The d’Arbanvilles' Ball-River’s Tale
Sunday, January 22, 2006

A sort of stream-of-consciousness work regarding just how River might have felt/thought during her time at the academy.


I am actually submitting this for an upper-division psychology course on conceptions of the mind, so please, be honest! This is the first in my Tales series, a group of short vignettes featuring each member of the crew. The rest can be found here: Wash, Mal, Kaylee, Zoë, Simon, Inara, Jayne, Book Rated PG for some violence/disturbing imagery. Go-se=Crap


River Tam was having a very bad day. Of course, “day” was largely an anachronistic term that carried no meaning in the ‘verse anymore. It was a term used on Earth-That-Was, a term used to describe a twenty four hour period. Suns rose and fell at different rates now, and “day” was just an old word that people still used because it was convenient. Time was a subjective thing to begin with, and it helped for there to be a common language, even if it didn’t mean a thing in actuality. “Day” was a figure of speech, just like “show your true colors,” everyone used it and no one knew what it meant. But, nevertheless… River Tam was having a very bad day. That didn’t mean that River wasn’t acutely aware of exactly how long she’d been here. In fact, she had been at the Alliance’s “academy” for five hundred fifty nine days, six hours, fifteen minutes, seventeen seconds, eight, no, nine nanoseconds. She considered calculating her total attendance down to the picosecond, but she’d done that earlier and it had ceased to amuse her. She settled for examining the room: gray walls devoid of decoration, a plain white single-person bed, a gray metal writing desk with chair. This had been her living space ever since she’d arrived here. Since then, it had taken on many forms. When she first arrived, it was a transport into a larger ‘verse. It was open, full of possibilities. An inner sanctum to come home to after hours of intensive and extensive studies in advanced astrophysics. The walls extended out into eternity, as if to encompass all there was to learn and know in the whole of creation. Creation…that implied a creator. There might not be one, making the term somewhat untenable. River realized that some believed in one, be it male, female, or something else, but she had never seen evidence. In fact, she understood that the Bible was simply flush with contradictions of both logic and internal consistency. Reality might be more appropriate. But, well, that word wasn’t much better. Reality was far too fluid to put that fine a label on. Everyone had a reality. River reached out and detected dozens of minds and the dozens of realities therein. She’d been doing it for years, and despite all that the Alliance had done to her, she still had that intuitive insight. She decided to, for the umpteenth time, take a look at the worlds the other people in the academy inhabited. The nurses were in an unchanging world of tedium, performing the same tasks everyday in an environment that never changed. The doctors were in a constantly evolving world, a place that consistently moved forward in the all-encompassing search for knowledge. At least, that was some of the doctors. Some were in a world where all of the subjects at the academy came with numerical values attached to their foreheads. Each was an opportunity to higher prestige and wealth. And then there was Doctor Langston Miyazaka. Doctor Miyazaka was in a world where he was the most powerful being in existence. All of the people around him were obviously inferior, and he enjoyed it. He enjoyed shaping and molding the minds around him. He was able to decide what stayed and what was excised from the minds of those around him, and that excited him. He had no interest in advancing science, he would have gladly volunteered to work on any project that allowed him to decide for himself who would is worthy of inclusion, and who was no longer worth the Alliance’s time. He was also actively disinterested in advancement, because he was amongst the most important individuals at the academy. There weren’t many doctors more important than him, and he was as a god to the subjects. The academy was a means unto itself for him. Bored with the doctors and staff, River began running through the other subjects in her wing. Two were living in roughly the same reality she did. Gray walls, gray floors, gray life. Three others, new arrivals, were living in the reality she used to call home, that of open invitations to the mysteries of the ‘verse. The remaining five lived in the interim reality. A dark, hideous world that was full of monsters that came to take you away to a place where you would be hurt. Altered. There was no safety to be had, no security to be found. The empty room was always dark, and there was nowhere you could hide. At any time, day or night, some hideous beast that walked on two legs would come for