In The Ether 1: The Doctor Takes A Wife (Revised)
Wednesday, March 22, 2006

You know it's a bad plan when River dreams it up and it requires Simon to be married. To Zoe. Now with crunchier subplot!


A/N: Not my characters. As usual.

This is going to be interesting. The main plot point were dreamed up at 12:30 in the morning as I was nodding off to sleep. God only how this might turn out.

This does not follow anything else I've written, so the universe has magically hit the reset button to some point shortly after "Objects In Space". The BDM does not exist here, because I love Wash and like writing his dialogue.

Thanks to all you guys who pointed out my various oddities setting the plot up. I've now given Mal and Co. something to do while Simon and Zoe play doctor.


The Cortex, like most human endeavors, had pros and cons. On the plus side, it held the codified knowledge of the Union of Allied Planets - a girl could find information, opinions, and advice on nearly anything she might dream up, as long as she knew where to look. The amount of data was staggering if you tried to think of it in the whole; most people contented themselves with knowing only a small portion of what went flying through the 'verse on microwave beams, not caring what else might be happening to their data so long as it left them alone.

The down side, of course, was the content of that "else". Every page read, database accessed, and query sent over the ether was logged at dual processing centers on Londinum and Sihnon. It was ultimately fed through giant data analysis algorithms, where suspicious usage patterns were flagged for operators to follow up on. Parliament had any number of uses for this information: keeping tabs on opposition parties, ensuring that state secrets remained secret, and, in some cases, identifying dissidents and fugitives from their surreptitious data usage. It was by no means perfect - machine analysis of human action rarely was - but it took a pretty smart surfer to completely avoid detection.

Unfortunately for the Alliance, River Tam was very, very smart. And today, she was feeling rather lucid and had a lot of time on her hands.

With a little help from Wash, she'd managed to fake her originating address as that of a minor flunky in the least prestigious hospital on Ariel. In real life, Dr. Brooks was a short, balding man with high cholesterol and a penchant for flirting with his nurses rather than helping his patients. In Cortex-space, Dr. Brooks was actually a crazy, 17-year-old genius, sneaking into government files and reading anything she could get her virtual hands on, sometimes quietly downloading reports for Simon to go over later. It was while reading about the latest research into neurosurgery that 'Dr. Brooks' saw something truly worthwhile.

River paused her search long enough to give herself an excited clap of the hands, before printing out the current page and going to find her brother.


Dear sweet Buddha, they needed a job. If Mal had to sit through another boring day of watching the stars go by, he was going to shoot someone. The first few nights had been almost peaceful, just sipping his coffee, lounging on the bridge, or sitting with Inara in the cargo bay while River and Kaylee played jacks below. But this was ridiculous. The crew had been reduced to absolute boredom, and the only entertainment they could come up with tonight was sitting in the galley and telling stories or jokes. And, as per usual, Jayne was getting carried away.

"An' so the talent agent says to the guy, 'Jesus! That's the damnedest thing I ever saw! What'ya call it?' An' the dad, he looks up all proud an' says, 'The Aristocrats!'" Jayne threw his arms out with a flourish, punctuating the end of his joke. His grin faded when he saw the stony looks of his audience. "What? Y'all don't get it?"

"That was the 'funniest joke you ever heard'?," Zoe asked, once her shell-shocked brain managed to form coherent thought. She looked at her husband's stricken face. "Wash? You ok?"

"I - I think I need a shower. Or five." Wash lurched from the table, gave Jayne an odd look, and held his hand out for Zoe. "It's just....yeah. We gotta go." He gulped and shook his head, leading his wife out of the galley, most likely to hole up in the bridge and pretend the last five minutes hadn't happened.

"You get it, don't ya, Mal? 'Nara? It was funny!" With the departure of half of his audience, Jayne felt the sudden need to defend himself.

"Not so much funny as disturbin'."

"And I don't think it's legal to do all that with livestock," Inara added.

"Oh, it surely ain't! But that just makes it funnier! 'The Aristocrats!'" Jayne began laughing at his own joke again, but stopped once he noticed Mal still wasn't finding the humor. "Hmph. You're as stuffy as the Doc. Betcha Kaylee an' the moonbrain would think it's hi-larious."

