In The Ether 4: Lessons
Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Simon learns a lot more than he bargained for. Zoe kicks some Alliance booty. River gives Jayne a crash course in physics.


A/N: Nope. Just checked. Still don't own them.

Ooh! Double-sized chapter!

I take the movie version of Simon breaking River out to be the "proper" continuity, only because I think Simon dressed in Alliance officer garb and "making people nervous" is a hoot. Dr. Mathias won't be attending the meeting, of course, since the Operative filleted him while trying to pick up River's trail. Dr. James is based on the guy who said "Ooh, scary monsters" in the movie (the guy didn't have a name, but the actor's name is Peter James Smith). Yes, this somewhat hoses out the continuity with the AU vs. the canon 'verse, but meh. I do it all the time, anyway.

I also decided to make the Tams irrevocably evil. There's always the excuse that "we didn't know" or "we thought Simon was overreacting." Bull. Shit. Any good parent would take the concept of their child in danger VERY seriously. Or mine would, at least. So my explanation is a cross between a power-hungry mother and the War On Terror. I'm so political!

Please excuse my gratuitous use of physics. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I probably got it wrong, anyway. It's been awhile.


"Jayne? Just how much ammo you bringin'? Thought I made it clear we ain't out to shoot folk. Kinda hard to make a clean getaway when you attract the whole gorram lot of 'em to you." Mal, hands back on his hips, was regarding the five crates of ammunition strapped to the mule with a critical eye. "Besides which, if you bring all that firepower, we ain't got room to bring the cargo back."

"Aw, hell, Mal. Just wanna be prepared in case we have to make a sudden run for it." Jayne sneered. "You know. Just like every other time we go out."

"Less ammo. More cargo. Even you oughta be able to figure that one out." Mal pointed to the crates. "Unload 'em. 'Sides, we need to be quick about this. Zoe and the doc are like to be back any time now, an' given how well our covert stuff tends to go, they'll have the whole army right behind 'em. Best be ready to tread light. Lord knows any minute now, River'll - "

"Captain! Must go now!" River came shooting into the cargo bay, all wild hair and bare feet and she made a beeline for Mal and skidded to a stop in front of him. "The mice are no longer blind and are sharpening their knives!"

"Gorramit. I hate bein' right." Mal grabbed River's shoulders and tried to hold her still enough to look in the eye. "OK, there, little one. What's all the fussin'? Slow down an' tell me straight."

"Farmer and wife will be caught, and tails will be severed. Need birds to swoop in and disrupt the rhyme." River looked at Mal, slightly less distraught and completely expecting him to spring into action.

"Well, now, River. We've discussed havin' pets on board, an' while I ain't totally opposed to the notion, we really don't got the space or fixin's to really make 'em comfortable. And birds? Now, I like birds just fine, but they're a bit messy for - "

"No!" River's face clouded, obviously concentrating on making the words come out better. "Metal bird. Glass walls to shatter and swoop away with the prize." River's hands mimed some type of pyramid. "Need to go now!"

"Darlin', I ain't got any notion of what you're on about. We ain't got any glass onboard, an' as for prizes? We might be able to gin up somethin' like a trophy if you need one, but - "

"No, Mal. I think I got it." Inara came down the steps to join River, Kaylee right behind her to give River a calming hug. "The Verbena Convention Hall is famous for its two glass spires. And Serenity could be considered a metal bird. River? Is that right?"

"Yes!" River looked relieved. "Metal bird comes to shatter walls and swoop."

"What? You wanna crash Serenity into the buildin'?" Kaylee caught up to the conversation, and was aghast at the suggestion of crashing her girl into anything.

"No. Just swoop. We do the crashing." River pointed to herself, Mal and Jayne.

Mal finally connected all the dots - or at least as many dots as he could find in all the nonsense. "So. You want us to swoop over to the meetin' an' crash the party. Now I'm just guessin' here, but does this mean that your brother and Zoe gonna need some thrillin' heroics?"

"Yes. The farmer and wife will have tails cut off unless birds arrive in time."

"Huh." Jayne finally put his two cents in. "So we're gettin' some mice an' birds? I guess that's OK, but not in my room."

The rest of the group ignored him. "OK, miss River, here's hopin' you're right an' ain't just havin' one of them mischievous days." Mal strode to the comm. "Wash?"


"I need you to take us off this dock an' over the top of the Convention Hall."

