"The mirror is broken."
River Tam was staring intently at the mirror in her bunk. Currently, it was a little bit after quiet hours had ended, when everyone was getting ready to eat a bit of breakfast and start the day. This was the time that River would normally be changing, taking her medications, occasionally having a small mental breakdown, the usual minutiae of her life. But at the moment, she was staring at her mirror, seeming slightly more calm and lucid than usual.
"Hm?" Simon, her brother, was changing out of his sleepwear and into the clothes he usually wore. "It doesn't look cracked or anything…"
"It isn't." River turned and gave Simon a look of annoyance at pointing out a fact that's so obvious. "It's just broken."
"Well, I can't really see how it's broken from here…"
"It's showing the wrong thing. Has been since I woke up. Showing another."
"Oh?" Simon was intrigued. He rarely caught River being this lucid, and if something's different to her and not to him, he could get a glimpse at how she saw the world. "Who is it?"
"Someone else. She's not me. Hair too short, eyes too small, face too thin. More scars, more pain." River smiled at the mirror. "She doesn't smile. It hurts to smile for her."
"Well, you're pretty good at picking up emotions," said Simon, stating something that he knew was painfully obvious, with a rather literal meaning of "painful". "Can you feel what she feels?"
"It's my reflection, Simon," said River, with a thick tone of "duh" in her voice. "It's just… not mine."
"Oh, well, that's interesting. Is anything else different?"
River paced back and forth in front of the mirror. "I'm the only thing that's different. Everything else is reflected the same."
"Interesting. So…" Simon stood up and walked behind River. "Do I look-"
Once Simon was behind River, once she could see his reflection, she screamed louder than Simon remembered her screaming before. In a surprisingly fluid motion, River drove her elbow into the mirror, shattering it. With the same arm, she spun and hit him straight in the face with an open-handed strike. Simon fell to the ground like a sack of meat.
"…ow!" said Simon. "Why did-"
Simon stopped talking when he noticed that River's lucidity was gone. She was against the wall, huddling and shaking.
"Bad man, bad… scars like cracks in glass. Four eyes, four light eyes… dark man… two by two… hands of blue... two by two… hands of…" River looked up at Simon. "You…"
"River, I-" River seemed to withdraw into a shell of pain and madness. It seemed like Simon's voice was causing River to get worse, so he decided to not say any more.
"What the hell is going on down there?" It was the exact last person that Simon wanted to hear knocking at his door. Simon opened the hatch to find Jayne Cobb, in all his recently awakened, grumpy, shirtless glory, looking down on him.
"She's just having another episode."
"Yeah, but she don't ever scream like that! Inara could probably hear that, and she isn't even in the same ruttin' place!"
"What's going on down there, doc? She's not getting kidnapped, is she?" That was the captain. Malcolm Reynolds appeared at the top of the hatch as well, also in his sleepwear, though at least he was wearing a shirt.
"No, she isn't. Thank god for that." It was only a few weeks ago that a man invaded the good ship Serenity in search of River, or more specifically, the money the Alliance would be paying for her return. They had managed to take him down, but the knowledge that people could and would break onto the ship during travel meant that nobody was sleeping easy. "She's just seeing things in the mirror."
"Well, that's what they're for, innit?" said Jayne.
"Is everything alright down here?" That was the voice of Zoe, the ship's first mate.
"Is anyone dead? I mean, if I saw a dead body here, that's certainly the sound I'd make." And that was Wash, the pilot and Zoe's husband. Sure enough, both of them appeared above Simon's room, also somewhat underdressed and a bit more disheveled in the clothing department.
"Well, if I'm drawing an audience, I might as well come up and talk to you," muttered Simon. He climbed up to talk with the growing crowd.
"Well? Is she okay?" said Mal.
Simon looked down on his sister below. She was still shaking, still muttering. "It'll be fine, I'm sure. I mean, this is the worst she's been in a while, but she'll be doing alright."
"Girl's scared of her own reflection!" said Jayne, chuckling a bit.
"Actually, she's scared of mine," said Simon, sighing. "Apparently, she's seeing the reflections of people who aren't there, instead of the people who are."
Simon looked down at River again. She seemed to be fine now. He watched her pick up one of the shards of the mirror, seemingly not caring how it cut into her hand, and looked at herself.
"What happened to your face?" asked Zoe. It was becoming apparent that Simon had a large, yellow bruise forming on the left side of his face, and a trickle of blood oozed from his nose.
