BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

HOTPOINT

Here Be Dragons (Part XV)
Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The Captain lets his mind wander. Kaylee makes ammunition and a new player appears on the horizon


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3375    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

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.

* * *

Serenity/Granite Gorge – Underway – 2520AD

The coffee was too darn hot to drink so Mal sat back and let it cool whilst listening to the ship. He’d left Inara sleeping and headed up to the galley to think. He was grateful they didn’t try to set up a victory party to celebrate the return of the conquering heroes. It didn’t feel like a cause for celebration just an unpleasant, albeit necessary, task.

The ships were underway again. Serenity once again in her usual spot being pushed backwards through the black by the larger ship. Well she’d earned a rest after the last little adventure. She was scorched by laser fire and her engines had been pushed right to the wall by Wash trying to get as much space between them and the nuke as possible before it razed the Reaver Camp.

Sipping the dark brew Mal let his thoughts drift over his crew. It didn’t seem so long ago that he’d craved some action to get them on their toes but a few months grace would be just the ticket right about now.

The Shepherd was becoming increasingly distant and that was a cause for concern. For most of the crew, even the ones that largely believed in the notion of religion, they found putting aside moral considerations and uncertainties was a far easier task than it was for Book. He agonised over such things, the ethical ambiguities of their lifestyle ate at his soul. You could see it in his face.

Mal sympathised, he had his own inner demons but he fought them by putting the interests of his people above his own. Striving to be a good Captain was his reparation for things he had, or hadn’t, done and clearly Book’s devotion to his faith was a close parallel to his own devotion to his crew. He was either seeking salvation or penance and this really wasn’t the ideal location for that. Some days you wondered if the balance-sheet on your soul was really moving out of the red or not.

The kids were always a concern. Mal had to admit they brightened up the ship, and despite the crotchety manner he sometimes adopted around them he didn’t know if he’d want to return to the point before they came aboard, but you just couldn’t help but put them ahead of everything else and that threw priorities all to hell. It was just human nature You felt compelled to look after them. Sometimes they were just a pain in the ass but when you found yourself roped into playing ball or tossing horseshoes with one of them it was hard to tear yourself away.

Mal smiled remembering an event earlier. Claire-Marie had been playing dress-up and looked cute as a button. This resulted in much cooing from Kaylee who then made a throwaway remark about wanting a whole heap of children herself. She then threw Simon a doe-eyed expression and sighed.

The Doctor had smiled back until she looked away and his expression shifted to outright distress.

Wash had somehow choked back spontaneous laughter and turned to escape before breaking only to find a similar dopey expression on his wife’s face as she watched the little girl play.

Mal remembered his own smirk widening until he caught Steve’s eye. The girl’s father was signalling surreptitiously for the Captain to look left and he did so only to find Inara wearing the same expression as the other females.

When he looked back, Steve was the only one smirking.

Mal took another sip of coffee. Thinking of children there was always Jayne to contend with. He seemed reasonably settled after the fire-fight on Revelation a few weeks back That bit of shoot-‘em-up had released a lot of built-up tension but it would be building again. Where was a whorehouse when you needed one? If Jayne got laid occasionally he was much easier to deal with. His mood was lighter and he was less likely to object to chores.

Oh well compared to some of their other problems, the fact that the big mercenary was sexually frustrated wasn’t a major one. At least he didn’t have to wear an electric shock anklet to stop him entertaining thoughts of maiming the crew.

‘Maybe I really should have stuffed her out of the airlock,’ Mal said quietly to himself wondering what the long-term solution to Laura might be. She’d been on the boat with them for months and although she wasn’t quite as objectionable as she’d been at first it was becoming increasingly evident that his hopes of converting, or rather de-programming, her just weren’t coming to fruition.

She tolerated River the most and didn’t seem to mind the kids too much, well except for Cally who she seemed guarded about, but other than that she was downright obnoxious. On one occasion after she’d upset Kaylee enough to bring her to tears Mal had tried to force an apology by telling Laura she wasn’t too big to put over his knee. She replied that if he wanted S&M he should stick to his whore girlfriend.

