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Permutations

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Summary: There are only so many stories. River and Dawn, in parallel.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Firefly > Dawn-CenteredAlixtiiFR1514,841261,5762 Nov 062 Nov 06Yes
Disclaimer: I make no claim to copyrighted material.

*

Permutations

There are only so many stories. Some say seven, some say three or twenty or thirty-six. (There is a madwoman named Cassandra on a backwater moon who says there are seventeen, but no one listens to her.) Some say there is only one story, the story, and all others are contained within it. River cannot count all the stories, for they are too many, but she knows the number is finite. And in a ’verse—a universe, a multiverse—which is infinite, that means certain permutations must repeat themselves. Each iteration is recursive, and contains within itself all our pasts, all our presents, and all our futures.

River remembers listening to Book tell a story to the children on Haven, and she knows this to be true.

* * * * *
Dawn has a conflicted relationship with the Tradëscan Codex. There is always the pesky problem of free will, for one. Free will and determinism are compatible, she believes, as long as one cannot know one’s own future. The fact that someone else, somewhere else, might be able to predict the outcome does not mean that she is not free to make her own decisions here and now.

But bring in a prophecy and suddenly one finds one’s life constricted, a multitude of options distilled down to just two: one can follow the prophecy or one can rebel, knowing all along the utter futility of trying to escape fate. The Codex knows which option you will take, even if it does not surrender this knowledge; all will happen as it is written, if not necessarily as it is read. Like the Pergamum Codex before it, the Tradëscan Codex can almost be said to possess a sense of humor, revealing itself only in riddles.

It is irrational, she knows, but sometimes she blames the ancient text for all the misfortunes that it foretells. She reads of the tragic deaths of Slayers, Watchers, Wiccans, warriors for good, and she knows there is nothing she can do to prevent these eventualities, inevitabilities. She feels like cursing it forever, casting it into the fire and watching it slowly burn away, knowing at last she is once again free to face the future without foreknowledge.

But she does not. She cannot. That foreknowledge is the only thing, sometimes, which allows them to prepare for the future, to prevent it from being even worse than the Codex demands. To deny herself that resource would be to send Slayers to their deaths without having done everything she could to safeguard their lives. This she cannot do.

There are things which are—so to speak—written in stone, their secrets contained within the Codex, but there are also matters upon which it remains silent. Dawn is permitted that small degree of freedom, and to utilize it effectively she must embrace the way in which she is enslaved to fate.

And that is what she will do. After all, it is written.

* * * * *
There can only be one I, and it is the measure of all things. All things are what they are in relation to the I, and the I can know them only as the I knows them. As I know them.

The I
can be fragmented, meaning one thing at one time and another thing at a different time, but it can never mean two things at once. For a single I, to see through more than one set of eyes would be insanity—is insanity, as you’ll see soon enough. Keep a firm grasp on your I, gentle reader, and you will always know through whose eyes you are seeing, for they shall be your own.

But who are you? Well, that is the question, is it not? Because if you are the I, then through whose eyes do I see? Yours?


* * * * *
“I love you,” Simon said. He meant it, even, or thought he did, which is in the end the same thing.

She was under him, around him, and—worse yet?—in him. He was so full of her that it drove everything else away, so there was no place for me, for Serenity, for anything. The world contained only Simon and Kaylee, all other things having quietly faded away, so much so that when I opened Kaylee’s door and gently descended the ladder, he did not even hear me.

Kaylee, on the other hand, was more alert. Even as Simon was inside her, she was inside Serenity, and each gasp of breath or mention of Simon’s name was unconsciously uttered in rhythm with the engines’ gentle hum. “River?” she asked as my bare feet entered into her field of vision, and with that word, as if by magic, Simon was jolted out of his world of two, back onto Serenity, back into the ’verse, and I could not help but breathe a sigh of relief at his return.

Mei-mei,” he said, rushing to cover himself. Two things, each equal to a third, are not always equal to each other. “What are you doing here?”

“They’re coming,” I said simply.

* * * * *
I was lying stomach down on the beach blanket, engrossed in a copy of Naked Lunch. I had the Gerfarim Chronicle back in my hotel room, but had forced myself to leave it behind. I was supposed to be on vacation, after all.

I was about to turn the page when I noticed a presence behind me. I turned to see what looked like a surfer boy, ogling me in my bright blue bikini. No, not ogling me. Staring at me. Specifically, staring at the Ring of Ouroboros on the ring finger of my right hand.

