Chapter One - Serenity
Serenity slipped quietly through the nothingness of the galactic outer rim towards Persephone. Its sleek metallic structure shone dully against the pinpricks of light on the dark matter fabric that was the galaxy. Barely standing out from the darkness of space, she sped through the emptiness to her destination both unassuming and unnoticed. Its slender neck extended from the box like body pointing the way while the oblong spheroid of the engine pod glowed like a firefly's backend, driving her forward. It was quiet and cold and serene.
The young woman, still a teen actually, stared in fascination out the bridge windscreen at a vast open field of stars in the cold emptiness. A streak of yellow smeared over Serenity's windshield as a particle, excited by the navigational shields, fell back to its resting state and slipped into her wake. Then another, this time blue. The teen's face lit up as each arrant atom glowed past, her eyes wide with wonder behind the stray strands of black hair that veiled her smile. The glow of the emission shone of her pail shin coloring her in alternate hues of red, and yellow and blue. Her unkempt slender form sat bolt upright in the pilots chair eagerly waiting another glancing colored streak of light along Serenity's nose. Like a child in a woman's body, she reveled in the joyful light show.
After an hour, however, the girl became more pensive and drifted into a silent meditation on each stray particle that slid brightly along the Nav shield as the small cargo ship sped toward its next way point. She explored the possible origins of each lonely particle, greeting each with a slow intake of contemplative breath and sighing a sad farewell as they drifted into the void behind. She wondered what had set these wayward particles adrift. Had their stories been like hers or had they chosen their path.
The bridge was dark, lit only by the lights of the console and second hand light seeping through the entry hatch, from the galley down the hallway. She like it better that way. It made her feel more a part of the Verse outside. The void in which their current course passed was also relatively dark, compared to other locations in the galaxy. The stars were few and faint in the void, not like the core with its thousands of close stars, novas and nebulas. River liked the darkness of the void. It quieted her inner monster.
Serenity was no stranger to the dead zones separating the galactic outer rim from the core planets. Each spiral arm left one of these zones, a gap between the traffic corridors on the arm, with their worm-gates and the dense squat ball at the galaxy's center, the Core. These gaps presented quick shortcuts through sparsely populated space as well as long empty corridors from the frontier planets on the rim to the border planets. This was not a place for the faint of heart. This was empty space, dangerous space. Serenity could navigate these voids for days without seeing another soul.
This suited River just fine. She hated the human mental chatter and unregulated outpouring of emotion that pervaded most crowded places. It prodded at her brain, creeping into her thoughts from the corners of her mind when she least expected. Her mind was crowded enough without other people's sordid thoughts invading from the outside. People could be so – well, mean, vain, needy, ugly, angry, selfish, hungry, horny. The teen scrunched up her face at the thought, then smiled at the quiet unending emptiness of space outside the window before her. None of that repulsive mess filled her world here. More than anything else she wanted this place, Serenity, to be her home.
Toward that end she had been trying to make herself more useful around Serenity. River had been piloting the ship, a 130 ton, class three, light weight space freighter, for months now and the captain was starting to feel comfortable enough with her behind the controls that a routine trip from Harvest to Persephone could be done on her own. River didn't mind. She enjoyed the solitude of the bridge during these trips, especially along a void. It made her feel trusted, more a part of the crew.
Empty voids, however were not where Serenity typically made her berths. Cargo ships need cargo and cargo meant people. As they emerged from the gap into the more dense space at the base of the first galactic arm, the glow of highly charged atoms excited by the Nav shield, was more common and signaled their return to civilization. River whispered a farewell to the blackness behind them and braced herself for the human tumult to come on Persephone.
Since her brother had rescued her from the Azure Star Core Academy, broke her out might be more accurate; River and Simon Tam had been hiding onboard Serenity to escape civilization. Though they were no longer fugitives and hadn't needed to hide from the Alliance for the better part of the past year, she still needed to hide from Core society. River no longer fit in with the rigid structures and arcane beliefs of the civilized Verse, their facades were too thinly veiled, their desperate pretences too absurd and pathetic. River could too easily see through the masks they wore to fool themselves and it scared them. It was better that she stayed away from Civilization.
Most communities wouldn't accept a reader into their midst, for that is what most thought River to be, a reader. Someone who can read the truth in people is a dangerous thing. Readers were considered witches or spies, or generally untrustworthy. More often than not they were banished or killed. But the crew of Serenity had accepted her willingly. They treated her carefully, as was to be expected, but civilly. Sometimes like an odd guest and other times like a queer second cousin, but mostly like a member of the crew, someone who belonged. She liked that feeling.
River looked on Serenity as her home now and the crew as her family. Still – this family was just starting to know the half of what River really was. She would have to be careful.
A streak of blue lit up Serenity's muted bridge and she smiled.
The silence of space was vast, peaceful and comfortingly endless.