"What? Jayne, I ever catch you tellin' somethin' like that to River or Kaylee, I'll shoot you. I ain't thrilled you told it with Inara here. In fact, since we're on the subject, let's discuss proper dinner table conversations." Mal took a deep breath to gather his thoughts, while Jayne sighed and sat back as he recognized the signs of a first-rate lecture from the captain. Luckily for all involved, the comm sounded and broke Mal's concentration.

"Captain? It's Simon. Do you have a spare moment to look at something?"

Mal's shoulders slumped, conflicted. On the one hand. he hated being interrupted when fixin' to chew out his mercenary. On the other hand, it sounded like Simon actually had something interesting going on. It had to be better than Jayne's dirty mind, at least. "That I do, Doc, so long as it takes several moments, ain't near Jayne or the galley, an' doesn't involve cattle."

"Uh....OK, I think I can promise all of that. Can you come to the infirmary, please? River and I have a matter we'd like to discuss with you."

"On my way, Doc."


Two hours later, Mal found himself back in the galley, this time with the whole crew at the table in front of him. "Well, folks, Simon here has brought some interestin' things to my attention, an' since we're all bored outta our skulls, I thought it might give us somethin' to chew on. 'Sides, he tells me it might help out our witch with them right creepifyin' things she gets up to, an' that makes me all manner of warm an' fuzzy. Doc?"

Simon stood from his seat. "Thank you, Captain. River was having a look around the Cortex earlier today - discreetly, I assure you - and found something I'd like to take a closer look at."

"How close of a look are we talking?", Inara wanted to know.

"That depends on who's in and what kind of plan we can come up with."

"Is it a plan to make us a ton of cash? Because that was fun last time." Wash leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head. "Especially the part where we had to give it all back to a psychotic gangster while he amused himself by running up his electric bill on my nipples. Oh, and Mal lost an ear." He paused. "You know something? That wasn't a very good plan."

"It's not solely a job, but it would give us something to do, and since we'd be going to a Core planet, there's always good cargo to be had." Simon tossed his encycopedia onto the center of the table. "That's the timetable for all of the shipping into and out of the docks during the time we'd be there. I think you'll find the shipment of dried rations to be particularly vulnerable."

Mal grabbed up the data pad and started reading. Huh. They'd have to get Simon that big black moustache after all. "I do at that. Never know what might fall off the back of a truck out there. Damned shame."

"So we're going to the Core! Which planet? Does it have a triplex?" Kaylee loved trips to the inner planets, although she'd only really ever been there once. "But I ain't pickin' through trash for ya this time, Simon."

"We'd be going to Verbena, yes to the triplex, and no to the trash. But it's not a vacation. If we decide to go forward with it, I'm going to need a bit of help from some of you." He paused while Jayne snorted derisively. "It seems I have Kaylee's approval, but I want to make sure it's OK with everyone else. Our last trip to the core had some....unforeseen difficulties, and I don't want anyone to feel like I'm making demands. As Wash so eloquently noted, we tend to find unusual amounts of trouble."

"You convinced me enough to let ya bring it up, Doc, an' this here cargo looks ripe enough. Might as well lay it all out for us." Mal leaned against the wall, motioning for Simon to continue. Jayne snorted again, just to make sure his opinion of Simon's plans was noted.

"Don't worry, Jayne, you're off the hook on this one. I'd need a wife." To no one's surprise, Kaylee's hand immediately shot into the air. "Hang on, let me explain what this is all about before we all jump in. River found an internal memo on the Cortex, from a private firm giving a - well, I guess 'classified' isn't the right word, but let's just say 'prestigious and invitation only' - lecture on their newest 'neurosurgery' techniques. I put that in quotes, as the memo also included a brief mention of their partnership with the military, and how these techniques might affect 'universal Alliance security'."

"So? I don't give a give a good gorram 'bout Alliance security." Jayne plopped a foot on the table and began picking his teeth, bored already. "Or neuro-whatsits, neither. Probably a lot of borin' talk 'bout how rich they are an' how tough it is to spend all that money. Dumbasses. If I had that much cash, I'd be up to my johnson in whores."

"Uh, isn't that the general idea?" Wash feigned confusion. "I mean, unless I've been doing it wrong. Zoe? Have I been doing it wrong?"