"Oh, she sort of… hit me."
"She hit you?" said Mal. He seemed a bit surprised at that.
Not quite as much as Jayne, though. "Well, damn, is there anyone she won't attack now?"
"It was just a one-time occurrence. With any luck, it won't happen again," said Simon.
"Huh," said Mal. He turned to look at Zoe and Wash. "Weren't you two supposed to be keeping the ship running? Why are you two so underdressed?"
"Well, I mean," said Wash, looking back and forth from Mal to Zoe, "space can get pretty big. And cold. And lonely! I mean, sometimes, you just need to have a bit of company, you know…" He looked at Zoe, and the couple exchanged a smile. "Plus, it wasn't like we expected any interruptions. Not like they-"
"Enough," said Mal. "We're due in Persephone soon. Get dressed and get to work. Badger should be hailing us soon enough. Make sure the cargo is holding up."
"So strange…" said River. It took everyone a second to comprehend that the voice and the girl that came with it was right next to them.
"Ta ma da!" exclaimed Jayne. "How does she do that?"
River ignored Jayne, and kept looking at the shard in her hands. She turned it so that she could see the reflections of each of the people in front of her, besides Simon.
"All the reflections are different…" she said. "Different faces. Different expressions. You give each other different looks in the mirror than you do here. They are different… so different… I need to show you. Not in the mirror, you can't see the mirror. Pen, pen, pen, I need a pen…"
And before the crew could comment, she had slipped back into Simon's room without making a sound. Zoe and Wash left, heading back to work.
"I ain't givin' her a gorram pen!" said Jayne. "She'd probably stab someone with it."
"Well, pardon any wrong assumptions, but I doubt that you'd even be able to write, much less have a pen," said Simon. "Besides, I think that I might have a pencil somewhere in my room."
The sounds of a room being torn apart in search of something specific started coming from Simon's bunk. Simon just sighed, knowing he'd have to clean up later, but not blaming her in particular. He knew better than anyone that she couldn't help herself.
"Well, everything's alright now," said Simon. "You can go about your business. Now, if you will excuse me, this is hurting a bit more than I thought it might, so I'm going to go and get some painkillers." Simon stumbled away, leaving the assembled crew rather confused.
The good captain Reynolds entered the bridge. He had gotten himself dressed, and so had Zoe. "How's everything up here?" said Mal.
"Sir, Badger just hailed us," said Zoe.
"Good. A bit earlier than what I expected, but good. Do I look presentable?" said Mal.
"Good enough for Badger, sir," said Zoe. For the two of them, that statement could mean any state of dress from anything they wouldn't call "fancy" to dirt and rags. For Mal's current appearance, though, it meant "slightly less orderly than usual". While Badger was the sort who would call the deal off if sufficiently insulted, he was also the sort who would do so if an Alliance goon looked at him funny. He wasn't trustworthy, and he was scum, but he gave them work. Mal didn't ask for more.
Mal sat himself in the pilot's chair and activated the video feed. On the other end was a poorly-dressed, unshaved rat in a hat that most folks would call Badger.
"Good mornin', Mal. God, you're a mess." That was Badger: most definitely the sort who would insult a man in his greeting.
"Badger. You're looking very nice. Did you get a new hat?"
"As a matter of fact, I did." Badger straightened the worn top hat he was wearing. Made him look more like a pompous lowlife than usual. "So, you 'ave the goods, I take it."
"Retrieval was simple enough," said Mal. "I'm personally not seeing why the price for these dogs is so big, truth be told. I mean, not that I'm saying you're paying me too much or anything."
"You kiddin'? These are some of the last pedigree Dalmatians in existence. And I don't know if you know this, but those are the only surviving ancestors of a purebred species from Earth-that-was. One of those dogs could buy an entire ship."
"Well, that's quite the value. And you're paying me how much?"
"Well, I figure that you wouldn't want to be involved in the whole business afterwards. Not that you'd be involved at all at this point."
"The dogs are as good as they were when I picked them up," said Mal, knowing that they had all sorts of inherent problems that the doctor blamed on lots of inbreeding.
"Oh, I don't doubt it," said Badger. "If there's anything you're good for, Mal, it's getting the goods from one place to another. It's the way you go about it that I'm not so fond of."
"Is there an issue? Don't tell me you're pinching us, Badger. We've had such a good track record."
