Both crews became transfixed as Chuck and River danced around each other in a deadly dance of fists and feet. Weapons were forgotten, holds slackened, as all eyes were glued to the two fighters. Intersect and Reader were seemingly evenly matched, whirling around the hold in endless combinations of kicks, flips, and hits. Eventually, with no clear winner, both fighters stopped to catch their breath, chests heaving and arms limp from exhaustion.

"Whoa. Chuck, buddy that was awesome," exclaimed Morgan, who had come to see what was taking so long. "That Tam girl's got some wicked moves."

"The Intersect is not so bad himself," River conceded, then whispered, "better than the Jayne-man."


River giggled.

"If we're all done exchanging pleasantries, we're supposed to be arresting these fugitives, not complimenting their fighting skills," Casey grumbled, although he couldn't hide the awed look on his face. Casey did love a good weapon, and anyone with the skills to go up against the Intersect had to be pretty tough. If she weren't headed straight for a government holding facility, he'd love to have a sparring session of his own. But back to the matter at hand...

"The Intersect is classified information. How did you find out about it?" Casey growled. This was getting messy. This was supposed to be a basic extraction, but this River Tam was turning out to be full of surprises. Casey didn't like surprises. They ... complicated things. And he couldn't help but think that he had gotten himself mixed up in something bigger than he could ever imagine.

River stilled, all traces of laughter gone from her face, her eyes locked on Casey. "The Intersect is a tool, a database, like the girl. He was created... like Adam ... but he left the Garden ... she wished to leave too ... Eve to his Adam ... but they want to drag her back ... back to the Garden." River looked wistfully at Chuck, hope lighting her eyes. Both crews looked on, looks of confusion and curiosity on their faces. They shifted their gazes between River and Chuck, speculating. Chuck broke from his trance first, starting in surprise and giving River a shocked look.

" offense, I mean I'm sure you're nice and you're certainly pretty and all...not that that should matter...and I'm, of course, happily taken by my lovely partner Sarah, here...not that we're just partners...we're more than that...Um, but yeah, I wouldn't consider myself the ...uh, your, um, Eve. I mean we've just met, heh. Don't you think that's a little quick...heh heh," Chuck stammered nervously, glancing from Sarah to River worriedly.

"Bi zui, numb nuts. No one cares about your romantical feelings, dong ma?" Casey growled. "Now I want answers and I want 'em now. What'd she mean by this 'Garden' and being the government's 'tool?' What 'tool' would that be?" Casey demanded, looking around the faces of Serenity's crew. River looked impassively back at him, Jayne just glared, Kaylee and Inara looked concerned, and Mal and Zoe stared stonily back. Simon looked to be struggling internally, but finally spoke up.

"She's—" he started to explain, but was interrupted by Mal, who stepped forward in between Casey and Simon.

"Now, Doc, let's not go giving away all our secrets. You forget these folks aren't here to help us." Mal cautioned, his face unreadable.

"They're here already, and they won't leave without a fight. As this ship's medic, and River's brother, I'd like to prevent as much violence as possible, Captain," Simon protested, shoving his way to the front as Jayne scoffed.

"Hnh, like they could take us so easily. It were a draw the way I saw it." Jayne grumbled. Simon ignored him. "Maybe if they know the truth they'll change their minds."

"Not likely," Carina smirked. "The Colonel's really proud of our stellar completion record."

"River's a Reader." He blurted, frustrated. "She was recruited from the Academy for her extraordinary intelligence; she's a genius. But they didn't just recruit her, they imprisoned her, tortured her, performed experiments on her. It drove her to the brink of insanity. She's only just recently regained some semblance of control over her own mind. And you want to drag her back to that?" Simon let out an explosive sigh of frustration and anger. "I just don't understand how you can take orders from such monsters. How anyone could condone the torture of an innocent young girl..." he trailed off quietly.

"I don't know who you think we are, Dr. Tam, but we would never condone violence against children." Sarah sneered back. Chuck rubbed her back soothingly.

"Yeah, there must be some mistake." Morgan chimed in, "I mean, we're the good guys, right, Colonel? We're just following orders, right sir? You didn't know about this, did you?"

