BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

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Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part V)
Monday, June 13, 2005

Simon talks to Book about the past, Zoe considers the present situation and Marc van der Heijden decides the future


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3690    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.

* * *

“Because a necessary war is a just war and where there is hope only in arms, those arms are holy” Titus Livius (Livy) 59BC – 17AD

* * *

Fort Obsidian – Beyond the Outer Rim – 2521AD

‘I know you’re fond of the traditionalist approach so I’m wondering if perhaps you’ve bought a cake with a file in it?’ Book asked smiling to himself as Simon took up his offer of the single chair whilst he himself sat on the bed.

Simon shook his head. ‘Jennifer baked a cake but Jayne ate it and besides Kaylee doesn’t lend out her tools I’m afraid’ he replied playing along.

Book sighed. ‘In that case I’m afraid I might have to fall back on Plan B and tunnel out using the plastic spoon on my dinner tray.’

Simon looked thoughtful and considered the plan. ‘Well I think that given the fact you’ll be tunnelling through steel-reinforced concrete and then volcanic rock you might need more than just the one spoon’ he said. ‘It doesn’t look quite sturdy enough’ he concluded.

The Shepherd nodded. ‘I may have to ask for seconds for dessert perhaps so I can get a spare’ he replied. ‘It’s a shame really because I’d have to eat the dessert to keep up the cover-story and I have been finding it harder to stay in trim as I get older.’

Simon laughed awkwardly and then looked away from the other man. ‘I’ve got to know’ he said eventually. ‘Were you spying on us?’

Book reached over to pick up a cup full of water from the small table besides his bed. ‘No’ he said taking a sip from the metal container. ‘Steven would say it was just an astonishing coincidence that I ended up on the same ship as you and your sister. I would prefer to think some higher power led me to Serenity. I really was just looking for an opportunity to leave the Abbey on Persephone and get out into the universe again.’

Simon looked up. ‘As Kaylee tells it you ended up on Serenity because of her fondness for strawberries’ he replied.

Book took another sip of water. ‘The question therein is what or who made Kaylee so fond of that particular fruit in the first place and for what purpose’ he joked gently.

‘God works in extremely mysterious ways his wonders to perform?’ Simon asked leaning back in the chair with his hands in his lap. ‘Given your history I am still surprised you decided to tag along with that particular vessel.’

‘I must say I was taken slightly aback by the name of the ship’ Book admitted. ‘But I certainly took it as a sign of where I should be.’

‘As the site of your greatest triumph perhaps?’ Simon asked quizzically.

Sadness washed over the older mans face at Simon’s question and the memories it stirred up inside. ‘As the site of my epiphany would be a more accurate description’ he replied after a few seconds contemplation. ‘There really is nothing half so melancholy as a battle lost except perhaps a battle won’ Book told the young Doctor.

‘Guilt drove you to take up the cloth then I take it?’ Simon theorised.

Book put the cup back down. ‘I realise the notion of the war-weary soldier seeking repentance for his sins by turning to God may be thought a touch clichéd for a good storyline but so is much of life generally’ he said. ‘I’m sorry to say that actually is a fair description of the situation’ he continued before closing his eyes and taking a look at his past instead of his present.

‘Hundreds of thousands of decent, brave people from both sides fighting for what they believed in enough to risk everything for, lying dead and I was the person in charge of it all’ Book declared. ‘Me’ he continued, ‘me right here’ he repeated opening his eyes again and pointing accusingly at his own chest. ‘As soon as the war was over I resigned my commission and went looking for some meaning to it all. I found it in the Book’ he said pointing to the Bible which shared the table with his water cup.

The Shepherd smiled. ‘I suppose my choice of alias is rather unimaginative as well’ he said. ‘I’ll never make any money writing mystery novels that’s for sure.’

Simon smiled gently and nodded in agreement at the Shepherds self-deprecating humour. After a few seconds he decided to give his perspective on things. ‘You were all heroes to us back in the Core you know’ Simon told the older man recalling a childhood that seemed a dozen lifetimes ago. ‘I remember my father breaking open a bottle of Champagne and toasting our victory over the Independents. He even called in the servants and poured them a glass each so we could all toast together as citizens of the Alliance. The servants were actually rather embarrassed by it all I think but I remember River trying some and saying the bubbles tickled her nose.’ Simon smiled. ‘It was a good day’ he said. ‘A happy day.’

Book looked away. ‘You weren’t rolling heaps of bodies into pits with bulldozers at the time’ he responded. ‘My memories of the period are rather more… nightmarish’ he confided before looking at Simon again. ‘It sounds like your father is quite the patriot’ he observed.

