Author's note: Alla Mode is based off of Emma Mode, from The Incredibles, Property of Pixar, used without permission, Non commercial purposes only, please don't sue.
"So, where's your luggage?" asked Janet, keeping her eyes on the road as she drove Max's beloved VW Bug.
"It was left on the ship," said River, speaking all too honestly.
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" said Janet. "I'm always forgetting things too... don't worry, we'll get you outfitted. I know just where to start."
Janet parked the VW Bug in front of a large building, at the far corner of the campus. "I need to warn you, Miss Mode can seem a little strange."
"It's the ones who aren't strange that are strange to me," said River.
"Um, ok, good point," said Janet. "Are you like, into Zen or something?"
"Well, she can be very abrupt," said Janet. "But don't let her scare you. She's a really softie at heart, she just doesn't want people to know that."
Janet led River from the car, toward the building's main entrance.
"Who's there? Who, who, who?" snapped a woman's voice over the intercom.
"It's me, Janet... I have a new student here."
"Joan Steed? She's too early." said the woman's voice. "Still, I suppose that's better than too late. Come in, come in."
The door slid open. Smiling encouragingly, Janet led River into the building. Janet failed to notice the black Hummer which pulled up, just as the doors closed shut.
X X X X X
"Well, what do we do now?" asked Zoe.
"River obviously got them thinkin' she belongs here," said Mal. "Don't ask me how."
"What happens when they realize River isn't who they think she is?" asked Simon. Concern for his sister was clear in his voice, even though River had proved herself the most physically dangerous of the entire Serenity crew.
"We need to split up," Mal decided. "Buildin's big 'nuff they might come out 'nother door. Simon, you stay here. Zoe, check 'round that way, I'll go the other. Inara, you stay with the car case we need to be headin' out fast."
X X X X
"Come in, come in." Alla Mode turned out to be a short, dumpy woman with long black hair. She had on a pair of rectangular glasses which made her large eyes look even bigger. She took River and Janet inside
to a large workroom.
River looked down at her, curiously.
"Now, just stand there," Alla ordered. She pulled out a short step ladder and a cloth measuring tape and began measuring the new girl, using the step stool to reach.
A few minutes later, Alla stepped back and walked over to a computer terminal. From memory, she typed in the measurements she had just taken.
"How long will it take?" asked Janet.
"Well, we can't have her walking around in THAT," sniffed Alla. "She looks like she's been riding around in a cow train."
A panel in the wall slid down, revealing a complex set of automated equipment. As River watched, the machines leapt into action. Cloth was hastily cut apart and then moved to be sewn together.
"I should have a walking around outfit for her in ten minutes," said Alla. "I'll have her full set ready by tonight."
"Tonight?" said River, impressed. As the daughter of a wealthy family, her clothing had often taken weeks of tailoring and fitting sessions to be made. Even longer out on the fringe where they were laboriously made by hand, often representing months of hard word.
"One cannot rush genius," Alla sniffed, misinterpreting River's statement. "One must assure the proper fit, even when the wearer is carrying firearms... find ways to camouflage bullet proof vests... to allow the wearer to move freely while remaining fully clothed... ."
"While we're here...," Janet said, in a wheedling voice.
"No knits!" snapped Alla. She started into a tirade about the snagability of the fabric which River could barely follow. Janet, from long experience, just nodded along in resignation.
River shrugged and pulled off her dress. Alla was so caught up in that she did not notice. Janet looked a little startled but said nothing. By the time Alla had finished her diatribe, River was fully dressed and had even hung her old dress up on the hanger.
"Come on, Joan," Janet said. "While we're waiting for the outfit, we can pick out some accessories.
Janet led River into a large room. Metal racks stretched from side to side, carrying a wide variety of weapons and ammunition.
"Do you seen anything you like?"
River stepped forward, pressing her fingers lightly against one rack as she stared at the weapons in it, unknowingly processing information from residual psychic imprints from the various items.
"A Thunder .50 BMG; never officially put into production to avoid the ammunition being regulated under stricter handgun laws, modified from single-shot breech-loading to hand-rotated revolving five-shell cylinder...," said River, dreamily.
"That's right," said Janet. "The recoil might be..."
Picking up another, "10.9 millimeter operated mechanism to use more powerful cartridges," She slid the magazine out of the grip, weighing it in one hand before sliding it back in. "Eight rounds, .44 caliber."
"That's right." said Janet. "You really know your Desert Eagle..."
"Not really," said River setting the pistol down, going over to another case, her eyes wide. "Melee weapons!" she said, like a little child might say 'Free candy!'. The case offered a wide range of collapsible batons, knives, and other hand-held, non-chemical weapons.
"Double-edged combat knife, synthetic diamond edge front, 340 grams, 20.5 centimeter long, weighted handle," she recited, picking up the knife, and for a moment the bladed weapon seemed to blur and dance, spinning about her hand and between her fingers so fast the knife seemed to move under its own volition. "I think it's a half gram heavy on the back end," she noted calmly, as if commenting on the weather.
River took a sheath for the knife, meant to fasten onto a forearm, and strapped it on her left so it could be hidden in a sleeve and still easily drawn with her right hand.
"Ok..." said Janet. "Is there anything else you want?"
