Title: Swan Dive
Summary: River has a decision to make.
Disclaimer: I don't own River, Simon, or anything else from Firefly. That honor belongs to the brilliant Joss Whedon.
Author's Notes: The definitions come from the Encarta Dictionary with a few minor tweaks on my part. Thank you so much to Pheral for the quick beta.
And I've got a lack of information
But I got a little revelation.
And I'm climbing up on the railing,
Trying not to look down.
Swandive -- Ani Difranco
river (noun) – a natural formation in which fresh water forms a wider stream that runs across land until it reaches the sea or other body of water
River – a girl, a genius, expected to be successful, her whole life ahead of her
She doesn’t know who invited the voices into her head. They’re simply there, speaking, telling her things. Some things she needs to know, others she doesn’t. They swirl around her head like electrons around a nucleus. No, she thinks, squeezing her eyes shut. Not quite that. More chaotic. More tumultuous. The wind through her hair, water around rocks in a stream. Turbulent flow. Describable, but only by approximations and models.
The voices are her, but not her. Fragments and shards. Pieces.
Sometimes they’re an angry cacophony and she can’t get a word in edgewise. Sometimes they’re quieter. Right now they’re a single whispery voice with the lisping singsong of a little girl. And right now the voice is telling her to jump.
She’s on a bridge. Behind her is a beautiful shore. It beckons, but it’s not real. Another voice. Or many. Happiness. Playing games with Simon. Reading every book in her dad’s library. Going to parties wearing fancy dresses and pretty shoes.
But now she’s barefoot and the slats that make up the bridge hurt. Slivers. Bits of wood that lodge in her skin. They pierce and cut that which shouldn’t be cut. They change her. She wants to dance but they won’t let her. They tell her to walk to the other side of the bridge but she doesn’t want to go. It’s dark on the other side and she can’t see. The voices are harsh and angry. They hurt and make her blue with cold.
She wants to go back. Back to the other side. Back to the sun warming her face, to dancing. Back to where they take you in. But it’s a pretty lie. She wants to retrace her steps, but can’t. What if the dark crosses the bridge behind her? Stalking like a predator. Night becoming day, becoming night again. The smiles and the voices of long ago going flat. Disappointed. Angry. They don't see the darkness. Dark is invisible in their world. It’s not proper.
Can’t go forward. Can’t go back. Instead of linear, she thinks perpendicular or acute or obtuse. She looks down at the roiling water below. It’s like the voices on a bad day, confused and hurried, not explaining. Going somewhere but they won’t say where. She doesn’t know how to make them tell her. Where does the water go -- other than away?
Away, away, a-away-wa-ay-aw-way-ayaw-ay.
The voices overlap and echo into chaos again. She stares at the water. Newtonian fluid, medium viscosity.
The little girl’s voice is back. “Jump,” it says.
She’s afraid. But the voices of the past named her River. Dad never said why. Mom said it was pretty, like her.
name (noun) -- a word, term, or phrase by which somebody or something is known and distinguished from other people or things.
name (verb) -- to decide or specify something such as a date, time, or location.
Her name is River. Maybe she’s secretly a fish or a bird or a mermaid. Maybe she has hidden gills or webbed feet or a tail. So she climbs the railing, grasping the round surface with her toes. Steady. The voices count to three.
Then she springs up. Potential energy becomes kinetic. What was still is now in motion. She throws her arms out so they’re fully extended, presses her legs together tightly, and points her fingers and toes. If she could choose, she’d be a swan.
She arcs up through the air and then begins to fall headlong. And she’s free. Her fate is undecided. All up in the air. She’s falling -- there will be consequences. Gravity is a force that has to be reckoned with. In an ideal world her velocity would be one half the acceleration due to gravity times time squared. But the world is not ideal. The world is messy. So her velocity is the quantity of her weight minus her drag divided by twice her mass multiplied by time squared.
Either way the time is squared.
River tumbles and waits. The voices are happy, but her fate is uncertain. She could hit the bottom -- break her neck. The current could grab her, pull her under, fill her lungs. Or maybe someone will drag her out onto the dark shore or force her to cross the bridge again.
Those are the bad images. Unsettling. But there are other outcomes. Laws of probability. Maybe she’ll be picked up by the current and gently carried out to sea. Maybe she’ll find a log to cling to or a boat to ride on, and someday she’ll dance on the ocean's waves.
But for now she’s falling. Worried, but hopeful -- holding the potential to burst with joy. She’s getting faster and faster, watching and waiting for the picture to become clear. Just her, gravity, wind resistance, and time. Falling -- like the apple as she feels the forces gather at her back. Falling -- like the feather as she revels in the flutter of the wind in her dress.
Falling-- like the letter as she lets it drop down the mail slot at the Academy’s post office.
The little metal door snaps closed with a clack. Startled, River jumps back, and furtively looks around to see if anyone has noticed her. Then she tucks her head down and hurries away.
The little girl's voice is gleeful. “Catch, Simon,” it says.