Here Be Dragons (Part XX)
Thursday, September 2, 2004

River gets ambitious


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 – Drifting – 2520AD

‘You’ve got to be yanking our chains,’ Steve said simply. ‘I could buy a Task Force of a few Destroyers and Frigates but we just didn’t have the manufacturing capability to produce Super-Heavies by the end of the war.’

Doyle nodded. ‘Yes but they were both originally laid down in early zero-nine when we still did, barely. Most of the hull, engines and the primaries were completed then but then because priorities changed to purely defensive operations they stopped construction and the two were hauled off waiting to be broken up again for scrap. They were still around when they decided to form Task Force Omega which needed the firepower so we finished them,’ she smiled. ‘Half their armament was salvaged from old Alliance ships. Part of the armour of Scylla was actually metal taken from a passenger liner. We used everything we could get our hands on to get them battle-ready.’

‘Task force Omega? Good name, very… final,’ Steve commented.

Inara was somewhat mystified by the sundry awed expressions. ‘I’m sorry but why are you all making such an issue of this? There are Alliance Cruisers all over the place.’

‘Completely different animal,’ Wash answered. ‘Those brightly lit Ally Cruisers are there to look big, impressive and intimidating so from the keel up that’s what they’re designed to do. During the war they built ships to smash other ships, they were big, heavy, not even that impressive to look at really… and they’d pound anything afloat today to junk,’ he paused. ‘Let me put it this way. Ships we’ve run into like the IAV Agamemnon or the Dortmunder carry weapons. Fifteen years ago they made weapons and then built ships around them.’

Wash sipped his drink. ‘It must be four, maybe five years since the Alliance mothballed the last of its Battle cruisers. They just aren’t economic to patrol in. Far too much mass to push around for a ship that doesn’t really do the job they want it to anyway. If you want to keep smuggling under control, impress a few dirt farmers or at most fight the odd pirate then you just don’t need something designed to slug it out with other Capital Ships. It costs a fortune in fuel to run the fleet as it is and there’s no way the big corporations would be willing to put up with higher taxes just so a few fat Alliance Admirals can fly about in ships designed to fight an enemy that doesn’t exist.’

‘Correction,’ River interrupted, ‘to fight an enemy they don’t think exists,’ she said. ‘As it is, our erstwhile Independent Admiral van der Heijden currently has possession of the two most powerful pieces of military hardware still operating.’

‘Why doesn’t he come back and bust some heads then?’ Jayne asked. ‘If I had the firepower to get some revenge in I’d do it.’

Steven shrugged. ‘Just because he could flatten anything the Alliance had doesn’t mean he could take on the whole fleet. It would be like a lion being taken down by a pack of hyenas. He might be able to take on half a dozen cruisers but they’d throw twice that many at him. He couldn’t win that battle and he knows it.’

‘I could win that battle,’ River said quietly.

Everyone looked at her.

River looked at Mal. ‘Back before we left the rim I said that provoking a revolution or a civil war was beyond me given the time restraints. I should have said given the time restraints and available resources,’ she looked away. ‘Given the ships under van der Heijden I believe I could deliver an initial strike serious enough that the Alliance Navy wouldn’t be able to mount a counter offensive before the Independent Worlds rose in open revolt. With enough preparation I also believe we could go on to defeat the Alliance in the field and force an armistice on our terms.’

Girl has a definite knack for invoking a stunned silence, Mal considered.

Steve broke the subsequent deathly silence first. ‘Logistically the Independents couldn’t defeat the Alliance,’ he said. ‘Even if we mounted a perfect strike operation and caused massive damage to the Fleet, we simply don’t have the numbers. Eventually they’d grind us into the ground.’

‘You’re thinking Pearl Harbour,’ River said. ‘I’m not thinking in such limited terms. The mistake the Independents made was to end up fighting a war of attrition that handed eventual victory to the side with numbers. The successes you had were when you fought fast moving fluid battles where numbers mattered less than tactical competence or speed. You have to win big before they can mobilise properly and use strategy to stop them bringing overwhelming might to bear against you.’

River stood up. ‘With a better overall tactical doctrine and time to build up forces I could defeat the Alliance Militarily in three to four years, I’m sorry I can’t be more precise because I don’t know all the variables,’ she said apologetically. ‘I could run you through the math but it would take a while.’

