Wash looks doubtfully at the image in front of him.  The moon is a ball of white and palest blue.  Faint darker lines circle its centre like small veins on pale skin.  It doesn't look as though there's much in the way of development down there.  "Tell me again why we're here?"

Zoe leans over his shoulder, her hair tickling the back of his neck.  "Trade."

He rolls his eyes.  "Ahhh, trade.  I've heard of this strange concept.  So we give something -- and something of equal or greater value gets given back?  How very quaint."

She swats him on his shoulder, but when he looks up, she's smiling.  "Funny."

Her grin is brilliant.  He loves making her look like that.  It's such a change from the skeptical, hard expression she'd always worn when they'd first met.   He'd worked long and hard to get her to crack a smile.  It had been a personal triumph.   "I am a funny man." 

Loud steps fall in behind him.  "Funny lookin', maybe."  Mal's voice is dry.

"Sir, I'll thank you not to comment on my husband's looks.  Which I'll admit I find passable."  Even without looking at her, Wash can tell Zoe's almost laughing.

"Well, my heart swells as I hear I'm passable fair."  He flutters his hand, and Zoe and Mal both snort at his feigned swoon.

After a few moments, Wash asks again,  "Trade?"

Mal shrugs back to all business.  "We got some cargo -- foodstuffs and the like.  Client wants what they got to trade down there, which is principally water."

Water.  "Care to expand on that, Mal?"

"Aurora's an ice moon.  Never got terraformed, already had an atmo that folks could breath.  Didn't get much attention at first, 'cept for them as having the money to see the pretty light shows in the night sky."

Wash looks down at the moon again, wishing he could see something like that from above. 

"Didn't have much traffic 'til about 40 years ago, when some lucky bastard did a few tests and found the water has unique properties.  Nothin' fancy, but it kicks up the immune system.  Rich core folks started wantin' it for drinkin'.  Industry uses it as a base for fancy skin creams and such."  Mal sneers a little.

"Can't have the rich getting wrinkles."

"Precisely. Wouldn't be so pretty, then.  Anyway, they got a good deal down there.  Food gets traded in, they can't grow much but what does well in underground hydroponics.  They're called ice miners.  They go in, extract it in blocks, bring it to a base camp, melt it and bottle it up pretty."

"They make a living selling fancy water."  He shakes his head.

"Yep."  Mal looks a little disgusted.

"That's one of the weirdest things I've ever heard."  Not so weird as juggling geese, but still.

"Heard weirder."

Wash suppresses a sigh.  Of course Mal's heard weirder, seen weirder, done weirder.  It's always a bit of a competition with him when Zoe's in the room.   "Yeaaaahhhh.  Ok, so I'll land us then."

"You get contact with the town?"

Shaking his head, Wash checks over his readings.  "Not really.  There's an automatic greeting and landing set-up down there.  I've already been given the coordinates and go-ahead to land."

There's a pause, and when Wash looks over, Mal's arms are crossed and he's frowning.  "That seem odd to you?"

"The auto greeter?  Not really.  They're out there, people use them when they're understaffed or too busy.  It's a small colony, right?"

"Yeah. Fast turn-over rate.  People make their money and leave."

"There you go.  They probably don't always have the right people for the job, so they have an automatic set-up."

Mal continues to frown, starring at the clouds as they start to descend.  Finally, he nods leaves the cockpit.

"It's pretty from up here."  Zoe's hand falls on his shoulder.

It figures that Zoe would get worked up about the one place they won't be able to find a naked beach.  Still, she's right.  "Sure is."


For once, the job is straightforward, something they stumbled onto by accident.  The pay was mostly up-front, making up for the long distance to Aurora.  Mal took it on willingly, glad  to have a legitimate cargo.

He fills in his crew when they've landed.   Go in and say howdy, unload, trade, reload, leave.  One day, tops, but Mal thinks maybe if everything goes well, they can take a little time for themselves.  Their client isn't expecting a quick job, and in any case, they made it here faster than Mal had estimated. 