"Well, the way I see it, since me new hat's put me in a fine mood, I've decided to be nice." Badger leaned forward. "Deal's off."
Mal blinked, not as surprised as he would have been since he started dealing with Badger. "You're telling me this now? Is that how you're being nice?"
"Mal, if I wasn't being nice, I'd 'ave let you walk through me doors and then sold you out to the Feds once my men surrounded you. You're a wanted man."
"Now, the dog heist went off without a hitch. We went to Beaumonde, and got the dogs and got out with a minimum of fuss. That's no small feat."
"Well, it was as clear as day. Serenity, a Firefly-class vessel, captained by one Malcolm Reynolds. Doesn't mention any dogs, but you do seem to 'ave a fugitive on-board. Simon Tam, so they say. Name ring any bells?"
Mal leaned back. He had no idea how the Alliance knew that his ship was containing a wanted man. A wanted man and a wanted woman, technically, but it seemed like they didn't know about the latter. "Heard of him. No idea where he is, though."
"Says he 'ad a sister, River, who's also a fugitive. Now, I've seen 'er picture, and I dare say I've met her before. Quite the fair maiden, if I do say so myself. Would hate to see 'er harmed." Badger smirked.
"So, how much are they paying for information on where I am?"
"Nothin'. Few minutes after I saw the information on the Alliance channels, it was gone from damn near everywhere. If I 'ad to guess, you've been blackbirded, mate."
Blackbirded. Mal had heard rumors of that happening – traders and thieves who angered powerful men from powerful families that go out for personal revenge – but he had thought that those were just stories. Zoe and Mal took a second to trade glances.
"Now, I'm a respectable businessman," said Badger, adjusting the coat he wore. "I don't deal wit' criminals. I also might've sent out an anonymous tip in the time you were a wanted man that you were landing in the docks near my establishment sometime soon. Either way, if I see you on me world, you're not goin' to be leaving it any time soon. And don't even think of talkin' to Brightman."
"I completely understand. Well, I hope that we can still do business with you in the future," said Mal.
"If there's a future for you, Malcolm Reynolds, I don't see why not." Badger's screen went to static.
"Qing wa cao de liu mang," muttered Mal. He wasn't mad at Badger, or how the deal went south. Mal fully expected Badger to deny him the pay he rightfully earned. It was Badger: that was simply what he did. In fact, he had set up a backup deal in case Badger flaked. It was that the Alliance knew that he was harboring a fugitive that worried him. Just because they've shut up doesn't mean they won't try to hold him down. Also, there didn't seem to be any way for them to know that Simon was on board. At least, none that he could think of.
"So, how's it going?" asked Wash, who was substantially more dressed than earlier.
"Badger backed out. Said we've been blackbirded," said Zoe.
"Well, of course he'd say that. That's one of the oldest tricks out there. Plan B?"
"Of course. Get us to Antenora," said Mal.
Wash and Mal traded places as Wash manned the helm, turning Serenity towards another continent of Persephone. Mal turned on the intercom.
"Attention, crew. Due to the nature of a certain well-known rodent, we are to be landing in Antenora today. I know that there were certain deals that we wanted to get down at Eavesdown, but Badger's being ornery. I know that Brightman is paying a bit less than Badger would, and we've all heard what Jayne thinks of the man, but a deal's a deal. In addition, I want everyone not landing the ship in the dining hall in ten. There's a little something that needs discussing."
Mal turned the intercom off, but didn't immediately hail Brightman. He looked over at Wash. He thought that Badger was lying through his teeth. There was the option that he was, of course, but as far as Mal could tell, Badger had no other way of knowing about Simon. He decided to think more about it when the crew had gathered.
He hadn't worked with Brightman before, but from what he heard, he would pay as well as anyone. He also tended to work almost exclusively with representatives and middlemen, so when the face of a rather young and exceedingly pale man with bright white hair and dull red eyes appeared on the video feed, Mal was a bit surprised.
"Brightman, I presume?" said Mal.
"Indeed. I know that I do not deal with people personally, but that is simply because my condition-" he gestured to his face "-means I cannot leave my complex. Video conversations are perfectly acceptable."
"I'm glad to hear it. I'm letting you know that we are in business. Badger broke his promise."
Brightman chuckled slightly. "As I expected. I take it you have the dogs?"
"Yep. Five of them. One more than you expected, as I recall."
"Excellent. Now, I believe I was paying you per head. That means that you get…" Brightman turned to talk with another, and then turned back smiling. "Ah. Sixty thousand credits."
