Mal was looking down at River, worry not so disguised as it usually would be. He ran his thumb over her small knuckles; she looked almost translucent as she slept fitfully, her expression peaceful.
Rose looked out her window passively, Jayne sitting there with Vera uneasily in his lap, watching that the gorram witch (he'd sinceforth titled her in his mind) to make sure she didn't do any further damage. But so far she'd been quiet, just looking out the window, and spoiling his fun.
"Can we at least get a better picture of what the hell happened in there?" Mal asked, trying but failing to be patient with all of this. What had he gotten himself into with the Bad Wolf?
Simon went back behind the scope with gloves gently pinching the shimmering substance there in the dish. "From best I can tell, Rose was telling the truth. River just kind of took too much at once. This stuff I got off of her doesn't seem to be energy draining or anything - it's the opposite. It seems to be some kind of left-over radiation..."
Mal jerked his head up. "Open-core? Contained?" He sounded calm but a tremor ran through his voice. The last thing they needed was a Reaver mole.
Simon shook his head, then moved his naked hand to the keyboard, zoomed in closer. "No, it doesn't seem to be anything like we've encountered before; Alliance, freelance, or Reaver. Nothing normally used at least. I'm running it through everything we have right now. It may take hours to page through all the data we have. Days. I'm not really sure."
Mal shifted impatiently. River stirred in her sleep, rolling on her side, murmuring something inaudible in Chinese. Bit his tongue for once.
"Anyway, it seems like a radiation you can only get through living a long time, or going to multiple galaxies in a really short amount of time. It's like..." he searched for the words, motioning with his free hand, "all of the atmo of planets you've traveled to sticking to you. Or something."
"Isn't that how everything is these days?" Mal asked, not really understanding.
"When I mean a really short amount of time", Simon looked up at him significantly, "I don't mean hours or days. I mean seconds, or shorter. And not just one way, either. Round-trip, multiple times. In milliseconds."
Mal stared. "What the hell could...?"
Simon went back to the scope. "I don't know. But I think now we can believe the legends and stories now." He looked back up at Mal. "What are you going to do about Rose?"
Mal looked down at River. "When she wakes up, then we'll deal with Rose." His rough thumbs running again against River's knuckles.
Simon hid his smile behind the scope.
River, usually almost always awake (the Academy had reprogrammed her brain into needing maybe four hours of sleep at most a night now, and she'd had several times that in the last few days), now stared up at the ceiling of her quarters. Mal dozing in a chair when she opened her eyes head full of cotton and dim memories that weren't hers and she sat up feeling heavy like lead, at her noise his cerulean eyes snapping open
"Hey, bao bei",
his voice delightfully cracking, rough from shallow sleep and his hand holding hers feeling her heart swell too much too happy the way he looked at her
Sat up. Shook out her head.
"Hi." She said faintly, and then daintily coughing up various fluids into the bedpan at her elbow. Scrambled for a towel, wiped her mouth, then fell back on the pillow and shifted her eyes to look at him.
Mal cleared his throat awkwardly, and looked away.
"So you're okay then?" He asked, fumbling for words. He had gotten used to her looking at him for long periods of time without talking - why was this moment any different?
She just blinked, turned her eyes to the ceiling. "Okay. Just saw too much."
Her eyes watered involentarily thinking about what she'd seen. The man called the Doctor and his various forms. The metal men, the things with blue eyes. The thing that fell to Earth-That-Was, carrying something horrible. Watching Nuclear Fallout snowing from above. She had been in Rose's body for those brief moments for those memories. She looked away in shame. Not wanting him to see her still defective-like. She was too broken. And she usually didn't indulge in self-pity, but at the moment, she was feeling too overwhelmed not to care.
Her voice tremulous. "Do you know why they made the Core?" She asked, trying to hide the tremor. Mal sighed. Slightly back on stable ground here,
letting things hang in the air
"What they found there", she said, "What we found on Miranda. What we saw. What Rose saw." She looked back at him. "Why did they have to completely reformat, redo, reterraform and then make new Core planets?"
Mal trying to track onto her train of thought. Been successful before, trying to again. He let things hang again, a long pause
her fingers still glittered with the gold powder
(radiation dust? time travel? science fiction.) his brain figured, (ain't nothin' in the 'verse that can actually validate that)
"So quiet. It was so quiet." She started to cry, "All of those people were dead and not saying a thing and their silence, oh god, the silence..." She sat up, crying,
and there was Rose, staring up into the nuclear winter through the thick window of this alternate Torchwood-2 - Nevada, holding onto Mickey's hand, seeing bodies piling up, the utter silence around them deafening so quiet, from space all there was on earth that wasn't blown up was the US and China
Calling for the Doctor, oh god, why did things have to turn out like this?
and heaved again into the bedpan. Mal put a hand on her back, thinking how frail those shoulders looked but how much that was a lie.
"The Reavers." He muttered aloud, thinking. He looked at River's shuddering spine. "You're saying that's what you saw. That's what created the Core. Whatever Rose saw. Whatever happened to Earth-That-Was. They tried to cover it up like they did with Miranda. Or flip it, that's what happened in the first place."
He felt himself getting angry. How many times would they keep repeating their mistakes? And all of this, these secrets, wound into the brain of a human girl.
"We need to talk to Rose", was all she kept saying over and over again, "have to make the silence stop. Make them come alive again", she shuddered, her sinuses throbbing, voice thick, then looked up at him desperately, "Mal, please, make them stop, make them talk again!"
And how he'd just put his hand on her trembling shoulders and nodded once, gone off. And how he'd looked at her - not like before, like something defective, but something precious - how he'd looked at the graves of Wash and Book.
She raised her arm into the light of the medbay, looking at her shimmering palm.