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Title: Water in one hand
Pairing/Characters: Mal/Simon, crew (post-movie)
Rating: PG-13
Words: About 5500
Summary: Terraforming is a precise business.
Notes: greenapricot requested Mal/Simon and some kind of end of the world thingy. Happy early birthday!! I couldn't work in zombies (darn), but I think this might qualify as an ending.
Disclaimer: Clearly I claim no ownership to the Firefly 'verse or its characters; nor am I making money from this fic writing thing.

Many, many shiny thanks to sabaceanbabe and bitter_crimson for the lovely betas. Title tweaked from a German proverb.

Terraforming is a delicate, precise business. Humans need specific living conditions – gravity more-or-less of Earth-that-was is easy enough to come by, but after that, it's the little things that count.

Solar radiation levels need to be acceptable and stable, because no one, ultimately, is willing to have their life expectancy cut drastically, or risk a high rate of genetic mutation.

Oxygen, obviously, is key. Tanks and suits and enclosed environments lead to discomfort and crowding. Discomfort and crowding lead to discontent, which, eventually, leads to rebellion. The Parliament has little use for rebellion.

Soil must be conducive to bacterial growth and reproduction of the right kind of bacteria to ensure plant life, food crops, greenery.

And then there's water.


When the outer planets start drying up, the migration starts. At first, it's just a trickle, handfuls of people moving to central towns as life gets tougher in rural areas.

Soon enough, it's not enough to move to towns. People start leaving planets and moons, looking for better worlds. The migration eventually changes from trickle to wave; anyone who can scrape together the money to pay for passage – luxury liner or rickety old Trans-U – gets out when things start to look permanently bad. There's an upswing in the number of children who get sent to expensive schools on central planets. Maybe the whole family can't afford to get out, but they pull together for the youngest child, or the smartest child, or the one who might be able to get by in the Core.


It's slow at first. There are rumours – wells running dry on Whitefall, old reservoirs becoming useless on Lilac. But new wells can be dug, rivers can be diverted to form new reservoirs. People adapt, even if whole towns have to pick up and move a few hundred miles to a new watering hole.

"Just another terraforming quirk," Mal hears one night, when he's tucked away in a corner of a bar, waiting for a contact. "Ain't nothing to worry about."

And maybe it isn't. Humans were nomads long before they took it into their heads to settle in villages and towns and giant gorram cities. So maybe this is just a new kind of nomadism – but with whole towns, instead of small groups. Following water, instead of following herd animals.

Optimism, Mal thinks, always holds out for a while, even when things start looking grim.


Terraforming is different on every world. It depends on the size of the planet, its location with regards to its sun, its geology. There are so many small details, and they all need to be considered, accounted for, balanced.

Some people make their lives, their fortunes, in making sure that the balances stay regulated, complete, monitored. There are entire institutions run by the Alliance dedicated to terraforming new worlds and maintaining the old ones, the first terrraformed planets.

Some of these were the first worlds, the experiments, the failures and successes that led to better attempts. Sihnon – it isn't the oldest world in the Alliance, but most would argue that it benefited from all the half-successes and almost complete failures that came before.

Sihnon, of the oceans and forests, fertile plains and healthy fruit trees. And even Sihnon needs careful monitoring, careful regulation. There are annual tests – soil, air, atmosphere, water – that are checked and rechecked.

A terraformed world can't be left to its own devices.

It's the same for all of the worlds, even the most backwater. Of course, places like Sihnon and Ariel and Londinium are the coveted assignments for the Terraforming Corps.

Minor problems – Bowdin's Malady, for example – are not a concern to the Corps. These are incidental and do not render a planet uninhabitable. Some members, scientists, technicians, might argue on this point, but they are silenced, sent away, left to deal with the backwater places where no one else wants to go.


The next time Serenity lands on Whitefall – in the middle of the night and way out in the gorram middle of nowhere – Mal is asked to take a couple of kids on as passengers.

"To Boros," the woman says, "where they got family waiting for 'em."

She's dirty, Mal can tell as much even in the half-light of not-quite dawn, and her skin looks dry, rough. The kids – maybe 12 and 14 – look like they've been shined up as good as possible, using what little water as can be spared.

They should've lifted off hours ago, cargo safely packed away, but as usual, they got left waiting around. Cargo's almost in now, Zoe and Jayne stowing that what's left. But it was long enough waiting around that someone out there – Mal can't even see a house – got wind of a ship and a captain with maybe a little room to spare.

Whitefall's drying up. They've all heard the rumours, and even the air feels dry and rough against Mal's skin. Worse even than usual, and Whitefall ain't ever been what he'd call a lush world.


"Yep. Got a brother there. Said he'd take 'em in."

The kids look terrified and fascinated, and Mal knows all about it – they don't want to leave their ma, but they ain't never seen a ship this big, a ship that goes up in space and still lets people breathe inside her.

He runs his hand through his hair and sighs. Hell, they're heading to Boros next anyhow. "Yeah, we got room for 'em. Long as they promise that they ain't gonna cause no trouble."

The woman smiles for a minute, grateful and hopeful, even as her hands grasp even more tightly onto the hands of her kids. "They ain't gonna cause trouble. They're good kids, always have been."

He shrugs, mentally calculates what they're gonna use in terms of food and water, and tells her the passage sum.


People panic without water. They resent being told they can't have baths or clean clothes or that they have to ration how much they drink each day. Plentiful water supplies, enough for a daily wash, for lots of drinking, have always been a priority on terraformed planets.

