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Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part VII)
Friday, June 24, 2005

A day in the life of people preparing for a war


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3511    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.

* * *

‘There are plenty of amusing stories about how we managed to build up so much right under the nose of the Alliance, I always liked the one about when we got three-thousand brand-new Browncoat Infantry Uniforms made on Londinium and shipped to Wilkes Moon just before the fighting broke out by telling a costume manufacturer they were making a big war movie out there. When you get down to it though there isn’t anything to match the moment when the powers-that-be from Blue Sun Venture Capital decided that the new up and coming Foreman Industries was worth investing in. I’ve heard that Jack sent them a wave thanking them for helping to fund our rearmament program just before Admiral van der Heijden issued the Declaration of Independence … you can’t touch that story.’

Major Steven Hicks – Interview with Le Figaro – Toulouse - 2523AD

* * *

Fort Obsidian – Beyond the Outer Rim – 2521AD

Lying prone on the cold ground Jayne took a final breath and held it making sure he was perfectly still before he squeezed the trigger. The rifle bucked in his hands and a jet-propelled slug blasted off into the distance. The atmosphere was thin and mainly just CO2 but you didn’t need a full EVA suit just electrically heated clothes and an oxygen mask. The facemask fit pretty well but you could still smell the sulphur in the air which was a trademark of the still fairly active volcanism on the moon.

The mercenary checked through his telescopic sights. ‘Beat that’ he said smugly his voice slightly muffled by the mask and sounding distinctly off-tone because of the thin atmosphere.

The Marine checked through her binoculars and winced. ‘Do you sleep with that thing? Is it a fulfilling relationship?’ she asked.

‘Vera and me been going steady for years’ Jayne replied standing up. ‘She ain’t never let me down and that’s the only woman I can say that for.’

The Marine put aside her binoculars and reached for her own rifle. ‘You know some might say the fact that Callahan has a target auto-lock is cheating’ she suggested. It was a bit unfair that the mercenary was using rounds that could be steered slightly in flight to compensate for wind sheer and slight changes in air pressure as they went.

‘You said bring my best so I did’ Jayne replied. ‘A bet is a bet and you thought you were going to get one over on me with that gorram thing anyhow.’

The Marine took aim with the Gaussrifle and dialled the velocity up to setting 3. Any higher and she’d really hurt herself and as it was she’d be wearing a bruised shoulder for a couple of days. These things kicked like a mule.

The engineer that had designed them James Ryder, had actually gone so far as to name them after himself and emboss it on the rifle-stock as if he was the manufacturer. The Ryder Gaussrifle was therefore a symbol of both his ability and apparent egomania. There were rumours he also thought he was the reincarnation of another mechanically minded military man who had produced his own first design working on his own in a railway machine-shop of all places. The resulting weapon had shaken the world and people were still making copies of Mikhail Kalashnikovs rifle today for the frontier worlds where stopping power, simplicity of use and sheer ability to take abuse mattered more than anything else, Ryder saw himself as heir to the great mans throne but he doubted the GR-21 would be in use quite so long as the AK-47.

Jayne looked on with considerable interest both professional and personal. There was something very appealing about a good looking woman holding a nice gun, especially if she knew how to use it properly like this one did.

The Gaussrifle fired and the Marine grunted with the recoil. The steel slug was well on its way up to a hypersonic muzzle-velocity when it left the barrel and the projectile left a sonic boom, or rather a harsh “crack” on route.

Jayne checked the target through Vera’s scope. ‘Well if that target cut-out was a man he’d be missing his liver right now but that don’t beat my heart shot.’

‘We should have set the targets up at twice the distance. That thing can’t reach that far’ the Marine said sadly indicating the triumphant Vera being held in Jayne’s loving embrace. ‘Well a bets a bet’ she said resignedly, ‘your bunk or mine?’

Jayne stood up and gave his rifle a friendly pat. Yup she’d never let him down.

* * *

Cally hefted the knife in her hands. It was heavier than she was used to and not as well made as the ones she’d tried out from Jayne’s collection. The young girl felt the balance then quick as a flash snapped her arm back then forward again throwing the blade overarm as hard as she could.