you. They had no faces, no mouths, no hair, only eyes over their white bodies. They would bark at each other in words that sounded like speech, but you just couldn’t be sure. And then they would take you. Lights. Horrible, blue lights. And stabbing pain in your head. Drugs coursing through your veins and incisions into your brainpan. Hell in this lifetime. But River wasn’t sure she believed in Hell. Consequently, she’d long since abandoned that reality. There wasn’t any point in it. Whether she feared the monsters or not, they’d still come. The pain would still come, and the sessions with the doctors would still occur. Living in a world of pure darkness got one nowhere. So River, along with her two cohorts, had moved into a new reality. She lived in a world where things simply were. The doctors, the nurses, the subjects, the room, the bed, the desk, they were all random factors. They had no meaning anymore. They bounced about, interacting with each other, interacting with River, but they never moved beyond the realm of simple, random factors. Not to say that River still didn’t feel the searing fear every time it was time to face that horrible light. The monsters no longer came for her, she went to them. She’d stopped resisting them. But the monsters were still out there. And when she entered that light, she and all of the other subjects shared the exact same reality. It might not be the metaphysical representation of divine punishment that three of the others believed it to be, and four were rapidly approaching belief in as well, it was still a place of pain, fear, and conversion. The mind entered green and emerged red. But her room was just a nothing, incapable of exciting the joy necessary to overcome that fear, and totally insufficient to generate a fear to challenge the first. So it became nothing, a space full of objects, where she simply existed in between trips to the blue hell. She’d had her latest trip to the blue hell yesterday. There were needles, there were incisions, there was fear. But that reality was no longer present. She left it behind when she left the light. The monsters could only bother her in her past, which she could ignore if she willed it, and in her future, which might not occur in the first place. The blue reality was replaced by the gray as easy as snuffing a light. As long as the monsters remained in their blue light, she would remain in her room. The two would not cross, and the two realities remained disparate entities in her mind. River wished Simon were here. Simon was always more than just a random factor. Her brother may be too stupid to live sometimes (he never could spell), but he was still important. Significant. River wished Simon were here. But that was neither here nor there. Because Simon was not here, Simon must by definition still be there. After all, there is where Simon was when he was here. However, River was here, not there, so she had absolutely no way of knowing if Simon was still there. And if she couldn’t prove that Simon was there, and it seemed highly unlikely that he was here, then River could not honestly hold that Simon was anywhere. If Simon wasn’t anywhere, then by simple definition he must be nowhere. Simon didn’t exist anymore. And if Simon didn’t exist now, he might not have existed ever before. River had only her own memories to trust on that. River had trouble trusting her memories these days. She’d ventured down this road on more than one occasion. But, as always, she pulled herself back. Simon was out there. He was looking for her. He had to be. She’d sent him the letters in the code she knew he’d be able to understand. She’d had to make it simple for him, though. Simon always did need a bit of a helping hand when it came to mind games. Doctor or no, Simon was just too stupid to live sometimes. River let her mind slip back to when they were children on Osiris. Simon was always the one to watch over her. Keep her safe. Mother and Father were too busy with social standing to really care about them. Simon had never really understood that. River hoped that eventually he would. But her parents couldn’t hide anything from her. She didn’t mean to pry. Didn’t want to meddle. But when they were practically screaming their emotional states in their heads, how could River be held responsible for hearing? Simon was always the one to be there for her. When the teachers at her school thought she was a troublemaker for her unforgivable sin of knowing more than them, Simon was the one who would sit her down and tell her that they were just jealous. That there were others out there who would appreciate her as much as the Tams did. And when she found out about the academy, when she was so thrilled to be challenged academically, he was the one to wish her well. He had to be looking for her. Since they were children, they’d play hide and seek. River always had to hide, because Simon practically screamed out