But there are variables. Evaporation is a problem, both on the large scale and for the individual. People sweat their water out, urinate, spit. In some ways, it's easier to maintain water levels on space stations – there are reclamation units built into the sanitation facilities; on some of the newer stations, stray moisture is wicked from the air.

On planets, especially poor ones where technology is years behind, water gets wasted all the time.

No one thinks about it, except for the terraform experts.


"Whitefall's drying up," Mal says after dinner. The kids have gone off to the spare passenger cabin, full and quiet. He tries not to think about how much water they drank, and how they did it so slowly.

"Looks like it," Zoe responds.

He's heard rumours before, of planets going dry hundreds of years ago, but he'd always dismissed them. "Heard things coming from Lilac, too, and Muir." According to the history files, the three planets had been terraformed around the same time.


"Don't see how it's our problem," Jayne says, picking at his teeth with his dinner knife. "We ain't livin' there."

"Everything depends on water, Jayne." They need water to drink, with the coolant, with the fuel. And if they can't refill on planets, they can't land there. Not unless they're topped off already.

And hell, maybe not even if they are. Won't do them no good to land someplace, a fat ship rich in water, when people all around are desperate for it.

"We ain't going back to Whitefall," Mal says. He'll wait to make the decision about Lilac and Muir.


They try. They really do. When someone finally listens to the beleaguered Whitefall outpost, the Terraforming Corps tries to understand the problem, tries to fix it.

In the end, understanding is easy enough. The atmosphere – painfully crafted so many years ago – is leaking from the planet. It's a slow leak, but it's taking the moisture with it, accelerating rates of evaporation from the few standing bodies of water on the moon.

There are no solutions. Whitefall is rejecting the terraform process. It is unexpected. Previous rejections have been violent and sudden, taking place almost immediately after the process is finished. This kind of timeline is worrying, and sets up a disturbing potential trend.

Records of other worlds are consulted. Models are generated and studied.

Extra teams are dispatched to Lilac, Muir, Dyton, and Aberdeen to gather data and make projections.

Whitefall is declared a loss, its citizens casualties of terraform disaster.

They aren't dead yet, but they might as well be.


They drop the kids on Boros, into the care of a large, gruff man who looks inordinately pleased to see them. "Don't got kids of my own," he says to Mal, grinning wide and happy. "Me 'n the wife're carriers of something that would make the babies come out real sick." He ruffles the hair of the youngest kid. "Always wanted to see these two more, but never had the time to make the trip."

Mal smiles back, wishes the man good luck, and waves 'bye to the kids. They grin a little, but mostly their eyes are wide as they take in the spaceport and its noises and sounds.

Later, back on the ship, Zoe asks, "How much did we get for that transport?"

"50 plat." Weren't hardly anything, but it ain't like they were big kids.

"Seems to me there might be money in transport work sometime soon."

She's right. "We ain't going back to Whitefall."

"Of course not, sir."


Before long, the Corps is forced to declare Lilac, Muir and Aberdeen additional, inevitable, losses. Dyton is stable at this point, but the extra team is ordered to remain and continue to monitor the situation. Further research is required.

Population and Demographics is notified of the impending problems.

They are slow to respond, although eventually the Corps realizes that there will be a flood of waves, reports, decisions, laws, and regulations dealing with population and migration issues. The bureaucracy will be overwhelmed, once the problem is fully acknowledged outside of the Corps.

The Terraforming Corps doesn't particularly care. They are not in the business of monitoring people.

They monitor planets.


Once it starts, it seems to speed up. Mal doesn't know the whys and whatfors, but it seems like more and more places are drying up and being reclassified, one moon or planet following another.

He knows what's coming, and when it does, he's just surprised it took so long. Simon may be surprised, Kaylee shocked, when the new population movement rules come into effect – suddenly, without any discussion – but Mal's been waiting for it.

"They're draconian," Simon says, appalled. "The Parliament is condemning people to death."

The rules are couched in scientific terms – discussions of population overloads on the water-rich planets and the way that this will tip delicate ecological balances if water-refugees come streaming in.

There are economic reasons, too – fears of planetary economies collapsing underneath the weight of unskilled, uneducated refugees coming from fringe planets.

"’The water crisis on certain colonies,’" Simon reads aloud again, "’cannot be allowed to destroy the delicate balance of the broader civilization. The Parliament has determined that we must contain this problem as best we can, and ensure the wellbeing of the majority of the citizens. Thus, all movement of citizens from water-poor planets/moons to water-rich planets/moons has hereby been unilaterally suspended. Such transportation of people is now classified as smuggling and will be met with the harshest penalties.’" He pauses, looks up from the document. "It's horrifying."

"It's their way," Mal says.

There are new procedures to go with the new rules. Passports for travel between planets, unattainable for people who were born on any of the newly drying worlds.

None of his crew are from any of those worlds, but Mal makes sure they've all got papers saying exactly where they were born. Even River and Simon get something, forged and expensive. The Feds might not be tracking them down anymore, but sometimes it pays to keep a low profile.

Inara is long gone from Serenity – again – but Mal would lay odds that she's packing up and heading to Sihnon while she still can.


From: Director Foster, Terraforming Corps
To: All section and outpost heads
Subject: Status of Colonies
Status: Controlled

After 18 months of analysis, the following planets and moons have officially been classified as Uninhabitable, Terraform Rejection: Aberdeen, Lilac, and Whitefall.

