BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

HOTPOINT

Death or Glory (Part III)
Sunday, January 11, 2004

The continuing interaction of Steve with the Serenity Crew and more tales from the 21st Lancers


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3793    RATING: 8    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

* * *

Transport Ship Serenity – On route to Toulouse – 2519 AD

‘They’re still at it?’ Wash asked incredulously, pointing at the two players ‘That’s how many games?’

‘I lost count’ Simon answered. ‘I watched the first few because it was entertaining but in the end I just couldn’t take it any more, way too hard to keep track. Every so often I come back to see what’s happening’

‘How can anybody think that watching Chess is entertaining? I’d get a bigger kick out of watching Kaylee grease up the…’Wash frowned. ‘And you can wipe that look off your face because I’m a married man and when I watch Kaylee put grease on things I’m not thinking about what you’re thinking about’

Simon blushed and cast his eyes downwards. The mechanic and he had been an item for a while now but he was still a mite sensitive on the subject.

Mal is right, thought Wash. It really is fun making the Doc squirm. Just have to make sure not to do it too often or I’ll only have the dinosaurs to play with.

‘Honestly it really is entertaining’ Simon continued, trying to bring the conversation back to a less embarrassing topic than his love life. ‘When they first started playing a few days ago he played competently but conventionally. He’s a good player, better than me in fact and I’m rather good’

‘And so modest too’ Wash joked. ‘So the Prof did okay then?’

‘No. River beat the pants off him’ Simon sighed. ‘No shame in it. I haven’t won a game against my Sister since she was six’

‘So the genius Sister trumps the short academic every time then. So where’s the entertainment value?’

‘Well they started on the third game and then just as River started to put him under pressure something must have snapped because he got what I can only describe as this slightly crazed look in his eyes, and he started to play like a lunatic’.

‘How can you play Chess like a lunatic? Stick the knight up your nose and start singing the theme music from one of those Cortex soap-operas Zoe pretends not to watch with Inara?’ He was laughing.

Simon shook his head. The pilot really was genuinely funny but the problem was he was far too aware of the fact and played up to it. He joked all day, every day, Week after hilarious week, until you just wanted to throw him out of the airlock.

‘No Wash’ he said patiently. ‘What I mean is that he started to play a totally unconventional game. He made deliberate mistakes and random moves. He let his pieces get taken and then he’d spring an ambush somewhere else on the board entirely. It was like there was no pattern but there was’

‘So he started to win?’

Simon shook his head ‘No River is still far too good for him but now she actually has to think about it. It’s like chaos theory, she has to try and see the hidden order within, and it’s hidden really deep’.

‘I guess once she started to turn up the heat the mild-mannered Professor stepped aside and the Army Officer took over and started up with the guerrilla tactics’. Wash paused. ‘Hang-on can’t she just read what he’s up to straight out of his head? I’ve seen her do stranger things’

‘I asked her about that last night. She got this very indignant expression on her face, said “Simon that would be cheating”, and then she stormed off to her room’.

‘So that’s why she wouldn’t talk to you at breakfast. I thought it was because you and Kaylee next door had kept her awake all night again’

And yet another classic chronically embarrassed facial expression from the good Doctor. Why, oh why, couldn’t Mal have told Wash about this sport sooner?

‘So it really is fun then?’ asked the pilot. Let Doc off the hook again for now, reel him in again later, play with your prey. Mine is an evil laugh he thought.

‘River seems to think so. I don’t know about Steven though, I think he’s possibly getting annoyed that my teenage sister has beaten him so many times. The problem is that I think he’s far too stubborn to quit’.

‘Thinking of which if Book starts that theology argument over dinner again tonight you distract the Professor and I’ll waylay the Shepherd. That was really painful to sit through yesterday’.

‘You can’t blame Book for trying. He finally has a real live atheist intellectual to play with not just a man who lost his faith’ Simon looked thoughtful. ‘I think Mal was enjoying the show, he likes to watch the clergy under pressure. Of the two Steve is a better debater, he teaches Politics so I imagine that’s in the job description, but he just doesn’t have Book’s passion so they’re quite evenly matched’

‘It was when they started arguing Philosophy and throwing Latin Quotes around that I gave up trying to follow the argument’

‘Some of that was Ancient Greek’ Simon told him.

