Disclaimer: It's not mine. It's Joss's, and (unfortunately) 20th Century Fox's. I promise to put it back when I'm finished and not make a mess.

Author's Note: I'm usually more plot focused. Even my vignettes have exposition, conflict, and climax. This is an Alternate Universe, so to speak, and as such, may or may not show up in other fics I do. All comments are welcome, constructive criticism most of all. Thanks!

Be Careful What You Wish For

River crept up the stairs onto the bridge. It was the third watch of the night, and as a result, the whole crew was asleep, including Wash, who was on duty, sitting in the pilot's chair. She peeked a bit, and then nudged him into a deeper, quieter sleep. He slumped further down into his chair in response.

Quiet. Even in the black, it was a precious commodity, and ever since she had come to herself – as much as she ever would – she treasured the quiet she could find. It gave her time to think without the noisy thoughts of the crew pressing on her skull. Even now, she could hear Mal's dreams – a grimy, tense search through rubble and rock to find something important, he just didn't know what it was. Closing her eyes and concentrating for a moment, she pushed just a little, and in his dreams, Mal found what he'd so desperately been looking for – a slip of paper with a set of coordinates and an account number written on it. Now, they would be safe. Now, the Alliance couldn't touch him or the rest of the crew. With a slow, deep breath, he rolled over in his sleep, more relaxed than he'd been in years, and in his dream, he was back on Shadow, watching his mother's herd of horses crop spring grass, holding that slip of paper in his hands.

It wasn't a miracle. Simon had been searching for nearly three years now for something, anything to help River reconnect with herself and the world around her. The breakthrough had come when he finally realized that he'd no need to make her permanently better. All he needed was to put things in order long enough for River to sort out the problem herself. It had been little enough at first – the right drug combination, a field modulator that delicately adjusted the timbre of her brain's electro-magnetic field, and such – but it provided nearly two hours of lucid thought. It was enough for River to review the scans Simon had taken of her at Ariel, enough for her to suggest a further course of treatment. That had built on the first treatment, giving her almost half a day. Then it was three days, and then a week, and then, after six months of constant battling, bruises on the insides of her elbows from all the blood drawings, the migraines, the auditory hallucinations, the occasional complete breakdown, she had located a neurosurgeon who not only could do the work she specified, but wasn't beholden to the Alliance, and was willing to deal honestly with two fugitives.

Simon had been tense almost to the point of splintering. It was Mal who'd seen the sense in it, and Inara who'd provided the contact. Now, here she was, two weeks after the operation, and for the first time in five years, it was quiet. The thoughts in her head resonated in one direction or another, but only briefly, and only to the depth that she required. Now, her senses no longer crowded in on her until she felt as though her mind might collapse into a singularity. She would never again take for granted the tidy way her mind and memory could grasp any problem, disassemble it, and plug the answers she liked into the appropriate holes.

Especially now. There was so much work to be done.

Sitting in the copilot's chair, she pulled up the Cortex on the auxiliary screen. With a few hundred key strokes, she hacked into the system logon file and created a false user ID with thirteen different aliases that gave her access to the MedAcad, Companion Guild, Blue Sky Corporation, and every level of the Alliance military grid. She had a list of specific goals. They would take time and effort to accomplish, but it had been a long, long time since she'd enjoyed any sort of a challenge.

First and foremost was to protect Serenity and her crew. Inside of five minutes, she'd eliminated every flag and search reference to the ship or suspected activities by ships of its class. She pulled up the dossiers on each of the crew members. Mal's was lengthy and tagged ten ways from Sunday. Zoe's was only tagged six ways from Tuesday. Wash's was short and unfairly dismissive; Jayne's was limited to a small paragraph that summed him up as strong, stupid, and scary. Book's was by far the most interesting. There were more than a few facts for River to file away and use at a later day. Inara's was second only to Book's, especially since the debacle that had lead to her expulsion from the Companion Guild and the warrant for her arrest on murder and conspiracy charges. Kaylee's file was almost non-existant, just a note that she was a gifted mechanic and could be counted on to fold during combat. Simon's and her own were, of course, required reading.

