Learning Curve - Chapter I
Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Pre Serenity Valley. Mal goes to war and learns what it takes to lead.


Sept. 2506 Calisto Docks, Hera

The Lieutenant had just taken command of the platoon the month before. He was fresh out of the Officer Academy on Parrish and excited they were shipping out. Hera was not a hot bed of activity. The major battles were being fought on Verbena and Boros. Outside of the occasional skirmish or police action, Hera was just a holding point for Independent troops. That would change today. Today he would join the fight. They were shipping out to Verbena. He looked on with great pride as he watched the Independents ready for war. The C class cutters Reestablish and Vindicator were already in orbit, waiting to escort the flotilla. Soldiers and equipment were being loaded into the personnel transports all over the docks. Vendors and prostitutes swarmed through the crowds, trying to hock their wares one last time. He could hardly contain his excitement.

His Sergeant was the only thing that brought down his jovial mood. He found the man to be intolerable. He had already threatened to bring him up on insubordination charges twice. They had warned of such men at the Academy, soldiers who had been in the fight too long, seen too much. Soldiers like him, questioned everything and took orders as suggestions rather than commands. What had bothered him the most was that in both cases, the Sergeant had been right. Still the Lieutenant felt he had to reestablish command. He knew the man’s utter disregard for authority would contaminate the rest of the unit.

He spotted his Sergeant laughing with a group of soldiers near the transport they would be taking. The man’s brown coat embodied the rebellious attitude that started during the early days of the war. This was another thing that annoyed the Lieutenant. He understood what the coat represented. When the movement was first started, men wore them to show others that they disagreed with the Alliance. Later when war erupted, it served the same purpose on the battlefield, identifying Independent troops from theirs. Now, he saw no need for it. They were no longer unorganized, under financed, rebels, who had to piece their uniforms together out of a closet. They had uniforms. If not for a clause in the handbook allowing it, he would have already put the coat to rest. A smile crossed his face as he went over his plan again. If this went well he would be rid of the coat and the man soon, at least for awhile.

“Sergeant, front and center”He watched the man work his way through the crowd of soldiers with his Corporal in tow.

“You need something James?”

That was another thing the man did to infuriate the Lieutenant. “It’s sir or Lieutenant Patterson, Sergeant.”

“Sir Lieutenant Patterson. Royalty” he chuckled to his Corporal.

Patterson’s let out a deep sigh and continued. “Defense Command thinks there may have been an unauthorized landing during the storms last night, out on the Curran flats”

“What’s that to us?”

“I want you to check it out”

“Hell, James we’re next in line to load. No way we can hump out there and back ‘fore these guys are into the wind.”

“You misunderstood Sergeant.” Patterson said taking great pride in his accomplishment. “You’re going, not the rest of the platoon. Take three men and report to the shuttles. Air corps will give you a lift out to the flats.”

“And how in the sphincter of hell are we supposed to get to Verbena?”

Patterson reached into the leather satchel strapped to his side and pulled out a pouch full of coins. “Book passage with one of the civilian transports.”

“Civilian…Are you outta your gorram mind? It will take us a week, if we’re lucky, to find someone willing to navigate that space.”

“Not my problem Sergeant. The shuttle is waiting. Move out.”

“Fine.” He said turning to his Corporal. “Get your gear and go find Marcus and…”

“Sergeant” Patterson interrupted. “Take your pick of the new arrivals. Those greenhorns won’t be of much use to me on Verbena. The Corporal and the others will be staying with me.”

Patterson tried to disguise his delight as he looked at his fuming Sergeant. Although the Corporal was loyal to the Sergeant, she still obeyed his orders when the man was not around and she was quite attractive. He saw no need to include her on this wild goose chase.

“Pick me three. You know what I’m looking for” He said to the Corporal then he turned back and locked eyes with Patterson. “Anything happens to her ‘fore I get to Verbena and you best go hide where no one can find you.”

Patterson’s mouth opened to protest but the words would not come out. The hard tone and cold blue eyes had frozen him in place. He didn’t regain his composure until the man had moved down the line and out of site.

The three soldiers followed the Corporal down to the ground level docks. The tarmac was deserted. Most of the shuttles had been loaded onto the larger vessels above. All that remained was the rusted hulls of those that could not be repaired and one ancient UHL-1 open air shuttle. Originally the UHL-1 had been used as a tourist shuttle on some of the core planets. The pilot, slung low under the nose, was the only enclosed passenger. Above and behind him was a small catwalk where the tour guide pointed out the all the wonders of the Alliance. Once war was declared the manufacture, positioned between the core and the rim, sided with the Independents and retrofitted his shuttles for war. The catwalk was replaced with a swivel gun turret and a cumbersome roll cage was fitted over the observation seats. It was a complete failure. The low slung pilot made too easy of target. The cage supplied little cover and made it slow to load and unload soldiers. The few that remain were designated to non combat areas and the shuttle was nicknamed the Monkey Cage. It was an especially fitting moniker today. The gunner was laughing so hard he barely stand upright in the turret, as he watched the Sergeant swing between the bars, grunting and beating his chest. The Corporal cleared her throat but still he continued to entertain the gunner.

“Sir” She said shooting him a stern look.

