Here Be Dragons (Part XIII)
Tuesday, August 3, 2004

As Shadow keeps the horde penned up Serenity moves in for the kill


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

* * *

AI Warship Shadow – Under Full Burn – 2520AD

Thoughts of glorious attacks aside, there is still always a place for misdirection and the AI was well enough versed in the philosophies of warfare to know the battle is won as much in the mind of the enemy as it is your own.

By hitting all seven orbiting ships simultaneously Shadow had not only obtained the high ground, he had also made it look like that the Reavers were facing multiple opponents. The fact that none of the vessels had detected anything before their destruction also meant the Reavers on the ground would know they were facing opposition with very good stealth capabilities.

It was likely they were now imagining themselves facing a horde of radar-invisible enemies and this was a misconception Shadow was only too happy to reinforce.

Shadow began broadcasting on multiple frequencies. Not just static but dozens of different conversations between the members of an entirely imaginary ghost fleet. Each conversation was distinct, each character with a different voice and accent all running simultaneously with plenty of ECM induced interference to really liven things up.

Down on the planet Reaver commanders could hear Squadron Leaders plotting attack runs and fighter-bomber pilots vying amongst themselves to be the first to drop their payloads. A Frigate Captain was asking when he should begin planetary bombardment and being answered by a Commodore on the Aircraft Carrier that had launched the fighters.

It sounded like somebody had sent an entire taskforce against them with craft inbound on their location from multiple vectors.

Some of the grounded vessels were not badly damaged and were ready to lift but they had no idea where to lift to. Judging by the radio-chatter which ever way they boosted they’d run into overwhelming opposition.

Reavers don’t think along the same lines as normal folk but put them on the back-foot, muddy the waters and basically confuse the heck out of them and they can prevaricate and procrastinate like the best of them.

By the time one of them got enough wits about him to triangulate the sources of the radio chatter to try and track the inbounds and realised all the transmissions were coming from the same damn place it was too late.

* * *

Transport Ship Serenity – Under Full Burn – 2520AD

The four of them were still. Zoe turned to Mal. ‘Remember the twenty-second day in the valley?’ she asked.

‘Who could forget?’ he replied quietly. ‘Alliance got the upper hand in orbit and the rain started falling.’

‘Rain?’ Wash asked curiously.

‘Steel rain,’ Zoe said remembering. ‘Mass Driver strikes from orbit, some called it thunder and lighting.’


Mal scratched his chin. ‘Well up in the black you can’t see a kinetic in transit but in atmo, if it’s going fast enough, you can see shockwaves in the clouds and smoke as she goes through. Coming in fast enough from orbit they’ll look like a gorram meteors.’

Zoe nodded and continued ‘Sometimes you could see the things coming right before they arrived. Couldn’t hear them coming though, they were going faster than sound so you heard the crack after they hit the target. You’d see the strike before you heard it so it’s like seeing the lightning bolt before you hear the thunder.’

‘As soon as our capital ships were driven off, those Ally cruisers and destroyers just started pounding the crap outta us,’ Mal said sadly. ‘We had them stopped cold on the ground but our Navy boys just couldn’t match them in orbit.’

‘So the Steel Rain started to fall,’ Zoe said. ‘That was when things started to get really bad.’

Wash took his wife’s hand and kissed it. Not for the first time he wished he’d fought in the war. Chances are if he had he would have been flying one of those Independent ships fighting to protect her and the other troops on Hera. Of course that also meant the chances were he would have been killed and would never have met her.

‘What made you think of this now?’ Wash asked.

Zoe smiled. ‘Because right about now the Reavers are in a rainstorm and knowing what that’s like I almost feel sorry for them.’

* * *

Reaver Encampment – An Unnamed Planet – 2520AD

Given the basically chaotic structure of Reaver society it is little surprising that some ships, you could really think of them as clans, were better organised than others, or rather that some were slightly less anarchical.

Whilst their brethren tried to figure out what to do, one ship had begun to prep for launch as soon as the orbiting vessels were struck. Although powered down, the crew hurriedly put the reactor back on-line, sealed the airlocks and got the engine running for an immediate take off.

Whilst the other Reavers watched, the old Transport lifted from the surface and thundered into the sky above.

It was nearly half a mile into the air nose pointed upwards in a steep climb when a thunderbolt split the sky leaving shockwaves in the clouds, smashed straight into the bow, and a fraction of a second later exited the stern ploughing through several bulkheads and the engine en-route.

The Reactor was actually untouched but with the Gravity Engine smashed to pieces all the power generation in the ‘Verse wasn’t going to do it any good and the squat old ship suddenly found itself a couple of thousand feet in the air without any form of propulsion and with all the aerodynamic qualities of a concrete block.