"Uh, that's restricted airspace, Captain. The local law might get a bit itchy and try to shoot us."

"Well, best make sure we don't get hit, then. If we die, you can tell me 'I told ya so.'" Mal commed off. "Jayne, better get ready for a small altercation. River, you seem to think you have to go with, so you're stayin' with me an' Jayne. The rest of you ladies keep safe an' out of sight."

"But Cap'n! Simon an' Zoe'll need our help, too! We can't just sit an' - "

"You can, and you will. Play with the engine if you like, Kaylee, but you ain't goin' out there, dong ma? You neither, 'Nara."

"Fine, Mal. We'll just wait in my shuttle while you manly men make asses of yourselves and River saves the day."

Mal gave her a cheeky grin to go with his steely stare. "Glad to see we all agree, then."

** "So, then." Zoe eyed Simon's parents one more time before turning her attention back to the suddenly amorous doctor. "I'm taking it you're not too keen on going up to say hello?"

"Hardly," Simon hissed back. "I can't be seen, but now we really need to know what's going on here. If my parents were in on the whole thing, it's much, much worse."

"I don't like this, Doc. Just got a mite stuffy in here, if you catch my drift."

"I agree." Simon gabbed Zoe by the hand and led her back towards the door, staying in a shadow as the lecture got started. "My wife needed some air," Simon explained to the doorman, who simply nodded in agreement that women were indeed frail creatures in need of proper care. Simon gave the man a long-suffering look before turning back to the front of the room.

"Good evening, everyone. My name is Dr. James, and I'll be hosting this evening. Sadly, Dr Mathias will be unable to attend tonight." Dr. James was a small, rounded man, obviously not used to much physical exercise. Simon could understand that. Cutting into young girls' brains wasn't exactly physically taxing. "Welcome to tonight's presentation: 'Induction of engram-sensitive behavior via selective neural stripping'."

"What?," Zoe whispered.

"Creating psychics by stabbing them in the brain," Simon whispered back.


"I promise you, this will be the most exiting thing you've seen in a long time. Anyway, let's begin. Our first slide shows an CAT scan of a normal brain, before the procedure. You'll notice in the..." And so it went. Simon was hanging on every word, sometimes making small sounds in the back of his throat as he alternated between fascination - he was still a doctor, after all - and horror that the guinea pig for all this was his sister. The presentation was mercifully short, lasting only fifteen minutes, but Zoe still had to dig her nails into Simon's arm at the ten minute mark to prevent him from drawing attention to his agitated state.

"And that's it, folks. As you can see, it's deceptively simple. Now, I suppose you're wondering why we'd call a conference, provide food and drink, and then give you free medical training. I mean, we didn't get into this for the charity, right?" The room rumbled with low laughter. Simon felt sick. "Nope. The idea here is to give you an overview of what we're doing - although, please remember your strict non-disclosure agreements - and to solicit your help. And since I'm a doctor - "

"In what sense of the word?," Simon breathed. Zoe gave him a sharp look to shut him up.

" - I'm not really cut out for the business side of things. To help me along with that, our prime benefactor has agreed to help explain the business and possible military applications of this technique. And as we all know that no one pays for research like the government pays for research, what choice do I have but to cede the floor? Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Mrs. Regan Tam." There was polite applause as Simon's mother stepped up to the podium, smiling brilliantly. In the back of the room, Simon made some type of small choking sound and Zoe grabbed his arm as his knees went weak.

"Stay with me, Doc. I think you'll be needing to hear this." Simon nodded weakly.

"Good evening, everyone. Thank you for attending." Mrs. Tam gave an easy, full smile. Zoe noted with grim amusement that it was the same smile River had when she won at jacks. There was no doubting that this was River Tam's mother, and the fact that she was standing in this room and giving this speech made Zoe want to shoot her more than any Fed she'd ever met. "Well. I suppose you'll want some history on how we got here. After all, we're asking you to invest in our little project, and want you to be fully convinced."

"About three years ago, Dr. Mathias - some of you have met him, charming man - came to see me and Gabriel. Our daughter River had tested quite well in school, and it seems she and a select few others had been selected for an exciting new program, just starting out. We were told it was quite radical, involving new techniques in teaching and knowledge transfer. I was of course worried when the prospect of surgery came up - what mother wouldn't be? - but after meeting with Drs. Mathias and James for further consultation, I was convinced it would only enhance River's already substantial gifts, as well as paving a career path into the military. So not only was River going to be given a top-flight education, she was going to be commissioned into the Navy as a Captain."

