Episkopos Rev. Alixtii O'Krul V, TRL (alixtii) wrote,
Episkopos Rev. Alixtii O'Krul V, TRL

DVD Commentary: School of Lost Souls (Fred/River, NC-17)

Up until very recently, this fic has been flocked due to its content. But because I deeply believe the best response to problematic speech is always more speech. . . .

Title: School of Lost Souls [DVD Commentary]
Fandoms: Buffy/Angel/Firefly/Serenity
Pairing: Fred/River, implied Fred/River/Harmony.
Rating: NC-17 for mature themes and sexual situations. Some BDSM, maybe.
Timeline/Spoilers: Takes place a couple years before “Serenity”; spoilers for both parts of “Serenity” and oblique spoilers for “A Hole in the World.” Arguably some very slight spoilers for Serenity and “The River Tam Sessions.”
Summary: Knowledge without a soul can be a dangerous thing.
Author’s Notes: For the Fred round of femslash_minis. voleuse wanted dreams, mathematics, and tacos. She also wanted no noncon or graphic violence, and while I did everything possible to make it clear that River was consenting here, both the power relations and the age difference between Fred and River do admittedly serve to problematize consent. Sorry. The italicized passages are from Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess. The other people quoted in this story include Orwell, Shakespeare, Nietzsche, and JFK (misquoting Dante).

Link to the original fic, sans commentary.

School of Lost Souls
Let me state the obvious, especially since we've been looking at titles lately: there's double entendre on "lost souls" here. River is one type of lost soul, while Fred has quite literally lost her soul. And "school" establishes the setting--and, to some degree, the genre.

"I am not in the least anxious about her education," Captain Crewe said, with his gay laugh, as he held Sara's hand and patted it. "The difficulty will be to keep her from learning too fast and too much. She is always sitting with her little nose burrowing into books. She doesn't read them, Miss Minchin; she gobbles them up as if she were a little wolf instead of a little girl. She is always starving for new books to gobble, and she wants grown-up books -- great, big, fat ones -- French and German as well as English -- history and biography and poets, and all sorts of things. Drag her away from her books when she reads too much. Make her ride her pony in the Row or go out and buy a new doll. She ought to play more with dolls."

The A Little Princess epigraphs are intended to serve several purposes. They comment upon and parallel River's experiences at her school, which I suppose is their main purpose and justification. They also, of course, refer back to Wesley reading the book to Fred, so already we have River and Fred connected to each other through the use of the quotations. And they give me a chance to highlight all the most gay and/or 'cesty moments from FHB's novel--and there were a lot more than I had remembered. Fandom has corrupted me. I mean, laughing at "gay laugh" is just me being junior high, but stay tuned! And if you can look me in the eyes and tell me with a straight face that the Crewe father/daughter relationship isn't damned 'cesty, then I will . . . disagree with you.
All the other girls at the Academy had warned River that Dr. Burkle was a heartless bitch, but that wasn’t true: Fred Burkle’s heart beat as much as any other woman’s, lub-a-dub lub-a-dub.
Okay, what does this do as a first sentence? It provides a setting: the Academy. It provides a viewpoint character: River. It introduces us to a secondary character, "Dr. Burkle" (that is, Fred) and characterizes her in a way that is far removed from the Fred we know from canon, preparing us for, well, a drastically different Fred. Also it leads into the crucial piece of information that Fred is soulless. Lastly, hopefully it's interesting enough, with an artful enough command of prose, to get the reader interested in reading the rest of the fic. All in all, not bad for a single sentence.
It was a soul that she lacked, or so she said on the first day of class. All the other girls had laughed, assuming it was a joke.
Fred's soul was destroyed in the Fires of Resurrection. That much is canon. But as is often the case, a piece of annoying canon can act as a springboard to a whole host of ideas and themes which enrich the fanfic. In this case, I'm pretty sure the oddness of it being Fred's "soul" being irrevocably destroyed pretty quickly--after all Buffy fandom debates the nature of a Jossverse soul fairly regularly. So how much of all, exactly, would be intact? How is someone without a soul, but also without the vampire's need for blood, any different than someone with one? This story explores that issue, and so in retrospect it's perfectly sensible that Harmony, who along with Spike problematizes everything we thought we knew about vampires, appears in it.

