Summary: Four nerds on a train are stunned to see actress Summer Glau riding with them, but she's not who they think she is. She's not even who or where *she* thinks she is, but someone else is looking for her.
Warnings: Hints of illegal servitude.
Length: 2,400 words
Disclaimer: I own nothing, but will gladly take anything given to me.
A/N: This turned a lot more serious than I'd originally intended.
DID I FALL ASLEEP?
“Holy crap -- is that who I think it is?”
Summer smiled to herself, but studiously ignored the four geeks she’d spotted as she entered the train car.
“It can’t be,” she heard one of them gasp as she took her seat. “What would Summer Glau be doing on a train?”
What, indeed? Summer couldn’t think of a single reason, unless it was to lay a false trail.
Three of the young nerds went nuts, gazing at her rapturously as they discussed the possibility that she might be here to protect John Conner from an evil Terminator. The fourth seemed immune to feminine charms. That might make him gay, but considering the company he kept it was more likely his mind dwelled too far out of this world to be occupied with basic things like
They were so cute! This must be the kind of people one ran into at a comic book convention. The one with the glasses was almost attractive enough to date, or maybe he just seemed that way compared to the others.
Unfortunately, of the three who seemed smitten with her, he was the first to chicken out. “I’ve already got a gorgeous blonde back at home who I can’t score with. I’ll let you two take a shot at this one.”
Well, that limited the chance of a fist fight.
“I’ve actually got a shot at a Terminator!” cried the one that she’d already tagged as the most out of touch with reality. Well, second most, after the skinny guy. Summer sent a quick peek over that way, confirming they were all skinny. Ramen and Coke?
The weird one posited a scenario in which Terminators might be sent back, posing as Terminator actors, to wipe out humanity. Summer experienced an almost overwhelming urge to walk up to them and demand, “Come with me if you want to live.” Or, at least, to let them know how well their voices carried.
Not that she’d have to wait long for an encounter. Sure enough, the Indian and the wannabe womanizer started arguing over who would have a “shot at her”, and it wasn’t long before the Indian kid made his move.
“It’s hot in here,” he declared, after lubing his courage with a beer, “It must be Summer.”
Oh, brother. “That’s cute.” She’d bet all the money she was making for this gig that the real Summer Glau heard that line two or three times a day -- including in January.
The womanizer with the yellow shirt seethed, up until the moment he showed the Indian kid -- she couldn’t remember his name -- something on his beer bottle’s label. Why finding out the beer was non alcoholic panicked him she didn’t know, but his dark skin turned considerably paler, and he rushed off.
Instantly, the Guy Who Thought He Was Cool replaced his companion. “Hi ... I’m the small package good things come in.”
Yep. She’d definitely traded downward.
By the time he was done relating a dream that apparently meant he equated sex with pumpernickel bread, she wasn’t having fun anymore. Still, Summer was confident she’d accomplished her job: They’d all soon be using some handheld electronic doodad to Twitter about their encounter with a cute celebrity.
“Okay, I’m just gonna go for broke here, and say I like you --”
Fella, you lay one hand on me and I’ll stuff it all the way down your throat up to the wrist. “Yeah?”
She shot him down, of course. She'd shot guys down before, but this was the first time she didn’t feel guilty about it. She did feel a little guilty for not pointing out everything he was doing wrong, but only a little.
“Fair enough, I’ll leave you in peace. But first, would you mind if I took just one picture of us together for my Facebook page?”
“Sure.” Actually, that fit right into the plan. Soon everyone on the planet would think Summer Glau was going in exactly the opposite direction from the way she was really headed.
“Now, can I take one more that looks like we’re making out?”
She doubted her employer would be pleased with that image going viral.
As he moved away with a handful of broken phone, she caught a glimpse of his face, and
realized that despite all his bravado he’d never really expected to have a chance with her. Then she did feel bad about not giving him instructions; it must be hard keeping up that facade all the time.
The cute guy with glasses finally did come up to her, and he was pretty eloquent for a nerd. She might have spoken more with him, but when the conductor announced they were in Santa Barbara Summer automatically rose, feeling compelled to get out as quickly as possible.