It wasn’t a particularly long throw and despite the unfamiliar steel Cally’s throw easily hit the mark and embedded itself in the foam block mounted on the wall they were using to aim at.

‘Told you’ she said.

The bar patrons were giving the little girl some very strange looks now and she revelled in it. ‘If I can go fetch my own knife I can do that from way over there’ she claimed indicating a spot near the bar.

‘Don’t go scaring the patrons’ Wash said loudly in a mock disparaging tone from the nearby table where he was waiting for his wife to return with the next round. ‘The management will throw you out.’

John laughed, he loved it when Cally got told off, then he went back to stacking a deck of metal playing cards into a multi-story building. They were much better than the cardboard ones for this and he was on the verge of having to stand on his chair to reach high enough for another floor.

Cally ignored her little brother as usual and instead pouted at Wash. ‘It’s not like I’m firing a gun or anything’ she said. ‘I’m a good shot though’ she contended, ‘bagged me my first Ally son-of-a-bitch a couple of years back’ she declared loudly.

‘Language’ Zoe chastised sternly returning with a tray of drinks. ‘And that would be your first and only so stop making out you’re like River’s meaner little sister.’

‘You shot someone?’ a female aerospace pilot asked in slightly horrified tones. She had been on long-range patrol for a few months and hadn’t heard the stories about the new arrivals yet.

‘Blew his gorram brains out’ Cally replied. ‘Real messy like’ the little girl detailed happily.

‘Grammar!’ Zoe chastised again taking a seat and handing out glasses.

Cally frowned. ‘I blew his brains out. It was very messy’ she said correcting herself. It was almost as if Daddy was still around rather than off somewhere helping to organise the war. It wasn’t as if Zoe always spoke properly either, why was she expected to. It sucked when people still treated you like a child. Laura was only a few years older and she got treated with respect, or rather fear which was even better.

‘Now both of you come over here and drink your lemonade’ Zoe ordered.

Claire-Marie had been over in one corner talking to a group of pilots about flying but she dashed back to get her drink, talk of thrust-to-mass ratios being no match for liquid sugar. The pilots were grinning like mad and Wash threw them back a smile, the eight-year-old was beyond cute and she was really enthusiastic about flying, as well she might be after spending the better part of two years hanging around with Wash and his infestation of cockpit dwelling plastic dinosaurs.

Cally just sighed and walked over to the table. When she pulled herself up onto a chair her feet failed to meet the ground which wasn’t the image she wanted to project. She was however still been observed by many a concerned or curious expression which was nice though she considered.

‘It doesn’t really taste much like lemonade’ Cally said taking another sip of the liquid. It was actually the product of some very clever chemistry but still would have been much better if it had been the product of a totally unintelligent lemon tree.

Wash held up his glass. ‘This doesn’t taste much like beer either but you don’t hear me complaining’ he said.

Cally looked at Wash’s glass. ‘Can I have a shandy?’ she asked.

‘A what?’ Zoe asked her.

‘A shandy, some beer mixed in with the lemonade’ Cally replied. ‘Daddy used to drink it on hot days. He used to say it was refreshing.’

Wash shook his head. ‘I don’t think so.’

Cally rolled her eyes dramatically. ‘I used to sometimes drink wine with dinner on Toulouse’ she stated, ‘that’s far stronger than shandy.’

‘Not happening Cally.’ Zoe stated in her sternest tone, which was pretty darn stern.

The girl sighed. ‘This place is boring I miss living on the ships.’

‘You miss fighting Reavers and Pirates and running from the Alliance Navy?’ Wash asked nonplussed.

‘It was fun’ Cally told him. ‘Life was an adventure then’ she said. ‘Couldn’t we go back to the Rim and help out the Captain?’ she asked. ‘I’d make a great spy’ she said. ‘I look like a kid because I’m a bit short like Daddy, so they’d never suspect me.’