The following planets and moons have officially been classified as In Transition, Rejection Inevitable: Ariel, Boros, Dyton, Greenleaf, Newhall, Paquin, Persephone, and Santo. It is estimated that water levels on said moons and planets will fall below sustainability over the next five to twelve years, depending on a number of variables. See the individual reports for more detail.

Thus far, the following planets continue to be considered Habitable: Sihnon, Londinium, St. Albans, and Verbena. These locales will remain under strict surveillance. Studies are currently being undertaken on the remaining inhabited planets and moons. Work is continuing on other colonies to assess viability.

Be advised that all outposts on Uninhabitable planets and moons will shortly be permanently closed down and all personnel reassigned.

In conjunction with the Exploration and Migration Division, we will soon be assigning personnel to new teams for the preliminary analysis of potential future terraform locations.

Any problems should be referred to your section heads.


Once the writing's on the wall, Mal figures he's got to make a decision about how he's going to keep flying. Smuggling people's a good bet – lots of money to be made – but patrol rates are getting higher as the Alliance starts forming borders around the planets that ain't drying up.

He thinks long and hard on it, and eventually, he figures that water prospecting is a risk, but it's the best risk they've got.

He invests in water survey and detection equipment. River and Simon spend hours pouring over specs and options, consulting with Kaylee to see what could most easily be hardwired to Serenity.

Mostly, Mal watches and half-listens to snatches of conversation about new tech versus old, speed versus reliability.

"—you gotta remember that we ain't going somewhere nice and clean and smooth," Kaylee says, one morning. "What works for digging wells out on Osiris or Ariel ain't necessarily gonna work out here."

Simon shrugs. "You know better than I do. But I do think that the new flexitubing is better than the old –"

She waves her hand, grinning up at him. "Yeah, fine. We'll go with your tubing. But I ain't using your Mark 12 pump or whatever you keep going on about. Not out here. Too much sand."

Mal remembers when Kaylee and Simon were awkward with each other, her deferring to him, or getting overly protective of some little thing; him polite and careful and stilted. That's long-gone now, even though he's pretty sure they ain't bedding down together any more.

Mostly, he's pretty sure because Simon's being looking at Mal in a way. Mal ain't got the words to describe the look exactly, but he'd lay odds on what he thinks is behind it. He ain't sure about how to respond yet, just figures it's best to let things go at their own pace.

So, he watches as they bicker with each other, and make little compromises, and turn to River and ask what she thinks.

They're so comfortable with each other, Simon and Kaylee, that for a moment, Mal wonders if he's wrong about them not sharing a bunk any more.

But then Simon looks up, grins and nods at Mal, and his eyes linger, just long enough to not be normal, and Mal figures he ain't wrong.

He grins back, before turning away and heading back up to the cockpit.

Finally, Simon comes to him with a recommendation for parts and back-ups, and even a list of places Kaylee figures they can find decent prices.

For Mal, it's easy. All he has to do is hand over the money.

Almost two years after they transported those kids to Boros, Serenity's cargo hold has been converted to carry water storage tanks. The tanks are ugly – solid metal, long and ungainly – but they have an almost negligible rate of leaks. Good investment, all in all, even if Kaylee had spent weeks making them better than what they'd been.

After the retrofit, they don't carry much else in the way of cargo. Water's heavy, and there ain’t much in the way of spare room.

Sometimes though, Mal still takes the money to smuggle a couple of people off a drying-up world, dropping them someplace where things ain't quite so bad.


Regulations and Penalties Regarding Water Refugees and Water Mining

1. Any ship found transporting refugees from the official list of Uninhabitable, Terraform Rejection colonies, shall be subject to the following procedures and penalties:
a. The ship shall be seized and impounded.
b. The Captain of said ship shall be subject to fifteen (15) years imprisonment, hard labour, and/or a fine of 100 000 platinum.
c. Any Crew of said ship shall be subject to ten (10) years imprisonment, hard labour, and/or a fine of 25 000 platinum.

2. Any ship suspected of transporting refugees from the official list of Uninhabitable, Terraform Rejection colonies shall be subject to:
a. Seizure and search.
b. Possible impounding.

3. Any ship suspected of water scavenging from a Habitable colony for the purpose of supplying an Uninhabitable, Terraform Rejection colony shall be subject to search and seizure.

4. In the event that mined water is found on said ship, the Captain and Crew shall be subject to execution within five (5) days, or twenty-five (25) years of imprisonment, hard labour.

5. The above procedures and penalties are not subject to negotiation. Accused parties are ineligible for trial or legal defense.


"Here?" he asks, hoping it's the right spot. The sun is harsh and wearying, the atmosphere feels thin and dry. It ain't bad enough that they need the little supplementary oxygen canisters that Simon insists they carry on some of the worse-off moons, but still, Mal is short of breath, like being up too high on a mountain instead of down in a valley. If they don't make a find soon, they're going to have to turn back in the direction of the shuttle and try a new moon.

Simon nods, consulting the sensor display he's holding. "Yes. Looks like River was right."

It takes her forever, hours of going over readings, days of thinking through variables and difficulties with accessing the water supply, but eventually, River makes her decision. Sometimes she's wrong, but turns out today ain't one of those times.

Then it's up to Mal to make a plan to get the water, to make sure their backs are covered when they come in for the mining.

"Jayne?" He taps at his comm.


"We got it. Things fine out there?"