"Zoe, you're with me.  Jayne, stay back and watch the boat.  Don't know folks around here, and you never can guess what they'll pull."

Jayne nods, but Kaylee pipes up.  "Can we go outside?"

"Kaylee --"

"Aw, please, Captain.  I ain't never touched snow.  And River's always better after being outside for a space."

Her expression is hard to resist and River has been fixing for a full-on fit for a while.  Mal can't see a real reason for saying no, as long as they stay near Serenity.  "Fine.  Stay close, and bundle up good.  Don't need no frostbite on those handy fingers of yours."

Kaylee beams, and River smiles absently.

"Jayne.  You'll watch the boat, Kaylee and River from outside."

"C'mon, Mal.  I ain't no babysitter."

"Ain't babysittin'.  Just guarding, like what you're paid to do."  It seems to mollify Jayne a little.

A few minutes later, he and Zoe head out, bundled close in heavy sweaters and warm jackets.  The air is cold, but Mal enjoys the novelty of seeing his breath and feeling his toes start to freeze.

It's an awful quiet walk to the habitat domes.  "It seem awful quiet to you?"

"Yes, sir."

"It is awful cold out.  Everyone's likely warmin' up inside."

"Possibly."  Her expression is wary.  "Still, seems weird there's no welcome crew."

Scanning the area, Mal can't see any evidence of recent ship landings.  "No reports of Reavers out this way.  Don't look like anyone else has landed lately anyway."

"True."  Her body relaxes marginally, but they're both alert as they get to the entrance.  Mal reaches out and punches the key, a little spooked that the window is too iced-up to get a look inside.


Kaylee's never seen snow like this.  Home had been hot, sunny and dry with just enough rain to get them all by, but never cold enough for snow.  She'd heard tell of up in the mountains, snow as thick as a hand-made blanket, but she'd never see it.  She never thought she would.

Outside, everything sparkles white and clean.  She knows it's supposed to be cold, but she can't wait to get out in it. 

"Kaylee, please put some gloves on."  Inara is holding out delicate, fuzzy things that look like they're made of some kind of fur. 

They look real warm, but -- "I can't wear those.  They'll get wrecked."

"Your fingers will freeze without them.  It's cold outside."

"So I've heard."  She can't help but get a little sarcastic at the coddling, and Inara frowns.  Immediately, Kaylee regrets it, but she still can't take such pretty things.  She's about to apologise when Jayne stomps over.

"Here.  Wear these."  He shoves a pair of sturdy-looking gloves in front of her face.

She smiles up at him and takes them.  Pulling them on, she wiggles her fingers. Too big, but they'll do fine.  "Thanks!  That's real nice of you!" 

He snorts in response.  "Right.  Mal'll have my ass if he hears I let you outside without bundlin' up.  'Sides, faster you get out there, faster I can git back inside."

Inara hides a small smile and winks at Kaylee as Jayne moves away.  He doesn't look at either of them. 

It only takes her a few more minutes to get ready for outside.  River arrives as the cargo doors open.  She's bundled in sweaters and long pants under several skirts and is wearing ragged mittens Kaylee's never seen before.


Kaylee nods, and she, Jayne and River head out the doors.  The cold air on her face makes her grin, and when she looks over, River's face is bright.  Even Jayne isn't scowling too hard.  He's wearing his ridiculous earflapped hat, but Kaylee knows better than to laugh.  Besides, he lent her the gloves.

When she turns to say something to River, cold, white mush lands in her face.  "River!"

River's laughing, her hands already full of more snow.  The sight makes Kaylee's grin wider. 

"You are wicked, girl!"  Kaylee bends to get her own ball, quickly learning how to pack and shape the snow.  The fight starts.

Kaylee's aim isn't so good, but she manages to hit River a few times, and even Jayne once on the back.  He yells at her to cut it out, he's working, but he looks like he wants to join in.  Maybe after Mal and Zoe get back, they can all do this.

As River runs to get some distance, Kaylee sees Inara watching from the edge of the cargo bay.  She's wearing a long, heavy cloak, and the cold makes her cheeks glow. 