Simon regained his feet and began breathing far too heavily. Zoe had seen this before - someone so angry and strung out that he lost reason. Simon was fast becoming a liability.

"After the first year of the program, I was told that River was doing exceptionally well. Like any good parent, I asked to see my child's progress for myself. So the doctors were kind enough to arrange a demonstration. I watched with fascination as my little girl picked thoughts right out of my head. It was the most incredible thing I'd ever seen. Of course, I asked what use this could be, and the doctors regaled me with stories of plans to find terrorists by simply scanning through their minds for certain keywords." There was a murmur through the room as people digested this.

"Now, some people have expressed concern over civil rights. We shouldn't be poking into people's heads, they say. But really, who in this room could be concerned with a program that could literally stop the next Independent uprising before it even got started? Surely, we'd be willing to give up a small piece of liberty in order to catch Browncoats bent on destroying our way of life? I would think so! Especially if we're getting so well compensated for our efforts!" The doctors laughed again.

Zoe froze. Browncoats. Wuh de ma, now it made sense: why River was so intense on Zoe being the one to join Simon; why she seemed so comfortable among people she had no reason to trust. These were the people she was supposed to find. Who better to help hide her lest she end up back in Alliance hands? But this was also very, very bad. These children were taught - created - to find men like Mal. And Simon's sister was the gorram prototype. "We're gonna need to have a chat 'bout this with the captain, Doc." Simon didn't respond, his eyes locked on his mother.

"And that about sums up my sales pitch. Good pay and good works. If you're interested in discussing things further, please leave your name at the door so we can contact you. Before I go, does anyone have any questions?"

Most of the room was silent as they ruminated on Regan Tam's proposal, but in the back of the room, Simon chuckled to himself. "Just one question, mother. What kind of monster are you?" He didn't realize he'd spoken aloud until Zoe's eyes widened and she grabbed him, shoving him out the door.

Up on stage, Regan heard the outburst and started, instantly recognizing her son's voice and body language from across the room. "Simon? Is that - ? How?" She couldn't let him go anywhere. River would be close by. "Guards! Seize him!"

Simon came to a stop, his shell-shocked mind registering her command and only coming up with one response. "Oh my God, mom," he yelled back. That was the most cliched thing I've - "

Zoe cut him off. "Less banter, more running, Doc. 'Less you want to get personal with the folks what cut up your sister." Zoe caught a small bit of movement out of the corner of her eye. Whirling quickly - and only being slightly hampered by her yu ben de dress - she shoved two fingers into the throat of the nearest guard, snapping his head back as her other hand grabbed his gun. Thankfully, this one was carrying an actual pistol instead of one of those stupid-ass sonic rifles.

Grabbing Simon's arm again, Zoe bolted for the staircase, taking them two at a time as she ran up the first flight. "Why up? The doors are down there," Simon panted behind her, his body running by habit as his brain tried to process all the information he'd gotten.

"'Cause the Feds ain't up there." They made it to the top story, an observation deck looking up through the plexiglass roof at the majesty of the spires above. Zoe dashed to the center looking for a way down that wasn't crawling with cops.

But there was only one staircase, and it was rapidly disgorging Alliance soldiers. Zoe backed to the far corner, pulling Simon and looking for cover. Nothing. They were trapped. Zoe brought her gun up and shoved Simon behind her, ready to take as many as she could with her.

"Wait, wait. Hold your fire!" Regan and Gabriel Tam waltzed onto the floor, motioning for the soldiers to lower their guns. "Don't shoot my son, gentlemen. We've been hoping he'd come home for some time." Regan cooly regarded Zoe, who simply stared back. "Kill the whore, though." Zoe raised an eyebrow.

"Yes, ma'am." The commanding officer raised his arm. "It's been a while since we've had a proper firing squad. Men! Ready!"


Wash was good as his word. Serenity didn't take any hits on the way to the convention hall, and in fact didn't even attract attention until it was nearly there. The last half-mile got more entertaining with the addition of a gunship on their tail, but that only made Wash work a bit harder to earn his pay. He finally managed to dodge around a skyscaper and came to a quick hover over the top of the building. "OK, River. It's your show, and be quick about it!"