You had to hand it to her though, she was fast, because Inara’s attempted slap to the face missed by a mile. Laura’s look of triumph was however short lived when River threw the former companion the remote control for the shock-ring. To her credit Inara only gave her a mild jolt, which was a far more humane response than Mal’s would have been.

The girl’s ongoing bitterness and resentment was just becoming a fact of life. Maybe one day she’d see the light but if nothing else it was interesting to see a glimpse of what River might have become if the Academy had had longer to work on her. Even after much of the psychological conditioning had collapsed she was still certain of her cause. Maybe her background was the problem. Like River she was very bright but unlike her she had apparently been taken from a state orphanage into the Academy program so she didn’t share River’s view of the government as being the people who took her away from her life. To Laura the government was her family the crew were at best misguided fools struggling against the forces of order for the sake of some silly, ill-founded ideals about liberty.

Mal sighed. Oh well there’s always the airlock.

He finished the coffee rinsed the cup and left it upside down to drain. The girls would wash it up properly the next day.

The Captain headed for his quarters then decided Inara would be pissed off if she woke tomorrow and found him not there again so he changed direction. He’d tried to explain he got better nights sleep alone after all these years but she insisted on taking it as a personal affront. He understood, really. She wanted to differentiate their time together from her previous life. The idea of making love then the man leaving to go elsewhere was just a bit too much of a reminder of times past.

He’d have to check with Simon tomorrow if there was a pill he could pop to solve this problem. Spending every morning bleary eyed through lack of sleep just wasn’t a good look on him. The only problem was Mal just knew Simon was going to advise him to try cutting back on his caffeine intake first.

Captain Mal Reynolds could face Reavers, Alliance soldiers or psychotic criminals without turning a hair but the notion of a day without coffee sent a chill down his spine.

He shuddered and went back to bed.

* * *

‘Economically the Alliance can be thought of as primarily mercantilist in nature, that is to say it is capitalist but without the notion of free trade or much in the way of state restrictions on monopolies,’ Steven began. ‘In many ways it can be seen as a parallel to the state of affairs within the gradually emerging economic situation during the 18th century in that large companies formed to take advantage of the new colonial enterprises and whilst society was gradually industrialising in some areas agriculture still dominated the lives of many.’

The academic started pacing up and down as was his habit when teaching. ‘You can take the comparison further,’ he said. ‘To give an example, during this time period on Earth-That-Was, there was a private colonial concern known as the “East India Company” which was set up on the Indian Sub-Continent. Originally it was just a business but over the years it expanded its interests and eventually operated its own army both to protect these interests and expand them still further.’

‘In the end the British government and the East India Company became so entwined that it was hard to distinguish where one began and the other ended. Business turned to informal Empire and eventually outright annexation of territory,’ Steven said. ‘In a similar way the big terraforming companies and conglomerates of today were originally just private concerns but as they expanded outwards to develop new worlds the line was blurred between their perceived interests and those of the state.’

‘The Alliance bankrolled a number of these ventures through loans. It also lent troops to protect its investments. As the state became more and more involved in these private ventures the conglomerates similarly became more and more wrapped up in the state especially given the number of formally state-run sectors that were either privatised outright or contracted out, such as communications.

‘Money of course is another factor. Many politicians were either bought outright or else persuaded into voting one way or the other by well funded lobbyists with corporate backing.

‘As the dividing line between the conglomerates and the government faded it was inevitable that in the end the needs of business would far outweigh the needs of the people, or indeed capitalism itself,’. Steven paused to take a drink. ‘As they developed, some of the outer planets had begun to industrialise and although such competition is actually beneficial to the economy as a whole it was bad news to the established firms in the core which fought back by persuading the government to introduce the diabolical tariff system we have to put up with now.

‘Ironically this suppression of competition is one reason why the vastly outmatched Independent industrial base kept us going so long. Many of the core factories insulated from competition were highly inefficient and bureaucratic by comparison to the newer more dynamic enterprises on the rim. They had many times the industrial potential but nowhere near the individual productivity per worker which is one reason why all those gleaming core metropolises didn’t crush the Browncoats instantly under a tidal wave of logistics like they really should have.

