From the Firefly Wiki

It was at this point that she was sent to a government learning facility known only as "The Academy". While her parents and Simon believed the Academy was a private school meant to nurture the gifts of the most academically talented children in the Alliance (the uniting governmental force over all inhabited galactic planets), it was in fact a cover for a government experiment in creating the perfect assassin.

With her psychic abilities, River seems to have been the most powerful test subject, but is there ever any mention of other successful subjects? If so, why weren't any of them sent to locate/capture River?

  • 2
    There were definitely other test subjects, though I think the phrase "other successful subjects" incorrectly implies that River was a success. She's definitely talented, and they have some measure of control over triggering her ability/desire to kill people, but she's also emotionally and mentally unstable. With no apparent ability for the Alliance to focus her abilities she'd make for a very poor assassin. May 20, 2012 at 17:16
  • That's fair; she wasn't the perfect killing machine that they were hoping for, but they DID successfully turn her into a weapon. I'm curious, however, if all of the other test subjects were abject failures or if there are more men/women like River out in the 'verse.
    – phantom42
    May 20, 2012 at 20:06
  • 1
    It would make a great way to reboot the series universe at some point. As Mal said, "'Cause as sure as I know anything I know this: they will try again."
    – jfrankcarr
    May 20, 2012 at 21:02
  • 1
    As of the "Leaves on the Wind" comics from 2014 that question has an official answer - which I don't wanna spoil here - just pointing out that the reason River was only a partial success, comes from the fact Simon got her out, before they were done with her.
    – BMWurm
    Jul 26, 2014 at 19:01
  • @BMWurm I don't mind spoilers, but if you're concerned, you can always put the answer behind a spoiler tag so others can avoid it by default.
    – phantom42
    Jul 26, 2014 at 19:36

5 Answers 5


To my knowledge of Firefly, just the show, movie, comic. There is no definite reference to the other students in that facility. They show a simulation simulating other students, but we don't know if they are real.

We still don't know much in Firefly due to its cancellation, but we know that River was the only subject that the Alliance cares about because of her power and potential.

There was no mention of any other subjects directly. You can assume, from the movie, that there were more people because of the size of the facility that held River.


I would also point out that it was a research facility, and the research had only got as far as producing River (who would probably have been exceptional anyway). If subjects like River are 1:1M, and they could not succeed with her, then there are probably very few at quite her level of skill.

Even if there are 1 or 2, The Alliance probably has no real control over them either, and sending them out on such a mission would be highly risky.

So I think it is fair to say that River is the most talented of the experiments (not necessarily the most successful), meaning that there is no-one else they could risk sending.

I also think that part of the reason the Alliance wanted her back so much was that her story and what was done to her was a serious embarrassment to the government, not just because they wanted her talents back. Given the failure of their attempt to control River, letting other out into the general population would be even more risky.

The possibility that the Alliance could send their 2 most talented assassins against her, and that she could convince them to turn against the Alliance might have also been part of their thinking. I suspect that this would have been a real possibility.

We might have found out if Fox hadn't cancelled it, of course. That is a decision they will regret.

  • 1
    One of the plot points from the movie Serenity was that River Tam had telepathic abilities, and government officials had visited the secret lab and been close to her, thus making it possible that she had picked up secrets and/or embarrassing information from the government officials. Ideally the government wanted her back, but mainly they wanted to terminate the possible information leak.
    – steveha
    Feb 18, 2014 at 20:10
  • @steveha It wasn't just possible. She learned about the Miranda colony from the officials, which was the MacGuffin for the whole movie.
    – user20155
    Feb 19, 2014 at 3:32
  • @LegoStormtroopr that's right! I've only seen Serenity once. I need to see that again!
    – steveha
    Feb 19, 2014 at 3:37

Other subjects of the program that worked on River do exist (they are referred to in the early scenes of the film) but are never shown anywhere (though the "school" simulation might have shown avatars based on real people).


Based on the episodes where Simon discussed her condition, along with the beginning scenes of the film, plus the interview webisodes, I get the distinct impression that she was more of an open-ended experiment rather than a prototype or project with an explicit goal. What I mean is that, instead of doing specific things to her in an organized process that would result in X (most likely her being an assassin), it seemed that they were trying out different un-tested methods of enhancement & control on her to see what would happen. This fact is alluded to in a conversation between Simon and Shepherd Book after the events of "Ariel". Simon believes the experiments had a purpose, whereas Book thinks maybe they did it just to see what would happen.

The R. Tam Sessions indicates that she had strong intuitive or even latent psychic abilities early on, but it's still a far cry from the abilities she demonstrates later on. Based on what little we've seen, the Academy did not appear to include any kind of traditional "assassin" training, but instead seemed to be based around psychological & medical research. This alone seems to indicate that the experiments were of that nature rather than the traditional methods. It's possible that the overall purpose of the Academy was to "force-feed" assassin training into an individual artificially, or see if that could be done. This is supported by the fact that various triggers & code words were placed into River's mind.

Back to your original question, though - it's very likely that similar experiments were performed on other children at the same facility, though their levels of "success" probably varied. Based on the conversation between Dr. Mathias and Simon at the beginning of Serenity, it's reasonable to assume that River was unique - most likely due to her telepathic potential.


As noted in the comments above, there is an answer in the new Comics "Leaves on the Wind" by Zack Whedon. Spoilers, obviously.

One of the storylines is liberating others like River from the Facility. And the final cliffhanger shows yet another subject. All in all, lots of people return, Jubal, The Operative, and it all adds to the answer.

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