Disclaimer: Well, I own neither Firefly nor Star Trek. If I did, I would be a fandom god rather than the tiny, unimportant fanwriter I am today. Don't sue me.
A/N: I decided, after reading (and writing) one too many Firefly/StarTrekXI crossover drabbles that I needed to actually attempt this as a cohesive story. I had this idea in my head and it kept percolating until this popped out. The "Chinese" is romanized without tonation notes. At the bottom of each chapter, the Kana will appear—for all those who are Chinese Language Purists. Though, and this I promise, there will never be a point where knowing or not knowing the "Chinese" will hinder or help your understanding of the story.
I hope everyone enjoys this as much as I enjoyed writing it.
It was quiet. Still. Wrong.
She wandered listlessly, slowly, through the corridors and her mind. Her hands traced the unfamiliar familiar bulkheads with certainty—she murmured as fingertips grazed molecules, traced and created flaws in perfect, flawless surfaces as she passed.
There was smoke—fire was an active process that created smoke. Without the passage of time to allow consumption to occur, was fire really fire? Did that make smoke something new? Something different?--it hung in the air silently and she passed by it, slid against it, but didn't cut through it. She could feel it, but she couldn't touch it.
She could never touch anything.
The grates were cold underneath her feet. It was the cold of space leaking through the hull, she could hear the silence pounding against the outside, clawing to get in. She frowned and looked up and then down again. She was standing at the end of the way. A gaping hole stretched out before her, unfurled into the open space beyond.
Smoke pooled, stretched upward toward a sky that didn't exist. Wires sparked, and red lights echoed klaxon calls against the numbered levels. She looked down and the world melted until she was looking up, standing in the center of the shaft, staring up at the gaping hole she was staring down from. The bulkheads were clean, organized, grey. Numbers marked their way up, but she couldn't read them.
She could never read anything.
The word shot through her head and split it like glass. A chip tumbled down, and her hands curled around her face to catch the rest of her—she didn't break apart, but the glass resounded in sharp, pounding blows. Her vision blurred and her hands were covered in blood when she pulled them away. She was bleeding, but the hands before her were not hers—they were not covered in her own blood.
A drop tumbled down and, as it struck the ground, the world came back to life.
The ground rocked and buckled, and she with it. Her footing was shot and she was thrown against the wall—it made no sound as she impacted it, but the slapping of boots on grating was loud enough already. An explosion tore the deck and shards of metal rained down.
"Quickly, the coupling on tube four is about to blow out!"
The smoke around and above her rippled as invisible men burst through it, racing across solid things. She watched their shadows, heard their footfalls, and listened to their words. She couldn't see them—they couldn't see her, not really. The metal groaned and wept in pain and River heard the outside beating to come in.
"Down there, goddammit, let it blow, the bulkhead's about to compromise!"
The klaxon shorted out and the lights flickered—white became red and red became nothing. Darkness engulfed everything, but River could still see. She could always see, but never with her eyes. Red flares tumbled across grating and flickered like candles in a storm. The ground rolled and a scream tumbled down to her. It hit the ground with a crack and soaked her in blood—perfectly visible and intransient. It was cold.
"We can't take another hit, the whole deck is spaced!"
Panic seized the voices in the dark and her brow furrowed as she tried to look away. She turned her eyes, but she could still see—always see.
"Get a hold of yourself, Mc'Kenna—Fuck, where's Olsen? De'Martinez? Tr'va?" Orders bellowed over an over-comm and she couldn't hear them, couldn't understand them, couldn't read the words over sound. She whimpered quietly and the glass in her head crackled against itself. She clutched her head as a second shard tumbled down.
"Tr'va was spaced when deck two blew out!"
"They're here! Get out!"
"Get outta 'ere! At's an order!" a voice shook out and she closed her eyes. The walls groaned and rage slid across the bulkheads. Invisible figures darted across catwalks and the smoke parted as the last of them fell. Her vision focused on something she could not see, could not feel, and she watched nothing fall through the smoke and air until it landed before her. The metal parted, melted away, and the outside forced itself inside.
One by one, the lights went out.
"River! Please, River!"
The fire wasn't fire anymore, the lights were dark, and the sound wasn't sound because there was no one to hear it. The outside was cold, and her hands were gone when she opened her eyes to see them.
The world lurched and she was sitting in the medical bay—Don't sit there, River. Chairs make better chairs than cabinets. Her eyes ghosted across the surfaces, the cold collected room, and she frowned as the calmness parted and the world came back to itself in front of her.