My instincts kicking in, I went to grab a weapon out of my beach bag, but the faux-surfer moved and in a flash had grabbed my arm. I twisted out of his grip, rolling under him and forcing him to the ground. He rolled into his fall, and soon we were each picking ourselves up, about six or seven feet apart from each other.

He made the first move to strike, but I deflected the blow and tried to use the chance to throw him to the ground again. Expecting it now, he managed to evade my throw and grabbed my neck with his left hand, fortunately leaving me free beneath the waist to kick him in what I hoped was his privates.

The creature was faster and more agile than I was, but not nearly as strong. A Pulnich demon, I thought maybe, from its completely human appearance. I tried to push my advantage as best I could, delivering blow after blow with the occasional kick for good measure, but I kept on being pushed back. I wasn’t losing ground in any objective sense—the French coastline went on for miles—but it pained me to keep retreating, knowing that if I couldn’t find something to turn our combat to my advantage, I would wear out long before he would. It didn’t help that my bare feet could barely gain any traction in the sand.

I backed up into a beach volleyball game, disrupting the play, and quickly ducked under the net. The demon slipped under it, following me, not even slowed in his pursuit, when one of the volleyball players gave him a side kick straight into his solar plexus. The demon went flying.

And flying. And flying. Fifteen yards away, he landed.

The volleyball player—a petite black-haired woman in a red bathing suit—stepped up to the demon, and the two paired off. Blows were exchanged in a flurry of activity, the Slayer—for that clearly was what she was—just as fast and agile as her demon opponent. Her Slayer strength gave her a decided advantage, and soon the demon lay dead, beaten to a bloody pulp, in the sand.

Merci,” I said. “Merci bien.”

De rien,” the Slayer said. “Je m’appelle Natalie. Et vous, vous êtes Madame Summers, n’est-ce pas?

“Call me Dawn,” I agreed, slipping into English. After all that activity, I was too fatigued even for simple French. “Thank you.”

“Do not rest so soon, Madame,” Natalie advised. She lifted up the demon’s hand to reveal a ring on the fourth finger. “We must get you to safety, before more arrive.”

“Shit” was the first word to come out of my mouth after seeing the ring.

“Taraka” was the second.

* * * * *
And beyond the sight of the eyes of the I, what is there? Does the universe end, composed only by that which lies within the sight of the eyes of the I? Or is there some substance, some form, some thing-in-itself that continues to exist, sight unseen? There is a famous pair of limericks asking (and then answering) this very question: Please solve me this riddle, dear God.
I find it exceedingly odd
That the sycamore tree
Simply ceases to be
When there’s no one around in the quad.

Your perplexity strikes me as odd.
I’m always around in the quad.
And that’s why the tree
Never ceases to be
Yours very sincerely, God.
But never mind the speculation of fools and philosophers, and
look.

* * * * *
“The Alliance is in disarray, ma’am. There are reports of uprising on the outer planets, and serious discontent even within the Core. Parliament has just passed a vote of no confidence, and the Chancellor has been forced to resign.”

Miss Kaowasaki, chief executive officer of Blue Sun Industries, only sighed. “You see but you do not understand, Richards. It is not in my interests to play politics. Governments rise and fall. We are eternal.”

Richard said nothing, patiently waiting for orders. She continued. “The M.P.’s were idiots, going after her like that. Like a cornered kitten, she had no choice but to turn on them and attack. They should have let sleeping dogs lie.”

“Ma’am,” Richards spoke up, tentatively. “There may well be other secrets she may know.”

“Of course there are other secrets,” Kaowasaki said dismissively. “We are taking every precaution to see that they remain secret. But we do not use a sledgehammer to open a bottle of rice wine.”

A light on her desk flashed. “The Parliamentary Operative has arrived, ma’am,” a disembodied voice announced.

“Good, show her in.” Kaowasaki turned to Richards. “Report to Mr. Tenshi for orders. He’ll be running the marketing campaign for our new arms race.”

Richards nodded. “Yes ma’am,” he said, and left.

A moment later, a red-haired woman in a black jumpsuit entered. “You wished to see me, Amy?”

“Yes, please come in,” Kaowasaki said, taking care not to say the Operative’s name. As a necessity of their position, Operatives of the Parliament were nameless. They did not exist. “Our agents have located the Serenity in space near Regina. They have orders to take no action until you arrive.”

“I will leave for Regina tomorrow,” the Operative informed her. “I expect that will be sufficient?”

Kaowasaki nodded. “As usual, Simi, my personal Companion, will take care of any of your needs while you are on our station,” Kaowasaki said. She paused, then continued, “I do not need to remind you that Blue Sun has invested heavily in Project Pandora. We expect that investment to pay off. The Tam child is to be kept alive at all costs, no matter what your superiors may decide.”

