River glided up the stairs to her new bunk in the crew quarters, where she had been moved after proving to the captain that she could effectively pilot the ship. Granted, she couldn't do it with the style and verve that Hoban Washburn had, but her technical precision was spot on. Piloting a space vessel had been to Wash what dancing was to her, a physical expression of the soul. The combination of her enhanced psychic abilities and knowledge came close, but she was still trying to get a sense of the "Love" that Mal had spoken of. In a way, she did love the ship. She understood the ship. They were alike, she and Serenity. They were both machines, of a sort. They had both been "tinkered" with, although Kaylees' repairs of Serenity had been done with love, at times being the only thing to keep the majestic, yet quirky ship in the sky.
The so called improvements on River had been done with a clinical eye to enhance her beyond humanity. Her emotional filters had been ripped away to sharpen her natural psychic abilities. Her mind had been broken so that they could fit the pieces back together in a different configuration, rearranging the data to be more efficient for their purposes. There were moments in time when she hated Simon for rescuing her when he did, before they could complete the rebuild, before they could return some form of order to her mind. Those flashes passed in microseconds because, even as fractured as she still was, she understood that any order, any control that she would have had was someone else's.
With a sigh, she thought, "Another cycle passed." She no longer thought in days, as planetary rotation around a solar body was no longer an accurate way to express the passing of time. Serenity's cycle was just over 24 hours long, 1456 minutes. None of her shipmates had noticed the sixteen minutes she had added to the time spent during their sleep cycle. The change had gone unnoticed because they had to adjust to the current local time on every plant or moon that they landed on, but it had increased the stamina by twenty three percent. It had also reduced the number of arguments by nine and a half percent.
After the first week, she had notified the captain of her findings and had gotten a severe lecture and grudging permission to continue with the new schedule. The data that she had collected regarding the health and emotional benefit to the crew had gone a long way to smooth over the fact that she had proceeded without his knowledge. She had included the lack of argument over the issue into the statistics she provided him, and he had acquiesced without much further dispute.
River dropped down into her bunk and proceeded to the completion of her daily ritual. She had discovered with the revelation of Miranda's secret that all the information running around in her head caused a great deal of the physical manifestation of her madness. She had started a journal, using it as a reserve tank for information. She seldom read what she wrote, knowing that a great deal of it could provide fuel for another war against the Alliance and not wanting to go down that road just yet. After thirty minutes of writing, she put down her pen and sat down on her bed to meditate.
Meditation was a priceless gift that she often thanked Inara for. The companion had started her on the path to inner understanding, and it had given her some measure of control over the chaos in her head. It had taken an incredible force of will to order her thoughts, but as time passed, organization became easier, and had started feeling more natural.
The last step of her meditation was always to open herself to the whole of Serenity, feeling for her crew mates, her family. Simon was in charge of keeping track of the crew's physical state, but she had taken to watching out for their mental state. It was how she'd known when to hug Zoë to elicit the required cleansing tears.
There was Mal, the captain who had taken the place of father figure in her life. He was sleeping, the blackness of space welcoming him, warm and dark, a bandage on his soul, covering the wounds that war and time had left upon him. That bandage had been ripped away by Miranda and the festering sores had started airing out and had started to heal with the balm that Inara had been.
Entwined with his dreams was the companion. After they'd left behind their fallen comrades on Mr. Universe's moon, she had taken to sharing his bunk. To date, they'd only slept. River knew that for all her companion training, Inara was still new to the concept of being a woman in love, and Mal had been giving her time and space. Well, time and space other than the stealthy kiss attacks he'd been bombing her with intermittently. River loved watching Inara standing speechless and blushing after the Captain would kiss her, tip an imaginary hat at anyone she'd been talking to, and then slip off before she could recover.
In her bunk was Zoë, in her own meditative state, preparing for sleep. Each day, she would take a piece of her grief and work through it. River knew that it wasn't the healthiest way, but it was Zoë's way. There were layers upon layers of the tall beauty, and River prayed that the ship could avoid tragedy until the shield could be rebuilt.
River let a tentative mental probe glide over the door of Kaylee's bunk, skimming to feel the happiness and sexual energy that Simon and the bubbly mechanic were pumping out. She thought that the aftermath of Miranda was easiest for them. It had brought them closer and torn away most of Simon's barriers. Nearly losing Kaylee had given him the impetus to forgo propriety and pursue his love wholeheartedly.
Leaving the lovebirds behind, she cautiously sent out a feeler towards the ships gun hand. River had been much more cautious towards him since the Reaver battle. On that day, something had changed. He had become quieter, harder to read. On the few occasions when she had pressed to try, he had looked at her and scowled, leading her to believe that he had somehow felt the intrusion. She felt an indefinable emotion wash over her, a tangled mix, like a wild amusement park ride, flashes of lust, anger, resentment, worship, desperation, wanting. The wave broke and she could feel that his defenses were down, and she frowned a little bit as she caught fragments of images of the crew, meal time, cargo bay, family grief, family play. The last emotion she felt before he drifted off to sleep was a sense of resignation and loneliness.
River pulled back into herself and opened her eyes. Jayne was feeling apart from the family, like an outsider. As she washed and prepared for bed, she started planning how to approach the crew to encourage them to be more welcoming to the strong defender. He was part of their family unit, and River wasn't about to let him feel otherwise.