BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

HOTPOINT

Here Be Dragons (Part XXIII)
Monday, February 7, 2005

Conclusion of the 'Here Be Dragons' series.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 4245    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 readers and special thanks to my proofreader Landry

* * *

INS Charybdis – Action Stations – 2520AD

Van der Heijden struggled with his pressure suit. He had never liked wearing them but only an idiot fights a space battle not wearing one. The ship might be armoured and airtight but having to leave the bridge just because a lucky hit depressurised part of the ship was just stupid. You didn’t need to wear the helmet, it could sit ready secured on a tether next to you on the deck, or hooked to your belt, but if the ship suddenly suffered explosive decompression you’d never be able to put on your whole EVA suit before your blood boiled out of your nose.

All the controls were deliberately oversized to allow for clumsy hands but most of the bridge crew were working without gloves to get a better feel of their stations, their gloves stuffed securely into their helmets. If the alarms went off you just breathed out expelling the air in your lungs and quickly put on the remainder of the gear, as long as you didn’t panic there was time to don gloves and helmet before the tiny blood vessels in your body started to pop, well that was the theory at least.

The bridge was actually more like a small amphitheatre than the command deck of most vessels. Like her sister ship Scylla, the Charybdis was a command and control vessel not just a warship so the various bridge stations, navigation, gunnery, communications etc. were arrayed in a semi-circle around what was apparently a large empty space, unless the holographic gear was running.

The Admiral began pacing around as was his habit. He had always found it easier to think if he was mobile. ‘Give me the cube,’ he ordered in his best command tone and then he began stomping around the command deck in the oversized boots of his EVA suit.

‘Tactical holographic projection, Aye,’ responded an unusually old Ensign in his thirties. With no room for promotion everyone in the Admirals small fleet was somewhat older than their rank would usually indicate, the only way to gain in rank was dead mans shoes and since the Reavers had been put in their place, this being ideally a hole in the ground or scattered in small floating chunks, promotions were mighty thin on the ground. ‘I’m routing in feeds from our own sensors and the Yi Sun-Yin,’ the Ensign responded.

The empty ‘stage’ of the bridge was in fact simply a place to project a holographic three dimensional image about six feet on the edge. It was far too difficult to get to grips with a three dimensional space battle using 2D displays and virtual reality headsets tended to give the wearers mild headaches after a while so the ‘Cube’ was the favoured method of Command & Control for a Navy warship.

Despite the relatively low-tech equipment available to the Independents the semi-transparent hologram was very well defined. Scavenged and modified technology it was actually built around a system originally developed for holographic pool tables of all things, those being made in one of the limited number of industrial worlds that had sided with the Browncoat faction. You could rotate the image but it was actually easier to move yourself around and through it, which was van der Heijden’s preference anyway. ‘Those aerospace fighters are heading for the transports,’ he said. ‘Detail the Yi Sun-Yin and the Kortenaer to intercept at flank speed,’ he ordered. ‘Have the Hobart and her Corvette squadron move to reinforce that supposedly friendly AI. Tell them not to take chances with the turncoat and if it looks hostile, torch it. As for the Corvus, tell Captain D’Giorgio to follow us in.’

The Admiral took a look at the projected courses that appeared as dotted lines within the cube and scratched his chin. ‘Tell Captain Juma on the Hobart that it looks like an enemy vessel has been neutralised and is drifting close to her course,’ he said. ‘Engineering will want to rip it apart so tell her not to destroy it unless absolutely necessary but make sure to EMP the thing hard just in case. We’ll retrieve it afterwards.’

‘Aye, Sir,’ the Ensign replied and began sending encrypted orders to the fleet.

Van der Heijden walked through the projection and positioned himself so he was looking directly at the tiny projected dot that marked the position of the Alliance Cruiser. It was still moving fast towards the transports but showing signs of decelerating hard, The Charybdis was also decelerating but both Capital Ships were already moving at enormous velocity and were hurtling towards each other at a phenomenal combined closing speed.

The Admiral ran the fleet but the ship belonged to Captain Decker, a less energetic man by preference than the Admiral, he was seated in his chair in the middle of the semi-circle of consoles and concentrating more on his own job than worrying about the big picture. He had a simple goal: get close to the Alliance Cruiser and pound the tzao gao out of it until they came apart. He was however still keeping one eye on the Cube so he knew the big picture in case the Admiral was incapacitated but his mind was mainly concentrated on the task at hand.

‘Reactors one through six to ninety percent rated power,’ Decker ordered. ‘Run seven through twelve up to seventy percent and start charging primary armament.’

‘Aye, Sir,’ responded the Reactor Officer, ‘directing power to main guns.’

Decker closed his eyes and listened. They hadn’t brought all the reactors online at the same time for nearly five years. They used too much fuel. Once all twelve were running simultaneously at a power output much more than idling they actually started a mild sympathetic vibration that caused the entire ship to hum quietly. It wasn’t loud but as Decker had once overheard one of the junior ranks comment, if you had some imagination it was as if the huge warship was walking from a long sleep and was quietly growling. Charging the main guns was like baring its teeth come to think about it Decker considered. ‘Weapons officer, report,’ he ordered.

If the main guns were its teeth, Charybdis had claws too. ‘Alpha, Bravo and Charlie Turrets charged and ready,’ the chief weapons officer, a lieutenant replied. ‘Bow torpedo tubes loaded and ready. All missile racks ready at your order. Directed energy and projectile point defence batteries coming on line. Prima, Secunda and Tertia mass-drivers charging.’ The Lieutenant broke out into a very unprofessional grin ‘Zeus coming on-line and ready to throw some lightning bolts.’