Simon expression changed to bitterness. ‘He loves the Alliance alright’ the Doctor stated flatly. ‘Apparently more than he loved his children.’

This was a sore point and he wasn’t here to discuss himself so Simon put away his own past and went back to asking about Book’s. ‘So why choose to travel one a ship with a name that conjures up such horrors?’ he asked. ‘Both yourself and the Captain’ it makes no sense to me.’

Book shrugged. ‘Perhaps to some extent I thought it would be cathartic?’ he theorised. ‘I honestly can’t recall one overriding reason but whatever it was I still cannot decide whether I got on the wrong boat or not’ he said. ‘I must admit that over the last few years our “adventures”, for the want of a better word, do strengthen my faith that there is a plan behind it all and that I have a part to play in it.’

Simon crossed his arms. ‘To help defeat a government you fought for so well?’ he asked. ‘To right a wrong you think was done?’

‘I refuse to believe that the God I have faith in would merely use me as a tool to bring more death and misery on mankind. I cannot believe that for a second.’ The Shepherd replied. ‘There must be another reason why I am needed here.’

‘The Captain says your knowledge of the Alliance Military and its senior officers would be invaluable to the cause.’

Book looked Simon in the eye. ‘The “cause” you say? Would that be the Captains cause? Or do you perhaps now identify with the people whose defeat you drank to as a child?’

Simon’s face darkened again. ‘The Alliance Government is a corrupt monolithic despotic regime that deserves nothing but disaster’ he said coldly.

The former General observed the young man placidly. ‘But when it was being despotic towards people other than yourself, and as a member of the elite you benefited from it more than most, you supported the Alliance, much as the vast majority of citizens did’ he said. ‘As I did for that matter, as a loyal soldier and patriot, answering my homeworlds call to arms.’

‘I didn’t know!’ Simon insisted. ‘I had no idea what the Alliance acted like towards those it considered a threat, or a possible threat.’

Book smiled. ‘I think “I didn’t know” might feature in human history as just about the lamest excuse ever, with the possible exception of “I was only obeying orders”’ he said. ‘You didn’t know but be honest you didn’t want to. Did you ever wonder why the Independents were so willing to die to keep people like me off their worlds?’ he asked. ‘For the most part I didn’t and I was actually there at the time witnessing it first hand. We called it fanaticism but that was mainly because it was easier to label them, to dehumanise them, than actually get to grips with the reasons they were fighting.’

‘You’ve thought about this a lot’ Simon commented.

‘Well son there’s only so much time you can spend in an Abbey tilling the soil, reading the Good Book and laughing at the unworldliness of your peers’ Book replied. ‘When I’d thought it all through in my own mind I decided to rejoin the rest of the universe…’

‘And ended up at the ass end of it’ Mal interrupted from the open doorway. ‘Sorry Preacher but I need the Doctor here to deal with his Sister. She’s scaring the Marines again.’

Simon stood up. ‘I’ll be back to talk tomorrow if you want?’

Book smiled. ‘I’d like that’ he said. ‘Is there any chance of any of the others dropping by? I’d like to talk to them all at some point, I think I owe them that.’

Mal fielded the question. ‘I think you’ll find that Zoe might not be good company for you at the moment, the revelation caught her off-guard but I think you’ll get a few to come see you.’

Book threw Mal a grateful look. ‘And would you be good company for me yourself Captain?’ he asked.

‘We’ll see’ Mal replied turning to leave.

‘I’ll see you tomorrow… General should I say, or how about Richard?’ Simon asked as he made to leave.

‘Let’s just stick to Book’ the Shepherd replied, ‘a new name for a new life.’

‘Alright then’ Simon said. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow’ he said walking out the door which the Marine standing outside promptly slammed shut, bolted and locked.

Book looked around at his drab cell, which was usually used to house personnel up on a charge for breaking military discipline in the colony. The cell next door was actually where they were keeping Laura but she was absent at the moment and likely being scanned and tested, or as she put it “prodded and probed”, by the Independents small cadre of scientific personnel.

‘Bring a cake with a file in it’ he called out loudly to Simon through the cell door, ‘or at least a better quality spoon’ he joked.

Laura would be back soon. Book hoped he would be allowed to sit with her again today as she needed the company even more than he did. Listening to her cry in bed the previous night had been heartbreaking.

Book looked around the cell again. For a brief moment he considered rattling his metal cup against the bars on the door but that would be even more of a prison cliché.

Oh what the heck, why not run with it Book thought grinning to himself.

‘Guard’ Book called out. ‘Guard, is there any chance of getting a harmonica?’ he asked.

