Here Be Dragons (Part XI)
Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The crew depart Revelation Colony and set-out for Reaver territory


Disclaimer – Everything either does belong to Joss or it should. I’m just borrowing his shiny ‘verse for a while.

The 21st Lancers belong to the British Army so I’m borrowing them too. I hope they don’t mind.

Thanks to my regular readers for making it worthwhile to continue the story and special thanks to my Proof-Reader Landry

* * *

Colony Dome – Revelation – 2520AD

Mal frowned. ‘On the first point not a chance,’ he stated. ‘Laura is coming with us regardless of whether she wants to or not. She’s too dangerous to us to let her go and honestly too dangerous to you if we let her stay here.’

‘She’s a young girl held against her will,’ Irving declared haughtily. ‘It is our Christian duty to…’

‘Let’s cut the crap,’ Mal said dismissively. ‘There’s no way you can take her off us even if we didn’t feel like hurting you too much. We’ve got enough concussion-grenades, and stun-guns to incapacitate any of you stupid enough to try anything.’

‘Violence is apparently your solution to everything,’ Irving said scornfully.

‘I’ve had a good series of results from it so far and I don’t reckon it’ll fail me now if it goes that way. In any case this discussion is over.’

The Colony Leader took a deep breath. ‘What about the other one?’

‘You don’t know what you’re letting yourself in for, but I don’t want him and the alternative is a bullet to the brain-pan or dumping out an air-lock, so if you want the gorram Reaver you can have him.’ Mal agreed. ‘He’s more dangerous than you can imagine and he bites so if you don’t keep him locked up and heavily medicated don’t come running to me if he chews your legs off.’ Mal paused. ‘That last bit was a joke. Don’t they have jokes here?’ he asked rhetorically.

The Captain sighed. ‘We’ll leave him tied up and drugged when we go. Do yourselves a big fat favour and keep him that way. Oh yeah, he bit off his own tongue so don’t expect conversation or make plans to put him in the church choir when you’ve finished converting him.’

* * *

Transport Ship Serenity – Revelation – 2520AD

The AI landed and a figure in an EVA suit jumped out from the airlock. As soon as it was clear of engine wash Shadow lifted again and thundered skywards.

Mal flicked on the radio ‘Kaylee where have you been? Shadow was supposed to already be in orbit’

The mechanic’s voice was muffled within her spacesuit. ‘I had to go and pick something up. Shadow insisted and it’s not like he has hands.’

‘I don’t mind you going for a joyride but in future do as you’re told…and what the hell did Shadow want anyway?’

‘We flew over to the wreckage of the fighters he chopped up. He wanted a couple of pieces for souvenirs.’

Another voice interrupted on the same frequency. It was Wash from the bridge on Granite Gorge. ‘Shadow wanted souvenirs?’

Mals’ face was nothing if not bemused. ‘You’re telling me the gorram machine wanted battle trophies? You’re yanking my chain.’

Kaylee raised one hand as she continued to lope towards Serenity in the low gravity. ‘I swear to God,’ she said solemnly. ‘We needed a test flight anyway so it didn’t really do any harm Captain.’

‘What did you get?’ Wash asked.

‘I picked up a small piece of heat-shielding from one of them and a capacitor from a laser on another one. I’m going to add them to my repairs when we’re underway.’

Mal frowned. ‘The AI is the sum of a number of human personalities which were recorded right?’

‘Yes. Mainly soldiers of course.’ Kaylee replied.

‘You know in his terms taking pieces of the other ships isn’t like taking a pistol off a defeated enemy, little Kaylee. He’s a ship so I reckon bits of other ships are a bit more meaningful to him than they would be to you or me’ Mal theorised.

‘I’m not following you Captain.’

‘What I’m saying is that during the war there were a lot of soldiers, on both sides, who used to take really creepifying souvenirs and I’m wondering if one of the Ally guys who got his personality recorded was one of those.’

‘Sorry Captain?’

Mal smirked. ‘Well, from Shadow’s perspective, having those bits is like having a necklace made of human ears.’

Kaylee stopped dead in her tracks and looked at the pieces of metal in her hands. ‘That is totally gross,’ she said eventually.