Inara never plays games with the crew.

Kaylee's running to drag her into the fray before she knows it.  When she reaches the cargo bay, Inara's already shaking her head.   Kaylee's about to start persuading her when the comm buzzes.

"Wash? Kaylee?"  Mal's voice is tinny.

She runs over to the comm, taking off her gloves as she covers the short distance.  "Yeah, Captain?"

"Kaylee.  Tell Simon to get over here.  Tell him to put on an EV suit first.  And get everyone else inside, sealed up tight."


"Do as I say now.  You got those atmo scrubbers workin' good, right?"

"Course. They're shiny."

"Good.  Now send Simon over."

Kaylee nods, even though the captain won't see it. River's snuck up behind her, and Kaylee jumps when she hears,

"Went too deep.  Should've stopped, but they kept going."


The suit is awkward to walk in, and even worse in the snow.  He wonders how long his oxygen will last. 

The landing field is partially packed, but it doesn't look as though it's been well cared-for.  Still, Simon pushes on, fairly certain Mal wouldn't be unimaginative or unsubtle enough to be playing a joke.  The EV suit gag has been done once, and Mal's pranks are usually a little less obvious.  In any case, there would have been no reason to pull Kaylee and River from their fun outside.

He pushes the entrance key to the habitat domes and wonders if there is some kind of problem with the air supply system.  Still, it makes little sense why Mal and Zoe wouldn't have come to get him and their own suits.

His faceplate mists slightly at the change in temperature, and when it clears, the sight that confronts him makes him gape.

Mal and Zoe are standing to one side, their faces bleak.

He takes a closer look at the scene around him.  There are no obvious wounds, and the blood loss was minimal.  Tapping his comm button, he says the first thing that comes to his mind.  "Do you think it's airborne?"

Mal shrugs. "Don't know."

Looking at the twisted, dead bodies strewn around the complex, Simon hopes not.


There're few things Jayne hates more than wasting his time sitting around.  Whatever it is that's got Mal spooked, Jayne at least should be out there dealing with it too.  "What'd he say again?"

Kaylee sighs. "Get everyone inside and sealed up. Send Simon over in a suit."

"That all?" Ain't it just like Mal to keep more info to himself.

"He asked about the atmo scrubbers.  I said they're good."

"What do they do?"

She looks at him like he's a moron, but Jayne doesn't care. He ain't being paid to be a mechanical genius.  "They filter the air in the ship.  They keep it clean and pump out anything we don't want.  When we're flyin', they recycle the air so we don't all suffocate."

"But we ain't flyin' now."


"So they're cleanin' the air from outside."


"Mal didn't want the doc breathin' the air in the domes."

"Maybe. Coulda been somethin' else."

It's real suspicious the way Kaylee's talking.  "You got some kind of idea, don't you?"

"There's no use worryin' everybody."

He's rapidly losing patience.  "Girl, spit it out."

"Spit what out?"  Wash has walked into the cargo hold, followed by the preacher.

"Little Kaylee here has ideas about what's goin' on."  He doesn't take his eyes off Kaylee while he talks, giving her his best threatening stare.  "She's real reluctant to share."

"It ain't that!  It's just -- River don't need to get scared."

Jayne looks over to where the crazy girl is sitting, her expression grim.  "She already knows.  She just ain't sayin'.  You will, though, you know what's best for you."

Glancing in River's direction, Kaylee sighs.  "Fine.  Captain and Zoe didn't come back, and they would've if there was trouble.  And Captain didn't give any codes for them being held hostage or nothin'.  And Simon's a doctor and Captain was all worried about the air."

"You think there's a sickness."  The preacher's voice is calm, but Jayne swings around to face him. 


"Perhaps something airborne.  It might explain why everything is so quiet outside.  The captain and Zoe may have walked into a contagious situation."

"Contagious?"  That ain't no good.  "We gotta go.  Get off this moon."

"We ain't leavin'!"  Kaylee's face is stubborn, the way she gets that just drives Jayne crazy.

