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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Just one story of many from the battle of Serenity Valley
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 6907 RATING: 8 SERIES: FIREFLY
THIS FANFIC IS PART OF A ONGOING STORYLINE THAT STARTS WITH DEATH OR GLORY CONTINUES WITH WOLFPACK THEN HERE BE DRAGONS AND FINALLY HORSE, FOOT AND ARTILLERY. YOU CAN FIND ALL THESE FANFICS AT THE LINK BELOW AND THEY MAKE MUCH MORE SENSE READ IN ORDER TRUST ME!
Hotpoints Fan Fiction
Inspired by the story: The Song of the 21st Lancers by Geezer
Song of the 21st Lancers (Unofficial enlisted soldiers Version)
Disclaimer - Everything belongs to Joss or it should, I'm just borrowing his shiny 'Verse for a while
* * *
Exeter City – Devon Colony – 2519 AD
The barmaid did a double-take and stared when I dropped into the stool but that was nothing new or unexpected “Come on. I know I’m pretty but I’m really just here for the beer’ I told her and grinned. I do a good grin, that grin helped get me my wife. Had to be the grin because it wasn’t the personality or looks.
Her expression changed from distaste tinged with pity to a wry smile and I grinned back. ‘Bottle of anything cold’ I said slapping some platinum on the bar ‘and a packet of those peanuts over there’.
The Beer arrived, cheap local brew and just like the establishment itself it was nothing special, but it contained alcohol and was certainly cold enough. A Cortex feed suspended from the ceiling was showing a game from the local league and I lent back to watch whilst my change arrived plus the peanuts. Many of the settlers in these parts originally hailed from Dyton Colony or Wessex so the game was proper football, as in played with the feet. It wasn’t a bad match either although the Referee needed his eyes beamed because there was no way in guay that second goal was offside.
I couldn’t get a ride for a couple of days and there was nothing better to do so I ordered another beer and decided to make a night of it. The boarding house I was crashing at was only a couple of hundred yards up the road so I figured worst case scenario I could always crawl back.
Bar didn’t really start to fill up till it got dark by which time I was several drinks in and really starting to enjoy myself. I don’t get the chance to get trashed at home very often because Jenny would take a very dim view. When I first returned to Toulouse I’d been a very serious drinker though still the good side of alcoholic, she cured me of that although it took a long time.
I was getting looks but that’s normal. Doesn’t bother me anymore and at least I can look in a mirror and know I’ll never forget. I owed my troopers my memories and I’ll wear the honour of the Regiment on my face every day for the rest of my life.
Even during the bad days I’d never been a mean drunk, or a talkative friendly one for that matter either, I just kind of drink quietly until have too much which is when I fall off the chair. I don’t tend to get into trouble I just get thrown outside when the bar closes. A barman at my old drinking hole on Wessex told me once that it was a good thing I was ‘Compact and Aerodynamic” because otherwise he’d have barred me because of the effort of slinging me out into the street every Friday night.
Unfortunately whilst I’m not a mean drunk there are plenty who are.
* * *
Exeter City – Devon Colony – 2519 AD
Mal Reynolds leant back in his chair tired of arguing with Zoe. She was still insisting he consider that they should do a few cargo runs between here and Windhoek before heading back towards the Rim. Windhoek weren’t exactly in the Core but it was still too close for the Captains comfort, for that matter he thought being on Devon was a bit too close already to the Core already. The problem was that money was tight and the only steady work available was running cargo closer to “civilisation”.
Zoe was a good exec. Played Devils Advocate when needed, and would follow the Captain to hell once the decision was made. Problem was moments like this when neither one of them was entirely, one-hundred percent, sure which course of action was the right one. It was better for Simon and River to be in a part of the black with a damn site less Alliance about than Windhoek but the crew starving from lack of food, or more realistically Serenity starving from lack of fuel, wasn’t a happy option either.
Back on the ship Mal had been unable to think clearly what with Kaylee bemoaning the replacement parts she said they desperately needed and Simon paranoid as ever about the Feds catching up with them.
In the end Mal left Wash in charge and asked him to calm things down and dragged Zoe into town to talk things out away from the rest of the crew. As might be expected they found a bar near the Port and taken up residence in a dark corner where their whispered mutterings might be mistaken for romance.
‘It’s your call Sir but the boats operating on Kaylee’s ingenuity and the Shepherds prayers. We need the money and to get it we need to be away from the Rim’ Zoe rubbed her eyes, they’d been at this for what seemed like hours and she was starting to get a headache. Mal leant forward again and took a swig of beer.
‘Gorramit Zoe. You know I know that but what about the kids’
‘If Serenity can’t fly she can’t run. Better to take a risk now than find ourselves stranded somewhere’
‘Think the Doc will see it that way? Already had a bounty hunter on us when we were in the back of beyond. What do you think will happen coreward?’
‘If the Doc don’t like it he can leave’
‘You know that’s not an option’
‘I’ve got to like Simon myself, and even if she isn’t quite right I want to protect River too, but they’re only on the crew by accident and are you willing to maybe sacrifice the rest of us for them’
‘Zoe. This is my final word. That is not an option’
‘Yes Sir’ she said and that closed that part debate.
Mal leaned back again wishing for an easier life. There was a bit of commotion nearer the Bar which caught his eye. Looked like nothing, just a couple of drunks most like, one of them was a good foot taller than the other one and the shorter of the two was trying to get to the Bar but being blocked. It looked like the smaller guy was more than making up for lack of stature with determination, well that and volume.