"How shi sung chun!" said Mal, without a hint of sarcasm. "You are an excellent man, Brightman. I think that, with a man like you around, we won't have any more dealings with Badger in the future. Speaking of…" Mal thought about whether he should mention any of Badger's talk about the dog-to-starship price ratio or their rarity. "Never mind." No need to look a gift horse in the mouth. "Thank you for your business."
"Why thank me? You were the one that did all the work. I'm assuming it went well?"
"As well as a job like that's expected to go. Nobody died, nobody got shot." Well, nobody but the ship, but Brightman didn't need to know the finer details. "We should be landing in Antenora in about an hour. You'll have people to pick it up?"
"Well, that's good. Hey, seeing as Badger might be a little squirrely with the two of us having interaction, could you make sure that nobody ends up shot or arrested?"
"I'll do what I can. Anyway, I must be going. Business with other clients, you know. Good day, Mister Reynolds."
Simon opened the hatch to his room. Upon seeing the mess that was down there, he wished he had gone down straight away as opposed to going to grab some aspirin and talk to Kaylee.
Kaylee had heard the scream, no doubt, but she was too focused on Serenity's engine to come down. After the "dog heist" went south, Serenity's engine still had a few bits of anti-ship shrapnel stuck in her. Not enough to keep her down, but enough to make her, to quote Kaylee, "a bit tipsy". According to Kaylee, she needed to stay in the engine room to make sure that Serenity flew true.
Simon didn't buy it. He knew that Jubal Early did something to Kaylee. He didn't know what, exactly, only that it shook her to her core. The first time he tried to talk to her about it, it ended with Kaylee storming off angry. This time, he never mentioned it. It was mostly snippets of small talk until the captain made his announcement and broke the awkwardness. Considering his track record with saying the right thing to Kaylee, he figured not saying anything on the subject was best. But he knew that Kaylee was probably hiding down in her engine room when she heard the scream, trying desperately not to be heard.
But now, he was looking into his room, which looked utterly ransacked. Every drawer was opened and every bag moved.
And there was River, looking at herself in one of the shards of the mirror. As Simon made his way down into the room, he realized that he had a sheet of paper to one side of her that she was applying something quite red to with her fingertip.
"No pen?" asked Simon.
"No pen. Couldn't go look. Couldn't wait. Had to draw. The mirror needs to show something that exists in reality. I have to draw. Couldn't hold it in."
She held up what she was working on. It was a picture of a girl. If you ignored the fact that it was drawn on a page of a book in blood, it could have easily been put on display. For what was essentially fingerpainting, there wasn't a line out of place.
"That's a self-portrait. That is who I see in the mirror," said River.
Simon picked up the picture. It certainly wasn't River, but he felt like there was something to her that River also had. She had short disheveled hair, hurt eyes, and her mouth was slightly open. Simon also noticed that she had several small scars, and there was a spot on her temple that was more smeared with blood than the rest of the picture. Pain. That was it. She had the same pain inside her that he knew River had.
"This is the girl that you see instead of you?" said Simon.
"Yes. She's done, you can have her. Less red, can't work with red. Blood dries brown. Captain is brown. But Captain is blue. Simon is blue. Jayne is…" River laughed, but stopped abruptly. "Need a pen. An actual pen. And not red. Oil… oil is brown, brown is too earthy, too worn. They are new and shiny. Too new. Too unreal."
"Well, there's a pen on the fridge in the kitchen. The captain's said that we're all to meet down there, and I guess that includes us." Simon looked at the picture and the paper it was written on. "Is this the Bible?!"
"Shepard gave it to me a while ago. Only real paper I had for myself. Didn't want to draw on your stuff."
"But… I mean, thanks for not getting blood all over my papers, but… you don't draw on the Bible in blood! That's – River, I mean, I'm not really that religious, but I'm pretty sure this is blasphemy…"
"Captain calls. Ten is up." River grabbed the largest shard of mirror as well as a handful of similar pages, and made her way up the ladder with ease. "Captain is interesting, all blue and gold… he's brown in life but blue in the mirror… lots of metal and medal, but not as much mettle…"
Simon made his way partway up the ladder, looked back into his room, had a moment of dread for the clean-up that would follow, and finished climbing up.
The dining hall was usually the liveliest place on Serenity. People went there to eat, talk, and relax. At the moment, it was still decently lively, but that was because most of the crew was in the room. When the captain walked in, however, the room got a bit more serious.