"Yeah, makes way more sense to wait around, without no doctor, and get sick too."  Stupid girl, all sentimental.  Jayne ain't getting sick or dying for sentiment.

"For all we know we're already infected."  The preacher's voice is calm, reasonable.  It's almost enough for Jayne to want to hit him.

"We are *not* leaving Zoe and Mal behind."  Wash has moved to stand next to Kaylee.  They're making a little wall of stubborn and Jayne just wants to mow it down.

"Or Simon."

Wash blinks and Jayne smirks 'cause the little man forgot all about the precious doctor.  "Right.  Or Simon."

Jayne has half a mind to shoot them all.

Then the whore starts in too.  "We should wait.  Mal will let us know the situation.  It's for Simon to decide if it is safe for us to leave."

"It ain't never been the doc's decision when we go or stay someplace.  He don't get a say."

"Jayne.  Calm yourself." The preacher's all formal, the way he gets when he's tryin' to be soothin' and authoritative.  Jayne wonders again about what the hell the man did before he started preaching.

"We might already be ill.  If we leave without Simon, we could all die in space.  Let's wait and see."

Fine.  They'll all be thinking different once the sickness takes hold.  Then they'll be asking Jayne to end it for them, and see if he won't.  He's about to stomp out of the room when the crazy girl starts talking.


They're nervous, all of them, and she can feel it.  Jayne is angry, red, his nerves raw and sharp.  Inara is muted, an anxious pulse softened by training and ritual. 

Kaylee frets about Simon and Mal.

Wash is tied up in knots about Zoe, but he presents a smooth exterior.  He steers himself carefully, like he does Serenity. 

The preacher prays in his mind.  He's got images of plagues in his head, memories of times long past.  River pushes the pictures away.  She doesn't need to see them.

The feelings wrap themselves around her, close and demanding attention.  Far away, she can feel Simon, calm and cool, his training outweighing his fear.  Mal's sick, worried about protecting his crew.  Zoe thinks about Wash and Mal.

River can't stand it any more.  She starts talking.  "Little moon.  Iced up for a reason.  Shouldn't have pushed so hard.  She would have shared, but they got greedy.  Greed is a sickness.  It makes a sickness."  She looks away as they turn to stare at her.  Their faces are angry and disbelieving, nervous and trusting.  She's used to these looks, but she can't always let herself see them.

"You sayin' this moon's got a mind?"  Jayne is always the first to dismiss her.   "Moon-brained. You both are."  He laughs at his joke, a sharp, desperate sound.  The others stay quiet for a bit.  Jayne scowls.

"What do you mean, River?"  Wash is more inclined to listen since Early.  Mostly they all are, even Simon.

"Nothing.  Just.  They went too deep.  Should have stopped."   After, she can't say anymore.  She wants to.  There's more to tell, but something keeps her quiet.  Simon'll say anyway.  He's close to finding the truth, she knows.  She can tell.

"We should call them."   They look at her strangely.  "Comm.  Ask."

"She's right.  We've been in the dark long enough."  Wash heads for the nearest comm panel.  "Captain?  Zoe?  Maybe you could all fill us in a little on what's going on there?"

River's head is full of voices, but for a minute she only hears static.


Inara holds her breath as Wash comms Mal and Zoe.  At first there's nothing, just static, and her heart starts to beat a little faster.  Please, no, she thinks.  Please.  She draws on her training, remember old lessons about how a calm demeanour is necessary in the face of all difficult situations.  She relaxes her body, but as much as she physically responds to her will, she can't quite control her thoughts.

She's been fighting with Mal again lately, his possessive stubbornness increasingly putting her in a difficult professional position.  But she doesn't want his last memory of her to be an ugly one.  It hurts her that her last words to him were accusations of manipulation and inappropriate designs on her affections.

"Zoe?  You wanna let us know what's going on?  Mal?"  Wash tries again, only the slight line between his eyes betraying his anxiety.  Inara has long appreciated the way that Wash hides his feelings when the others need reassurance. 

