It's Wrong To Wish On Space Hardware
by SpikeDru

I saw two shooting stars last night
I wished on them, but they were only sat'lites
It's wrong to wish on space hardware
I wish, I wish I didn't care

Zoe was raised in the black and there was a whole of stuff which didn't make sense if you were raised up there. Take nursery rhymes: there weren't no boughs to break, there weren't no woods for bears to be hiding in, and what in the hell was a tuffet anyway? But the rhymes and the songs were sung to the children as they were rocked to sleep by the pulsing roar of a turbine, or by the children as they skipped across the rec hall. Others always thought being raised in the black meant you didn't have any of that stuff, as if you were born with a gun in one tiny chubby hand. Still it meant there was a whole lot of things she'd never seen. Things that were as mysterious to her as how come you didn't just float about all day in zero g was to a prairie hick.

Like shooting stars.

She'd seen a comet once, back when she was a little bit. It had been passing several thousand miles away, but the pilot had invited the kids up onto the flight deck to take a look at it. Its icy tail had streamed out behind it, and little Zoe had gaped like a kid in a candy store.

Also? No candy stores in the black.

So the first time she saw a shooting star was when she was lying on her back, with mud and blood and god knows what else oozing into her uniform, in Serenity Valley.

At first she thought she'd imagined it. A sudden white line zipping across the dark sky. Like something had burned briefly on her retina. Then there was another brief flash and she finally understood why shooting stars had seemed so magical on Earth That Was. A tiny piece of the sky, falling. As another flashed across the black, long forgotten rhymes prompted her.

'I wish we were out of this gou shi festering hellhole.'


'Yes, sir?'

'That weren't a shooting star. It's our battle satellites. The Alliance is shooting them out of orbit and they're burning up as they re-enter the atmo.'


She lay there for another minute or so, then glanced over to where Mal was sat, wrapped in a grey blanket and looking up at the darkness with the look of a man whose world had just been destroyed.



'I still wish we were out of this hellhole, sir.'

'Zoe? Don't you know it's wrong to wish on space hardware?'


Serenity had set down in a meadow. Although set down was perhaps euphemistic for Wash's frantic, switching hitting piloting and meadow was perhaps euphemistic for a dull plain of scrubby grass. Still, Mal had strode out into it muttering about being home on ranges before rounding up Bester and setting out in shuttle 1 for the township they were meant to be visiting. It was about fifty clicks off, and the shuttle was so loaded with legit cargo that there wasn't room for Zoe on it. Besides, Mal knew the deal was safe enough and Bester wanted to get the parts to get the engine running again after that nasty clunking sound it made as it set down. Crashed. Whatever. There was another job waiting on Paquin so the sooner they were back in the black, the better.

Which meant Zoe was left with Wash for company. She still hadn't worked out what it was that bugged her about him.

He spent the afternoon on his back in a crawlspace asking her to hand him various tools whilst he did mysterious things. Sometimes sparks would twitch and buzz and he'd make some creative curses in Mandarin. He really did love his Mandarin. Of course, it was obligatory learning on the Core planets where he'd come from instead of the haphazard way she'd learnt cradled in the belly of a ship. She left him to it when he stopped asking for the tools. As the sun started to touch the treetops, he gave up and joined her in the galley.

'I can't do any more till Bester fixes the grav boot,' he said. 'Captain not back yet?'

'No. Which means it's protein packs for dinner instead of something fresh.'

'Bet Mal stopped to get some real food and a beer.'

'Maybe he did.'

Wash was watching her as she moved about the tiny space, wiping his greasy hands with their skinned knuckles on an old rag, and it made her suddenly self-conscious.

'Thought you knew everything Mal did?' he asked.

'We're not joined at the hip.'

'No, I'd have noticed. Why don't we take the food outside to eat? There's fresh air, and a rise just behind us which would give a great view of anyone approaching.'

Zoe laughed. 'Do you think I'm always on guard?'

'Seems like your defences are never down.'

Wash dug about and found two tiffin containers and she poured the soup in. Then he produced the ugliest patterned blanket she'd ever seen from somewhere in his cabin, and a couple bottles of beer. At least the blanket wasn't grey, she thought, as she walked up the slope behind him. From this angle, and climbing like that, his ass was rather better defined than usual and she watched it with internal amusement. He spread the blanket like he was a matador, with no end of crazy flourishes and Zoe was surprised to find herself laughing.

Once the sun was set they lay back, propped up by their elbows and watched the stars come out.

'Always seem so few, when you're planetside,' she said.

'Sure, that's just atmospheric distortion, light pollution and so on. It's why I love flying Serenity. To get out there, into the black, where the stars are pure and clear and scattered like a thousand billion dreams.'

'Poetical, for a pilot.'

'The stars are poetic. The constellations are different out here, but see that bright star over there?'

Zoe couldn't see, so Wash leaned closer and put his face by side with hers. He raised his hand, pointed and she saw.

'Once upon a time, back on Earth That Was, that was Polaris. The North Star. It shone so steady and bright that sailors on the ancient seas used it to guide them, to bring them home to a safe harbour.'

'That'sŠwell, poetical. Practical too, but poetical.'

'And that faint light-' he guided her gaze with a tilt of his head, 'was the morning star. Venus. The goddess of love.'

Zoe finally realised just how Wash was bugging her. She turned her head slightly to look at his face, so close to hers. She could smell beer on his breath but his eyes were skyward and lit with love for the black.

There was a flicker of white across the sky. A brief flash like something burning briefly on her retina. She started, and recalled just why she didn't want to ever see a regulation grey blanket again.

'Zoe? It's OK. It was just a shooting star. Guay, you're shaking! What is itŠ? Look, there's anotherŠand another. It's just a passing meteorite storm.'

As he babbled on, she relaxed again. They really were just shooting stars. His arm had slipped around her earlier and now it was cautiously holding her close. She watched the stars fall then looked at his captivated face as he closed his eyes briefly.

'Did you just make a wish?' she asked, faintly incredulous but fascinated.


'Do you think it'll come true?'

He opened his eyes and stared into her own. 'I hope so,' he said.

And he kissed her.


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