"Alright, didn't get her personally, but Inara's been notified of the change in plans. Fortunately, she was in Antenora on her business already, so it won't be a hassle."
Privately, Mal was happy that he didn't have to tell Inara to change her plans in person. He was the only person who knew that Inara wasn't planning to stick around. He knew that some time, some day, he was going to have to leave her behind on New Melbourne, but that was a long way away, both with distance and with time. They both knew it, and she didn't like it. In the meantime, Inara still had a job to do, and while Persephone wasn't the most lucrative planet, it got the job done. Still, there was enough tension between them as is, and having things change unexpectedly was not something women were noted for being fond of.
Publically, anyone who was paying attention to Mal and Inara's interactions could see it, but the finer details were still obscured.
"So, why're we being called down? Something wrong with the dogs?" said Jayne.
"The dogs are fine, and Brightman is actually paying more for the dogs in total than Badger was, so everything there is good," said Mal.
"Shiny!" said Kaylee, smiling. "Good to see that all our hard work and bumps and bruises and damage are being rewarded something proper."
"It was one tiny little anti-aircraft turret! Are you still mad about that?" said Mal.
"Yep," said Kaylee, still smiling.
"Anyway," said Mal, "it was something that Badger brought up. He said that our ship was marked for arrest, but the charges vanished. He thinks we got blackbirded."
"Blackbirded? Pah!" said Jayne. "Just more of Badger tryin' to get out of payin' us."
"Now, any other day of, well, ever, I'd agree with you," said Mal. "But according to him, the Alliance is fully aware that we have a fugitive or two on our ship. Specifically, our good doctor, Simon Tam."
In an excellent example of timing, Simon and River arrived at the dining hall at that moment. All eyes went to them.
"What?" said Simon.
"You sure Badger isn't just saying that to get out of the deal, sir?" said Zoe.
"Perhaps. But that's still something a mite too serious to disregard," said Mal.
"I'm confused, what's going on?" asked Simon. River walked to the fridge, grabbed the nearby pen, and started drawing on one of the sheets of paper she had.
"According to Badger, the Alliance know you're on the ship," said Mal. He went and turned on the intercom for the dining hall. "Wash, everything good up there?"
"Looking through all sorts of things, sir," said Wash, over the radio. "Pretty heavy stuff. Oh, and ETA is about fifteen minutes."
"So…" said Simon, somewhere on the emotional road to either despair or a breakdown, "they've found me. They know I'm here."
"Except for the part where they aren't saying that they know," said Wash. "And I'm certain of that: not a single thing about us carrying you on the Cortex. In fact, there's not anything about you in the Alliance databanks, either. You're just gone."
"So…" said Simon, "we're not technically fugitives anymore?"
"Oh, no, she's still got a hefty price on her head. It's just you that's gone," said Wash.
"Well, that's… why is that?" asked Simon. The despair he had a second ago was quickly being replaced with confusion.
"I have no idea," said Wash. "And just so we're all clear, apparently we're on a perfectly legal ship with a perfectly non-criminal captain, according to the database."
"So… Simon's gone and gotten us blackbirded, is that it?" asked Jayne.
"Well," said Mal, "someone's changed their tune right quick, haven't they?"
"Hey, if Badger says he got blackbirded, that's just hogwash," said Jayne. "If the books say he ain't there no more, that puts a bit more value on the blackbirdin' idea."
"What does that even mean?" asked Simon. "Blackbird is a noun, why are you using it as some kind of verb?"
"Blackbirding," said Shepard Book, "is when a man on the run is taken off the books of the lawman because another party is paying them to stand back. It usually means that someone powerful enough to do so is going after them personally."
"Don't matter who it happened to," said Mal. "What matters is who could be doing it right now."
"And who could have told the Alliance about Simon," said Zoe .
"Yes," said Mal, "this does appear to be a two-part conundrum." He sat at the head of the dining table. "Any ideas on either front?"
"Could be Niska that's doing the blackbirding," said Zoe. "Definitely has a grudge, and he has a lot of resources."
"From what I know of Niska, I don't think he would do that," said Book. "He's the sort who would make his move when we are weak. It would be to his advantage to let the Alliance wear us down instead of calling them off."
"And," said Wash, "if he did blackbird us, we'd know, and everyone else would, too. Niska is very big with reputation. You send law away to catch one man, very scary, very good for reputation," he said in a bad Russian accent. Everyone (besides River, who wasn't paying attention) laughed.