From the beginning, Wash was the one who treated her most like another person.  Kaylee was sweet and in awe of her, Mal and Zoe were odd and uncomfortable, and Jayne drooled incessantly.  Only Wash had taken to her like anyone else, another person to be kind and up front with.  She thinks, if they're all going to die, she should first give him her thanks for such small acts.

The comm crackles a little and then she hears Mal's voice.  She breathes a quiet sigh of relief.

"Wash, we got ourselves a bit of a situation over here."  Mal sounds tense and far away.

"Yeah, we figured that, Mal.   Details would be nice."

There's a long pause, then, "Colonists are all dead.  We can't find one of them living, just a mass of bodies that look like they died where they fell."

She closes her eyes.  It is an illness after all.

"So.  Plague?"  Wash's voice doesn't waver at all. 

"Yeah.  Simon's havin' a look-see, tryin' to figure out if it's in the air."

"You and Zoe fine?"

There's a little pause, and then Mal says, "Yeah, we're good so far."

"OK then.  Any idea when you might know what it is?  I just ask because Jayne's itching to get off this little moon."

"Hey!  That ain't what I --"

Mal's voice cuts off the protests.  "Jayne, ain't no one goin' anywhere.  You try and get Serenity off the ground, and you won't like the consequences.  Are we clear?"

Jayne scowls, but he says, "Yeah, Mal."

It's not exactly sincere, and Inara wishes she'd had the foresight to get some of Simon's drugs.  Perhaps she'll slip away and gather something.  They can dope Jayne again if necessary.


Moving closer to the comm, Inara asks, "Is there anything we can do?"

The soundwaves crackle, the only break in a long silence.  Then, "Simon says he could use some of his gear.  None of us can get it, just in case, but maybe one of you could suit up and leave it outside the dome."

"I ain't goin' near that place."  Jayne's tone is final.

"I ain't askin' you too.  Nor Wash.  Might need him and Kaylee to get the rest of you off here fast."

"I'll do it."  She's never been in an EV suit, and life should be about new experiences.  "I don't mind."   It's not quite the truth, but Inara has never let anyone think her cowardly.

"No, child."  Shepherd Book steps forward, his face serene.  "I will.  And I'll go inside without the suit.  Those souls inside will need shepherding, and it's not in my nature to be separated from the flock by metal and glass."

His words are poetic, but Inara can imagine the anger on Mal's face.  Sure enough, he sounds furious when he answers, "They're dead, they won't care.  You ain't comin' in here."

"And how can you stop me, Captain?"

Inara sighs as Mal starts to bluster, and then his voice is being replaced by Simon calmly listing the supplies he needs.

The Shepherd subtly challenges Mal's authority far too often.  Dinners will be tense when Mal returns. 

Inara clings to the when.  She won't consider if.


Book watches as Inara and Wash gather the supplies Simon asked for.  It's nothing fancy, and he gathers the settlement has some basic medical and lab supplies.  Still, Simon has asked for small things, things that are unlikely to be contaminated by whatever contagion they're facing.

Wash turns to him and hands him the small bag.  "It's all set, preacher."

"Thank you."

"You sure you don't want a suit?  The colonists would understand."

He shakes his head.  He's faced worse than this, and armed with less.  "I'll do without.  I trust my path isn't destined to end yet."  He flashes a smile.  "Besides, I've been inoculated against many diseases."  He doesn't give details of the reasons behind such inoculations.

Wash raises an eyebrow, speculation behind concern.

"It's standard in my abbey."

There's a pause, then, "You seem to say that kind of thing a lot."

"Do I?"  The atmosphere feels tense for a moment, then it's broken when Inara coughs lightly.  He nods in acknowledgement and turns as Kaylee walks in, a heavy coat in her hands.  She holds it out for him, and he smiles gratefully.

The jacket is large and likely belongs to Jayne.  How typical the man would offer this kind of gesture, but through someone else.  As he fastens the jacket, he smiles reassuringly at them all.  Then, Bible and medical supplies in hand, he walks to the airlock.  Wash punches it open, and he enters without looking back.

