Somnambulism - Chapter Nine
Sunday, May 28, 2006

Safety. Recollection. Explanation.


Mal gathered everyone he could at the door to the cargo bay. River had a habit of laying about in here. She seemed to love it, and Mal thought she might stick with the familiar, for now. Book had crossed their path on his way to the galley. Mal had motioned silently that he should stick with them.

Speaking low, Mal said: "Jayne? You got anything in your bunk of the nonlethal variety? Something we can use to capture someone?"

Jayne thought for a moment.

"I have a netslinger I took off a cop back home. It's old though. Don't know it'd work. Why?"

"Get it. Zoe, go with him. Take one of the squawkers. Until this is settled, everyone stays in contact, and we work and stay in teams. The more, the better. While Jayne's getting his net, Zoe, you get Wash, and for the love of Buddha, keep him quiet!"

Zoe took off, Jayne in tow. Mal motioned for Book to come to him. He began explaining what was happening quietly. He also pressed a pistol into the Shepherd's hand. Book took it willingly enough. A little too much so, Mal thought. It was easy enough to see that the preacher had handled weapons before. Simon had refused a gun. While Mal had given a strict order that River was not to be fatally wounded unless absolutely necessary, Simon still couldn't bring himself to aim a gun at his sister.

Jayne, Wash, and Zoe came back, Jayne shouldering the large netslinger.

"Where the hell have you been keepin' that?" Mal asked.

Jayne shrugged.

Zoe handed over a pair of manacles and a pair of handcuffs. Wash eyed the handcuffs nervously.

"We'll get those back, won't we?"

"Not now, Wash." Zoe said.

Jayne snorted as Mal pocketed the cuffs and handed the manacles to Inara. Inara was also armed, though she too had voiced that she wouldn't be able to shoot River. Mal knew that Inara could handle a weapon and insisted vigorously that she take it. Rather than argue with the Captain, she took it.

The group formed a loose cirle, with their backs pointing to the center. They began to inch slowly into the cargo hold, Jayne and Mal in the lead.

* * *

The room was dark. Most of the rooms at The Academy were kept dark and overlit blue. Some of the subjects had a light sensitivity, but at this stage of the experiment, no one was certain which subjects would turn out that way.

This particular large room was used for exercises. Not working of the body, as such, but, occasionally, the subjects needed to be tested to see what procedures had taken hold, and what worked. There was really only one way to do it.

River Tam stood at one side of the huge room. One of the blue lights above kept her illuminated. She stood perfectly still, her shallow breathing her only movements. She would remain that way until her handler gave her the word.

Across the room, another subject was likewise standing. A young black man who had different drug and surgical protocols than River had. During orientation in The Academy, they had seem to be good friends. Then again, for as bright as she was, River seemed to be friendly with everyone upon arrival. That all changed after her training began.

Dr. Mathias stood in the shadows next to River with a clipboard in his hand. River seemed to suffering some side effects beyond the insanity that accompanied neural stripping. No matter what was done to the subjects, that part was unavoidable. So long as the right psychological blocks were in place, there was no danger.

"River Tam. We are going to begin training exercise 62Alpha." Dr. Mathias began, speaking to one of the myriad cameras watching the scene. "This is to see if the empathic body restructuring problems we've experienced have been repaired. Your opponent today is Smith Goodson."

Across the room, Mathias could hear Goodson's trainer saying much the same thing. In truth, he didn't know the doctor's name. He didn't have to.

"Ready!" he called.

The other doctor waved his clipboard at him, signaling an affirmative.

Mathias turned to River, bent down, and whispered a code word into her ear. Across the room, the same thing was happening with Goodson, but Mathias didn't know the word...anymore than Goodson's trainer knew River's word. The words were changed often.

"Panda" Mathias whispered.

River snapped to attention. Immediately, she spun out of the light. Mathias backed to the wall to stay out of her way. She was targeted specifically on Goodson. It was only on specific targets that they were experiencing the "problems".

The two students were moving so fast that they couldn't be seen. All that could heard was the flapping of their clothes, and that not very well. Mathias made a mental note to adjust some of the parameters on River's stealth training.

Out in the darkness of the room, there was a loud, wet crunch, and a gurgling. The exercise was over. The lights snapped on, and River Tam stood victorious again.

The test proved to be a failure, however.

She was at least an inch taller than before, and her skin had darkened considerably. The neural stripping that allowed her to know what others were thinking and feeling was overriding her basic DNA structure. In essence, she not only felt and thought what they did...she became them for a short time. She could not fight the training imbedded in her to find and kill them. Her body would return to normal, and relatively quickly, but Mathias had found that the more she changed, the more painful the return to herself was.