‘Well its all “Latin” to me’ Wash threw back chortling ‘And thanks for setting me up with that one’. The pilot looked at his watch. ‘Gotta go to the bridge’ he said leaving Simon to watch his Sister and Serenity’s guest alone.

When did I become the straight man to the entire ‘verse wondered Simon?

* * *

The Granite Gorge – Fosters Moon – 2510 AD

It had been by far the largest combat drop in the history of the Independent Armoured Corps. Four whole Regiments plus a brigade of Infantry had been assembled to attack the main Alliance Supply base on Fosters Moon.

The 1st and 2nd Cavalry with their Sabre Light Tanks had actually landed by parachute and retro rocket alongside the Infantry just north of the Moons capital city and after surrounding it and cutting off the garrison they then swept southeast towards the large conglomeration of Alliance military camps on the coast of the southern Inland Sea.

Meanwhile the 21st Lancers and the 6th Dragoons with their heavier Excalibur’s had been landed far to the West where they were supposed to engage the massive Alliance forces which were building up near the Great Granite Gorge in preparation for what the Alliance planned to be the last offensive of the war.

The mission was a simple one. Shoot everything that moves, smash anything that doesn’t. Then try and get back off planet with as much of your forces intact as you possibly can. Heavy losses acceptable but just make sure the Alliance is unable to put those forces in the field.

Overhead the majority of the Independent Navy was clashing with the 3rd Alliance Fleet and at night you could see occasional nuclear flashes in high orbit and an almost constant fall of artificial meteors as pieces of wrecked warships entered the atmosphere.

While the Dragoons and the Lancers 2nd Battalion assaulted the enemy positions directly the 1st Battalion under Major Chen had undertaken a flanking manoeuvre that ended with them driving up the Gorge itself hoping to get behind the enemy. Between truly epic levels of electronic jamming and the occasional EMP bomb being set off by both sides the situation had become chaotic for everyone.

As long as they were still within line-of-sight of each other units could still communicate by laser but this was difficult given the broken hilly terrain that constituted this area. It was hoped that even if the 1st Battalion was spotted they would be back out of the Gorge and knocking the hell out of the Alliance rear echelon before the message could get through.

However to ensure this the Battalion was forced to go hell-for-leather at high speed though a series of interconnecting canyons then down a narrow Gorge. Later as he was being carried wounded off the battlefield Major Chen stated that nothing could compare to the thrill of riding in a 35 tonne battle-tank when it was doing a 90 Degree power-slide turn around a sharp bend at over a hundred miles an hour.

Very much dented but otherwise intact the Battalion reached the position where the Gorge opened up into another area of broken terrain and accelerated to top speed. They were spotted by a platoon of Alliance Soldiers but it was too late by then.

At two hundred miles an hour the 1st Battalion fell upon the enemy rear and systematically began to destroy everything in sight. Alpha and Bravo Squadrons dealt with the Alliance Heavy Artillery positions which had been shelling the main advance and then started hitting supply dumps whilst Captain Hicks was ordered to take his Gamma Squadron and attack the rear of the Alliance Front line.

As soon as they found out there were enemy units to the rear some of the Alliance formations panicked and fled their positions. Most however were veterans and held their ground. They still outnumbered the Independents by a good margin and were equally courageous and convinced of the rightness of their cause.

Losses were heavy.

In the end after two days of fierce fighting and the near total destruction of the enemy supply dumps the transporters landed and withdrew the Independents before the enemy reinforcements could arrive.

Historians would argue later than perhaps Fosters Moon was a pyrrhic victory for the Independents as it cost them a lot of material, especially armour, which they simply couldn’t replace by that point. Others say that if it wasn’t for the destruction of the supplies and destruction of enemy men and material on Foster, then immediately after their victory at Du Khang the Alliance would have swept on straight away conquering Hera and likely ending the war nearly a year earlier.

Leave it to the historians to wonder “what-if’”. The Lancers knew they had won their battle, that once again they had met and bested their foe.