“My superiors are currently . . . preoccupied,” the Operative said with a smile. “I will have the freedom to act as I see best, I assure you.”

“I just do not want to see you making the same mistakes as your predecessor.”

“My predecessor was a fool, Amy,” the Operative said. “He was a believer. He thought he could fashion the world into a utopia by killing people.”

Kaowasaki smiled. “And what do you believe, my friend?”

The Operative betrayed no emotion. “The same thing as you, sister. Power.”

* * * * *
Lilah Morgan leaned back in her desk chair. “I’ve been saying we should have been doing this for months, Holland.”

Holland Manners turned away from the office window facing the molten landscape of Es-Lazur. “The Senior Partners have their own schedule. Until this moment, it served their interests to have her alive. Not to mention, your record in hiring assassins is less than stellar, Lilah.”

“But the reputation of the Order of Taraka is stellar,” Lilah insisted. “They won’t stop until the Watcher is dead. And with the Council weakened by her absence, we won’t have anything in place to keep us from putting the rest of the plan in place.”

“And so it will be,” Holland agreed. “Now, on the Partners’ timetable. Considering our current state, I really would have thought that you would have managed to come to respect authority just a bit more.”

* * * * *
But once we have left the safety of the I, have abandoned our identities, can we even be said to exist? Or is that what true enlightenment is? Are we as gods, seeing clearly what was distorted through the eyes of the I?

It is better not to know the answer to that question. Let us return to safety, to all that is known—knowable, even—to the I.


* * * * *
“Our Alliance friend”—he said friend but he didn’t mean it, and we all knew this even without telepathy—“didn’t think they’d send anyone after you two. Not this soon, anyway.”

“Plato’s Republic is gone to live in the cave,” I explained. “Atlas has shrugged, and only John Galt is left in charge. Hands of blue, two by two.”

There was a pause. “Can you translate that, doctor?” Mal asked.

Simon only shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine, Captain.”

“Why do we let her fly the ship again?” That from Jayne.

I snorted. Why did they think just because they didn’t understand something that I was being insane? I was insane, admittedly, but not every comment that came out of my mouth was crazy. Besides, sanity was a fluid thing, there on Serenity. What would have been crazy on Osiris might be downright sensible out in the black. “It’s all relative,” I said.

It was Simon who spoke up. “Captain, if she’s right, and they are coming after us, then—”

“Then what?” Kaylee broke in. “We’ve been through all this before. There’s nowhere you can run to.”

“Don’t run,” I interjected quickly. “Fight.”

Jayne laughed. “Fight how? The Reavers ain’t gonna fall for that trick twice, little girl.”

I shook my head. How to make them understand? “Not violence. Fight fire with fire. We have to beat them at their own game.”

* * * * *
Natalie and I figured my hotel room was probably already compromised, so we headed towards her apartment. There we changed out of our bathing suits, with me just barely fitting into one of her looser outfits. It was like stealing clothing from Buffy; even as it was, a significant portion of my shins and midriff were bared.

During this time I caught up with some of the details of Natalie’s life. It turns out that she recognized me from the great battle in Brazil a couple years before, when I had addressed the troops. People going into battle want to hear something inspiring, even if objectively it is rather ordinary, so it wasn’t surprising that she seemed to be of the opinion that I was the greatest orator since Charles de Gaulle. I’ve run into the phenomenon on more than one occasion, actually.

Our next stop was Natalie’s Watcher, a M. Bertrand. He took the ring from Natalie and nodded. “Definitely Tarakan,” he confirmed, and I had the feeling he spoke in English more to test Natalie than as a courtesy to me. “You must be careful, Mme. Summers. They will not stop coming. Already this place is not safe. You must hide.”

“The head of the Council can’t go into hiding,” Natalie protested. I didn’t say anything, but personally I agreed. I had duties and responsibilities. I was on vacation, yes, but vacations end. Hiding from demon assassination clans doesn’t.

“When they went after my sister, there were only three. Once she defeated them, they stopped coming.”

“An anomaly,” M. Bertrand said. “If it happens once it may happen again, yes, but dare you count on it? Your sister was a Slayer, yes, but you command an army of Slayers. If the Order is intent on killing you, they will take care to do it right.” He paused. “It is your call, madame. You command the Council. Natalie and I are but your humble servants.”

Not exactly the way I preferred for Watcher’s to think of their Slayers, as servants, but I had more important worries to concern myself with. I sighed. What to do?

