Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Traditions have to be followed even when it means risking life, limb or arrest. River knows this even if Simon does not. If Simon is not going to protect his own future, River feels it is up to her. One shot.


This little ditty was inspired by Jonny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and my father-in-law. Ten points if you can figure out which character he is. Just kidding, but he is quoted word for word in a couple of places.

The story takes place after The Movie, but the only way you would know it is that a couple of characters are conspicuously absent.

Many thanks to my dear husband for the beta reading. I’ll turn him into a browncoat yet:)

Please let me know what you think. Comments make me feel all warm and fuzzy even when they are critical.

Enjoy -

The cicadas sang a mournful song through the trees of the lush green forest. The young woman’s slender fingers quickly typed a ten digit code into a keypad attached to the big rod iron gate. The only sound was the cool breeze as it brushed her hair away from her face and continued on to gently rustle the leaves on the trees. The gates’ opening was soundless, as were the soft footsteps of the three thieves that passed through it. Moonlit shadows filled the path, allowing the thieves to slip up to the large brick mansion unseen. Every window was dark, not unusual for a house this close to midnight. But the three intruders knew this was not because there were occupants asleep inside. Rather because the owners of this particular house were attending an Alliance sponsored state function, and not scheduled to return for several hours.

Again the slender fingers flew across a keypad typing in the familiar code. The key pad’s red light turned to green sending off a slight click, allowing the three figures to enter through the small door towards the back of the house. The thin fingers of their leader silently pointed out security features to the others as they slipped upstairs to the master bedroom. Her comfort with her surroundings was obvious and was the only thing guiding this mission. The others did like this job, but they were here as a favor to their friend. It was something that had to be done, something that River needed to do for her brother.

********* “Everyone, I need you to listen.” Simon stood up and clanked his fork gently against the side of the clay mug from which he was drinking. The crew was all gathered around the big dining room table on Serenity. Everyone was engrossed in the pot of stir fried fresh vegetables sitting on the table. No one was listening to Simon.

“Sure am glad, Neera decided to give us that bonus.” Jayne’s words were muffled by the food he was chewing as he spoke.

“Hey, Simon and I have something shiny we wanna tell ya.” As Kaylee stood and clanked the glass, forks were slowly set back on the table and heads turned toward the elated couple standing before them.

“Actually what we have is a request for our Captain. But we wanted everyone to know, so dinner seemed like the most advantageous time to do it.” Simon seemed to babble, letting on just how nervous he was about this particular announcement.

“Just ask ‘em sweetie.” Kaylee hugged Simon around the waist in obvious bliss.

“Captain, I would like to formally request we change our heading to Kaylee’s home world, Joaquin. I need to speak with her father, about a personal matter.” The entire crew stared at Simon wondering what sort of personal matter would make Simon request a trip so far out of their way.

“Just tell ‘em, sweetie, they are all gunna guess before to long.”

“What you need, to ask permission from the old man before you make a move on her, no wonder you’re stiffer than a tie in a starch factory.” Jayne stuffed another big helping of food into his mouth as he spoke.

“Ok, doc, how’s about you share this personal matter with me and I might decide if it is worth a three day trip out of our way, to take care of it.” Mal set his mug down on the table and looked intently at the young doctor. Simon, whose face by now was redder than a tomato, took a deep breath gathering strength before speaking.

“I have informally asked Kaylee if she is interested in becoming my wife, and she has agreed.” Simon squeezed Kaylee’s hand before he continued. “But before I can officially announce a betrothal, I feel I must speak to her father in person.”

“That’s wonderful.” Inara stood and gave both Kaylee and Simon congratulatory hugs. “You two will make a fabulous couple.”

“Yeah, way to go, doc.” Jayne raised his glass to the couple as he stuffed another spoonful of rice into his mouth.

River however, stood up and began pacing back and forth. “Traditions have to be upheld, traditions keep us strong. Traditions we cannot fulfill in the here and the now, have to return to the past to fulfill the traditions.” Most of the crew was ignoring her. They were so busy congratulating Simon and Kaylee that they did not see her obvious agitation.


The painting in the master bedroom was easily four feet high and three feet across. Expert hands slid along the underside of the frame and released the catch hidden in an ornate golden flower. Like the other pieces of art in the room it was an original masterpiece, hundreds of years old. River looked around remembering every one of these paintings. The Degas was her favorite. When she had been small, she would sit for hours on her mother’s bed staring at the painting, pretending to dance with the ballerinas. River let her eyes rest on the white dresses of the dancers for just a moment before returning to her task. Degas and the ballet was a lifetime ago.

