The Losing Side, chapter 36
Tuesday, February 13, 2007

As the commander of the POW camp gets some disturbing news about Mal, Straaker returns from solitary confinement.....and violence ensues.


Mal let out an enthusiastic whoop as he caught the ball and moved to return it to Wash, exhilarated by his newly regained freedom. The Eyebrow hadn’t bothered to show up with the guards who entered without fanfare to release Mal and Gray and return life to normal in 28A, and the occupants were unabashedly enjoying themselves. Wash grinned in delight as Gray ran up from behind Mal and snatched the ball away, triggering Mal to race after him in mock indignation. Mal caught him in a few strides and wrestled his prize back, turning to toss it back to Wash.

He stopped in his tracks, suddenly uneasy as he noticed their day shift guard was leaning on the gate, watching. The officer had a genuinely happy grin on his face, and he gave Mal a cheerfully sheepish look as the two caught each other unawares. Shaking his head, the man turned and walked away.

“See?” said Wash with a smile as he looked affectionately at Mal. “Told ya’ they weren’t all bastards.”

Mal grinned back. “It’s a good day,” he said with a satisfied nod as he bounced the ball back to Wash.


Mathew Lee took a deep breath as he opened the file, scanning the list of names and dates resignedly. Most of the inmates on the list were unfamiliar to him, but the very first made the knot in his stomach tighten unpleasantly. He contemplated silently for several minutes before tapping the name on the screen. Reynolds, Malcolm, Sgt. This has got to be some cruel joke of the universe, he thought, standing and looking out at the massive prison through the window. Buildings and yards and people stretched out further than he could see. Why this guy? Out of the thousands who could have been on that list, why in the name of Murphy’s law did it have to be him?

He returned to his desk and buried himself in research and reports, organizing data even though he knew that all too soon he’d run out of reasons to put off breaking the news, hoping that some bureaucratic hun dahn would grow a conscience in the 11th hour.


The happily tired group of prisoners retreated inside and flopped down on their bunks, Mal stretching out and closing his eyes in contentment. It was soft and comfortable, a much welcomed luxury after sleeping on cold metal and concrete. Some frenetic program was playing out on the cortex screen above them, providing a friendly background noise, and Mal could feel a nap coming on.

Just as the world was starting to blend into the lopsided blur where consciousness and sleep intersect, the housing unit door opened, and Mal shot bolt upright on his bunk, startled and blinking sleepily. His sudden alarm eased into a resigned sigh as he recognized Lance Straaker standing in the doorway.

Straaker walked in and surveyed the occupants of the room, resentment crossing his face. “Looks like all of you got nice and easy. Been having fun in here while I was locked up taking the punishment for the lot of you?”

There was a stunned silence in the room as five men wondered if Straaker had actually had the gall to say that. Mal stood and approached Straaker, reaching out to shake his hand. “Nice to have ya’ back,” he said, jerking Straaker off balance and punching him in one smooth movement.

Straaker staggered back, his expression indignant to the point of petulance. “What the hell!” he shouted. “You insubordinate, treacherous little hun dahn!” He took a wild swing at Mal, who dodged it easily by leaning his head back as he raised his eyebrows.

Mal spun around and planted his elbow squarely in Straaker’s stomach. While the man was still retching for breath, doubled over, Mal grabbed him by the hair and jerked his head up roughly. “Treacherous?” he roared. “Treacherous? What the gorram hell do you call endangering every man in here?” He jerked down with the full weight of his upper body, sending Straaker sprawling to the floor.

The surprisingly resilient Straaker hauled himself to his feet and faced Mal, planting his fists on his hips. He made a visible effort to speak calmly, his voice coming out a haughty whine. “Look, I realize some of you don’t have my education and leadership skills, and you may not recognize the importance of military discipline in a situation like-“

Mal’s fist had unconsciously started to curl itself again, but he didn’t have time to swing before a hand touched his shoulder. “Allow me. Please,” said Matty, walking up and kicking Straaker in the knee mid-lecture. As Straaker wobbled unsteadily on one leg, Matty punched him squarely in the cheek, dropping him once again to the floor.

Matty rubbed his hands with a satisfied grin. “Man, that felt good,” he said.

“Um – cameras – fighting – bad?” interjected Gray, pointing at the surveillance camera on the wall.

“What the hell is wrong with you little psychopaths?’ spat Straaker, standing with a glare that gained somewhat more authority than usual thanks to the blood trickling down his chin. “You’re worse than the bloody guards! Stop it right now, and that’s an order from your superior officer. Vastly superior,” he muttered under his breath as an afterthought.