Also, Fred's soullessness is an excuse for me to have her do things that would be OOC for regular souled Fred, allowing this entire fic to, you know, happen.
Only River, it seemed, could tell that Dr. Burkle was deadly serious. Destroyed in the Fires of Resurrection, she had said, but River didn’t know what that meant. No one had.
Is River simply reading Fred correctly, or is she already showing psychic latent ability? I like raising such questions and not answering them; ambiguity, I've said before, creates a richness in a text.
Dr. Burkle claimed to have been trained as a physicist “many centuries ago,” but it seemed as if there wasn’t a science in which the slender young-looking woman lacked mastery.
This is mostly a swipe at the insane breadth and depth of Fred's knowledge in sciences other than physics given to her on the show. Not that I really have a problem with it; it was a useful plot device and nicely will-to-powery. And really, it's as much an appropriation of the will-to-powery-ness that's going on here as a meta joke. Of course, this is not a fic that forget that the will-to-power has a dark side.
She would be speaking of the complex matrix properties of Gutierrez’s Corollary to Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem one moment and then, without even missing a beat, would begin discussing the chemical processes that went on within the brain.

Like all the girls at the Academy, River found Dr. Burkle’s cognitive linguistics course intensely challenging.
Insofar as one can tell from this story, the Academy is an all-girl's school. This serves several functions. In part it is because I'm interested in all-female spaces (by definition never being able to inhabit them) both in an enlightened feminist way and also in the sketchy "fantasizes about the girls' locker room" way (a way which is very germane to the thematic content of this story). But the fact that this all-female space is coopted to serve as a laboratory for a military program run by a patriarchal government, that these are not just children but specifically (and thus deliberately) girls who are being systematically exploited (and in River's case, very arguably molested), and that it is only females who are stripped of their sanity and turmed into weapons, to me that gendering of the project (hinted in the code name--"Project Pandora"--which I give to it) makes it all that much more sinister. In a story about sexual dynamics, Academy Station's status as an all-girl school sexualizes the process of domination perpetrated by the Alliance. It's a school, a science project, a weapons project, and, fundamentally, a harem, a place where female minds and bodies are appropriated and subjugated by men.
But unlike the others, she gloried in the fact. All of her life things had come easy to her, and to have to work in order to understand was a new and glorious feeling. Finally, she felt that she was able to apply herself, to channel the mental energy which previously had threatened to consume her into something outside herself.

And it was Dr. Burkle who had opened up these doors to River. She felt like falling at the scientist’s feet and thanking her, of doing something—anything—to demonstrate how much she appreciated this chance to throw all of herself, mind, body, and soul into a task and let it consume her.

She loved going through the hundred different case studies Dr. Burkle made them compare, examining in each case the different ways in which language shaped thought. Most of the examples were dead languages which hadn’t been spoken in hundreds of years. Still Dr. Burkle would make offhand comments about French or German as if she herself had had firsthand experience as to how they were spoken.

On the day they studied binary thinking, how the mind sorts things into opposites, what is and what is not, light and day, male and female, Dr. Burkle brought in a broken statuette of Janus from Earth-that-Was itself—nobody else had believed her, but River had known that it was true—complete with one face looking into the past, the other to the future.
A "Halloween" reference--to the Janus statue that Ethan uses--that made sense to me in context. Also, since notions of chaos and chaos theory will play important rôle later in the fic, it works to introduce the Ethan associations here.
River spent hours at her source box, scrolling through files and files of psychological research on the cortex, each time honing the various mathematical models she had to create to mirror mental states. Her models were complex, more complex than any of the others constructed by students in the class, but they weren’t complex enough, not good enough to impress Dr. Burkle. River felt the incredible need to make them perfect, so that Dr. Burkle would notice her.
River's crush on Fred is woefully underdeveloped. I mean, yes we all agree that Fred is just that cool, but I wish I had done more than referenced a trope and make the reader fill in the rest. It makes the fic unidimensional somwhow, and replaces River with a cardboard cut-out in some ways. But yeah, I was writing the fic under a deadline, wasn't I? Not to mention that this type of experience (a crush on a teacher) isn't really one I've had, so I wasn't quite certain how best to evoke it.
* * * * *
Sara was sitting quietly in her seat, waiting to be told what to do. She had been placed near Miss Minchin's desk. She was not abashed at all by the many pairs of eyes watching her. She was interested and looked back quietly at the children who looked at her. She wondered what they were thinking of, and if they liked Miss Minchin, and if they cared for their lessons, and if any of them had a papa at all like her own.

