Earth that was, could no longer sustain our numbers, there were so many.
We found a new solar system, dozens of planets and hundreds of moons. Each one terraformed, a process taking decades to support human life, to be new Earth.
The central planets formed the Alliance. Ruled by an interplanetary parliament, the Alliance was a beacon of civilization.
The savage outer planets were not so enlightened and refused Alliance control. The war was devastating. But the Alliance's victory over the independents ensured a safer universe . . . and now everyone can enjoy the comfort and enlightenment of a true civilization.
The tale above is told by a teacher to her students. It's a group of twelve-year-olds, serious and well dressed. They sit on their heels under a sparsely elegant tent, small wooden desks with embedded screens in front of them. The tent is on a lawn surrounded by lush foliage. People walk about and vehicles glide quietly overhead. A utopian vista.
After hearing story, the students have questions, why wouldn't the independents desire to be more civilized. Stories are passed on, some heard they are cannibals. But that's only Reavers, despite the central population believing they are not real, some stories are told of the savages who attack settlers from space, kill them, wear their skins, and rape them for hours and hours.
Despite these questionable stories, it's true that there are dangers on the other planets. If the Alliance can offer social and medical advancements to the independents, why would they fight so hard against them, the teacher asks the class.
RIVER, a dark, intense little girl, writing with one hand and "typing" with the other (typing consists of holding a long wooden stylus and tapping either end down different columns of chinese characters on her desktop screen). She is a good two years younger than the other kids.
She speaks up. . . Because they meddle. People don't like to be meddled with - tell them what to do, what to think, don't run, don't walk. They are in their homes and in their heads, and they haven't the right. The Alliance is meddlesome.
The teacher replie . . . the Alliance insists they are not telling them what to think, they're just trying to "show them how." The teacher violently plunges the stylus into the girl's forehead.
Cut to the present: a 17 year old River Tam sitting in a metal chair, needles stuck in her skull being adjusted by a technician. A second monitors her brain patterns. The lab is cold, blue, steel. Insidiously clean. River is the most promising of a number of young people being mentally and physically conditioned by Alliance scientists.
Doctor Mathias is not instantly likable -- nor gradually, for that matter. A cold man, and more than a little satisfied with himself. Behind him stands a Government Inspector, observing. And making him a little nervous. The Inspector is in shadow, but his uniform indicates -- no substantial rank, as does the eagle-crested baton longer than a ruler -- that he clutches in one gloved hand.
After a series of questions, the Inspector drops to one knee, slamming his baton to the floor. As the top pops off like a bouncing betty (the grenade), flying up over Simon and River's heads and then bursting forth in a flat circle of blue energy that bisects the room, flowing through the staff's heads and knocking them out.
Simon rushes to River, gently removes the probes from her head and swabs her, whispering: "River. Wake up. Please, it's Simon. River. It's your brother." She begins to stir as a noise moves him to the door, looking out and removing his uniform to reveal an orderly's tunic beneath. River is suddenly next to him. He jumps a little. A beat, as they face each other, Simon fighting emotion.
Guard Station: As a guard looks at a monitor. He mostly resembles a secret service man -- more bureaucrat than thug. A second man rolls into frame on a chair behind him, also watching the screen.
Research Center Corridor: Simon walks River through the corridor. They approach a pair of double doors. Simon turns suddenly as he hears footsteps, people heading at them from the other side of the doors. River has, impossibly, scampered up over some lab equipment to the dark top of the corridor, where she holds herself in a perfect split, feet against the walls and outstretched hand holding the sprinkler for support. The doors burst open and two doctors pass by, hardly noticing the lone orderly. Passing right under River.
Ventilation Shaft, moments later: It's small, 15 feet by 15 feet. Goes a long way up and a long way down. One wide hinged window looks in on the hall inside. Simon and River approach with quiet haste. They slip through the window. Simon shuts it, wedges his baton into the handle as the security agents approach. They fire at the glass, but their lasers have no effect.
Wind whips River's hair about as she looks up to see a small patch of daylight visible ten stories up. Sees the sky blotted out by a small ship that hovers above them. The ship is floating over the grass of rolling hills, the city gleaming far beyond. This facility is well hidden. A gurney-sized section of the ship's belly detaches and drops down ten stories, cables spooling it out of the ship.
It comes to Simon and River and stops suddenly. He is standing by the window -- and the Security Agent is right behind him, punching the window with all his might. Simon helps River onto the gurney, then jumps on himself as the Security Agent cracks the glass. The two are whisked up in the gurney, River on her knees, Simon standing beside her holding one of the cables.
The action freezes. The action reverses, taking us back to the moment of Simon and River on the gurney just before it rises. There is a motionless beat, River frozen in that crouch, and a figure steps through what we now see is a hologram of the event. The Government's man. We'll just call him The Operative. He is thoughtful, a little removed.
A suit too nondescript to be a uniform, too neat to be casual wear. He is in the Institute Records Room -- which is long and bare but for drawers of holographic records, a set-up for watching recordings (where the image of Simon and River floats), and a table with computer and chair. The Operative crosses to the table, looks over some papers.
As Simon's history files down in print and pictures -- graduation, security photo from his medical internship -- over one lens of the Operative's glasses. Doctor Mathias storms in, two security men and a nervous young female intern following. Mathias looks greyer and more gaunt than when we saw him last.
Mathias looks at the hologram -- realizes which one it is. The Operative places his hand on a screen showing his security clearance. Mathias looks at the readout, and drops the bluster. He questions Mathias how it was so easy for Simon and River to escape. Mathias makes weak excuses.
The Operative points out his biggest mistake: The minds behind every diplomatic, military and covert operation in the galaxy, and he put them in a room with a psychic. Mathias tries to downplay any security leaks, The Operative is not buying it. It's come to the Parliament's attention that River became much more unstable, more... disturbed, after Mathias showed her off to Parliament.
It's the will of the Parliament that The Operative kills her. And the brother. The Operatives tells Mathias in certain older civilized cultures, when men failed as entirely as Mathias has, they would throw themselves on their swords. The air rings crisply as the Operative pulls out his sword. The agents move.
He slices the throat of the one behind him with true grace, thrusting at the second as he's pulling out his gun and pinning his hand. A moment, and the dying agent reflexively squeezes the trigger, shooting his own arm. The Operative pulls out the sword and the agent falls as quietly as the first. Mathias bolts but the Operative pins him to the wall.
He bunches his fingers and jabs the side of the Doctor's spine. Mathias stiffens, suddenly, agonizingly immobile. The Operative steps back, observes the Doctor's rigid grimace for a moment. Almost ceremoniously, he drops to one knee and holds the blade out to one side, hilt to the floor and point tilted toward the doctor. The Doctor stares at it in horror as his paralyzed body begins to tip over toward it.
The Operative turns toward the terrified intern at the door. He instructs the young miss he needs all the logs - on behavioral modification triggers. He's almost startled when the Doctor's body drops into frame, slowed suddenly by the sword. It squeaks down the blade, the Doctor unable to cry out, as the Operative whispers to him this is a good death.
Mathias is dead. The Operative pulls the sword out as the body rolls over. As he wipes the sword down, he reminds the young miss he needs her to get to work now, he has a long way to travel.