He stopped swinging and glanced over his shoulder at the small group. A smirked formed in the corner of his mouth and dropped to the deck. Grabbing the side bar he swung through the gap landed on the tarmac.

The Corporal moved to his side. “That should instill a certain amount of confidence in them, Sir” She said under her breath.

He cocked his head in her direction. “Not that much different than when we met. That turned out alright.”

“True, and this time you’re not naked.”

“Aw memories” He said with a smile. He took a step towards the men. “Gentlemen, I’m Sergeant Nathanial Morgan. You can call me Sarge, Sir or if I’m having a particularly good day you can try Nate.”

The Corporal shook her head advising against the last option.

“Load up and lets go site seeing”

Private Malcolm Reynolds strapped into his jump seat next to the other soldiers. He stole a glance at his new Sergeant who was saying goodbye to Corporal Brooks.” Lord, what have I got myself in to?”

Mal watched the Sarge at the front of the shuttle. He had asked their names and rechecked their harnesses right before take off. Now he stood next the gun turret talking over the comm. He could see the gunner laughing again.

Bonitelli leaned over. “You’re right to worry about that one” He said motioning his head towards the Sergeant.

“What makes you think I’m worried?”

“Then you’re a fool not to be. That ones bad news.”

The third soldier, Dancer, joined in” Why you say that?”

“The man’s a traitor.”

Mal sat back dismissing Bonitelli’s comments but Dancer continued. “Traitor? How would you know that?”

“I swear it’s true. I was supposed to be attached to Bravo 4-7 today. I got a cousin that put a word in for me. Course it don’t matter now, since that go se Corporal snagged me for this duty.” He glanced towards the Sergeant.

“Anyways, my cousin told me Morgan’s a traitor. He was an Alliance officer, a Major I think.”

Mal couldn’t help himself “How the hell does that make him a traitor to us?”

“Once a traitor always a traitor. Command don’t trust him either, that’s why he’s only a Sergeant.”

Dancer sat up straight and started tapping his foot against Bonitelli’s heel, still the private continued. “He don’t get us killed on this hump we’ll be damn lucky Prob’ly have us surrender to the first Purple belly we see.” Bonitelli turned to see the Sergeant standing next to him.

“Gear up we’re on the deck in two” was all he said before rejoining the gunner in the front of the shuttle.

Mal checked his weapon and looked out at the lush forests below him. Hera was one of the largest exporters of timber in the verse. He had overheard something about a glitch in the teraforming process that caused the trees to grow faster. He thought back to the scrubby little mesquite trees that infested their ranch on Shadow. Maybe the teraforming had gone bad there he thought, remembering all the times he had cleared the thorny tree, just to have two more shoot up in the same spot a few weeks later. He could see the forest receding below him. The flats were getting close.

They had landed just at the edge of the forest. Bonitelli had exit the port side as was procedure. As Mal and Dancer started to follow, Morgan had motioned for them to exit starboard. They rechecked their gear as they waited. The pilot completed his checks and slowly climbed back into the sky. With the shuttle no longer between them Mal could see Bonitelli on the receiving end of a severe ass chewing. The look on his face reminded Mal of a cowed puppy he once had on Shadow. He overheard the last of the one sided conversation.

“And if you ever try to undermine me again I’ll stake you out over an ant bed and pour honey down your pants.”

Morgan motioned them over and opened a small scroll. The holo map flashed white then adjusted to sunlight and came into focus. They crowded around to see the image of the surrounding area. The Sergeant told Bonitelli to active the field transponder. The Private was quick to respond, swinging the field radio off his back and flipping the switch. A small green triangle appeared on the map.

“Shuttles gonna run a grid pattern, see if they spot anything. We’ll move West down to the flats, get out of this high grass. If you get separated this” he stabbed a point on the map with his finger.” is our extraction point. Be there by 1600 hours or you walk back.”

They had been moving downhill from the forest for a half hour without a word exchanged, when Morgan held up a fist. The men stopped and crouched. Morgan motioned for Mal to join him. He handed Mal his binoculars, and pointed towards two sand dunes 150 yards away. “Camo tarps. We couldn’t spot em from above.”

Mal looked closer but still only saw the sand dunes. He looked quizzically at the Sergeant. “Digital. They mirror the image around them. From above, there hard to spot, but at eye level they stick out. You see any other dunes around here?”

“What do you suppose is under…” Mal sentence was cut off as the tarps changed to a grey color. Two men came out from under each grey dune and started pulling the tarps off, exposing two very large cannons. Mal looked to the Sarge but he was gone. He turned back to see Morgan kneeling next to Bonitelli, shouting into the field radio.

Behind them, in the distance, Mal could see the grey outline of dozens of transport ships lifting into the sky. Then all hell broke loose.


Tuesday, December 4, 2007 7:58 AM


This is excellent. I love the way you've written it so you think it's Mal who's the Sergeant at the beginning, not one of the raw recruits. And of course this must be where he learned his style of command. But where's Zoe? And will they take down the cannons before the transport ships get hit? More, please!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007 11:17 AM


Excellent work. Looking forward to the next installment.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007 1:11 PM


Really love this perspective on Mal's early years as an Independent. Shiny, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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