Friday, February 15, 2008

Early Mal and Zoe, wartime. (Early homespun, for that matter.) Zoe's POV. One-shot.


I was reminded that I have not posted any one-shots here. Since I can't get to Rabbit Hole right now, I thought I'd offer this shortie up as a "thanks for being patient". So, thanks.


She was conscious first of dust and smoke, or maybe more that she was coughing and choking on it with each breath. It had been dark to begin with, but now a haze of debris limited her vision to the rubble in front of her; rubble that she realized was pinning her in place; rubble that had not been there last she remembered.

Zhou ma, they were hit. Must’ve been the last strike they’d called in.


Radio man had been to her right. Zoe twisted her head to look for him and sucked in a breath as her body protested. Gorram piece of metal was spiked right through her shoulder, into the pile of wreckage behind her. Reaching with her free left hand, she probed, trying to get a read on the wound as best she could.


Three inches in diameter, maybe, not too big, wedged right in there between her shoulder and collarbone. Pain was tolerable unless she moved. Small comfort but she’d take it.

A flash of light and she made out Elster’s face, some ten feet away, eyes closed. Looked to be trapped like she was, alive or not she couldn’t tell. She turned her attention left.


A steel beam obscured her view. Nice to know it had missed her head.

They’d been on the lower roof of an old warehouse, calling in fire on the city. Last she remembered was laying flat on their bellies, peering over the roof peak, taking advantage of the shadows the higher wall provided. Piece of that wall was likely what had her skewered now.

The occasional explosion of incoming missiles and flash of tracers through the smoke told her the mission was still go. Even sounded like they were hitting where the sergeant had spotted the big Alliance guns, which, thankfully, was away from their position. Not that it had made much difference with this last hit. Friendly gorram fire. Too common a way to go. With her good arm she pressed against the corrugated metal that lay folded over her like a fossilized pup tent, trying to shift her legs and hips. A combination of too much weight and no small amount of pain led her to abandon the effort. And it was no sense trying to pull the piece out of her shoulder if she couldn’t extricate herself. She flinched as a skiff buzzed low overhead, then reminded herself that they were hardly visible, mostly buried as they were. With Elster no longer transmitting, it would be all but impossible for the Alliance to put a pin in them. And an equally remote possibility that their own troops, not even in the city yet, would find them.

She looked left again.


A spasm of coughing answered her from the other side of the beam. Alive, then.


The coughing subsided, and for a long moment Zoe strained to hear any sound apart from the distant chatter of ground-to-air fire. Even then, the reply was so low she almost missed it.


Another hacking cough, followed by a command. “Report.”

“Pinned, sir. Got one free arm. I can see Elster to my right, but I can’t reach him, and I can’t assess his status.”

“He out?”

“Yes sir.”

“Figures, him having the radio.”

“Can’t say as he’d be able to reach it anyway, sir.”

More coughing. Zoe winced at the sound of it and waited for him to speak again.

“You hurt, corporal?”

“Not overly, sir.”

“You want to elaborate?”

“Projectile through the shoulder, sir. Think the rest of me is in one piece.”

“Clean through?”

“Yes sir.”

“Don’t pull it out ‘less we think we’re goin’ somewhere. Be no fun to sit there and bleed to death. ‘sides, it would hurt.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, sir.”

Talking seemed to trigger his cough, and as he hacked she sat silently, trying to gauge the direction the battle was taking. She had a clearer view of the night sky. Here and there a brave star shone, only to be eclipsed by smoke from the exploding shells. Seemed Command had ceased the long-range bombing and started air strikes. Alliance was responding with ground fire. No Independents on the ground, then, save themselves.

“We’re gonna have to talk to our boys about their aim.” The sergeant’s voice startled her. She only now realized that he sounded odd. Pained.

“You all right, sir?”

“Oh, I been more comfortable,” he allowed. “T’aint nothing to worry on.”

Zoe Alleyne was a shrewd judge of character, and even if she had served under the command of Malcolm Reynolds for less than a month, it’d been enough time to collect a hard truth or twelve about this sergeant, and change her opinion of the man as many times. He bent and broke rules as it suited his purpose, but he was usually right. He flouted the chain of command, but he’d saved lives doing so. He was confident to the point of arrogance - particularly grating when his spontaneous actions conflicted with the very essence of her military training. He was passionate about his cause and his troops. And he would lie to protect them. Like now.

“Care to elaborate, sir?”

“It’s fine, corporal.” The tightness in his voice instructed her not to argue. “Just stuck, same as you. Have to wait ‘til our crack troops make their glorious way in and liberate us.”

“You expect that to happen?”