When the Alliance reinforcements arrived and landed troops one of them found something painted on the side of a burned out warehouse. It was a human skull drawn six feet high with the legend ‘Or Glory’ written underneath in huge letters. Next to it was a message “These ruins bought to you courtesy of the 21st Lancers”.

River was correct. Steven Hicks really wasn’t quite right, but he was however pretty inventive with some tape, a can of spray paint and a big stick.

* * *

Transport Ship Serenity – Toulouse – 2519 AD

It was a ship tradition for everyone to gather at the ramp together when the ship set down. Steven joined them with the rucksack containing all the clothes and other items he’d been travelling with leaning against one of the boxes of machine parts filling the cargo bay.

When he received confirmation that the job with the Asteroid miners was his Mal had found a cargo headed to Toulouse and since he was going there regardless undercut everyone on the tender. It paid for the fuel and the crews’ wages but left nothing for maintenance so Kaylee was more than eager to get access to the University Engineering Department.

Steven was pretty confident that actually, once those boys got a look at her, they’d probably hand her over the keys to the building. A pretty girl who likes machinery would be fantasy made flesh for that bunch of geeks he thought.

Steven noticed as the ramp lowered that he was out in front of everyone else. Maybe they thought that because it was his home he should get to step out first.

When the ramp was almost all the way down he realised what was going on when he found himself looking at his wife.

‘You said you couldn’t get through’ he said to Wash.

‘I lied. Kaylee thought it would be a nice surprise and the Captain concurred’

‘Told you he was really a big softy’ Kaylee said laughing.

Steven was running down to meet his wife when his daughters pounced, nearly knocking him over. The youngest Claire-Marie jumped into his arms and nearly hugged him to death while Cally grabbed hold of him by the waist.

He kissed them both and then his wife who had walked up the ramp too. She was wearing his favourite summer dress and he thought she looked the most gorgeous creature in the colonised worlds.

‘Hello’ He said then kissed her again more passionately.

Eventually he realised he had an audience and turned to face the crew. They were all smiling even Jayne who actually had a soft spot for kids.

‘I’d like you all to meet my family’ Steven said. ‘This is my wonderful and tolerant wife Jennifer and my daughters Cally and Claire-Marie’ He paused ‘Where’s John?’

‘John is at home with his grandmother. He was being difficult’ she answered. She had the lilting French accent of Toulouse and was clearly still very much in love with her husband judging by the way she was looking at him.

‘Introductions’ Steven said ‘This is his ship so firstly this is Malcolm Reynolds Captain of Serenity’

‘A pleasure to meet you Ma’am’ said Mal bowing his head slightly at the same time in the way he’d been taught to address a Lady growing up. He wasn’t stuck-up and overly form of ‘proper etiquette’ like Simon could be but he believed in politeness and respect.

‘It’s very nice to meet you and thank you for bringing my husband back to me’ She kissed him on both cheeks in the local greeting which took him unawares, then gently laughing at the expression on his face she offered her hand and he shook it.

‘This is Zoe, Mals’ second in command, and Wash her husband. He’s the ships pilot’

‘Delighted to meet you Zoe’ Jennifer said greeting her as she had Mal. ‘And I’ve already talked to you I think Wash’

‘That’s right that was me on the radio. Got someone at the spaceport to patch me through to your home’

‘It was very nice what you did’ Jennifer said and kissed him on both cheeks too. He was all smiles.

Introductions continued. She took special notice of Book saying ‘I am willing to wager you had an interesting series of conversations with my Steven’

‘He was certainly very robust in his defence of his beliefs. Or lack thereof’ Book told her in a massive understatement.

Inara greeted her in French which delighted her. Simon and River had also been taught the language of Molière and joined in, although judging from Jennifer’s reactions to some of the things she was saying the younger Tam could be equally cryptic in that language too.

Cally looked up at her father. ‘Do you want me to translate?’ she asked. ‘Daddy doesn’t speak French’ she told everyone’.

‘Daddy should’ Claire-Marie stated.

‘If Daddy started to speak French his ancestors back on Earth-That-Was would start spinning in their graves’ Steven joked.

