The look on Inara's face is loud as a gasp, a strangled scream in the sudden quiet. That jagged frisson of hurt turns through her insides and comes out a smile, structured and perfect and sad. Companion trained and flawless.
Occlusion. Miscalculation. This was a mistake. Errant data yields aberrant conclusions and the scrip just sits there, perfect tiny steel and plastic eyes, staring.
Inara's teeth touch the top of her lip. She's holding back tears.
"Threaded timing rods are less powerful than simple bolt action," River blurts, and it's not her knowledge, it's not something she should know, "but more accurate, owing to the diminished recoil."
Alarm, a swift tightening flicker around those dark eyes. Inara has eyes like what would poets call those, something dusky and soft, the back of a doe, cinnamon bark.
River sees those eyes taken in a wash of red, imploding on the flashing edge of a razor, screaming high and terrible. Companion's have singer's training and singer's lungs.
"River? Are you alright?"
That question is a trick, it's a lie, there's never any cake, it's never a party, she's always late and naked and screaming. It hasn't been her birthday in a hundred years and nothing will ever be right again.
"Don't touch me!" River is a dancer. Her power is not in her lungs. Chasse, pas de chat, strike with the ball of the foot. Pivot for maximum torque and release just at the apex of the arc. Curtains and furniture follow in her wake, spinning and destroyed. "Don't touch me don't touch me don't."
No one ever stays. They run. She'll make them run. Blowing all the candles out.
"River!" It's as near as mink can come to barking, a fox trying for the voice of a wolf, a deep operatic belt from the chest, firm staccato concern. Breath through her teeth like vapor or steam, air under pressure. "River," that name, why do they keep saying that name, there has never been anyone here by that name, "River," slow and steady and unafraid. "I'll--I'll get Simon," with that sudden relief, that smooth simple handoff they all wait for, easy abdication.
None of them know what pain is. None of them can stand it.
"Objects in motion," she wails. "I can't stop, not now, energy transfer is dependent on the system and the surroundings, entropy can't be accounted for."
"An object at rest," and it's a lilt through Inara's lips, an easy croon with a faint canticle taste, "will tend to stay at rest."
At last. River can feel her lips peeling, cracking open, her skull gaping open and glistening, teeth and brains all asmile.
Scythes smile just like this, and so does the human trachea just below the larynx, merrily piping breath from a razor's kiss.
"Thrice happy in whose heart pure truth finds rest."
The pause is long and hard and brittle; it breaks in a huff of amazement, high and perfect.
"Faust?" Inara laughs, then, and it trembles, buckling in a low ripple of amusement--her voice is so warm, rich as a fur coat, spiked with little needles of fear. "All right...Oh! Stay awhile!"
River smirks at the symmetry of it: of course hetaerae are educated. "Thou art so fair."