Poor nerds. Or geeks, or whatever they were. Well, at least they’d go through life thinking they really did meet one of their idols -- as long as no one found out the real Summer Glau was enjoying a paparazzi free vacation elsewhere.
As she got off, she almost ran into a man standing in the train station. Summer ignored him, but he gave her a huge grin and stepped into her path again. “River?”
River! Can you hear me?
“Excuse me?” He was a tall man, a little comical looking with his grin and large ears, but at the same time strangely debonair. Producing some kind of small cylinder from his jacket pocket, he waved it in her general direction. “Are you River?”
“Um -- I’m Summer.” Wait, what’s my real name?
“Ah -- of course.” Frowning at his instrument, he stepped aside to let her pass. “Simon says, my mistake.”
River, it’s me.
Well, he must be just another nerd passing through -- she’d been told they’d be all over the place. She rushed on, glancing back once to see him still studying her.
The distraction almost caused her to run into another man, who also had a perplexed look on his face. “Who was that?”
Summer blinked at him. “A doctor.” What? Had he said that?
“Oh. Well, are you ready for your treatment?”
“Sure.” Turning, she automatically headed for the parking lot, where a van idled in wait. “That was fun.”
“No problems?” the man asked.
“Just fending off crazed fans. The prosthetics and makeup worked great and I, of course, am the perfect size and shape.” She did a little twirl before climbing into the van. “I’m to be congratulated for my wonderful acting.”
“Congratulations,” the man agreed automatically.
He said little more as she prattled on, describing the odd characters, how she’d almost had to fight one of them off, and how she hoped her forged autograph for the lady at the ticket counter held up to closer scrutiny. One tiny part of her mind sent out an equally small alarm, but Summer disregarded it even as she followed the man into an electronics filled room and perched herself on the odd chair inside.
Another man waited with a friendly smile as she sank back into the chair.
Come back to us! River, please -- I need you!
“I’m River,” she said.
The first man gave her a puzzled look. “Kilo?”
“She’s not Kilo yet.” The second man’s eyes narrowed.
“Topher!” the first man pointed toward the console, and the second one spun, frantically working the controls.
“River! I’m River!” But she felt control slipping away, vanishing, and in desperation she reached out with her mind for something, anything that would anchor her.
Sanchez and Topher exchanged looks. “What the hell?” Sanchez demanded. “What’s a river, outside of the obvious?”
“I don’t --” Topher stared at the readouts, but everything seemed normal now. “It’s like something else was there. Like there were two imprints, but one of them vanished just as I started the wipe. I haven’t seen anything like it since ...” He shot a horrified look at Sanchez, then checked to make sure Kilo really was wiped.
Neither had to say what multiple imprints reminded them of. Death. Insanity. Alpha.
But Kilo just looked up, her wide eyes innocent. “Did I fall asleep?”
“River? Mei mei, wake up.”
River didn’t wake up, not right away. She heard Simon’s voice, and knew she was aboard Serenity, but her memories remained in that horrible place where minds were toyed with, just as hers once was.
“She was brain dead -- nothing, no activity.” Simon’s voice flooded with relief. “And now she’s back.”
“She took a long trip, indeed.”
River’s eyes popped open. She knew that British accent, but it wasn’t one of the crew.
“I’m okay,” she lied automatically.
“Yes, all fine now," said the tall man with the leather coat and the funny ears.
“What did you do?” Mal Reynolds demanded. River looked around, seeing only the Captain, Zoe, and Jayne, who held a suspiciously guard-like position just outside the infirmary door. Inara, she recalled, was on a job, and as shards of memory flew back she realized the rest were likely in the cargo hold of the little Firefly class ship.
“I tracked her down,” the man said, seeming surprised that anyone needed to ask the question.
“You want to fill that out a bit?” Mal seemed casual, leaning against the infirmary wall, but one hand rested just as casually on his sidearm. Zoe stood alert, within arm’s reach of their visitor.
“Well, River’s been through something horrible -- something that unlocked talents most of you humans don’t have.”
River took special notice of “you humans”.
Apparently Simon did too. “When you showed up like that, offering to help, you said you were a doctor. Now I’m wondering why I didn’t ask before: What kind of doctor are you?”
The man cheerfully ignored Simon’s suspicious tone. “I didn’t say a doctor. I’m The Doctor.”