"Get her on the table!" Simon shouted, his panic was palpable as Jayne and Mal held her by the torso and legs. She was thrashing, twisting, gurgling as they lashed her down to the medical gurney. Her head swung back and clipped the edge of the bed and Simon snarled at Jayne, "Renci de fozu! Keep her still!"
"By the verse, 'the fuck is wrong with this kid?" Jayne snapped back as River arched and pulled at the restraints. Her fingers caught on her thighs and dug deep into the flesh there.
"Jayne, stop askin' and start helpin'!" Mal shouted as Simon clambered through his cabinets, flinging bottles from his path and scrambling to find his instruments. Kaylee cowered behind Inara in the threshold of the medical bay. Inara frowned and Zoe brushed past her with an armful of gauze and Simon's medical kit.
"Get her hands out of her legs," Zoe snapped and pried River's hands away from herself before holding them down against the table.
"Quickly, I need the dermal lavage pads and a bottle of Thorazine," Simon snapped as he flicked on the machines and snapped a cuff onto River's arm. River watched with wide eyes, perched upon the cabinet, out of sight, as she thrashed against the table, against the metal as though it would bend. The machines screamed and beeped urgently and Simon swore politely as he stuck her chest with a long, imposing needle.
The reaction was instantaneous—River watched as she collapsed against the table, limp and twitching like a bird with a broken neck. Mal and Zoe released her arms and Jayne her legs, and Simon barked orders at them. Kaylee shivered as they brought Simon his bottles, his needles, and his tools. One by one they passed across her head, a flashlight in her eyes, a depressor on her tongue, a shot in either arm, and River watched herself gurgle and twitch—her eyes rolled back and, like feedback on a monitor, she could see what she saw and see herself seeing herself.
"River," Simon pleaded as her heart jumped erratically. His voice was broken and sad, and River climbed down off the cabinet. "River! Please, River!" He leaned in and pressed his forehead against her chest—the room was loud and too quiet all at once. "Don't do this," he begged, "come back."
River passed around Mal, and Jayne, and Zoe, and leaned across herself. She could see the crack—where the glass in her head was breaking—and she frowned at it. The world smelled like smoke, and Simon, and cold, and she could feel a shard missing from her mind. Simon sobbed and her attention focused on him—on his warm head, his soft hair, his heart—River, you'll get better. I know you will because I'm going to make you better.
"It's okay," River said but the sound was missing because no one here could hear it, "It's okay, Simon, I'm not cracking apart." She pressed her cheek against the top of his head and gently ran her fingers against his hair. "It stopped." Her hand slid through his hair and landed on herself.
"It stopped," Simon announced as he toweled his sister's blood off his hands with grim, depressed resignation. His hair was askew, his normally immaculate shirt rumpled, and dark circles had formed under his eyes during the last few hours in medical. "For now. But this episode was...well."
"Way worse than normal, weren't it?" Kaylee supplied with a squeak and Simon cast a heavy-lidded glance in her direction—she was seated on the couch, her knees drawn up to her chin, hiding behind herself. Though Simon nodded, he didn't have time to answer.
"Course' it were, every one of us could see that," Mal replied and saved Simon the effort. Mal ran his fingers through his hair and started pacing a short line across the room—Inara watched him with wide, damp eyes and gently rubbed Kaylee's back. "Question is, what do we do, Doc?"
"I," Simon began and his voice faltered. All eyes were locked on him as he cast a glance over his shoulder—the sight of the medical bay made him flinch as through he'd been struck and he turned back reflexively. "I don't know." Simon twisted the towel in his hands and sighed heavily. "I just...I don't know."
"Now what'dya mean you don't know?" Jayne snapped at him, a scowl set across his features. "We done took that girl to Miranda—"
"Jayne," Zoe interjected with flat vehemence.
"No! I ain't done," Jayne cut back and stood up from where he'd been reclining against the bulkhead, "We took her all the way out to the edge of space an' lost two men ta' do it, an she ain't even better?"
"Jayne," Mal snapped and leveled an angry glare at the mercenary.
"She's cracked doc," Jayne kept on even as Mal stepped between him and Simon, "An there's naught we can do for her here."
"You want to go that way, Jayne?" Mal prompted lowly as he grabbed the larger man by the shirt-front.
"No," Simon said sharply. "No," his voice dropped and everyone refocused on him, "He's right." There was a deafening silence for several seconds as Simon turned and crossed the short distance to the medical bay entrance. "Jayne's right."
"Yeah," Jayne started but his bravado was quickly crushed by the severity of the circumstances, "I am."