* * *

Jayne was not in a good mood. He still wanted to know why they weren’t busting the Shepherd out of gaol like they would for anyone else and was venting his frustration by pounding a punching bag in the base gym.

Zoe watched the big mercenary as she herself pounded a treadmill, one of several in the large exercise area. The strange friendship between the hired gun and the man of God had often intrigued her. Perhaps Book saw in Jayne something that could be redeemed from a life of violence as he himself had apparently been?

Or maybe the Shepherd wanted a pet? That could be the case too Zoe considered as she looked around at the two dozen or so crewmen and marines who were working out at the same time. That was a habit she couldn’t lose even in friendly territory, she always made sure to know what was going on around her. Good spatial awareness and stealth are the cornerstones of a good military scout and Zoe had been well towards the top of her profession.

Zoe knew she probably had the most trouble dealing with the true identity of the Preacher. To her things were usually pretty black and white, you were the enemy in which case you got a gun pointed at you or you were an ally in which case you got a gun giving you covering fire. Zoe wasn’t stupid by any means she just didn’t agonise over things as Mal was quietly wont to do sometimes, nor did she over-analyse them like Simon or Steve, she just reached a conclusion and stuck by it. Years before she’d reached the conclusion that Sergeant Malcolm Reynolds was a man you should follow to hell and back if he thought it was worth going there so from then on she did. Later she’d decided that Wash was a far better man than most folks, or even he himself realised so she stuck by him too.

The question now was a bit more difficult. Where should be gun be pointed in relation to General Richard Wilkins, Alliance Army (Ret)?

Zoe upped the speed on the treadmill so she could really build up a good sweat and continued to let her mind wander. River had known who Book really was for years and knew as well as anyone could know that he wasn’t a threat, assuming of course you could always judge Rivers judgement which unfortunately you couldn’t. The bouts of insanity and generally off-key thought processes put a lot of uncertainty into the equation and that really wasn’t something Zoe liked to consider. She had spent some time talking with Steve and he seemed to positively revel in considering the pros and cons of actions and decisions within a ‘Verse made up of shades of grey. On that path lay an insanity as bad as Rivers, Zoe believed. Self-doubt could get you killed and so could excessive navel-gazing.

It wasn’t really just the issue of the war and Book’s role in it. Mal didn’t have faith in much but there was still a trace of the old romantic in him that Zoe had seen in its full glory during the early years of the war and he could probably accept Book back into the fold because at heart he liked to think that some people really were worthwhile. Steve meanwhile had lost a lot of comrades in the Valley fighting against the great General Wilkins but he was actually from a Core World himself and was thought a traitor by his own people so he didn’t really see an insurmountable problem in accepting the notion of someone abandoning their past and committing totally to a new life even if in the end it actually went diametrically against the old one.

Zoe frankly didn’t buy it.

As she clocked up another couple of kilometres on the treadmill she decided that by agonising over the problem she was going against her own better nature and forced herself into reaching a clear logical conclusion. If Mal decided to trust Book then should would too, and if the Shepherd ever looked like he was on the other side well then she’d just blow his head off.

Zoe smiled and reduced the pace on the treadmill. Wash was due to arrive soon and she knew of a rowing machine that had his name on it.

* * *

Van der Heijden finished studying the projections that the Tam girl had produced and looked up from the handheld console to his command staff. ‘Opinions gentlemen?’ he asked addressing his senior staff.

Colonel Taylor was playing with a pen and started tapping it on the large metal table they were sitting around. He stopped when he noted the annoyed look on the Admiral face. ‘Well Sir’ he began, ‘if these are even remotely accurate we could inflict a more serious blow against the Alliance in a few weeks than we managed in four years campaigning’ Taylor began. ‘I’d really want to verify some of these assumptions but if this is accurate I think I speak on behalf of all the Marines when I say, give us the word and we’re ready to go back home and bag us some Purple trophies for above the fireplace.’

Captain Raine from the Scylla raised her eyebrows and looked across the table at Decker her opposite number from Charybdis, the two of them rolling their eyes. There really was something seriously messed-up in the Marine psyche.

‘Talking of assumptions can we really accept these numbers?’ interjected the leading Aerospace Force Officer. Wing Commander Codreanu was by nature somewhat more restrained than his peers. ‘I find it hard to believe that the Alliance can have really demobilised quite this much since the war.

Major Eric Brown was the ranking, and indeed one of the very few, intelligence officers that had been attached to the fleet, albeit the most junior officer present in the room. He looked over at the aerospace officer and shrugged. ‘Actually in some ways it’s surprising they’ve kept the forces deployed they have’ he said. ‘Large armed forces mean large taxes to pay for them, and the Alliance simply doesn’t require the ability to field a large Army any more. Who would they use it against?’