"Alright, that's one option. Any others for the blackbirding?"
"Two by two… hands of blue…" said River, calmly. Mal looked at River and noticed that she was looking in the mirror, right at him. "Two shepherds by day, two wolves by night. Wanting me, wanting to work on, to bend, to learn what to break. They wear black and blue. Black and blue, like a bruise, but only one has yellow, like a bruise" Her words were getting speeding up and slowing down at random, to the point where it was hard to understand what they were. "Scarred by what they have done. Made mistakes. Never again. An eye for an eye. Eye of blue, who are you…"
"What I think she's trying to say," said Simon, "is that there might be people who don't want the Alliance involved because they want her. People from the Academy."
"Ain't they with the Alliance?" asked Jayne. "No good reason for them to be workin' against each other."
"Now, the Alliance has their share of callous types just as well as anyone," said Mal. "Don't want no damaged goods."
There was a second as the captain, as well as everyone else, realized the extra meaning of "damaged goods". There were shudders and sounds of revulsion all around.
"Oh god," said Kaylee, "I don't want to even think about…" She shuddered and turned away.
"If someone tried to rape me," said River, "they would fail." She looked up for a second. "I'd cut their junk off."
Somehow, that was even more disturbing. Jayne pointedly crossed his legs at the thought.
"Look, let's not get distracted by painful possibilities," said Mal. "Point is, if they want her intact, putting her in the custody of your average corrupt backwater sheriff ain't the way to do it."
"So, you think it's people from the Academy, then?" said Book.
"Don't see no better options," said Zoe.
"Great," said Wash, "the people from the mysterious government mad science department that we have no intel on who they are or what they can do. Always a good place to start."
"Now that we've got that settled," said Mal, "who could possibly know that I have fugitives on my ship?"
"Badger would know," said Simon. Mal looked at him with a bit of disbelief. "He and my sister bumped into each other last time when we were here. If I recall, you were off getting stabbed at the time."
"He did say something of the sort," said Mal. "So, it's possible that he sold us out, we got blackbirded, and then he went and told us when he found out he won't get paid. Sound about right?"
"Question: why did he tell us ahead of time, anyway?" asked Wash.
"He said he felt generous. Had a new hat," said Mal.
"I don't blame 'im," said Jayne. "New hat makes a man all sorts of happy."
"Besides, you can't shoot someone through a video feed," said Zoe. "Safety's a pretty big factor."
"Right," said Mal. "Wouldn't want to have his pretty face cut up, now, would he?"
"So…" said Simon. "Who would know that I'm here?"
"Well," said Wash, "frankly, it's not a small list. There's Saffron, anyone who saw your face on Canton and have the brain capacity to put it all together, those people who wanted to burn River at the stake-"
"Heh. Good times," said Jayne.
"Excuse me, I was talking," said Wash. "Anyway, there was that one guy that broke in while we were sleeping - what was his name?"
"Early," said Simon. "Ju-" Simon saw Kaylee look decidedly uncomfortable at his name, so he didn't say more.
"Right, that guy," said Wash. "I feel like I missed some, too. Either way, the list isn't that short."
"Shorter than you make it sound, Wash," said Mal. "Most of the backwater folk wouldn't have access to a most wanted list, and I haven't seen any posters with your pretty face on it. I personally left that bounty hunter in the middle of deep space, so I have my doubts that he'd return. Saffron..." Mal rested his chin on his fist. "She probably knows, and I don't doubt that she could. But there ain't a reason for her to do that when she could bag the reward herself… I don't know, I've never been good at reading womenfolk."
At that moment, River threw the drawing she had been working on up into the air and immediately started work on another drawing. The paper fluttered down and landed in front of Book. He picked it up and examined it.
"Oh…" he said. He raised an eyebrow. "River, who is this?"
"The captain," she said.
"River, I feel like this drawing may not be…" said Book.
Jayne looked over at the drawing and immediately covered his mouth and tried to hold back laughter. "Wo bu shin wo dah yan jing! Are you trying to get punched in the mouth?"
Kaylee walked over to look at the drawing. You could tell when she saw it by the way she gasped and how her eyes got very, very wide. "Lao tien fu! River, please tell me that it isn't how you see the captain."
"I look at him with my eyes, and I see what you see," said River. "I look at him with my mirror, and I see what I draw."