his hiding place to her every time. Every time he thought he’d found something terribly clever, he always had to brag about it to himself. He just couldn’t help it. Simon tried so hard to be so subtle, to hide everything from everybody, but he practically fluoresced his feelings as far as River was concerned. Simon spent so much of their childhood looking for her. There was no way that he’d stop now. He’d find her. He always did. The door to the room opened. Doctor Philbert Mathias, the first of River’s sessions for the day, entered. Doctor Mathias was a prideful man by nature. He fell somewhere in between the doctors who worked for progress and those that worked to progress themselves. He was sure that he was helping the Alliance, helping the entire ‘verse. But he was also acutely aware that he was helping himself. Doctor Mathias never saw any contradiction in this. To be totally honest neither did River. Doctor Mathias began speaking. River had this particular segment of the dance memorized. It had been an identical measure and tune since their very first session together. Offering of meaningless pleasantries devoid of meaning. Some acknowledgement of same. An inquiry as to River’s overall well-being. Any conceivable response to said inquiry. Request for description of River’s physical state. Description of inevitable side and after affects of the last trip into the light. Request for elaboration about any specific statements regarding reflexes, agility, or strength. Said elaboration given, if applicable. A pause and a smile intended to foster a successful doctor/patient relationship. The continued pause where River no longer bothered to acknowledge this. A look of mild disgust. Further pause where River continued to not acknowledge him. Generally, this was where the dance ended. Roughly an hour of utterly wasted time. A man asking questions to which he already knew the answers. However, today there was something different. Something, intangible in the doctor’s manner. He looked River straight in the eye for possibly the first time in ages. He didn’t say a word. He merely looked at her and, silently, invited her into his mind. River indulged him. As she began to look into his brainpan, into his mind, he started to run from her. Trying to hide from her. Hide what he really wanted her to do. A seven year old Doctor Mathias hid behind his mother’s skirt in the kitchen of the house he had grown up in, but River ran around the counter and caught him. Found you, she thought. Then he sprinted away, off into another memory, a young adult memory. Hovercraft were parked all around her, it was apparently a parking area for some recreational complex on a core world. River almost lost him in the mass, until she heard the sound of a young woman crying “Philbert” followed by a pronounced smack. River followed the sound to one particular craft, a red one, parked near a structural pylon. Doctor Mathias, younger by easily twenty years and considerably thinner, had been in the back seat, apparently trying desperately to convince a young woman that she was “ready.” She ran from the craft, leaving Doctor Mathias to stare at River in mild embarrassment. The chase went on, into a strange room that looked almost like Doctor Mathias’s office. Somehow, this place seemed more real than either of the others had. River moved through the halls of the academy, past all of the places that she remembered, but didn’t quite recognize. Rooms were in the wrong place, hallways were too long. The whole place seemed too bright somehow. Then she saw people. Many of them were new faces. But more importantly, they were all new minds. Some of them resembled people she knew and had touched. Others were only shadows of what she was accustomed to. Still others were totally new individuals, persons unknown to her. So many people, doctors, nurses, subjects, Alliance federal officers, members of Parliament, the woman from the parking area. River reached out to feel these minds, created by Doctor Mathias’s own judgments of the people they represented. Some of the images were more complicated than others, Doctor Miyazaka’s projection, for instance, contained a mind almost more complex than the actual man’s. Doctor Mathias apparently credited him with much more deviousness and personal agenda than he actually had. Doctor Mathias was terribly afraid that Doctor Miyazaka was after his position. Most of the nurses generally consisted of a simple evaluation of their personal effectiveness to Doctor Mathias. Nothing else mattered, no hopes dreams or personal interests. The subjects were even simpler, in several cases not having any mind of consequence to read. This then, was Doctor Mathias’s reality. A place he was familiar with, as he lived with it. A larger place, better lit, more open to advancement and study. Peopled entirely with individuals that he basically invented based on his own experiences with