Disclaimer: Serenity and her crew are the sole and rightful property of Joss Whedon, Tim Minear, and Mutant Enemy. No disrespect is intended by my borrowing them; no financial gain is mine from their use of them in this story.

Scars. The miraculous defense of the human body against violent insult to its integrity. The bite, the burn. The slash, the stab. The tear, the gouge, the puncture. The through-and-through of lead and laser.

Scars are proof of life. Scars are the mementos of a close dance with mortality. All scars fade - a fact which should never be confused with the truth that the worst will never fade away.

Scars have a life cycle, mimicking the human host. They are born in pain, red and weeping. They mature, settling with age, their appearance growing puckered and white.

Scars are brands on body and soul. The badge of honor; the mournful revelation. The imprimatur of a lesson hard-learned; the mark of shame. The cost of doing business.

How they are worn says much. That they are worn says more. In this time a scar need be no more than an inconvenient trip to the doctor. Another trauma to the skin is offered, but this one is welcomed by those who will not bear the mark that living has brought them. This is the common way, you understand. The usual thing. For most. But not for all.

See them now. Young, for the most part, and each of them strong. The sun beats down unmercifully on them as if testing their very ability to draw breath. Gravity has brought them here and gravity will keep them until the girl finishes her arcane ritual with metal and muttered imprecations that will release them once more to the cold, deep black.

The others have their choice: bake inside the metal brazier or wilt outside in the illusion of cool shade provided by the ship. They choose the illusion - all but the captain, who throws his lot in with the sweating, swearing mechanic. She recognizes the gesture for what it is, and at any other time she would admire it, but now she drives him from the sweltering engine room with uncharacteristic pique. The heat of another body will put her over the edge, she swears it.

Chastened, he joins his crew in their oasis of shadow. Conversation is an effort unnecessary among them. They know each other beyond words.

The heat makes them indolent. Their familiarity, bred from the proximity of shipboard life, makes them invisible to each other. There is meager thought of any but the barest modesty as they peel the pieces of their clothing from their sweat-soaked bodies. Skin emerges, tricked momentarily into a sense of relief from the heat trapped between cloth and flesh, only to be quickly inflamed again. Giving in to defeat - just this once - they languish in silence.

See them again. Skin and muscle and bone. A sheen of sweat makes each figure glisten; drops of liquid salt trail down their frames, thralls to gravity, too. Beautiful, these bodies. Perfection, tracked with scars.

They wear them well, in that they wear them unremarked upon. On some they are numerous and varied, like the rings inside of trees, dating the watershed moments of their lives. On others they are grouped freshly, still showing more red than white, still able on occasion to bring surprise and sharp, painful memories to the bearers. They are minute - the mark of a hand smashing lips against teeth. They are complex patterns of laser burns playing against a shapely skull. They are starbursts of ragged edges that have come together to weave a patch against the emptiness left behind by ballistic invasion. They are long and nearly feathery traces of sharp-edged steel. They are a connoisseur's dream, this collection.

There are tales that come from the place that was - the Earth that was - stories of groups who would scar themselves to glorify their bodies, to honor the strength of their wills. There are tales from the here and the now of a nightmare band who punish their bodies with grotesque disfigurement, who wear the skins of their victims, layering scars upon scars upon scars. Deliberate acts both, the then and the now.

But these before us - these bare the random gifts of indifferent Life, unsought, unwelcomed, but now barely noticed. For all that they came unbidden, to remove them would be a betrayal. They know this, each of them, without conscious thought. To erase them would be to erase the story of their making. The story, in turn, of their own becoming of who they are now, the brick and mortar for who they are yet to be. It is . . . unthinkable.

The silence is shattered by the sound of the engine roaring to life again. They rouse themselves slowly from the interior worlds into which each has retreated. The mechanic emerges from the darkened interior of the ship, becoming visible in hazy stages to eyes too accustomed now to staring at the bleached-out landscape.

Dripping with sweat, she stands at the edge of the ship, unwilling to cross over into the sun-beaten world before her. She is Aphrodite emerging from the sea, wet hair plastered to her face, clothed only enough for her own sense of modesty. With a silent wave of her arm, she gestures for the others to come back inside where the air will soon be cool. The movement more clearly exposes the mark on her belly - raggedly rose-shaped, red fading to pink to white. Another exhibit for your perusal.

They gather their discarded clothing - dry now from the arid heat - and enter the ship, lethargically at first but gathering more vitality the deeper they make their way into her interior. They dress as they walk, propriety replacing their former pragmatism. The scars are mostly covered now; those exposed are barely visible.

In just a few minutes time the ship lifts off, leaving behind a scorched imprint on the earth. Time and wind will see to its removal. All things heal. It is the way it is.