‘Look I’ll tell you again I just want to get myself another Beer. I’ve no quarrel with you or anyone’
‘And I told you that I ain’t letting you. So what are you gonna do about it’
The taller guy was laughing. Probably thought picking on the short one was funny. In his time Mal had seen plenty of big guys getting the crap kicked out of them by little ones, so he felt no need to interfere on that score and went back to his drink
The argument got louder
‘What’s your problem anyway?’
‘I’ll tell you what my problem is. You shouldn’t be allowed out in public, I bet you scare little kids and such’ The big guy laughed as did his friends stood nearby.
The smaller of the two looked around. He was pushing 40 and wasn’t the best brawler in the world even when he was younger. Even if he did win then he’d be willing to bet his húndàn opponents friends would pounce on him. Doubtful anybody else in the bar would intervene on his behalf.
On the other hand though he was well overdue some righteous violence and it had been years since he’s gotten got beaten up. Yes it was time to be really stupid, he pulled himself to his full height.
‘I may be ugly’ he said. ‘But I can get plastic surgery. You’ll always be a Bun tien-shung de ee-duai-ro’.
That did the trick. The big one took a swing and missed the smaller guy who ducked under the punch and drove his own fist into the big ones guts. Not exactly a first class blow Mal thought but it certainly knocked the wind out of his sails.
With the upper hand for now the smaller guy was about to deliver a punch to the jaw when two of the big ones friends weighed in grabbed the smaller guy and threw him clear across the room. He landed on an unoccupied table smashing it and probably breaking something in the process. The duo helped their winded friend to stand upright and the three of them moved in to finish the job.
Normally Mal would have weighed in at this point. It looked like nobody else in the bar was going to. Three big guys kicking the lāshî out of a small one offended his sense of honour, Zoe looked at him asking with a glance if they were going to intervene, where Mal went she followed.
The Captain shook his head. They couldn’t afford to get caught in a brawl this far into the Alliance. If the fighting got out of hand the Law might turn up and throw everyone involved into gaol. Mal didn’t need that kind of aggravation.
The smaller guy dragged himself to his feet, and Mal hoped that the he’d have enough brains to make a dash for the door but apparently this was not the case, instead he turned to face his three opponents.
Seeing the right side of his face for the first time the ‘plastic surgery’ crack made more sense. Mal had assumed he was just conventionally ugly but from this angle he could see half his face was burnscars, looked like they went down his neck too.
‘Yep still aerodynamic’ the small man inexplicably said to nobody in particular. ‘I’m still getting that beer though Dong ma?’ he stated loudly.
Not enough brains to run then.
‘Death or Glory’ he yelled and threw himself at his attackers.
Mal froze. He knew where the scars came from.
Serenity Valley – Hera Colony – 2511 AD
The battle had been raging for three weeks and there was no sign of the Alliance letting up. The Independents had repulsed every attack thanks to sheer determination and the flights of Angels that swooped down the valley laying waste to the enemy heavy armour the infantry couldn’t hold themselves.
Up at the frontline Colonel Trevor Reed and his soldiers were determined, battle-hardened and dug in with a vengeance. The last attack had ended with dead Alliance soldiers laying in heaps in front of them. Heavy machine guns and mortars mowed down any purple-bellies who tried to force their way up their part of the Valley. If they could keep scoring kills at that rate the Independents might just win this thing.
Electronic jamming meant that low-powered field radios were next to useless so the brownjackets were relying on runners to get information back and forth. One of these runners, a young Girl who looked barely into her teens sprinted up to Reed and saluted ‘Sir Message from Delta Platoon’
‘Don’t salute on the frontline. It’s the easiest way for snipers to tell who’s in charge and I like my brains where I keep them now’ He admonished
‘Sorry Sir’ She looked crestfallen
‘What’s the message then?’
‘Lieutenant Valdez says Rollers coming up the hill Sir’
‘Right. Okay get back to your post and tell your LT I’m calling in an airstrike’
‘Yessir’ She said and made to salute again.
‘What were you just told?’ asked another voice from behind the Colonel ‘Don’t salute on the lines. I know officers don’t have much in the way of brains but you don’t want to be wearing what they do have. Now get going ma shong’
The runner tore off blushing like the little girl she was and Reed turned to face the NCO behind him
‘If you’re going to abuse me behind my back at least do so when I’m not there’ The Colonel stated with mock severity.
‘Right. I’ll try and remember in future Sir’
‘See you do. Also take your men down to reinforce Delta. The Angels should take care of the Rollers but there may be infantry support. Valdez is still a bit wet behind the ears and I don’t want her getting herself and the platoon killed being heroic’
‘That means no heroics from you either’
Whilst Reynolds trotted over to his troops to tell them they were shifting position the Major knelt down by his communications team. Although normal radio sets were not functional there were armoured fibre-optics snaking all the way back to HQ where a secure laser tightbeam linked the ground-pounders to the flyboys.
‘Tell HQ we got rollers. Tell them I want Angels loaded for bear with cluster munitions down this valley right now’
A blinding flash high above lasting just for a few seconds. Everybody blinked wildly
‘What the māde was that… ah Sir?’
‘You weren’t at Du-Khang then? That was a gorram EMP bomb, big nuke lighting off in the ionosphere. They’ll be electronics fried over half the moon. Our Navy boys must have just lost orbital superiority. Have you still got HQ on the box?’
