I always found the Reavers of the Firefly universe intriguing until the movie ruined it. Oh, look, space zombies… Or maybe “space Crazies” would be more appropriate. I understand the movie was an attempt to wrap as many plotlines from the far-too-early-axed television series, but making the Reavers simple a science experiment gone bad was…lazy.
Worse, it too away the agency of a group that had been built up to be a terrifying, almost existential, terror for space travelers in the ‘Verse, the equivalent of trolls under the bridge.
One of the things that made them so interesting was shown in the episode Bushwhacked. Here, the reavers had killed the crew of a transport, yet left one of the crew alive…why? The man is suffering from traumatic bonding, and starts to see himself as one of those that had tortured and killed his crew. But what if it were more than that..? What if, periodically, they leave people alive to see if they will come find them? What if they recruit..?
What if this was a culture, instead of simply space zombies?
These are people who can pilot ships, navigate, operate tactically, who lay traps…not the behavior of animalistic nutballs. Instead of drug-addled space crazies, what if you have a culture of people that have taken body modification, anarchic tendencies, and counterculture ghettoization to a point where they simple don’t quite fit as “human” anymore? We are talking about a period, post war, where there would be a lot of disaffected and damaged folks looking for…something. What about those kids that want to rebel, or are damaged from their childhood — the sort that fled to the likes of Charles Manson and every other low-rent messiah? They don’t just torture their victims; they do it to themselves! They recruit from their victims, like the character in Bushwhacked, but they also have people out there collecting the vulnerable, the young and stupid, the disaffected war veterans, or the power-mad that cannot succeed in the political systems in place.
They prey on ships, but where do they get that flight data to intercept? Space is big; you’d miss your prey without intelligence. What if some of these folks look and act “normal” (’til they ask you, Hannibal Lector-like, to dinner) and work jobs that allow them to find prey or to recruit. you could be friends with one and never know that the erudite fellow you have drinks with after work would torture, rape, and eat you, were you on a spaceship in the black.
Maybe, like other subcultures, it is fragmented and tribal — they fight each other, as much as “the man.” What if you got that one charismatic leader that pulled the disparate crews together?
This version of the reavers could be more than a campfire ghost story, but a much more dangerous and driven group that doesn’t just seek to terrorize for terror’s sake, but might look to eat its prey — in this case civilization — from the inside, as well as out.