I don't remember in the least why I chose this quote, other than it involves students. But in a book which was about a school, this was the best I could do?

“The Alliance possesses supercomputers with processing power a million times that of the human brain,” Dr. Burkle had said one day in class. “What prevents them from programming the same type of models we’ve been constructing to create a virtual consciousness?”

The class had been silent, students looking from one to another, trying to guess what their teacher had in mind. A virtual consciousness?

“Oh come on,” Dr. Burkle had said, pacing back and forth at the front of the classroom. “Each mental state is simply a variable in an algorithmic calculus. What keeps us from translating that calculus into mathematic logic, so they we can contain within it every thought which can be thought, every possible mental function?”
Oh, the Socratic method--that time-honored art of asking leading questions.

It was difficult finding a voice for teacher!Fred--as it was in fact for all of the personas Fred puts forth in this story (except maybe in the fight with Harmony, when the Fred we know from canon is most clearly exposed). Exactly how would Fred act in front of a classroom of fifteen-year-old girl geniuses? Would the soul make a difference? Fred developes during canon, after all, growing more confident. Would the process continue after her resurrection?

And of course everything is filtered through River's POV.
One girl tentatively raised her hand. “Yes, Meika?”

“I don’t think they’ve tried.”

Dr. Burkle laughed. “No? Does anyone find that odd?” Her pause was brief, purely for rhetorical effect. “There is no knowledge they have not sought, for knowledge as they say is power. The Alliance will not be satisfied until they have reached pure omniscience. And yet they have not tried this, an opportunity any science-fiction geek would jump on in a moment? Can anyone guess why not?”
The reference to S.F. geeks helps to locate Fred as still being Fred.
River raised her hand.

“Yes, River?”

“Chaos,” River answered simply.

Dr. Burkle nodded. “Does anyone care to elaborate upon River’s answer?” The room was as silent as before. “Very well. River, would you mind explaining for the benefit of your classmates?”
Here I'm deliberately drawing on various tropes, partially in attempt to hit some of my flister's kinks (you know who you are) and partially because that's what this story is about. Fred isn't afraid to mock the class for not knowing the answer to her question, nor to single out River because she does know the answer.
“Thought is causally determined. It operates within defined parameters. Yet still, somehow, the human mind is unpredictable, unable to be controlled. An infinitesimal change in starting conditions, an error so slight one cannot help but make, will butterfly into a radically altered psychological make-up. The Alliance fears to create that which they know they will not be able to control.”
I rewrote this scene many times, uncertain just what I wanted the moral of Fred's lesson to be (as well as the medium, the "cognitive linguistics" issue which would point to that moral), but this seems to work fairly well, foreshadowing the Alliance's mistake in turning River into a weapon, thinking they will be able to control her. And it drives home the point of the Alliance being a power-hungry, patriarchal instution, a fact which young River demonstrates she understands perfectly well in the flashback in Serenity.
* * * * *
"It will be a great privilege to have charge of such a beautiful and promising child, Captain Crewe," she said, taking Sara's hand and stroking it. "Lady Meredith has told me of her unusual cleverness. A clever child is a great treasure in an establishment like mine."

Well duh, Maria. You run a school. (In all seriousness, I probably chose this primarily for the inappropriate touching, as well as for the implication that Sara/River are speshul (remember the will-to-power).
Two weeks later Dr. Burkle called River to her office.

“How have you been doing, River?” she asked in that detached, clinical tone that teachers so often took. “Your classes aren’t giving you too much difficulty, I trust?”

“No, ma’am,” River answered. “I’ve been mostly spending my time preparing for your class.”

“Ah, yes. Your conceptual analyses have all been excellent,” Dr. Burkle said, flipping through a file on her desk. “I’m particularly intrigued by your treatment of fear in your latest conceptual matrix.”

