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Title: “a theory of relativity”
Recipient: fell_beast2
Author: paperflowered
Fandom: Firefly
Characters/Pairings: River, Serenity crew
Rating: PG
Warnings: none
Spoilers: vaguely for the series
Word Count: 1400
Prompt: "How River gets along with each member of the crew"
Author's Notes: This is my first journey into River's mind; I hope you like it.
Summary: Just what it says on the tin. I didn't use every crew member, at least not directly, but I tried to cover a wide range.

1. Inara

Inara’s shuttle is decorated to make it look in every way possible like not-a-shuttle. Crushed red velvet and padding made to fit over sharp-edged paneling, reshaping and softening it. Feels like a womb, crowding around her. People crowding is frightening, edging into her brain from every side. But the thoughts in the walls are only bare echoes, and and they're soft, nice ones.

River steps into the shuttle. The rug makes her feet feel warm, in contrast to the cool glass and metal that form the ship, which is nice. Not-nice: it feels like worms between her toes, crawling up from the mud. She squishes them with the balls of her feet, grinding them down with satisfaction.

Turning away from her screen, Inara watches her progress with amusement. Finally, her way made, River vaults onto the bed, stretching out her body and pointing her toes.

"How are you, River?" Her eyes are kind, but River can feel her cool distance, the emotions collected and contained in her mind. Control: Inara has control. She doesn't mind; in fact, she enjoys it. It's a welcome relief from the overwhelming pity, fear, curiosity, and revulsion that radiate from the other crew members, clear as waves, whenever she opens her mouth.

River doesn't reply. "How are you" has two potential definitions: the first, seeking information about one's origin and-or existence; the other, requiring a holistic self-assessment of one's emotional, physical, and mental well-being. Thus, the question is incomprehensible. Instead, she says, "The making of an appointment is predicated on an expectation of the future. Specifically, that it exists, and is predictable."

Inara pauses, uncertain.

River continues to stare at the canopy. "I have concluded that it must be an act of faith."

Inara smiles.

2. Wash

When she dreams, her dreams are a riotous collection of the stray thoughts and nightmares of the others. Zoe and Mal dream of the war, brown dust billowing in every decision; the layer of grit and dirt on her skin itches. Jayne's dreams are usually simpler - sex, not death - but she is unable to cope with the jumbled desires and sensations of such an unfamiliar act.

Simon's dreams are of his own failure: a surgical knife slipping, blood spurting, or alternatively she feels his shock and helplessness as his sister is recaptured (in her own mind's eye, River watches herself being escorted away by the Hands of Blue, their faces elongated in that terrifying way of nightmares). Tonight, he dreams of his old life on Osiris, of visiting the History of Science Museum and its vast rooms. It leaves her breathless with the ache of wanting home.

Awake, she has at least a little more control. She finds herself roaming the corridors of Serenity during the nighttime, even though there is no such thing as night in space; they simply turn many of the lights off on the ship.

Sometimes, there is another person awake. She knocks, the metallic tap-tap-tap of rain on a tin roof, a sound she was unable to quantify until she visited the outer planets.

The door slides open. River straightens up, hands clasped behind her back. "Requesting permission to enter."

Wash chuckles. "Come on in."

Without preamble, she darts over to the secondary cockpit and opens the digital star chart files, flipping through them until she comes to a skymap of Osiris's southern hemisphere.

Wash's seat circles round to face her. "Couldn't sleep?" His chin is resting on his fist, his eyes intent.

"The pillows were dragging me into the pit."

His eyebrows go up, but he doesn't say anything. Instead, he points to her star chart and says, "What planet?"


"Your homeworld, huh? Throw it onto the big screen. Now, tell me about the constellations. Do you guys have a bear, too? Everyone seems to have a bear."

3. Kaylee

Kaylee and River are sitting perched on the upper deck's guard-rails, looking over the cargo area. It's mostly empty; they are in-between jobs - have been for three weeks now. Mal says they are "down on their luck," but idioms are not River's forte. Everyone's getting antsy, cooped up like the farm animals she heard about in school, and when their skins begin to crawl and their nerves begin to jump, hers do too.

She swings her feet over the vast empty space. Space is empty, too; sometimes she thinks the deafening, all-consuming silence of the black would be welcome.

But there are other ways to distract herself.

Kaylee's voice breaks through her thoughts. "When you were a kid, did you ever play Hot Lava?"

River cranes her head up to Serenity's ceiling. "Can't touch your feet to the volcano's magma or you'll get burned. Sofas are ideal."

The other girl beams. "Just right. Wanna play?"

With one fluid motion, River swings her feet up and raises herself to a standing position, balancing on the rail. It takes point-five seconds.

Poised, she looks down on Kaylee, whose mouth has fallen open, but is still smiling. "Very graceful-like, aren'tcha? But that won't help you win." With a mischievous expression, Kaylee slides down the rail to the lower level and jumps onto a crate triumphantly.

River laughs and doesn't follow. Instead, she takes one step, the cylinder cool against the arch of her foot. She takes a second step and a third and a fourth, and then she is running, racing along the guard-rail. She hears Zoe's laughter, and Mal asking what the hell was going on, but it doesn't matter: she is quicker than the wind that would slow to whisper secrets into her ear.

4. Jayne

No touching guns: that's the law Mal laid down for River.

Which is why, when Jayne finds her in his bunk, staring at his gun collection, he yelps. "You're not s'posed t'be here!"

She does not respond to his outburst. In fact, she doesn't move at all, just stands with that preternatural stillness of hers he has yet to get used to. "A gun is a machine, assembled from interlocking parts, unified by a single purpose: to kill."