Shifting her user mode to one that mimicked the top level of the Alliance Freedom Taskforce, she deleted a few items here, fudged a few items there, and then added a tap note so that the next time any Alliance stooge pulled up the files, they would get a short warning that hindering Serenity or her crew in any way would result in the kind of penalties that made Core magistrates flinch and consider changing careers. She then altered the sigline and buried it under three layers of code, so that any curious soul would be brought to the distinct impression that the someone who'd placed that tap note could give the Prince of Darkness a run for his money. Any sensible fed would quickly butt out, sensing that their life expectancy would be much more reasonable if they let well enough alone.

Done with that, she smiled a bit, checked on Wash, who was happily dreaming of dinosaurs and jet packs, and went on to the next line of business. It was nice how tidily things fit in to one another, and nice how well she could do her job. First, she could avenge Inara's loss, then Mal and Zoe's, then Simon's, then Book's. The Blue Sun Corporation was the key, of course. They had fingers reaching into every facet of life in the 'verse. That covert arm of the Alliance government – rather, it was more accurate to say that the Alliance government was the public front of Blue Sun – had corrupted the Companion's Guild, the MedAcad, the colony and the core worlds. It was a real-life hydra, and would respond in the same manner to an open attack.

She could see the paths of her plan branching out in front of her, the work that would take only a few weeks to accomplish, the strategy that would take months to lay out the groundwork, the results that would take years, perhaps decades to come to fruition. Under the noses of those who'd chosen to make her what she was today. That was the most delicious part. By the time she was done, they would be humbled, powerless, and suspect, but never know for sure, that it was her doing. By the time she was done, the colony worlds would have their independence. By the time she was done, the Alliance would be dismantled and sold as junk.

The first part, she knew, could be completed from this very seat. There were people to contact, false accounts to create, subtle machinations in the currency and stock exchanges, quiet little backdoors to build. Other parts, within the next four months, would require that she leave Serenity for some time. She would have to prepare Simon for that. When she was done with Ariel, Persephone, Osiris, Shang Ko, and Sihnon, she could return to the ship and stay there for at least a year. The results of her work, she knew, would affect tens of billions of people. There would be at least five major famines once Alliance protected trade routes were disrupted and the Core worlds no longer received the food stuffs produced by the colonies. There would also be scores of assassinations, hundreds of minor military skirmishes, and three pandemics of one sort or another, the Reavers would expand for a few years and then be snuffed out. The numbers were sobering, but from her calculations, far, far less than the consequences of letting Blue Sun continue their good work.

The neurosurgeon had a little talk with her when she'd come out of anesthesia. Parts of her brain, he'd explained, could never be fixed. Some centers, especially portions of the prefrontal cortex, were either stripped away entirely or devoted to new activities that could not be changed. The difference, he said, was that she lacked one specific executive function – a conscience. She was, for all intents and purposes, a sociopath. He explained this to her, because he was painfully aware that she would most likely come to the conclusion that she was better off with him dead, considering how much he knew of her. He'd gone on to explain many logical reasons why it was really better that she let him live, even though he knew with a little mental effort, she could have caused the walls of his cerebral arteries to burst, killing him in a few messy seconds.

He didn't have to worry. She knew what she was and why. She had been intended to be a tool – a very powerful tool for a very specific purpose. But she was a tool with a mind of her own, and she refused to do the work intended for her. As for a conscience, she told him, she did have one. His name was Simon. And Mal. And Zoe, Inara, Kaylee, Book, Wash, and Jayne. She didn't even have to ask. She knew exactly what each accepted or found repugnant. Each had their own quirk, their own eccentricy. The eight added together gave her one powerful take on the 'verse.

And that was enough for now. Maybe forever.

She scratched her nose and started the procedure of logging off from the Cortex, burying her electronic footprints so that any security grunt who checked her activities would find only a trail of distasteful pornographic images leading back to the commanding officer of the Dortmunder. That would teach him to call Serenity a pile of junk. Wash snorted, jerking awake from his sleep just as she blanked the screen.

"Hey, didn't hear you come up," he smiled, trying to get the crick out of his neck.

In a short moment, as she tilted her head to one side and drew her feet up under her, she considered a few options. Lucid, prophetically profound, blank, or totally wacko. In the end, she decided on mildly disturbing.

"The stirrup, anvil, and hammer magnify oscillations of sound waves and are the smallest bones in the human body." She stood up, bent over and gave Wash a kiss on the forehead. "Dream of combative stegasauri."

Wash was still open-mouthed with puzzlement as she trotted down the stairs.

"Hey, how did you know about the stega- oh, never mind. Weird kid," he muttered to himself.