Everything is strange and new. No power in the 'verse can stop her, but she's not in the 'verse now. She's somewhere else, and she hasn't done the calculations, can't make the predictions. It's interesting. Interesting, but there's too much of it. Too much buzzing.
She chooses one thing to see, to be with. It might be a light fixture. It might be a tree. It might be an anchor. Solid, a pivot point around which she can swing off this planet, away into space, and home. She touches it, and it doesn't say anything. It's quiet. Quiet is nice.
"River," says her new friend, the one with the blue eyes. He's like her, a little lost. But not as much. He has anchors. She likes him. "Yo, River! Listen, I'm sure that's a very interesting, uh... pole... thing. But we've got to be gettin' a move on. Boba Fett and his buddies are gonna be here any minute. Remember, we talked about this? Bounty hunters?"
Yes!, she answers, wanting to make him quiet, but she hasn't moved her lips and tongue and the word doesn't come out of her mouth. She should fix that, but she's busy. She wants to see if she can pivot. She puts her hands on the anchor and swings. Three hundred sixty degrees. Back where she started. Possibly not useful.
A hand touches her arm. "Hey, Tinkerbell!" He calls her that. The reasons are murky.
"Yes!" That time it comes out, loud and high-pitched. A shriek. She doesn't like that that sound is her, but it is. His hand tugs at her, and she clutches for the anchor again, but it's receding into all the colors and the sounds and the people, and taking part of her with it. "Yes! I remember! Do you think I wouldn't remember? I do! Blue hands! I remember!" She holds up her own hands, looks at them. She doesn't trust them, but they're attached to her, so she probably doesn't have a choice. She can feel the hair on her head. She doesn't want anything on her head, anything in her head. She tears at it and screams. Screaming is what you do when they put things in your head. Everyone here knows that.
"Jesus, and I thought Stark was bad," he mumbles, and suddenly she catches a glimpse of something interesting and shiny. Except, no, it's just a memory, not really there. She stops screaming to tell him. "It's not there. It was there, but now it's gone."
"Glad to hear it," he says. And then, quieter, "We've really got to keep moving. I think the last thing you need is a session in the Comfy Chair."
He puts an arm around her shoulder. She dislikes the touch -- it's too itchy, too human, too much -- but she likes the warmth that comes with it. "It's a dilemma," she says.
"You said it, sister."
Sister. Mei mei. "I miss Simon," she says.
He's asking questions as they walk, saying things about people he misses, but she de-prioritizes the input. She's staring at poles, looking for another pivot point. Unsuitable. Unsuitable. Unsuitable. She'll have to find something else.
"Damn it, where is he? He said he'd meet us here." He fidgets, his hand hovering near his gun.
"The average human brain takes more than 200 milliseconds to react to visual stimuli," she tells him. It's relevant information. "Winona's a pretty name."
"Uh, thanks," he says. His hand stills and drops away from the gun. Now she can reach it before he does. Could have anyway, maybe. Her brain isn't average. She's aware of this fact.
He looks into her eyes. She doesn't always like that. You can see things in eyes, sometimes things that don't even know they're there. But his are full of equations, and she likes those, likes the way they swirl and sparkle. She can see 'verses and 'verses in them, can see back the way she came. She closes her eyes and smiles, tosses mathematical symbols into the air. They scatter and she catches them, weaves them together again. She likes the way they're true.
The man with the spaceship is going to betray them.
"Listen," equation-eyes is saying now, "I don't care about your cargo or your timetables or any of that crap. I'm just looking for a way off this rock. Now, you said you could provide that--"
"He's stalling," she says. She lets the equations slide from her fingers. She'll retrieve them later. "He called the Peacekeepers. Told them we're here."
"Son of a bitch!" Winona is in his hand now. Reaction time: irrelevant.
She walks up to the creature. He has three arms, a muzzle full of sharp, crooked teeth. Also irrelevant.