Decker frowned as a gentle wave of laughter drifted across the bridge. ‘We are about to do battle with an Alliance Capital Ship. This is no time for hilarity,’ he said sternly and watched the armaments officer’s expression change instantly.

It was standard, though unofficial parlance to refer to the three mass-driver cannon as being Thor’s Hammer, or simply “Thor”, while the single particle-beam cannon that ran between them for almost the entire length of the ship was “Zeus”. Admiral van der Heijeden turned from the holographic display and locked eyes with Captain Decker with the merest hint of a smile on his face. Decker’s eyes twinkled ‘The time for hilarity gentlemen will be when they find out what happens when we bring the judgement of the gods upon that brightly lit flying monstrosity.’

The weird thing was this was actually going to be the first time the ship ever got to fire her main guns in anger. The Reaver ships she’d faced before just weren’t worth the hassle of charging them.

An Alliance Cruiser however, well that was a target worth the ten year wait.

* * *

IAV Pen Lung – Action Stations – 2520AD

‘Firstly I assure you we had no knowledge of these renegade military vessels and secondly this vessel is supposed to be the pride of the Alliance Navy,’ the closest of the two Blue gloved Special Projects agents declared. ‘I fail to see why the prospect of doing battle with a decade old ship built by a rabble of Independent Bandits is so distressing, captain.’

Huaquing looked at him askance. ‘This vessel is the latest and most advanced Unification Class Cruiser in the fleet but it was not designed for Capital Ship engagements. If it was it would not look like a flying city, it would look like a flying cannon.’ Huaquing took a breath. ‘In fact,’ he said, ‘if the Pen Lung was built to fight other Capital Ships it would look very much like that armoured plated relic there,’ the Alliance Captain declared pointing at the retrieved database image of an Independent Maelstrom Class ship which was being shown on the monitor in front of his command chair.

‘Well if what you say is true,’ the other agent began, ‘shouldn’t we be retreating?’

One of the other Naval Officers snorted. These people were idiots.

Huaquing was more restrained and answered the question civilly albeit phrased for those clearly not versed in physics. ‘We have been accelerating at full burn along our current vector for some time. We cannot radically change our course because we are very heavy and moving very fast, while we can apply thrust to change course, by the time we have done so to any appreciable degree we will already be within weapons range,’ the Alliance Captain declared. ‘The enemy vessel is actually in the same situation in that they are also very heavy and moving very fast. The difference is they want to be in weapons range. They also have another advantage in that they can start inflicting heavy damage before we’re close enough to start warming up their hull.’

‘The fugitive River Tam certainly believes we are in trouble,’ the young boy whispered into the ear of the closer of the two agents. ‘Her thoughts on the matter were clear and triumphant before she began interfering with my scans again.’

‘Captain, I have a definitive count on Independent vessels,’ the Sensor Control Officer said. ‘As well as the Battlecruiser there are two Destroyers, two Frigates and a trio of Corvettes. One of the Frigates appears to be an ASW boat so they are able to track the AI vessels if not target them effectively until they get closer.’

‘ASW?’ one of the agents asked.

The Alliance Captain ignored the question and began running tactical simulations. To his surprise the young boy answered the agents question himself. ‘Anti-Stealth-Warfare,’ he said. ‘It means they’re carrying a GAD sensor system. That’s a Gravitational Anomaly Detector which looks for disturbances in local space caused by gravitational fields where there’s no apparent mass to cause it. Any use of a Gravity Engine, artificial gravity or inertial dampening causes ripples in local space-time that a GAD can detect. Unlike radar it’s not accurate enough for aiming but it can determine the approximate whereabouts of stealthed vessels. The drawbacks are they are very bulky and power intensive and do not work if installed on a vessel above a certain mass because its own natural gravitational field would interfere with the GAD sensors. Additionally, you have to turn off the ships artificial gravity and inertial suppressors when scanning or it won’t work either.’

‘So they can’t target our AI?’

‘Not at range but they can track it and bring themselves close enough to get a laser or radar targeting lock. Stealth makes you hard to see, not impossible to see with radar. They can also fire a missile spread towards the stealthed vessels approximate location and hope that when the missile gets close enough its own targeting sensors will get a lock,’ the boy answered. He had always done well at combat tactics and modern weaponry classes at the Academy and could have detailed the specifications and effectiveness of most military systems being deployed by both sides in the engagement.

What he couldn’t do was work out a way to stop several million metric tonnes of decade old metal and ceramic called Charybdis from burning a very big hole in their ship with a kilometre long particle beam cannon and then subsequently pounding it to pieces with volleys of hypersonic iron balls.

* * *

Serenity/Granite Gorge – Under Hard Burn – 2520AD

‘Where in the hell did they come from?’ Steve called out wondrously holding his youngest daughter over his head as Zoe came pounding into the cargo bay. Mal had already announced the news over the intercom to screams of joy, not all of which had come from the children.

‘The radio message said that they picked up the Ally Cruiser a few weeks back and they already had a task force on the way to intercept if it got too close to their space when they ran straight into Doyle heading the other way to tell them about us.’

‘They picked the Alliance up weeks ago? How?’ Book asked.

‘Lookout drones. They’ve been out here ten years remember Preacher,’ Zoe replied. ‘They’ve likely got passive sensors stuck on rocks and comets and such for a month’s burn in every direction from base. Just after we headed their way we crossed into a sector of space where nothing moves without being picked up. Course it was probably set up mainly to watch out for Reavers but I guess it works for anything with a drive and one thing those Ally Cruisers ain’t is inconspicuous.’

Steve grinned. ‘They probably thought the Alliance was out looking for them and were on the way to give them a warm welcome.’

‘But haven’t they given the game away? Surely the Alliance will come after them in force now?’ Inara commented.