‘Cally you are a kid’ Wash pointed out

‘I’m a teenager next birthday’ Cally replied. ‘On some moons I’d be getting married soon.’

‘Only the really bad ones’ Zoe told her.

Cally pouted again. ‘You’re just pissed off you’re not back there with the Captain too because Wash knocked you up’ she said. ‘Probably hormonal too’ she continued.

Zoe’s eyes widened in mild shock then turned to Wash. ‘If our child has anything like this much attitude I’ll be holding you responsible’ she said.

‘Yeah because I’ll bet that would obviously be because of my side of the family’ Wash responded before turning back to Cally. ‘She’s really annoyed because I still get to drink and she doesn’t’ he said clinking his glass of beer against his wife’s Lemonade. ‘But you really shouldn’t talk that way to people.’

‘Jayne talks a lot worse than that and you don’t hassle him’ Cally retorted.

Wash gave the girl a look. ‘What ‘Verse have you been living in?’ he asked. ‘Don’t be so silly we’re always hassling Jayne. It’s practically a hobby. On some moons it’s set to overtake gosling juggling as the most popular participation sport.’

‘Cally wishes Jayne was her boyfriend’ John said and neatly ducked the attempted slap that his sister attempted before blushing bright red. Wash intervened and grabbed Cally’s arm before she could try again.

‘That wasn’t nice John’ Zoe told him.

The little boy smirked and having finished his tower promptly knocked it over onto the floor. He got off his chair to pick them all back up ignoring the hateful glares being directed his way by Cally.

‘I cannot believe I share DNA with that brat’ Cally seethed still blushing. Judging from her demeanour Zoe thought it likely that she really was harbouring a bit of a crush on the mercenary, now that was just twisted, not to say a bit mystifying.

As ever Claire-Marie stayed aloof and ignored her two siblings. The funny thing was if anyone else tried to hit John, Cally would kill them, or at least hurt them quite a bit.

‘Tell me again why we’re watching the kids?’ Zoe asked her husband. ‘I don’t remember the volunteering.’

Wash made sure Cally was a bit calmer and let go of her arm. ‘With Steve away Jennifer needed a break and I thought you might benefit from the practice.’

‘Zoe will make a good mummy’ Claire-Marie said. ‘And I always said I’d baby-sit.’

‘And who will baby-sit you then?’ Cally asked while sending a final withering glare at her brother.

‘I don’t need anyone to watch me.’ Claire-Marie replied.

‘Me neither’ John interjected.

Cally sneered. ‘You don’t need a baby-sitter you need a zoo keeper’ she told her brother.

Zoe looked from one child to another as the bickering began in earnest ‘One Wash. We’re just having the one’ she told him in a tone that clearly indicated this was never going to be up for discussion.

* * *

River smiled at the Admiral. ‘From time to time the superstructure of tactics has to be altered or wholly torn down; but the old foundations of strategy so far remain, as though laid upon a rock’ she quoted. ‘Yes I have read Mahan, Steve gave me a reading list of recommended military theorists’ she continued. ‘The Influence of Sea Power upon History was towards the top of the list but Mahan did seem to underestimate the impact of technology, much as his Army equivalent Von Clausewitz did for that matter. Both of them put too high a stock on quantity and didn’t foresee just how much of a force-multiplier effect drastically superiority weaponry could be. They were almost contemporaries you know, Clausewitz only died nine years before Mahan was born.’

Van der Heijden smiled. ‘Makes you wonder what the greatest Naval and Army Theorists would have made of each other.’

River chuckled. ‘They would have hated each other on sheer principle I would think.’

‘Some rivalries never die’ the Admiral concurred. ‘The inferiority complex of the Army is quite trying at times’ he said earning laughter from his senior staff arranged around the huge table. Maps and plans were scattered in a fairly haphazard manner which was unsurprising given it had been River who had placed them that way.

‘So what was the top book on Captain Hicks reading list?’ Colonel Taylor asked.

‘I’ll give you three guesses’ she replied.

Taylor looked thoughtful for a second. ‘Achtung Panzer’ he said sure of himself.

