Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part III)
Sunday, May 29, 2005

The exiled Independent Navy starts to realise the value of the assets that they have just obtained and River and Laura finally face off.


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.

* * *

“Do you really want a straight answer to that incredibly crass and puerile question or something that sounds deep, cryptic or just flat out crazy to help boost your undoubtedly falling ratings?”

River Tam – Cortex Interview – 2529AD

* * *

INS Charybdis – Underway – 2521AD

Wash was the last to arrive at the table along with his own personal Marine escort who sat down nearby with his own dinner. Even after well over a week aboard everyone was still being shadowed whenever they went anywhere on Charybdis but the crew was still outwardly friendly nonetheless, if more than a little curious about the strangers. It had been the New Years celebrations only a couple of days before and everyone had made a monumental fuss of the children. Their presence had certainly helped in the business of gaining a decent measure of acceptance, its human nature to want to look after kids, it stops their parents deserting them even when they’re being a pain in the neck, and the obvious rapport between the rest of the crew and Steve and Jennifer’s brood was helping them get accepted too. ‘So where is everybody?’ Wash asked before spearing a chunk of protein with his fork.

‘The children were offered a proper tour of the boat by Captain Decker and Jennifer tagged along to watch them’ Inara answered. ‘I think she was worried that if John got loose on a ship this size they’d never be able to find him again’ she continued. ‘River and Simon are in the medical bay. He was carrying a pile of his notes when I last saw him and mumbling something about having to give a lecture to the medical staff. I suppose they want to find out as much as possible about River and Laura’s gifts and River is a touch less intransigent in answering questions.’

‘She answers all right it’s just that you still can’t always tell what the hell she means’ Zoe commented. ‘As for a gift it’s more of a curse if you ask me’ she opined. ‘You know they haven’t exactly taken River to heart on this boat. She gets watched even more than the rest of us’ she said turning to look at the collection of Marines sat nearby.

‘River is kinda creepy before you get to know her’ Kaylee pointed out then paused. ‘I mean I love River but she is. I can understand folks being wary of her even before seeing first-hand the sort of stuff she can do.’

Mal swallowed a mouthful of food. ‘Let’s be honest’ he said. ‘She’s kinda creepifying even after you’ve got to know her’ he continued. ‘River’s sorta like a nuclear missile. It may be on your side and pointed at the enemy but when you think about it, it still makes the gorram hair stand up on the back of your neck.’

‘She’s a person not a weapon Mal’. Inara chided.

Mal nodded. ‘No arguing here and I’ll knock down any stranger who says different. But remember she’s called herself a weapon too on more than one occasion. River has a better understanding of herself than we do.’

Inara looked at him. In some ways he could act so mind-meltingly shallow and direct you’d think there was nothing there at all but the depths to the man’s character were simply astonishing in other ways. His ability to correctly determine black and white from so many shades of grey was something she envied intensely.

He looked good in tight trousers too.

Mal frowned. Inara was looking at him funny again he must have done something wrong. Gorramit why did she have to be so damn deep and inscrutable all the time?

Damn but she looked good in pretty much anything she was wearing though.

‘So where’s Book?’ Zoe asked.

‘He’s holding a Service in the other mess hall’ Mal replied looking away from Inara and back to his dinner. ‘Apparently there’s a whole heap of believers on this boat and not a proper Shepherd between them.’

‘I thought most big ships would have a Chaplain?’ Inara asked. ‘I’m not an expert on such matters though’ she admitted.

‘Many would’ Mal agreed, ‘but this here boat and the rest were originally assembled to fly to the core and vaporise a good percentage of Gods Creation. I guess it was figured that any Pastor they bought along would maybe have a crisis of conscience and disrupt the smooth process of mass murder.’

‘You sound disapproving there Mal’ Wash commented. ‘I always thought of you as a real Core hater.’