Allowing for clothes and a generous lunch, River Tam weighed approximately 50 Kg, or about 110 pounds for folks still on the Imperial system. Verbena had been one of the mid-range planets to be terraformed - not one of the first ones, where the technology was imperfect and the planet would fall out of orbit like as not; nor one of the last ones, where the Alliance ran out of supplies and stopped caring if the planet even developed a water source - and as such had almost perfectly uniform Earth-normal gravity, which gave acceleration to falling bodies at the rate of 9.8 m/s. Using this fact and the simple physics formula of "force equals mass time acceleration," it followed that if River were to jump out of the cargo bay of a hovering Firefly-class transport and fall for one second, she would provide about 490 Newtons of force to whatever she hit.

Likewise, Jayne Cobb clocked in around 104.5 Kg - 230 pounds - not counting the often copious amount of weaponry he carried. Using the same formulas in the same gravity, if Jayne were to somehow find himself leaving the cargo bay and falling for one second, he would apply more than 1024 Newtons of force to anything he hit - like, say, the skylight directly below the ship.

Among the other interesting data the Alliance put into her head while at the Academy, River found that she knew quite a bit about building materials. While this was indeed an odd thing for the government to care about, in this case it was useful. The standard grade of plexiglass Core worlds used to build skylights - including the one she was staring down at - could absorb about 900 Newtons of force - about 200 pounds of falling object, most likely built that way to absorb inclement weather and such - before giving out and crashing into the floor below.

River did all this math in less time than it took her to blink. The results were obvious: if she wanted to get through the skylight and join her brother and Zoe on the landing below it, Jayne would have to go first.

Jayne wouldn't go willingly, of course. He may not be the brightest pulse drive in the 'verse, but he was fair certain bailing out of a perfectly good spaceship and into a glass building was not what one would consider a good tactical move. Unfortunately for him, River was in a hurry and didn't have time to explain the relevant physics or describe why it was important he pave the way for her.

So she pushed him. On reflection, she probably should have made the effort to tell him the plan, but what the hell. He wouldn't have understood it all, anyway.


Zoe smiled wryly to herself, amazed that some part of her brain was so calm under fire and that it was all going to end like this. She'd gone through the most heated, protracted, and bloody battle of the Independent War; dodged Fed patrols while following the often suicidal orders of Mal Reynolds; cooly walked into a sadistic murderer's skyplex and bargained for her husband's life; stood down an entire town in order to retrieve crewmates about to be burned at the stake; married a pilot with a predilection for shirts that might make you blind; and even spent one memorable afternoon defending a whorehouse. All in all, she’d led a dangerous life. And now she was going to die, gunned down by a Fed squad while wearing a slinky dress and standing next to Simon Tam. If salvation had not forsaken her and was going to arrive, it had better be soon, or she'd probably expire from sheer embarrassment first.

As it turned out, salvation did not forsake her, although it did show up with a fairly bizarre sense of humor. Salvation arrived in the form of a screaming mercenary crashing through the skylight and landing on the Alliance commanding officer. Not only did this provide a suitable distraction from the impending execution, it had the added benefit of effectively silencing the man's orders as he was ground into the floor. It also broke Jayne's fall, so as he got up and transitioned from screaming to swearing mightily, Zoe took the opportunity to act. She was a bit chagrined that her contribution to the escape would be so mundane, but when wearing a confining dress and only having the one gun, she had to compromise her standards and settle for shooting people in the normal way.

She ended up being consoled by the fact that Jayne didn't get any farther either. By the time Jayne was totally upright, the cargo lift from Serenity's belly had lowered with River and Mal aboard, Mal shooting down into the confusion that was the Alliance squad, and River holding on while giving her mother the evil eye. "Simon," she said as the lift hit the ground, "we need to go. Mother is displeased with us and wishes to take away our dessert."

"Nonsense, River, dear! You're home!" Regan moved to collect her daughter, but Mal simply raised his gun to her, a silent warning to stay the hell away from his crew.

"No. Not your gorram doll." River gave her parents a scathing look and firmly stood herself next to her captain.

"You can't do this. We can find you. Our children belong to us."

Mal's eyes never wavered, although his smug grin was plain to see. "An' words like those're why you ain't gonna get 'em. Let's go, Doc."

