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Known and feared throughout the 'Verse, Reavers are people who traveled to the edge of the star system and were driven mad by the open vastness of space. Shepherd Book believes that they are "just men" who have been removed from civilization far too long—men who could be helped. Both Jayne and Mal strongly disagree with the Shepherd's opinion. The Reavers' true origin is revealed in the movie Serenity.
Reavers are savage and barbaric. Their contact with other humans appears limited to combat, rape, torture, murder, and cannibalism. All known effort at communication or diplomacy has failed, according to the show. Conflict between Reavers is also never shown; they travel in packs and work cooperatively, indicating some level of community and higher intelligence.
Reavers are known to raid ships and colonies, where they rape, cannibalize, skin and kill anyone they find. They growl and snarl like beasts. Their methods are considered so horrifying that victims have been known to attempt suicide rather than be captured. If someone is rescued or left behind by the Reavers, killing them is considered humane. Reavers do occasionally leave intentional survivors of their raids, but they drive these survivors mad through forcing them to watch the torture of other Reaver victims, effectively turning the survivors into second-generation Reavers. Reavers also severely mutilate themselves by cutting themselves, peeling off their skin, or pushing shards of metal into their flesh. Rather than firearms, Reavers will use any sharp object as a weapon in personal combat.
Reavers travel in macabre ships stained with blood and decorated with corpses chained to the hulls. They appear to live their whole lives in space, only touching down on a planet or moon to carry out a raid.
Reaver ships are captured from their victims and are instantly recognizable from the red stripes and the bodies of victims adorning their hulls. They are also known for flying without proper engine radiation containment, a practice tantamount to suicide. This makes Reaver ships faster than their normal counterparts, but also makes it easier for their prey to detect their arrival and hide by powering down their ships rather than fleeing. Their ships appear battered and torn thanks to their habit of ramming their victims without concern for their own ship.
Their ships are uniformly armed and possess a wide variety of exotic weaponry, many of which are designed to snare and capture other ships -- including harpoon cannons, grappling lines, and energy nets. They use weapons that fire giant sharpened disks similar to buzzsaws or shuriken, in addition to more traditional anti-ship ordnance. To cripple rescue ships, they have been known to leave a bait ship intact with a bomb planted on board set to detonate when another ship docks to help, destroying the already-derelict ship and crippling the ship that tried to provide aid.
In the movie Serenity, Reavers are revealed to be humans from the planet Miranda. The Alliance government on Miranda added a chemical agent known as G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate, or simply "Pax" (Latin for "peace"), to the planet's air processors. Pax was supposed to calm the population and weed out aggression. 99.9% of the population became so lethargic that they stopped working, breeding, talking, and eventually eating and breathing. They lay down where they stood and allowed themselves to die. The remaining 0.1% of the planet's 30 million people had the opposite reaction to Pax, becoming mindlessly violent and insanely aggressive. They killed everyone not already dead on Miranda before leaving the planet and becoming Reavers.
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