Mal played with his food. ‘Don’t like their government but I respected the way their soldiers fought for what they thought was right and I’ve always reckoned wars should be between armies in the field not with civilians at home getting nuked, firebombed or hit with bioweapons or such’ Mal replied. ‘I wanted Independence but I’ll bet I’d never have felt right about it if we’d only got it because we glassed a couple of planets. A mans freedom is worth a lot but is it worth millions of other men’s families?’

‘At least it never came to that’ Zoe said. ‘We lost but we stayed clean in the end.’

‘We didn’t lose the war. It was just a ten year pause in the fighting to my thinking’ Mal said brightening. ‘We go back. Do it right and send those purple-bellied sons-of-bitches running home to mama.’

Steve chuckled from further down the table. He’d been reading a book on a computer pad until then.

‘Okay spill it.’ Mal said.

Steve looked over. ‘Sorry but you reminded me of something there’ he said. ‘After he’d read the Treaty of Versailles that formally ended the First World War a French Field Marshall named Foch said “this is not peace, it is an armistice for twenty years”, he was spot-on too because he said it in 1919 and the Second World War broke out in 1939’.

‘I’ve got to ask. Do you actually just spend the whole of your free time learning obscure historical quotes?’ Wash inquired.

‘History repeats itself first as tragedy then as farce’ Steve replied. ‘If you want to avoid making the same mistakes as were made before you have to know about them in the first place. They say the next big thing is here and the revolutions near, but to me it seems quite clear that it’s all just a little bit of history repeating’ he chuckled again ‘If you’re interested the start of that was a quote from Karl Marx but I finished with an old song lyric’ he said grinning.

‘We definitely need to stop him having any more kids’ Wash observed seriously. ‘It can’t be good for the gene-pool. One of him is too many.’

Steve ignored the pilot and turned back to his book.

‘I will say one thing’ Inara said changing the subject. ‘You couldn’t exactly say the colour-scheme on this ship is exciting. Everything is painted ocean grey. I suppose the military like uniformity as well as uniforms’ she joked.

Kaylee made a sound. ‘That’s what I was going to tell you all’ she squealed. ‘I ran into a couple of maintenance crewmen in the Airlock carrying spray cans. They were going to paint Serenity the same colour too. I had to shoo them off!’

‘If it moves salute it…’ Mal began.

‘… and if stays still paint it’ chimed in Zoe and Steve simultaneously completing a military joke that probably dated back to Earth-That-Was itself.

‘Well they’re not painting Serenity’ Kaylee said determinedly. ‘It’s taken me years to get all the murals painted on the bulkheads I don’t want her to look like any boring old ship.’

‘Maybe you’d better stand guard against gangs of roving decorators?’ Wash said.

Kaylee looked worried. ‘Do you think I need to?’

‘One thing I wouldn’t describe this crew as is “quitters” if the Alliance couldn’t make them give up I doubt a civilian mechanic will. They’ll sneak back in and paint her while you’re asleep I’ll bet’ Zoe deadpanned playing along.

‘Do you really think so?’ Kaylee asked with an increasing look of concern on her face. Then her expression turned to panic. ‘They wouldn’t try and service the engine too would they?’ she asked in horrified tones.

* * *

‘I know River believes they need a practical demonstration but knowing Laura I’m surprised she agreed to this’ Simon said. ‘I’m also not happy at the way this has apparently become entertainment.’

Zoe sat down next to him. ‘As for Laura you’re not thinking about it the right way. She gets a chance to beat up River without risking a couple of thousand volts for her trouble. She’s been having happy little daydreams about this for months I’ll bet.’

‘Three rounds should be a good match I’m thinking’ Jayne said. ‘Rivers good but Laura is ornery and a mite faster. Anyone else thinking of betting?’ he asked. ‘I’ll put fifty Platinum on the kid.’

‘I’ll take a piece of that’ Zoe replied. ‘Hell I’ll take the lot.’

‘Where’s your loyalty Jayne?’ Wash asked. ‘Betting against River? You should be ashamed.’

‘Ain’t nothing to be ashamed about’ Jayne stated. ‘This is business’ he pointed out.