Jayne sucks in a breath, and he gives her a strange look, crossing his arms. It's a far cry from his typical antagonism or bafflement. No, she sees, it's more like curiosity: he's studying her, as though he's never seen her before. "You like guns?" Coming out of his mouth, it's not spoken in fear, as the rest of the crew would do upon such a revelation, but with guarded interest.

She speaks a simple truth: "You love your guns."

"I clean 'em every week." He doesn't add: I've even named 'em. She don't need to know that.

"I'm good with machines," she adds.

From then on, it becomes a weekly ritual: his wide variety of weapons laid out across the bunk, each kneeling beside it like an altar. He empties the ammunition from all of them, of course, before showing her how to disassemble each and every one with care, every motion reverent and patient. Clumsiness is transformed into deftness, sprawling laziness into intense concentration. One by one, they work their way through each gun, a comfortable silence stretching between them. There's nothing that needs to be said.

5. Simon

She teeters between confusion and clarity. Sometimes her mind is fragmented for days at a stretch; sometimes she turns from one to the other within a matter of minutes, as though a switch has been flipped in her head. Unpredictable; erratic; unstable.

Simon's words define her: he diagnoses her, he explains her, he intervenes on her behalf.

He loves her. He means well. This she recognizes even at her worst, though she can't always control it. But there is something constricting about his words, his desperate struggle to pin down what she is now so that she can be fixed. Define the variables to solve the equation.

Lucid. Adjective. Simon's word for her best hours, to show the ability to think clearly, continuously. To River, lucidity is like rushing water so clear you can see the smooth stones at the bottom. No mud to fog it up; just pure, bright, and sparkling.

Volatile. Adjective. Likely to change rapidly and unpredictably. Like an unstable molecular compound. Slowly River develops a new definition: she is shifting, changing, moving fluidly from one self to another.

Words, she is learning, are malleable: able to be forever stretched out, played with, adapted, reshaped, transformed.


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 21st, 2009 02:59 am (UTC)
I liked the interaction you've given River with the crew. It shows their personalities and her condition and personality. (I must admit that I haven't seen this show, but I heard about it from my kids, so I know about the various characters. I enjoyed this anyway.) I think this is a story that works and was at times very charming. I especially liked the questions about her home planet. "Everyone has a bear."
May. 22nd, 2009 03:03 am (UTC)
Thanks! I tried to make the Wash story as lighthearted as possible. :)
May. 21st, 2009 10:31 am (UTC)
Oh, I like this. You've captured River exceptionally well without going too far into the "crazy" territory.
May. 22nd, 2009 03:04 am (UTC)
That's the balance, isn't it? I'm glad to hear you thought I did it well, I was worried. Thank you!
May. 21st, 2009 11:44 am (UTC)
Wow, this was am amazing read. You really made each of these pieces the best it could be, River being... well, River throughout. See, I am being completely incoherent here because of you :)

Wonderful fic!
May. 22nd, 2009 03:05 am (UTC)
Thanks! *is flattered by incoherency*
May. 21st, 2009 06:42 pm (UTC)
I love what you've done with this. I especially like the interaction with River and Jayne and their bonding over guns. Very true to their characters, but something I never would have thought of.
May. 22nd, 2009 03:06 am (UTC)
River and Jayne are my favorite to read but the hardest to write. Thank you!
May. 23rd, 2009 04:14 am (UTC)
"Everyone seems to have a bear."
Wow. I haven't read much Firefly fanfiction, so I don't know what's conventional, and I would ordinarily shy away from the inside of River's mind, but I found this piece smooth and satisfying.

>""How are you" has two potential definitions: the first, seeking information about one's origin and-or existence; the other, requiring a holistic self-assessment of one's emotional, physical, and mental well-being. Thus, the question is incomprehensible"
I'm not sure I had ever identified with River until I read this passage. It put me completely on her side and validated her wavering internal reality for me. How I struggle with that question, which is so rarely a question! It's a cultural ambush, the "how are you" that really means simply "hello" (which is a third definition yet, and River doesn't tackle it, but still).

>""Everyone seems to have a bear."
So much Wash in so few words! Outstanding!

>"them. There's nothing that needs to be said"
The section between Jayne and River surprised me pleasantly, finding a common ground I had not thought through, and uniting them most tellingly in silence, in a companionship not about words and their complexities. If you had had time and space for this to touch every character, I would have been interested in seeing how Book might have made a triangle point on Jayne's silence with River, and Simon's words with her.

>"about his words, his desperate struggle to pin down what she is now so that she can be fixed. Define the variables to solve the equation"
Big brother Simon. Doctor Simon. Privileged, male Simon. This is how he loves.

Thank you very much for sharing. I will pop over to your LJ and see where else you write!
May. 25th, 2009 12:51 am (UTC)
Re: "Everyone seems to have a bear."
Thanks! I'm glad you liked it, and I'm probably too fond of that line myself. :)
May. 23rd, 2009 10:58 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

You captured River's voice quite well here. I particularly liked her response to Inara's "How are you". *g*
May. 25th, 2009 12:56 am (UTC)
You're welcome! I'm really glad you liked it.
May. 25th, 2009 11:30 pm (UTC)
Wow -- you really showed River well, here. I do love the Jayne bit.
May. 27th, 2009 03:47 am (UTC)
Thanks! I'm glad you liked it. River and Jayne's interactions are the most interesting to write, for me.
Jun. 7th, 2009 12:34 am (UTC)
This is lovely.
Jun. 7th, 2009 12:41 am (UTC)
Thank you. I'm glad you liked it.
Jul. 27th, 2009 12:51 am (UTC)
Loved the Wash one in particular although I liked them all.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )


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