"Well, she did hit me because of what I looked like," said Simon. He walked over to see the drawing. "And looking at that, I wouldn't doubt that she's seeing traits reversed in the mirrors."
"Well," said Zoe, also going over to see the drawing. That particular side of the table was getting quite crowded. "Oh yeah. That's the exact opposite of the captain." The crew unanimously nodded.
"Well, let me see it," said Mal. "I want to see my portrait."
"That sure as hell ain't you," said Jayne.
"Yeah, it isn't, is it?" said Kaylee. "I think it's the chin. This guy doesn't have the captain's chin. He has his smile, though."
"Gimme that," said Mal. He snatched the picture from Book and looked at it himself.
His jaw dropped. "Wong ba duhn."
It was… sort of Mal. Cover him from the upper lip down and he looked like the captain with a different haircut. But even without the different chin, it was incredibly and absolutely not Malcolm Reynolds. Because, after all, there was no way in hell that he would ever be wearing an Alliance captain's uniform and look that proud. It even had a small nametag in brass: "Captain Malcolm Reynolds, IAV Serenity". His chest had several medals. The captain recognized them from some of the more lauded officers he'd seen: medals for valor, bravery, and for kicking lots of ass. Not only that, but he wore a shiny cross around his neck. He hadn't seen that cross in years…
"And that's me?" asked Mal.
"Yes and no," said River. "It's not personal; it's just what I'm seeing. Mirrors are reflecting different things, the things that shouldn't be reflected."
"Well, it's certainly a memorable image," said Mal.
"Hey, I can't quite see what you are all looking at," said Wash. "So I'm feeling left out here. Also, we're making landfall in ten minutes, so I'd advise getting a plan for that together."
"Right," said Mal. "Alright, Wash, Kaylee, get any supplies that we need. I know there's a few parts that need replacin', but don't go and buy them until we have the platinum from Brightman. Zoe, Jayne, you and I are making the deal with Brightman."
"No way," said Jayne. "I ain't dealin' with Brightman, or his men! Guy drinks the blood of rats, Mal! There's somethin' that just ain't right!"
"He's an albino, Jayne, not a vampire," said Wash.
"Now, if Jayne isn't willing to help make the deal," said Book, "I could help out with the heavy lifting, especially considering that our mule is still in need of repairs."
"Well, in that case, Jayne, you're going to be watching the ship until Inara gets back. After that, go and unwind a bit, but don't get too drunk and don't spend more than you need to."
Mal stood up and walked over to Simon. "Now, I know the law says that you ain't a criminal, but I'm sure a few people would recognize that you used to. You two are to stay low. Last thing we want is anyone trying to steal my ship's doctor."
"What do we do after we're done here?" said Zoe.
"Well, we take to the skies, and then we see where we go from there," said Mal.
If Persephone needed to be described in one word, that word would be "crowded". Even in a less populated and popular city like Antenora, the streets were packed with all sorts of people, and there were just as many sorts of ships in the skies above the docks and spaceports. Any sort of ship could dock there and go unnoticed in the traffic.
And, as Serenity set itself down in the main spaceport of Antenora, its crew, or any other passer-by, did not notice a most interesting ship set down scarcely a kilometer away.
It was an Alliance destroyer, but a strange one. It had the same paint job as the standard destroyer, with all the proper emblems, markings, and similar details. It also was armed with a surprising amount of weaponry, especially on a ship that size – everything from missile batteries to laser cannons. The reason that it was so interesting was what it was based off of – a class-3 Firefly transport ship. In fact, if you looked past the paint and the weaponry, it looked nearly identical to the Firefly that landed a few seconds earlier.
And as Serenity opened its cargo bay and let the crew loose to do their business, the IAV Serenity opened its bay as well.
Two men walked out. One was pale, young, and clean-shaven; the other dark, older, and bearded. Both of them were scarred, and both of them wore long black coats and gloves of blue. One was known as Mr. Tam, and one was known as Mr. Evans, though to anyone in the 'verse, they had no names; they were simply Operatives.
The two of them were on a hunt for a specific girl. They knew not where she was, only that she was out there, somewhere. Maybe not in this city, or this planet, but somewhere.
The two men walked out and vanished into the crowd.
Author's Notes: So, this is the first official chapter of the story. Don't worry, the two crew will meet soon enough. I hope that I captured the voices of each character adequately, and if I didn't, by all means, let me know.