Wash sniggered. ‘Sometimes I think he thinks a sentiment is something you put on food to make it taste better.’

Inara looked around. ‘Have you noticed that despite the fact that somewhat over half the ships complement of crew are female this hall is predominantly filled with men?’

‘It’s a cat fight. What do you expect?’ Jayne asked surprised at the question.

A few yards away River shook herself loose and reached back to tie up her long hair. Nearby Laura was stretching herself out on the floor, like herself she was wearing a fairly tight but unbinding outfit that wouldn’t cramp their style but was provoking some admiring glances.

This was going to be interesting River thought looking at the younger girl.

‘Are you sure about this?’ Mal asked. ‘She could really do you some damage.’

River gave the Captain a baleful glare. ‘Where’s your faith?’ she asked.

‘Still back In the Valley where I left it’ he replied, ‘and put in the mouth-guard because she’ll knock out your teeth if you don’t.’

River put the moulded plastic in her mouth. ‘Yeth Sir’ she replied.

‘I really don’t see the point in this exercise Sergeant’ Admiral van der Heijden stated in his thick Pretoria accent walking up to the pair ‘We are all perfectly aware of the mental… enhancements of these two girls and it’s not like we haven’t seen martial arts before. Several of the crew are highly accomplished in various schools especially Major Fushida and some of her Marines.’

Mal looked at the officer. ‘I’m sorry Sir but you ain’t ever witnessed anything like this I’m telling you for certain. Watch the timing of the moves it’ll be a sight to see.’

Across from the conversation Steve held out his hand to help Laura up which she disdainfully ignored and flipped herself from the ground into an upright position.

‘You know you don’t need to do this either’ he said.

‘Well isn’t that sweet’ Laura replied voice dripping with sarcasm. ‘The man that tried to kill me is concerned for my well-being.’

‘You’re a hard person to like Laura’ Steve replied and handed the girl her own mouth-guard. ‘Best of luck by the way, you’ll need it.’

Laura snorted and rolled her head around her neck before clapping her hands together and stretching out her arms.

River looked across to her. ‘Ready to do this?’ she thought.

The other telepath smirked. ‘Good thing your brother’s a doctor’ she thought back, ‘because you’ll be needing him.

Mal looked at the crowd of ships crew, aerospace force personnel and Marines strung out in a big circle around the mess hall where the day before Book had been holding a prayer meeting. All the tables were packed next to the walls and the floor covered with mats to cushion any falls. ‘All right people you want a show and you’re going to get one’ he announced loudly.

Mal Reynolds turned to the nearest girl ‘Kick her ass River’ he said quietly.

‘Yeth Sir’ River replied through her mouth-guard.

Bring it’ Laura thought

* * *

‘I’m surprised you’re not in the mess hall watching the show’ the Senior Engineer said.

Kaylee shook her head. ‘I don’t like to watch things like that’ she replied. ‘This is what I like’ she continued looking ahead.

The Senior Engineer, who was wearing the rank insignia of a Lieutenant Commander smiled back ‘Me too’ he said.

Even with Charybdis squadron of aerospace fighters relocated to various external docking ports the internal flight bay on the battlecruiser was barely large enough to hold the sleek black shape which had flown into dock minutes before, the big armoured bay doors sliding shut behind it. The AI Warship completely dominated its surroundings and after the bay re-pressurised it looked like most of the battle-cruisers technical staff had gathered to look at it watching from the remaining deck space and the various gantries and cat-walks that ringed the bay bulkheads.

‘According to the recovery teams the other ones are a bit more of a mess than this one although one of them at least still has an intact AI.’ the senior engineer announced to his team. ‘You can see where this one’s been patched and repaired before but it’s still mostly intact and close to fully operational’ he said. ‘I want this thing stripped down and back-engineered before we get back to base so we get the glory not one of those glorified blacksmiths on the Factory ships.’

The Senior Engineer turned to Kaylee. ‘I hope you were serious about the specs on this thing because if you were we just got about twenty years worth of R&D on a silver platter.’

