Summary: "There are two things I'd fight to the death for. My sister and my home, in that order." —Dr. Simon Tam. A prequel, chronicling Serenity's early travels in the 'verse and Simon's search for and rescue of River. Includes perspectives of all the crew and the special hells they put themselves through.
Disclaimer: I do not own the genius that is Firefly, that honor goes to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy
Warnings: Spoilers for series and BDM, canon-level violence
Beta'd by: KrisEleven
Chapter 3: River — Cut
The Academy, 2515
"You are quite sure these parameters you've set up will isolate the neural stripping to the amygdale, Dr. Warder? If you are not confident, it would be better to wait. We will not have a chance like this again."
The man speaking was poised on one side of the glowing imager that was at present constructing a three-dimensional model of a human brain. During the past several minutes, his eyes had moved repeatedly between it and the flat screen showing inner slices of the same organ, but now all his attention was on his colleague's face.
The woman on the other side of imager pushed a strand of dark curly hair behind her ear and met his eyes without flinching. "If you are still concerned about the failure of your previous surgeries—"
"Failure is a strong word. You would have precious little data to work with, had we not 'failed' so many times."
Dr. Warder waved a hand. "You need not be indignant on your own account, Dr. Mathias. The errors can be laid squarely at the feet of those who formerly held my position." She placed a finger on the imager, and the outer layers lifted off smoothly, leaving the inner area and the brain stem exposed. "They were content with secondhand information, rather than psychoanalyzing their subjects themselves. This image I've constructed is of course imperfect—I would be surprised if there were enough scientists in the universe to perfectly analyze River Tam's brain—but I have discovered the key elements that will be relevant to you during your surgery."
Dr. Mathias examined the inner brain closely. "I will not lie, it is quite impressive. But I must say I am surprised you did not work from a model of a normal brain, and make adjustments from that base."
"We must not make the assumption that it is the obvious differences that matter when it comes to River." Dr. Warder paused, then added fondly, "And to lose her would be tragic. She's such a wonderful girl."
Dr. Mathias nodded. "Of course. But we can't become attached, you know that. When River completes her training, Parliament will be eager to put her to use."
"I'm quite aware of that," Dr. Warder replied, turning back to the base of the screen. "But it might perhaps have helped if your former colleagues had been more 'attached' to your previous subjects."
"Which means what?"
"Only that the subjects might still be here if they had."
Dr. Mathias shook his head. "No one is more pained by those deaths than I. As I told you when you came to work here, the doctors responsible were properly reprimanded."
Dr. Warder gave a faint half-smile. "At the time, I was unsure if you were reassuring me or warning me what would happen if I were to fail."
"There will be no failure this time. If I cannot prove to Parliament that we are progressing...it could be the end of all this good work."
"Then we must succeed," Dr. Warder agreed. "The government forgets at times that science as well as laws created civilization. I suppose that I still must stay in the dark about the true purpose for the neural stripping?"
"You would suppose correctly." Dr. Mathias fixed his eyes on the construct of the brain, gleaming gently in the light from the imager. "Secrecy is vital. I am not suggesting you are not to be trusted, of course. But one never knows what, or who, may disrupt all our plans."
The assistant surgeon rapped on the doorframe. "Dr. Katsumi Warder? May I come in?"
"Of course." Dr. Warder waved him to a seat. "The last I saw you was a week ago, when you and Dr. Mathias were prepping for the River Tam surgery."
"That's right. Dr. Mathias said you'd expressed concern, since you've been doing psychoanalysis with her. He thought you might want to know that the surgery was an unadulterated success. She isn't awake yet, but that's to be expected."
Dr. Warder let out a breath. "Splendid. He is to be congratulated. And so are you and the other assistants."
"I understand you had no small part in it yourself."
The woman smiled. "For the good of us all. Did he say when my analysis sessions with River would be resuming?"
"Ah, that's the other thing he wanted me to tell you. They won't be."
