river_meimei: (resting)
The afternoon is warm, bright and a little hazy, the sort of golden summers-end day where the light seems almost tangible. River's sitting under one of Milliways's shaggy overhanging willows. The long trailing strings of leaves cut a jagged dark lace against the sky. Her knees are tucked up under her skirt, and her bare toes curl against warm damp earth; tree bark is rough against her shoulderblades.

She's not alone.

Margrethe Juarez is sprawled lazily on the grass in front of her, a faint smile on her face. She's wearing white, a rough loose weave that looks like linen, slacks and tank top and jacket like nothing the Academy ever gave its students, and the afternoon light dapples it with leaf-shadows and warms the highlights to gold. Her blonde hair is pulled back in a messy, careless ponytail.

(She stopped looking like this months before River met her.)

"It's warm," says Maggie to River's ankles, and spreads a hand slowly against the blades of grass.

"No," River says softly. "Just here. It's a harvest."

Maggie laughs, soft and almost silent, and River's own smile spreads involuntarily. "Here counts."

Somewhere, a bird is singing. A skylark. River couldn't tell you what a skylark sounds like, but in this dream she knows exactly what it is -- because Maggie knows, Maggie the country girl from Aberdeen, or just because it's a dream.

River breathes in, and out, and her smile slips away. "You're dead," she says, very quietly.

Maggie rolls over a little further, enough to reach out and brush her fingertips very lightly against River's dirty toes. She's still smiling, just a little; in the warmth of her blue eyes, in the sunlit peace of her face. "Yep."

"I couldn't," River says to Maggie's pale slim fingers. Her nails are painted a glittery translucent silver; at the Academy, they never had nail polish. "I tried, but, but I couldn't, and she was too late."

"Mèimei." Maggie's voice is inexpressibly gentle. "You were always going to be."

"I know it," River whispers, and her eyes close on tears.

A rustling of grass and linen, and then a slim warm arm is around her shoulders and straight hair tickling her cheek, and River leans into the hug in huddled silence, and their heads touch. It's like the old days, exactly like, except that the light through River's eyelids is pure and golden, and the skylark is still singing. There are no needles here, only memories.

"She killed me for you," Maggie says, and kisses the top of River's head like a sister. "It's okay."

River shakes her head a little, never lifting it from Maggie's. In a low choked voice, she says, "Anthy. Killed you for her."

Maggie laughs, low and warm, and it's like the sunlight. "That too."

It's minutes more before River speaks again. They don't need to talk; Academy children heard each other without words, whether they wanted to or not, and Academy children learned silence, and the gift of huddling together to make the unbearable bearable. Maggie taught River that.

"Jiĕjie. I miss you."

"I know."

River swallows. "Wanted you to meet them. Everybody. You could see the sky."

Maggie's hand strokes over her hair. If River opens her eyes a crack, she can see blond strands and a white-jacketed shoulder, and the blur of landscape beyond. Everything is warm. "I can see it," she says. "I can see it right now."
river_meimei: (study the steps)
In one sense: River is curled up in her bunk's narrow bed, a tidy lump under blankets with dark hair fanning all around her head. She's sound asleep.



In another sense: River is in a maze, old-fashioned, planetside -- a hedge of high green bushes with white flowers, with a floor of incongruously dead dry grass. It crackles under her ballet slippers. The blossoming walls are too dense to see through, rearing twice as tall as River, and the corridors are green and cool and silent. It's a labyrinth.

She doesn't know her way through. But in the dream, she hasn't really stopped to notice that. She just has to keep moving, and she'll get... somewhere.

She hasn't really thought about that one, either.
river_meimei: (little soul)
River is dreaming.

But not the classroom, this time. No smiling teacher, no students sleeping or arguing, no map of the solar system -- no Reavers. No foreboding.

A stretch of rocky desert sand, instead, under the shadow of a cliff. The wind has carved the rock into sinuous shapes, and at its foot is a small spring. Green clusters of spike-leafed plants grow among the stones, studded with creamy translucent flowers or globular clusters of white blossoms.

River is sitting cross-legged against the cliff, watching a bee move among the flowers.
river_meimei: (lying down)
The dream, again.

The classroom is empty, this time; no teacher lecturing at the front, no students kneeling at their desks. Only clean pale wood and white cloth, and the garden beyond, and everywhere sunlight.
river_meimei: (lying down)
The grating of the floor is cold under her cheek. River's eyes are closed, lashes dark against her wan face.

She's dreaming.

The outdoor classroom, again. White tented roof, floor and desks of pale wood. The public gardens surrounding the tent are green and lush; couples walk the paths, murmuring together. Water ripples sofly over lilypads in the nearby pond, and everything is drenched in light.

It should be peaceful.

"Why don't we all lie down?" suggests the smiling teacher. "A little peace and quiet will make everything better."