Whilst other crews watched from below, the ship dropped from the sky like a stone and smashed itself to pieces just outside the encampment.

Another ship was about to lift, but it never got the chance. As soon as its engine powered up and it was putting out an easily recognisable energy field another projectile was on its way.

The front ramp was just closing when a large ball of iron crashed into the vessel and broke its back. The kinetic energy of the impact had to go somewhere and pieces of the ship blasted off like shrapnel as the hull shattered. The hypersonic crack the projectile left in its wake caught up with the event shortly afterwards.

Another four Reaver ships were smashed in the same way before they realised they might be better off if they acted collectively.

* * *

AI Warship Shadow – De-Orbiting – 2520AD

The AI had hoped to get in a few more decent strikes from orbit before having to enter atmosphere but judging from his sensors a good number of the enemy vessels were starting to power up which meant that simply bombarding them from orbit wasn’t an option. Now they knew they were being hit by a mass-driver bombardment if they had any sense at all they would know to power up and take off as a group and randomise their acceleration to throw off targeting.

Any decent military formation would have had the sense to do so much sooner, just after the first vessel was taken out in fact, but the Reavers were rabble. Brave to the point of stupidity, fierce beyond measure and downright fanatical in belief but still a rabble. Cohesion was not really their thing. They were independent clans held together by blood ties and blood religion, not an army. Not even usually a horde.

As Shadow dropped into the upper atmosphere the AI began to charge his directed energy weapons and determine the best possible strafing runs given the terrain. The Reavers were right on the coast presumably to give them ample water supplies. If you’ve got plenty of electricity generation available desalination isn’t too much work and none of the rivers seemed large enough to sustain a population that size in one place.

Compared to his last experience of re-entry into Revelation's atmosphere this one was positively subdued. The AI wasn’t going anywhere near as fast and was not having to go in at an inadvisable angle aero-braking to dump excess velocity.

His hull wasn’t holed in multiple places this time either. The patches made from the pieces of other Reaver ships were a pale imitation of the ship's own hull material but they were more than adequate for the heat and stress of re-entry.

The ship rattled and shook a bit as atmosphere began to pummel the hull. Eventually the worst was over and the AI could feel the air getting thick enough for atmospheric manoeuvring.

Shadow's sensor array was actively scanning and the AI considered the input from the detection gear embedded all over his hull and let his mind wander. Maybe he couldn’t touch or smell but humans can’t see in the whole spectrum from infra-red, through “visible light” all the way up to ultra-violet simultaneously, neither can they picture the world around them in three-dimensions with Radar, measure distance to an object to a tiny part of a millimetre with laser rangefinders or sense electromagnetic fields on their skin. The universe had a beauty to the machine that wetware couldn’t imagine. To see radio-waves as colours is a special gift the machine decided.

Shadow could feel the engines powering up on a dozen Reaver ships. They were talking to each other via secure encrypted signals coordinating a simultaneous launch.

The AI considered the encrypted transmissions. They were actually quite well encoded given that they were devised by a bunch of hairy savages. It took him nearly three seconds to crack the code and then he had to cheat a bit by running it through the quantum computer that was attached to his mainframe.

Shadow went into a steep dive pulling out barely a hundred feet from the ground. He continued to de-accelerate for the strafing run, go past too quickly and his directed energy weapons wouldn’t have enough time on target for a burn through. That’s the trouble with planets. They have a damn horizon and he needed line-of sight. It was a compromise of course. Go in too slow and he’d take some hits himself.

Just before optimum firing range Shadow was going slow enough to slide the small canard wings in his bow into position and deploy thrust-vectoring vanes into his engine exhaust. On the ship's underside the Particle Beam Cannon lowered into place. It gave a lot more punch than the lasers in the wingtips and would be used against thicker hulled vessels.

The AI could feel attack radars trying to get a lock on him. Some of the Reaver ships would have missiles and weapons turrets that would still be able to engage whilst grounded. Any that looked like they might get a lock were instantly jammed by the warships ECM system. More modern systems would have been able to burn through the jamming but some of these ships probably dated back to Earth-That-Was itself.

The encampment was still over the horizon when the ships lifted from the ground. It was a surprisingly synchronous move with the ships rising from the ground almost simultaneously and heading in different directions.

If they’d actually achieved that ten minutes earlier it would have been very annoying. As it was now all they had actually managed to do by taking off was give Shadow line of sight a bit earlier than they would have otherwise.

Directed-Energy Weapons work best outside the atmosphere where there is nothing to dissipitate their beam, although they do still gradually lose focus over distance. Between that and the fact you can’t dodge a laser they are very useful for ship-to-ship combat. They are however very unspectacular for the same reason. There’s nothing for you to see, nothing for them to light up or ionise in a vacuum.