Book shook his head. ‘We’re far beyond communications range out here. Quantum Wave Transmissions are instantaneous but the power requirement for a signal climbs rapidly with distance. Back in colonised space we just route signals through transmissions buoys, satellites and other ships if necessary but we’re in the back of beyond out here. Alliance Navy ships carry signal boosters that can transmit much further than civilian vessels but even those would be insufficient.’

‘But they can just carry the news home personally,’ Inara continued.

Zoe looked at her. ‘If you think they’ll be given the opportunity to do that you’re really mistaken,’ she said levelly.

Book looked away. ‘Van der Heijden will kill every single one of them,’ he said quietly. ‘Any good commander in the same situation would. Morality and reality don’t see eye to eye as often as they should.’

Inara looked aghast. ‘But what if they surrender?’

‘Can’t take the risk of escape. They’d also be a drain on resources. They won’t be offered surrender,’ Steve said dispassionately.

Jennifer hugged her son. It was actually very easy for her. It was her children’s long-term safety at stake. ‘C’est la guerre,’ she said simply.

The vestiges of his humanitarian tendencies remained in Simon. He could kill to protect himself and his sister, and those he considered friends. He could even do so for a cause he thought worthwhile but not even considering the idea of accepting an enemy’s surrender gnawed at him once he started to think about it. He was opening his mouth to speak when the voice of a little girl interrupted the conversation.

‘I fail to see the moral issue here,’ Cally stated loudly. ‘They were coming to kill us and we’re going to kill them instead.’

The expression on Books face grew even more pained. ‘All human life is sacred,’ he told the little girl turning to face her. ‘If we demonise our enemy, ignore his humanity, then we’re on a slippery slope where we become them. Even if something may be necessary that doesn’t mean it should be welcomed,’ he told her. ‘Lots of people are going to die and that’s a bad thing Cally.’

Cally looked him squarely in the eye. ‘Fuck ‘em,’ she said coldly.

* * *

AI Warship Shadow – Manoeuvring – 2520AD

It’s beginning to look like we’re way outside our weight class here,’ Shadow signalled to the other AI vessel. ‘If you want to call it a draw we could sit it out, watch the show… maybe grab some popcorn...

You aren’t funny 0001,’ the other AI replied.

They clearly just left a sense of humour out of your programming,’ Shadow responded. ‘In any case the next move’s yours. Do you (a) try and take out the transports and go out in a blaze of glory burned to a cinder by the two Destroyers vectoring in to escort them. Do you (b) try and destroy me… and get burned down to a cinder by yours truly and the other ships heading this way or do you (c) try and slow down the Battlecruiser heading towards your command vessel and get swatted like a fly?

Always nice having options. I like (b). I think I can take you before help arrives.’

I wouldn’t want it any other way,’ Shadow replied.

The two AI’s manoeuvred to do battle.

* * *

IAV Pen Lung – Action Stations – 2520AD

‘Squadron Leader Jonas reports he is closing on the transports but will not be within effective weapons range before the Independent vessels arrive. He wishes orders, Sir.’

‘It is vital that the renegade River Tam does not gain access to military resources of this magnitude,’ one of the agents said seriously. ‘All other considerations are unimportant.’

‘What are you talking about?’ Huaquing asked tersely.

The other agent frowned. ‘If she has access to hostile vessels of this power the entire future of the Alliance could be at stake.’

‘The firepower displayed here is a fraction of that we both met and overwhelmed during the war,’ Huaquing declared. ‘I have no time for such hyperbole. I have more pressing concerns such as my ship.’

‘Your ship, your life and the lives of everyone on this vessel are absolutely forfeit in this situation as are our own. If you are a patriot at all you will do everything in your power to eliminate those transports.’

The Alliance Captain shook his head. ‘The entire ‘Verse does not revolve around this mission. If they get away they get away.’

The agents looked at each other. Finally one threw a look at the boy standing besides them. He nodded and leaned into the Captains ear and began whispering. After a minute or so Huaquings eyes opened wide and his jaw dropped. He looked at the boy and went pale.

Finally he spoke up again. ‘Tell Jonas to close and destroy. His squadron is not to retreat regardless of losses. Those ships must be destroyed.’

Huaquing took a deep breath. ‘If the aerospace fighters fail, as soon as we get in range I want all fire directed at the transports.’

‘But, Sir, by then we’ll already be engaging the enemy Capital Ship,’ his executive officer protested.

‘Our lives are irrelevant, Commander. The stakes are higher than you can possibly imagine,’ Huaquing told him. ‘We’re on the dawn of a new age and it might be ragnarok itself.’

* * *

Serenity/Granite Gorge – Under Hard Burn – 2520AD

A red light began blinking furiously on the control panel. Wash swore and activated a console control. ‘We’ve been painted by a targeting radar. Missiles inbound.’

‘Can you jam them?’ Mal asked.

‘With what? They don’t fit ECM to civilian transports. We’ve only got the warning light because I made up a threat-warning board and stuck it in the sensor controls.’

‘Guess they decided that taking us alive wasn’t going to happen so they’d rather we were dead. I’m going to start jinking the ship,’ Wash told the Captain.

‘That work?’

‘No but we’ve beaten worse odds… not much worse though.’

The radio burst into life. ‘Transport Granite Gorge this is the Independent Navy Destroyer Kortenaer. You have incoming missiles. Do not, I repeat, do not take evasive action.’

Mal pressed the transmit button. ‘This is Granite Gorge, Captain Malcolm Reynolds speaking. If I’ve got missiles coming I’m trying to dodge them.’

Negative, Captain Reynolds,’ the radio replied. ‘If you do not hold a steady course you really won’t like what happens,

The red light on the sensors panel began to flash at a different rate. ‘We just got swept by another targeting scan,’ Wash said. ‘This one came from ahead.’