‘Yessir but it looks like the Pulse has knocked out the transmitter. They can’t call in the Angels’
‘Well so much for “Hardened Electronics”. RUNNER TO ME RIGHT NOW’
* * *
With three of them the brawl wasn’t going to last long. They just basically grabbed the small guy, pummelled him to the ground and were giving him a kicking when a pistol shot boomed across the bar. The round embedding itself in the ceiling
Everyone turned to see a determined looking man in an Independent Brownjacket who redirected his aim towards the trio ‘Leave him be or I will end you’
Standing behind the brownjacket a women holding an old lever-action mirrored his aim. She still wasn’t sure what was going on and why Mal had the sudden change in heart but that didn’t matter. She backed her Captains play.
‘Back off. Let him get up and we’ll all leave peaceably’
The trio did as instructed and with Zoe covering Mal walked over to the small man on the floor who was struggling to get up. He looked down at the stranger ‘Twenty-First?’ he asked.
Two Regiments worth of Alliance Rollers rumbled up the valley with several Brigades of Infantry following in the armours wake. Before the battle the area had been heavily mined but a week of near constant bombardment with artillery had already cleared a wide path up the valley.
Independent Artillery had opened up when they got into range but they were soon pounded hit by counter-battery fire from the Alliance’s own heavy guns. An artillery duel broke out with both sides shelling the others guns. Hundreds of pieces of towed artillery, self-propelled howitzers and Long-Range Rockets filled with cluster munitions were raining hell on each other but this meant neither Alliance or Independents could direct much support to the central battle itself.
A squadron of Alliance ground attack aircraft tried to take a strafing run but as soon as they approached the lines they were swatted from the sky by batteries of Hypervelocity Surface to Air Missiles which the brownjackets had positioned before the battle. By luck the Alliance had lost most of its own SAM launchers when a lucky Angel pilot destroyed the landing craft carrying the things. This meant that although the Alliance forces should have had air-superiority through weight of numbers in reality the brownjackets had them checked for now.
As the Rollers approached they took their first losses as brownjackets manning six-wheeled Self-Propelled Missile Launchers began firing advanced anti-tank rockets. These missiles would arc up just before impact then slam down into the thinner top armour blowing the Roller apart. Unfortunately for the independents the SPML’s were sparsely spread and their ammunition was running out faster than the enemy was running out of targets for them to fire at.
There were plenty of lighter direct-fire shoulder-launched rockets distributed amongst the Infantry but the newest generation of Alliance Heavies had frontal armour that was almost impenetrable. The Rollers would be almost literally on top of them before the Independent ground-pounders had an angle to get the flank shots required. Of course by that time it would be too late because the Rollers big guns would start blasting the position to pieces and they would just roll over the Independents. There is a reason why in wars since before humanity left Earth-That-Was Tank crews have called Infantry “Crunchies”.
“We’re nearly in range. Prepare to receive incoming fire” hollered Lieutenant Valdez as she dropped to the bottom of her trench. There was a periscope so she could still look out but the rest of the Platoon huddled in their dug-outs trying to keep their weapons out of the dirt and hoping they wouldn’t be buried alive by incoming high-explosive.
The Brigades automatic mortars were now in range and they were raining high-explosive onto the enemy. Unfortunately whilst they were seriously bad news for Alliance infantry they lacked the accuracy and armour-piecing ability needed to stop Tanks.
Valdez had seen light action before the Valley and serious action since but had never faced enemy armour close up. The mass of low-slung Rollers looked were a vision of hell, mechanical monsters coming to grind mere flesh and blood into the ground. When you fought other Infantry you knew in your guts they were only men and women like you were. They could kill you but they could die just as easily.
‘Easy Lieutenant. I faced these things before at Du Khang and we got out okay’ Valdez turned to see the maniacal grinning face of Sergeant Reynolds. ‘Once they get in close we’ll show them what the Balls and Bayonets can do’
Valdez looked at him doubtfully. She knew his story that he was one of the few left in the Brigade who’d been around since the beginning of the war, and that he had fought in just about every major battle on the central front. Each time he’d made it out alive, him and that scary corporal of his, they were quite the legend by now, maybe accepting Colonel Reed and the General himself they were the most respected soldiers in the whole command, maybe.
‘Well I bow to your experience Sergeant’ She forced a smile ‘Nice to have you and your troopers here with Delta’
‘Me and the boys and girls are grateful for your hospitality’ His grin widened then a faint but growing whistling sound wiped the smile from his face
Although armed they were clearly not up for a gunfight so Mal holstered his pistol and hauled the beaten man off the ground. He was groggy from a kick to the side of the head received before Mal and Zoe stepped in and had not responded to Mals question so he repeated himself
‘Were you Twenty-First?’ He asked again. The scarred man looked up and his eyes cleared for a second
‘Death or Glory’ He mumbled again then passed out.
Mal threw him over his shoulder and carried him out of the Bar Zoe following behind still covering them with her Lever-Action. The bar patrons were staring, and the three assailants looked angry but Zoe doubted they’d follow.
Outside the Bar Mal told Zoe they were heading back to the ship for Doc to take a look at their unconscious burden. She was still confused but followed behind regularly checking over her shoulder to see it they were being followed. Seemed like they weren’t and seemed like nobody had called the Law either. Bars in this part of town might not want too many run-ins with the Police. Things like that tend to increase how much bribe money you have to give them.
It was about a quarter-mile to the ship and a couple of hundred yards along Zoe decided to ask what was going on
‘Can’t crawl, get someone to carry you’ He said
‘But why did you… why did we interfere?’
‘Why. What for’
‘He’s a Lancer’
The Main Guns on the Alliance Rollers were auto-loading 140mm cannon. They also had a Laser and a chain gun coaxial to the main gun for close up work. The turret was unmanned, all three crew all in the hull where the armour was thickest.
They looked pretty damn scary too.