In an atmosphere though, they can be downright pretty, especially as the sun was going down and the encampment was falling into darkness.

The Lasers were in fixed mounts so Shadow orientated the entire ship towards the largest vessel and fired. The beams were just visible to the Reavers below as they lanced out and scorched into the hull, then as the ship tried to manoeuvre to get away it made the mistake of orientating itself so that Shadow had an angle of one of its outboard thrusters. The incoming beams shifted and sliced the port outboard clean off the ship.

Simultaneously another rising ship was neatly speared through the engine by the green streak of a Particle-Beam. The more powerful directed energy weapon was as much a projector of mass as energy and as much punched through the hull as burned through it.

The two ships fell to the surface. The first being deprived of thrust of one side tumbled and crashed. The second somewhat less gymnastically just dropped in a heap.

The AI prioritised the available targets altered course very slightly and engaged the next pair.

There were four more piles of wreckage littering the area before Shadow began his strafing run.

* * *

Reaver Encampment – An Unnamed Planet – 2520AD

The attacking vessel came tearing up a gently sloping valley faster and at a lower altitude than any sane pilot would attempt. For that matter the watching Reavers wouldn’t have attempted it either.

Several dozen had grabbed rifles and other weapons and were outside their ships preparing to defend the position. It was twilight and a veritable storm of tracer fire seemed to be heading in all directions.

Several Reavers even had the presence of mind to fire in the actual direction the enemy was coming from.

It came in firing its lasers at a high power but instead of a continuous beam it was a series of rapid pulses charging capacitors between shots shifting targets rapidly, saturating the area with fire. Meanwhile its other beam weapon was being used to knock out the ships that were trying to take off. Ships that were running up their engines were rewarded with the attention of a Particle Beam cannon.

Some of the grounded ships had defence turrets which could be aimed and these began to fire also. Unfortunately they couldn’t get a hard target lock on the oncoming vessel it had a very small radar cross-section and was broadcasting ECM at very high output.

No sooner had it arrived but it streaked past barely clearing the tops of some of the larger vessels.

Shortly after it hurtled overhead the shockwave it had been leaving in its wake caught up and a sonic boom echoed across the encampment. Some of the Reavers who had been trying to bring it down were knocked end over end over by the turbulence left behind the supersonic craft.

An anti-ship rocket launched and accelerated after the vessel. It was a more recent design than most of those they had and close enough to burn through the jamming. A second left its launch rail and tore after the vessel too.

The particle beam weapon must have been on a turret because it continued to score hits even after the ship had gone past. Almost as an afterthought it targeted and shot down the chasing missiles too.

Wrecked ships littered the encampment, some smashed to pieces and burning others looking almost intact, neatly skewered with a preternaturally well-aimed bolt of energy before they could even start to lift.

The vast majority of the craft were however totally untouched. In fact it rapidly became apparent that not a single vessel which had not tried to lift had been struck.

Several Captains that had been trying to get their ships ready to fly rapidly abandoned the idea and wondered what the hell they should do now? And for that matter why exactly was the enemy seemingly so intent on them staying put?

* * *

Transport Ship Serenity – Under Full Burn – 2520AD

‘I’m getting a feed from Shadow,’ Wash said looking at his console.

‘You mean a wave?’ Mal asked expecting a status report.

Wash shook his head. ‘No, I mean a feed. Looks like images from his optical gear. Guess he thought we’d be interested.’

‘Gun camera images?’ Mal said wonderingly. ‘Let’s take a look.’

The console's small console screen wasn’t the ideal viewing medium especially not with four people trying to crowd around it, but the images were compulsive viewing.

‘He’s really stirred up a hornet's nest down there,’ Zoe said matter-of-factly. They were images straight from the nose of the AI as it undertook its strafing run. You could see the lasers coming from off-screen to either side of the image and occasionally the green streak of the particle cannon.

‘No chainguns?’ Wash asked. 'I thought that’s what he had them for. Strafing, I mean.’

‘Ordered him not to use ‘em,’ Mal explained. ‘No missiles neither. We’ve got plenty of fuel for his reactor and we can make Railgun loads ourselves but chain-gun ammo ain’t something you can find drifting and we already used up those missiles we took from the Ally freighter reloading his bays after last time.’

‘Damn shame,’ Zoe commented. ‘He could have really chopped them up bad with those things.’

River considered the images. They were very pretty especially with the tracer fire. Looked a little like fireworks.

And like fireworks you leave the most spectacular until last.

‘What’s our ETA?’ Mal asked.

Wash tapped another display. ‘Twelve minutes until orbit. Say another five until we’re in atmo three more until I can get in position for the drop.’