‘The Kortenaer painted us?’

‘Negative. We just got in the way… they’re painting the missiles. Okay this is going to be interesting.’

‘What?’

A crazy grin appeared on the pilot’s face. ‘I reckon we’re just about to fly through a swarm of interceptor missiles. I’m also guessing they’re programmed to steer clear of our current flight path. The Kortenaer is sweeping a corridor for us to fly through.’

‘How wide a corridor?’

Wash looked at the radar where a cluster of tiny blips had just appeared hurtling straight towards them. ‘Let me put it this way. I wish I’d eaten less at Christmas dinner.’

‘That’ll be a nice straight steady course there, Wash.’

‘Aye-aye, Sir.’

* * *

INS Charybdis – Action Stations – 2520AD

The cube zoomed in on one section of the battlespace where the Missile Destroyer Kortenaer and the ASW Frigate Yi Sun-Yin were starting to engage a squadron of Alliance aerospace fighters. The missile destroyer carried more interceptor missiles in its bays than the fighters would be carrying anti-ship missiles so it should have no difficulty winning the long-range engagement before closing to directed energy weapon range. At that range the two Independent warships would simply smash the tiny fighters aside as the ships mounted lasers and particle beam weapons far more powerful than anything you could power with the small reactor carried by a humble interceptor. It was just a question of power output. The Kortenaer and the Yi Sun-Yin just had a lot more wattage available.

It would have been much the same if either ship, or both together, had attempted to engage the Pen Lung. They would have been the ones on the receiving end of a lot more firepower than they could handle. Of course they didn’t have to try. That was what the Charybdis was there to do.

Van der Heijden could have approached the battle with a lot more finesse but when you’ve got a hammer most problems look like a nail and a Maelstrom Class Battlecruiser makes a good hammer.

‘I think they can handle those Ally fighters, wouldn’t you say Decker?’

‘Well if they can’t, Sir, I suggest putting their Captains in front of a firing squad for gross incompetence,’ Decker replied.

The Admiral looked over at the ship’s Captain ‘I could say the same for you if we don’t give that Cruiser a severe and rapid evisceration,’ he said.

Decker looked down at his console. ‘Sir, if we haven’t got that Cruiser returned to its component parts in a timely fashion I will not only stand in front of the firing squad I’ll load the rifles for you and yell fire myself.’

‘Don’t make me hold you to that, Captain,’ the Admiral deadpanned. ‘The marines would be only too pleased to get the opportunity to gun down a Naval Officer.’

‘Marines Sir?’ Decker replied still looking down. ‘In that case I’ll remember to say “fire” very slowly.’

A ripple of laughter washed around the bridge.

‘Sir it looks like the two AI vessels are engaging again. The power output of their weapons is very surprising given the size of the ships,’ the sensor controls officer reported.

‘Lieutenant Doyle did indicate the AI she encountered was an advanced prototype and so it appears. What kind of power are we talking about?’

‘Based on these readings I’d surmise Directed Energy weapons on a par with those mounted on a light destroyer, Sir.’

Van der Heijden blinked. ‘Engineering will really want to take one of those apart. I’d never have guessed you could get the reactor power from a vessel that size let alone enough efficiency across the board to have weapons like those on a ship like that even if you do save a great deal of space by taking out the crew.’

‘Impressive ships, Admiral,’ Captain Decker observed. ‘But just a sideshow to the main event.’

‘True enough, Captain,’ the Admiral replied. ‘Trust an Ally to bring a Frigate to a Battlecruiser fight,’ he said smiling.

* * *

Serenity/Granite Gorge – Under Hard Burn – 2520AD

Wash looked up from the sensors. ‘Yes, this should be interesting,’ he said.

Mal looked out through the cockpit glass as a pattern of small dots almost directly ahead of the ship suddenly grew in size at a terrific rate then shot past in a blur. The closing speed between Granite and the high-velocity interceptor missiles fired by the Kortenaer was such that seeing any details on them was impossible. They just went past leaving a streak of fire from their rocket motors.

Mal breathed out. ‘Exactly how close did some of those get?’

Wash looked at him. ‘Trust me you don’t want to know,’ he said. ‘Look out the rear porthole,’ he continued.

The Captain turned and looked through the smallish porthole at the rear and after a second or so was rewarded by a series of flashes a surprising distance away. ‘Interceptors taking out those Ally missiles?’

‘Yup,’ Wash confirmed. ‘Our destroyer fired a lot more anti-missiles than the Alliance fighters fired missiles just in case.’ Wash paused. ‘You don’t think they’ll bill us for them do you? They’ve got to be hard to get out here.’

Mal turned back to his pilot. ‘We’ll see if they’ll take Alliance Credits in payment. Still got a whole heap of those from when we went pirate a few months back.’

‘Somehow I’m guessing we’ll get a really bad exchange rate for those from this Van Der Heijden guy,’ Wash said playing along.

‘You could be right. We might have to trade something instead. What’s the retail value of a telepath you think?’

Wash looked quizzical. ‘We selling River?’

‘Don’t be stupid,’ Mal told him. ‘I was going to offer Laura.’

‘Frankly, Sir,’ Zoe said appearing through the hatch in the floor, ‘I’d pay them to take her away.’

‘Caveat emptor,’ Wash declared. ‘Let the buyer beware,’ he translated, ‘in the Latin.’

Zoe and Mal looked at the pilot. ‘Let me guess… you got that from River.’

‘No, from Steve,’ Wash replied.

Mal shook his head. ‘There is getting to be entirely too much education on this boat.’

‘Nam et ipsa scientia potestas est,’ Wash said looking back at the sensors. ‘Knowledge itself is power,’ he said tongue in cheek. ‘I heard that from Cally by the way.’