‘There must be large occupation forces on the Independent Colonies surely?’ Codreanu asked.

‘Large enough to keep the people in check certainly but not sufficiently sized or equipped to fight a war. You don’t keep armoured regiments or batteries of artillery around for crowd control’ Brown replied. ‘For the most part, based on the information received from our visitors and the Alliance datacore we retrieved from the Cruiser, the remaining Alliance Army on the rim are closer to a paramilitary force than combat ready formations. In fact many of the Alliance Federals are more akin to the quasi- Police Force they were five years before the war than the Infantry of the war machine they were a decade ago.’

‘But still these numbers are absolutely tiny’ the Aerospace officer persisted.

Major Brown scratched his ear. ‘And entirely within historical precedent for this kind of situation’ he said. ‘If we consider one of the closest historical parallels, at its peak in 1865 the Union Army of the American Civil War of the 1860’s had perhaps a million men in the field but a mere ten years afterwards it only had a standing army of twenty-five thousand. That means they had demobilised ninety-seven point five percent of their Army within roughly the same timescale as we are talking of today. The approximately eighty-five to ninety percent Alliance demobilisation since the war we’re estimating here is certainly more than reasonable given the circumstances.’

‘Good God’ Captain Decker muttered looking at the assumed troop deployments. ‘If we had half a dozen combat-ready brigades we could probably take Londinium.’

Major Brown nodded. ‘Yes but of course with that few troops we’d never be able to hold it’ he replied.

‘What about fleet assets?’ Captain Raine asked. ‘They still have a lot of warships out there.’

‘I wouldn’t describe that Cruiser we hammered as a “warship”’ Decker replied dismissively. ‘It was a glorified oversized patrol boat with Christmas tree lights.’

Brown nodded. ‘No enemy with a fleet to fight so therefore no proper warships, if it wasn’t for the Reavers, and the prospect of the Alliance catching up to us, would we have bothered to keep Scylla or Charybdis operational?’ he asked. ‘We use up more resources on those vessels than every other asset we have put together’ he reminded everyone. ‘Still they still have more than enough of the lightly armed Cruisers they are using today to defeat our forces in a stand-up fight.’

‘So where actually is their fleet now?’ Codreanu asked. ‘Their old battlefleet I mean.’

The intelligence officer pressed a few buttons on his own hand-held display and turned it around to show the others what was on the display. ‘In mothballs around Londinium and Shinon apparently’ he told them. ‘If they ever thought they might need them again they could put crews aboard, and the reactors are fuelled if not actually running, but until then they’re just in high orbit to keep them out of the way of commerce traffic. I suppose one day they’ll just break them up for scrap’ he theorised.

‘How long would it actually take them to get those ships back on line?’ Captain Raine asked curiously looking at the display data. ‘Several of those vessels are more than a match for our Maelstrom’s.’

‘A month would be a reasonable estimate, although to crew more than a couple of them would require calling up their naval reserves who won’t be particularly combat ready’ Major Brown answered before sneezing suddenly. ‘Sorry’ he said pulling a handkerchief from his pocket as a chorus of “God-Bless You” echoed around the room. ‘It’s a bit dusty in here’ he said.

‘So the only ships they’ve got that can stand up to our battlecruisers are just going around and around the dual capitals unmanned?’ Taylor asked. ‘That’s insane, they’re sitting ducks, don’t they plan for an attack?’

‘From who?’ Brown asked. ‘Aliens?’ he asked causing a ripple of laughter. ‘They’re the great and mighty Alliance, the lords of the universe and more importantly the only noteworthy military force in the universe, well so they think anyway. Pride cometh before a fall they say, it might end up a fall from orbit in little bitty chunks in this case.’

Decker snorted. ‘Mighty Alliance my ass’ he said. ‘They’re a shadow of the military machine that beat us ten years ago. The forces we had back then would wipe the floor with what they’ve got out there now’ he stated with certainty.

‘But they still have the potential to be that strong again’ Codreanu pointed out. ‘If anything their industrial potential is notably greater now and the technology on that AI vessel is worryingly superior.’