"Yes." said River. "...I'll take a .44 magnum AutoMag with eight-round single-column box magazine and adjustable sights... two Desert Eagles, and a pair of .22 caliber Whitney Wolverines," she said, pointing with her right hand while she continued to stare at the knife which now rested against her arm. Despite the fact she was staring intently at her new knife, her finger pointed with unerring accuracy.
"Wow," the other girl breathed, "you sure do know your handguns. Twenty-twos? That's an awfully small cartridge. You sure about them?"
"It is not the quantity of the size, but the quality of the shot, which counts."
"Wow. Again. You sure are into Zen, aren't you."
A few minutes later, River was staring at her reflection in a mirror. A long-sleeved white blouse clung tight to her body, made of smart-fibers that would instantly harden if hit with enough kinetic energy. Over the blouse she wore an open vest, made of the DEBS plaid pattern. The skirt she was wearing reached down to her knees. Instead of the Mary Janes that Janet had suggested, River had found a pair of black boots which reminded her of Kaylie.
"What do you think?" asked Janet.
"I think thoughts," said River. "Just not always mine."
"I mean, what do you think of the outfit," Janet said, already growing used to the girl's soft-spoken ramblings.
"Oh," said River. "It's not as nice as Kylie's. She has this frilly pink dress."
"Well, we'll see about getting you a pink dress too," promised Janet.
X X X
Mal stretched. The building had four entrances, but Mal had found a spot that let him keep two of them in sight, while offering some concealment. Simon was still at the entrance River had gone in, and Zoe was watching the remaining door. "No sign of River or trouble," said Mal, into his comlink.
"All clear here, Cap," said Zoe.
"All clear...," said Simon. "Wait, door's opening."
Simon put down the comlink, as the door opened. He saw River step out and, surprised, stepped forward. After so long on the run, he had not seen River in new, clean clothing in a long while.
"Simon!" said River, smiling.
"Joan? Who is this?" asked Janet.
"This is my brother, Simon," said River. "Simon, this is Janet."
"Pleased to meet you," he said, trying to figure out what to say.
"Are you here to help Joan move in?"
"Yes," said Simon, grasping the lifeline. "Yes, that's why I'm here. So, Ri... Joan, did you tell Janet what happened to your luggage yet?"
"It's in boxes," said River. "I slept in a box and when I woke up I was in the ship and..."
"That's fine," said Simon, quickly, before River said too much. "I...I can see if we can get your luggage back."
"You're a really good brother," said Janet. "Would you like to see where your sister will be staying?"
"Yes," said Simon.
* * *
"Mal, I see them..." said Inara. She slumped down in the seat, trying to stay hidden while keeping them in view. "River, that girl, and Simon is with them."
"Understood," said Mal. "Get ready to go, Zoe and I headin' back. There trouble?"
"Not yet," said Inara.
* * *
Simon climbed into the back of the VW Bug, letting River and Janet take the front. Janet chattered on happily about some of the amenities the school offered. Simon and River just listened, Simon glancing back
occasionally to see the black Hummer, with Inara at the wheel.
Janet suddenly stomped hard on the gas, causing the VW to respond with a surprising roar of power.
"What's wrong?" asked Simon.
"I think we're being followed," said Janet.
Simon activated his com-link, putting it in transmit mode. "Are you sure it's not just someone going the same direction we are?" he asked. "I mean, it's only suspicious if they try to keep up," he emphasized
'suspicious' slightly, hoping Inara and the rest would get the message. Apparently they did, the black hummer kept going at its original speed and turned at the next intersection.
Janet relaxed. "Sorry about that."
"Why are you so worried about being followed?" asked Simon.
"Oh, it's because we're...," Janet started to say, then stopped as she remembered that the part about DEBS training them to be spies was supposed to be secret. "I'm, ah, all a little keyed up. We had a roommate who had a kind of stalker boyfriend for a bit."
"Oh, ok," said Simon. "What happened to your roommate?"
"Oh, she left to attend art school in Barcelona," said Janet.
"Is that where she's scr...," River started to ask, only to be interrupted by Simon.
"How far is it to your house?" Simon hastily interjected, wanting to make sure River did not say anything to made Janet suspicious of his sister's psychic abilities.
"Just a couple of blocks," said Janet.
"Will it just be you and my sister there?"
"No... we'll have two other roommates, Max and Dominique. Max is sleeping, and Dominique is on duty right now, guarding a... thing," said Janet. "We've been assigned a special group project, so we're doing shifts guarding something," said Janet. Miss Petrie did not want to let anyone else know about the mysterious artifact, so the girls were taking turns, manning - or rather, womaning - the security observation post till the artifact was picked up.
"Well, maybe Joan can pitch in and help with that," said Simon. If the thing proved to be the item they wanted, this was a perfect opportunity.
"I don't know, you'll have to check with Max," said Janet. "She's the head of our little group, she's the one in charge of our project."
* * *
"Well, where do we go now?" asked Inara, after they had turned off the main street. They could still hear and track Simon by the comm-link, but it would be risky to allow themselves being seen again.
"They gotta stop some time," said Mal. "We decide what to do then."
"That's what I love about you, captain," said Zoe. "The way you're always planning ahead."