Mal looked up at her quizzically. ‘River, I know you’re smart but…’

Read your enemy and know yourself and in a thousand battles your victory will never be endangered,’ she replied. ‘Sun Tzu for psychics. You’ve seen me in action Captain. Do you think it matters if I’m using a handgun or a warship, or a fleet of warships for that matter?’

‘Take the enemy battle plans right out of their heads like you took the IFF Codes out of mine. Plant a Railgun barrage where you knew they’d be in five minutes so they run straight into it,’ Doyle said grasping what River could do. ‘You could disembowel a fleet in minutes.’

‘Never get ambushed. Never get outflanked,’ Zoe murmured. ‘Flawless intelligence,’ she said louder.

‘Telepathically screen for spies, establish an intelligence network that couldn’t be infiltrated,’ Book contributed. ‘Any mole could be rooted out easily. Only people who you knew were clean get any authority or access to plans.’

‘It’s almost horrific,’ Inara said quietly, ‘fiendish even.’

Wash coughed. ‘I hate to sound melodramatic but you do all realise we’re discussing initiating a full scale war?’ he paused and looked at the expressions. ‘You do? That’s alright then, I was just checking.’

‘If you feel a sharp gnawing sensation,’ Steve said, ‘That’s destiny biting you on the arse.’ He smiled. ‘Interesting times really are a curse.’

Mal had gone very quiet. He was looking at the far bulkhead.

‘Penny for your thoughts, Sir,’ Zoe said.

No reply.

Wash felt the need to lighten both the mood and some of the faces. ‘It’s a “penny for your thoughts” but when you give an opinion you give “my two cents.” Where’s the other penny?’

‘Handling charge?’ Simon theorised.

‘All I know is someone’s making a penny,’ Wash said. ‘And it’s not me.’

Mal got up and looked out of the window into the black. He stood there for a few seconds staring, then turned back to the group.

‘You know I’ve been thinking…’ he said.

‘So we assumed,’ Zoe responded. ‘Care to share what Captain?’

‘I’m thinking we really will rise again.’

* * *

‘No children at all?’ Claire-Marie asked wonderingly.

Doyle shook her head. She was sat with the children in the bay on Granite Gorge where a big blanket was spread out on the deck. ‘No. The Admiral said we shouldn’t think about having children until we had somewhere nice for children to grow up in. As soon as the colony is all finished and the Reavers are all gone people will start having children but not until then.’

‘Are you married?’

The Lieutenant laughed. ‘No, but I’ve got a boyfriend. He’s the Chief Engineer on the Arashi. We hope to get married one day soon.’

‘What’s the Arashi?’

‘It’s a Frigate. That’s a small warship almost as long as Serenity but thinner.’

‘We know,’ Cally said. ‘Our Uncle Henri, mummy’s brother, served on a Frigate. He died in the war. Grand Mama had a photograph of the ship he sent home on the wall. She used to look at it all the time.’

‘Did you know him?’ John asked.

The Aerospace Officer smiled at the little boy. ‘There were a lot of people in the Navy. I didn’t really know many of them.’

‘You’re really stupid sometimes, John,’ Claire-Marie said. ‘What would be the chances? It’s not like Daddy knew everyone in the Army either.’

‘But she might have known him,’ her little brother protested.

‘It’s true I might have,’ Doyle agreed resulting in a big beaming smile from the boy who then turned and stuck his tongue out at his sister.

‘If we’re bothering you Lieutenant Doyle we’ll go away,’ Cally told her. ‘We just don’t meet new people very often.’

‘You’re much nicer than the people on Revelation,’ John said. ‘They were really horrible and weird.’

She laughed. ‘You don’t have to call me Lieutenant Doyle, my first name’s Deborah. You can call me that if you like. And how do you know I’m not horrible and weird too?’

Wash was bringing in a plate of small cakes, minus the couple he’d deducted as a transfer fee. ‘Debbie Doyle?’ he said. ‘You’re kidding? Let me guess, nickname Dee Dee?’

‘Good guess. Want to know something even better? Before I moved from fighters to scouts I flew in Delta Squadron.’

‘Delta Dee Dee?’ Wash said laughing. ‘Now that’s a call-sign.’

She pulled up her sleeve to show a tattoo on her left forearm just above the wrist, simple design just three triangles in a row, with a little line of tiny stars underneath.