There's a pause before Jayne answers. "Yep. Looks quiet. Me and Zoe ain't seen anyone yet. Could be everyone's gone."

Could be. But they've been fooled before, walking into villages, towns, that are said to be deserted, but which are really harbouring people who've learned to hide real well, and who don't take kindly to people coming and prospecting what little water they got left.

Now, River's only allowed to direct them to likely water holes that are far from any old homesteads or townships. They try to stick to the planets and moons that are completely abandoned.

Abandoned is a nice way of saying that everyone has died. But it's been almost three years since Whitefall got declared a black rock, uninhabitable, and Mal's fair to certain that's what happened to the folk here. They died. Never was much money on Whitefall for fancy tech, not even water survey tech; folk wouldn't have been able to find the right places and sink in the drills for the last water reserves.

"Keep watching," Mal says to Jayne. "We found what we came for. It's gonna be a while to get it though." He turns to Simon. "You got the gear?"

Simon unslings the backpack from his shoulders and sets it gently on the ground. Mal watches as he pulls out pieces and puts them together – thin, sturdy tubing, gears, delicate pumps. He can do this too, but Simon's better at making sure all of the parts fit, are in working order.

The tubing burrows down into the ground, slow but steady, guided by Simon's remote, his readings. Mal's seen this before, too many times to count, and he doesn't bother watching the way the tubing moves, sleek and smooth. He ignores the way displaced sand pushes upwards.

Instead, he watches Simon, who is focused and slightly frowning. His eyes are squinting against the sun, his mouth tense and thin. Above his left eye is a droplet of sweat, not quite falling, and Mal is briefly transfixed. It's a loss of moisture, a waste, and Mal is briefly struck with the urge to move closer, lean forward, and lick it away. Can't waste water, these days, even if it is salty, even if it belongs to someone else.

He shakes his head, after a moment, and turns away, staring at the ground, the horizon, instead. Nothing moves.

Finally, Simon says, "Got it." He switches on the pump, and they wait, Mal's foot tapping against the grit, until the small bottle at the top of the pump fills.

It's clear.

A few tests, a few verifications, and Simon says, "It's uncontaminated, and the pH is 7. It's drinkable."

Mal grins. "I'll tell Jayne and Zoe to radio for Serenity to make a landing."

Simon nods, focused on the pump and his sensor readings. "I'll set up the system for large-scale transfer."

The sun is hot, devilishly so, but it's a good day.


Department of Population and Demographics
Official Projections: Population and Migration, the Current Water Crisis

Executive Summary

The following points are the key findings of 28 months of survey and study among the colonies:

Water-poor planets (Uninhabitable and In Transition classification) now account for 73.4% of all colonies. Population numbers on said colonies are unsustainable. Mortality rates are increasing, in some colonies reaching 90%. Most Uninhabitable colonies will be unable to sustain any kind of population within the next 10 to 15 months. Those planets classified as In Transition may be able to support a population for several more years before water reaches crucial levels.

Should a water-poor planet be able to sustain a small population, said population will be plagued by high rates of morbidity from typically minor ailments that become highly problematic in the absence of adequate hygiene. Skin infections and gastrointestinal parasites in particular are projected by the Medical Corps to be experienced by upwards of 95% of the remaining population.

Should a water-poor planet be able to sustain a small population, nutritional intakes will be inadequate without sustained subsidies.

Should a water-poor planet be able to sustain a small population, the exports of said population will be negligible. The population will be dependent on imported goods including food, medicine, fuel, and clothing. Please see Appendix II for projections of the economic strain this will put on governmental budgets.

The current demographic situation among the Allied Planets is as follows: wealthy, resource-rich colonies are characterized by citizens who have longer life expectancies, low rates of infectious diseases, high rates of chronic illness among the elderly, and lower fertility rates. Poor, resource-poor colonies are characterized by citizens who have shorter life expectancies, high rates of infectious diseases and high rates of mortality from infectious diseases, and higher fertility rates characterized by larger families.

The water crisis will exacerbate some existing demographic differences, including life expectancy and disease morbidity differentials. However, we estimate that fertility rates will drop in resource-poor colonies.

Historically, resource-rich colonies have relied on migration from the resource-poor colonies to maintain menial workforces. The current migration rules prevent the movement of menial workforces, which is estimated will have severe economic impact on all resource-rich colonies. Please see the Executive Summary of the attached Economic and Financial Department study outlining the negative implications for our economic stability.


"Your sister's a real lodestone," Mal says, once the water is stowed, and they're in the black.

"Hmmm," Simon replies. "Lodestone doesn't quite work as a metaphor." He wipes his hand across his forehead, leaving a streak of dirt. "But I know what you mean."

Mal feels gritty all over, and that's pretty much the standard these days. But right now, Serenity's holding tanks are full, and so are the commercial tanks. They're rich, for the moment, and they've got a long way to go before they reach Ariel. People there are paying good money for water these days, as things dry up a little more each week. They're hoarding for the end of the world and they're spending like there ain't going to be many tomorrows, either.

But it ain't enough money that Mal's willing to feel like this for another few days. And he's sure Simon feels the same way.

"Shower?" He asks. People share these days, doesn't matter how shy they might once have felt, or if they've got some fancy sense of propriety. Saves water, this way.

Simon nods. "I think so."

They've been taking their showers together on and off now for months. Mal ain't sure if it means something, but Simon's always seemed the type who would have a strange kind of courting manner. Step forward and then back, over and over. Mal's never had much use for that kind of pussy-footing around, but he's let it go on because he ain't been too sure if he wanted Simon to try anything.