As the catch on the frame released, the painting peeled away from the wall on its automatic hinges, exposing yet another keypad. This one set in the center of a large square safe. River input her mothers birthday, then her fathers, then her brothers, and finally her own. The lights changed from red to green at the exact moment that the door opened.


The bridge was dark that night as Mal sat in the pilots chair staring out at the black. Coming here while the rest of the crew was sleeping had become a nightly ritual. It was calming, sitting in the darkness, staring at the vast emptiness of space. The deep black was one of the few places in the ‘verse Mal felt safe. Many nights he fell asleep in the pilot’s chair, waking up several hours later to stumble to his bunk.

He was almost drifting off to sleep, when the slender figure, dressed in a black slip dress and combat boots, sat down in the seat next to him. For a few quiet moments they both just sat, staring into the empty blackness that surrounded them.

“Traditions have to be followed,” River finally said, still staring out the windows.

“Seems that’s why I’ve adjusted our course to take your brother to Joaquin. Nice captain that I am.”

“No, no, no, that’s the icing. It’s not what matters. He needs the ring.” Mal had not seen River this agitated in quite some time. Before he new it, River was leaning over him, her hands on the armrest at his sides effectively trapping him in the pilot’s seat. With her face not three inches away from his, she spoke again. “We have to get the ring. Father to son, father to son, hundreds of years. The tradition has to be followed or the pieces fall apart. I have to go back. I have to save him. It’s my turn.”

“Little Albatross, what exactly are you sayin’?” Mal’s voice was calm, even though any other man would have been terrified by the menace trapping him into the chair.

“Osiris!” She paused for a moment thinking, “Not Simon, he would let it go, but he’ll end up broken like us. I have to save him.”

“Let me get this straight. You want me to get rid of Simon, and take you on some fools mission to the core? You really think your brother is gunna go for that?” Mal’s voice contained a hint of sarcasm, as if he was hoping to convince her that the very idea was crazy.

“Our little secret,” she smiled and stepped away from the chair.

“What is so gorrum important that you would want to step foot on Osiris?”

She turned to face him again, the frustration beginning to show in her voice. “I said, tradition! Father to son, father to son, Simon can’t be broken.”


The scream could be heard throughout the house, even though the only two to hear it were standing there in the doorway. Reagan Tam had never before seen a stranger in her home, let alone in the sanctity of her master bedroom. It disturbed the depths of her soul. The scream continued for what seemed like ages but in reality was only a few seconds. It died away as her husband burst past her into the room.

“Who are you and what the...” His voice was cut off by a different scream coming from his wife.

“River? Oh my god it’s River.” She rushed at her daughter with arms outstretched. River raised her arm, pointing a cocked pistol at their faces, causing her mother to stop short. Not looking at her parents, River opened the safe with her other hand, mumbling “The ring, I need the ring, father to son, father to son.”

“River, what are you talking about. Put the gun down and…”

Again Gabriel Tam’s voice was cut off by his wife’s tear filled words. “Oh my god, River, after Simon kidnapped you from school I thought we would never see you again. Are you hurt, did he hurt you?” Reagan was able to take three steps forward, arms still outstretched, before her progress was again halted. This time by a bullet whizzing three inches from her left ear. “Not kidnapped, saved. You didn’t believe. Simon believed. Now it’s my turn.”

“Saved you from what, the best education that money could buy? Saved you from a prosperous career? Saved you from a lifetime of wealth and privilege? What has he turned you into? A petty thief stealing from your own parents?” As he spoke, Gabriel slowly made his way toward the bedside table. He thought the almost complete darkness of the room would hide his actions. He was wrong. As he leaned down to open the drawer another shot rang out. The bedside table ripped in two. There was a loud crash and the splintering of glass. A laser pistol that had been hidden inside the table fell to fall to the floor, cracking the glass of a capture of a young Simon and River in a silver frame. River did not take her eyes off the safe.

“No education, wires in the brain, pain, memories, I didn’t want the memories. You wouldn’t believe.” The accusation rang throughout the room as River finally took her eyes off the contents of the safe and stared at her father, stating unequivocally “Simon saved me.”

“I see your brother brainwashed you as well as kidnapped and hurt you.”