‘Greek letter, Delta,’ Cally said. ‘I know how to write my name in Ancient Greek. Daddy taught it to us. Begins with a K though,’ she said.

‘That’s cool but what are the stars for?’ Claire-Marie inquired.

‘One for each aerospace fighter I shot down or ship I knocked out. The Purple ones at the start are Alliance from the war and these Red ones are Reavers. The Black one there was a Pirate I ran into last year on long-range patrol.’

‘It’s a bit like the kill rings on daddies tank I suppose,’ Claire-Marie said. ‘I like it.’

‘Kill rings?’

‘In the Armoured Regiments they used to paint a little ring on the gun barrel for every enemy tank or APC they knocked out. Daddy had a lot of kill rings on his tank. I saw his wedding photos and they were taken well before the war ended so he must have got lots more than that by the end.’

‘Wedding photos?’ Doyle asked in mystification.

Wash bit into a cake and swallowed. ‘Ask Steve about his “shotgun wedding”. It’s a great story especially when he tells it drunk.’

‘But he sings too, and that’s a really bad thing,’ Claire-Marie warned.

* * *

‘So we’re agreed?’ Mal said to the group. ‘We head out towards this guy van der Heijden and his fleet?’

‘I want to be there when River walks up to him and says she wants to borrow a Battle cruiser. I’ll do all the crappy chores for the next month if you let me be there for that,’ Steven said. ‘I bet there’s a plethora of truly first rate profanity in Afrikaans.’

Jayne crossed his arms. ‘What if he don’t appreciate us none?’ he asked. ‘Only one of us he knows at all seems like he didn’t take a liking to.’

‘He sounds like our kinda guy to me,’ Zoe commented. ‘Hell by his standards we’re just a whole bunch of quitters. I mean what kind of folks actually stop fighting and lay down arms just because the war’s over.’

‘Face it, we’re just a bunch of wimps,’ Wash declared returning with an empty tray in his hand. ‘Giving up in the face of what the Cap calls, what was it, oh yeah “inevitable crushing defeat”.’

‘Don’t know what’s harder to believe, that he didn’t give up or that they all followed him,’ Mal shook his head. ‘And people say that I don’t know when to give up.’

‘You don’t,’ Inara stated. ‘You just seem to have an uncanny ability to get away with it. For the life of me I still can’t decide if it’s pure luck or not.’

‘Woman, that’s just finely honed skills and determination.’

‘No it’s definitely not the former,’ Inara replied without a hint of anything on her face to indicate if she was joking or not.

Gorram Companion training, thought Mal.

‘Well I’ll say one thing it’ll be nice to go somewhere where the Alliance can’t get us,’ Simon opined.

‘Well I certainly doubt the long arm of Alliance justice is capable of reaching quite that far,’ Book said. ‘It is also to be doubted that if it tried it would end up as much more than a burnt stump.’

‘Fair safe to assume we ain’t heading into territory where we’re likely to run into those that would do us harm,’ Mal said. ‘That element would tend to get short shrift from the locals.’

‘Men sleep peacefully in their beds at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf,’ River said. ‘George Orwell.’

‘”Rough men” would certainly be a good description of most of the Browncoat Marines I ever met,’ Zoe said. ‘Most of them were like Jayne there but without the winning personality.’

‘I’ve got a winning personality?’ Jayne asked.

‘That’s entirely dependent on what you’re comparing it with,’ Mal replied. ‘I mean compared with a rabid wildcat you’re terrific company. I mean downright friendly and sociable like,’ He paused. ‘Okay while Jayne’s wrestling with the concept of a barbed complement I take it no one is objecting to where we’re heading?’ Nobody said anything.

‘Okay. Wash, plot a course for the boat. I reckon the Lieutenant is going to want to fly on ahead to let them know we’re coming.’

‘Better tell her not to mention the telepathy thing until they can see for themselves. I just don’t see her enjoying the straightjacket and padded brig,’ Simon commented.

‘Good call.’

* * *

IAV Pen Lung – Underway – 2520AD

Although he wasn’t in charge of the mission Captain Huaquing was still determined to make sure his “guests” knew he was still in charge of the boat and as a function of this he always made sure they came to him on the bridge he didn’t go to them.

Huaquing had known there was going to be a catch when they gave him the Pen Lung. He didn’t have sufficient seniority for this command and he reasoned that the only reason he had been given mastery of such a fine vessel was because unlike more seasoned officers he wouldn’t be likely to interfere with the mission.