But hell. Things ain't getting any better out in the world, and sometimes life has got to be lived a little, while it's still possible.

Mal's made a decision, and it came on quickly, but that's the way these things happen. He's done with waiting.

They head to the bathroom, Simon unbuttoning his shirt even as Mal unbuckles his belt. Once they get to the room, they finish undressing, methodical and quick. Simon lays his clothes out on the floor – they'll catch the soap, the water, and get a little cleaned up in the process.

Mal does the same.

Showering these days is quick and efficient. Get wet, turn off the spray, get soapy, turn the spray back on, and rinse off. Wring out your clothes, rinse them again, and that's it.

Mal barely has time to look at Simon, to note the way he's toughened up to muscle, to catalogue the small scars that he's earned over the last few years.

He remembers, long ago, when he talked about Simon being lily-white and pasty, a little bit of a dandy, rich and pampered looking. There's none of that now. Simon still holds himself in a way that's different from people who grew up poor or desperate. But these days, he's rougher, less proper. His skin is darker from hours of work under different suns. His clothes aren't ragged, but they ain't fine and new, either.

The water falls around them and Mal tilts his face upwards, reveling in the rare feeling, until Simon turns the spray off.

As he's soaping up, digging at the dirt on his skin, he watches Simon out of the corner of his eye. He takes in the economical movements, the way Simon scrubs circles of soap against his skin before moving his hands to his hair.

"Staring?" Simon asks, as he works the shampoo into a lather. His eyes are closed, his expression blissful.

It's a little startling, and Mal falls back on automatic denial. "No."

Simon grins, opening his eyes slightly. "I think you are. I think you have been for a while now."

"Maybe it wasn't just me doing the staring. Or starting it."

Simon's grin widens, cheeky and a little smug. "Yes, I have seen Jayne watching me in that special predatory way he has." He scrubs at his scalp once more before flicking the excess bubbles off his hands.

Mal laughs. "That ain't what I meant, jackass."

"You're really good at wooing, you know that? The not-so-subtle staring, the shower invitations, the terms of endearment. You're a romantic mastermind. Now I understand why you're so popular with the ladies."

He can't help snorting. "Yeah, the ladies can't resist me." He remembers the last time he saw Inara – almost a year ago, and by wave – and the resigned look she'd given him when he'd described one of the more dangerous water jobs they'd had. "Can't resist getting annoyed by me, anyway."

"In this, women aren't alone."

"Now who's the master at wooing?" He gestures at the shower heads. "Turn the water back on."

Simon half-smiles at him and steps forward, his hands – wet, sudsy – wrapping around Mal's biceps. "I will. Soap gets itchy. But this first." And he leans in, gets closer, kissing Mal on the lips. It's hard, firm, there's nothing tentative about it. Maybe Simon learned that from Kaylee, years ago, how to take what you want.

Or maybe it was always there, just waiting for the right moment.

Mal ain't so sure that covered in drying soap in the bathroom is the best moment, but hell, they've been dancing around this for too long.

It ain't what he'd call the best kiss ever, but Simon's hands clench his shoulders, Simon's teeth bite down on his lip, and Mal forgets all about the soap, the fact that the lock on the door broke months ago, that the clothes on the floor are just waiting to be rinsed out a little.


To: Director Foster, Terraforming Corps
From: Director Chen, Population and Demographics
Subject: Projections?


Exactly when will you have some concrete idea about the viability of new worlds?


To: Director Chen, Population and Demographics
From: Director Foster, Terraforming Corps
Subject: Re: Projections?


You know these things take time. We have simulations and tests to run before we can even begin to seed a possible colony. If we move too quickly, there could be disasters. I will make sure you're updated on our progress.


To: Director Foster, Terraforming Corps
From: Director Chen, Population and Demographics
Subject: There's already a disaster happening.

People are dying, remember? Stop with the pedantry and do your job. And do it faster. Consider this a directive from the Parliament.


Mal can see the way the future is unfolding. It doesn't take much imagination.

Things will get drier. Eventually, water prospecting will get even harder, the water tables falling to nothing. Even River's guesses will start to fall through.

He hopes that they'll be able to land before the worst. If they're left drifting, out of fuel, out of coolant, out of money and work and water, they might as well vent the air out of the ship.

Dehydration is a cruel death.

Every day, the Alliance puts out new broadcasts about the search for new planets. They ask for hardy souls, brave and industrious, to be among the first to sign up for the move to the latest colonies – not yet finished, not yet proven.

On the marginal worlds, there is uproar. People clamour for a berth on the big ships the Alliance promises they'll send, just as soon as the work is done.

Will even half of them ever reach their destinations?

Eventually, Mal knows the dying worlds will be chunks of rock, no water, no air, and useless to everyone. One day, they'll land to search for water, and find nothing, no matter how hard River looks.

Once this happens, they'll have to try and take refuge on one of the living worlds, joining streams of migrants, legal and illegal. Mal's seen them, at some of the docks, looking for work, for hope, anything, even passage to some newly terraformed world that's still unstable, barely livable.

It isn't appealing.

Sometimes he imagines dying on one of the dry worlds, places whose names have already been forgotten. His bones would mix with the others of some discarded town, bleached under the sun.

He wonders if, from space, those piles of bones might be visible, a reminder, a warning.

Beside him, Simon mutters and turns over, eyes never opening. "Time?"