‘Jawohl’ River responded and clicked the heels of her boots together. ‘He went misty eyed just saying the name Heinz Guderian’ she jokingly exaggerated, though only a little bit. ‘Steve Hicks may be an atheist but if you ever need him to swear an oath on a book choose that one. It’s the Armoured Cavalryman’s Bible.’

‘I’m sorry to interrupt this theory-fest’ Captain Raine interjected. ‘But we were talking about supply routes.’

‘Indeed we were Captain and I apologise for leading the topic astray’ River responded. ‘As you can see from the figures we have successfully increased our interdiction of Alliance Cargo drastically without yet provoking any increased naval activity on the Rim just as I predicted.’

‘They think its Reavers doing it. And they can’t go back on years of official policy stating there’s no such thing quite so easily.’

‘Between our own ongoing culling operations and your intervention at Revelation and the nuclear attack on their temporary base last year the number of Reavers has been drastically reduced’ van der Heijden said. ‘All we really did was take up the slack.

Decker looked up from a printed computer projection on shipping seizures. ‘And because a notable number of the ships going missing are crewed by known Independent sympathisers the Alliance don’t think they’re the only ones being hit.’

‘There is a bit of a difference though. The Alliance ships are getting blasted or seized while our own people are just hiding out just beyond the Rim’ Raine said. ‘I’m still surprised that there are quite so many ex-Independent military crewing ships and more to the point how many of them Reynolds knows though’ she continued.

‘The old war-buddy network is apparently very widespread. I was worried about security leaks but the database we retrieved from the IAV Pen Lung listed the Alliance agents across the Rim so we’ve been weeding out the known traitors as we go’ Major Brown said. ‘A Navy Warship wouldn’t normally have been carrying that kind of sensitive information but because it was a Special Projects mission it had their files too.’

Decker looked slightly puzzled ‘Weeding out?’ he asked.

The Intelligence Officer threw the Battlecruiser Captain a wry smile. ‘When we take a new ship into the fold we tell the crew if any of their compatriots are affiliated with Alliance authorities’ Brown explained. ‘What tends to follow is someone gets a quick trip through an airlock.’

‘Nasty way to go’ Raine observed grimacing.

‘That’s rather the point’ Brown replied deadpan.

Van der Heijden nodded. ‘So how much longer do you think we can continue to whittle away at Alliance shipping before they start to notice their transport infrastructure is getting depleted?’

‘Another six months at least if we make sure not to raise the tempo until just before we launch our attack’ River replied. ‘Overall we’re actually slightly reducing the total number of ships being hit every month so a cursory look at the number of suspected Reaver attacks would show a drop and it should therefore be ignored’ she said. ‘Only an in-depth analysis would show a pattern in which ships are being singled out and which supply routes are being disproportionately affected by the loss of shipping.’

‘Relative to the total volume of traffic flowing between the worlds we aren’t really having a vast impact on transferred tonnage’ Major Brown said. ‘But we are seriously starting to deplete the number of the Navies own transports and licensed armed merchantmen. When we make our move it will be very easy to prevent the unarmed civilian craft that make up the vast majority of interplanetary trade from moving just because of the threat of attack by our forces, we’ll only need lightly armed ships to interdict their supply lines and keep our warships for better purposes. They’ll have to convoy with military escorts and if their remaining deployable fleet assets are guarding freighters…’

‘…they won’t be guarding troopships or bombing cities’ van der Heijden said. ‘If they tie down the fleet on convoy duty we maintain the strategic initiative and if they opt to ignore their logistics instead they’ll have a hell of a time holding any of the rim worlds when their garrisons start running out of ammunition.’

River leaned her head to one side and her face turned into a mask of contemplation ‘For the want of a nail a horseshoe was lost’ she said, ‘for the want of a horseshoe a horse was lost, for the want of a horse a battle was lost. And a single battle can decide a war.’

* * *

Outskirts of Eavesdown Docks – Persephone – 2521AD

Badger felt something being pressed over his face and woke with a start. He tried to yell for help or struggle but he was being held down by several pairs of hands and there appeared to be tape or something over his mouth. It was still pitch black in the bedroom so whoever it was must be wearing night-vision goggles or else they were part cat.