‘Ignore my Husband’ Jennifer said returning to English. ‘He is a lonely representative of Perfidious Albion on Toulouse’

‘Entire world is infested with Frogs’ Steven said grinning at his wife. They had clearly baited each other like this for years.

‘And you married one so what does that make our children?’ she asked sweetly.

She’s got me there, he thought. I’ve got to think of a way to trump that one day.

After everyone had been introduced Jennifer invited them to Dinner at their home the following night. Book regretted he could not attend as he had already arranged to break bread with the Shepherds of the local ministry that night but at Jennifer’s insistence promised he would make sure to see the family again another day.

* * *

Independent Navy Transport: Sir Percival – On Route to Takashi - 2511

‘You’ve got to be kidding me. Gorram Reavers?’ Hicks asked ‘That’s my guess. Must have been waiting until our cruiser escort left to rejoin the fleet’ the ships Captain replied.

‘God deliver us’ the pilot said clearly terrified.

‘We’ve all heard the stories but seriously. Reavers?’ asked the Lancer Officer.

‘She’s running hot without radiation containment. Nobody does that that wants to live’.

‘Can we outrun them?’

‘In this piece of junk you’ve got to be kidding’

‘So they catch up and board us. So what? We’ve got hundreds of trained soldiers on board we’ll kick the shit out of them’ Lieutenant Hart stated. She was wearing one of the ‘Death or Glory Girl’ T-Shirts popular amongst female Lancers and which usually attracted much more attention from the ships crew. Hicks had asked her to get something less tight but she told him that would be no fun.

‘They’ll get in close and blow a hole in the hull. That’s an old Zheng He Class which means they’re armed and we ain’t’.

‘We’ve got EVA suits’

‘Not enough for everyone. Anyhow they could just take out the engines’ ‘Damn’

Captain Hicks thought for a second. ‘Wait what are they armed with?’

‘Lasers, maybe missiles but they won’t waste those on us’

‘How close will they get?’

‘If I was them I’d fly right up close and carve us up like a steak’

‘In that case relax Captain because we’ve got a little surprise for our Reaver friends’

The Zheng He class vessel was rapidly gaining. Soon there would be meat and spare parts for her crew. They sang and tore at their own flesh in anticipation.

Blinded by the engine glare of the Sir Percival the Reaver pilot could not see that the rear loading ramp of the Transport was down until suddenly it cut its drives and he could see something just inside the ship silhouetted by the cargo bay lights.

‘Say goodbye to the nice Reavers’ Hicks said into his helmet radio.

‘Goodbye nice Reavers’ everybody yelled out, both the Lancers in the still pressurized forward hold and all the crew who had gathered on the bridge. A large lump of metal slammed into the front of the Reaver ship, ploughed all the way through, and punched its way back out the other end going straight through the nuclear reactor on route. The latter didn’t appreciate such treatment and immediately exploded blowing the entire back off the ship and leaving it silently tumbling in a cloud of its own debris.

‘Well it’s a day for firsts’ said Captain Hicks. ‘I’ve never worn an EVA suit before and I’ve never fired an Excalibur Railgun out the back of a spaceship before either’

He was climbing back out of his tank as the loading ramp began to close.

* * *

The Hicks Household - Toulouse – 2519 AD

The Crew arrived late afternoon, it was summertime so it would be light for another five hours at least so Jennifer had opened up the big double-doors that led from the Living Room to the Back Garden and set the table up outside.

Steven found everybody a seat in the Living Room whilst his wife darted in and out dividing her time between preparing the table and helping entertain their guests. Mal had apologised for Jayne’s absence but passed on his thanks to Steven for ‘Letting him know the right part of town to head for, for some action’.

‘Would anyone like a glass of Iced Tea?’ Jennifer enquired.

Everyone nodded except Mal who said he’d prefer a coffee. Steven headed into the kitchen to make it leaving Jennifer to pour the Iced Tea from a large jug.

This was the first time the crew had been alone with Jennifer so Inara, ever the diplomat and courtesan spoke up.