Outside, the air is frigid and feels good on his face.  He thinks he could stand out here for long minutes, taking in the fresh, cold, atmosphere.  It's so different from the cold of Serenity when they lost life support.  Even covered in ice, this moon is full of life.   In the distance, he sees a bird of some sort, soaring beyond the compound. 

Squaring his shoulders, he turns and heads towards the main dome.  When he arrives, he pushes the entrance key.  Mal is waiting just inside the door, his arms crossed and his face set.  Inwardly, Book sighs.  When they get out of this, the captain is going to be insufferable for a while.

"Got the stuff?"  Mal's tone isn't inviting.

He hands over the bag, and Mal turns and walks away.  Book looks around him and sighs again. It looks like Mal and Zoe have moved the bodies. They are lined in neat rows, eyes closed. 

It's so much more orderly than the last time he saw such a catastrophe.  Pushing away the memories of bloody, twisted corpses  strewn throughout whole towns, he hopes Mal and Zoe wore protective gloves when touching the bodies. 

Walking towards the first row of colonists, he starts to pray for their passage. In the back of his mind, he's praying for Serenity and her crew.


Going through the colony's administration records is boring work, but it keeps Zoe's mind off Wash and the thought of dying a useless death.

The records are detailed and regular, an oddity out in these parts.  But the moon was so isolated and reliant on trade that it makes sense.  For years, everything seems normal.  The miners used a pattern of taking surface ice and then moving on.  It was easiest to stick to the surface.

Last year, someone came up with an idea to quadruple production.  Tech got brought in that made getting further down easier and faster. Zoe doesn't quite understand why, but it was decided it was best to cut the ice in blocks and transport it to a melting and packaging facility.   Why they didn't just melt it and send it along a pipeline eludes her.

The new tech meant ice from the lower levels started to be taken, leaving long scars across the surface of the planet.  One area would be mined intensely, almost down to the bedrock, before miners moved on.  It was a major change in operating policies, and the records show soaring profits.

She wonders if this is an important thing.  Leaving the office, she heads for the small lab that Simon is working in.

Mal is waiting outside when she arrives.  He's looking worried and pissy, and Zoe assumes the preacher arrived while she was pouring over records. 


"Nope.  Handed him the stuff he wanted about an hour ago."

"He still in the suit?"

Mal cracks an almost-smile.  "Yep.  When I went in though, he managed to get a little snippy about it.  If the preacher doesn't have to wear one, why should he.   Told him the preacher can get sick and die, but we need the doc."

She nods.  "There's something in the records, a change in mining practices in the last year.  They were getting down to bedrock.  Don't know if it means anything, but that was the only change I could see other than the regular colonists coming and leaving."

"Probably nothin'. You want to tell him?"

She shrugs and enters the lab.  Simon is bent over some scans, and she imagines his brow furrowed in concentration.  He doesn't hear her as she enters and she thinks his comm is probably off.  She moves until she's in his line of sight.  When he looks up, she nods.  He taps on his comm.

"Anything?"  His tone is remarkably similar to Mal's, and she thinks neither of them would likely enjoy hearing that observation.

"Not much.  Same as usual, except some changes in mining practices."

He looks unimpressed, but asks, "What kinds of changes?"

As she outlines the practices of deeper mining, he bends back to his work.   It doesn't matter that he seems to be ignoring her, she knows he's listening.  She's seen the way he gets absorbed in his work before.

When she's finished, he looks at her again.  "How are they on the ship?"

She shrugs.  "Better ask the Preacher.  I'll find him and send him in."

Simon shakes his head, a slow, awkward movement in the suit.  "Not now."

Nodding, she turns and heads out of the room.  Mal is waiting.  Together, they flank the door to the lab.  His face is set, a grim look she's grown used to over the years.

"The Preacher?"

Mal's eyes flicker down the hall.  "He's prayin'."

She hopes he's praying for the living as well as the dead.

It seems like hours before the door to the lab opens.  When Simon steps through, the helmet of his suit is off.  His hair is sweaty and slick to his head, but he looks relieved.   Zoe feels her body relax slightly.