Simon rolled his eyes. No wonder this crew couldn't get a job. They were too worried about the mercenary's crotch. "Bringing things back to a place not concerning Jayne's genitals, let me put it another way: this conference is high-level, at least partly military, and will be discussing the government cutting up people's brains to further their own interests. Sound familiar?" The banter dried up as he gave it a moment for this to sink in.

"You're looking for the Academy." Inara said it as a statement, not a question.

"It does seem likely that whoever was in charge of that place would be at this lecture thing." Zoe continued Inara's train of thought.


"So you want to attend this conference, where you expect to find information on the people who harmed River. And possibly information on what their aims were." Book summed up the rest of Simon's ideas into one neat explanation.

Simon inclined his head to the preacher. "Exactly. I'd like to hear this lecture in person - covered as a doctor other than myself, of course - and pick up whatever info I can about what Blue Sun or the Alliance might have done to River, what their plans for her and others like her might be, and any complications or reversal procedures they may have found." Simon felt encouraged when he saw Wash, Zoe and Inara all nodding thoughtfully. "I know it's dangerous, and I hate to ask you all to make more sacrifices for me and River, but I can't let this opportunity pass by. I may be able to do it myself in a pinch, but it'd go a lot easier if you're willing to help out."

"So let's get back to why ya need a wife." Kaylee leaned forward and gave Simon her most fetching smile.

"Right. Recording devices would of course not be allowed, so I'd need a 'wife' for two reasons: one, to help remember things we see and hear, and two, to help bolster my cover." He pointed to his sister. "River, of course, is not an option. One tagged fugitive is enough to throw in harm's way. So, that leaves the rest of you ladies. It may be quite dangerous, but - "

"Zoe." River suddenly spoke up. "Is what you're not. Sees what you don't. Complement."

Zoe raised an eyebrow, considering. "Well. Never much thought I'd find myself married to a doctor. Might not get another chance."

Simon looked surprised, not expecting anyone to agree so readily - and now Zoe was basically volunteering off of River's suggestion. "Are you sure? It's asking a lot - "

Zoe cut him off. "This a promisin' way to help your sister?"

"Well, yes. We'd be going directly to the people responsible. If there is good information somewhere in the 'verse, they'd have it."

"An' the cargo looks solid, sir?"

"So far, Zoe. We ain't got nothin' better. 'Sides, I got a thing for rations." Mal looked around. "What? They're tasty."

Zoe just nodded once. "OK, then. Captain's odd taste in dry goods aside, I'm in. River seems to think it's the way to go, an' she ain't often wrong. Although we could always put you back in that dress if needs be, sir."

Mal made a face as River shook her head. "Zoe. Must see and comprehend."

"Then Zoe it is." Simon turned to Wash, not noticing Kaylee look a bit crestfallen that she didn't get 'wife' duty. "Wash? Can you find a way to fake medical credentials for me and Zoe? Nothing too prestigious; I'm thinking a mid-level adjunct surgeon from Persephone would work. They only need to hold up for the one day."

"Yeah. I might know a guy." Wash looked thoughtful. "But I'll need Kaylee's help."

"Really? Me?" Kaylee didn't expect to be included in the forgery aspect of the plan.

"Sure. My contact has a weakness for friendly girls who like to flirt. We'll get a better price." "Yeah? Is he cute?"

"Not even remotely. He also has a thing for lovebots."

"Ew. Well, I tend to like 'em cute an' human, but if it'll help Simon an' River, I'll manage."

Mal levered himself away from the wall he'd been leaning against. "Well, Doc, looks like you got yourself some takers. Wash, go set a course for Verbena, and talk to your friend. Doc, you an' the 'missus' best get to plannin' whatever it is you do at fancy lectures on brains. Jayne' clear out the crawl spaces for some cargo. Kaylee, don't forget to use them dimples on Wash's guy. The rest of you, you got jobs to do." Everyone filtered out of the room, until only Jayne and Kaylee were left at the table, Kaylee looking forlornly at the door Simon and River had left from.

"Jayne? Why didn't Simon pick me for the wife?" Kaylee sighed hugely. "I raised my hand an' everything."

"Aww, cheer up, lil Kaylee. Ain't like Zoe's actually marryin' him, an' it's for damn sure she'll kill him if'n he gets fresh. 'Sides, not even 'Nara could uncork that boy's knickers, so don't take it personal." Jayne thought a moment, looking for something to take Kaylee's mind off of Simon. He craned his neck and looked around, making sure Mal was out of earshot. "Wanna hear something funny? I got this joke my pappy told me. So there's this family, right? An' they go to this talent agent...."