‘The other reasons were of course down to frequently poor tactical doctrine and a thorough lack of intestinal fortitude,’ Steven continued.

‘A lack of what did you say?’ Claire-Marie asked.

‘Intestinal fortitude,’ Steven repeated. ‘Otherwise known as guts,’ he continued smiling and slapping his stomach. ‘The bellies may have been purple on the outside but they were often yellow underneath,’ he joked. ‘You can’t take some poor core draftee who’s lived a nice comfortable life for eighteen years drop him off in the middle of nowhere with a rifle and expect him to fight as hard as someone who is on their home-turf, who’s been hunting for food for much of their life and who has a much better grasp on why they’re actually fighting in the first place.’

The academic smiled again. ‘This reminds me of the old joke. An Ally and a Browncoat are lying together in a ditch wounded after a battle. The Browncoat asks the Ally why he’s fighting and the Ally says to unify the worlds under one government for the greater good. The Ally asks the same question to which the Browncoat replies…’

‘Because you’re down here,’ Mal interrupted finishing the story. ‘Abstract ideals don’t mean squat next to knowing you’re fighting for your own land and your own kind.’

‘Too true, but in any case I digress. Another historical parallel with the 18th Century is the use of indentured servitude, and often outright slavery, across the inhabited worlds with little effort or motivation by the government to eradicate it.

‘For the most part such things were abolished on Earth-That-Was six centuries ago but like a foul reminder of a bygone age it returned along with the subsistence farming communities of the rim and the forced-labour camps we often find employed during terraforming operations.’

Steven shook his head sadly. ‘Another product of the illiberal corporate Oligarchy of our times is the resurrection in many places of an actual aristocracy which again demonstrates a regression in our political situation and is a visual demonstration of how wide the gap is between the obscenely wealthy and the rest of us.’

‘A whattyarchy?’ Wash asked loudly. It looked like everyone had decided to turn up to listen in on today’s class.

‘Oligarchy,’ Cally answered before her father could. ‘A government in which the power is within the hands of a small group not the many. In the case of the Alliance it’s the higher echelons of the military, the secret service, big business and certain politicians.’ She paused. ‘It’s not really a tyranny because power doesn’t wholly reside with one man or group nor can it be called a Democracy by any stretch of the imagination.’

‘So what’s the best system then?’ Claire-Marie asked.

Steven smiled wryly. ‘I’m not sure about the best but in my opinion the least worst is Representative Liberal Democracy with a broadly lasse-faire capitalist economy moderated by strong social safeguards. Free trade but government intervention to prevent monopolies and legalised trade-unions to help balance the needs of the worker and the employer, no gorram slavery, excuse my language, and power only invested in the hands of those with an electoral mandate from the majority, or at least a plurality of the people. And finally a free press to keep the government in line,’ He paused. ‘Wouldn’t be utopia but it would be a great improvement.’ Steven paused. ‘Right, it’s time for a quiz,’ he said starting to smile as the audience quietly scattered. He loved singling out the adults for questions and unlike the children they could leave.

* * *

Kaylee finished reloading the AI warship’s ammunition hold and closed the hatch. Each projectile massed over fifty kilos so they had to turn off the ships artificial gravity to facilitate the loading procedure.

Making the reloads had been easier than she thought it would be. Fortunately Steve had made Railgun loads before and knew the technique. Actually as far as manufacturing goes it wasn’t exactly the most complex task.

Before leaving the Reaver planet Serenity had stopped to collect some of the wreckage left from the ships Shadow had smashed from orbit. There was plenty of steel just floating there so Mal and Zoe had gone EVA and hauled some aboard.

In order to make a Railgun projectile in a gravity field you need to cast a sphere and machine it to make sure it’s perfectly round.

Outside a gravity field it’s easy as pie. Take the required mass of metal and melt it, then let it cool down job done.

