Author's Note: Super depressing AU. I was watching "Out of Gas" (one of my favorite episodes, along with every single other one ever made), and had an idea that I just couldn't shake. What if they all died? Damn, I'm twisted. Please review!

They hadn't been looking, expecting, alert. No one ever went out this far that wanted to be found. So much empty space, the possibility of finding something, much less nearly running into something, was beyond improbable. And so that's why his first reaction had been complete, scared shitless terror. He immediately assumed it to be a reaver ship, but one scan showed that it was dead, life support gone and no heated bodies. No one expected it to be a rescue—out here it was always a recovery.

Granted this was all figured out after he'd leapt into evasive action and very nearly avoided losing an engine in what should have been a collision with the floating ghost ship, had he been a worse pilot. Atticus Wu was not a worse pilot. In fact, he was a pretty good one, as untrained border planet pilots went. He couldn't help but smile smugly after scraping past death one more time, before calling the captain up to the bridge.

Siobhan's heavy, confident steps thundered down the Jiàn Shèng's main corridor. She was easily six feet tall, well muscled with pale skin and straight dark hair. Emerging on the bridge it was clear she had thrown clothes on in a hurry, but an alert, in-control expression was, as always, present on her face. A few steps behind her was Oswald Wu, Atticus' younger brother and the on and off bunkmate of Siobhan. The brothers had the same caramel brown skin, same jet black hair, though their face shapes did not resemble each other.

"What's the problem?" Siobhan asked.

"Our proximity sensors are broken."

"Haven't they always been broken?"

Atticus shrugged. By now the other two had caught sight of the ghost ship, floating a safe distance from the Jiàn Shèng.

"Completely dead?" Oswald leaned against the console and squinted through the front window.

"As far as I can tell. Not reavers, the place is still sealed up and the shuttles are still locked. Probably mechanical difficulties. Crew probably got picked up. I wouldn't go in there unarmed, though."

"'Course not," Siobhan turned to Oswald. "Get suited up. We're salvaging."

To Atticus, she continued, "What's the classification?"

"Hold on," he booted up the cortex, accessed the recent scans he had run. "It's a Firefly. Named Serenity. Couple of warrants out for it. Been AWOL for couple of months."

"Warrants?" Siobhan smiled. "Any enemy of the Alliance is a friend of ours."

"I guess we're not very good friends," Oswald muttered. "As we're about to steal from 'em."

"Eh, we do what we gotta do. I'm sure they have the same philosophy," she nodded to Atticus. "Wake up Eduardo, but don't follow us until you hear my order, dong ma?"

"Yep."

m m m

Twenty minutes later they had docked to the Firefly, and Atticus was maintaining contact with Siobhan and Oswald as they crossed into the cargo hold. He could hear their breathing in the heavy space suits.

Eduardo was in the copilot's seat of the Jiàn Shèng's cockpit, calmly cleaning his gun with a soft cloth, combat booted feet up on the dash. He was averaged sized dark skinned man, but the crew's best sharp shooter, as he was part of the local militia on their home world of Calypso, before they'd left.

"This could be a big payday for us," he remarked to Eduardo.

"Yeah?"

"So far almost everything's intact. Plenty of rations, the fuel containment chambers are completely stabile. Haven't gotten a look at the engine room yet, but things are looking good so far."

"Lord knows we could use the cash, no matter how illegal this is."

"Alliance is already after us. Might as well give 'em a reason." he reached for the communicator. "Everything alright down there?"

There was a long silence on the other end. Finally, it was Oswald's voice that responded. "We found the crew."

m m m

They suited up quickly, armed themselves, and then followed through the airlock into Serenity.

Inside, it was unbelievably silent, as if the vacuum of space had invaded and sucked away all life. No light, no heat, no air. No escape.

Their flashlights landed on a mule and multiple airtight containers in the cargo hold, a bench press under one of the stairs. There came a flash of light in the corridor straight ahead, and they stepped over the threshold into what appeared to be a common room. Siobhan and Oswald were in the adjoining infirmary.