Right on the front line Delta platoon, plus Reynolds and his own dozen troops, were actually spared most of the incoming fire since that was being directed at the Brigades Anti-Tank and Mortar crews a few hundred yards behind. However the bombardment was still intense enough that trenches were starting to give way and one bunker and its four inhabitants had been totalled by a ‘lucky’ shot.
Everyone wore earplugs. You couldn’t not given the continual explosions but it sure did make communication difficult. Everyone watched Valdez waiting for her to signal the time to stand up and engage the enemy, the troopers carrying shoulder-launched rocket tubes prepared to meet the oncoming steel whilst the others checked their rifles one last time. They couldn’t hurt the incoming armour but there would be Infantry too and they all quietly swore to themselves there was no way some Alliance ground-pounder qingwa cào de liúmáng was taking this position without a fight.
The last of the Independents Mortars and Missile Batteries fell silent. Their crews and equipment mangled beyond recognition by explosives and white-hot shrapnel.
Valdez moved back from the periscope took a deep breath and gave the signal.
As one the Independent Infantry rose to the firing line and the first shoulder launched rockets flared out towards the Rollers. As expected Alliance Troopers were mixed in with the armour and they were greeted by a storm of rifle-fire and machine guns
All across the valley brownjackets were rising to meet the oncoming tide. To the right of the Balls and Bayonets a militia unit, the Second Hera Infantry, poured fire into the Rollers too. This was their home world and they fought back with ferocity to match that of the seasoned veterans next to them.
Flank shots now available volleys of shoulder-launched rockets slammed into armour tearing rents in the thick laminate, Rollers lurched to a halt and began to burn, Alliance soldiers were mown down in their hundreds but it just wasn’t enough. Not every rocket hit, and not every hit was effective, more importantly there just weren’t enough damn rockets. Without the Angels flying numbers were too great and there hadn’t been time to bring additional reinforcements from the rear.
‘This is not my best day ever’ thought Sergeant Reynolds as he gunned down another purple-belly. Zoe was in the next bunker over looking after a few rookies who Reynolds feared would run when the armour reached them. To her credit, and theirs they were still fighting and Reynolds watched a rocket hurtled out from their position and slam into a Roller bringing it to a jarring halt.
Always determined, the Sergeant was nonetheless realistic, if things didn’t improve soon the brownjackets would have to give way. Already he could see another wave of rollers following on behind. The Alliance had committed some their reserves.
Valdez fell. A chain-gun round punching straight through the front of her helmet and then out the back bringing a good chunk of her grey matter out with it. The platoon runner was splattered and froze for a second before turning to throw up.
It was too late to retreat now. The Anti-Personnel Lasers on the Rollers would scythe through anyone in the open. To the left the First Helm was already buckling, soon there would be a rout, soon there would be a slaughter.
The firing reached a crescendo. With no heavy weapons to target anymore the rollers began to blast point-blank into the Independent lines. 140 millimetre cannon, thirty rounds a minute, hundreds of Rollers firing simultaneously, the very planet itself was being torn asunder.
‘He’s a Lancer?’
‘Yeah, explains the burns don’t it’
Assault Rifle bucking full-auto in his hands Mal fought on. More than half the brownjackets on the front line were dead, dead and buried by collapsed bunkers and trenches most of them, worse many would have been live and buried.
No more than two hundred yards away by now the Rollers started to direct continual streams of fire from their secondary armament into Delta Platoons wrecked fortifications. The Chain-guns were the worst, the lasers would just neatly decapitate you, or maybe cut you clean in half, but the 20mm cannons firing 4000 rounds per minute would smash flesh to pulp and with one round in twenty a tracer they had had a horrible beauty about them as they torn along the lines.
An almighty ‘CRACK’. Loud, even above the continual deafening explosions, Mal Reynolds watched nonplussed as something, too fast to see itself, punched through the half metre thick frontal armour of the closest roller. Its ammunition detonated showering the area with scrap.
Another Roller explodes, then another. ‘CRACK, CRACK, CRACK’ Rapid fire, many guns, each shot leaving shockwaves in the smoke that filled the valley. Only one thing would do that. Reynolds turned to face backwards towards his own lines.
Independent Hovertanks gleaming in the sun, whole squadrons of them. Fusion powered, laminate armoured, riding down the valley to do battle. Each one mounted a huge Railgun and a chaingun of their own and they spat big chunks of hypersonic metal into the enemy.
Sergeant Reynolds screamed in salute.
‘Twenty First Lancers’
‘Yep. You remember they called themselves the Death or Glory Boys’
‘I remember they got both’
By the time the war hit the Valley the brownjackets had only six squadrons of Exalibur Hovertanks left to send. Of those four were the remains of the 21st Regiment of Lancers who had blazed a trail of destruction in battles on a dozen worlds.
They had bested Alliance Armour at almost every engagement. Although only produced in small numbers by overburdened Independent industry, the swift moving Excalibur’s with their incredibly-high-velocity main armament and surprisingly tough armour were exceptionally effective. They could destroy absolutely anything on the battlefield (or over it for that matter as many unfortunate Alliance ground-attack aircraft had found out) and if outnumbered they were quick enough to outrun just about anything that mounted sufficient firepower to destroy them.
In a demonstration of their tanks destructive power, and their own combat skills, the first group of Rollers were swiftly and efficiently pulverised by the Lancers but those further behind in the second rank kept coming regardless. In total the Alliance Armour fielded that day outnumbered the 21st by at least six or seven to one. If it had been merely three to one the Lancers would have just kept going and rode over their smashed remains as they had done in battles across the inhabited worlds. This time however the odds were too great, it wasn’t a battle they could possibly win.