"What we need...." Everyone short of Simon turned as Inara stood from the couch. "Is an Allied Cruiser." Her words fell like lead weights and the silence pitched low. "They'll have the sort of technology you need. You need to understand what you're dealing with. To understand what's changed."
"A Cruiser?" Jayne prompted rhetorically and scrubbed at his head. "Goushi, it'd fuck'n figure."
"An just how do you plan on getting us onto one of those?" Zoe asked, as though the answer hadn't already been implied.
"We can't give ourselves—."
"With a material translocator," Inara cut Simon off with such surety that the doctor turned to meet her dark eyes.
"What?" Simon asked, incredulous, and Inara swallowed before stepping around the table.
"We can sneak you aboard with a material translocator," Inara answered.
"An' just where are we to get one of these," Mal asked as he released Jayne, honest curiosity in his tone, and folded his arms across his chest.
"I thought they weren't but theoretical," Kaylee professed in awe and stared, glassy-eyed at Inara.
"Dr. Sungee Saavik," Inara answered, "He's been working on a prototype since I've known him. I can persuade his son to part with it."
"His son?" No one was sure who asked, but it didn't really matter.
"Dr. Saavik died last month," Inara elaborated, "His prototype was near completion." She cast a hard look at Kaylee and the engineer's eyes opened wide. Kaylee's big eyes darted between the captain, the crew, and finally fell on the broken frame of Simon. She frowned and then inclined her head.
"Get it to me," Kaylee said with more gravel than anyone had ever heard in her voice, "An' I'll make it work."
"Sounds like we have a plan," Mal announced and grabbed Inara by the shoulders, "I could kiss you!"
"I could charge you," Inara retorted and Mal smiled for the first time in a long time.
"Doc, can you keep her alive long enough for us to get underway?" Mal asked and Simon frowned.
"I can only hope so," Simon professed honestly and the mood was dampened by the truth in that statement.
"Alright, get to it people," Mal commanded and the group broke apart to their tasks.
Mal and Inara went straight for the cockpit. Jayne broke the group with a frown and headed for the cargo bay with Zoe. Kaylee was the last to leave, and she did so after several tense seconds of silence, heading for the engine room. As they scattered, Simon was left alone with the gentle crooning of the appeased medical machinery and the slow, even breathing of his unconscious sister. Wearily, he entered the bay and perched himself on one of the scattered chairs. He watched River's peaceful face for a long time before he fell asleep, and slept fitfully for a while before he awoke to find his head in someone's lap and fingers in his hair.
"Sleep," River's lyrical voice commanded him in a hushed whisper. His eyes opened and his vision bled with the sudden brightness of the medical bay lights—when his eyes managed to refocus, he could see her tired, bruised face smiling down at him.
"River, Meimei," Simon started, his voice thick with sleep, and pulled himself away from her as he sat up. "You should be resting," he reprimanded lightly and pulled her into a hug. The monitors and machines were off, each neatly composed in its proper place, and the sheets on the bed were done up. How long had she been awake?
"It stopped," River said against his shoulder and he pulled away to look down at her placid face. "The outside came inside—it put out the lights. It stopped, Simon, it stopped."
"Oh Meimei..." Simon's heart clenched and he pulled her into a tighter embrace than was probably necessary or recommended. A sob caught, soundlessly, in his throat and she wrapped her arms around his waist in response.
"Simon," she started and she forced herself back a few inches, "You're squishing me."
"Oh god," he hissed and instantly released her. "Did I hurt you? How are your ribs?" His fingers ghosted over the side of her gown, checking the bruises and the contusions she'd given herself earlier. She giggled and swatted at his hand. He looked up and she was biting back a smile—he couldn't help but smile in return. "How about the other side?" He bore down on her and ran his fingers mercilessly down her sides—her tight smile degenerated instantly into a fit of laughter and she swatted at his tickling hands.
"Simon—," she hiccuped for air, "—it—ah—Simon!" She shrieked and slid out of her chair onto the floor. Simon stopped, wide-eyed, and River giggled at his expression as he helped her up.
"Come on," Simon said as warmly as he could manage. "Let's get you to bed." It didn't take much coaxing to get River into the medical bed and tucked in, and her eyes were heavy as he kissed her forehead.
"It'll work, Simon," River said suddenly, her voice laden with sleep.
"What will?" he asked softly, bracing himself for another string of indecipherable nonsense.
"The translocator," River explained as her eyes closed.
1. "Renci de fozu!" - Ren2ci2 de5 Fo2zu3 - 仁慈的佛祖 - Merciful Budda!
2. "Goushi" - gou3shi3 - 狗屎 - Shit.
3. "Meimei" - Mei4mei5 - 妹妹 - Little sister.