them. It didn’t matter to Doctor Mathias if his evaluations, and the characterizations that he built from them, were “right” or not. This was his world, his reality. He was the sole arbiter of right and wrong, and he decided what these people were. Disregarding the question of who they were, he had first broken them down into “what.” They only warranted a “who” designation if they became either important to his career or significant to him personally. There were far more important whos than there were significant whos. This, then, was the fundamental difference between how River’s reality worked and how, in essence, every other person in the ‘verse’s reality worked. River was able to see into other people, appreciate and assimilate their reality while making her assessment of them. When she added a mind to her reality, it was complete, whole. Others used incomplete, insufficient data. But, as River thought it over, she wasn’t much different than they were. They all constructed reality based on their perceptions of it. She simply had a more advanced perception than they did. In the back of the sea of new minds, was the most startlingly alien mind River had ever encountered. The face was hers. River was, naturally, taken aback. She recovered herself quickly. It wasn’t as if she’d never entered into another mind before, never seen this particular phenomenon before. But, as always, it was odd to see oneself through the eyes of another. The sensation was like seeing oneself through those other eyes, and then watching, helpless, as one sprouted wings, fangs, scales, and commenced to root for subterranean creatures in a solid metallic floor. River knew what her mind looked like, felt like, even if that mind was splintered, and the stark contrast between what she KNEW should be there and what she actually experienced was, to say the least, disorienting. She stared into the projection of herself as seen by Doctor Mathias. It was a simple, elegant picture, which came down to three things. The only three things that Doctor Mathias had come to expect within River’s mind. Schizophrenia, psychic ability, and… Violence. There were shades, remnants of the things she used to show him. Things he attributed to her in the past tense. Things like her intense love of dance, her talents for philosophy and, conversely, advanced theoretical physics. There were some vestiges of her former insistence of seeing Simon, an insistence that she’d long since abandoned. If anyone was going to make the first move for them to be reunited, it would have to be Simon. River wasn’t going to be able to escape the monsters. But these were only half-remembered flashes, like the remains of a painted name placard on a far too old starship. If a girl knew what she was looking for, she could, maybe, make out what was there. If not, it was just so much random color. Looking into a mirror of her own mind, River understood. This was a test to see if her psychic ability could overcome that schizophrenia to carry out an act of violence. Doctor Mathias was making her hunt him down, hiding, to see if she was capable enough to find him without being so distracted with her musings that she gave up and wandered off. He knew that she wasn’t so much detached from reality as she was so busy thinking about it, and the multitude of its there were to think about, that she just didn’t function like normal people anymore. He should. He was an appreciable part of the reason for that particular state of affairs. So she stopped looking. Doctor Mathias was still looking at her. By her estimation, the game had gone on for roughly 2.7989385 seconds. River stared back for her own personal amusement. She estimated that it would take him at least another 5.1267859 seconds before he realized that she was no longer playing. She was wrong. It took him over ten seconds. She could have computed it down to the millionth place, but she no longer felt the urge to do so. Suddenly, Doctor Mathias smiled. He knew. He knew that River had quit, when she could have easily have found him, and the secret he was holding. Doctor Mathias didn’t say a thing; he merely reached into his pocket. Doctor Mathias set an object down on the table. River looked down at the table, saw what he had laid there. It started as a pen, and she was fairly sure that he saw it as a pen as well. But then it changed, morphing and flexing as if made of clay. It became a communicator, a medium for putting forth great thoughts to all of those in the ‘verse who were inclined to so listen. Then it became a brush and palette, all ready to put forth a magnificent masterwork on any canvas it could find. Then it became a metronome, a tool for the creation of beautiful music for singing, orchestra, banjo, dance, all manner of performance. Then it became a signaler, used to beam out private messages all across the cortex for friends and loved ones. Truly, Doctor Mathias had