Pouring rain on a brownish planet and fern-covered hills. Spread around is a small town that sneaks off to become a big clutter of skyscrapers and lights in the distance.
Serenity is settled on a landing port, nestled between a few other ships. All have their own stories, their own scars, but none concern Mal.
From the warm, echoing halls of the ship, he emerges. His boots clank on the ramp, the sound slowly merging with every step into the rush of rain the further down he descends towards the planet’s surface.
Meaning to check a patched-up spot on the hull, he instead spies River standing a little ways away from the ship, on a small grassy node where the hills start to roll up and out.
The strange girl is soaking wet, her arms spread slightly, her face turned to the sky.
Mal sighs. Odds are good that if little sister here comes down with something, big brother Simon will be one irritating pain in the ass about it. So his boots leave the shelter of Serenity’s hull and squelch across the grass and ferns towards the girl.
He can see now that she is staring up at the sky with wide open eyes, raindrops bouncing off her pupils but her eyelids barely flutter.
“Ahh… River,” Mal ventures.
Nothing. He takes in some air to say something else, but she interrupts him.
“The rain…” she says, with that clear and unwavering quiet voice of hers. “It’s clean. And it’s loud. It rushes. It fills my head with fluffy cotton silence.”
Mal frowns. “It’s so loud it fills your head with silence?”
Her eyes are still turned towards the sky, as if trying to see the stars beyond the clouds. Which would be something she would try to do, Mal thinks.
“Not like your silence. You speak. You are loud. All the time. When you sleep, when you talk. When you don’t say anything, that’s when you are the loudest. The rain is
quiet. It’s a big clean blanket that wraps around and makes you be quiet.”
Mal scratches the back of his head, wondering for a moment whether there is a soul in the ‘Verse who could make sense of this girl.
“Ya. K, see we should probably get you inside and into some real blankets before you catch your death and your brother catches… something that will be annoying to me.”
River cocks her head, still looking upward.
“Catch death? I wonder if I could… death is quick. And smart.”
She turns her face to Mal, eyes boring into him, glossy and intense and innocent and not. Raindrops are pummeling her face, but she doesn’t flinch.
“Have you ever tried to catch death?”
“Nah,” Mal grins a crooked grin. “I tagged him a long time ago.”
River nods and turns back to the sky
“Death… it must be just like the rain. No talking. No noise. Fluffy cotton silence. Fluffy cotton death.”
“River, come on back inside now.”
Some miniscule movement in her jaw is the only indication of emotion… displeasure, perhaps.
“Everybody’s always talking there,” she says in a melancholy voice. “So much noise. And everybody says what they think and not what they’re thinking and it makes me so tired. Inside. It’s noisy and tired inside.”
The rain is pouring down harder now and Mal is cold and wet, so he grabs the girl’s arms and starts to lead her back towards the ship.
“K yeah, noisy and tired and also warm and dry, so say bye-bye to the rain now.”
“Before I catch death?”
As Mal ushers River towards Serenity, she casts a longing glance back to the hills, through the shattering rain.
She whispers as she looks back.
“Maybe if I run faster…”