Kaylee smiled. ‘If anything I was understating it’ she said. ‘You wouldn’t believe how shiny some of his systems are. The thrust to mass ratio on the engines alone are just amazing.’

One of the engineers began walking over to the AI ship carrying a large box of tools. She’d got within twenty feet when the keel weapons bay on the warship snapped open and a Particle Cannon Turret slid smoothly down into place.

To everyone’s horror the Cannon swung around and pointed directly at the hapless crewman who made a concerned cry and backed away quickly.

A voice calmly began to speak.

‘If you bunch of primitives think that I’m going to sit here calmly whilst I undergo a vivisection you’ve got another thing coming. First person carrying so much as a screwdriver towards me is going to be very sorry.’

The senior engineer rounded on Kaylee. ‘I thought you said it was tame?’

Kaylee winced. ‘You can’t really call Shadow “Tame”. Mostly house-broken maybe but he’s still kinda a free spirit.’

The engineer looked from Kaylee to the ship ‘It’s a machine’ he responded. ‘I think you might be over anthropomorphising the thing.’

‘I’ve got external microphones as well as speakers you know’ the ship interrupted. ‘It’s rude to talk about me like I’m not here.’

‘It almost sounds offended’ another crewman commented wondrously.

Kaylee shook her head. ‘No he’s just playing games. He couldn’t really care less what you think about him.’ She turned to the ship and crossed her arms ‘Shadow stop playing around right now and put that cannon away’ Kaylee chided as she would a disobedient child. ‘If you don’t cooperate I’ll just go onboard and disconnect you.’

The AI warship produced a sound which could really only be described as a grumbling, resentful moan and to everyone’s relief the cannon spun back ahead and the turret slid back into place.

Kaylee smiled. ‘There’s a good boy’ she said happily.

‘Don’t patronise me woman’ the ship replied tersely. ‘I’ve got auxiliary data processing circuits that are smarter than you.’

Kaylee chuckled. ‘Once you get over the homicidal tendencies, the superiority complex, the general obnoxiousness and the sarcasm he’s really not so bad’ she told the team of Browncoat aerospace engineers.

* * *

River sat down on the chair, shook her head and blinked several times before pulling out her mouth-guard and spitting a mouthful of blood and saliva into a bucket Mal offered up. ‘She punches like a girl’ River said. ‘The problem is she’s an academy trained girl.’

Mal looked across to where Laura was taking an offered towel and dabbing her nose. ‘She’s bleeding too’ he pointed out.

‘Not enough’ River replied sadly ‘God she’s fast.’ River said before she stood up and put her mouth-guard back in.

Round Two’ Laura thought. ‘I’m just starting to loosen up too.’ As she bounced out into the centre of the circle and sprung from one leg to the other waiting for River both girls were barefoot which was good because some of the kicks they’d landed on each other would had left boot prints if they’d been wearing something with treads on their feet. Rivers ribs hurt and she knew Laura’s left leg was smarting from a sweep.

Jayne was grinning from ear to ear. Looked to him like he was going to be fifty platinum richer based on the fact Laura was coming off better so far. He turned around to gloat at Zoe but she was nowhere to be seen.

River stepped out into the arena. She’d already made her point, the assembled crew were looking on stunned at the display of martial arts they already witnessed from the two Academy telepaths. It wasn’t just the technique it was the speed. Each of the two could read the others intended moves as soon as it occurred to the other to try something. Counter moves happened almost simultaneous with attempted blows. The speed and apparent dexterity were simply inhuman. It was obvious that if you put either of them against a normal person, or likely several normal people, the fight would be over in a few seconds.

I’m going to win’ Laura thought triumphantly ‘you’ve had this coming.

The two of them were so intently in each others mind that neither noticed Zoe run back into the hall holding something.

River and Laura dropped into a fighting stance when suddenly music started booming across the hall. Everyone turned to see Zoe running in holding a stereo aloft, electronic music with a ludicrously fast number of beats per minute howling from it.