decided to bless River with a magical tool to express herself in nearly every medium she could imagine. Then, Doctor Mathias began to scream in his mind. And hers. The object morphed again. It became a communicator again. But this one was a military band, used to issue orders to troops in the field. With it, a general could order ships to begin air strikes on any rebellious Independent battalion he chose. Or he could order troops to begin a charge into a valley, wiping out all opposition in their way. With this communicator, River could, with a word, cause countless men and women to kill each other. In an instant. Then it became a dagger. A dagger bejeweled all along the hilt, shining in the dim light in the room. It could easily kill any man River chose to utilize it on. The object had ceased to be a tool to cause others to kill, it became an instrument of death in and of itself. An effective instrument. And, at that moment, River Tam lost her mind. She had spent this much time at the academy. She had endured all that the Alliance scientists could give her. There had been shock, there had been surgery, there had been drugs. But this was the moment. Up until this moment, River was able to see things as she always had. Reality had been, if not constant, at least relatively reasonably shifting. Now, suddenly, she saw reality exactly as the Alliance men and women of the academy did. Not in her usual, observational way, but firsthand. At merely a thought command from Doctor Mathias, she was able to not simply understand his view of her, but actually actively share it. The floor fell out from under River Tam’s mind. She knew now that she had undergone a fundamental change. Part of her, an innocence, had been irrevocably stripped from her. She had taken an object with so much potential for good, for positive emotional expression, and turned it, with minor prompting, into a weapon. She saw how it could be used to end lives. This was the end of the life she’d known. Now she was something new. Something dark, dangerous. Something that was intended to end lives, both in small and mass quantities. Something designed by scientists in a lab who would never see their handiwork in action to kill quickly and efficiently, without question or remorse. River cried inside, but no sound escaped. With a sickened expression she picked up the dagger. She studied it over and over again in the light. She tried, desperately, to will it back into anything else. A feather, a brush, a dog, anything but what it now was. It wouldn’t change. A thing thought cannot be unthought. No matter how hard she tried, the dagger wouldn’t go away. She looked up at Doctor Mathias flush with realization. She knew. So did he. Silently, she asked the question. Who? Doctor Mathias smiled again. This time, the look appeared totally sincere. For the first time since River had known him, Doctor Mathias looked legitimately happy. He responded by sliding a short note to her across the table. Doctor Miyazaka. There was some go-se about Doctor Miyazaka having some sort of tie to the Independents, that he was a traitorous force working to undermine the efforts of the academy and give their research to them. River could have protested how this was patently false, that she’d been inside his mind and knew that he couldn’t care less about what the Independents were doing. But she just didn’t care, and Doctor Mathias was obviously totally convinced. Nothing made sense anymore. Still smiling, Doctor Mathias picked up the dagger and left the room, shutting the door behind him. The lock was louder than usual. River felt as though she was drowning within her own mind. This was so foreign to her. The whole ‘verse had suddenly shifted spectrum. What was white was black, up was down, physics had broken down and been replaced by dream logic. Suddenly, the room was no longer simply gray and static. Once more, the walls seemed to stretch out in all directions forever. There was no one here, no one present, because everyone was a potential target. Again there was no security and no place to hide. She didn’t need anywhere to hide. They did, all of those people out there. The ‘verse was an endless sea of people, people that River might hurt at any time. People she could kill with her brain. A swath of destruction just waiting for her to cut it. It frightened her. Reality had shifted. On the other hand, that might be inaccurate. Reality had shifted, because River was no longer the girl she had been a mere few hours before. A new mind, a new reality. A new reality, a new mind. Which came first? The eternal paradox. On Earth-That-Was, they called it the question of the chicken and the egg. River thought it patently ridiculous to couch this type of question in such ridiculous terms. One begat the other; the snake eats its tail. Mind and reality, intertwined. Inseparable. River lived in this reality because it was the one her mind