Mal shrugs. It's still hours before they'll reach Ariel with their cargo. "Not yet."


Current Critical Statistics
Parliament Eyes Only
Do not duplicate or release.

Livable worlds, long-term: 2
Livable worlds, short-term: 5
Total population decline: 75% (Estimate, due to incomplete birth and death records on several outer moons)
Estimated minimum number of new colonies required in the next 3-5 years: 9
Projections for population viability without said colonies: Low.



( 127 comments — Comment )
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(Deleted comment)
Jun. 17th, 2006 04:46 pm (UTC)
Re: woosh!
:D Thank you for the amazing comment!

And in the middle of all the tension, it was perfect to have a little Mal/Simon as relief to the starkness of everything else.

*relief* I'm so glad you said so, I can't even tell you how much. I wondered if it seemed a little incongruous and didn't work with the rest of the story, and I'm so, so happy that it fits.

I love that you're willing to consider disaster, even befalling our heroes.

I love disaster stories, especially if they're apocalypse-y or post-apocalpyse-ish. I have a problem, I know *g* And sometimes I think maybe it's a little too grim, but then again, the Firefly 'verse was grim sometimes.

And now I'm suddenly hankering for a Firefly/Dune crossover.

Oh, wow, yeah! That would be shiny cool.

Thanks again!
Re: woosh! - darksybarite - Jun. 18th, 2006 06:00 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 17th, 2006 05:04 pm (UTC)

It took me a few minutes to gather my thoughts...incoherent though they be.

I really adore your Mal. He waits and he watches and he pulls through. For as long as he can. The shower scene was hot and...forgive me, but romantic. In that way that...I don't know. I can't explain, but it just was.

I drink up everything you write. Really just beautiful, fantastic work.
Jun. 17th, 2006 05:12 pm (UTC)
.forgive me, but romantic

:) Thanks! You know, I originally planned it as a very smutty scene, but then I ended up wanting something a little less explicit, and I'm really happy you liked it and thought it romantic.

Really just beautiful, fantastic work.

You say the nice things that make me feel shy and happy! Thank you.
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Jun. 17th, 2006 05:05 pm (UTC)
You didn't need the zombies, that was so scary and powerful all on it's own. You really have a knack for the "end of the world" fics, has anyone ever told you that before?
Jun. 17th, 2006 05:10 pm (UTC)
You really have a knack for the "end of the world" fics, has anyone ever told you that before?

*g* Thanks! I have a bit of an obsession with these theme, I have to admit. Perhaps that makes me a bit a grim??

I'm really glad you enjoyed it! I'm going to try zombies next, just for the heck of it.
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Jun. 17th, 2006 05:23 pm (UTC)
Jun. 17th, 2006 05:25 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it!
Jun. 17th, 2006 06:29 pm (UTC)
What everyone else has already said. *points up* I can always count on you for superb fics about the dark side of the 'verse. *shivers* Although this one wasn't quite as grim as PTA, it has its own level of starkness. Fascinating look at a bureaucracy too caught up in its own power, instead of the people it should be protecting. And thanks for the little bit of M/S! *g*
Jun. 17th, 2006 07:20 pm (UTC)

Fascinating look at a bureaucracy too caught up in its own power, instead of the people it should be protecting.

Oh, yay! It's fantastic that you liked this. This is the first time I've tried something like this, with the bureaucracy notes and so on. And they were really fun/interesting to write [I tried to be as pedantic as possible for some of them, lol]. Anyway, thank you so much for letting me know you liked that aspect!

And thanks for the little bit of M/S!

*g* Thank you for reading :D
Jun. 17th, 2006 09:00 pm (UTC)
I loved this on many many levels. :)
Jun. 18th, 2006 12:04 am (UTC)
Thank you :)
Jun. 18th, 2006 03:09 am (UTC)
Wow. This is fantastic.

I am very sleepy right now, so the best I can say is very "thinky"
Jun. 18th, 2006 01:36 pm (UTC)
*g* Thank you! I'm glad you liked it (and I hope you had a good sleep!)
Jun. 18th, 2006 03:09 am (UTC)
Oh, gracious, this is so smart. I haven't been able to get past heat and light and distance from the sun but I love that you have and went to a water place, and a long, slow apocalypse, and a long, slow courtship.

I love Mal/Simon a lot, and I particularly love that both of them are smart and savvy and have learned and changed and that this feels so very real, in a not-perfect, marvelously flawed universe sort of way.

Wow. Love that Simon learned so much from Kaylee. Love that River does complex things and sometimes gets it wrong.

Jun. 18th, 2006 01:34 pm (UTC)
Love that River does complex things and sometimes gets it wrong.

I'm glad. It's so tempting to write her as always right, but then I start to wonder if that makes her character too easy, you know? It's one of the reasons I rarely write River.

I love Mal/Simon a lot, and I particularly love that both of them are smart and savvy and have learned and changed and that this feels so very real, in a not-perfect, marvelously flawed universe sort of way.

:D Thank you! I'm at a loss for words in response to your comments. I really, honestly don't know what to say, except that I'm thrilled to pieces that you liked this so much. I tried to make it logical and plausible, and yay! I'm just too happy that it was a good read.
Jun. 18th, 2006 10:08 am (UTC)
That is an amazing fic. I'm tempted to say it would've made a better movie than the movie did, because it's so likely to happen. You write like a bolt of lightning falling into a lake. Well, maybe not a lake, heh. But you're a great stylist and a second-to-none plotter. Thanks.
Jun. 18th, 2006 01:29 pm (UTC)
Hi! thanks for the amazing feedback :)

because it's so likely to happen

I do wonder how permanent terraforming would ever be. It seems so arrogant or something to think that people could really completely change the form of a planet.