“Why, thank you, ma’am,” River said, uncertain how to respond. Here was Dr. Burkle, right in front of her, so close that she could actually touch her. Oh, how River longed to run her fingers through that dark hair, to take the scientist in her arms!
Ouch. I cringed when I wrote those lines, but I couldn't think of anything better. As I said above, River's crush on Fred (before she gets to know her) is the weakest element of this story, because I just couldn't get myself into her head, as much as I know that it does actually happen all the time.
“None of your classmates thought to cross-coordinate the neurolinguistic scalars, for instance,” Dr. Burkle said.
Oh, technobabble. I spent hours in front of Wikipedia doing research in order to come up with plausible pseudoscience that was capable of making the thematic points I need it to make. Of course, these are all issues about which I already care deeply, so much of the work simply involved constructing a plausible jargon to stucture the ideas.
“River, your work has been a grade above all of your classmates. I am going to recommend to the dean to accelerate your coursework by placing you out of this class.”
Here is where, I hope, I'm utilizing teacher!kink tropes effectively. Plus there is something more generally will-to-powerish about wanting to be the best and having those you respect recognize that. Of course, River's used to being the best, but it's probably the fact that Dr. Burkle is so difficult to impress that makes River care what she thinks so much--and damn, I wish I had developed that angle.
“No!” River surprised herself with the intensity with which she said the word. She wouldn’t be allowed to take Dr. Burkle's class? “Don’t take me out of the class,” she added, weakly. “I’m learning so much.”

“And you’ll continue to,” Dr. Burkle said. “I’m going to advise that instead you be placed in an independent study, where I can design your coursework to fit to your unique talents. You’ll meet with me here every Friday morning at 0900 hours. Is that acceptable?”

River would get to meet with Dr. Burkle alone, every week? She could feel the smile break out on her face, unable to conceal her excitement. “Yes, ma’am.”

Dr. Burkle smiled, reached out a hand and slid a finger across River’s temple.
And the inappropriate touching begins, only more or less innocent at first.
“You’re a good student, River. A truly exceptional girl. Work hard and you’ll go some great places.”
While Fred's claim is arguably correct, the reader already knows that River's future isn't going to be as idyllic as Fred is making it sound.
* * * * *
She was not in the least like Isobel Grange, who had been the beauty of the regiment, but she had an odd charm of her own. She was a slim, supple creature, rather tall for her age, and had an intense, attractive little face. Her hair was heavy and quite black and only curled at the tips; her eyes were greenish gray, it is true, but they were big, wonderful eyes with long, black lashes, and though she herself did not like the color of them, many other people did. Still she was very firm in her belief that she was an ugly little girl, and she was not at all elated by Miss Minchin's flattery.

River's self-image, and her need to validate herself through Fred, is of course what allows this fic to work. Here's she put more or less in contrast to Sara; while both girls underestimate themselves, in Sara's case it has the perverse effect of making her more confident.
River could hardly think straight in the intervening week as she waited for Friday to approach, but she forced herself. She had to do good work.
Ugh. Exposition. But I had to cover a large amount of time in this fic, and only had so much time in which to write it, so this sort of summarizing exposition became a necessary evil.
She worked hard on her conceptual analyses, to expand and further develop the matrices, opening the linguistic field to include two new concepts, pain and suffering, deftly connecting these concepts to the others in the matrices. It was from these connections, River knew, that meaning arose. Each concept defined itself in terms of the other concepts within the matrices. There were no first principles, no grounding, no center.
The theoretical basis, of course, is a radicalized "pomo" version of my own post-structuralist philosophy. But if science isn't informed by philosophy . . . well, science is always informed by philosophy (by language, by the structures of cognition). It's just that positivists sometimes like to ignore the fact. But Fred and River know better, because I wrote them.

At night, when the lights were out and her roommate asleep or so River thinks!, she thought about that finger on her temple, the way it had felt as it slid across her skin. Almost without thinking, River slipped her hand between her legs.