Zoe looked at the sensors where two large blobs were closing on each other as the Charybdis closed on the Pen Lung. ‘I’d put that battlecruiser there up against knowledge any day of the week,’ Zoe said pointing at one of the blobs.

‘But what about if River was running that battlecruiser?’ Wash asked.

Mal scratched his head. ‘I’d put that combination up against anything.’

* * *

IAV Pen Lung – Action Stations – 2520AD

‘Squadron Leader Jonas reports that his initial missile strike on the transports has been thwarted by anti-missile fire from the Independent warships. He is continuing the attack and is closing to effective laser range however his closing speed on the transports is likely insufficient even at full burn,’ the sensors officer reported.

‘Time to intercept?’ Huaquing asked.

‘Just over three minutes, Captain,’ the sensors officer replied.

‘Time until the Independent vessels are in effective directed energy range of our fighters?’

The sensors officer winced. ‘Based on the data we have on the vessel types from historical records, just under two minutes for the Destroyer, two and a half for the enemy Frigate,’ she reported.

The Alliance Captain sighed. ‘Well I suppose we can only hope their targeting computers aren’t as good as they used to be during the war,’ he said. ‘Weapons control, are we ready to engage the Battlecruiser?’

‘All missile racks ready for initial long-range salvo. Our Laser and Particle Beam cannon are fully charged and railguns are being bought up to full charge also. Point defence is primed to receive enemy missiles,’ the weapons officer replied.

‘As soon as we are within effective range I want all missiles fired at the Transports. Empty the racks. Fire them dry,’ Huaquing ordered.

‘But, Sir, our only advantage over the enemy battlecruiser is the superiority of our missile armament. Without the chance to inflict long-range damage before we close to cannon range we’ll be at even more of a disadvantage.’

‘We weren’t going to win a slugging match anyway, Lieutenant, regardless of the possibility of a few extra warheads pounding her hull because her ECM is a generation out of date,’ Huaquing replied. ‘Our only goal is the destruction of those transports.’

‘Yes, Sir,’ the weapons officer obeyed with a nod before turning back to his console.

One of the agents moved in closer. ‘Will the missiles achieve the task?’ he asked Huaquing.

‘I doubt it. In order to fire off the missiles before we get into direct confrontation with the enemy battlecruiser we will have to fire at extreme range which means they’ll have minimal fuel for evasive manoeuvres to avoid anti-missiles. In addition, because we’re chasing, the missiles closing speed on the renegades will not be as high as I would like giving the enemy warships a lot of opportunity to jam them with ECM or shoot them down with laser fire. Our missiles are resistant to both but resistance is not invulnerability.’

‘So if the missiles don’t work?’

‘Although the battlecruiser is currently more distant than the transports, unlike the latter it is heading directly at us at high velocity so within a short time it will be closer than they. A short time after that we will be exchanging directed-energy fire which will hit us very hard. Eventually as we are gaining on the transports we will be able to turn our cannons their way and I will divert our fire from the Charybdis to the primary target.’

‘And that will destroy them?’

Huaquing rolled his eyes towards the ceiling.

‘That is entirely dependent on whether we are still here to fire the cannons. We’re going to be hit very hard before we’re in range of the renegades,’ the Alliance Captain said dispassionately.

* * *

Serenity/Granite Gorge – Under Hard Burn – 2520AD

Mal watched the sensors with interest as another dot disappeared. The Independent warships were burning down one fighter after another before they could engage the transports but despite the fact they were actually firing past Serenity/Granite there was nothing to see outside. No atmosphere to illuminate meant you couldn’t actually see all the laser fire and of course no gas also meant no sound either. The only indication of a battle was an occasional tiny flare far off to stern as a fighter exploded and a little dot disappearing on the sensor display.

‘Hey, we’re getting a tightbeam message from one of those other ships. It’s a hail from a Destroyer called Hobart,’ Wash said.

‘Put her on speaker,’ Mal ordered.

Transport Granite Gorge this is Hobart. We have EMP’ed one inert AI vessel and are closing on the other two but are having difficulty getting good targeting resolution let alone the ability to tell which is hostile. Please advise.’

Wash looked at Mal and Zoe. ‘Please wait,’ he said and muted the signal. ‘I’ve got an idea if you don’t,’ he said.

Mal shrugged. ‘Go ahead.’

Wash flicked the microphone back on. ‘Hobart this is Granite Gorge. Please monitor this transmission,’ he said.

The pilot pressed a control on the radio. ‘Shadow this is Wash. You have help on the way but they need help with identification.’

I’m the good looking one,’ a familiar voice replied from the speaker.

Mal grimaced. ‘Gorram AI,’ he thought. ‘That ain’t gonna work,’ he said. ‘Either of them could say he’s Shadow.’

Wash ignored the Captain. ‘Shadow, could you please annoy the Captain like you did when we met the Stokerton’

I’m a salty old pirate set sail from Hong Kong. Way Hey blow the man down…

Wash chuckled ‘This is Granite Gorge to Hobart. Once you have a good track please open fire on the one that didn’t just start singing.’

Will do Granite. Hobart out… but very confused.’

‘Welcome to our ‘verse, Hobart. Granite Gorge out.’ Wash said.

‘I reckon there were thousands of other things only Shadow would know that would have worked,’ Mal observed.

Wash nodded. ‘Yeah, but I always go for the laugh,’ he said and began humming the old sailors tune himself.

* * *

INS Charybdis – Action Stations – 2520AD

‘Sir, we have a launch warning. Numerous vampires being fired from enemy Cruiser,’ an Ensign reported.

‘Activate ECM and prepare Anti-Missiles and point-defence guns,’ Captain Decker ordered.