‘And how quickly to get the hell out of the way after we drop it?’ Zoe asked her husband hand resting on his shoulder.

Wash turned to her and grinned. ‘Let me put it this way. If you think you’ve seen me fly good before, wait until you see me trying to outrun an H-Bomb going off.’

‘Now haven’t I always said all folks need to get things done is the proper motivation?’ Mal declared.

‘Yes Sir,’ Zoe concurred. ‘Thinking of motivation why do you think Shadow is sending us these anyway?’

River giggled. ‘Haven’t you realised by now?’ she said. ‘It’s showing off. It’s a total egomaniac.’

Mal groaned. ‘Well that’s just gorram peachy. First it starts taking war trophies now it’s probably developing some kind of Napoleon complex or something.’

‘It’s worse than that Captain,’ Wash stated solemnly. ‘Do you know how much we’ll have to pay a psychiatrist to analyse a ship? More to the point where are we going to find one with a big enough couch?’

Zoe choked back laughter as the pilot put on an Austrian accent. ‘So you say your mother was an orbital constructional yard. And did you resent your Designer?’

‘Knock it off, Wash,’ Mal ordered. This was supposed to be a serious business.

* * *

AI Warship Shadow – In Action – 2520AD

You had to give it to them, they were stubborn. Shadow had to make two more strafing runs before all the Reavers stopped trying to take off.

The last run had been touch and go. By now all of those not needed to man ships guns were on the surface firing. Hundreds of rifles, machine guns and even a smattering of shoulder-launched rockets greeted the AI ship's final run. By now it was pitch black which made seeing him from the ground somewhat easier too. They could easily see his firing and direct their own along his path.

Not that Shadow made it easy though. He flew a fast-turning random flight path at very high speed for the altitude which threw off the aim of most of the Laser batteries and ensured that very few of the streams of bullets arcing into the sky got anywhere close.

However, throw enough lead upwards and you have to hit something and the AI sensed bullets impacting with his hull. Some of his optical sensors actually recorded sparks caused as small chunks of supersonic metal dinged off his hull. They might as well have been throwing marshmallows considering the laminate armour that covered the ship but they were fighting back nonetheless and more effectively with each attack run he made. Eventually the laws of probability meant that those gunners firing ships turrets would get lucky and he might receive some damage that was halfway serious.

Shadow was actively scanning in all directions and sensed an arrival into the arena far above. It was time for the old transport to deliver the coup-de-grace.

The warship stood on its tail and accelerated skywards hurtling up to meet the Firefly so it could escort it to the target. Not long now until the Reavers were going to face their own private Armageddon.

According to some folks, the sinful face hellfire and brimstone after they die. This may or may not be true but it was certain that one particular group of sinners was going to face a parcel of biblical style wrath beforehand.

If you take it upon yourself to bathe in blood you should expect that eventually somebody someday might decide to bathe you in fire as well.

Part XIV


Tuesday, August 3, 2004 9:00 AM


Hotpoint, what can I say...

You so rock!!! Keep this coming!!!

Tuesday, August 3, 2004 9:51 AM


Very much crying for more. I loved Wash and the notion of the AI needing a shrink when all is said and done. Rutting hell, by the end of this we all may need one! Very shiny, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Tuesday, August 3, 2004 1:29 PM


You know how much i love the tactical stuff, Hotpoint. This installment was pure that bad? Searching the horizon for IV...

Wednesday, August 4, 2004 6:42 AM


I really like the take you've created on the nature and structure of the Reaver society--seems workable within the context both of the established canon of the show and also in the practical aspects of how such a society would need to be to fit the given criteria.

I liked Zoe's touch of sympathy for what the Reavers were facing.

Wednesday, August 4, 2004 8:20 AM


You tackle a mostly ignored realm of fanficdom - hard SF - with aplomb. Thanks for finding some room in there for some time with our favorite characters.


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Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XX)
The Independents lift for a return to the Valley

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XIX)
As they train for the Campaign to liberate Hera the soldiers of the Independent military continue to go about their daily lives.

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XVIII)
Mal faces a worse fate than he ever imagined, Serenity has an image change and Cally adjusts to life back on Toulouse

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XVII)
After the initial Independent blitzkreig the Second War of Independence continues with the Alliance still reeling and the Browncoats starting to consolidate their position

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XVI)
Scylla and Charybdis show the Alliance Navy what real warships are made of

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XV)
After the skirmishing the Battle of Toulouse begins

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XIV)
Mal Reynolds takes his "Valley Wolves" into action as the fighting on Toulouse escalates

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XIII)
The Independent Navy takes the fight to the Core while Mal Reynolds takes his new troops into action on Toulouse

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XII)
Unification Day 2522 goes not as expected

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XI)
Reunions and opening gambits