A.N. This story is built on history set up in the Namesake series (not posted here... hmm. must fix that). The story is (with one exception) told from the POV of your BDH Firefly primaries, but in the 17 years since the BDM, some families have formed on the ship. The salient history is summarized just before the prologue.
Zoë died while giving birth to her namesake, Little Zoë, who was adopted by Mal and Inara. Little Zoë is now 16. Mal and Inara have two other children: Cole (age 11) and Michael (age 9). Michael is deaf, but is also a reader.
Simon and Kaylee have 10-year-old twins, Jamie and Genny.
About 8 years ago, Sky joined the crew as a hired gun. She is your typical Joss-style bad-ass and beautiful woman, and she broke Mal's hand the day he hired her. She and Jayne got married at the behest of Jayne's mother, after Sky became pregnant with their daughter, Emily (now age 2).
River is still single (poor thing).
So the ship (and this story) is a little crowded with families now. We're all caught up, right? Let's have an adventure!!!
It wasn't real, but if River had to describe it, she'd say the space was cluttered. It was perfectly bright, perfectly warm, and everything had a place, though some things were harder to find. Floor to ceiling cabinets, packed with information, formed narrow aisles, and River moved purposefully, locking as many as possible. The aisles formed concentric circles around a wide arena, where all external sensory perceptions were processed. The physical and the tangible perceptions came only through the center of the arena, while the extrasensory – people's thoughts and memories – were apparitions appearing in random places at random times throughout the arena. That's where the intruder had first appeared.
He was a wraith at first, like the others. More lingering, though. River had thought him an under-practiced psychic at first blush, because it was how she'd experienced Michael early on. They had learned to meet each other in the arena – her and Michael. It wasn't that he controlled when he appeared; it was that he controlled where, and that alone made him safe.
The intruder hadn't left the arena yet – hadn't followed her into the aisles. He circled the control center, watching as she observed the outside world through her eyes, ears, and senses. He was small and unassuming, and his face was a Frankenstein of all the reader's he'd killed to build this weapon. He tapped into their power by accident, but he had enough of his own, and the damage to River's brain had made her vulnerable. If he wanted to leave the arena, he could. That was why River had to lock all the cabinets – anything with information about Michael.
"River…" Simon appeared briefly in the arena and faded again. Simon came frequently to the arena, and almost always to the same place. If he didn't appear in his place, he certainly moved there within moments of arriving. It was how River distinguished him from the imposters when all her physical eyes could see was a needle coming toward her. Surely the intruder knew Simon's ghost by now. When the intruder became more persistent, River had warned Michael to stay away.
River tensed and turned sharply. Michael stood just behind her in the narrow aisle, frightened and alert. He was not good at appearing outside the arena, but it wasn't safe in his space anymore.
"How are your defenses?" she asked.
"The wraith lingers, but hasn't taken hold. He hasn't come at all in the last span."
A span was the only measure of time they had here. River usually measured hers by Simon's appearance, though that normally steady timepiece had sped up of late. She had no idea what Michael used for measure. If the wraith hadn't come in a span, then it was possible he'd lost interest.
"Keeper!" the intruder called. He was summoning her to the center! River pushed Michael hard and in a flash, he disappeared. Sauntering suspiciously into the arena, River wondered if it were possible to be both invisible and present within her own mind. He took up so much of the space now that she nearly choked. Or maybe she was already choking.