The trick is that the liquid metal’s own surface tension will form the glob of metal into a perfect sphere without any need for machining. Then you just need to wait until it becomes a solid again. Even better the crystalline structure of the metal if formed within a zero-gee environment is perfect so not only is the projectile easier to make it’s actually a little bit tougher too.

Shadow complained that unlike the original rounds remaining in his hoppers these new ones were not stealthy. The Captain told him beggars can’t be choosers and that unlike melting steel making radar absorbent material was just a little bit out of their technical reach.

Kaylee pushed herself backwards off the deck and floated back into the main compartment on the AI ship. Zoe was waiting there, she had been passing the projectiles on to the mechanic at the end of a short chain back to Granite where the rounds had been stacked ready for loading. It had taken a couple of days to convert one and a half metric tons worth of shattered ship into large metal spheres but fortunately whilst they had to have the gravity off on the Gorge there was still a field over on Serenity which made eating and other biologically necessary tasks a whole lot easier.

As soon as the two women had left the ship the airlock was closed and the AI detached accelerating off along their planned flight-path ahead of Serenity/Granite looking for trouble. If trouble was really unlucky, he might find it.

* * *

Debris Cloud – Unnamed Moon – 2520

The scout-ship scanned the surface. It had been dispatched this way to locate the fleeing enemy vessels so they could be eliminated before they got a chance to be a threat again, but instead someone else had already dealt with them. Some force had not only destroyed several vessels in orbit leaving behind this collection of scrap metal but within the last few weeks either an installation or a collection of grounded ships had been subjected to nuclear bombardment.

Judging from how radioactive the orbiting ship remnants were they were all definitely Reaver in origin. Nobody else ran without full containment. It was just a way to ensure an eventual long agonising death from radiation sickness. That didn’t bother Reavers who preferred to die young in battle anyway but most folks preferred to get in at least three-score and ten before they died.

The scout-ship sent a wave back to command and quickly received a response advising it to seek out this new player in the sector so warships could be dispatched to destroy it.

The small craft began a sector wide search. It was unlikely the protagonists were out of range yet and although it was barely armed it was equipped with first rate sensors.

It was only a matter of time until it located this new threat.

Part XVI

COMMENTS

Wednesday, August 11, 2004 12:59 PM

GUILDSISTER


Oh... bravo! The analogy and discussion of the economic nature of the Alliance as compared to the East India Company was first rate. Very well thought out.

I've enjoyed all such studies you've done throughout the series, but also was pleased to see you spend some time on the character introspection. Well played.

And happy to see the new hint of peril at the end.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004 1:25 PM

MALSDOXY


Mal's musings were right on, Hotpoint. Gotta love a man that can't do without his java ;-) Who are these new players, why do the Reavers fear them, what's to become of laura...I guess I can wait for the upcoming installments...Very shiny, HP.

Thursday, August 12, 2004 4:21 AM

SOULOFSERENITY


Hopoint, once again you've got me waiting with anticipation for the next installment!!

Thursday, August 12, 2004 6:32 AM

AMDOBELL


Really love this series, so very shiny it dazzles me! And I love how you write Mal. Laura is a worry though, I can't help wondering if the new guys coming into the picture are tied in with her. Can't wait for the next part, *Xie xie ni* - Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Thursday, August 12, 2004 6:45 AM

ARTSHIPS


Hotpoint, you make lectures fun. But the most fun was everyone's reaction to the thought of having more kids. I really wish there was something to be done with Laura. Seems a shame to have so much ability inimicable to our heroes, and right when they seem to be wandering into the cross-hairs again.

Monday, August 16, 2004 9:15 AM

HOTPOINT


Guildsister - Thanks for your comments. I've been trying to get a handle on the socio-economics of the Firefly Verse to add a bit of background substance to my Fics. Nice to know it was well recieved :-)

MalsDoxy - Always a pleasure to be told I can write musings okay... as well as violence :-p

Anonomymous - "speechless with the depth, fluidity, beauty"? Too kind by far

SoulOfSerenity - I'll try not to leave it to long between chapters okay?

AMDOBELL - No more than your Fics have been known to dazzle me I assure you

artships - I'm a frustrated teacher at heart :-p


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