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Two by two, hands of blue. River used to sing the eerie rhyme; he thought it was nonsense. He didn't know what she meant then; these last few years, he has. They walk into the room, three of them, rather than the uniformity they tend toward of two or four. But they break their own rules these days; the old order doesn't matter. They mix with other operatives, and civilians like him, without consequence. They walk through the room, out of the middle door, into one of the adjoining labs. He's still alive; he has purpose – they don't kill any more, not the same way at least, not in this period. They lost their purpose when everything went bad; now their goal is to fix it all. That's Simon's goal, too. He wants to make it all better.

River is dead because of what was done to her. Serenity is destroyed. The others are fractured, their ragtag family broken into pieces, spread out on the few habitable planets to survive with the remnants of humanity. The Alliance is gone, the Reavers are gone, but a new threat is here.

This solar system wasn't as good a choice as had been supposed. They're not alone, and they're not safe. Neither is Earth, crippled as it has been for centuries from both overpopulation and wars. Those who were left behind are as much at risk as everyone here, though they're stubborn and won't see that. It was the first place they thought to retreat to once it was realized how dangerous this system is. Not that it's the haven they were hoping for, despite that some made the arduous journey but were sent packing – Earth rejecting them. There's nowhere left to go, no escape from their fate, but this is why he's working here – they're trying to make it safe. They'll prevent the catastrophes of the past, as well as the present situation. They'll never even have to leave Earth if it all goes as planned.

He won't exist, nor will River, but it will be worth it. The suffering will be over, the slate wiped clean, and people far back in history given a second chance at their lives, at the cost of his horrendous one. It's not much of a price to pay, according to his judgement. Kaylee would disagree, but she's not around today. Serenity is no more, and neither is she, thankfully. He hadn't ever thought she could live without her dear ship, so it's rather fitting she died aboard it. He almost wishes he'd been there as well. But that would have made his death meaningless, where as what he does now is decent, meaningful – it will make things right. He's always fixed people, and in doing this, he's fixing the past for so many of them at once.

Two by two, hands of blue. Blue handed men, even though red handed would be oh so much more appropriate. They're the ones with dirty hands. He can't count how many people they killed in the search for River. He and River always escaped, but those who they were last seen with never did. He hadn't known, back then, what they did to people to make them scream like that. Today he does, and he has to ignore it.

He does the research, and the experimentation for which they – proud former operatives of the Alliance secret service - offer themselves up willingly. Five have died so far in his quest to perfect the technology they need, a dozen more ending up damaged worse than River ever was. Meanwhile, the remaining operatives, the blue handed men, plan. He knows what they do in there, deciding who they will pluck out of the timeline, who will work into their scheme. There is sense to it but no fairness. They're splitting families, depriving people of those they know and love. They're calculating odds of how the removals will affect the society, and the same for each choice’s return. Some are taken to do good, others because they will be effective weapons. Yesterday, he had to give them a report, and on view was the file of Oliver Knox, most likely a serial killer, who they obviously want to inflict upon that time for a reason. That doesn't shock him like it should, like it would have once.

It's more complicated than who deserves to die and who doesn't - even though no one they choose will necessarily die, they have planned for a margin of failure or error, just in case. What matters is the outcome, setting the world straight. Many choices seem downright evil, but they know, more or less, what will become of them. The ripples will spread throughout time and eventually all the pieces of the plan will come together.

Each choice is more difficult, having effect upon all those before it, requiring more calculations, more permutations of every other chance they have gone over. Soon enough, they will reach a point where they will have to be satisfied with what they have. He has a feeling that they'll go for a nice number divisible by two, some of their habits dying hard, seeping into their current work. By then, he should, hopefully, have his side of this worked out.

The endeavour has been made much easier by some recently uncovered data files, archaic but still useful notes upon neurochemistry by some professor back in the designated return decade. He doesn't know how they got them, presumably a trip to Earth was involved. If so, they're very lucky to have gotten them back here, let alone in time to add anything to his work. He'd still said thank you to them, for whatever trouble it had caused, not that they acknowledged it. They seemed to have taken his long ago request for help to heart, never mind that prior research hadn't been what he'd had in mind. An extra pair of hands had been what he'd hoped for; they were already short staffed, albeit understandably so. Humans were a dying breed, making it harder than usual to find anyone who was qualified for the project.