The touch had been soft, it had been fleeting, but it had been real. Dr. Burkle had touched her! River closed her eyes, recalling the scene with all the vividness she could manage as her fingers slid in and out, rubbing against her clitoris. She could feel it, could recall the exact path of Dr. Burkle’s fingertip just as it had been, ephemeral but glorious. She slid her hand in and out faster, turning her face towards her pillow to stifle her moans, to keep from waking her roommate. Then in a moment of whiteness, the thought of Dr. Burkle, of touch, eclipsed all other thought and sensation as she finally climaxed.
I probably overdo the "sex as mystic union" trope, but then, mystic union is interesting (and sex is sorta mundande, says the virgin). But if her masturbation is that good, then who needs sex?
Friday. It would not come soon enough.
I'm rushing through the sex, and it shows. It wasn't until many stories later that I was able to take it slow (or at least slower) and linger on the details (or at least some details), bringing the experience to life.
* * * * *
Becky ran to her and caught her hand, and hugged it to her breast, kneeling beside her and sobbing with love and pain.

“I see that you’ve added pain and suffering to your matrix. Yet you lack any conception of pleasure. A curious omission, don’t you think?”
Beginning a scene with dialogue, to throw the reader in. Something I do a lot, because I do think it works.
River had neglected to code any conceptual analysis for pleasure, thinking that not-pain would do the trick. In a moment, she saw her mistake: the opposite of pain wasn’t pleasure, but rather the absence of sensation altogether. Pain and pleasure were both just varieties of sensation, equally capable of informing the constructed Self that she was, indeed, alive.
I'm not really sure what this exchange is saying about River or her journey to come. The great thing about writing is, I don't have to know. I'm sure it means something.</red>“I’m sorry,” she said, looking to the floor. “I won’t let it happen again, Dr. Burkle.”

“River,” Dr. Burkle said, her voice gently chiding. She put a finger underneath River’s chin, gently lifting until she was looking the girl in the eyes. Then, unexpectedly, she leant in, her lips meeting River’s.

River had never been kissed before, but the mechanics of kissing were lodged into the massive amount of knowledge she had amassed in her fifteen years, wedged between the spectral resonance of a crystalline converter and the recommended process for juggling man-eating goslings.
Some people juggle geese. And some people juggle baby geese that eat human flesh. It takes all kinds to make a star system, you know?
She knew to let her lips slide open to make room for Dr. Burkle’s tongue, to tilt her head slightly so that Dr. Burkle wouldn’t have to strain her neck.
It may be a function of the fact that I had my first kiss at age 21, with plenty of time to think through the process, that first kisses in my fanfic are seldom ever awkward. I mean, do people really forget that they have noses? Also, do we really believe that River wasn't practicing kissing with Simon before she left for the academy?
“Call me Fred,” Dr. Burkle said, many moments later, when their lips finally parted.

* * * * *

The ostensible reason why this section doesn't begin with a FHB quote is that it begins with a letter, which is sort of like a quote. If that makes sense to you, great. Otherwise, assume the reason this scene doesn't get an epigraph is that I couldn't find a quote that worked.

Dearest Simon,

Life at the Academy continues to go well. I work hard to apply myself to my work, but only my coursework in cognitive linguistics truly excites me. History, sociopolitics, cryptozoology, autodynamics, even mereotopology—none of these present such an intriguing challenge as unlocking the secrets of the human mind itself. Fred

River paused, then backspaced Fred’s name. She began anew:

Dr. Burkle has taken me under her wing as an independent study, and with her guidance I have been learning so many new things, including such things I would not have been able to even imagine before I came to the Academy. She has opened so many new doors to me, that there is no way in all the system that would allow me to adequately express my gratitude to her.

What else should River tell him about Fred, she wondered. Should she mention that kiss in her office, just days before? Tell him about the way that the mere thought of the slender scientist made her body shake in anticipation, of the passion with which she looked forward to their next meeting? To keep from him something of such importance was utterly foreign to her, and yet some new part of her felt she should hold the events of last Friday close to her chest, a secret unknown even to the man closest to her heart.

I regret only that you are not here to share my joy, dear brother. Believe me when I say that I miss you always.

Your loving sister,

I tried to incorporate as much 'cest subtext into the letter as I could.

