What is she looking at?
She's staring, glassy eyed, but her eyes aren't empty - they're full of life, of amazement, of purpose. But they're focused on a wall.
She cocks her head to the side, as if there were a painting there turned sideways. "If they would just move," she says carefully, "I could walk right through."
I don't ask her who "they" are. The support beams? The stars outside the ship? Mal and Wash in the cockpit? Or maybe the molecules in the wall? "I'm sure you could," I tell her instead.
"You couldn't. You're too tall. You weren't always this tall, you know. Before."
Before. At least that always meant the same thing. "You were always a lot shorter than me, River. You're a girl." I smile, and ruffle her hair.
"Kaylee's a girl, too," she explains seriously, "though she doesn't dress like one. If I had green flippers and skin that water rolled right off of, would I still be a girl, or would I be a frog?"
"I think that you're the same person underneath no matter what you're wearing," I answer, deciding not to touch on the part about the flippers. "Are you ready for your checkup?"
She takes my hand, and walks with me, but her eyes are still on the wall. "If you keep sticking me with those needles, will I still be a girl, or will I be a pin cushion?" she asks.
I'm not sure how to answer that. When I look back at the wall I almost think I see it shift, change. And then River looks tired when she turns back to me. I know that there are things in her world that don't exist in mine. What worries me is the possibility that there's more truth in hers.