‘Should we return fire, Sir?’ the weapons officer asked.

Decker frowned. ‘I see no reason to use up our missiles on that thing. They’re too expensive… and it’s no match for our guns.’

‘Sir the missiles appear to be vectored away from our course.’

Decker raised his eyebrows ‘Where does their vector lead them?’ he asked quizzically.

‘All vampires heading for civilian transports, Sir.’

Admiral Van der Heijden listening in snorted. ‘That’s a waste of ammunition at this range. They also seem to have their priorities very wrong.’

Decker nodded. ‘They must really want those transports badly, Sir. Doyle said she didn’t know why but to send a Cruiser this far out after a few civilians and waste those missiles like that… well it’s got to be good.’

‘If they want whatever it is that badly then we’d better deny it to them,’ The Admiral said. ‘Detail the Frigate Corvus to change course and engage those missiles. Tell her to thin out the numbers so Kortenaer and Ye Sun-Yin have less to mop up at destination.’

‘Aye, Sir.’

Decker looked at the cube. His command and the Alliance Cruiser were getting closer and closer. ‘Time to target?’

‘Predicted effective Primary Particle Cannon range in one-hundred fifty-seven seconds, Sir.’

Decker pursed his lips. ‘Let’s make the first shot count ladies and gentlemen. At this speed we’ll get one free full charge into them before they can shoot back,’ he said. ‘Order Alpha, Bravo and Charlie turrets to engage as soon as we start taking counter fire,’ he ordered, inwardly smiling at the fact that between them the three turrets that housed Charybdis’ secondary armament had almost as much punch as the Alliance Cruiser had in total.

‘Mass drivers ready to fire, Sir,’ reported the officer in charge of the trio of oversized railguns that ran from one end of the ship to the other.

Decker nodded. ‘They’re still randomising velocity and making minor course corrections to prevent Railgun impacts but as soon as we knock her engines off line and she’s drifting I want that thing pounded to scrap metal immediately before she has a chance to restart her engines and gets ideas about ramming or such.’

‘You can count on the Railgun crews, Captain. We’ll hammer those purplebellies good. You betcha.’

Decker smirked. There was a very big cultural difference between the crews that serviced the directed energy weapons and the railgunners. The former were technicians at heart, the latter were frustrated demolition workers.

‘This is Gunnery requesting control of the ship,’ the Gunnery officer announced.

‘Request granted. Pilot is at your command,’ Decker replied handing over the control of the battlecruisers course from navigation to gunnery. The main guns were fixed which meant to aim you pointed the whole ship then pulled the trigger.

‘Pilot, bring ship to bear on the coordinates on your console,’ the gunnery officer ordered sending the necessary data from his command console to the pilot. ‘Effective range in thirty seconds, Captain.’

‘Fire at will,’ Decker ordered.

‘Purging capacitors in ten, nine, eight… target lock confirmed,’ the gunnery officer declared. ‘… four three two one… purging capacitors…. PARTICLE CANNON FIRING.’

‘Virgin no more,’ Decker said patting the ship tenderly.

* * *

IAV Pen Lung – In Combat – 2520AD

The ship shuddered and warning klaxons began to wail. Although, unlike a laser, a Particle Beam is as much a projection of mass as energy it’s total mass was insufficient to effect a multi-million tonne vessel like the Alliance Cruiser much in terms of impact. It’s effect was more akin to holding a cutting torch to a metal plate, it simply burned through leaving a somewhat more ragged edge than a cleaner laser hit.

The hull of the Pen Lung was armoured of course but it was not armoured against the possibility of this kind of attack. The beam of charged particles chewed through the armour in a split second then burned deep into the ship slicing through the metal, plastic and ceramic. Gas gushed out through the hole as air vented from the myriad of compartments speared by the beam and for a short while before it ended it could be seen in the cloud of escaping gas continuing to burn its way deeper and deeper into the Cruiser.

External cameras dotted over the hull relayed the image of the beam to the bridge set deep within the ship and as damage control computers relayed reports around the ship Captain Huaquing gritted his teeth as he read the data streaming across his console screen.

‘Damage heavy but no vital systems effected. Ship is still battle worthy, Sir,’ a lieutenant reported. ‘We may have lost a large number of crew though.’

Huaquing squeezed his eyes shut to offer a quiet prayer then opened them again. ‘All guns to open fire on the enemy Capital Ship on my order,’

The ship shuddered once more as the particle beam struck again.

‘Return fire,’ Huaquing ordered.

As the main armament from the Charybdis cut deep into the IAV Pen Lung six more beams, high powered lasers this time began to wash over her hull as well as the secondary armament of the battlecruiser entered the exchange. Although only a fraction of the wattage of the main beam they still scorched pits into the hull and opened up holes venting more gas into space and allowing those watching the battle on images from the external cameras to see both the incoming fire and the Cruisers own beams as it lashed out in retaliation.

The problem was that the target for the Cruisers own guns was built for this kind of situation and whereas Pen Lung was already being hurt, the layer after layer of laminated steel, ceramic and woven monomolecular fibre that plated Charybdis was as yet still only being heated up.

‘We should consider abandoning ship,’ one of the agents said. ‘The information we have on this new threat is vital to Alliance Security and…’

Huaquing turned his head. ‘None of our shuttles have the range to get back, so unless you want to die slowly drifting in space in a couple of weeks time I’d stay aboard. That’s assuming of course the Browncoats don’t just gun you down for target practice. The only ship we have that can travel all the way back without refuelling is this one,’ Huaquing asserted. ‘The AI couldn’t get back with the news either because it would have to burn off too much fuel getting away from here in the first place. The vessels closing on it don’t have its power to weight ratio but they are going the right way already which makes up for a whole lot of thrust.’