Whether or not the conviction was genuine didn’t matter; Zoe figured any word uttered with such certainty deserved to live a few moments before it was shot down. Sergeant seemed content with his answer, so she mulled over the fantasy of rescue for a while without voicing her doubts. Didn’t take long to play out that line.

Restless, she tried shifting to see if she could get a look at the sergeant, and paid with a groan she couldn’t suppress.


I’m fine, sir. I just…moved.”

“I suggest not moving. Just sit tight til they get here.”

“You really believe they’ll come for us?”

“Why wouldn’t they?”

Zoe could hear the voice of her old sergeant in her head. ‘Gorram volunteer army, don’t know a thing about war. Thank God there’s still career soldiers, to save their asses.’

“Well sir, first there’s the matter of them winning the battle and getting into the city, which, near as I can tell, is still held by Alliance at this moment. ”


“And there’s the matter of them locating us in a destroyed warehouse on the outskirts opposite of where they’ll come from.”


“And, it ain’t good soldiering. They can’t come look for us at least until they’ve secured the city. That may take days.”


“So, sir, I’m just pointing out that the odds aren’t in our favor.”

“They’ll come. Always do.”

“If you say so, sir.”

“Are you doubting my word, corporal? After all the time we’ve spent together?”

“I’ve been with you three weeks, sir. ”

“And in three weeks you haven’t learned to trust your sergeant? I am wounded.”

“Knew that, sir.”

“Pride, I’m talking about my pride. Elster over there’d tell you you’re wrong. Hell, he heard you, he’d climb right over to you and pick a fight, you disrespecting your sergeant and all…. ” He broke off in another fit of coughing.

“Can you reach your canteen, sir?”

“Not an option,” his voice was weaker, wheezier, “owin’ to this beam layin’ across my chest.”

“So what do we do now, sir?”


“Yes, sir.”

“Know any good jokes?”

* * *

She was listening to him fade.

Seen enough men die of wounds, she knew the pattern of it.

They talk too much. They joke, as if their own words will keep them alive.

After that comes the longer breaks. When they do talk, there’s more introspection, like some sort of philosophy is bleeding out with the air and the vomit and the spittle, some frantic stab at making sense of their lives before they’re gone. It was sad and desperate and she didn’t want to hear it from the sergeant; she found she admired him too much, ass-backward ways and all, to listen to him die.

But he didn’t babble. Talked a little bit, rasping out speculation about the unit’s arrival, commenting on the decrease in flak, asking Zoe if she was still all right, whether Elster had moved. Coughed more, took odd breaks in his speech as if he had to wait for wind enough to finish his words.

She cursed his luck. Good man. Damn good man. Gave a rat’s ass about the troops and she’d seen they loved him for it. Knew when to push, when to back off. When to dress them down, when to build them up. Kind of man made the brass nervous if they couldn’t control him. Inspired the type of devotion they drilled out of you in basic. Split loyalties, when a group fixed to follow one man. Made men take reckless chances, made them forget their training. But she’d watched him, and seen he didn’t take advantage. Didn’t look for any personal gain. Had a good feel for the fight. Backbone she didn’t often see. And he was going to die out of her sight on the other side of that beam while she listened, even as he chastised her for her lack of faith in his instincts. Wasn’t a thing she could do about it.

“Good gorram, corporal,” he had wheezed at her, his thoughts chopped into fragments as his lungs betrayed him. “Don’t I keep telling you…they’ll come? Browncoats. Volunteers. Don’t give a damn…‘bout protocol. Gorram. Career army.”

A minute later he spoke, as if continuing a conversation. “They’ll come.”

And a minute after that. “I’m your gorram sergeant.”

Coughing, weaker. “Trust me.”

She listened for long minutes after, but the talking was done.

* * *

Voices. Shouts. Someone was excited.


We got him! He’s here!

Oh, wo de ma.

Medic! Ta ma de.

Her head hurt.

Alleyne’s over here!

Noise. Loud bangs and echoes. Fingers at her throat, feeling for a pulse.

Corporal? …Someone bring me a kit.”

Another voice dropping down by the first. “He don’t look good. Chi said –”

“Don’t matter, get back over there and help out.”

“Chi won’t let him –”

Bi zui! I got this, get back over there. Corporal!" Fingers tapping her face. "Alleyne, you with me? Hey, there you are. Nice souvenir you picked up here.”

A hypo being pressed to her left shoulder.

“Don’t need a pain killer.”

“You will in a minute. Here.” A canteen placed into her hand.

Water brought the world back into focus.

Daylight. Spin Martin, one of the squad’s submedics, knelt in front of her where the rubble had been cleared away. Smiled when he saw her looking at him. “Hey. Good to see ya.”

“Good to be seen.”