As much as he despises the decisions the men make in those rooms, he knows they don't just signal misery and pain. The odds of unexpected joys likely to happen due to the returned specimens briefly bring a smile to his face. New relationships, new families, forged out of loneliness and tragedy. Not everyone will be so lucky, but enough will find the experience positive to make it feel that bit more justified, less cruel. They'll all have a hard path ahead of them, but many will be better for it, just as Earth will be. Humanity will live because of them, so he reminds himself those who suffer are small sacrifices to pay along the way. He tries to dismiss the fact those people are not volunteering, because he doubts few would. No one can truly understand what has happened, what he needs to prevent. They. A slight slip. What they need to prevent.

Today's third victim/patient is... He taps the tablet to open up the patient file and is speechless. Tess Doerner from 1955. A paranoid schizophrenic bound to be confined to an asylum for the rest of her life. The young girl is a mirror image of River, and just as troubled as his sister. He initializes the process, and the technicians oversee the seeking. It doesn't take long for them to zone in on the target, the girl alone in her blank room, babbling to herself. He barks out the order, and she is taken from her cell, unceremoniously transported to right in front of him. She's staring at him, but then she blinks and falls unconscious. It's a fortunate side effect that makes the abductions easier. They'll never know they were here, a split second of confusion and then a blissful sleep until they all get sent back in bulk. That shall be an entirely different process, one not yet fully planned but plenty thought through. At least they're only up to #3678. He's betting it will be a few more months at least before they exhaust both themselves and their available resources. Four thousand would certainly be a nice sensible number for them to end with.

He turns away as his medical staff prepares the girl for cryostasis. He knows from the case file on screen that she's going to be sent back as she is, for the most part, or at least not cured. Not cured because of him. They're sending her back to cure Burkhoff, all because he'd said the man was remarkably insightful, ahead of his time. She actually has to be crazy for their purposes, has to be where Kevin Burkhoff is in 2005 – stuck right there in that damned madhouse. If all goes well, Kevin will walk out of there, but she probably never will. He can fix all of humanity, but he can't fix one girl. It feels like he never could; it's always about the greater good. That was why the Alliance messed River up, to improve their world, and now that's him. It's why he can't give Tess Doerner a normal life, regardless that none of those they send back will have a normal life. They'll all have special “features,” as the blue handed men call them. He would be more inclined to say “powers,” but technically, the human body is already unknowingly capable of all the new abilities they’ll be able to do - they simply have the means to apply what is necessary to awaken the abilities, thereby causing the desired changes in the timeline.

Will they appreciate being special? Probably not, because they'll be different, and humans aren't very forgiving of differences, even when logic shows that they're part of what makes life. People who are different, like River, tend to be persecuted - cries of “witch!” by those backwards hillfolk coming to mind – he wonders if these people will have that problem, too.

Yet differences, variety, is inherent to nature and evolution – it effects change. People also don't like change too much; they'll resist the changes that are needed. That's why Simon has a plan of his own. Everyone else will cease to exist, as he'd very much like to, but he won't completely – a copy of his consciousness will linger on, transferred in unison with the abduction process, undetectable to the others. He has a boy picked out, a conduit through which he intends to articulate their goals, their reasoning, telling them whatever gets the job done. He will make sure that everything happens as it should – he'll do anything to make sure it does. The operatives must be wearing off on him, or perhaps, deep down, he's always been this ruthless. His mission used to be to save his sister; she was the most important thing in his world – he'd have done anything to protect her. Today, his mission is to save the world. He can't save his, so he will save theirs. They don't have to agree, or like his methods, but with his future gone, there is a determination left within to ensure that someone has a future that merits this effort rather than fighting in the here and now, as he knows Mal must be doing.

Mal will battle to the end of his days. Simon will, too, and some more considering what he has up his sleeve, but he'll be fighting sometime else, for something bigger than himself. There'll be a whole new history replacing them, and he prays, despite his lack of belief in any gods, that it will make up for what had become of them all in the meantime. And, too, that it's going to be worth what it will do to all those like Tess, who are tools bent to their will, cogs turning in a great machine to build that brighter future. The whole thing is hideously complicated, but he often likes to think of it simply. This is about survival, much like Mal would reason his waging of war. His survival, Mal's - everyone's here - isn't needed, nor wanted in some cases, for there are days when he would be happy to be oblivious, to drop out of existence. For the others who mill around the labs, who quietly plan harsh realities in sterile rooms, who charge into the firefights on other worlds, that will come true. For Simon, this will never be over, not until he sees the fruition, proof that they succeeded. He's the only volunteer, but it's just as much a sacrifice as for any other person who is going to arrive on August 14th 2004. He's another instrument, keeping the mechanism going. The difference is, he won’t belong there; he doesn't have a place in their new world. He's only there to make sure it materializes, unlike his dreams of happy times that never came.