alliance had made her this way, not nature. But, she wished she could articulate her feeling that this person, this thing that she had ended up becoming, was just another individual that her brother and the rest of Serenity would have to accept, metaphorical warts and all. No amount of probing and pushing, imaging and studying would change her. Whatever the government suits had done to her, she knew, somewhere deep within her psyche, it was irreversible. Why couldn’t he just let it alone?
“Come on, *shiao mei mei*!” he was saying, “We haven’t got much time! Just let me run a couple more sweeps? Please!”
“No, get off! *Bun tyen-shung duh ee-dway-ro*!” River batted at him with her hands frantically. Then suddenly she paused, absolutely still and looked at him, glassy eyed as a snake. Simon was so shocked by the sudden cessation of hostilities that he didn’t avail himself of the opportunity to get her wired up. He just looked back at her, almost hypnotised.
“Simon.” River’s voice was cold and inexpressive. She spoke slowly as though the thought was only now beginning to dawn on her. “When did this stop being about my brain and start being about you?”
Simon stuttered, “about me? River, I don’t know what…”
River laughed a high, queer laugh, “You’re more like him than you could ever imagine!”
“Like who, *mei mei*?” Simon was thoroughly confused.
“Like the Captain, dumb-ass! Always trying to fix what you can. Trying to hide from what you can’t. It’s a big world out there, little brother, you know? You can’t mend it. But she’s broken and you can fix her if you try hard enough… You can control and mend and fix and glue and stick and sew and order and neaten and restore…”
“That’s not… I don’t…” Simon’s flailing attempts at explanation stopped and he sighed, pulling out one of the stools and sitting down wearily. “You may be right, River.” He looked up earnestly, “but does that mean I shouldn’t try?”
The Captain’s voice crackled over the comm. “All hands to the cargo bay to unload *ma-shong* and, Doc, you better’ve packed up that gorram piece a highly expensive *luh-suh* by now!”
Simon groaned, “Well, its too late now, anyhow, isn’t it?”
River looked at him seriously and broke into a loving smile. She felt guilty for reading his mind too easily. It was a nasty habit and likely to get her into all kinds of trouble. “Its never too late,” she said comfortingly and hugged him.
The minute Serenity hit Persephone’s atmo, Inara sped off, heading for another rendezvous. The rest of the crew were assembled in the cargo bay, loading up the mule and its trailer with cargo. River sat on the stairs, feeding Little M his milk and watching the familiar scene. It seemed everyone was going to make the drop. The more hands the merrier to unload and the quicker they’d be back. Plus the night would hide them a bit for suspicious glances. Not that anything short of rutting with a horse would be remarked upon on the streets of Eavesdown Docks and probably not even that.
Zoë ran up to Mal. “We’re good to go, Sir. Whenever you are.”
Mal nodded and turned to Hat. “’Kay. We’ll be off then. Once we’ve gone keep the gorram door locked. No going out on little forays, no nothing, *dong ma*?”
Harriet smiled at Mal’s worried face, “easy there, tiger. River, Little M and me’ve got a very pleasant evening planned. Ain’t no ruttin’ way I’m opening that door, not for all the gold in Londinium. You go do your thrillin’ heroics and we’ll see you in a few hours. Oh, and Mal, for gorram’s sake stop mothering, will ya! Last time I looked that was my job.”
Mal leant down and kissed her and the crew moved out. The cargo bay door swung shut behind them. The silence was suddenly very heavy. The soft sucking of the baby on his bottle could be heard very clearly. Hat turned to River. Despite her cheery words to the Captain, River could see some nerves beneath the surface.
“Come on, River,” she said, wandering over and taking her son into her arms, “let’s you and me and the critter go upstairs. I’ll show you how to make *bao*.”
River nodded, “just got to…” She looked towards the passenger dorms.
Hat nodded, “Ok, I’ll meet you upstairs.” She headed up towards the galley, Little M still sucking away madly at his bottle.
River watched her go and then, silent as a ghost, glided over to the cargo bay door control pad and keyed in the sequence to unlock it. The door light glowed green for a moment and she heard the faint clicks as it unlocked. She’d promised herself she would protect Kaylee and her brother. Sometimes you had to help the future along a bit, give it a tweak in the right direction. Then she headed on up to the kitchen.
Hat and River stood facing each other. In front of each of them was a round ball of dough, laying on the floured surface of the big galley table. Harriet grinned impishly at River.