‘I think we’d all like to say how much we loved having your Husband on Serenity the last few weeks. He’s really quite endearing, you must have done a good job with him’

Jennifer smiled as she passed out the Iced Teas. ‘Well he was a nightmare just after the war ended but eventually I straightened him out. He’s very good with our children and always considerate. Except for the whole “No speaking French” issue’.

‘You must love him very much’ Inara said.

‘He’s kind, intelligent, honourable and brave of course I love him’ Jennifer said. ‘If he was good looking and taller he’d be perfect’ she smiled and winked at Inara.

‘Hey I can still hear you out here’ Steven called out from the kitchen.

‘The sugar is on the top shelf. Would you like Cally to bring you a chair to stand on?’ Shot back his wife.

‘I can manage thanks’ he called back.

Steven returned with Mals’ coffee which he handed to him before turning to his wife complaining ‘Didn’t I ask you to knock off the short jokes? I’m still taller than you anyway’ he stated.

‘Only just, and I’m a girl’

‘And why exactly are we still married?’

‘Because I let you have sex with me and because you really like it when I wear the…’

Steven quickly interrupted his wife and kissed her ‘And because I love you he said’.

Kaylee, who was holding hands with Simon, turned to look at him sweetly. Simon blushed.

‘Good save’ chipped in Wash.

‘I thought so’ Steven said grinning back at him. He turned to face outside and called the children in for a glass of Lemonade. They came bounding inside and went straight to the three glasses waiting for them. All except John the youngest who had never met any of the crew before and who stood in the centre of the room looking at everyone.

‘This is my Son John’. Steven said proudly ‘John these are my friends Mal, Inara, Zoe…’

‘I’m bored’ John announced loudly and ran back into the garden.

‘Sorry about that’ Apologised Jennifer. He’s at an awkward stage and he definitely takes after my Husbands side of the family’

Cally leapt to her fathers defence. ‘That’s not true mummy’ she said. ‘John is just as obnoxious when he speaks French too. Now if you let me deal with him like I keep asking we could take him to more places’.

‘For the last time Cally we are not going to let you spank your little brother’ Jennifer told her eldest daughter sternly.

‘But he’s a brat and he really deserves it’ Cally pouted. ‘Claire-Marie thinks so too. Don’t you Claire-Marie?’ She said looking to her little sister for support.

The younger daughter stopped drinking her Lemonade and agreed ‘Yes he really deserves it’ she said. ‘He keeps pulling the heads off my dolls. Please let Cally spank him Mummy. Please’.

‘Well I think they’ve making a good case so far’ Steven deadpanned, holding back laughter. He looked around at the Serenity crew who were all successfully doing the same thing, well except Wash who was holding a cushion in front of his face.

‘You’re not helping Steven’ Jennifer complained. ‘And for the last time Cally the answer is most definitely no’

Cally dropped her head in dejection and mouthed something slightly obscene. Simon chuckled to himself because he’d seen the girls’ father do exactly the same thing every time River beat him at chess. She was definitely her fathers’ daughter.

‘Can we go play again?’ Cally asked after guzzling her Lemonade.

‘Go on then’ said her mother. ‘I still expect you to lay the table though’.

Cally turned to River who was clearly the youngest of the crew. ‘Would you like to come outside and play as well?’ she asked.

‘Yes please’ River said joyfully, most of her happier dreams were memories of playing with her brother although not usually outside. Simon was far too bothered by the prospect of getting dirty. ‘What shall we play?’ she asked following Cally and Claire-Marie out into the garden.

‘We’ll play Alliance and Independents. John and Claire-Marie can be the Alliance’

‘Hey. No Fair’ Claire-Marie complained.

‘But the Alliance wins’ River said.

‘Not when we play it they don’t’ Cally assured her as they all started running down the garden to where John was already playing with toy hovercars.

The ten year olds last line had totally enraptured Mal. He turned to Steven ‘I’ll swap Wash, Simon and Zoe for Cally’ he offered.

‘What are you going to do for an exec?’ Zoe wanted to know.

‘I’ll promote Cally. She can have your gun too’ Mal replied deadpan.

‘I would just like to put on record that my children are not available for trade or sale’ Jennifer told him.