“Uh-huh.” Zoe looked to Mal. “Mr. Doctor’s acting awfully squirrelly, sir.”
“He surely is.” Mal spoke without taking his gaze from the doctor or his touch from the holstered pistol. “All we’re saying is that it was awful strange, the way you just showed up in a little box in the cargo bay and said the box brought you here. Doesn’t that seem strange?”
“So we appreciate you helping our River, but could you maybe tell us how you helped?”
“Sometimes River’s memories overwhelm her, until she wants to get away from her mind for awhile,” The Doctor explained.
Simon nodded, as if that somehow made sense. “But there’d still be brain activity.”
“Well, yes, unless she had a chance to literally get away for awhile, which she did. Her mind found a vessel -- and empty mind, where she could go to escape. Like a weekend holiday.”
“Huh.” Jayne stood open mouthed, his eyes unfocused, and River wondered if his mind ever traveled around. Probably not.
“You’re telling us she traveled through space?” the Captain said.
“Yes. And through time.”
Simon shook his head. “Ignoring all the rest, travel through time is impossible.”
“Well, her body didn’t, did it?” The Doctor shrugged, as if that explained everything. “I just had to track her down, and remind her she needed to be someplace else. Until then, her body was here, but her head was empty.”
“Not much different from gorram normal,” Jayne muttered.
“Is this some kind of Alliance trick?” Simon leaned forward, red faced. “Is this something they did to her? Is this normal?”
The Doctor sobered. “This is unique. River was already special, with a potential you can’t imagine. There was a time when someone like her was called every generation, to fight evil and save lives, but her kind has never been needed in this system. Whoever experimented on her triggered that talent, somehow.”
They were silent, digesting that, until suddenly he grinned again. “I traveled with one of them, once. Wonderful girl!”
Zoe’s head tilted. “But you said --”
“Now, I must be off. I haven’t been to Earth for awhile, except for that one brief visit -- but I’ve heard rumors that the Nestene Consciousness is up to no good, so off I go!”
He swept toward the door, but Jayne was already there, blocking his path. “Earth?” Mal repeated. “Earth That Was?”
“There’s nothing there anymore,” Simon told him.
“Oh, it’s there. Your Alliance thought it was dying, but Mother Nature has a way of healing itself, given a chance. Those people left behind built a new civilization.”
“You’re going there,” River breathed. “In that little box.” Maybe he’ll see my four friends. Or the girl.
“You’re crazy,” Zoe told him.
“Maybe, but this crazy man saved River, didn’t he?” The Doctor gave Jayne a pointed look. “By the way, nice hat.”
River loved Jayne Cobb’s stunned reaction whenever he couldn’t intimidate someone.
“Let him go,” Mal ordered.
“But Mal --”
“He saved River.” Mal turned to Simon. “Didn’t he?”
“Yes.” Simon gripped his sister’s hand. She squeezed back.
“We’re obliged.” Mal took a breath. “But if you’ve got a way of taking that blue box somewhere else, I’d be grateful if you’d do it. I have a feeling you’re trouble, and we’ve got trouble enough.”
Jayne stepped aside, but as The Doctor turned to go River called out. “What are the people like? On Earth That Was.”
His head turned, just enough for her to see the side of his face. “Oh, they’re the most entertaining monkeys. Great packages of greed and lust and pride and all the sins, but also smart and creative and full of spirit. What towers of contradictions they are! Plus, now and again, there’s a rose amongst all the thorns.”
River smiled, remembering the cute guys with glasses, the shy Indian, the overcompensating lothario, and their skinny companion who’d left his social skills in some other galaxy. “I hope you find your rose.”
The Doctor nodded. “One never can tell.”
He left, trailed by Mal, Zoe, and Jayne. After a moment Simon looked down at his sister, who hadn’t moved from her reclining position on the cot. “How are you feeling, River? Do you remember anything?”
“An empty girl,” she murmured. “They fill her up, then empty her again. It’s sad. She should be free.”
“I’m -- I’m sorry, mei mei. I don’t think there’s anything we can do for her, but we’ll see. Right now, my main concern is you, and I’m so glad to have you back.”
She felt here and still away, at the same time. Simon couldn’t understand that; it would worry him.
So she just asked, “Did I fall asleep?”