* * * * *
Miss Minchin's opinion was that if a child were continually praised and never forbidden to do what she liked, she would be sure to be fond of the place where she was so treated. Accordingly, Sara was praised for her quickness at her lessons, for her good manners, for her amiability to her fellow pupils, for her generosity if she gave sixpence to a beggar out of her full little purse; the simplest thing she did was treated as if it were a virtue, and if she had not had a disposition and a clever little brain, she might have been a very self-satisfied young person. But the clever little brain told her a great many sensible and true things about herself and her circumstances, and now and then she talked these things over to Ermengarde as time went on.

This is not Fred's pedagogic philosophy, neither the one she uses in her lectures nor the (very different) one she uses in her one-on-one lessons with River. River has a clever brain, though.

Fred looked over River’s work of the last week. “Your incorporation of pleasure into the matrix is certainly innovative,” she said. “It does diverge from the Peano arithmetic, though.”

“I’m operating under the assumption that the Peano axioms are inconsistent.”

Fred paused, then put down the matrix cube on her desk. She turned towards River. “That’s certainly a bold move, River. Do you have any basis for this conclusion?”

“We’re working with transcendent phenomena here. Transfinite induction simply doesn’t apply.”
I forget what this means, but it made perfect sense when I wrote it. Peano was a real mathematician.
Fred nodded slowly, as if in thought. Then, slowly and deliberately, she reached and unbuttoned the top button of River’s blouse. When she finished with it, she unbuttoned the one beneath it, then the one beneath that one, until River’s blouse was completely undone. Fred gently removed it and placed it on the floor. Then she reached her hands around River’s back and unclasped her bra.

River stood topless in front of her teacher, as Fred placed her hand on River’s left breast, gently squeezing, her palm rubbing against River’s already erect nipple. River had never been so vulnerable before, but here, in front of Fred, she found that she savored it. She desired it, wanted to be completely naked here in Fred’s office so that Fred could take her in her arms and do as she wished.
Again, I wish I had managed to get into River's mind better.
Fred got up from her desk chair and then, with the same deliberative grace, slowly went down on her knees. River inhaled sharply as the scientist's cold hands went under her skirt, gently pulling her panties down to her knees. Then Fred’s entire head was under the skirt, her mouth wrapped around River’s genitalia.

In another moment, Fred’s tongue was inside River.
And we fade to black.
* * * * *
"Things happen to people by accident," she used to say. "A lot of nice accidents have happened to me. It just happened that I always liked lessons and books, and could remember things when I learned them. It just happened that I was born with a father who was beautiful and nice and clever, and could give me everything I liked. Perhaps I have not really a good temper at all, but if you have everything you want and everyone is kind to you, how can you help but be good-tempered? I don't know" -- looking quite serious -- "how I shall ever find out whether I am really a nice child or a horrid one. Perhaps I'm a hideous child, and no one will ever know, just because I never have any trials."

This quote is nicely philosophical, and fits really well with the existential ethos of the Jossverse (and this fic). River doesn't have to worry about not having any trials, does she?

“Three minutes even,” Lei said, looking up from the stopwatch in her hand. “That’s thirteen seconds off your previous record.”

River nodded, then pulled herself up out of the pool. She had already known how long it took her to swim the laps; she had been counting herself. But she didn’t say anything, simply picked up a towel and made her way to the natatorium’s locker room, where she changed out of her bathing suit, showered, and put back on her school uniform. Her exercise regimen for the day completed, she made her way back to her dormitory, planning to work some more on her conceptual matrices before it was time for dinner.
This scene serves several important functions. It shows River engaged in homosocial activity with another girl, a powerful healthy moment in which she is able to connect before she is cut off from her classmates, giving us a better sense of what life on Academy Station is like. It reminds us that River is an excellent athlete, and shows her utilizing that athleticism. And it allows me to imagine River in a bathing suit. And changing out of a bathing suit and using a communal shower. And putting on a school uniform--and believe me, the use of a schoolgirl uniform as a manifestation of a hetboy fantasy is deliberate, evocative of the patriarchal order controlling the way in which she displays her body. Even under the relative freedom River enjoys at this point of the story, there is a sense in which she is always made an object.
When River returned to her room, however, she found it oddly empty. Or rather, it was the left side of the room that was suddenly vacant. Her side of the room. The right side of the room was intact, all of her roommate Narcissa’s possessions just where she had left them. Narcissa herself was seated in front of her source box, working on a xenobotany problem.