Suddenly, the doorbell rang. M. Bertrand rose, looking grave. “I fear we have already taken too long. I will see who that is. Natalie, take Mme. Summers and run. Vite!

And Natalie grabbed my hand and before I could say another word we were running out of his door and away.

* * * * *This land, however, is an island, and enclosed in unalterable boundaries by nature itself. It is the land of Truth (a charming name!), surrounded by a broad and stormy ocean, the true seat of illusion, where many a fog bank and rapidly melting iceberg pretend to be new lands and, ceaselessly deceiving with empty hopes the voyager looking around for new discoveries, entwine him in adventures from which he can never escape and yet also never bring to an end.

But before we venture out on this sea, to search through all its breadth and become certain of whether there is anything to hope for in it, it will be useful first to cast yet another glance at the map of the land that we would now leave, and to ask, first, whether we could not be satisfied with what it contains, or even must be satisfied with it out of necessity, if there is no other ground on which we could build; and, secondly, by what title we occupy this land, and can hold it securely against all hostile claims. –– Immanuel Kant
I don’t know what it means, either, but it sounds pretty, doesn’t it? And I bet you wish you had a map right now, don’t you?

(Well, you do. You’re looking at it.)


* * * * *
“You mean that all this time we was risking our lives running jobs you could just hack into the cortex and take all the credits you wanted?”

“Wasn’t the same,” I answered, intent on the screen in front of me as my fingers flew over the keyboard. “Didn’t belong to us. Besides, you can’t eat credits.”

“She’s right,” Simon said from next to me. “She’s hacking into our confiscated trust accounts, our parents’ accounts—Tam money through and through. She’s not taking anything which isn’t, roughly speaking, ours.”

“Roughly speaking?” Mal asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Well, I’m sure Mom and Dad won’t be thrilled when they find out,” Simon admitted.

“And now that you are multimillionaires again, what exactly are you expecting to do with that money?”

I sighed. Couldn’t explain, didn’t have the words, but I could do. I let my fingers continue to fly over the keyboard, dancing their dance, selling and buying, transferring, engaging in a den of thieves.

“Well?” Mal asked.

Simon squinted, trying to follow my activity. “She’s buying stock. Blue Sun, mainly.” He didn’t understand, and it was evident in his voice. Mal knew it.

“Well, she’s just the little entrepreneur, isn’t she?”

* * * * *
“Do you think he survived?” Natalie asked.

I said nothing. If it was indeed the Order of Taraka who had been at his door, then his chances of having lived through it were so slim to be nonexistent, I thought. He should have sent Natalie, the only one of us who had a real chance to defeat a Tarakan assassin, to open the door instead of ordering her to guard me. I wonder if it was to save me or Natalie that he had sacrificed his life? Did he stay behind to die so that Natalie would be there to protect me, or so that Natalie would not need to engage the assassin?

The world would never know.

We were in a random café in Nice, and even amidst the crowd of people we were both a little jittery. “What do we do, now?” she asked.

“We stay on the move,” I said. “Attempt to plan a counterattack.”

I put my hand in my beachbag and pulled out my cellphone. It was a calculated risk, but chances were a demon clan wouldn’t be monitoring cell phones frequencies. Whoever employed them, however, just might be. It didn’t matter. I couldn’t keep on running blindly. Someone, somewhere, had to go on the offensive.

I quickly punched in the number and there was an answer after one ring. “Hello, Lydia?” I said.

* * * * *
“What happens next?” Why do you ask me this question, insist on making me take up the part of an I? Authors should be silent, if not dead. Everyone knows this. Stories, maps, creation itself—these things speak for themselves. Why must you hear me speak with my voice? What is it that you wish to me to say? “I am the Lord your God”?

Well, very well. If you insist on my taking up the burden of being the I, I will. But don’t think you will get me to take responsibility for the story in this way. No, that is still your job, you.


* * * * *
You quadruple your money within a month. It’s like a game; no, it is a game and the only reason the game theorists haven’t become millionaires is that their models are flawed. You were made to play this game, just as you were made to play so many others.

But it isn’t enough. Just as the crew of Serenity can’t eat the electronic credits, by themselves they won’t topple the turquoise star which pursues you in your dreams. A thousand things have to happen, little things butterflying into catastrophic changes. Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum resolve to have a battle, and the giant crow flies through the stars. Impossible to predict completely, but you don’t need perfect foreknowledge. It’s enough that you know better than anyone else.