The right medications could stop this, Mathias was certain. When she was out in the field, though. Mathias wasn't certain, but they might have to put River Tam down.

He glanced at the dossier for River's first assignment. Someone named Rudd, on Hera. Bad character, and River was set to be activated in a month. Four weeks might be enough time to solve this problem, provided the Alliance didn't yank her out of here too soon.

* * *

The cargo hold was near pitch black. Jayne was in the lead with Mal at his. Zoe was in the rear, watching the back, should River try to attack from behind. Book was between Wash and Inara, per Mal's instructions.

Another hollow throated scream, animalistic in the extreme, blasted through the ship, so loud that there was no hope of discerning where it had come from. Everyone jumped, Mal, Jayne, Zoe...everyone. Simon was looking wildly about, trying desperately to find his sister so that he might reason with her. Before she got shot.

"Zoe." Mal said.

Zoe didn't have to ask. She reached over flipped the light switch on the panel next to the cargo door. As soon as it was on, however, a metal spike shot from nowhere, shattering the panel, and returning the cargo bay to its former gloom. Mal, who had very nearly been hit with the projectile, had a shuddering sense of deja vu. Now, he held the pieces to the puzzle entire that Simon didn't have. Together, they would have been able to figure the entire thing out, but, since they didn't communicate that well, the crew, as well as the captain would have to function in the dark. Literally, it would appear.

"River?" Simon began, tremulously. Mal had been about to silence him, but, there was no point. River obviously knew where they were.

"Kaylee?" Inara called, and faintly, they could hear a moan. Simon started forward. Mal hissed at him.

"Doc! You hold til I tell you!"

Simon glared at Mal for a moment before rejoining the group. Mal suspected that River wanted nothing more than to seperate the group and pick them off one by one. Kaylee moaned again, and this time, they all heard where it was coming from. Off to their right, as they stood in the center of the bay.

* * *

River Tam, who could scarcely be called River Tam anymore, had changed significantly from the last time anyone on Serenity had seen her. Her body had transformed into a solid mass of muscle, several inches taller than she had been before. Her skin was both dark, and had hardened. Her fingernails had also hardened, and seemed to have grown out to points. She had found a piece of jagged metal in the cargo hold, and had used it to cut her arm in a strange circular pattern. The cuts were shallow, but enough to leave trickles of blood running down her arm to collect under her sharp fingernails. Her hair was plastered about her head. And, her eyes had taken on a red hue so bright they almost seemed to glow.

Her teeth had continued along the path they had taken earlier and had completed there change to fairly sharp points. She ground them as she watched the crew, wanting to hurt, to kill, but not knowing why. Her teeth slashed into her lips and gums, and blood began to flow from the corners of her mouth.

Inside the animalistic new nature of River Tam, the young girl she had been screamed to get out, to stop what was happening. But, as though it had been preordained, River tensed to make her move.

* * *

The crew, as one, moved toward the sound of Kaylee's voice. Zoe searched about for one of the catches for the hidden panel. It was one she knew about, and thanked God for small favors.

When the panel came up, Simon shown his small flashlight into the hole.

"Jayne, keep your eyes up." Mal whispered, knowing that Jayne was concerned for Kaylee.

"She appears to be okay." Simon said, in the clinical fashion his voice took on whenever he had a patient.

"What about her arm?" Inara said, thinking of the torn sleeve with its cuff covered in blood.

"It looks fine. There's a cut, but it doesn't look too deep. Its not even bleeding anymore."

Kaylee blinked, and lifted her head towards the door.

"Did the coil blow?" She said, before bolting awake, and, in a panic, trying to scrabble out of the hole.

The second she spoke, Jayne turned to look. It was all the time River needed. She came full tilt at them from behind some crates in the far corner of the bay.

"Jayne!" Mal bellowed, but it was too late. On the run, River jammed her hand into the side of a woooden crate, raising it above her head and hurling it at Jayne. It glanced him on the head, but, it was enough. Jayne went down. But, the heavy box wasn't done. It struck Zoe in the thigh, knocking her down. Mal tried to draw a bead on River, but River was moving far too fast. She suddenly stopped and crouched, watching Mal intently. Mal was unsure what to do next. River's red eyes and claw like fingernails when she looked perfectly fine this morning was more than a little unnerving. The color of her skin made her hard to see. Mal, ever the quick shot, slowly raised his pistol, but, in his fugue state, River managed to spin out of sight again. No one had seen where she'd went.

Mal was certain what this new, strange strategem was. She was trying to make them waste ammo.