* * *

Transport Ship Granite Gorge – Revelation Orbit – 2520AD

‘Shadow is on the way and the Captain is prepping for lift off on Serenity,’ Wash announced over the internal speakers. ‘We should be docked and underway in ten, maybe fifteen minutes.’

River smiled. Space was home. When the ships were underway out in the black the chances of being found were minimal and besides which the hum of the engines was soothing. The Reaver base was nearly a month distant so they would have plenty of time to generate a detailed plan and to finish modifying the EMP devices from Shadow. It would be an interesting project. River had never gotten to play with thermonuclear weapons before.

The children were playing in the cargo bay. They were all happy to be in space, too and especially happy to be away from the colony below. River had read a lot of psychology texts trying to get to grips with her own condition and she wondered if their somewhat strange upbringing would lead to problems in the future as they tried to relate to other people.

Thinking of worrisome youth Laura was still being awkward. River had hoped she’d be and, in truth, she found herself resorting to shock therapy less and less, but she was still a ball of seething resentment. ‘Where’s the gorram Stockholm syndrome when you need it?’ River asked herself plaintively. ‘Oh well, at least she doesn’t have the same level of homicidal thoughts about the Captain that she used to.’

The other academy telepath was sitting on a crate watching the children. She sensed River was thinking about her and scowled. River merely rolled her eyes in response and went back to thinking about weapons of mass destruction.

Steven trotted into the cargo bay carrying a box of supplies from one of the ship’s crew quarters that had been converted into a cold store by Kaylee. Everyone’s eyes locked onto the anonymous box as chances were it contained tonight’s meal and if it was being taken from cold storage it was likely “fresh” food rather than reconstituted dried rations.

‘What’s in the box Daddy?’ Claire-Marie asked sweetly.

‘No comment,’ replied her father carrying the crate to the gantry that led up to the upper bow airlock. When Serenity docked, it could then be easily transferred over to the smaller vessel.

Cally was more inventive. ‘River what’s in the box?’ she asked.

River smiled. ‘I’m not going to scan your father for that information.’

‘I would if she’d let me,’ Laura announced. ‘But she won’t,’ she said sadly.

‘You can both stay the hell out of my mind, thanks ladies,’ the children’s father stated smiling. ‘It wouldn’t help you much anyway. It’s not the ingredients, it’s the final product that matters and I have no idea what that’s going to be.’

John piped up. ‘Is there going to be cake?’ he asked hopefully. ‘Chocolate cake?’

‘I don’t like chocolate,’ Laura stated.

John stuck his tongue out at her. ‘We know and that’s just more for me,’ he said.

Laura considered her response then set aside a scornful reply in favour of sticking her tongue out as well.

* * *

Serenity/Granite Gorge – Leaving Revelation Orbit – 2520AD

As soon as the ships had docked Mal ordered Wash to get underway and headed for the bridge of the Trance Class. The smaller upper cargo bay on the Granite was separated from the main bay below not by a solid deck but by a thick wire mesh that was plenty strong enough to take most loads but you could still see through to the cavernous hold below.

To his great surprise, Mal observed that Laura seemed to be playing with the kids; playing handball off the hull. The sound of the ball hitting the steel wall echoed loudly but nowhere near as much as the always entertaining squash games between Jennifer and River. Now those were fun to watch, years of practice versus grace athleticism… and telepathy.

It was only when you walked from the bow all the way to the bridge that you really got to see just how big the ship really was. It didn’t have Serenity’s personality but she was a good ship and like the Firefly, she was his. At the end of the main upper corridor was the connecting ladder that led downwards to the engine room and up to the bridge. If he was heading that way, and if he was not being observed, Mal would usually slide down with his boots on the outside of the ladder because it was a heap of fun but for now he was going up.

As normal, the airlock hatch at the top of the ladder was open. If the hull were breached it would close automatically to isolate the bridge so there was no reason to keep it closed normally and Wash liked to listen to the ship anyway. He spent a lot of time up here. Most of the crew spent the majority of their time on Serenity so he was often left alone with his thoughts to fly the ship. Wash still regarded the lumbering transport as a bit dull compared to the Firefly but he was fond of the thing.