‘You can have John for free though’ Steven joked. This resulted in a dirty look from his wife and Mal signalling no to the offer. This in turn resulted in Mal getting a dirty look from her as well.

‘Planning any of your own?’ Jennifer asked Zoe who was sitting on a small sofa with Wash.

‘I’d like too but first I need my husband to grow out of his own awkward phase’.

‘Sorry Dear but this is as good as it gets’ Wash told her. ‘Good thing you love me’.

‘You’ll never know’ Zoe said rolling her eyes.

Outside meanwhile the children were getting noisy.

‘I shot you. You’re dead’ yelled Claire-Marie.

‘The bullet bounced off’ Cally shouted back. ‘I’m an M-1A Excalibur Armoured Fighting Vehicle’ she declared haughtily.

‘Hey. No fair’ Claire-Marie screeched.

Wash turned to look pleadingly at his wife.

Zoe rolled her eyes ‘Go on’ she said and sighed.

Wash jumped out of the chair and tore into the garden with his arms outstretched doing his best impression of a Jet Fighter ‘Don’t worry Claire-Marie’ He called out ‘Alliance Air Support is on it’s way’

‘Hey. No fair’ River shouted.

‘Like I said’ Zoe stated. ‘Awkward stage’ she shook her head but was smiling.

‘Men never grow up’ Inara opined.

All the women turned to look at Mal, Simon and Steven.

Mal made no effort to return the looks they were getting. Simon however stood up and looked awkwardly around the room.

‘I’d better go help my Sister’ He said and ran out into the Garden doing his best impression of Wash doing his best impression of a Jet Fighter. ‘Independent Angels inbound’ he yelled and soon got into a dogfight with Serenity’s pilot.

Not one to quit gracefully Steven went on the offensive. ‘In defence of my gender to quote Nietzsche “True maturity is rediscovering the seriousness one had as a child at play” so it could be argued that Men mature much earlier than women and just stay like that’

Four pairs of eyes informed him that argument held about as much water as a sieve.

‘Was that really the best you could come up with?’ Mal asked shaking his head.

‘Simon and Wash are running around the garden making “Whoosh” and “Taka Taka” noises. Lets face it the position was untenable’ replied the Academic.

Jennifer had her arms crossed and was looking smugly at her husband.

‘We’re facing superior numbers here’ said Mal warned looking around at Zoe, Inara, Kaylee and then Jennifer.

‘Time for a tactical withdrawal to the kitchen’ Steven suggested. ‘I’ve got Beer in the refrigerator’ he offered.

‘Never had an Officer buy me a beer before’ Mal stated as the two of them advanced courageously against overwhelming odds towards the kitchen.

‘I’ve had plenty of Sergeants steal mine’ Steven countered as they left the room.

‘Now that the resident male population is in full retreat I suppose I had better go on preparing dinner’ Jennifer said. Please make yourselves at home, help yourself to more Iced Tea’

‘Doesn’t Steven help out with cooking, he seems reasonably enlightened?’ Inara asked.

‘He is the product of at least seventy-five generations of British ancestry and therefore a member of a race that considers grease a food group. Would you let him cook?’

‘Now that you put it that way no’ Inara laughed.

‘Can I help at all?’ Kaylee asked.

‘Well if you really want to help you could take the bowl over there and pick some fruit for desert. I was meaning to do that earlier but I got up very late’ Jennifer smiled sweetly. ‘After seven weeks away Steven made up for it last night. He was rather enthusiastic, not to mention energetic’.

‘I let the insult to my proud heritage of eating good wholesome garlic-free food go before but we can still hear you in here remember’ Steven called out.

‘So?’ replied his wife.

‘I’m not complaining. Just keep talking me up okay’ Steven answered.

‘Five times’ Jennifer said loudly holding up three fingers to the group.

The girls giggled and they heard Mal guffaw in the Kitchen.

Kaylee had picked up the bowl. ‘Where’s the fruit?’ she wanted to know.

‘Strawberry bushes are down the bottom of the garden’ Jennifer told her.

Kaylee’s face lit up like the sun. ‘Strawberries’ she exclaimed. ‘Really, can I pick lots?’ she asked.