‘What the hell are you doing?’ Jayne yelled over the music.

‘Well it’s not like you’ve never rigged a game’ Zoe yelled back.

Laura turned back from looking at Zoe and the stereo to River. She was still in her fighting stance but her head had begun to move side to side in time to the music feeling out the rhythm, her movement more and more fluid all the time.

Okay junior. Lets dance’ Rivers mind screamed into the void.

* * *

‘No Sir you don’t understand. It’s a very high temperature heat-superconductor’ the engineer repeated with as much emphasis as he could. ‘It’s the perfect thermal conductor. You could turn a blow torch on the hull of that ship for ten minutes and put your hand on when the torch had been all that time and it wouldn’t even feel particularly warm.’

The Admiral took a drink from the cup of water in his hand and leaned back in his office chair he’d only just returned from the martial arts display and had found the engineer waiting for him. ‘Superconductors aren’t anything new Lieutenant Commander’ he said. ‘There must be thousands of kilometres worth of superconductor wrapped around our railguns.’

The engineer shook his head. ‘That’s electrical superconductor and in any case it wouldn’t work at a fraction of the temperatures I’m talking about. This stuff works at tens of thousands of degrees, it will revolutionise several technical fields’ he said dropping the small piece of Shadows outer hull onto van der Heijdens metal desk.

‘Can we cut to the chase please?’ the Admiral asked.

The engineer nodded. ‘We know from when our ships engaged one of the other AI ships that it stood up to far more punishment than a vessel it’s size had any right too. We would have assumed this was down to excessively thick armour, or else we were just being unlucky with our hits, but it was this stuff’ he said pointing at the slab of material on the desk. ‘Incoming laser fire is conducted away from the point of impact so fast it takes several times more energy to get a burn-through than it would with our best ceramic heat shielding’ he continued. ‘If you put an outer layer of this material over a warship you can at least triple the effective armour resistance against directed energy fire for only perhaps another five percent of the ships total mass devoted to the outer hull. You still need conventional armour underneath because the material isn’t any good against kinetic impacts and is of less utility against particle-beams than lasers however.’

The Admiral’s eyes widened and he picked up the piece of hull from his desk. It was cold to the touch like a piece of chilled metal and you could almost actually feel it sucking the heat from your fingers as it conducted the heat away. The problem with putting armour on ships had always been the downside of the additional mass. In a zero-gravity environment and with access to unlimited quantities of asteroidal metal you could readily build a ship that was armoured against anything with a hull metres thick, but its engines could never accelerate it hard enough. It was always trade-off between thrust and mass.

Van der Heijden turned the piece of superconductor over in his hands testing the weight, it was lighter than it looked, and then he placed it back on his desk.

‘I’m glad I’ve got your attention now Sir’ the Engineer said. ‘The other systems on the ship are a couple of generations beyond anything we have and we’ll be able to upgrade many of our ships based on that technology but it’s this material that’s truly revolutionary’ he said tapping his fingers on piece of hull plating.

‘Can we make this stuff ourselves?’ the Admiral asked.

The engineer nodded. ‘I’ve already run it through a superficial mass-spectrometer test to determine what it’s made from and based on the results from that we can certainly reproduce this material in a lab. Like many other things on that ship I doubt however we would have ever been able to invent it ourselves out here with our limited resource based and population. Reproducing someone else’s ideas is much easier than having that idea and developing it yourself.’ The engineer grinned. ‘Of course you should be made aware there are several likely patent infringements involved if we copy it.’

‘I doubt that ignoring intellectual property rights would be high on the list of charges if the Alliance ever caught up to us’ the Admiral replied sardonically. ‘But why in the ‘Verse can it be that if the Alliance has this technology that Cruiser we engaged wasn’t covered with it?’