Simon gaped at his sister, his parents, his crew, and finally himself. When no words were forthcoming, he simply walked to the lift and climbed on, scooting over as Jayne joined him. Zoe held her own gun on the Tams as she sidled over to Simon's mother and - with a friendly smile - gave her a solid right cross to the face. With a nod to Gabriel - who instinctively backed up a step - she also mounted the lift.

As Mal gave Kaylee the order to pull the lift up, Simon finally found his voice. "Zoe? Did you just sucker punch my mother?"

"Yeah." She looked at the carnage below her, then back up to the doctor. "Ya know, Doc, I always thought you were a mite stuffy. But turns out you know how to show a girl a good time after all."


Tuesday, March 28, 2006 9:05 PM


woooo hoooo! You go Zoe!!! Although I personally would have shot mama Tam, and daddy Tam for good measure. Keep 'em comin!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006 9:08 PM


> I personally would have shot mama Tam, and daddy Tam for good measure.

I thought of that, too. But while Simon and River may not like their parents, I figure it wouldn't do either of them any good to see them gunned down. Especially River, who isn't the most stable on good days. Mal and Zoe would know this, even if they never say it.

Besides, if they're still alive, they can cause more mischief.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006 10:23 PM


great story... I love your Zoe. Can't wait for the next one.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006 10:35 PM


A screaming mercenary.

HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. I laughed at that. I really did.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006 10:57 PM


ROFL...I can just imagine Joss writing something like this! Though I have issues with how they would have filmed Jayne busting through a skylight and landing on an Alliance officer after falling far enough from Serenity....maybe like the corpse-riding scence from "The Bourne Idenity"....

Still...great stuff so far!


Wednesday, March 29, 2006 1:35 AM


Great chapter. I love the rescue and hate the evil Tams.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006 6:25 AM


Hot Damn! Zoe dying of embarrassment that she was going to be shot down standing next to stuffy Simon was just perfect! Her slapping Regan and Gabriel stepping back was excellent!

Zoe's comment at the end was perfect. Way to go. Perfect chapter!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006 10:39 AM


Love it! Love it! Love it!

Perfect River babble and Mal confusion.

I think this was my favorite line: "Fine, Mal. We'll just wait in my shuttle while you manly men make asses of yourselves and River saves the day." LOL!

BooHiss to the evil Tams!

Can't wait for the next chapter!

"I love my captain."

Wednesday, March 29, 2006 12:18 PM


AAAAHHHH! I WANT TO KILL THE TAMS!! This is so good, I LOVE how you do the characters. And I love that you made Mama Tam the bad guy instead of Gabriel, who would seem to be the one that was pulling the strings. Good twist! I want more!!!! I love this series!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006 3:40 PM


This is soooo good!

I'm glad you went with the evil Tam parents, I personally believe this has to be the case.

I loved this whole paragraph, but especially this part:
All in all, she’d led a dangerous life. And now she was going to die, gunned down by a Fed squad while wearing a slinky dress and standing next to Simon Tam.

Can't wait for the next part!

Tuesday, April 4, 2006 3:50 PM


Great installment!!! I just love your writing!

As Mal gave Kaylee the order to pull the lift up, Simon finally found his voice. "Zoe? Did you just sucker punch my mother?"

"Yeah." She looked at the carnage below her, then back up to the doctor. "Ya know, Doc, I always thought you were a mite stuffy. But turns out you know how to show a girl a good time after all."

That just killed me!!!

Friday, April 14, 2006 7:08 PM


Evil parents, how perfect. I love this

Tuesday, May 16, 2006 2:01 AM


Favorite lines...

"On reflection, she probably should have made the effort to tell him the plan, but what the hell."

Also Inara's line!


"Creating physics by stabbing them in the brain".

Brilliantly written!

Friday, October 20, 2006 3:23 PM


Ah the plot thickens, can't wait to see where you take these characters. I loved Zoe's thoughts on how embarassing it would be to die in the slinky dress and Inara's snark about River saving the day.

Just one last you mind if I borrow River for my midterm?

Tuesday, January 9, 2007 6:35 AM


>I thought of that, too. But while Simon and River may not like their parents, I figure it wouldn't do either of them any good to see them gunned down. Especially River, who isn't the most stable on good days. Mal and Zoe would know this, even if they never say it.

Wonderful reasoning!

Just saw this in one of those random blurbs, and had to see it - now I have to sit down and read the whole thing.

Your characterisation is very good, and I love your Zoe.

The humour is excellent, too.


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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.