One of the agents looked very nervous. ‘Are you saying we’re going to die?’

Huaquing narrowed his eyes. ‘Yes, we’re going to die. You too. The difference is I’m going to die like a Naval Officer doing my duty like I should and you’re going to die because you helped unleash an abomination like him upon the universe and then let it go,’ he said pointing at the boy who to his credit looked much less perturbed than his blue gloved companions.

The Alliance Navy Captain straightened himself up in his chair. He looked around the bridge and watched as his crew continued to do their jobs perfectly aware they were fighting a battle they weren’t going to win.

Huaquing activated the intercom and switched it so that his voice would be heard around the ship. ‘This is the Captain,’ he began. ‘You know we’re being hit hard but we’re hitting the enemy hard too and we will do our duty to the Alliance and our home worlds in the true tradition of the Navy. I am proud to have served with each and every one of you and fervently wish our sacrifice this day was unnecessary. God bless you all and God bless the Alliance.’

The ship shuddered again as Charybdis’ main gun scythed into her once more.

The Captain remembered an old poem he’d once read and began to recite it quietly to himself.

To every man upon this Earth death cometh soon or late. And how can a man die better than facing fearful odds. For the ashes of his fathers and the temples of his Gods?

‘Sir, we’re coming into maximum firing range of the transports. I’m afraid at this distance we’ll find good targeting and getting a burn through difficult,’ the Sensors officer reported.

Huaquing nodded. ‘All guns disengage the battlecruiser target and open fire on the transport vessels.’

‘Aye, Sir.’

* * *

INS Charybdis – In Combat – 2520AD

‘Incoming fire has ceased, Captain,’

‘Did we score a critical hit?’ Decker asked surprised.

‘Negative,’ the sensors officer replied. ‘Cruiser is now apparently bringing its directed energy weapons to bear against the transports.’

‘You’re kidding?’

‘No, Sir.’

The Admiral interrupted. ‘Just keep hitting her. We can’t do anything but that.’

‘What the hell is on those transports?’ Captain Decker asked rhetorically.

* * *

Serenity/Granite Gorge – Under Hard Burn – 2520AD

Qù tāmāde!’ Wash swore ‘We’re getting targeted by that Cruiser again.’

‘More missiles?’ Mal asked. The Independent Navy ships had only finished shooting down the last salvo.

‘Shit!’ the pilot swore again. ‘Hull shows rapid heating. We’re getting shot at by lasers.’

Wash pulled the control column over hard activating a long burst on the manoeuvring thrusters.

‘What the hell, Wash?’ Mal asked at the sudden action.

‘If I spin the ship there’s less chance of a burn through. The beam doesn’t get the chance, you can’t dodge a laser so this is the best I got. It’ll keep us alive a while. We’re so far out from that cruiser the beams lost a lot of coherence if we were closer to it we’d already be like Zurich Cheese by now.’

‘What’s the hull like?’ Zoe asked.

‘Hot and getting hotter too fast for comfort,’ Wash replied. ‘Anyone know what temperature it melts at?’

* * *

IAV Pen Lung – In Combat – 2520AD

An internal explosion shook the ship violently.

‘Incoming fire breached number three reactor, Sir,’ an Ensign called out. ‘Engineering has shut it down but we just lost artificial gravity and life support on half the ship.’

A screeching noise caused everyone to wince and for a second the ship howled as a mass of compartments voided to space at once. An Ensign looked up from his monitor display in horror. ‘We just lost the port tower Sir. The main enemy beam just sliced it straight off.’

Another series of explosions echoed one after the other.

‘Engine room just took a direct hit from a concentrated barrage of secondary enemy armament,’ another officer announced. ‘Sir, we’ve lost thrust.’

Huaquing turned on the intercom. ‘All hands this is the Captain. We have lost engine power. Brace for Kinetic Energy weapons impact.’

The Captain turned to the Agents. ‘Hold onto your ass this is when it gets nasty,’ he told them. They looked on the verge of blind panic.

Huaquing looked from the cowering agents to his own bridge crew still doing their jobs. ‘Death gentlemen is light as a feather’ he said in a clear unwavering voice. ‘Duty however is heavy as a mountain. We’ve borne our burden well today.’

* * *

INS Charybdis – Action Stations – 2520AD

‘Target is no longer manoeuvring. Scans indicate major damage to reactors and engines,’ the sensors officer reported.

Decker nodded. ‘Prima, Secunda and Tertia Railguns commence fire,’ he ordered.

Shortly afterwards three iron balls hurtled from the front of the Charybdis. They had begun their journey at the very rear of the ship grasped by a magnetic field and were then accelerated hard down the three long tubes that ran the length of the ship.

After a kilometre of brutal acceleration they were going like a bat out of hell.

They were also a full metre across and weighed nearly 4 tonnes apiece.

Needless to say you could describe their effect on whatever they ran into as catastrophic, if you were prone to drastic understatement, that is.

* * *

Serenity/Granite Gorge – Under Hard Burn – 2520AD

‘The incoming just stopped,’ Wash declared. ‘I guess we get to live.’

‘Based on today’s events so far, I’m going to wait and see before I make my final call on that one,’ Mal responded. ‘It’s been way too changeable so far.’

‘Another hail from the Hobart,’ Wash said turning the speaker on once more.

Granite Gorge, this is the INS Hobart. We have disabled the hostile AI, the two of them had really hit each other hard before we arrived.’

‘Is Shadow intact?’

Another transmission interrupted the conversation.

Go tell the Browncoats stranger passing by that I lie here obedient to their laws,’ Shadow declared. ‘Seriously, though, I’m intact but in need of major repairs. Do you think I could get the locals to scavenge up some spare parts from all this wreckage floating around? Oh yes I’ve got some really good pictures I’m sending over. I think you’ll like them. Shadow Out.

