When first Simon and then River was born, their mother hired a practitioner of the old Chinese art of telling fortunes and divining character from facial features.
The practitioner came to each of their incubators. He brought his calipers. He measured. He consulted his notebook, and he told them about Simon's inability to dance from the narrowness at the forehead compared to the angle of his cheekbones and about River's gift for languages from the breadth of her cheekbones -- both Simon and River had been c-sections. Mrs. Tam had chosen surgical deliver because there would be no danger of her children being oxygen-starved during passage through the birth canal, and consequently, they came out of her in the hands of a surgeon and with their heads and faces were perfectly formed and smooth.
After that first consultation, Mrs. Tam took her children back to the diviner once a year and more if there was an occaision for it. Each time that they went, she would do it herself and take them both, and she would take them out for ice cream and dim sum afterwards. Mrs. Tam would also save the sheet of measurements that the diviner produced, and she would take it home and put them into them a drawer underneath the show cabinet where she kept framed copies of their birth certificates, their first report cards, and their school pictures.
The first time that the Academy put River in the chair and told her to close her eyes, the scraping of needles over her cheeks reminded her of the practitioner's calipers.
A year after River went to the Academy, the Tams got a class photograph in the mail. Letters came about once a term, and they'd see her on the vidphone once a year, wearing a t-shirt with the school logo and sort of distracted by dormmates running around behind her and calling her name and making a racket. During the vid calls, Mrs. Tam would ask River to contact them more often, particularly since they never seemed to be able to get through to her when they called. River would always promise to, would mention it on her own at the end of each phone call just before she said goodbye, but the frequency of calls and letters stayed more or less the same.
In the class photograph that the Tams got, River was wearing a black and white uniform with a black jacket and a white collared shirt. She also had hoop earrings with blue stones hanging from them and a string of blue beads around her throat.
Mrs. Tam brought the photograph to her practitioner. He took the slope of her nose, referenced it in one of his books of tables, then turned to Mrs. Tam and told her that her daughter had a gift for communication that would come in handy someday.
Simon has a fairly clear memory of the diviner's office. He was there so many times, after all. He remembers riding the lift with his mother between him and River. He remembers the leather on the couches outside and the stucco ceiling. He remembers the piles of medical journals that they had on the coffee tables and he remembers River reading an article from one of them out loud for all three of them when she was four years old.
Simon remembers how it was run like a doctor's office -- there was a receptionist, and the practitioner wore gloves and had you sit in what was something like an optometrist's chair where your chin was on a little platform, and you brought your forehead up to the bar.
There was a period when he was eleven, his mother would take him in almost every other month. The diviner would take one look at him, leaning forward on the chair, then sigh and reach for his calipers to redo the same measurements he'd done last time.
Mrs. Tam had been worried about a bump on the left side of Simon's jaw. The placement indicated that he was someday going to rebel against authority. Do something that violated the rules. Possibly become a criminal.
The diviner would, in the beginning, ask what Simon's behavior was like and what his grades in school were like. Did he get along with his teachers? Was he respectful?
After a while, after Mrs. Tam kept on bringing her son back time after time and the lump just stayed there, the diviner stopped asking and just measured, and as far as Simon remembers, the bump went away by itself eventually.
Kaylee's childhood, as far as Simon can tell, was rather radically differeng from his and River's. She grew up without her mother, and she is fascinated by the stories that Simon will tell about their family sometimes -- family vacations on their private solar yacht, trips to the opera, the time that they hired a petting zoo for River's eighth birthday party and how, that night, when Mrs. Tam went to kiss River goodnight, she found three rabbits and a duckling that River had smuggled out of the back yard, up the stairs, and into her closet.
Simon also tells Kaylee about the visits to the diviner. She looks puzzled, then smiles and says that she wouldn't have guessed that he'd believe in things like divination and predicting things by people's faces and unscientific, unsophisticated stuff like that, and in the past, Simon would've smiled and explained to her, in his most patient voice, that he only went along with things because he wanted to make his mother happy.
These days, though, Simon pauses for a moment. He looks over at River sitting on the counter, singing to herself with the shadows of the ship and the unlit side of the mess behind her. He thinks about how the diviner predicted her gift for communication. He thinks about the bump in his jaw that has not come back, about how Reavers have the sewn-together faces of other men and how one of the only things that River will tell him about the Academy is that they put needles into her skin -- once he's gotten to considering all that and looked over against and seen River sitting half in the shadows and singing to herself, Simon goes quiet, and he stays that way for so long that Kaylee gets embarrassed and starts trying to apologize to him for whatever thing it is that she's done wrong this time.
All the precise details of the fortune and what have you are pulled out of my ass, but Chinese face-reading is real.
True story: I have three moles on my face. One of them doesn't mean anything much, but one of them is in "the trailway of tears," so according to those Chinese farmer's almanacs, I'm going to have a lot of grief in my life. I also have one below the corner of my mouth. That's supposed to stand for what Simon's jaw-bump does -- badness and rebelling against society. When my mother found it and realized what it meant in conjunction with the Tearzz mole, she started crying and getting all choked up and worried.
Me, being the American kid that I am, I said, "Wow. So that's kinda cool. I'm going to be a rebel. Likes James Dean!"
This did not comfort my mother.