"No one shoot at her. Gather everyone up, and make for the door."

Jayne was unconscious, however, and since everyone but Simon was armed, there was no way they'd get him out. And, they couldn't leave him. Mal holstered his pistol and gathered up the netslinger. He quickly mounted the stairs to the halfway mark off the cargobay, and waited for any sign of River. If she wanted to play this way, he could too. He would use the crew as bait.

Kaylee had been raised from the hole, safe and sound for the most part. She was wobbly, however, and Simon picked her up. Wash helped Zoe up, but she was limping. Book and Inara gave a preliminary tug on Jayne, but nothing doing.

Mal could hear the "thump, thump, thump" of River running across the cargo hold. He shouldered the slinger.

Mal expected River to come running full barrel down the middle of the bay. He was wrong, of course, because River rarely did as expected, and this was no diffent. She was taken one of the many strap chains from the ceiling, and was hanging from it sideways. She was using it to balance as she ran sideways along the wall. On the wall, really. About halfway through, she vaulted, launching herself for the crew. Mal was about to squeeze the trigger, when she switched her momentum, and launched herself right at him. She was a mass of lean, tall muscle, moving almost faster than he could see, and there was no way he could get a shot. She rammed into him full tilt. It was like being kicked by a horse. The netslinger clattered to the deck below.

River and Mal stood at the same time, facing each other. When Mal caught sight of her eyes, he backed away a step. She lunged at him, and he backed one step too many. As he began to fall, River reached out with one taloned hand, and caught him by the wrist. One armed, she lifted him bodily up over the empty space of the hold. Since she was now a few inches taller than he, his boots didn't touch the deck. The pressure on his wrist was crushing, but, he didn't make any signs that he was hurt. He tried to draw his pistol with his free hand, but she swatted it away.

Her red eyes seemed to burn when she leaned down and hissed is his face. She was staring at him so intently, that she didn't notice Book pick up the slinger, and fire it at her.

A large net with four weights, one on each end, shot out. River was wrapped up pretty well, and the weights kept her down. Jayne was waking up, and he and Book ran upstairs. River was already fighting against the net. Unfortunately, one of the weights struck the captain in the leg, sending him flying. It kept him out of the way, but it also landed him painfully on the stairs. He was slow to get up. When he did, he ran for River as well. The three big men dogpiled on top of her, and still she was fighting back.

Wash also ran and jumped on the pile, but it was having little effect. The men redistributed their weight, and seemed to have her pinned down. Inara took the manacles and handcuffs, and restrained River as best she could. She would have to stay in the net for now, but, at least they knew where she was.

Kaylee's cut required a weave, and nothing else. No one else had been injured that badly, but, it was by sheer luck.

As soon as the fray was done, Mal left Book, Simon, and Jayne trying to figure out how to permanently restrain River until whatever was going on was over. Zoe limped a bit, but, was proving to be just fine. Wash got back to the cockpit, to find that there was a wave waiting for him.

It was Walt.

"Whatever took those Alliance security guys is at it again. There was no body."

"Hang tight, Walt." Zoe said "We're coming."

Wash finished putting in the coordinates for Hera.

Mal, having taken a mild painkiller for his back after his tumble on the stairs, had gone to his bunk to try and rest.

Simon didn't even think to tell him not to sleep.


Sunday, May 28, 2006 11:58 AM


Oooh, poor River. That was very exciting but I worry for our little albatross and what has been done to her. I hope like crazy that our crew can bring her back. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Sunday, May 28, 2006 8:41 PM


Been missing this series, manwithpez...and things have only gotten wackier!


Tuesday, May 30, 2006 11:48 PM


Oh boy! Great chapter. Poor River is she going to be able to come back from this?

Can't wait for the next installment.


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Somnambulism - Chapter Fourteen
It's back...well, this is actually a reposting of a lost chapter. Hey! I just refound it myself!

Somnambulism - Chapter Thirteen
Trap. Hunt. Enemy. Trap

Somnambulism - Chapter Twelve
The Plan, Negotiation, Landing, Hunt

Somnambulism - Chapter Eleven
Wash's Orders, Mal's Revelation, The Other, Captiulation

Somnambulism - Chapter Ten
Mal's Dream. Walt's Problem. River's Regain.

Somnambulism - Chapter Nine
Safety. Recollection. Explanation.

Somnambulism - Chapter Eight
Simon's Dream, Mal's Choice, River's Verdict

Somnambulism - Chapter Seven
Memory, Atavism, Hera

Somnambulism - Chapter Six
History, Discovery, Purpose

Somnambulism - Chapter Five
Malice, Theory, Opportunity