“Erm, Narcissa? Do you know where my stuff is?”

The girl just shrugged. “They said the Administration had reassigned you, and that you would know about it.”

“Well, I don’t,” said River, looking once again at the empty side of the room. “Could I use your source box for a moment?"

Narcissa shrugged again and got out of the chair. She sat on her bed and watched as River quickly logged onto the cortex. Sure enough, there was a flagged message for her:

To: Tam, R. [river.tam%stud.acad.reg]
From: Sullivan, S. [shelia.sullivan%admin.acad.reg]
CC: Burkle, W. [winifred.burkle%fac.acad.reg]; Hyung, K. [karen.hyung%clas.ld]; [CLASSIFIED]

Your residential unit has been re-assigned. Please report to your new assignment at LF0233B as soon as possible.

River just stared at the message, not understanding. LF02 denoted a faculty level—certainly they wouldn’t have her rooming there?

Well, all her stuff was missing, and without it there wasn’t very much else for her to do. She exited her room and made her way down the hall to the ascendeur.
Elevator? Lift? Neither word sounded right to me, so I went with a third option.
She expected it to spit back RESTRICTED ACCESS at her when she keyed in LF02, but instead it simply obediently rose, quickly taking her to the faculty level.

The door opened to reveal a wide hallway, carpeted in light blue. The walls were painted a soft brown, and all in all it was a much more welcoming atmosphere than the cold and antiseptic student dormitories. She mentally corrected her reflexes as she took a step forward; the gravity was slightly lighter.
I'm not sure why the gravity is lighter, since presumably they have antigravity in this version of the future and can make everything Earth-standard; I mean, they do it to entire planets.
She found her way to Room 33. She thought about keying in her ident code and seeing if it admitted her access, but then decided to press the button for the doorbell instead.

After a couple seconds the door slid open to reveal Dr. Burkle, smiling at her. “River. Good, you’ve found your way. Come in.”
Making River find herself to her new quarters all by herself makes her that much more disoriented, which renders her all that much more vulnerable.
River stepped inside her teacher’s rooms and the door slid shut behind her. Dr. Burkle looked different than she did in class or during office hours; instead of her omnipresent white lab coat she wore instead a sleek red kimono.
I think the labcoat thing is a personal kink or something; I don't really know where that came from.
Her feet were bare and she wore a shell comb in her hair.

Rver looked around at what was presumably Dr. Burkle’s living room. Compared to the Spartan persona the scientist had created in River’s mind, the room in its elegance looked positively magnificent in its splendor.

“I’ve arranged with the administration to have direct oversight over your coursework; from now on, you’ll be answering to me alone. We’re going to be shifting you to a research-based track.”

River’s brain was capable of processing information at 200 million instructions per second. She knew this.
I may have just made that number up. I forget.</red> Yet somehow the only response to the information that Fred had just provided her she could manage was to stand there staring at the scientist, her mouth open.

* * * * *
Sara often thought afterward that the house was somehow exactly like Miss Minchin. It was respectable and well furnished, but everything in it was ugly; and the very armchairs seemed to have hard bones in them. In the hall everything was hard and polished--even the red cheeks of the moon face on the tall clock in the corner had a severe varnished look. The drawing room into which they were ushered was covered by a carpet with a square pattern upon it, the chairs were square, and a heavy marble timepiece stood upon the heavy marble mantel.

The function of this quote is pretty obvious, I think. An analogy (I always did well on those on the SAT and GRE): Maria Minchin is to her house as Winifred Burkle is to her apartment.
They had already transferred her belongings to Fred’s apartment when she had arrived. Her sourcebox sat on a desk in the study, across from Fred’s own. Her toothbrush was in Fred’s bathroom. Fred’s apartment only had one bedroom, and so it was in the scientist’s closet that River found her school uniforms hanging. Her socks and underwear were in a dresser next to the bed.

In the closet next to her uniforms, however, were a number of outfits in her size that had not been hers. “You don’t have to worry about wearing your uniform unless you’re going to be interacting with other students for some reason,” Fred had explained. “But since you’re going to be doing most of your work in here, you might as well be comfortable.”