Morgan and the rest of the crew looked over at Casey, questioning. Casey did not like where this was going. So this was the big secret. The government was imprisoning young geniuses and molding them into super soldiers. Not that Casey was that surprised. He had been working his way through the ranks for too long not to be exposed to the darker side of law enforcement. This was turning into a right pain in his pi gu. Casey glanced around the hold at each crew member: Chuck and Morgan were staring at him with their disbelieving puppy dog eyes; Sarah and Carina, the professionals, kept their eyes and their weapons trained on the Serenity crew, although Carina was paying more attention than absolutely necessary to that Cobb character. Casey might've been worried, but Carina knew enough to put the mission first. The Serenity crew was harder to read. Sure the medic brother was upset, and the mercenary was clearly comfortable with a standoff with the law; the Companion was a twist, and the cheerful girl in the oily coveralls, but overall they seemed harmless. No the two to watch for were the stoic Captain and his equally calm First Mate. Even if he hadn't had the briefing, the hard look in their eyes marked them as survivors of the Rebellion. Casey's jaw tightened as he remembered. These two would fight and fight hard. Finally, he turned to the target, that little slip of a girl that had thrown a monkey wrench in his mission.

She stared back defiantly, with a small smirk and a raised eyebrow, as if she knew exactly what he was thinking. Well, if the medic's gorram story was true, she probably could. Gorram Readers. He'd never liked the idea of some stranger being able to scroll through his mind at their leisure without his knowledge. He'd had the misfortune to work with a few over the years on special missions and something about their blank stares and gibberish speak had always damaged his calm.

"If she could, the girl would stop, but there is no off switch, no earplugs, no way to drown it out." River burst out, clapping her hands over her ears and glancing pleadingly up at Casey. He growled.

"Cool it Casey," Carina said as she walked in between Casey and River. She tucked an arm around River's shaking shoulders. "Isn't it obvious that she can't control what she can and can't hear? The poor thing's shaking like a leaf. She's obviously terrified. Poor little thing. Remember me?" Carina shot Casey a quick glare and then turned back to River with an encouraging smile.

"Ol' Johnny...the marketplace...ginger spice..." River mumbled to her feet.

Carina smiled again, "that's right, but most call me Carina." River looked up and gave a small smile.

Casey harrumphed, arms crossed over his body armor. "I thought I made it clear there would be no fraternizing with the enemy, Miller."

Carina's eyes shot fire across the hold. "Look, Colonel, I saw firsthand the kind of anxiety this has caused this poor young woman and I refuse to believe that she deserved it. I've turned a blind eye to a lot of the go se the Feds put us through because I usually just don't care. But I can't just drag this girl back to the hundans that did this to her. Can you? Are you really that heartless?"

Casey could feel his resolve weakening. He was getting too old for this go se.

It was only a matter of time before Chuck piped in as well. "Yeah, Casey, man this doesn't feel right. I mean, I'm glad I have the Intersect and everything, but you know how much I had to sacrifice to get this far. I mean, what if they had gotten me earlier? What if Bryce hadn't gotten me kicked out of the Academy? I could've been stuck there right with River. I can't send her back there!" Chuck yelped, waving his lanky arms back and forth. It was Sarah's turn to rub soothing circles on his back as she too glared at Casey, as if it was somehow his fault that the nerd had worked himself up into a frenzy.

"Y'all can say what you want, but by my estimation, it's not up ta y'all whether Riv stays or goes," Jayne drawled. "Don't think just because she's some sprite of a girl that she'll be easy to take against her will. Y'all ever hear of Miranda?" A slanted grin turned up his mouth as he glanced around the hold. Zoe winced ever so slightly as the rest of the Serenity crew looked solemn. Jayne continued, oblivious. "Ever hear of the Reader who not only exposed the Alliance's darkest secrets, but also took on more'n thirty Reavers all on her own in hand to hand combat? Think you're puny squad is more of a challenge for Moony over there?" He scoffed.

"That was her?" The crew exclaimed in disbelief.

"Well, now, we like to think of Miranda as more of a group effort," Mal interjected, "but it's true I can't imagine anyone making River do something she didn't want to do in the first place. Lil' albatross is mighty slippery when she wants to be."

This was officially out of hand. This was supposed to be a simple capture and delivery of two wanted fugitives. Damn these gorram rebels and that gorram slip of a girl with her ballerina feet and her girlish face and her mind reading tricks and her deadly fighting skills. For the first time in his life, Casey had absolutely no idea what to do.

Author's Note: Sorry for the long waits between updates. This is my first long story and I'm having trouble with characterization and figuring out where to go next. I'd welcome any brainstorming ideas or suggestions in a review or comment. Constructive criticism is appreciated! Thanks for reading!