Atticus spoke into the mic in his helmet as he approached. The last remnants of artificial gravity had him just barely getting purchase on the floor. "They're still here?"

Siobhan shook her head. "They had nowhere to go."

He thought about it, realizing he assumed that the crew had abandoned the ship. Every other salvage mission had been like that, all souls once populating it having gotten on with their lives once the ship was lost. But these people were far, far away from rescue. Really truly in the black.

His lips twisted into an irritated scowl. A few years flying around and he'd thought he'd seen it all. Thought he knew the end to all stories.

He shined his flashlight on the body. Two bodies, actually. One on the examining table, one seated next to it. The lack of oxygen had them perfectly preserved, the cold had them frozen for eternity in their final positions. A shapely dark skinned woman appeared to be asleep on the stretcher. A blonde man in a Hawaiian shirt held her hand, his eyes for ever on her peaceful face.

There was silence among the crew of the Jiàn Shèng.

On a secondary examining bench on the side of the room, two more people were locked in their last moments. A man with cleanly styled brown hair was cupping the face of a dark haired girl in his hands. He was trying to comfort her, but she was crying.

The infirmary itself was stocked with med supplies, syringes and drugs and bandages. They didn't touch them, but continued through the pitch black ship.

The passenger quarters were empty, so they moved into the galley. The light grazed over skin immediately, as another two people sat at the centrally placed dining table. A man in a shepard's collar was praying, hands clasped together over an open bible. A woman with wavy brown hair sat across from him. Her fingers were linked in the same manner, but his face was impassive and calm while hers was passionate, desperate but strong. They looked through the canned and packaged dried food before moving on.

One shuttle had been home to somebody. Lavishly decorated in silks and tapestries, candles and teapots on the hardwood surfaces. A gorgeous, curly-haired woman could have been sleeping under the covers of her own bed.

The crew's bunks were all well lived in. Only one bed was occupied, by a large man hugging a massive gun, eyes tightly shut and a single tear dripping down his cheek.

They made it to the bridge last, and still no one had said a word.

One person sat in the pilot's chair, hands braced on the curving control panel. He wore a burgundy shirt and tan pants, gun holster still on his hip. He stared straight ahead, making eye contact with the darkness that had taken his life.

m m m

He didn't hear Oswald approach, of course, not in this environment. Atticus didn't see him until they were side by side by the once revolving engine.

"It was the catalizer," Atticus said simply, his voice tinny in Oswald's helmet. He pointed. "Right there. One wire melted and the whole thing blew, took out the auxiliary life support. One little piece and there was nothing they could do but wait for it to end."

Oswald looked at him, and the brothers met eyes. "Just that one part, and that was it?"

"That was it."

m m m

The four met in the cargo hold again, after going over the whole ship. No more bodies had been found.

"The amount of supplies on this ship, we could have a small fortune here," Oswald commented, but there was no enthusiasm in his voice.

"I don't think we should take anything," Atticus blurted.

"Why is that?" Eduardo asked.

"It's just...judging by these people's bunks this was there home. They had an attachment. I don't think we should just take all their stuff."

"It's not like they're gonna be needing it," Siobhan put in. "Besides, we'd only be taking the essentials. None of their personal items."

Atticus was unconvinced, and squirmed in his suit. "It's one think to take from those who have abandoned their ship. It's a whole other thing to take from the dead."

That seem to shut everyone up, as they were still young and cautious, while being experienced enough to know it.

"I think he's right," Eduardo agreed after a moment.

Siobhan was still quiet, her eyes darting from their pool of light all around the edges of the cavernous room. Finally, she sighed.

"Let's get out of here."

The crossed back over to Jiàn Shèng, closed the airlock and pulled off the heavy space suits. Atticus lead the way back to the cockpit, the others crowding in around him to watch as they disconnected. Though he was not religious, he saw Oswald do the sign of the cross over his chest. No one spoke. They scarcely breathed.

Outside, Serenity floated on, untouched.