None of them made a sound but they continued to work. He felt them pull the covers off his bed and taped his hands together before pulling a thick black hood over his head. His initial efforts to resist what was going on were utterly futile and after his head cleared a bit and he could think straight Badger stopped trying. If they wanted him dead he would be by now and if they were planning to take him away for a little torture he’d be better off saving his strength for when there were less people holding him.

Once he was bound he felt himself being picked up and half dragged, half carried away though not too far. He must only be in his office in the next room Badger surmised when he felt himself being bodily sat upon a hard chair with weight pressing on his shoulders, probably a man each side keeping him sat down. Where in the hell was his gorram muscle Badger wondered?

The hood was pulled off and he blinked at the bright light that was being shone directly into his eyes, a high powered torch most likely, a hand planted on the top of his head prevented him turning it. His eyes gradually adjusted a bit and eventually he could make out shadows in the darkness around the edges of the light splashing from the beam.

Another torch lit up and Badger was shown a piled of trussed up struggling bodies with more hoods over their heads. That explained where his men were anyway, and they were still alive which was a relief, not so much that he cared too much for the hired help but the fact they hadn’t been killed out of hand was encouraging for his own future.

The second torch switched off and Badger was left with the one light still beaming into his face. What was really strange was as yet nobody had spoken a word. Whoever they were they were very professional. Could be one of the Syndicates from back in the Core wanted in on a slice of the Persephone action and they were showing Badger who the dominant partner in his new business arrangement was going to be. For a second he worried it could be that twisted dòngwù Niska instead but Badger suppressed the thought immediately. If it had been that sick bastard he would have shown Badger his men filleted when the hood was pulled off just to make an impression.

A figure stepped into the light. ‘Glad to see you’ve still got strong ties to the community’ it said. ‘I was worried I might have to spend time tracking you down.’

Badger had been squinting against the light but his eyes opened wide now. Another hand from the side reached over and pulled the tape from his mouth.

‘Qingwa cào de liúmáng’ Badger exclaimed. ‘What the bloody hell do you want Reynolds?’

Mal indicated with his hands that the beam should be moved from directly in Badgers eyes. ‘Long time no see Badger’ he began, ‘thought that since I was back in these parts I might look up some old friends.’

Badgers mind raced, what the hell would Reynolds want with him? He hadn’t even seen the man in years, not since he became just about the most wanted man on the Rim. Badger had actually been looking out for him at first, having his contacts around the Rim watch out for the renegade Transport Captain with Badger hoping to claim the big fat reward, but after all this time that had slipped way down Badgers list of priorities.

‘Bollocks’ Badger replied. ‘I don’t think you’re going to kill me, you’re not the type to do a bloke sitting unarmed on a chair and I ain’t got nothing of yours so what are you after?’

Mal turned to look left. ‘Bollocks?’ he asked.

‘Means balls’ someone replied in a familiar accent if not a familiar voice. Not quite Dyton, could be Devon Colony or maybe Wessex.

‘Right’ Reynolds replied and turned back to Badger. ‘Lets cut to the chase I find myself in the market for some items you can’t get too easily through official channels, if official channels were open to me anyway which they ain’t.’

‘You want to make a deal?’ Badger exclaimed. ‘Why didn’t you just book a rutting appointment you stupid wanker?’

Reynolds looked to the side again.

‘A practitioner of Jayne’s favourite bunk time activity when he’s flying solo’ the voice explained.

Wessex, Badger thought, it was definitely a Wessex accent which meant it would likely be that guy from Toulouse that the Alliance said was travelling with Reynolds. ‘You got stuffed in the Cup Final last season’ Badger announced.

‘We were bloody robbed’ the voice replied in a very annoyed tone. ‘Dyton had twelve men on the pitch and one of the bastards was wearing black.’