‘That technology is not yet in general circulation and is certainly not deployed within the Alliance Fleet at this time. As for war potential we should also note that in many ways the relative advantage of the Core Worlds has slipped as the Rim continues to industrialise. Several of the outer planets are actually now well into in the throws of the industrial revolution and are in transition from agricultural economies to factory based ones, often due to corporations from the core-worlds deciding to invest in the brand new markets opening up on the Rim’ Brown replied, ‘but you are right in that still they do retain a massive advantage in military potential, both in terms of industry and population’ he conceded. ‘The real genius in these plans however is how devastating they are not merely to the existing Alliance formations but the shattering effect they would have on the ability of the Core Worlds to replace their losses’ he declared. ‘If this worked they couldn’t rearm in anything like the time it took them to build up their military in the last war, by the time they did we’d be ready for the second stage of the conflict’ the Intelligence Officer continued.

Major Brown put on the most serious expression he could muster. ‘You know it’s not hyperbole when I tell you that this girl’s take on both strategic decision making and tactical doctrine are not only revolutionary in some ways but actually almost awe-inspiring given how she has developed and applied the existing schools of military philosophy’ he said then smirked ‘We’ll likely have to act a third statue to the pantheon, from now on it’ll be Sun Tzu, Von Clausewitz and River Tam.’

Captain Raine chuckled then she looked slightly guilty. ‘Frankly that girl scares the hell out of me’ she admitted. ‘She’s just well… creepy is the only word.’

Colonel Taylor nodded in agreement. ‘And have you talked to the other one?’ he asked. ‘She’s one of the most mean-tempered vicious individuals I’ve ever met and I’ve got two former Drill Instructors under my command’ he said for emphasis.

‘The medical reports on those two are simply sickening’ Decker said shaking his head in continued disbelief at what he had read. ‘They were just children when the twisted bastards literally opened up their skulls and cut into their brains. Can you imagine doing that to a little girl?’ he asked. ‘A conscious little girl? It’s not surprisingly they’re both so… odd, the psychological damage must be even worse that the physical.’

‘Sick Fuckers’ Taylor concurred. ‘Makes you think we really should have nuked the whole bunch of the gôushî bùrú bastards into oblivion.’

Decker turned to address the Marine. ‘If we had both of those girls would have been at ground zero at the time you know’ he pointed out.

Taylor nodded sadly then smiled. ‘Well I could always sneak a few riflemen back to the Core, track the sons-of-bitches down and just blow their brains out from a couple of thousand metres’ he said. ‘No collateral damage except the cleaning bills.’

‘I was thinking of a kinetic energy hit on the labs myself’ Captain Raine said. ‘A nice four tonne iron ball hitting the place at Mach-Twenty would get the job done and with not a trace of gorram fallout.’

Decker started laughing. ‘Just because the rank and file call you “Steel-Raine” doesn’t mean you have to try and live up to the nickname every time you can’ he said.

The Captain of the Scylla laughed. ‘So says “Attention on Deck Decker”’ she retorted. ‘At least I don’t make my crew snap to 24/7. I bet you wear your hat in bed in case someone walks into the wrong quarters by accident and you’d otherwise miss out on another salute’.

This was a very old and much repeated conversation, Taylor and Codreanu just sat back and waited for the fireworks and as the junior person in the room Brown just made sure to remain nondescript. Decker was almost certainly about to point out how much quicker his crew had shown they could beat to quarters and man the guns during last years combat readiness competitions, and the clearly demonstrated positive effects of a professional military manner when he apparently noticed that Admiral van der Heijden was staring unfocused at the far wall. He looked thoughtful in the extreme.

‘Penny for your thoughts Sir’ Decker said.

Van der Heijden looked back to the group ‘Have any of you read much from Tacitus?’ he asked.

Everyone shook their heads.

The Admiral bought his hands together and intermeshed the fingers. ‘Tacitus wrote that “nothing is so weak and unstable as a reputation for power which is not based on one’s own forces”’ he quoted then looked around the room. ‘The Alliance is unstable they are simply not ready for a full-scale war at this time’ he said, ‘they’re certainly not ready for this war’ he said pointing at the console lying on the table.

Van der Heijden looked at his officers and nodded. ‘Let’s give it to them’ he said.

Part VI

COMMENTS

Monday, June 13, 2005 10:07 AM

SOULOFSERENITY


Gorrammit! That was me.

- Soul

Monday, June 13, 2005 10:36 AM

ARTSHIPS


You still have the knack for believable characters doing believable things. Also liked how you made the two Alliance representatives pitiable.

Monday, June 13, 2005 11:37 AM

NUTLUCK


Nice, interasting so far. Though i was hoping to know what river was doing to scare the marines.. I mean other than just being herself.

Other than that the only thing I can say is... write faster....

Monday, June 13, 2005 12:50 PM

AMDOBELL


Loved how you wrote Jayne, I could really seeing him reacting this way and Zoe was wonderful. Especially liked how she reasoned her response to Book and how to treat him in the future. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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