"You're frightened," she says. "They killed your family, killed your friends. Now you do what they want so they don't kill you, too. So you'll watch them take us. Crying. Bleeding. You'll tell yourself it's because that's how things are. You do what you need to do. But when you close your eyes, when you see them, you'll see us, too. Every time. And every time you see them, they'll be calling you what you know you are. Coward."
The being's throat convulses, his yellow eyes twitch in their sockets. River doesn't blink.
"How-- How does she--?"
"Damned if I know," says her friend. "But tell me she ain't right."
She ain't right. Everybody says it. But she's right, anyway.
She grins at him as they board the ship. He shakes his head slowly and smiles back.
River is a speck of life surrounded by air, surrounded by alien materials she hasn't yet analyzed, surrounded by the black.
She sings softly to herself, a song Simon used to sing to her when he was only her big brother, and she was only River Tam. The syllables are nonsense, but they have meaning anyway. It makes her happy to hear herself singing, and she's still happy when she stops, because it's quiet outside now. It isn't empty: even vacuum is full of energy. Quantum foam, virtual particles, creation and destruction. It's always there, she knows that, but she can't see it. Can't feel it. It's nice, when everything is so real all the time, to know that there are things happening she doesn't need to be aware of.
It's peaceful inside, too. More than it was. The ship's pilot is asleep, napping at his controls, not dreaming, and here in the hold, it's only the three of them.
She can't see the third one, not really, but like the pilot, she knows he's there. She can feel him, nervous and sly. If she turns her head quickly enough, she thinks maybe she can see him smile, but all she catches sight of is her friend's unfocused blue stare.
No, wait, there he is: pale skin and leather and teeth. She laughs. It's like playing hide-and-seek.
"John, I do believe the girl is looking at me!"
"Sure she is." River thinks can see his lips moving, but that might be an illusion.
"I'm telling you, she is dangerous. And she is a liability."
"She's a teenage girl! A crazy teenage girl. Save the paranoia for our real enemies, Harve."
"A crazy teenage girl, John, who appears to know far more than she should about wormholes."
"Which is why we need to keep her close and not let Scorpy get his mother-lovin' hands on her. Why are we even having this discussion again?"
The other one makes a sound of disgust, and when River blinks, he's disappeared. Quiet. But not gone. "We're all crazy," she says, a little petulant. When they look at her, startled, she turns her back to them, curls up, and tries to sleep.
The black goes on and on. She still likes the quiet, but she's getting tired of not being anywhere. "Where are we going?" she says.
"Moya," he replies. "Our ship, mine and my friends'. Well, no, she's her own ship, but she lets us ride on her. God knows why. Good old Moya: land of the free, home of the deranged. Don't worry, you'll fit right in."
There's hair hanging in her eyes. She brushes it away. "I'm sorry I said you were crazy." He feels so sorry for her now that she has to take his hand. "It'll be all right," she says.
"Yeah," he says. "It will." And he squeezes her hand back.
"There she is. Hello, beautiful!"
River opens her eyes. She was having a dream. At least, she thinks it was a dream. Simon was there, so it must have been.
"That's Moya," her friend says. He's standing at the window -- there's one tiny, round window down here in the hold. "And damn if she don't look prettier every time."
River walks to the window, presses her nose against it to see. There's a life out there. A big, warm life, singing to itself. And inside, smaller lives, funny and angry and loving and lost, all tangled up together with threads that would make sad, pretty music if you plucked them. It feels very familiar. River closes her eyes and hums the sounds in her head.
"We'll be safe there," Crichton says. "Well, safer. And my module's there, all the data on wormholes I've managed to collect." He puts a hand on her shoulder. "Eventually, we'll find a way to get you home."
Home. River hasn't had a home for a long time, but she'd like to have one again. At some point in the space-time continuum, it may happen. The future is uncertain. No predictions. But for now, a place like this is acceptable. Tangled-up lives in the black.
"I found the anchor," she says, and her reflection smiles at her among the stars.