They are discussing, in feverish tones, whether to accept the captain's offer and remain with Serenity, or whether to keep running alone, just the two of them, brother and sister, the last of their house and lost to their ancestral gods.
“我不信任。” Tan Hena says insistently. ‘We cannot trust him.’
‘He was a Browncoat,’ Simon reminds her. ‘He will not betray us to the Alliance.’
“他可能不会出卖我。” she replies, eyes flashing, 'but I do not wish to sell my dignity by living on his ship.'
‘Dignity!’ Simon explodes at this. ‘What dignity is there? I know what you mean, River; and I don’t want to be like 爸 and 妈, 我也不想盲目崇洋， but this is not about selling dignity like our parents, 小妹。 This is about surviving, and I’ll eat my dignity if I can survive.’
‘I won’t.’ She turns her head away, so he will not see the tears brimming. Deep breaths, so that she will not lash out and rip the cables and pipes from the walls with her furious mind. ‘We both had the best education money could buy, and we sold our pride for that.’
Which is true, he concedes, remembering med school. On paper, the Alliance was an equal partnership between the United States and the People’s Republic, but economic power did not change how white society worked.
‘But, 妹妹， just listen—’ he coaxes.
‘No!’ The word flies from her lips. ‘I listen to you enough. Just because I am not – not normal – just because I cannot always pass for normal – that does not give you the right to make all my decisions. I was pinned down in that lab, 哥。 They touched me and they didn’t care what I thought and they made my decisions for me and you're doing the same right now!’
It has always been a fine balance between pride and survival. Simon has never told her of how frenzied 爸 and 妈 became when she fell off the grid – how they panicked, how 爸 wept and 妈 screamed and both of them knew but would not say, Nobody cares if one more pretty young Chinese girl goes missing. He might have been disgusted, all his life, at how they fawned over their white colleagues; he might have been disgusted at how he did the same, stifling himself and nodding agreeably with his classmates; but he pitied and understood them then.
He wants to say, ‘River, be realistic.’ And at the same time, he wants to hold his sister and cry into her long dark hair and promise her (or promise himself) that it'll be alright and tomorrow will be a bright morning, 风和日丽， the earth and air filled to bursting with hope.
‘Okay,’ he says. ‘那就好吧。 We will find another way, another place to go. The galaxy is big.’ Too big, much too big, for lost friends and parted relatives to watch the same round moon. Maybe too big for all under heaven, as well. Maybe it would have been good to stay on Earth-that-was, and remain in the Middle Kingdom forever.
River throws herself at him, wrapping her arms about him impulsively. ‘Oh, God,’ she whispers, “谢谢你。谢谢你。 Thank you so much, 家明大哥。”
It feels like a slap, when she calls him by his old name, but he takes the blow gracefully. She is running from her captors, from oppression and imprisonment and objectification and rape; and he? He's running from complicity and his past.
Jiaming, light of the house. He has not brought much light or glory. He does not even know the dialect for 家明， even though 谭 is a name that comes out of an ancient state in 山东， which journeyed into 湖南， and which has persisted long in his family's old home of 香港。
Well, he can make a start now. Take River – take Hena-mei – and run. Make a clean break. Here I draw the line.
There is a rap at the cabin door.
“进来吧!” Simon calls, setting River down on the ground gently so she does not startle.
It’s the captain. ‘Wheels up in five,’ he says, with his broad southern smile and slow southern drawl. ‘Y’all stayin’ for dinner?’
Simon returns the smile. ‘No, thank you,’ he says politely. ‘We’ll probably be making our own way.’
‘Fine by me,’ Mal Reynolds replies, and stretches out his hand. ‘Nice meetin’ you, Doctor Simon Tam.’
Simon takes the proffered hand, shakes it, and bows lightly. River watches.
‘Actually,’ Simon yells over his shoulder as he departs, ‘my name is Tan Jiaming.’
Hena’s laughter falls like a spring rain.
They leave at Persephone, where it all started, the two of them – brother and sister – and Kay Lee, too. The three of them, children of heaven, children of the Qin Emperor and the Red Book and a scattered diaspora and five thousand years of history, flying headfirst into the future with all the past behind and inside of them, far away from the spaceship where the 汉字 are painted all backwards and wrong.