Well, maybe not a lake, heh.

*g* LOL.

But you're a great stylist and a second-to-none plotter.

And now I am blushing. Thanks again! I'm thrilled that you liked this!
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Jun. 19th, 2006 03:37 am (UTC)
Oh my! This Just wow.
Jun. 19th, 2006 03:23 pm (UTC)
:D Thank you! It's fantastic that you enjoyed it!
Jun. 19th, 2006 04:34 am (UTC)
I LOVE it! I love the voices. I love the alternating between epistolary official bits and story. I love the slow, grinding apocalypse. I love the scientific/tech bits, which are quite impressive. I love the way you show that the dynamics between some of the characters have grown and changed over these years; I think the changes Mal reflects on between Simon and Kaylee are probably the ones that I find most striking, and I particularly enjoyed that bit where Mal wonders if Simon learned to take what he wanted from Kaylee. I love the dialogue between Simon and Mal in the shower most of all, I think.

And did I mention that I love it?
Jun. 19th, 2006 03:27 pm (UTC)
Yay! I'm so glad you enjoyed this. It was really fun and weird to write (trying to be all 'official' sounding in some of the bits was fun to try, but also a little odd. Wow. I'm glad I'm not a bureaucrat!).

I love the slow, grinding apocalypse

Oh, goody! I like a slow apocalypse myself. Unless there are zombies. Or plagues. Then fast is good.

Aw hell, who am I kidding? I love an apocalypse in all forms. I can't have favourites!

Mal wonders if Simon learned to take what he wanted from Kaylee

I'm really glad that worked.

I love the dialogue between Simon and Mal in the shower most of all, I think

Shiny, shiny! I wondered if I'd copped out there, by not getting smutty, but the scene felt done to me, you know?

I'm giddy! Thanks for the awesome comments :)
Jun. 19th, 2006 05:58 am (UTC)
I've been WAITING for new Firefly fic from you, and BOY WAS I NOT DISAPPOINTED. I really liked this. So so much. You always manage to write these characters so well. Plus the story was just great. I was never quite sure what to expect from the ending. I knew it wouldn't be happy, but I didn't know what you were going to do at all, and I love that. I could go on and on talking about what I loved, but we'd end up being here all night, so I'll leave it there. But seriously. So much love.
Jun. 19th, 2006 03:30 pm (UTC)
Gosh! Thanks so much :D :D

I knew it wouldn't be happy, but I didn't know what you were going to do at all, and I love that

I wanted it to be a little more hopeful, you know? But also inevitable. I really hate writing endings, sometimes. I hope it didn't seem too grim, though.

Yay! I'm really glad you enjoyed this!
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Jun. 19th, 2006 06:58 pm (UTC)
No one does the apocalypse like you, my dear. And that it's for me, well. *wiggles delightedly* I totally totally LOVE this but it seems to have sucked all the words (or at least the nice coherent feedbacky ones) right out of my brain 'cause I've been sitting here trying to compose my thoughts and I just. Can't. So I'll just say OMG I LOVE THIS THANK YOU SO MUCH! and leave it at that. XD!

Also, I'm totally printing this out for future reading over.
Jun. 19th, 2006 11:56 pm (UTC)
Yay! I'm so glad you liked it! Birthday apocalypse is a must, I agree! Thanks for the awesome comments!
Jun. 20th, 2006 07:50 pm (UTC)
Wow. You are the Queen of making the world end, Ana. I love the scenarios you come up with. They're always so plausible, which makes them so freaking scary. I absolutely love the line where Mal wonders if Simon learned to take what he wants from Kaylee. Really nicely done.
Jun. 23rd, 2006 06:20 pm (UTC)
You are the Queen of making the world end, Ana

OMG! YAY! Do I get a crown? One with suitably apocalyptic themes, maybe (but also pretty)?? Hee!

Thank you so much! It's fantastic that you liked it!
Jun. 23rd, 2006 01:29 pm (UTC)
Oh, wow! That was just so stark and chilling and very believable. The way the government handles matters, the way Mal tries to survive and the way he and Simon take what moments they can, while they can.
Jun. 23rd, 2006 06:19 pm (UTC)
:D Thank you! I'm thrilled you enjoyed it! And especially that it seemed believable. Thanks!
Jun. 23rd, 2006 09:53 pm (UTC)
Oh, I liked this very much. I enjoy the dry narrative voice, and the different modes of exposition. And also, digging into that basic assumption: sure, there are rich worlds, but they're all terraformed, aren't they? What if they all fail?

Good stuff.
Jun. 24th, 2006 01:17 pm (UTC)
:D Thank you!

I enjoy the dry narrative voice, and the different modes of exposition

I did a lot of experimental type writing for this (at least, experimental for me), so I'm really pleased that you enjoyed that! Thank you for letting me know, you've made my morning!
Jul. 1st, 2006 07:40 am (UTC)
How do you do that, over and again? Beautiful, elegiac, poetical writing of worlds gradually falling apart and the slow change in the people to mirror that. It's incredibly compelling.

And interspersed with the official memos is a great touch, points the contast between the bureaucracy's viewpoint and the people actually living with the consequences.