You buy advertising time on a dozen worlds; nothing incendiary, just enough to push them that much closer to discontent. You write a pro-Alliance manifesto and use the Cortex to anonymously circulate it among fascist groups on Londinium. You buy more stock through a dozen different fronts so that no one will be able to see the new power emerging. You see the patterns, even if no one else can, and you reach out to touch them, to manipulate them, like threads on a loom. You call yourself Arachne, and wonder if you will be punished for your hubris.

Confident that in the purity of action you can express yourself as you no longer can in thought, you push forward. It is like piloting Serenity: it’s not about thought at all. You just have to do it. Just have to be.

You are a leaf on the wind.

* * * * *
You and Natalie are on a train, rushing back towards France’s western coast. To England, eventually. Even on the train you do not assume you are safe. It is late, and both of you are tired, but you force yourselves to sleep in shift, one of you constantly vigilant.

And no matter how fatigued you are, you both find it difficult to sleep. You are each used to action, and to be forced to wait goes against your natures. Natalie drums her fingers against her legs, her Slayer energy desperately needing some outlet, and you sympathize with her.

The train suddenly stops, lurching about all those within it, and both you and Natalie go for your weapons. When the roof of the traincar is ripped off and two blonde women drop in armed with swords, you almost give a sigh of relief.

* * * * *
Of course, a you is simply a different type of I, a doubling of the self. The I needs no you to exist, but without the I there is no you.

With the advent of the you, the world expands. Solipsism slips away. More things can be said to exist than merely are seen through one set of eyes. And ultimately it is only through knowing you that I can ever come to know myself.


* * * * *
“I can’t do it by myself,” you say. Your eyes plead to me, beg me. “There has to be a woman on the inside, someone who knows. The art of the possible, the plausible, the probably, but I’m infeasible, intractable. They put out my eyes and I need a lame man to guide my way.”

I try not to focus on the words and to see the sense behind it, but it is difficult. I am trained to read people, to understand them despite what they say, but working with the insane was never part of our lessons. Now I begin to see why

I stand up and your eyes follow me, seeing into my soul. I wonder what it is you see, and you wonder why I wonder. “There’s one stage left,” you say. “We’re penultimate, in limbo. You decide whether Schrodinger’s cat dies or stays alive.”

You aren’t talking about a cat. None of us understand the particulars of what you are doing, but gradually we’ve come to recognize the broad outline of your plan. Even as we run from those who pursue you, you are taking the battle to them. And though we don’t understand what you are doing, we trust you. Well, everyone other than Jayne, at least.

Ultimately, at the end of the day, there is only room for faith. I sigh. I know there is only one answer I can give, only way I can respond to an innocent girl and dear friend asking for my help. And because I know this, you must know it as well.

“Very well, River,” I say, and wonder how Mal will respond to this. “I’ll go to Londinium.”

* * * * *
You take the one on the right, and I take the one on the left. My Slayer strength gives me a slight advantage, but while you are well-trained, so are our opponents. Your strength is not in combat, although you have fought in combat countless times; that is a Slayer’s job. My job.

You are a Watcher; it is your job to think of the big picture, not the single moment. Your mind is full of prophecies and portents, of training techniques, of plans for battle. It is your job to send we Slayers into battle, sometimes to our deaths. I was at Brazil, saw my sister Slayers fall beside me, and still I rally to your cause.

Your asset is your mind, not your body, and you look around for something with which to gain advantage. You glance down, and that is all the signal I need: I stomp my foot, sending it through the floor of the train, and then pull up the floor in front of me, causing our assailants to fall backwards as it is quite literally pulled out from under their feet.

You use the chance to fall into a better position and pick up a dropped weapon. The battle is not over yet, but we have gained the advantage for the moment.

And as we fight, side by side, we share a thought: we’ll get through this together.

* * * * *
Two girls in two different times on two different worlds at right angles to each other each take a stand against a universe. They are not alone. A rebel princess is captured by the dark agent of an evil empire. The empress of a dying world fights sickness as she hopes against hope that a young boy from another world can save her people. A scientist investigates an alien invasion. Two children weep over a murdered lion. A starship captain takes up arms to defend her ship. A woman dressed in man's armor stands between her dying uncle and a manifestation of darkness which is no longer a man. Across the multiverse there are women like these, engaging in the ongoing fight against evil. Without them, the stories we tell would be far darker.

Each of these women knows their story will be neverending, and yet they continue to fight. The foes they face today will fall, and new foes will rise. They know this. And still they will continue to fight.

This story, however, is
not a neverending story. It must have an end, it does have an end, and this is the end. Return in peace to your own neverending story, gentle reader, where you are you and I am I, and may you be inspired by the examples of these women. For remember there are only so many stories in the world, and their story is, in the end, your own.

The End

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