Mal reached the top of the ladder and climbed out onto the Bridge. As usual he looked through the cockpit window at Serenity looking back at him as the larger ship pushed her backwards through space.

‘Everything smooth, Wash?’

The pilot nodded. ‘No problems,’ he replied. ‘We’ll be putting a bit of strain on the engine burning hard for a few weeks continuously but nothing she can’t handle even without our genius grease-monkey fussing over her.’

Mal nodded. ‘Kaylee says she’ll need you to cut the drives in a couple of days so Shadow can dock and she can finish up a few repairs. She’s already working on the parts now.’

‘I’m sure he’ll be glad to hear that,’ Wash said, pointing to starboard.

Mal looked over and saw the AI Warship holding formation no more than five hundred yards away. Even after all these months it was a view that still put a shiver up his spine. It was just so menacing even before you considered the armament and the intellect operating it.

‘I hope the sensors on that thing are working good,’ Mal said. ‘We’re heading into downtown Reaverville.’

‘Passive and active arrays are working fine,’ Wash reassured him. ‘About the only thing that could sneak up on him is him.’

Mal frowned. ‘Anything remotely Reaver-like shows up let me know ASAP.’

Washed nodded. ‘We are going to make sure River is nicely medicated before she gets to work on the nuke?’ he asked seriously. ‘I know Kaylee will be doing a lot of the work but I want to be sure the person talking her through it isn’t in one of her food-throwing or Jayne stabbing moods.’

‘You saying that wanting to stab Jayne is an automatic sign of insanity?’ Mal asked.

‘Okay bad example, but the food throwing objection still stands.’

* * *

Serenity/Granite Gorge – Underway Full-Burn – 2520AD

Once again Book was in an ethical dilemma. He was racking his brains for a solution to the Reaver issue that didn’t end in fiery nuclear death for untold numbers of them, but none were forthcoming.

That they were a plague went without saying. They preyed upon the people of the rim and beyond slaughtering innocents and demonstrating beyond doubt the darkness of the human soul in its most virulent form.

Even so, the notion of just exterminating them as you would some kind of pestilent infestation was a horrific notion. There would likely be women and children amongst their number and despite their warped ideology, was it really the place of the crew, of a pair of aging transport ships to rain radioactive fire and vengeance upon them?

Thinking about their warped ideology River was repeating the findings of her interrogations to the latecomers.

‘Yeah, it’s a cult.’ Steve said smugly. ‘I keep telling all of you that religion is the root of all evil’

The Doctor was deep in thought. ‘So how did it evolve?’

River leaned back in her chair. ‘Well this is partially supposition, but it would appear that a couple of the early survey vessels managed to get themselves stranded out in the deep and when supplies ran low they resorted to cannibalism. There are lots of precedents for that amongst shipwrecked sailors on Earth-That-Was if you’re interested,’ She continued.

‘They’re a long way from just being hungry spacers,’ Zoe observed.

River nodded. ‘The way I see it is that in order to make the whole thing more acceptable it became gradually ritualistic. Eventually it became normal, then the core of a religious system. Human sacrifice isn’t all that unheard of in human history either. They just eat the remains too.’

‘A blood-cult,’ Simon commented. ‘In ancient South-America they would cut the still beating hearts out of captives, and sometimes even volunteers. I remember reading about it.’

‘Aztecs’s in Space,’ Steve said in a dramatic fashion before continuing in his normal voice. ‘That’s a hell of a good idea for a movie script.’

Jennifer scowled and elbowed him in the ribs causing him to shut up.

‘So all the rape, pillage, murder and chewing human flesh are an act of worship?’ Inara asked aghast. ‘It would explain the fanaticism I suppose.’

‘Yes indeed,’ River concurred. ‘Running without containment is suicidal but it gives a great performance edge over equivalent specification craft and if you’re motivation is religious it’s another way to be a martyr to your faith.’

‘I do like the irony of saving one load of religious nuts from another one,’ Mal said. ‘It has a symmetry, don’t you think?’

Book sighed. ‘The Revelation Colonists are perhaps a little misguided but I think comparing them to this Reaver cult is overplaying things. In any case the latter is a travesty of a faith.’