Taking orders from civilians still bothered him immensely but if he made waves his career would be over before it really got going. Bombarding that colony had really gone against the grain, too, but he was a good officer and obeyed the orders of those placed over him regardless of whether he necessarily agreed with them.

There was some disquiet from the lower ranks about their guests though. Instead of Alliance Federals the black clad troops onboard were not regular Army. They wore no insignia, not even rank, and made no effort to socialise with the Navy crew running the ship. Huaquing got the distinct impression that they would take over the vessel if he ever did decide to disobey orders and he doubted his crew would be able to stop them. None of them went unarmed and they gave the impression of being as deadly as the efficient looking weapons they carried.

The black uniformed soldiers only obeyed two people on board and the biggest mystery as far as the Captain was concerned was who the hell they were. The blue gloves they both wore on a permanent basis helped give him the creeps, too.

‘You summoned us, Captain?’ one asked as the duo arrived on the bridge. The sardonic way he said “summoned” more than got the message across that if they hadn’t felt like coming they wouldn’t have.’

‘Yes. I thought you might like to know that long-range probes have discovered an indication that we are catching up with our quarry. Apparently they engaged a number of vessels that we found in orbit above a site that looks as though it has been subjected to nuclear attack. The weapon yield means it may have been one of those carried by the AI Prototype.’

‘I doubt they are the only people out here with nuclear capability.’

‘That is true, although such an item would be certainly rare, however analysis of the wreckage in orbit shows they were hit by mass-driver fire. The damage indicates the same calibre weapon as the AI and more importantly there are traces left behind of the same type of Radar Absorbent Material as coat the AI’s two-hundred and fifty millimetre Railgun projectiles.’

‘That is excellent news. I assume we are heading that direction now at full burn.’

‘We are and I have ordered the wide-angle scanner array drones for immediate deployment on arrival. Once they are in place they are able to give a better resolution and deeper scanning radius than any other sensor system in the Allied Worlds.’

‘Excellent, Captain, we will be sure to give you a top flight report for inclusion in your permanent record once the mission is completed.’

‘Thank you, Sir.’

The pair turned and left. At least they hadn’t brought that youth with them this time. The way he looked through you always gave Huaquing the distinct impression he was looking into your soul or something, ridiculous notion though that was.

Huaquing looked out at the other three ships in the squadron. At least they didn’t have to put up with having the mystery men aboard.

The Alliance Captain frowned. For that matter they didn’t have to have anybody aboard. Those damn AI’s were going to put him out of a job.

The trio of sleek black warships accelerated away to form a v-shaped formation ahead of the Pen Lung as it burned as hard as it could towards the destination.

Part XXI


Thursday, September 2, 2004 11:45 AM


Yay, more story, and ooo, more AI ships! I'm thinkin' that they could cause a little trouble for our friend Shadow...

Thursday, September 2, 2004 1:40 PM


Uh oh, bad things coming. Looks like River isn't going to be the only telepath doing the math. Very shiny story, so much gorram detail in it too. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Thursday, September 2, 2004 9:30 PM


That wacky River. Do you think Mal would really go along with another war?

Keep flyin'

Thursday, September 2, 2004 9:41 PM


So... a fairly *ambitious* storyline you're going for here! ;-)

I see a big damn hole in River's notion of how to win the war, suspect you're already all over it (very exacting plotlines you create). Other than the AIs and MRs on the opposition side, that is. Fascinated to see how you play this all out.

Good story. Love the way you play in all the historical analogy and refs.

Saturday, September 4, 2004 6:25 AM


Good stuff! This is my first read. Do you have any previous postings? Could you explain "IFF codes" to me?

Saturday, September 4, 2004 9:45 AM


Oh, Severen....are you in for a treat...Hotpoint has scads of postings, prologues of this fic series...Another riveting installment, HP...God help those 'Blue Hand' hundan when River gets through with them... Anxiously awaiting next chapter

Thursday, December 16, 2004 6:49 AM


Wonderful story, but , um... River would be their most important asset in any battle and on every planet, but she's only one girl. She can't be everywhere at once. Heck, she can't even work that well surounded by 1100 people, like, say, the crew of a battle cruiser. Nope, the brwoncoats need lots of telepaths, and a few more AIs wouldn't hurt, either.


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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