constructed. This reality was the one that best suited her mind. Her mind had changed. Or perhaps been replaced by a new mind. Or simply forever lost to her, replaced by the programming that the Alliance chose to grant her. Or maybe she never had a mind to begin with? Maybe all the Alliance did was shift neurons around into the required pattern. Change the hardware, the software follows. Stimulus and response, like any lab rat. No. No, that couldn’t be it. River was. She existed. She was still there, somewhere. She knew it. She felt it. She saw, tasted, touched it. But she could not hear it. Her voice was altered, her thoughts changed in tone. It was like trying to perform a ballet during a polka. She heard her voice when she thought, but it was changed. Darker and lighter all at the same time. Tiny echoes remained. Quick thoughts that seemed to say I’m here. I refuse to leave this place. I should be here. This is my place. This is my place. I BELONG HERE. Then the echoes were quiet. River knew, then, that it was over. If her old mind was still there, it was buried. Deep down. She simply had to adapt to this new mind. She had to learn to accept the reality that came with it. Eventually, she might be able to find her old mind again. She might be able to return to another reality. A better reality. A reality that felt safe, like home. But she doubted it. A thing thought could not be unthought. She had spent her time in this new reality, and if even for a moment she called it hers, and she already had, then it would always be a part of her. The old mind might return, but it would have to co-exist with the new. The two might merge into a new whole, like two particles that collide at high speed to form something different. But the old mind remained. It would always remain, and the reality it favored might return. It just might. River had to maintain that hope. Give up on that, and she might as well just ask Doctor Mathias for that dagger back and slit her own throat. River’s thoughts went to Simon. He was still looking for her. Hide and seek. But now, River was hidden even from herself. The mind that she considered hers was hidden deep, deep down. Silent. If River couldn’t find River, then how could Simon find River? He’d try, Simon always had to try. He was famous for it. His colleagues at the hospital always said that Simon just couldn’t accept failure. He loved River. He’d try, but River wasn’t sure if he’d succeed. River had found the best hiding place in the ‘verse: River. River started to cry. Then she screamed. Then she laughed. Then she was silent. There was nothing more to say. Nothing more to do. Simon would come. Simon would come, but he wouldn’t find her. Simon couldn’t find River until River did. All he’d find would be the shell of a girl trying to understand a reality that defied understanding. A shell in search of her mind, while working through an alien mind put in its place. River wouldn’t be able to tell him what she meant. Words wouldn’t convey the meaning. Words tended to come up short whenever River tried to explain something to Simon. He really was too stupid to live. The door opened again. Doctor Miyazaka stood in the doorway. He held a blank pad in his right hand, waiting to be filled with knowledge. In his left he held… The dagger. Doctor Miyazaka sat down at the desk opposite River. He spoke softly, but River heard. “Begin recording. Subject R. Tam. Session 416.” Doctor Miyazaka didn’t know the tune to this dance. River was going to have to make it up as she went along. She sat silently, waited for him to ask a pointless question. Her thoughts began to come out, garbled. Doctor Mathias, Simon, hide and seek, her mission. Her new mind was ill equipped for eloquence. Doctor Miyazaka had no idea what she was talking about. River didn’t even consider telling him. This was what her new reality entailed. She had to do it, or reality would break down. This is what her new mind wanted. Needed. Doctor Mathias had given her a mission, and she must fulfill it. Reality demanded it. Eventually, she asked for the dagger. Doctor Langston Miyazaka was having a very bad day. His last very bad day. River Tam was having a very bad day. The first in a very long string of very bad days.


Monday, January 23, 2006 1:25 PM


Brilliant! Will you write one about her change in the BDM as well? :)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006 6:00 PM


Some nice touches here, especially the bracketing ideaof the "bad day." Cleverly done. Also interesting to explore the moment that River loses her mind, and to link it to the obligation to kill.

I hope you got a good grade on it.

Monday, February 6, 2006 8:00 AM


i saw a pic of a blood-stained notebook prop with "session 416" written on it, and i always wondered...and i think this could very well have happened. hope you got an 'A' for it!!



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