"No," River's younger self is protesting. "No."

"River?"

The other students are obediently curling up, closing their eyes, relaxing into the wooden floor.

"No!"

The teacher is lying down, too, still smiling, showing them how to behave. But her voice is sharp. "River, do as you're told."

High and desperate, "No!" and the scene shifts, perspective shatters, the world is made of light and then River is barefoot on the wooden floor, standing among her younger self's sleeping classmates.

She's wearing the electrode-studded bodysuit and slit-sided tunic that were burned long ago, when she was free of the Academy and could wear her own clothes again, and a rivulet of blood trickles down her forehead from the tidy hole of their mind-probe's entrance wound.
river_meimei: (disconnected)
River's dreaming again. The same dream she has nearly every time she closes her eyes these days, in infinite variation and infinite repetition.

A roof of white canvas, over a wooden-floored classroom; there are no walls, and the public gardens surrounding the class are lush and green. Students kneel at low desks, often, before a gently smiling teacher. Not this time; this time it's empty. Just River.

Everything is white sunlight, peace, quiet. Saturated with it.

She's wearing one of the Academy uniforms. Her forehead bleeds from a long-healed wound -- a tiny dot of blood, puncture wound from one of the Academy's mind-probes.

There's a screen, at the front. The picture shifts as she focuses on it. Silent steps on the sunlight wood, nearer and nearer, and it grows as she does -- and then there's only the picture for a moment, no classroom and no sun, but only the sudden flash of almost-comprehension as the world becomes a planet viewed from space, a perfect Earth-like world spinning slowly in the black.

And then a flash that is

(rooms of dessicated corpses)

no, that is

(the planet in silent peaceful rotation around the sun)

no, that is

(men and women lying down to skeletal sleep)

and no, it's just the classroom, sunlit and beautiful and calm, but there's something underneath, something--

She's breathing faster and faster, eyes flickering here and there, to nothing and to waving fronds of bushes and to mummified corpses that aren't there when she looks back--

An animal growl and there's a Reaver next to her, hand locked around her throat and the other on her jaw, rank with sweat and blood, rage pulsing in the air and hot breath on her cheek, gashes gaping on his face, he's baring sharpened teeth to bite, taste the flesh and fear--

She's awake. Disoriented--

(Hissed words, just below hearing)

She's awake.

Her eyes narrow with focus.


----------------------------------



The bridge is empty. Wash is with Zoe; the ship's on autopilot. They're a few hours from Haven yet.

The bridge isn't empty any more. River is perched in the copilot's chair, feverishly tapping keys and touchscreens, searching through a maze of maps on the Cortex.

She's looking for a planet that doesn't exist.

And she's found it.


----------------------------------



"How can it be there's a whole planet called Miranda and none of us knowed that?" Kaylee asks.

"Because there isn't one." Mal leans against the wall, arms crossed. "It's a black-rock. Uninhabitable. Terraforming didn't hold, or some such. Few settlers died."

Simon's hand rests on River's shoulder; she's curled in the chair still, watching the screen, moving in tiny restless twitches.

"Wait a tick..." Kaylee frowns down at nothing, dredging up faint memory. "Yeah! Some years back, before the war. There was a call for workers to settle on Miranda. My daddy talked about going. I should've recalled."

Wash tilts the yoke a few degrees, and flicks a switch. They're in atmo now, working their way towards Haven and Shepherd Book. "But there's nothing about it on the Cortex," he protests. "History, Astronomy -- it's not in there."

"Half of writing history is hiding the truth." The victors write it; everyone knows what Mal thinks of that. "There's something on this rock the Alliance doesn't want known."

Inara studies the copilot's screen, where Miranda still floats in her orbit-grid. "That's right at the edge of the Burnham Quadrant, right? Furthest planet out." Mal nods. "It's not that far from here," she points out.

Wash is already shaking his head. "Whoa, no, no--"

"That's a bad notion." Zoe's voice is clipped, overlaying her husband's, as she slips past River and Simon to touch the screen.

"Honey, show them the bad."

"I got it, baby," she tells Wash. A few taps, and the view of Miranda pulls back to show a wider view of the quadrant. "This is us, see?" One finger indicates a spot in the corner. "And here's Miranda. All along here, this dead space in between --" She sketches a curve between the two points. "That's Reaver territory."

Into the utter silence, Wash says, "They just float out there, sending out raiding parties..."

"Maybe a hundred ships," adds Zoe. "And more every year. You go through that, you're signing up to be a banquet."

"I'm on board with the run-and-hide scenario," Wash states, to general expressions of silent agreement. He glances back at the monitors, and to the sloping side of the mountain rising ahead of them. On the other side is Haven, Shepherd Book's sanctuary. "And we are just about..."

He squints, as they round a spur of rock. "Wait..."

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River Tam

August 2010

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