Chapter 21

When River entered Dr. Mathias's room the next day after lunch she found four other students in there also, leaning against the walls.

To her intense displeasure she saw Volger was there, but despite the glare he sent her way he ignored her, which was nice. The other three students she had never seen before, which was fine with her.

Dr. Mathias gave her a welcoming smile and stood up from behind his desk.

"As you all are aware, you have been chosen for this special program because you are the brightest the school has to offer. In this program you will learn things that no one else will learn, see things no one else has seen. You will know more than you could have ever possibly wished."

He gave them another smile, and then left the room, walking quickly down the hall. The students paused for a second before hurrying after him, River following along behind them.

Several turns later they found themselves in an unknown hallway, outside of a gray door. Dr. Mathias opened it and went in, and River followed behind. It was a nondescript room, featureless but big. White walls, white floor, white ceiling. Everything was white, and River blinked a little to make her eyes focus.

Dr. Mathias was already talking about special opportunities and increased levels of intellect. From what she could make out they were being put on a new treatment using some new bleeding edge medicine to make their minds more receptive to auditory and visual input.

River tried to pay attention, but her eyes kept wandering to the other children, who, with the exception of Volger, were looking around as well. She wondered why they were in an empty room, and hoped they weren't going to make them do more tests. She'd had enough of those.

Dr. Mathias finished with a flourish and River was jerked out of her thoughts. She glanced guiltily around, hoping she hadn't missed any important directions. The other students glanced around too, waiting for something to happen.

The doors slid open and River spun around as she watched several people enter the room. They wore white coats and white gloves, looking like Simon when he had just gotten off of a late shift at his work and couldn't change before he came to dinner.

To her intense surprise Dr. Mathias left the room before the doors shut after the new arrivals without saying another word. Volger shifted and a girl with long blond hair glanced around, looking pale. One of the doctors (she assumed they were doctors, but she wasn't sure) came up to her. She was almost a head shorter than River with a bob of black hair.

"Are you River Tam?" she asked, her voice business-like. River nodded and the woman gave her an appraising glance before nodding and gesturing for River to follow her out of the room through a door on the far wall.

The new room in which they found themselves was smaller but just as white, with a metal chair in the center. At another gesture from the lady River sat down hesitantly, flinching as the cold metal touched her skin. The woman pulled a few cards out of a pocket on her coat and shuffled them before glancing up at her.

"What number is on this card?" she asked. River blinked, nonplussed.

"What?" she asked. She understood that this was a special program, that she would be taught more advanced stuff, that they had a curriculum designed to make her even smarter. What she did not underdstand however was why the doctor was asking her this.

The woman sighed impatiently. "This is just to help you relax," she explained shortly. "That way your brain will be more receptive to the treatment. Now, what number is on this card?"

"Five?" River guessed finally. The doctor shuffled the cards and repeated the question. "Seven," she said more confidently. This exercise was a lot like the games she and Simon used to play, and she remembered that she used to beat Simon all the time by guessing more correct cards. He called her psychic and she had laughed and told him that they should play chess instead as it was a more sensible pursuit.

"Four hundred. Ninety-two. Fourteen," she rattled off, smiling slightly. The woman was right, she was definitely more relaxed than when she had come in. She had expected pills or something, maybe a needle. The doctor nodded and put the cards away before making a small note on the clipboard she carried.

"Now, sit back," she said. River shrugged and leaned back a little in her chair, trying to ignore the almost painfully cold metal pressing against the back of her neck.

Now the doctor pulled out a needle and River tensed slightly. The woman gave her what she obviously assumed was a reassuring smile.

"It's just a simple drug that taps into the visual part of the brain. It won't hurt at all, and it's perfectly safe. I'm sure your brother uses it all the time in his work on Osiris." River nodded, feeling marginally more relaxed, but decided that despite the doctors reassurances she didn't like needles anyways.

The woman stepped up and picked up her wrist before carefully sliding the needle into a vein in her arm.

"Now, relax and tell me what you see," she said. River opened her mouth to ask her what she meant before a rush of images suddenly exploded in her mind and she slammed her mouth and eyes shut, overwhelmed by the explosion of colors and sights.

"Tell me what you see," said the doctor, but it sounded like it came from a very long ways away. Fireworks flashed and whirled behind her eyes, mixing with the bright lights of her home and the sun and the stars. There was grass and trees and people laughing and shouting. In her ears echoed the roar of a waterfall and the sound of ships taking off. Very very faintly, she thought she heard someone screaming.

And then River Tam stopped existing and became a whirlwind of sound and color and sight.