“I came for the ring, Simon will have what is his.” She took a small velvet box out of the safe and opened it. Seeing that it contained what she was after she snapped the box shut and placed it in the bag around her waist. For good measure she placed three of the four bundles of cash from the safe in the bag as well. In one motion she slammed the safe door and turned to face her father. “Wires in the brain, searing pain, future in death and destruction, broken River.”

“My god, you cannot even speak in complete sentences anymore, what did he do to you? I give you a future and your brother turns you into an imbecile. What have you been doing for the last eight months, running around on the rim with those independent wackjobs?”

“Now, Gabriel, River, lets put the guns down and talk like a civilized family.” Reagan was trying desperately to keep her voice calm, although River could feel the pain in her heart. Reagan wanted her family back together. She wanted desperately to hold her babies again. The worst part was she knew it would never happen.

“Civilized? Isn’t it obvious she is no longer civilized? It’s obvious she has been living with those Shu ma nyaow browncoats who think guns are the solution to all problems. This would never have happened if she had stayed safe in the Alliance Academy.”

“Gou tsao de Alliance, their fault, I will not kill for them.”

“Young lady, while you stand in my house you will not curse the best government in human history.” Gabriel heard the gun cock next to his ear a second before he heard the male voice.

“You best rephrase that sentence.”


“Ok, doc, here’s the plan.” Mal stepped into the infirmary and took a seat on the exam table. As he spoke Simon turned around from the cabinet he was inventorying. Simon knew they were short on several supplies and was trying to make a list of things they would need to purchase at their next stop. He hoped that stop would be Joaquin.

“I’m listening,” he said, placing a stack of gel packs on the counter.

“Inara has clients in the main city on Joaquin. She is going to drop you at Kaylee’s parents on her way in. You’ll stay there a week or so. Should be long enough to either get some blessings or get strung up from a tree. Serenity is going to continue on to Ganamix and drop off our cargo, we’ll return for you when were done.” Mal smiled, he was not sure why he liked playing with the doctor’s head quite so much.

“Thank you, Captain. I appreciate your consideration.” Simon’s words were a little shaky, which made Mal have to work even harder to contain his chuckles.

“Simon, you are just too easy to spook. But truly, you gunna always treat her right? Because if anyone were to hurt my little Kaylee, they would be seeing a lot of cold dark space real quick.”

“Captain, I love her more than the stars. That is why I want to do this right.” Simon lost his nervousness because there was no doubt in his mind to the answer to that question.

“That’s what I wanted to hear and I respect that, doc. That is why I’m draggin’ my boat to Joaquin. I have faith that you’ll do right by her. But it’s my duty to make my position clear, I’m not jokin’ about Kaylee. By the way, River’s been mumbling about rings and traditions. It’s down right disturbing. Any idea what she’s got in her head?”

“My family has a tradition. Shortly after people left Earth-that-Was, one of my ancestors fell in love with a young woman named Miery. He did not have a lot of money, but he scraped together everything he had and bought her the best ring he could. It was a simple platinum band, with three small stones.

“About the time they had their first son, he became established and was able to buy his wife a new elaborate ring containing lots of big shiny rocks. But their first ring, he set aside, for his son to give to his future bride. It has been handed down like that for hundreds of years, and our family has been known for its happy long lasting marriages.

“The difficulty is that there was one of my ancestors, who refused the ring. His name was Erith. Erith’s first two wives left him, almost decimating the family business. The third was tragically killed and the fourth, died in childbirth. River is worried that if I do not give Kaylee the ring, our marriage will turn out like those of Erith. But I am not about to put my life and future on hold, because I cannot return to Osiris.”

“Hmm, interesting story. It is very brave of you to ignore it. You best hope it’s not predicting your fate, or it will be a long spacewalk without a suit for you.” Mal got up and walked out of the infirmary, leaving Simon just a bit shaken, he really was way to easy to spook.


“As I said, you best rephrase your comments about the Alliance and the quality of their governance.” Mal stepped out of the shadows, the barrel of his gun resting against the temple of Gabriel Tam. “It seems to me that the only thing your Alliance has done for your children is give them a world of hurt.”

“Put that thing down, you fong luh wangbadan. You independent wackjobs think that everyone should be free to do as they please Well we can see here that doing as you please, means being able to shoot your parents in cold blood.”

“I think you miss understand your daughter, Mr. Tam. That school you had such faith in gave her the ability to shoot with her eyes closed. If she wanted you dead, you would be laying on the floor in a puddle of blood. They created one of the best assassins in the ‘verse. Ever wonder why they sent fleets of ships to recover a sixteen year old girl who ran away from school.”