Wednesday, March 22, 2006 10:26 PM


Jayne! Mal's gonna shoot you if he hears you tellin' that joke to Kaylee.

Heh. And Kaylee, Kaylee... "I tend to like 'em cute", yes, but... you don't actually have to be SERIOUS about your flirting.

I like this so far, I want to know what happens.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006 10:39 PM


Oooh, I wanna hear the rest of Jayne's joke! So far, so good. Keep it up! I'll be waitin' for the next one.

Thursday, March 23, 2006 3:28 AM


Great start. I want to see Simon & Zoe do their marriage thing, amd maybe some Jaylee?

Looking forward to the next chapter.

Thursday, March 23, 2006 4:05 AM


Awesome...keep it going, you've got me hooked!

Thursday, March 23, 2006 4:31 AM


It figures that Jayne would know the Aristocrats joke, and that his father told it to him. RAOFLMAO! I do think that the crew agreed to this job a bit too fast, seeing as the last time Simon did something like this for his sister, he included a drug heist they made a hefty profit from, even if they didn't get to keep it.

Thursday, March 23, 2006 4:40 AM


Ooh! Very interesting! Can't wait to see where this goes.

"I love my captain."

Thursday, March 23, 2006 5:25 AM


Holy cow. I post at 11, get up at 7, and I have a pile o' comments. When do you guys sleep?

>Oooh, I wanna hear the rest of Jayne's joke!

No, you really don't. Google "The Aristocrats" to find out why.

>My two complaints are that the crew agreed almost immediately

Yeah, I thought about that. There' a couple reasons I think they'd go for it (maybe not so quickly as they do here, but I had to get things moving):

1. Everyone (except Jayne) is actually rather willing to risk things if it will help River (see Wash's dialogue to Simon/Book in "Serenity pt 1 and 2", or Mal's dialogue to Simon in "Safe"). They're not heartless people, and would recognize the opportunity.
2. I believe Zoe - assuming Mal doesn't countermand the idea - would be inclined to help right off the bat. More on this in Chapter 2.
3. They'll be spending time on a Core world. You really think Jayne and Mal won't manage to steal something?

Maybe I'll go back and rework that last section a touch.

Thursday, March 23, 2006 6:05 AM


Oh please warn us if you'll have Jaylee moments so I can stop reading now.

Otherwise, I like how its going so far. Very interesting idea and I can't wait to see where you go with it.

Thursday, March 23, 2006 6:13 AM


I like it. good start. Zoe/Simon, interesting spin! Finally something new.

Friday, March 24, 2006 2:58 AM


ROFL Manic,
I loved that movie!Don't even bother trying to tell the joke. Lookin' forward to reading what you cook up. It never disappoints.

Friday, April 14, 2006 6:24 PM


Okay I am hooked. realistic dialog is the best

Tuesday, May 16, 2006 1:36 AM


Great chapter!

As a side note... I googled aristocrats... Ewww


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In The Ether 13: Secret Agent Man
Simon takes a turn at super spy as the crew tracks him down.

In The Ether 12: Motivations
A brief history of Simon Tam

In The Ether 11: Telling
Simon and Regan tell each other off, Jayne tells Kaylee a little story, and Wash tells everybody about basic chemistry. Bonus: Jayne actually quotes Shakespeare! Kind of.

In The Ether 10: Technical Difficulties
Jayne goes trophy hunting, Kaylee and Wash attempt to explain technical things to Mal, and eventually everyone realizes that they left something at the last stop.

Generic S/K Plot Outline
Inspired by a story posted at, I present the outline of pretty much every S/K fic out there (including my own, so no one take it personal-like).

Dino Tales: Loss
The dino army mourns the loss of one of their own.

The Old Switcheroo
Jayne and Simon wake up with unique perspectives on life.

In The Ether 9: Minor Complications
Jake and Jasper check out Serenity, River secures some backup, Jayne discovers his protective side, Simon gets physical, and Kaylee meets an old flame.

In The Ether 8: Lady's Choice
Zoe fixes the plan. Kaylee shows Simon how to turn up the heat.

In The Ether 7: Shore Leave
Mal gives everyone a day on Belix to calm the nerves. Wash gets suspicious. A plan is hatched.