Problem was if they retreated the Infantry would be crushed by the next wave of rollers. The Angels still weren’t in the sky and the Hovertanks were the only thing that could stop the Alliance taking a leisurely cruise up the Valley.
For now though their intervention was a miracle. With the first line of Rollers blown back to hades the brownjacket infantry had quickly cut down their Alliance counterparts bringing the battle into a temporary lull. Ever the professional Sergeant Reynolds used the time to take command of what was left of Delta and his own people. Artillery was still falling elsewhere in the valley but with nowhere near the volume it had earlier, Reynolds guessed the Independent and Alliance gunners had pretty much shelled each other back into the stone age by now.
The line of Hovertanks had halted just behind the lines and powered down dropping to the earth. Although even at this range their Railguns could still penetrate the still distant next wave of oncoming Tanks most of them had seen too much action recently and they didn’t have sufficiently intact fire-control computers to actually hit anything at extreme range. However those that did still have working systems were randomly picking off distant targets at will. It was like pointing the finger of god at an enemy and destroying them at whim.
Zoe dropped into the trench beside her Sergeant. ‘I got five intact and two more fit enough to fight. Outta rockets though’
‘Same here on the rockets. I guess we’ll just have to break out the can-openers’
‘Next bunch of Rollers be here soon’ she pointed towards the nearest Excalibur and continued ‘Maybe we can hitch a ride on that thing and get the hell out of here?’
‘Second line of defence ain’t ready yet. Nowhere to go, and besides this is our gorram valley’
Just then the turret hatch popped open on the nearby Excalibur and the commander jumped out, he looked around then sprinted over towards Reynolds position. He was wearing the standard grey jumpsuit of a Lancer, and when he got close enough to the bunker Mal saw he was a Lieutenant, couldn’t have been much more than eighteen and like most tank crew he was under average height, easier to cram them in that way.
The Tanker officer stopped at the edge of the trench and threw Reynolds a folded piece of paper which Mal caught out of the air whilst a look of bafflement spread across his face. ‘It’s a letter from my Gunner to his wife which he never got to post earlier’ Explained the young officer. ‘He’s the only one of my crew who’s married. Please see it gets to her’
‘What’s all this about Sir?’
‘We got a tightbeam communication relayed from HQ. Angels will supposedly be on the way soon but HQ guesses their ETA not for another fifteen minutes minimum’
‘Rollers be here in less than five’
‘And we’re about to live up to our name Sergeant. Please see they tell the story right in the history books’ he smiled but there was a haunted look in his eyes that Mal had seen before far too often before.
The two Infantry NCO’s watched as the young Tanker ran back to his Excalibur, jumped aboard and dropped down the hatch.
Mal looked blankly at his Corporal who pointed across the valley to another Excalibur on which a crewman had jumped out and was fixing something to the turret. Once in place he pulled a cord and a large flag unfurled, even at this distance he could see it was a Human Skull with the legend ‘Or Glory’ emblazoned underneath in Gold.
Death or Glory. The Regimental Colours of the 21st Lancers.
‘Oh God they’re not. They can’t be’ the Sergeant spoke quietly to himself.
The smoke had cleared and brilliant sunshine lit the valley again. Suddenly in a long line the four Squadrons of Excalibur’s powered up their engines again and rose smoothly from the earth. They hovered perhaps two or three feet from the soil gravity repulsers causing barely a ripple from the dust underneath.
Seconds later somewhere in the middle of the line one of the Excalibur’s activated its loudspeaker and an echo of the wars of Earth-That-Was sounded out across a 26th Century battlefield.
It was a recording of a Bugle sounding the charge. Somebody in the Regiment had either an elevated sense of history or perhaps a slightly twisted sense of humour.
And with that the entirety of the 21st Lancers accelerated to top speed down the Valley. Battleflag streaming in the wind.
They arrived back at Serenity where they were met by a puzzled crew. Ever the professional Simon told his Captain to put their obviously injured guest in the infirmary before thinking to ask who he was.
Mal stood by the bed whilst the Doc checked him over ‘Couple of broken ribs I’ll strap him up, blow to the head looks bad enough to cause concussion, nothing really serious. Looks like he’s spent some time in hospital before, if not it seems with a cosmetic surgeon’
‘Battlescars’ explained Mal ‘Tank crewman, you’ve got armour around you but when you are hit by something big enough to stop you there’s a tendency to burn some’
‘Friend of yours?’
‘I’ve never met him before in my life. Saved him from a beating just now’
‘Any particular reason or just playing big damn hero again’ Simon asked eyes twinkling humourously.
‘Reason was good enough I reckon’ Mal responded earnestly.
Across the valley Independent Infantry watched in awed silence as the line of Hovertanks rode into action accelerating to better than two hundred miles an hour. As they got closer they fired a series of ragged volleys which targeted the lead elements of the Alliance tanks and bought the Rollers advance to a halt. The Lancers practically slammed headfirst into the oncoming rollers barely slowing down until they were nose to nose.
The Alliance and Independent Armour began engaging each other at point-blank range as the swifter more manoeuvrable Excalibur’s forced their way between the enemy Rollers. All mixed in they caused as much confusion and chaos as they did sheer destruction. The Lancers needed to buy time for the Infantry and this was the best way to totally disrupt the Alliance attack.
Watching through field-glasses Mal saw one Hovertank take a hit to its turret and thus stripped of its armament it rammed itself full speed into the nearest target.
In another after taking a hit to its power plant and dropping to earth the commander stood up in the turret, swung around the cupola machine gun and blazed away at the closest Roller until another round blew the Excalibur to fragments.