A stretcher passed behind him. “Elster?”

“He’ll live. Took a nice hit to the head.”

“The sergeant?”

“Chi’s got him.”

“That ain’t an answer.”

Martin paused in his assessment of her shoulder to look her full in the face. “Sure it is.” The assurance in his voice mirrored the tone she’d heard in the sergeant’s. “He’s the sergeant.” He returned to his examination of the shard. “Now brace yourself...”

* * *

Martin had her on the evac shuttle and had just slipped in an IV when four squad members bore the sergeant aboard. Several more troops pressed by the shuttle door.

“Go on, boys, you ain’t all getting a free ride,” Martin turned them away, not unsympathetically. “Sarge’s fine. You done good finding him.” He closed the shuttle door and signaled to the pilot before settling next to Zoe and looking over at the other stretcher. “You good, Chi?”

“Best as can for now,” the medic answered, adjusting the sergeant’s IVs and covering him with an extra blanket. “They know he’s comin’?” he called to the shuttle crew.

“He’s got a slot.”

Zoe eyed the bag of blood hanging over the sergeant. Man’s face looked about as white as he could get. Blue, even. “You sure he’ll be all right?”

Tyen shiao duh, Alleyne, don’t you listen?” Martin looked offended. “He’s a little beat up but he ain’t goin’ anywhere. Good gorram, ain’t anybody told her, boys?”

Chi laughed, and from behind her Zoe heard Barry, Elster’s submedic, commence with an uncanny impression of the sergeant’s speech pattern.

“Men, we’re the Phantoms of the 57th.”

Chi and Martin joined in, with the same exaggerated inflection.

“We. Don’t. Die." Each man thumped the hull next to them. "Our boys don’t die." Thump. "Our sergeant don’t die."Thump. "Don’t none of us die!” They thumped again and nodded in salute to Reynolds.

“ ‘Cause it pisses the sergeant off something fierce,” Barry added in an undertone, but Zoe wasn’t listening. She was staring at the unconscious man on the stretcher across from hers.

Could’ve been the meds kicking in. Could’ve just been her own mind replaying the night’s events. Could’ve been the men around her, doing their impressions. But she heard him speak.

Trust me.

His lips never moved and his eyes never flickered but she heard him clear as day.

Trust me.

And against her judgment, against her training, on an evac flight she never expected to make, her last conscious thought was to answer him.

“I do. Sir.”


Friday, February 15, 2008 11:33 AM


Absolutely fabulous! You have Mal and Zoe so in character and I loved the way Mal's men came through for them, not giving up until they had been found and evacced. Really loved as well the way the men quoted Mal as a way to reassure Zoe that he really was going to be alright. And Zoe at the end, replying that she did trust him brought a lump to my throat. Like I said, fabulous! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, February 15, 2008 11:53 AM


I'm really glad you post this. I love to travel with Mal and Zoe. It brightens a gloomy day.

Friday, February 15, 2008 4:37 PM


I'm so glad to see this fic here! I read it on LJ, but could never comment over there and tell you how wonderful I think it is. You provide such a sense of what Mal was like during the war it's almost palpable. But more importantly, you gave a true depth to the reality of how much both he and Zoe lost in the war; the friends, cohesiveness, and conviction that all would work out for the best. I found myself mourning the victims of Serenity Valley because you made them come alive in this fic. Oh, and the writing is also fabulous. This fic brings Zoe's faith in Mal to light and makes it so completely understandable. Thanks for posting it here!

Saturday, February 16, 2008 5:44 AM


I always loved the war fics... you don't see much of them :) The way you portrayed Mal and Zoe was perfect - I love browncoats!

Keep flying ;)

Saturday, February 16, 2008 6:05 PM


Nice, nice work.

Great voices, good description. Zoe's description of listening to men die was wonderful.

I, too, loved Mal's men quoting him --

Sunday, February 17, 2008 4:15 AM


Excellent piece of work here! Thank you for posting it! Any more gems like this you've got lying around, I'd be tickled to read! :D

Sunday, February 24, 2008 12:21 PM


I really enjoyed this, especially how you have Mal gradually fading from Zoe's obscured perspective, and Zoe's concerns over how that usually plays out. This highlights the regard she has for Mal, and also the differences between them, and the way Zoe must find Mal so confounding. She is such a proficient soldier, but she still finds things to learn from him.

I love that it is Mal's will, or more, his faith, that gets him through it. There is no question, and because his men know that, they follow though against logic. It really calls back (or rather, forward) to what a devastation Serenity Valley must have been for him.

Thanks for dusting it off and posting here!

Thursday, June 19, 2008 7:14 AM


This is the definitive How It Was.


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