Dr. Warder frowned. "What do you mean, they won't be?"
The assistant shifted in his chair. "Your psychoanalysis sessions with River Tam won't be resuming."
"You must have misunderstood. Dr. Mathias knows as well as anyone that extensive neural stripping requires concentrated therapy afterwards."
"Oh, he knows that," the assistant said hurriedly. "It's just that you won't be doing the therapy."
"Oh, really? And who will?"
"I didn't ask. He hasn't been in a good mood lately."
"And that's why he neglected to tell me himself that he would be reassigning the sessions?" Dr. Warder snapped, and then what the assistant had said caught up with her. "Wait a moment. You said the surgery was an unadulterated success. Why is Dr. Mathias not in a good mood? He should be bouncing off the walls."
The assistant looked thoroughly miserable. "Don't blame me. I'm just the messenger."
Dr. Warder composed herself. "True. I will speak to Dr. Mathias myself, when an opportunity presents itself."
"That's probably for the best," the assistant agreed, obviously relieved.
River Tam, undisputed genius and intuitive phenomenon, lay on the operating chair in a drug-induced haze, trying to remember how one stopped a hurricane. There was a storm in her head, whirling and roaring and tearing, nerves, synapses, too much, too fast.
They were known on Earth-That-Was as typhoons and tropical cyclones. The most destructive of storms.
It was gone, entirely gone. They cut it out. Her mind like a window with no glass, a porthole in a submersible, a breach in a spaceship hull, letting the nothing in until it crunched the vessel. The images blasted into her center and left her shaking. The breach of a needle in the soft place inside an elbow, a man sobbing uncontrollably and scraping bloody trails across his cheeks with his nails, a woman wrapped in plastic being slid into a disposal, her face crushed to a pulp and beyond recognition, a jar crammed full of human eyes.
They have a core, an eye, where air pressure is low. Around the eye, winds can rotate at nearly two hundred miles per hour.
If only her head would slow down for a moment, she could find that ordered space that was before all she had known, as straight and smooth as well-oiled file cabinets. She could herd the monsters back into their cupboards, but what was the use? She would still know they were there. They would reach out with their claws and shred the curtains she put up to make herself forget, silk like her mother's dresses, silk like Simon's vests, silk like the veil of the Companion the assistant surgeon had visited last night, all oil and sliding limbs and shrieks.
They develop around the equator of a planet with sufficient oceans. Massive storms, they can be over three hundred miles across.
And then she felt the black, outside the planet's protective cushion of atmosphere, and it was unspeakable relief to fall into it, not a thought, not an image, for miles upon miles. Like a rip in her round world, the mouth of some god ready to swallow her, and she begged inwardly to be swallowed, that the stars would eat her—blue giants, white dwarves, red supergiants—reach up and gulp her down, and stop all the pain, the pain she never had been properly able to feel. She saw the planet, hovering like an egg yolk in its shell.
The top clouds are made of ice, the lower ones, droplets of water. The storms are huge circular bands of cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds.
But the images crashed down again, and they weren't hers, the memories weren't hers, they couldn't be. Not some bat out of hell from her own psyche, not some trauma long since forgotten. These shapes—spiders? hands? flowers?—she had no point of reference for these, they couldn't be quantified, they didn't fit into the proper spectrum, they were blue and they were red, and there was a high-pitched hum and a creak like a rocking chair, and suddenly that image was gone and she could hear words with the images.
Though hurricanes soon die out over land, they devastate coastlines. They have been known to kill more than a million people in densely packed urban areas.
"Pens in one cup, styluses in another keep them separated and death will not come." "Blood clogging up my mouth and I was still alive when they shut the lid on me." "We're doing such fine work." "Heart going, heart going for one more second before the lightning kicks, in the gleaming wreath that jerks my pulse away." "Numbers and numbers and numbers and I was wrong how could I have been so wrong." "No one touches me and no one writes to me and I don't know why I had to go away."
To be continued.