It was terrible and eerily beautiful to watch. They were giants of steel, ceramic and woven monomolecular fibre doing battle so close their gun-barrels were practically touching. The Brownjacket Tanks weaved their way through the Alliance Armour at high speed wreaking havoc as they went. Nobody could call in artillery or anti-armour missile support because each side were intermingled with the other. It was a pure armoured engagement, 26th Century Knights jousting with cannon and railgun.
Time almost seemed to slow down for the Independent Infantry watching through scoped gun-sights and binoculars. An Excalibur fired point blank into a Roller and the round went clean through knocking out another one behind too. Elsewhere after bailing out of her burning hovertank a Lancer ran towards the nearest enemy vehicle and threw herself underneath. It exploded a split second later, she had been carrying a satchel charge and she gave her life to knock out just one more of the bastards.
Amongst the survivors of Serenity Valley, both sides in fact, it was often mentioned as one of the most heart-breaking and truly magnificent spectacles of the whole war. The fighting seemed to grow and grow in intensity, broken and burning vehicles from both sides littered the field but soon enough numbers began to tell. They were scoring better than three to one but the Lancers were being ground down.
The two sides bludgeoned each other but the Alliance could afford the losses much more easily. Eventually there were only a handful of Hovertanks still fighting lost amongst dozens of the enemy.
Then there was just one.
In a final gesture of defiance the last Excalibur managed to engage and destroy two more Rollers before it was completely ripped apart by half a dozen shells that hit almost simultaneously and smashed it to the ground. All that was left of it was jagged lumps of twisted armour.
The firing stopped but explosions continued as ammunition stores in burning Rollers caught alight then exploded blowing turrets into the air and sending sheets of fire skywards.
Then the chainguns and lasers started up.
Some of the bailed-out Excalibur crews had been trying to run back to the Independent lines but they were ruthlessly mowed down by fire. Stripped of their armour they were no longer giants themselves, now just men and women, but giants still stalked them and the Purple-Belly’s were going to make survivors of the 21st pay with blood for their temerity.
‘Let them go you tāmāde húndàn’ said Mal through gritted teeth. He watched as one Roller changed course to run over a wounded Lancer trying to crawl away. He would have been just a smear on the ground afterwards.
Glory often comes at a high price.
Eventually the surviving Alliance armour stopped trying to crush insects and began rumbling up the Valley once again. Still far too many to stop and although the sacrifice of the 21st had held them up it hadn’t been long enough to bring up reinforcements or new supplies of shoulder-launched rockets.
Another volley of booms echoed down the Valley. Brownjackets flung themselves to the ground.
But this was a different kind of sound.
Screaming down Serenity Valley at supersonic speed a flight of Angels had just arrived. Revenge for the fallen of the 21st arrived in the form of cluster munitions that fell from the sky like rain and strafing runs of aircraft cannon that had no problem cutting through the thinner armour on top of the Alliance vehicles.
The Angels made attack run after attack run as if to apologise for the fact they had not got there sooner. Eventually when there was nothing else to destroy they flew back to whence they came and all too shortly afterwards as the sound of ammunition in the wrecked armour cooking off died done the valley went quiet just as the sun began to drop in the sky.
And the brownjackets had proved they were indeed mighty as they had held Serenity Valley for another day.
I woke up surrounded by strangers with the headache of a lifetime. And let me tell you I’ve had some classic headaches in my time. ‘Where the hell am I?’ I rasped
‘You’re in Serenity’
‘I’m WHAT?’ I sat bolt upright and instantly regretted it. Not only did this provoke a new record holder in the worst headache ever record but I was now aware that my ribs were not in good condition either.
‘Not the best thing you could have said to a man with his history Doc. For the record this is not the afterlife and specifically not hell’ the voice continued ‘Serenity is the name of my ship’
‘In that case two questions, firstly why am I on your ship, and secondly what kind of hwoon dahn names a ship "Serenity"?’
‘Well I carried you here and I named her myself’ he said offering me his hand which I shook. ‘This is Simon my ships Doctor’ he said indicating the young man next to me.
‘I’m guessing from the jacket you were an Independent’ I commented ‘Which makes the name Serenity even stranger’ suddenly I had a more pressing issue ‘Got a bucket cause I think I’m going to throw up?’
‘Here you go’ said the Doctor and held out a metal basin for me. Fortunately for all concerned my stomach settled before I had to take advantage of the offer.
‘Okay now’ I waved him away ‘Have you got any painkillers?’
‘I’d like to check you for concussion first’ he lent over shined a light in my eyes and did all the usual annoying medical gôu pì . ‘You seem alright’ he said eventually. He sounded almost upset about it too. He must have been short of work or something.
‘Then I get some painkillers?’ I said hopefully
‘Here you go. Let me know if there’s any adverse reaction’ an injector pressed to me neck followed by a surprisingly quick improvement of the situation inside my skull.
‘Okay I’ll start again. Who, what where why’
‘Like I said before “Who” is Ships Captain Mal Reynolds, formally Sergeant Malcolm Reynolds. “What” and “Where” is a Firefly Class Transport called Serenity like I also said before. “Why” is because I saved you from three húndàn who were kicking your ass in a bar’
‘Now the getting my arse kicked part I remember clearly. At least the start of it so I guess I owe you some thanks’
‘You were with the 21st at the Valley?’