‘Less than a thousand years ago Christians were burning folks aplenty. You never know, in a few centuries there may be Reaver missionaries preaching the word across the verse. The only difference is when you find their Holy Book in the cabinet by your hotel bed it’ll be bound in human skin,’ Wash said chuckling.

Book was not amused but several of the others were.

Steven knocked on the table. ‘Hello,’ He said. ‘I’m from the Church of the Latter Day Reavers. We’d like to leave you some literature about Flaying,’ he joked.

Watching the expression on the Shepherd’s face Mal raised his hand to tell everyone to be quiet. This was supposed to be a serious conversation anyway. ‘River, do you know anything more about them?’

She shook her head. ‘Our captive was only a very low level type. They do seem to have a hierarchical structure which is based both on age and accomplishment. The scars on the face indicate seniority. Those on the arms indicate numbers of kills.’

‘How many of them are there?’

‘More than people thought but between the losses they have incurred against their new enemy, the ones we killed recently and the masses of them we’re about to get rid of I think the Reaver threat will be severely curtailed for many years. There are still a number of vessels roaming the Rim though.’

‘Could we hunt them down?’ Zoe asked. ‘Finish the job once and for all?’

‘We’d never find them. Their hunting grounds are too vast and we wouldn’t know where to look,’ River replied. ‘They’re not particularly cohesive so even the most senior Reavers are unlikely to know where they all are.’

Mal stood up. ‘Well we might not be able to get them all but I reckon we’ll make a good dent in their numbers and that’s a heck of a good result to my thinking.’

Book remained silent.

* * *

AI Warship Shadow – Docked to Serenity/Granite Gorge – 2520AD

The three ships docked together would have been an impressive albeit haphazard sight to any observer but they were several days full-burn out from Revelation in the middle of nowhere and the only thing anywhere close to being nearby was a comet distinctly lacking in aesthetic sense.

Kaylee was fitting some reconditioned parts which, to her nearest paramount mechanical reckonings, should enable the ship to attain a reasonable percentage of its fighting potential before they got too far into Reaver space. Whilst the mechanic laboured away in the engine room trying not to worry about the fact it was more than a touch irradiated back there, River was running the AI through her plans for the forthcoming operation.

The machine was well versed in tactical thinking and considered River’s plan workable and reasonably thought out, at least by wetware standards. It wasn’t a particularly detailed plan. For the most part, Shadow could handle anything the Reavers could throw at him with minimal trouble and in any case you couldn’t really predict Reaver actions so attempting to formulate a neat plan of predictable move and countermove was just a waste of time. They were too crazed for their reactions to be predetermined even by a telepathic genius and an inhumanly smart machine.

The AI had to admit to himself that the notion of deploying nuclear weapons against the savages was such a serious case of overkill that he could do little but wholeheartedly approve. The massive destruction would make for some great pictures for his database.

One of the joys about being a self-aware computer is that you learn fast. Even before being installed on the ship Shadow had already downloaded a vast amount of information from the Cortex, which he now ran through, searching for an appropriate piece of music to accompany the images.

It only took a tiny fraction of a second to find what he was looking for amongst the terabytes of data. ‘Yes, that would be perfect,’ Shadow thought. It was just a pity nobody else would get the reference.

Still in the engine room Kaylee was puzzled as the AI began playing a tune over the internal speakers. She actually knew the song but couldn’t possibly fathom why the AI was playing it.

Finally Shadow spoke up. ‘Well, boys, I reckon this is it - nuclear combat toe to toe with the Reavers.’

Kaylee scratched her head as the music began again. What was that supposed to mean and why the nine hells was Shadow playing “When Johnny comes marching home again”?

Part XII


Wednesday, July 28, 2004 10:19 AM


Hotpoint, you have returned!! Try not to leave us hanging so long between installments next time. This is a great continuing story!!

Wednesday, July 28, 2004 11:44 AM


Another shiny Hotpoint story, full of clever dialogue, fascinating concepts, and solid plot, with a welcomed dash of Granite Gorge description. Thanks!

Thursday, July 29, 2004 5:46 AM


Not sure how I feel about the Reaver Hunt. Not that I like 'em any more than our shiny heroes but actively going in search of them to kill them is a step further than I thought they would go. I have a feeling Book is going to throw a spanner in the works. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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