"It's in the water."  He wipes his hand across his eyes.  "It's a basic pathogen.  I've done tests of the water supply as well as some of the bottled product.  It's throughout everything that's been bottled or pumped into the habitat's drinking water system in the last 2 weeks.  The earlier bottled water is fine."

"How's it we didn't hear?"  Mal's undoubtedly pissed about wasting their time.

Simon shrugs.  "Pick-up schedules?"

She nods.  "Shipping was rare.  There some regular schedules, some like ours.  Nothing has landed here in two months. Could be this stuff's the only batch that got tainted."

"I wish I could stay and find the origin." 

Mal scowls.  "That ain't gonna happen."

Simon tenses Mal's tone and Zoe can see he's gearing up for a confrontation.  She heads it off by asking,   "What's it do?"  It's morbid, but part of her wants to know that how they died. 

Turning to her, Simon clearly shrugs Mal's attitude off.  "Muscle convulsions and contractions, which interfere with lung function then the heart.  Mostly they died from acute respiratory distress or heart failure.  The muscle contractions are why the bodies were so contorted when we found them."

There's a moment of silence and then Mal straightens.  "You finished?"

Simon nods.

"Good.  Zoe, get the preacher.  I'll comm back and let the others know."

Nodding, she turns and walks away.  She finds Book closing over the next to last of the bodies, a child who shouldn't have ended her life on this freezing rock.  She waits until he straightens and turns to her.

"It's in the water.  Mal and Simon are ready to go."

He nods, his face bleak.   "I'll be a few minutes more."

She turns slightly, but watches him from the corner of her eye.  When he sighs and straightens, she escorts him to the entrance.  Mal and Simon are waiting.

They walk as fast as they can back to Serenity, Simon lagging a few steps behind in the awkward suit.  He clutches the helmet in one hand, medical supplies in the other.

Entering Serenity, they're greeted by a sight.  Wash is almost bouncing on his feet, his grin wide and relieved.  Jayne is looking angry, even through his half-grin.  Inara is smiling too, but her hands are tightly clasped, a sign that her calm has been shattered in a somewhat dignified manner.  Kaylee's relief and happiness covers her face, a bright expression Zoe is drawn to.  River hovers to the left, her hand twisted in her hair.

As the cargo doors close, Kaylee runs to hug the captain, and River moves to reach out and take Simon's arm.

Wash walks over and grabs her by the waist.  Smiling at him, she kisses him hard before turning back to the others.  Mal's explaining the situation, and she tunes into the conversation in time to hear Jayne ask,

"How's water get a sickness in it?"

Simon starts in on an explanation of pathogen vectors, and Jayne's eyes glaze over.  She can't help but smile. 

The sound of small feet walking towards her captures her attention.   She turns to find River looking up at her. 

"They all died."


River sighs. "Greed. Went too deep. Should've stuck to the surface."

The girl's words are as cryptic as ever, but Zoe can't help but think about strip mining practices and higher profits.    Wouldn't be the first time people unearthed things best left alone.  She shakes off the useless thoughts as Mal tells Wash to take Serenity off the ground. 

She follows her man to the cockpit, not before hearing Jayne ask what they'll be doing with the cargo they're left carrying. 

As soon as their course is laid in, Zoe plans on taking Wash to their bunk.  She looks down at the moon as they lift off.  She knows now that the dark streaks bisecting the planet are from the mining.  The darker, blue-brown streaks against the pale sky background of the surface ice are lovely to look at.

Leaning over his chair, Zoe wraps her arms around Wash's shoulders and sighs into his hair.

Genre: Gen
Spoilers:  nothing major
Disclaimers:  I don't own Firefly or the characters. 

Notes:  Gen fic.  Basically, this is my attempt to see if I can carry a story with one scene from the POV of each of the characters.  Theme partially inspired by readings on the health consequences of ecological destruction.  Yeah, it's cheerful.  Thanks to Unovis for taking the time to beta read this for me and offering posting encouragement.

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