Perhaps so, but it seemed that they had been chosen with at least as much an eye for fashion as for comfort. There were sundresses, slacks, miniskirts, microskirts, saris, blouses, cheongsams, halters, kimonos, most of which seemed designed specifically to accentuate the female form, with comfort not even being a consideration. River paused in front of a shirt that seemed to reveal at least as much as it covered. She would be wearing this in front of Fred?
If soulless!Fred is going to be a sexual predator, we know she at least is going to be systematic about it. Of course, there is still the level upon which this is River's fantasy (and in a more removed way, the reader's fantasy) come true: River wants to be dominated.
Fred poked her head in the bedroom. “Have you had dinner yet?”

River shook her head no.

“Good,” answered. “How about tacos?”

Tacos? “What are tacos?”

“Only the best food in the entire galaxy,” Fred said, looking at River as if she were crazy. “What type of future doesn’t know about tacos,” she muttered, presumably more to herself than to River.
Apparently (psuedo-?)Mexican food doesn't survive into the future.

I like that Fred still thinks of herself as living "in the future" even though of course it is her subjective present no matter what the date is. It also makes Fred's voice more recognizably Fredlike, because instead of taking part of the future we see her reacting to it.
Tacos, as it turned out, were pulverized cattleflesh in a corn shell, served with various vegetables and cheeses.
I just love describing ground beef as "pulverized cattleflesh."
After eating one, River had to admit that they were as good as Fred attested, and had another. Fred shocked River by consuming five.

River was calculating in her head the necessary metabolic rate for Fred to stay so thin and eat so much when Fred rose from the table. “I’ll do the dishes,” she said. “It’s time for you to get to work.”

Fred set River up with a new set of access codes, so that she could access the Alliance’s restricted psycholinguistic research. She got absorbed in a study in which a team of scientist tried to teach a set of genetically engineered pigs how to speak, and was up reading it past 2600 hours.
Why Academy Station doesn't have an Earth-standard day, I can't say; my best guess is that it's calibrated to be synchronous with Regina, the planet around which it orbits.
When she finally decided to turn in, Fred was already in the bed, asleep. River made her way to her dresser, using her mental image of the room to navigate in the dark, where she quickly changed into her nightshirt and got into the bed.

Fred was dressed, River could tell now that she was in bed beside her, only in her bra and panties.
It occurs to me that I have no idea what real women actually sleep in. (Anyone care to enlighten me?) I do have something of a nightshirt!River kink, though.
River resisted the urge to snuggle up next to her, to cling to her as she fell asleep. That would be improper, she decided, even as she recognized the very concept of propriety radically shifted. Did it even hold a place anymore in the linguistic network shared by Fred and River, or was it merely a collection of phonemes now, incommunicative?
The scary thing is that I actually think like this.
Fred shifted in the bed, and River suddenly realized the scientist wasn’t asleep at all. Fred’s hand slipped under River’s nightshirt. Two, then three fingers entered her, gently at first and then more aggressively, slowly but steadily bringing River to climax. “Fred,” River sighed as the pleasure washed over her, free finally to cry out the name which held so much power over her.
Cringe. I wanted to fade to black so much when I wrote this, but it was critical that I show River return the sexual "favor." It's actually scary just how deep my "eww, girlparts" reaction was, considering that I am, you know, a straight male.
Relaxation replaced the intensity of pleasure, but River wasn’t going to allow herself to drift off to sleep. Slipping all the way under the covers, she maneuvered herself between Fred’s legs. Pulling down Fred’s panties just enough, River went down on her, navigating her tongue through the pubic hair and into Fred. Bringing to mind all of the medical books of Simon’s which she had memorized, not to mention her own experience pleasuring herself, she attempted to do it right. She started slow, like Fred had, then built up speed.

“That’s right,” Fred whispered encouragingly. “Just like that.” Her fingers laced their way onto River’s hair and held her tight, pulling her even deeper into Fred. River kept on going.

She could feel Fred’s body tremble underneath her; then, all of a sudden, Fred let out a sigh and went limp. River returned the panties to their place, then slipped back up to the head of the bed, her head poking out from under the covers.

In the dark, River could make out the barest outline of Fred’s face, watching her. “That was perfect,” Fred said, then kissed River quickly upon the forehead. “That was just right.”

Tags: commentary, crossover, firefly
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