AN: Thanks to MissJulie for beta-ing.
This far from the sun, Buffy was surprised at how well the light warmed her skin on this planet. Despite its warmth, its whiteness bleached out their surroundings. She was put in mind of the Slayers’ Desert. "Quiet," said Buffy, briefly squeezing the Doctor's hand in hers.
"Not quiet, but silent," amended River. "Quiet simply is, but silence weighs down, louder than a scream." Simon shook his head at this, but Buffy and the Doctor nodded at each other before separating to examine their surroundings.
Buffy tapped the glass frontage of one of the buildings. "We've got bodies." Her voice was flat.
Simon looked through the window and saw dozens of well-preserved corpses in various positions of repose. "Looks like the buildings vacuum-sealed when some kind of alarm went off."
The Doctor peered in over her shoulder, laying his hand on it. "Same way on the other side. But these folks don't look like they were alarmed when they died."
"Maybe they starved out after they'd been trapped inside by Reavers for awhile." Simon theorized.
Buffy shook her head. “No, there’s no barricades. No looks of strain or fear on their faces. They weren’t worried about anything. They look like they were just going to sleep.”
Simon bit back the bile that was creeping up his throat. While the others were exchanging significant looks, he saw River crumble into a heap in the middle of the road, sobbing. “Merciful God, please take me away. Make them stop, they’re everywhere, every city, every house, every room. They’re all inside of me. I can hear them all and they’re saying nothing. I will close my ears and my heart and I will be a stone. Please God, make me a stone.” Simon moved to comfort her, but found the Doctor's steely grip holding him back.
"She needs to learn to control these episodes on her own," said the Doctor.
"I wasn't going to touch her, just talk to her." Simon made to pull away, but Buffy's hand joined the Doctor's on his shoulders.
"What were you planning to say?"
Simon hesitated. "That everything is going to be all right."
Buffy arched her eyebrows. "Is it now?" She neatly circumvented the two men and knelt down near River. "River, these bodies are all years old. The ghosts are gone."
River's convulsions eased enough for her to whisper, "No, they're not."
"Yes, they are. No one's talking to you but me." When Simon heard Buffy's voice, he somehow knew that was complete and utter truth.
So, apparently, did River, who ceased sobbing, and drew her arms up around her knees and chest. "You're so loud," she muttered.
Buffy smiled. "Have to be, traveling with the Doctor. Now get up, we need to find that emergency beacon, see if there's anyone in stasis in there." River and Buffy both stood, wiping the dust from their clothes, then started walking down the street.
Simon looked back at the Doctor. "How did she do that?"
The Doctor snorted. "Wish I knew, mate. It's a Slayer-thing, I suppose. Then again, I've never seen her around other Slayers before. But you'd be amazed how much of a calming influence it can be when you know she can rip your ears off without thinking. Non-mutually assured destruction is an incredible deterrent."
“How can you both be so calm?”
The Doctor bit his lip. “This isn’t the first city of the dead that Buffy and I have walked through. Best just to keep our heads while we find out what happened. Come along.”
The men followed the ladies down the street for a quarter mile before they reached the crashed shuttle. Buffy and River allowed the Doctor to enter first, and he quickly noted the old blood stains that marred the bulkheads. After a moment, he discovered a recording device and set it to play. Simon stood back, aghast at the discovery of how the Alliance had dosed the inhabitants of Miranda with G-23 paxilon hydrochlorate and the terrible consequences. River clutched a bulkhead as she watched, shivering. But Buffy and the Doctor just watched, their hands linked with the occasional pulse from either direction. Their knuckles went white as the Reavers made their final assault against the scientist. The recording ended, and the Doctor picked up the device, tucking it in his pocket, then they both turned around.
"We're done here," said the Doctor, heading out of the ship.
Buffy followed him silently, but Simon stayed frozen in place for a few more seconds before running to catch up. As he exited the shuttle, he saw his sister wiping vomit off the side of her mouth. He stopped just short of touching her. “River?”
She smiled at him. “Got it all out. I’m all right.”
River lagged behind him as they caught up to Buffy and the Doctor. Simon called out. "Wait. You knew this was what we would find. That's why you two don’t react. That’s why you didn’t question my theories. You already knew."
The Doctor didn't stop moving. "Yes."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
The Doctor spun about. "Because you wouldn't have believed us. You had to see it for yourself. Even with all the things that the Alliance has done to your sister, making you believe they'd created the Reavers, that's something you had to see for yourself. This way you know that we didn't plant anything, that we weren't making up the memories inside River's head, that all we are is fellow witnesses." The Doctor resumed walking back to the TARDIS. His eyes were glassy. "It's something everyone needs to see."
Simon remained silent for the rest of the walk, struggling to process what he'd seen. River had quit trembling, and walked with easy grace next to Buffy, whose expression was frustratingly difficult to read. Simon decided it probably echoed the determination of the Doctor's. He shut the door to the TARDIS while the others approached the console.
"Where to next?" asked the Doctor.
River's eyes locked with Simon's, and she nodded. "There's a guy named Mr. Universe who has the kind of transmitter we'll need," replied Simon.