In case you didn't get it - I loved this. Well, loved is not quite the word, but impressed, intrigued, fascinated...and I've read it several times over trying to think of something coherent to say that isn't just "wow".

Though, still. Wow.
Jul. 1st, 2006 08:48 pm (UTC)
Hi! And thank you! I'm thrilled that you liked this (and that it wasn't overly depressing - I don't know, I'm going through some kind of 'write darker things' period, and it's a little weird). I'm relieved that you liked the memos - writing those were a fun exercise in different styles/formats, and I wasn't sure how well they worked out. Thanks again for the lovely comments, they make my day!
Jul. 16th, 2006 02:02 am (UTC)
WOW! I mean... unbelievable... stark... desperate... perfect. I mean seriously... WOW! Yeah, I'm not with the articulate at the moment. That was so freaking fantastic I'm reeling and can't form words. Truly awesome. I'm running off right now to read everything you've ever written.

Oh... before I go. That was a brilliant idea having the detached, impersonal memos spot the human reality of your tale. An ingenious story device. Seriously, right now, you're my hero!
Jul. 16th, 2006 02:37 am (UTC)
Wow! Thanks for the awesome comments! I'm so glad you enjoyed this!

That was a brilliant idea having the detached, impersonal memos

*g* Cool! I was feeling particularly organizational or something when I was writing this, lol. It was fun to experiment with trying to write more bureaucracy-speak.

Thanks again!
Jul. 17th, 2006 05:11 am (UTC)
This is just incredible ... urgent, necessary, frightening. Science fiction at its best exposes the issues and problems of here and how, and although this story is a fatalistic one, you have an astounding grasp of how everybody on all sides would react to such an inevitable disaster. I love that the Alliance officials make hard, unforgiveable decisions, but that exchange of missive at the end exposes their terror and frustration. Human fallabilities and short-sightedness are in everyone; and the need to live on, to grasp at any desperate bit of hope there is, even when you know in your heart it's hopeless. Simon and Mal, Core and frontier, thrown together and equalised by calamity, form the perfect pairing for this perfect story.
Jul. 17th, 2006 02:31 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for your fantastic comments! They just fill me with glee.

Science fiction at its best exposes the issues and problems of here and how, and although this story is a fatalistic one, you have an astounding grasp of how everybody on all sides would react to such an inevitable disaster.

That is just the most amazing feedback. I am rather fatalistic and cynical about these kinds of resource issues, although I like to hope (on my best days) that things wouldn't happen quite so horribly. I'm thrilled that these reactions seem realistic to you - it was a fun challenge to think about things from a bureaucratic and individual level.

that exchange of missive at the end exposes their terror and frustration


This email has really made my day - thank you so much for reading this and for letting me know what you thought of it!
Sep. 19th, 2006 05:22 pm (UTC)
This story is stunning.
Sep. 19th, 2006 05:58 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! And, I really like your icon!
Nov. 16th, 2006 05:36 am (UTC)
I watched Serenity in class and put out a request for Mal/Simon fic, and minttown1 linked this as the "best Mal/Simon fic she's ever read."

I'm glad to see it lived up to the praise. It's outstandingly lovely.
Nov. 17th, 2006 02:37 am (UTC)
Hi! Thank you for the lovely (and glee-making!) comment :) How cool is it that you got to watch Serenity in class? I wish I was in that class (out of curiousity, what kind of class was it? If you don't mind me asking).

And wow, I'm really happy that you enjoyed this! A lot of it was very challenging for me to get out, and I'm so happy that it was worth it!

Thank you again!
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Jan. 4th, 2007 10:39 am (UTC)
Here via a friendslist link: that was breathtaking, sobering and amazing. Tight, perfect characterization and astonishing world-building within already-delineated lines. Brava!
Jan. 9th, 2007 06:36 am (UTC)
Thank you so much :D Your comments really made my day - I don't even know how to reply. Just - thank you!
Jan. 29th, 2007 04:22 am (UTC)
Incredible. I have no words for how much I loved this.
Jan. 29th, 2007 01:58 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much :D It was really challenging to write, and it was fun to experiment with the bureaucratic memos etc. I'm thrilled you liked it so much! Thank you again!
Mar. 31st, 2007 02:46 am (UTC)
This is REALLY great! Not just as a Firefly fanfiction, but as a scifi story in it's own right. Some one could read this story knowing nothing about Firefly and STILL be impressed. Change the names and add a little more backstory, and this could be one seriously god awesome short story. The characterizations of Mal and Simon are great and don't fall into the usual cliches. Good good good job!
Mar. 31st, 2007 05:51 pm (UTC)
Re: ...*awe*
Hi! Thank you for your amazing feedback! You made my morning - I'm thrilled you enjoyed this so much. You know, I'd never thought about it in terms of an original work short story, but I'm really happy to know that it would make sense in its on right (without knowing Firefly fandom). And I'm also glad you liked the characterisations of Mal and Simon - I tried to focus on the pragmatic and survivalist aspects of both of them.

Thank you again! :D
Apr. 6th, 2007 09:35 pm (UTC)
I loved this fic! The central concept is beautifully concieved, and well-written to boot. Just wanted to let you know that I rec'd it here, because I nearly forgot to do so.
Apr. 7th, 2007 11:12 am (UTC)
Hi! Thank you for the lovely feedback - I'm so glad you enjoyed this story! And thanks for letting me know about the rec too - you've made my morning :D
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