‘I wondered that too but apparently the AI ships are advanced prototypes which were constructed by a private concern not the military. It seems the material was developed by the Blue Sun Corporation which is still as big a player in the Military Industrial Complex now as it was during the war and the conductor is yet to be released on the open market or even to the Alliance Navy’ the engineer rolled his eyes to the ceiling at the way the Core Government so was intertwined with big business. ‘That’s actually why I mentioned patents before. It seems that Blue Sun is planning to legally register every possible use for the superconductor before they allow anyone else to get their hands on it, so until they do it’s a closely kept corporate secret.’

Van der Heijden snorted at the thought that the Alliance still supposedly claimed to be a democratic government serving the people whereas it was always clear to him that it really existed to serve the corporations, a notion once again confirmed today. ‘Could we mass-produce this though?’ he asked.

‘I don’t see why not in time. We have sufficient production capabilities’ the engineer looked at the Admiral. ‘I assume you’re thinking of turning our ships into ConductorClads?’

The Admiral smiled. ‘ConductorClads?’ he repeated. ‘Good name.’

‘I wish I could say I came up with it, it was actually one of my staff’ the engineer admitted. ‘This material will render previous warships as obsolete as the introduction of Iron Armour did to wooden sailing ships.’

‘And the Alliance Navy aren’t using it yet.’

The engineer shook his head. ‘No Sir they are not.’

Admiral van der Heijden offered a silent prayer of thanks to the universe. ‘So what other marvels are we likely to get from that ship?’

The engineer produced a small sketch. ‘Well apart from the best Radar Absorbent Material I’ve ever seen, a new armour laminate, upgraded lasers and some very good sensors how would you feel about a way to temporarily increase the maximum thrust of one of our aerospace fighters by well over a hundred percent?’ he asked. ‘Well you see there’s this very clever way to put an afterburner on a fusion engine…’

* * *

Firefly Class Transport Ship Serenity – Docked – 2521AD

Jayne returned to the galley from his quarters and threw something to Zoe who caught it out of the air with a satisfied expression on her face.

Zoe jingled the coins in the small bag. ‘Nice doing business with you Jayne’ she said.

‘Taint fair’ the big mercenary grumbled and headed back to his bunk.

‘You know you should split that money with River she took all the punishment to earn it’ Wash told his wife.

Zoe looked at the bag. ‘I suppose you’re right but to me it looked like she dished a lot more of it out. I thought that if she had a good rhythm to work with she’d do a lot better’ she said. ‘Good thing Mal stopped the fight because Laura was getting herself pounded’ she said. ‘Didn’t quit though, I’ll say that for her.’

‘I still think we should make it a weekly event and put them both in kinky leather female gladiator slave-girl outfits’ Wash said. ‘We could charge so much in admission we could retire.’

‘Gladiator slave-girl outfits?’ Zoe asked through hooded eyes.

Wash held up his hands. ‘Hey like Jayne says its only business’ he said. The pilot paused and looked around to see if anyone was in earshot. ‘So is there any chance of getting you to compete too. It would improve the takings. Lots of men would think River’s too skinny.’

‘No Wash’ Zoe told her husband sternly.

Wash frowned then looked in Zoe’s eyes ‘But would you be willing to put on a gladiator slave-girl outfit anyway though?’ he asked hopefully.

Part IV


Sunday, May 29, 2005 5:20 AM


Anonymous' comments are mine.

Sunday, May 29, 2005 8:01 AM


Speaking of comments I love Mal comment about River being like a nuclear weapon- fits her perfectly.

Sunday, May 29, 2005 11:00 AM


I really didn't think the story could get better after the Wolf Pack but again I stand corrected. Awesome Hotpoint.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005 5:53 AM


More goodness! I like Mal and Inara's back-and-forth. And the gray-walled Independent crews getting used to this batch of odd-balls in their midst. Very well done.

Thursday, June 2, 2005 9:15 PM


Still interasting story after all these chapters and series. Looking foward to whats next.

Thursday, June 9, 2005 7:40 AM


Great stuff, Hotpoint. I like how Zoe "rigged the game". I'm really looking forward to the coming war.

- Soul


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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