“They never pay any attention to the cameras,” said Wash. “Let the jolly little hijinks continue.”

“Well, in that case….” said Gray, hopping to his feet and rubbing his hands. “May I have this dance?” he asked the furious Mal with a bow.

Mal bowed back. “Please,” he said grimly as Gray grabbed Straaker and started punching him furiously in the stomach with all the blind rage of a child.

Straaker shoved the much smaller man back, glaring. “Stand down, you petulant little prima donna. I’ve about had it with you and your –“ Straaker gasped in pain as Gray slammed an elbow into his ribs.

“Prima donna?” yelled Gray, enraged. “What, the prima donna who spent the last week in chains, black and blue and freezing his gorram pigu off because of your monumental idiocy? I don’t give a gorram hump about rank or discipline, you’re out of your mind and out of chances for me to listen to one gorram word you say!”

Straaker, who had yet to actually land a blow of his own, suddenly grabbed Gray by the neck in fury. “You think that’s your call? You’re under my command, and you will remember it.” Gray gagged and tore at Straaker’s arm with his fingers, kicking frantically until he hit something tender. A split second later, Straaker used the full weight of his body to slam the back of Gray’s head against the metal edge of one of the upper bunks, maintaining a merciless grip on his throat as he used his free hand to punch the dazed man in the nose.

“This. Ends. Now,” said Mal, his voice a shade colder than utterly lethal. He wrapped an arm firmly around Gray’s back and shoved the fingers of his other hand into the enraged Straaker’s eyes, supporting Gray’s staggering form as Straaker released him with a howl. He carefully eased Gray’s bleeding and barely conscious body down to the floor, making sure his head didn’t hit the concrete.

Standing wordlessly, Mal kicked Straaker hard in the same knee that Matty had targeted, taking advantage of the second that he doubled over in pain to grab his arm and twist it up brutally behind his back. Ignoring Straaker’s howls of pain, Mal propelled him to the center of the room and slammed him down on the floor face first.

Mal paused for breath, planting his hands on his knees and watching as Straaker rolled over to look up at him. “You wanna tell me how it is you justify what you just did?” he asked Straaker, his eyes dark with rage.

“He was being insubordinate!” growled Straaker, gasping for breath. “What-“ he was cut off by Mal’s foot thudding into his chest.

“Insubordinate?” thundered Mal as Straaker coughed and retched from the blow. He stepped forward and planted one foot firmly on Straaker’s upper chest and leaned his weight down on it, pinning him as he used the other foot to step down on the man’s hand until he stopped struggling and froze in pain. “Let’s talk about insubordinate. When you’re the kind of leader that doesn’t deserve the name, when your actions hurt them you’re in charge of, you don’t get to use words like insubordination. A man earns the right to lead, an’ seems to me you’ve done anything but. So next time you get tempted to lead a prison break, or slam a man’s head into a piece of metal, you sit yourself down, or I will do it for you.”

Straaker’s face clouded, not entirely from physical pain as he stared up into Mal’s uncompromising eyes. “What is this, a mutiny? Are you people trying to demote me or something?”

Mal raised his eyebrows in the faintest fraction of a nod. “You might say. What happens when a man’s incompetent, an’ throws his weight around to make up for it. He pushes things so far, folk stop putting up with it.”

A flash of renewed rage entered Straaker’s eyes, and he tried to sit up, to attack. Mal shifted more of his weight down on Straaker’s hand, and he froze again, crying out with his face twisted in pain. “Gonna try that again?” asked Mal soberly. Straaker shook his head in defeat, and Mal let up slightly, still keeping him pinned forcefully to the floor.

He looked up at Mal, lost. There was a sort of petulant disappointment on his face as he said, “I’ve given everything to trying to keep this unit together, and I’ve gotten nothing but mocked and hit and treated like some freak. So show me just where it is in the manual that I screwed up, because I’m trying my best in here and if you people resent that-“

“Your first problem is that you’re lookin’ to a manual,” interrupted Mal. “Mighty fine things, manuals. Come in real handy as comic relief on a battlefield. Your second problem is referrin’ to us as ‘you people.’ Shockingly, that isn’t like to inspire enormous affection.”