“Now comes the really good bit,“ she said. River looked at her blankly. “We have to knead the dough,” Hat explained. “Remember how annoyed you were with that gorram stuffed shirt of a brother a yours, earlier?” River continued to look vacant. “Hey, don’t think I don’t see when yer miffed with Simon. I’ve got eyes!” smiled Hat. “Well, just think back to how irritated you were and take out all that there tension on this here dough… Don’t worry,” she added to River’s wary face, “It’ll bounce right back!”
River reached out delicately and pushed one finger slowly into her ball of dough. Then she withdrew it, the dough sticking slightly to her finger and extending with her as she withdrew. “Don’t fight back.” She whispered to the dough.
Hat looked at River with concern. Please don’t have an episode while there ain’t no one here but me and the babe, she thought. She glanced involuntary at her son, who, seated on the floor in the sofa area, surrounded by cushions, was playing contentedly with some small bits of shiny. “Well, no.” she said cheerfully to River in an attempt to jolly her along, “it don’t rightly fight back, but that’s what makes it so much ruttin’ fun.” To demonstrate she gave her dough a flying punch, leaving the deep impression of her fist right at its centre.
River’s deep brown eyes gazed at her serious and implacable over the table. “Don’t fight back!” River hissed, this time directly at Hat.
Hat said “Well, OK then, I won’t,” which seemed to be the response River wanted. All of a sudden she brightened, the cloud lifted and she began to mould her dough into weird shapes whilst Hat kneaded her own. Her artwork seemed to please River and she smiled. Glancing up at Harriet she said, “Be back before you know it.”
Harriet nodded agreement, “indeed they will. Shouldn’t take them long to drop the stuff.”
Rivers’ forehead creased, and she shook her head, “not them” she stated. Hat sighed; there was clearly no getting sense out of River this evening. Frankly she was giving a box of frogs a run for their money in the mad stakes. She rolled her dough back into a ball. “Come on River, lets get this *bao* in the oven. Then we can play cards if ya like.”
River nodded, “have to play the hand you get dealt,” she said, as if in explanation. Hat breathed a sigh of relief. At least River’s comments had turned the corner into the just vaguely creepifying.
Then just as suddenly as the silence had fallen earlier in the evening, the whole ship seemed to be full of noise. Hat turned from the table to see three downright unsightly men, a vast array of firepower strapped to their bodies, standing in the doorway of the galley that led up from the cargo bay. A glance at River and she saw some weird form of recognition pass slowly over the young woman’s face. Hat had never had to try so hard not to look at a thing as she now, with every fibre of her being, tried not to look towards the comfortable area of the galley, where her son was sitting.
“*Ai ya*! What the *guay*…” she began.
“’Scuse us, miss.” One of the men said with mock gallantry, “we’ve just come for the girl there. If’n you let us take her, you and yer little one,“ he nodded towards the soft area and something fragile within Hat shivered with fear and threatened to break, ”won’t come to any harm. Come along, River. Lets not make this ugly,” he said to the girl who was still staring from the other side of the table.
“*Ee-chee shung-hoo-shee*. You ain’t takin’ no one nowhere!” said Hat firmly.
The tallest of the three men, standing a little behind the others coughed delicately and muttered, “so we’ll be taking someone somewhere then?”
His scabby looking colleague who had been the first to speak, turned to him, “huh, Walt?”
The tall man paused to polish his glasses on his sleeve and pointed out, “well, double negative, Bongo.”
The smaller man sighed, “Oh, gorramit, just give the verbiage a rest will ya, Walt?” He turned back to Hat, clearly almost as annoyed by his own compatriot as by Hat.
Hat saw his slight distraction and decided to take advantage. As quickly as she could she reached for a knife, lying on the table. Her hand never even closed over it. Everything seemed to happen very fast and very slowly at the same time. River screamed and yelled almost incomprehensibly, “don’t fight back!” and Hat found herself flying through the air of the kitchen, having been picked up and flung by third of the three men. She hit the far wall and units awkwardly and fell to the floor with a sickening smack.
She must have lost consciousness for a few moments because when she pulled herself together and looked around, River and the men were gone and her baby was crying for her from across the room.
Tuesday, May 24, 2005 10:45 AM
Tuesday, May 24, 2005 10:47 AM
Tuesday, May 24, 2005 12:53 PM
Thursday, September 01, 2005 9:45 AM
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