‘What the hell are you talking about?’ Reynolds asked. ‘Forget that, I don’t care, this is business’ he said directing his attention fully back to Badger. ‘If I’d have announced I was coming you would have set a trap to claim the reward and I’d have been in a cell before I got a chance to tell you you’ll be better off trading with me than trading me in.’

Badger played along. ‘I’m listening.’

‘I’m looking to buy some arms’ Reynolds said. ‘A whole heap of them and I’ll pay twenty percent above normal price’ he continued. ‘That’s twenty above your normal price and I know your profit margins ain’t all that low to start with.’

‘You can get cheaper than that elsewhere’ Badger pointed out.

Reynolds shook his head. ‘Not in the volumes I need and I know you’ve got contacts that can get you most anything. You are the man to see on Persephone for unusual merchandise’ he stated. ‘Best man I know on the Rim for that matter.’

‘I’m hearing talk but I’m not seeing any goodwill’ Badger replied.

Reynolds scratched his chin. ‘Want us to cut a couple of your boys loose?’ he asked. ‘My people were careful not to rough them up too bad.’

‘That ain’t what I mean by goodwill’ Badger responded.

A bag sailed into view thrown from one side. Reynolds caught it and ripped it open, a couple of thousand worth of platinum spilling out onto the carpet in front of Badger.

‘Now you see that’s what I mean by goodwill’ Badger said looking appreciatively at the money. ‘That’ll buy you a few guns just give me a list of what you’re after.’

Reynolds shook his head. ‘That’s just for your trouble’ he said. ‘Our order is worth a heck of a lot more than that’ he said. ‘And if you see us right this could be the start of a very profitable business undertaking for you.

An Asian woman stepped into the light, Japanese ancestry by her features. ‘But if you cross us we’ll kill you’ she said.

Badger looked at her. ‘That goes without saying love’ he replied. ‘I’m thinking this ain’t your normal career.’

Reynolds sighed. ‘Just another ex-Browncoat with a rod up her Pigu Badger.’

The “legitimate businessman” smirked. ‘With that pretentious attitude you lot have anyone would think you’d won the flaming war.’

Well not yet anyway you slimy creep thought Major Fushida looking at him. ‘Those pink silk pyjamas make you look rutting stupid’ she said instead earning a chuckle from her disguised cadre of Marines dotted around the corners of the room.

* * *

Fort Obsidian – Beyond the Outer Rim – 2521AD

The door was open but Cally still knocked on the steel door frame and didn’t enter until she was waved inside. Laura was lying on the bed on her back reading a book from the hand held computer River had given her to keep her entertained. When Cally entered she dropped it onto the bed beside her and swung her legs around ending up sitting upright. ‘Back again then?’ Laura said.

‘I thought you could use the company’ Cally replied taking a seat on the bed next to the older girl.

‘Crap’ Laura stated. ‘I don’t need to read your mind directly to know you’re lying I can sense that easy.’

‘All right I wanted someone to talk to’ Cally admitted.

Laura frowned. ‘Well that’s the truth but it still doesn’t make much sense’ she said. ‘I don’t like you. I don’t like any of you.’

Cally looked at Laura askance. ‘River says that’s mostly a front now’ she said, ‘and Simon thinks you’re just holding onto a piece of your old life because you don’t really have anything left. For him it’s his manners and neatness but you’re just holding onto thinking we’re the enemy.’

‘The armed guards and the cell does make me feel like a less than invited guest’ Laura said sarcastically.

‘Mummy says you’re just a lost little girl’ Cally told her.

Laura sneered. ‘You’re fond of saying what everyone else thinks, so what’s your opinion?’ she asked.

‘I think you’re a bad tempered bitch who’s got her head up her arse’ Cally replied.

Laura laughed. ‘Well I’ve got to admire the honesty if not like the sentiment’ she said

‘I’ve still got a lot of respect for you though’ Cally told her.

Laura’s eyes widened. ‘Really?’

Cally nodded. ‘You’re as mean as Jayne and as dangerous as River. I wish I was like you, except the hair, your hair sucks since you started cutting it like that.’

‘What’s wrong with my hair?’ Laura demanded to know.