Straaker’s face was expressionless, but for a few seconds Mal caught a flicker of something that resembled actual hurt. It vanished as Straaker lashed back at him. “Who are you people-“ he stopped short and corrected himself at Mal’s raised eyebrow, “-um – you, to tell me I’ve screwed up, huh? Some grunt Sergeant, and the rest of these guys are just pilots-”

“Just pilots?” thundered Mal. “It’s mighty clear that you’ve never had your ass saved by just a pilot layin’ down fire on people intent on blowing you and yours into bitty pieces, or just perhaps showin’ up to medevac you out of a war zone. Have you ever been in combat, Sir?”

“Well, not exactly, but-“

“Then you don’t know the first thing about war, or the military you’re so proud to strut around in. Matter of fact, you’re makin’ even the Alliance seem smart. So before you give one more order, you’re gonna go out huntin’ for a gorram clue. You get it an’ bring it back here, maybe we’ll start giving you that time of day you want so bad.”

“I just want to do my job!’ protested Straaker, his voice suddenly cracking. “You think I asked for this? You think it’s fun? No I wasn’t in combat, I ran a supply depot! I worked in warehouses, until some guys came along and grabbed me and threw me in this prison. And guess what, I coped. I didn’t tell them a thing in their interrogations and I’ve never, not once broke down in here because it was my duty to maintain discipline as the superior officer even when I wanted to scream and punch the wall and -” He paused, clenching his eyes shut and drawing a couple of gasping breaths. “Gray was the wall,” he said finally, looking away.

After a moment’s reflection, Mal released Straaker, his expression grim and direct as he extended his hand to help him to his feet. Straaker refused to look at Mal, and limped wordlessly away into the bathroom as Mal strode over to Gray.

Wash and Zeke had gotten him to sit up, and he was sitting with his eyes closed, holding a rag against his nose. Zeke was supporting him and holding something against the back of his head. Least he’s conscious, that’s a start, thought Mal. He reached out and took a steadying grip on the man’s shoulder. “How you farin?” he asked.

“Fine,” said Gray, opening his eyes. “Conscious enough to know what you did – thanks.”

Mal nodded. “You know where you are?”

Gray grimaced. “Unfortunately. Still in prison.” Mal smiled thinly and checked him over. It didn’t take long to conclude that a minor concussion and a lot of blood were the only repercussions of Straaker’s attack, and the three men managed to accomplish the needed first aid with the meager materials they had available. It wasn’t difficult to convince the nauseated and hurting officer to lie down and rest, and a silence filled the room as they waited for Straaker to reappear.

And waited. And waited. Finally Mal strode to the door of their small bathroom and shower unit and knocked firmly. There was no answer.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007 1:53 AM


Oh, the plot thickens!

I have to say, I look forward to each chapter with bated breath.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007 1:58 AM


Thay was dark anf I think more is coming. Excellent writing!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007 3:02 AM


There it is. The inevitable confrontation with Straeker. I like how you handled it. Funny how "by the book" a man can be who's never had to think for himself in a combat situation. That's when you realize "the book" is only a foundation. Eventually you need to adapt to the situation you find yourself in.

Mal showed his true leadership quality in this chapter, immediately putting Straeker down before his words could further demoralize the prisoners. No hesitation. That's one of Mal's greatest qualities.

Keep it up.

Rob O.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007 7:04 AM


Loved this but oh my am I holding my breath at the bad news Lee is going to have to pass on to Mal at some point. Why can't they just leave him and the others the gorram alone? After all, war is over and the rutting Alliance won. Your writing is brilliant as ever and this chapter was even better than the last few. Utterly excellent! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, February 14, 2007 3:32 PM


Oh...why do I get the feeling that Lee's news to Mal is about either his home being glassed back to go se OR he's been tapped as an example and scheduled for execution. Cuz those two scenarios seem to jump out as probable situations:(

Still...this was a freakin' brilliant chapter, jetflair! Especially in the end, where you actually give us a reason to feel just the tiniest bit of pity for him because of what being a "good" officer has netted him. That and Mal's brilliant bit of work concerning Straaker's actions. Definitely know I would follow Mal into Hell:D


Friday, February 16, 2007 7:00 PM


What?? What about Mal on the list???? I must know, really I must. This is a great story arc-- I started reading it and couldn't stop. Pleeeeeeease continue!

Friday, February 23, 2007 4:05 PM


Absolutely delicious hint of ominous in this chapter!


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The Losing Side, Ch. 63 - The Art of Insanity
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Mal saves the life of an Alliance guard, and starts having serious doubts about his own mental state.

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