- "If they take the ship, they'll rape us to death, eat our flesh, and sew our skins into their clothing. And, if we're very, very lucky, they'll do it in that order."
- "I'm going to show you a world without sin."
- ―Malcolm Reynolds
Reavers are a breed of cannibal pirates.
To the people of the Core Worlds, Reavers are a campfire tale and bedtime story; to the people of the Border Worlds and Colonies, Reavers are very real.
Reavers are believed by most of the 'verse to be men that went insane at the edge of space and became savage. They stared into the void beyond and became what they saw: nothing. They gave into their primal nature and all that was civilized was discarded.
However, key members of the Alliance's Parliament know better, and the crew of Serenity eventually discovers their true origin. Most folks believe that Reavers are no longer human. It's easier to believe they have nothing in common with the rest of humanity.
Origin and Infection
Reavers originated from Miranda, the outermost planet in a distant solar system. The Alliance had been testing behavioral modification on this planet through the chemical G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate (a.k.a. "The Pax" (Latin for "Peace")), administered through the air recycling systems. The chemical was designed to weed out aggression and anger. The ultimate result was that 99.9% of the population stopped going to work, talking to each other, and eventually stopped moving, eating or breeding, and therefore died. However, the remaining 0.1% ("a tenth of one percent") of the population had the opposite reaction, with their aggression and primal instincts boosted beyond simple madness into murderous rage, sadism and savagery.
Being transformed into a Reaver does not seem to be exclusively chemical in origin. Some victims of Reaver attacks are left alive and forced by Reavers to view the tortures they inflict on others. When this happens, the person's mind can be so damaged by what they were shown that the only way to cope with it is to begin to act as a Reaver does, eventually becoming one themselves. Reavers may themselves be able to detect those humans that are part of the 0.1% that are susceptible to become like themselves and these are the men and women they "convert." This was witnessed on one occasion by the crew of the Serenity when they found one such victim on a derelict ship (Bushwhacked). Mal's knowledge of this indicates that he either has heard of such things before or witnessed it himself.
Reavers are, at least genetically, human in more or less every way. They have no known physical mutations-the primary difference between normal humans of the 'verse and Reavers is their utter and complete madness. Showing no care for life, they are driven by an insane, homicidal and savage aggression that manifests in the cannibalism, rape, and torture that they visit upon any unfortunate enough to come across them.
Reavers are impossible to mistake for anything else. As a symptom of their insanity, they deliberately gash and cut their own flesh, and a Reaver is often covered in open or partially healed wounds. Barbaric piercings and random bits of metal shoved into their flesh are also common, giving them a ghastly and corpse-like air. They seem no physically stronger or tougher than normal humans- merely inured to pain to the point where they care nothing for their injuries or indeed their own lives, and more willing to push their bodies to the extreme because of their madness.
Exactly how sentient individual Reavers are remains an open question. Although they clearly must have some retention of any original knowledge prior to their madness (as evidenced by their command of starships and weapons) Reavers are as without fear as they are without mercy, and they have never been seen to speak or indeed communicate (although that may be because any time they are observed they are on the hunt). The sole sound they make is an insane, wordless scream, which adds to the mystery of how a group of creatures little more than beasts could run a starship to the degree that they do. Indeed, Reaver ships may, although rarely, attack each other.
Reaver territory is centered about the rim of known space, and at least one massive gathering was present around the planet Miranda. They do not, however, live on any planet. Instead, Reavers spend their entire lives aboard their grotesque spacecraft, floating through the void and setting planetfall only to raid and pillage before leaving for the hunt once more. Normally they stay within their own territory and only venture out on raids, rather than moving en masse to attack the Alliance or the border worlds.
It has been observed/implied on at least two occasions that Reavers do not bother with already-dead prey, preferring, if not insisting, that their victims be alive. At one point, three Reavers were about to attack a man, but when Mal shot him, they gave up their effort. At another point, Mal, Zoë, Jayne, and River were on their Mule, being chased by a Reaver hovercraft. When Jayne questions why the Reavers did not destroy the Mule, River muttered to herself, "They want us alive when they eat us." Both these events take place in the film. In the same vein, the Reavers did not bother to attack the 99.9% of Miranda's population that were pacified by the chemical, as these people would have had no reaction.
Reavers in combat
Reavers seem to favor close combat, although they are fully capable of using firearms. It is likely that their reduced mental abilities makes firearms a poor choice. Instead, they rush forward, occasionally firing at victims if stymied, and overwhelm their enemies in a deadly charge with crude blades and melee weapons. If nothing else is available, they may be found clawing and biting their prey with bare hands and teeth. Although they occasionally carry conventional firearms, Reavers also seem to use poisoned needles, and very frequently a form of large speargun. The aim of both weapons is probably to ensure that the victim is alive when taken. Utterly fearless, they will charge until they are wiped out - casualties don't seem to matter much to a Reaver band.
Reavers seem to prefer to subdue their victims. Those unfortunates who are rendered helpless or fall are either raped to death, eaten alive, flayed, or commonly all three, as well as other horrific depravities. After they finally escape into death, the Reavers will sew their skins into their clothing, and may very well either hang up the corpses as a gruesome trophy or strap them to their starcraft. Reaver craft are almost inevitably festooned with at least a few skeletons.
On a planetary raid, Reavers target settlements without strong defenses. After raping, murdering and eating the inhabitants, Reavers will burn the settlement to the ground. Most of the time Reavers stick to their hunting territories; however, over the few years directly prior to the pilot episode, the Reavers had begun to expand from their territories. This was likely caused by the depletion of food sources as settlers learned to steer clear.