‘It’s too short. Boys seem to like longer hair’ Cally told her.

Laura wished she was allowed to read minds because this conversation would have been a lot less confusing. ‘Boys?’ she asked. ‘If you want to talk about boys I’m not a good choice.’

‘Why?’ Cally asked. ‘You’re not a bit sly are you?’ she continued. ‘Not that there’s anything wrong with that’ she said.

‘I am not gay’ Laura stated. ‘I’ve just never had a boyfriend.’

Cally gave her a look of surprise. ‘Why not?’ she asked.

‘When I was in the orphanage I was too young, when I was in the academy I never got the chance and since then I’ve been stuck with a bunch of Browncoat wearing jerks’ Laura replied. ‘I get looks from some of my guards but between the bars on the door and the fact I scare the living piss out of them that limits dating opportunities.’

Cally grinned then her expression changed to a serious one. She leaned in close. ‘I like Jayne’ she whispered.

Laura looked at Cally in horror. ‘You’ve got to be kidding’ she exclaimed. ‘He’s the dumbest son-of-a-bitch I’ve ever met. And I’ve read his mind enough to know.’

The younger girls face blazed with instant fury. ‘He’s not dumb he’s just not very well educated and he’s clever at the things he does know.’

Taken aback by Cally’s vehement response Laura raised her hands. ‘Calm down will you?’ she said. ‘Anyway I don’t think you’re his type’ she said, ‘too few years and too many IQ points.’

Cally let the IQ comment slide. ‘I know I’m too young I just like him is all’ she said. ‘I couldn’t think who else to talk to about it. Everyone else I know looks down on Jayne.’

I look down on Jayne too’ Laura stated. ‘There are lifeforms several rungs lower down the evolutionary ladder that would still look down on Jayne.’

‘Leave Jayne alone’ Cally said menacingly. The vibes coming off the little girl made Laura decide to do as she was told. At times Cally gave off some of the scariest mental impressions of anyone Laura had met and the time she’d threatened to kill the older girl if she considered her an immediate threat to the crew was one of the telepaths most abiding memories. It was just the sheer dispassionate directness of her thoughts when she said it that Laura couldn’t forget. Cally was a frightening little girl but had the sense to keep her more sociopathic thought processes to herself. This actually made the current sense of emotional sensitivity Laura detected even stranger.

‘When I got back to the barracks we’re in earlier there was a woman in Jayne’s quarters’ Cally suddenly said. ‘I could tell they’d been sleeping together.’

Laura looked at her, sensing rising emotion that the little girl had been bottling up all too successfully until then. ‘So you’re upset?’

Cally looked away. ‘I don’t like feeling this way’ she said quietly. ‘I want you to tell me how you keep your emotions under control. River can’t do that very well.’

Laura frowned. ‘River missed out on a lot of the psychological conditioning that is meant to prepare academy students before they graduate’ she said. ‘I’m not as strong as I used to be either.’

‘Because my Daddy nearly killed you?’ Cally asked.

‘Yes’ Laura conceded. ‘They’d missed the possibility of failure from the training. Very sloppy actually when I think of it now’ she said. ‘In any case it’s not something you can teach.’

‘That’s okay’ Cally told her. ‘It’s nice to talk anyway.’

‘Making you feel better?’ Laura asked. It was strange talking to the girl like this.

‘A bit’ she replied.

Laura looked at the twelve-year old. ‘I had a big crush on Simon’ she said eventually.

‘He is cute’ Cally agreed.

‘We need boys our own age’ Laura told her.

Cally nodded. ‘One’s that aren’t scared of us too’ she said.

Laura thought about that and frowned. ‘Maybe only a little bit afraid’ she said eventually.

‘Seems to work for Zoe’ Cally agreed.

Part VIII

COMMENTS

Friday, June 24, 2005 5:51 PM

NUTLUCK


as always great, the end bit was kinda cute.

Monday, June 27, 2005 7:14 AM

AMDOBELL


I like how this is shaping up and can't wait to see what happens next! - Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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