‘If we’re doing formal introductions and histories I suppose it’s my turn’ I stepped off the bunk and pulled myself to a semblance of attention. This was tricky because I was still more than a little drunk as well as injured ‘Steve Hicks’ I announced ‘Formally Captain Steven Hicks. 21st Lancers’ A thought crossed my mind so I continued ‘By tradition I suppose I should call myself ‘Major’ because there can only be one Captain on a ship. I was brevet Major anyway if that helps’ I gave him a wry smile ‘And yes I was at the Valley. That’s why I’m so pretty’
Simon the doctor stepped in ‘If you don’t mind me asking why didn’t you have those scars removed. I can recommend a few hospitals with first-rate cosmetic surgical staff if you like’
‘I prefer to be reminded of some things thanks Doctor’ I dropped the smile to let him know to drop the subject too.
‘Disappointed to hear you were an officer. Would have preferred to save someone who worked for a living’ the veteran deadpanned. ‘Well anyway this is my second in command Zoe’ he said introducing the tall women who had entered the room earlier and who had been standing by his side since’
‘Are you another member of the Serenity Valley Club?’ I asked. She had a military bearing to her and had pulled herself even more upright when she heard I was a former officer.
‘Yes Sir. I was a Corporal. Sir’ she said
‘Nice to meet you’ I shook an offered hand ‘And its “Steve” not “Sir” by the way’. I looked around at a number of other strangers hovering just outside the infirmary ‘Is this ship infested with NCO’s? Any others I should meet?’
‘No just me and Zoe. The rest of the crew were civilians’
‘Lucky for them’ I turned back to ‘Mal’ ‘If you don’t mind me asking, what happened after I tried to single-handedly re-enact the last charge of the 21st’
‘You got your ass handed to you’
‘I remember getting knocked to the ground and shortly afterwards all the lights went out’
‘They gave you a few kicks before I stepped in. Doc says you’ve cracked some ribs’
‘Hence the fact I’m not wearing a shirt. And I’m bandaged up then’
‘Now you see Zoe. It takes that kinda grasp of the obvious by which a man demonstrates himself a born officer’
‘Ah Sergeant Humour, always a joy’ I rolled my eyes upwards. ‘I’m starting to feel less grateful already. What happened to my “friends” from the bar by the way?’
‘Once I stepped in with Zoe they thought better of continuing the fight’
‘Is it too much to hope you busted them up some?’
‘Sorry just threatened ‘em with a firearm. Didn’t want to get into a brawl’ he shrugged ‘good thing you said what you did otherwise I wouldn’t have stepped in’
‘Good thing I was drunk enough to say it then. Next time I’m travelling I might just avoid bars’
‘Good idea if you’re going to insist on taking on three guys half again your size. Where you headed anyway?’ asked Mal.
‘Going back to my wife and kids on Toulouse Colony’ I told him ‘I’m returning from visiting family on Wessex. My father passed on earlier this year so I went back to see my mother’
‘Sorry about your Pa. If you’re from Wessex it explains the accent but it don’t explain why you were on our side’ he paused ‘I thought Wessex was Alliance loyal?’
‘It is. But I moved to Toulouse before the war to take a job. When the fighting started I decided which was the right side and signed up with the Lancers. Before the war I sort of knew the Colonel who put the Lancers together so when the fighting started I signed up with him’ I explained further ‘he commanded the Officer Training Corps at the University on Toulouse’
‘You were a student there?’
‘I taught Political Science there. I still do for that matter, got my job back after demobilization’
‘I’m guessing being a Copperhead you didn’t do too well in the POW Camps?’ he said. It was true enough. I’d taken a few extra beatings at the hands of Alliance Guards for being core-born and then fighting for the Independents. ‘Given how and where we met I wouldn’t have pegged you for an academic though’ he went on to say.
‘The teaching profession has got just as much right to get drunk and beaten up as anyone else. Although I must admit its something I try and avoid back home because it wouldn’t be good for my students to know what a chûnrén I really am. Anyhow my wife wouldn’t approve’
Something occurred to the transport Captain ‘Don’t suppose you know of any work out Toulouse way for a hard-working vessel?’
‘I thought there was plenty of work for ships at the moment?’ I asked curiously.
‘If you don’t mind the Alliance none there is’ he responded sternly and with more than a little passion.
‘You do know that the war’s over Sergeant?’ I remarked chuckling to myself.
‘So says the man who wears those scars by choice and who yelled “Death or Glory” in a whoo dahn barfight’ chipped in his second in command.
‘Touché Corporal’ I acknowledged and nodded acceptance of her clearly warranted jibe at my expense ‘Well I know that there’s some haulage work coming up between Toulouse and the nearby asteroid mining bases. Really short haul only a few hours each way so it’ll bore you but it’s there and I don’t think its been tendered out yet’
‘How you come to know about it then’ Mal asked.
‘Asteroid miners use the University Engineering Department for training their senior crews. My wife and I socialise with the Head of Department so I got to meet the company boss one day. It turned out he was a brownjacket too so we’ve kept in touch. Commander on a Light Frigate. Good man, saw a lot of action’
The former sergeant looked more than a little happy about the possibility of getting the work ‘Think you could put in a good word? Really could use the money’
‘No problem. If you’ve got cortex access I’ll mail him now. We haven’t got many ships in Toulouse because we can’t pay as well as the Core planets or the terraforming companies, I reckon the job will be yours if you really want it. Foreman, he’s the man that runs the mining company, will certainly like the idea of hiring a ship run by another veteran. Not exactly the biggest Alliance fan in the ‘verse’
Mal, the Corporal Zoe and the Doctor for that matter all looked very pleased ‘If he says yes to me getting the job’ said Mal ‘I’ll haul you back home myself unless you’ve got passage already’
‘Nothing booked’ I told him to which I received a satisfied nod.