* * *

IAV Pen Lung – In Combat – 2520AD

Already sliced open by particle beam fire the Cruiser looked badly mauled before the railgun fire started to impact. After a few minutes of being hit by railgun shot it was a broken hulk. The first three railgun projectiles impacted the main body of the ship and broke her back, after that the Cruiser just came apart.

Volley after volley smashed into the Pen Lung and long after it was a floating wreck the Charybdis continued to fire. Ten years of resentment and rage expressed in hypersonic iron.

Captain Huaquing died in the first volley just the way he wanted, a professional warrior to the end. A patriot, he may have been on the losing side but he was still sure it was the right one.

* * *

Serenity/Granite Gorge – Under Escort – 2520AD

Everyone crowded around the large television in Granites communal area. It didn’t get much use this far out of Cortex broadcasting range but having had a sneak preview Wash told them it was worth a look. Granite was being escorted by the Frigate Yi Sun-Yin towards a rendezvous with Charbydis and, no doubt, a new era.

‘Shadow got some great shots with his optical gear. The magnification and resolution is just amazing,’ Wash told everyone.

An image of the Alliance Cruiser under fire appeared on screen, incoming and outgoing beams glittering in venting atmosphere.

‘You know Pen Lung means Air Dragon and I did say before we headed out this way ‘Here Be Dragons,’ River announced.

‘Prescience River?’ Steve asked incredulously.

River smiled ‘No, just remarkable coincidence.’

Another picture appeared on the screen. It was the Battlecruiser Charybdis.

‘You know why we won?’ Steve asked mischievously.

‘Go on,’ Mal replied.

‘Our Dragon was clearly better at breathing fire,’ Steve replied grinning. ‘It does look a bit like a mouth, admit it,’ he said pointing at the image on the screen. From this angle you could see the gaping maw of the Particle Cannon in the centre of the bow.

‘Thicker scales too, when you think about it,’ Simon interjected.

‘Dragons,’ River said. ‘I think it’s time we took them to civilisation and burned some villages.’

Mal Reynolds looked at the image on the screen. Yup they’d definitely be able to raise some hell back home with a pair of those babies.

‘You know I’ve heard the purplebellies put up a victory monument in Serenity Valley back home,’ Mal said

‘It’s a big arch,’ Steve said. ‘Modelled the thing on the design of the Arc de Triumph back on Earth-That-Was.’

‘First thing I want to do when we retake Hera is blow the gorram thing to rubble,’ Mal said matter of factly.

The story continues in Horse, Foot and Artillery Part I

Teaser Poster for Horse, Foot and Artillery

COMMENTS

Monday, February 7, 2005 9:39 AM

SOULOFSERENITY


Good gorram, Hotpoint, that was F*cking awesome! I know you've got another series planned for the 2nd war for Independence, but what a way to close out this one! I simply can't wait to see where you take things from here now that River has some really big firepower to play with.

Oh, I also admire the way that you wrote the Alliance Captain Huaquing, and the honorable way he died. Not many would portray an Alliance Officer like that. Kudos to you.

So...where's the next story?!?!? I need more!!!

- Soul

Monday, February 7, 2005 10:21 AM

ARTSHIPS


Gripping, as always. Utterly rewarding. I know it takes you a long time to write so much, Hotpoint, but it reads so effortlessly. Thank you!

Monday, February 7, 2005 10:45 AM

KAYSKY


That was definitely worth waiting for. =o)

Monday, February 7, 2005 1:24 PM

AMDOBELL


Excellent! Brilliant battle sequences and I just love the Shadow AI more and more each time he gets in on the action. Superb sense of humour and so very shiny to have Mal et al on the winning side for once. And I echo Mal's wish to blow the rutting Alliance monument to gorram *diyu* when they retake Hera. Good myth, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, February 7, 2005 2:29 PM

MALSDOXY


As ever, Hotpoint, gripping and very entertaining. I suspect you have something in store for River that none of us can imagine. Thank you for another great series. Waiting patiently for the Second War of Independence...

Monday, February 7, 2005 8:48 PM

CASTIRONJACK


The conclusion!?!?

Nooooo.... Damn it all, now what? Twenty three parts and we still wants more, that speaks of a very satisfied audience, Jon... Your writing has definitely improved throughout the telling of your tales.

Hope the time to contemplate the next step isn't as longer than it needs to be... Don't keep us waiting too long...

Loved it,

Keep flyin'

Tuesday, February 8, 2005 7:11 AM

CANTON


Ef'in awesome as usual, you've raised the bar so much that it's almost spoiled me for other fics! Keep up the great work and as expected, I await the next installment with bated breath.

Tuesday, February 8, 2005 7:41 AM

GUILDSISTER


Tzao gao, Hotpoint…! That was an astonishing read. I stand in complete awe.

High mark for me: Hauquing invoking the ragnarok then ending up getting smacked by Thor’s Hammer. Beautiful symmetry. You betcha!

Hauquing was excellent in every regard. I also enjoyed the Wash/Mal interactions—nice to see them in such a combat situation where Wash is a military pilot and Mal is acknowledging that, with both still completely in character. The ‘no quarter’ scene with Book, Inara, Cally, etc., was extremely well-played in the morality vs reality situation.

The battle sequence was not only well done technically and descriptively, but written and paced to be tense, taut, and exciting at the same time. Outstanding blend. The action was clear and vivid.

Mal, at the end, wanting to smash the monument on Hera… the simple, understated way you handled that was far more effective, IMO, than if you’d expounded on his feelings or such. Powerfully done.

That was just a darned good time all the way around. Thanks so much for sharing your story!


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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