The television set crackled and went to static before returning to the launchpad view of Apollo 7. There were still twenty minutes before its launch, but the set was doing that with increasing frequency. "Simon. We have to go outside."
"Not now, River."
River was pulling on his hand now, which was getting super-annoying. "I want to watch the shuttle launch, mei-mei. You should watch too."
"We can see it from outside."
Simon snorted. "Not nearly as well." The television set flickered again, but Simon ignored it. As long as it held, the picture would be better from inside. Between that and the threats from the neighborhood children to beat up Simon if they "saw him trying to steal American secrets again for his people", Simon was happy to stay inside. It was easier not to remind them that he existed; easier not to snap back that the fact that his grandparents had all come from China didn't make him any less of an American than the other kids were. His personal name was Simon and his family one was Tam. That was just the way life had worked out.
"I really want to be outside for this." Simon sighed. If River kept whining he would actually miss the launch. "Come on, Simon. You know it'll be better from outside."
Simon would freely admit that he'd love to see with his own two eyes the burst of fire that would show the shuttle blasting higher than he could imagine, if it weren't for the other factor.
Simon made the mistake of meeting River's eyes, and then he had to give in. "Fine."
River didn't waste time with thank yous, just raced for the door and her shoes. Simon just hoped the other kids wouldn't notice two Chinese children watching the launch. If he came to that, he also wished that River would listen to him when he told her to run.
River found the spot she wanted to watch from right away. Simon ran a cursory check of it for other kids, but he figured that no one over the age of six wanted to be seen anywhere near the elementary school playground, with the exception of River. Simon didn't mind; he had to admit that the jungle gym would be a pretty nice spot to watch from.
He was distracted enough that he was clambering a couple of levels up before he noticed another figure already on the jungle gym. Simon would have turned around and told River to find another spot, but she was below him and refused to go anywhere but up.
When Simon reached the level of the jungle gym second from the top, his eyes widened to see who it was. Malcolm Reynolds was the closest thing their small town had to a hero. Reynolds was the best football player the high school team had had in years, despite still only being a Sophomore.
"I'm sorry," Simon muttered. "We'll be going."
Reynolds shrugged, languid. "No, stay." He didn't seem offended or angry, so Simon slid sideways, grabbing the bars above him to stay stable, still wary. As soon as she had to opportunity, River scrambled to the very top and stood there, balanced on the two thin metal bars. Simon hadn't ever known her to fall from a position like that, so he didn't spend much time worrying about that.
"I'm Mal." He didn't stick his hand out to Simon, but there was a degree of formality there that Simon hadn't expected. "You go to Gilman High, right?"
A laugh slipped out before Simon could stop it.
Mal just gave a rueful grin. "I suppose it ain't like there's a someplace else you could be going."
Simon thought that was being charitable. He was a Freshman, so the difference between him going to Gilman High and Gilman Junior High wasn't that far behind him.
"I just think I've seen you around, is all. Haven't caught your name yet."
"A pleasure to meet you."
Mal then tilted his head up to directly address River, which won him a few reluctant points in Simon's head.
"River," his sister said. "I'm going to be an astronaut," River told Mal.
Simon started to prepare excuses for his younger sister, who seemed to have forgotten that the astronaut selection process would work the same way the rest of life would: River would always be too female and too Chinese to be an American astronaut. Before Simon had a chance to vocalize any of that, though, Mal nodded seriously. "When you are, tell the stars I said hello," he said.
River giggled. "And Simon's going to be a doctor."
"Yeah?" Mal looked oddly approving, but before Simon had a chance to process that Mal glanced at his watch. "I think the launch should be starting soon. Over there." He pointed on the horizon before Simon had gotten around to orienting himself. River sat then, dangling her feet directly over Mal's head until Mal moved to let River swing freely.