“The Alliance does not gun people down in cold blood. We protect our citizens from harms committed against them. That includes rescuing girls that have been kidnapped. We do not let people drift into the servitude of another, even her own brother. We do not force people to live in such poverty that they are forced to steal so that they can eat.”

Zoë could see the fire brewing inside Mal. Another word and Mal would shoot this man. Or worse, drag him to the rim and drop him on Whitefall. “Sir, its time we were goin’. River’s got what she came for.”

Recognizing his own control about to slip through his fingers, Mal agreed. Tossing Zoë a roll of tape, he grabbed Gabriel’s hands. “tie these gou tsao de hundan, up on the bed. Someone will come looking for them in the morning.” Zoë gestured with her gun towards the bed. Reagan obediently sat down and submitted her hands to the dark skinned woman.

Gabriel turned and reached, attempting to grab the gun resting against his temple. His movements were matched with a crack as Mal’s gun hit him on the side of the head. Gabriel Tam slumped to the floor.

“Man, that felt good.” Mal smiled at the unconscious man on the floor.

“Come on, sir. It’s time to go.”

As they walked out the door, River placed two bullets in the communications terminal on the side of the bed.

“River wait.” Reagan’s voice was desperate. Her daughter turned to face her.

“I’ll never see you again, will I?” River shook her head. Her face dry, unlike her mother’s.

“Open the bottom drawer,” Reagan gestured to the dresser. “There is a wooden box filled with all the things I wanted to give you. I’ve spent nights looking at them and crying over them for months. Please take it. I am so glad to know you are not dead.” Her voice drifted off into sobs.

River opened the drawer and removed the ornate wooden box. She stopped to kiss her mother gently on the forehead. “I love you too, Mama, always and forever.” She walked out the door and never turned back.


Serenity landed on Joaquin, at the shipyard owned by Kaylee’s father three days later. As the cargo bay opened, the crew was greeted by many smiling faces. Amongst them were Kaylee and Simon, looking so happy they would burst.

“I guess that grin means that you’ve been accepted into the family.” Mal slapped Simon on the back as he walked down the open ramp.

“She held together okay for ya cap’n? I was a might uneasy letting you fly off w’out me there to coddle her.” Upon her speaking Mal could tell that Kaylee’s elation was just a bit tempered by her anxiety over the state of her girl.

“She dun just fine, though you might want to take a look at her before we take off. She’s been along way, since you last saw her.” Kaylee gave her captain a confused look as he walked off the ship and shook the hand of Mr. Frye.

A few minutes after the ship had finished shutting down, River appeared in the cargo bay.

“I missed you, mei-mei.” Simon said wrapping his arms around the slim figure of his little sister.

River slowly unwrapped herself from him and gently placed a small velvet box in the palm of his hands.

“Traditions must be kept.” She smiled and walked down the ramp into the waiting throng. Only after she disappeared amongst the crowd of Frye’s did he look down at her gift. As he opened the box all he could do was stare in shock, anger, fear and gratefulness at the platinum ring, with three small stones.



They had stayed on Joaquin for three weeks. Long enough to perform a “proper” wedding. Inara had stood with the bride and Mal with the groom. Afterwards, Mr. Frye had sent the happy couple on a mission to “inspect” his summer cabin near the lake, with orders not to show themselves for at least a week. And, he spent the week giving Serenity an overhaul. Any compatible spare part that had been lying around his shop was now stashed in the cargo bay. The time had passed quickly and after a tearful farewell, they were again floating through the black.

Since Osiris, River had a hard time sleeping. These days it was River who spent many of her nights sitting in the pilot’s seat, staring out the windows towards the black. Osiris was a lifetime away, but the wound was fresh. In her lap was always the ornate wooden box. She had yet to open it. Most nights she just held it and cried.

“One day you will feel up to opening that box, Little Albatross.” Mal stood in the doorway watching her.

“How can she love him? He poisons the air she breathes?”

“No accounting for love bao bei, now get to bed, I need a pilot that’s rested and ready to tackle the fong luh de emo.” River stood up and walked off the bridge, clutching the wooden box tightly to her chest.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006 7:33 PM


Sweet,interesting, and a little sad.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006 4:23 AM


good job writing River. Her words that seem incoherent but understandable are very good, not so many people can do that well. cute story. i wanna know whats in the box!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006 5:34 AM


very nice.

made me tear up....


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