Just then a very cute and very grease-stained blond girl sort of bounced into the infirmary. ‘Couldn’t help listening in’ She said grabbing my hand and shaking it vigorously ‘Names Kaylee, Kaylee Frye, Ships Mechanic. This Engineering department at your University does it know anything about ships’
‘Nice to meet you Kaylee’ I said rescuing my hand. ‘And as to your question I’d certainly hope so. They help fund the department by helping the miners maintain their equipment, they also claim to have the best equipped workshop on Toulouse’ I shrugged ‘besides which I know the Engineering Staff get paid a damn sight more than I do anyhow so I hope they’re damn good at their chosen field’
‘Do you think if I was to go there and ask to use that there shop they’d let me?’
‘I could ask for you. I know they let non students use it as long as they pay for power and any materials they use’
‘Thank you Major… or is it Professor’ she asked beaming
‘It’s Steven’ I told her. She had a smile that would light up a black hole. It reminded me of my youngest daughter.
Some of the hulks in the Valley were still burning, casting shadows and leaving a light haze of smoke that drifted down towards the Alliance lines. After the days events neither side was much in a mood for more fighting so it was fairly quiet with only the occasional flash of rifle-fire when Alliance and Independent patrols ran into each other and half-heartedly exchanged rounds.
Colonel Reed had survived the battle and had moved forward to see the survivors of Delta Platoon. He’d been pleased to see there were more of them left than he’d feared although he was still upset at the fate of Gamma, his Mortar Platoon, who had been caught under a direct barrage and had been totally wiped out. Reed genuinely loved the soldiers under his command and they respected him, even uppity Sergeants.
‘Quiet out there Reynolds’
‘Yes Sir. I’ve told the troops to take a rest. After they’ve buried our dead that is’
‘Add the remains of Delta to your command. Valdez won’t be replaced’
Reynolds and the Colonel stared into no-mans-land. The Brigades night-vision gear wasn’t working properly, the EMP had seen to that. A new batch was being delivered tomorrow they said but for now the best they could do was keep their ears open.
In the darkness there was something moving. Zoe had seen it first from her own bunker. She had better night-vision than her Sergeant and was stealthier to boot. Mal thought suspected was part cat.
‘Halt! Identify yourself or we open fire’ She challenged.
‘Don’t shoot I’m friendly’
‘Who are you?’ Called out the Colonel
‘Trooper Jake Steiner 21st Lancers’
‘Advance and be recognised’
A shadowy form stumbled into view. It was a young soldier in a grey jumpsuit. He limped up to the Trench tracked by half-a-dozen rifles and looked in on the Infantry soldiers below.
‘Christ Son I thought you were all dead’ said the Colonel
‘No Sir there’s a few of us still breathing. We hid out in the wreckage until the Rollers left. The rest of the survivors are just behind, I was sent ahead to make sure you didn’t shoot us down when we arrived’
The Colonel turned and called out to his troops to expect friendly forces coming in from in front. He then addressed Trooper Stein once more ‘Who’s the senior Soldier left in your bunch Son’
‘Major Thomas Sir. We’ve also got a couple of Captains and one Lieutenant, he’s my C/O Sir and in a bad way. We gotta get him to a hospital real quick’
‘We will. How many other ranks left?’
‘Seventeen NCO’s and Troopers. Most of us are burned up or bleeding. I’ll let them know its safe to come up Sir’ the Trooper said and headed back into the dark.
Within a couple of minutes more figures appeared moving towards the lines. A few of them were carrying badly wounded comrades on makeshift stretchers made from bits and pieces of smashed Excalibur’s. None had thought to use parts of the Alliance Rollers. They rode their own Armour into and out of battle.
The Trooper who had been there before led two men straight to the trench where Reed and his Sergeant were waiting. Both of them got out of the hole and went to meet them.
‘Major Sean Thomas 21st Regiment of Lancers reporting Sir’
‘Colonel Trevor Reed’ he replied looking around at the other Lancers who were being helped into the nearby bunkers before turning his attention back to the Major ‘The Lancers saved our asses today. It was an honour to watch you in action’
‘Thank you Sir. Could you make HQ aware that I’m afraid the Regiment is currently not in a position to take the field again at this time’
‘You more than did your bit for the war effort already today Major’
Clearly overcome with emotion and fatigue the Lancer Major began to weep ‘There’s one more thing Sir’ he finally said.
‘Go on Major’
‘Trooper Jameson front and centre’ said the Major, and the third Lancer, who had been shadowing at a distance, approached the group. He was carrying something.
By now there were tears streaming down the Majors face but there was a look of intense pride in his face and those of the two other Lancers as they drew themselves to attention alongside their commander.
‘Pleased to report that we saved the Colours Sir’ said the Major simply.
The Infantry Colonel regarded the torn and slightly burnt flag which the third Lancer had unfurled as his Major spoke. It flapped lightly in the wind.
Reed was a hardened professional soldier who had seen many a sight in his career and thought he was a mighty tough son-of-a-bitch but there was a lump in his throat. He couldn’t think of anything to say so he did what every fibre of his being screamed out for him to do. He snapped to attention and gave the soldiers of the 21st Lancers the most heartfelt salute of his military career.
Back in the trench a young message runner pointed to the scene taking place not twenty yards away. ‘I thought we didn’t salute on the frontline?’
‘Sometimes we do little one. Sometimes we do’ Zoe told her.
Tuesday, January 6, 2004 3:55 PM
Tuesday, January 6, 2004 4:59 PM
Wednesday, January 7, 2004 4:51 AM
Friday, March 12, 2004 11:47 AM
Sunday, September 5, 2004 7:18 PM
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