‘Be my guest. If we don’t eat them all you can take the rest back to your ship’

‘Thank you. Thank you’ Kaylee said beaming before bounding down towards the other end of the Garden.

‘What was that about?’ Jennifer asked puzzled.

In the garden and still dog-fighting with Wash, Angel-Simon banked sharply and saw Kaylee carrying a bowl to the far end of the garden. ‘Where are you going?’ he asked.

‘I’m picking strawberries’ she said happily.

‘Bye bye Wash’ said Angel-Simon kicking in the afterburners and setting out in hot pursuit of Kaylee, arms still stuck out at his side.

Wash banked right and went in for a strafing run on River and Cally. ‘You just lost your air cover’ He said. ‘Simon’s seen Kaylee eat strawberries before’.

‘What do you mean?’ Cally asked while tracking Wash with her imaginary Railgun.

‘Kaylee really likes strawberries and it makes her happy that’s all’ River explained trying to ignore Wash who was doing his unconvincing ‘evil laugh’ again.

* * *

Arcadia Plateau – Johansson’s Moon – 2510 AD

‘What do you mean we just lost our air cover?’ Captain Hicks wanted to know.

‘Our Aircraft Carrier is being diverted to Du Khang to reinforce our forces there. We’re keeping the Cruiser though so at least we don’t have to worry about the Alliance dropping rocks on us from space. We’ll still have orbital superiority’

‘Come on Major. You know that without those Angels we’re going to get bombed all to guay’

‘Ours is not to reason why Steven. Just go ahead with your mission’ Major Chen commanded and then cut off communications.

The First Battalions Gamma Troop under the command of Captain Hicks was running interference for the rest of the Regiment stopping any Alliance counter-attack from disrupting the Regiments advance towards the factory complex thirty miles East.

This operation was yet another of the Lancers famed deep-penetration missions in which they dropped in on a supposedly safe world, levelled everything in sight then left before the Alliance fleet could get there.

As well as the two big tank-transporters (actually modified asteroid mining ships) the Lancers were supported by a light Aircraft Carrier to provide air-support plus one of the Independents few, and very precious Cruisers to protect the other vessels from roaming Alliance warships.

The problem was that with the war going increasingly badly for the Independents even the 21st Lancers, which had done so much to keep the keep the Alliance off-balance, was being stripped of resources. After the campaign on Fosters Moon they were down to 7 Squadrons of Excalibur’s and only a single battalion of infantry for ground support.

‘All right Gamma Troop’ Hicks radioed to his men. It looks like we’ve lost our Angels so everyone keep sharp. I want all tank-commanders topside scanning the skies and I want those of you with working Radar gear to watch out for the rest of us.

‘Lieutenant Jones. I want you to take your platoon to the next rise and look out for any trouble heading our way. The rest of you stay in column and keep those Railgun’s charged in case something shows up’.

‘On my way Sir’ responded Jones. ‘Second platoon follow me’ he said and the three Excalibur’s accelerated to top speed towards the rise. Hicks smiled behind his helmets HUD visor. Mark had definitely come a long way since he’s been his gunner.

The Alliance had very poor Electronic Warfare Equipment on this world and the Independents could still use their radios and not rely on line-of-sight only low powered laser transmitters. However the Lancers had no decent Jamming gear either so the Alliance could use their radios too. Every silver lining has a dark cloud.

Second platoon reached the rise and Lieutenant Jones came back on the radio. ‘Enemy Rollers and APC’s moving towards us Sir’

‘How many vehicles and how far out are they?’ Hicks asked.

‘I make it thirty-five Rollers and twenty APC’s. They’re around eight miles and closing. This position is good for a Waterloo Sir’

‘All right Gamma Troop here we go. Everyone line up behind the ridge so that only your Railguns clear the top. Then power down your engines and wait for my signal’

A ‘Waterloo’ was a phrase that meant the unit could deploy behind the ridge out of sight but then pop up and open fire when they wanted to. The tactic dated back to Earth-That-Was and a famous British General named Wellington who did it to the French Army during the last battle of the Napoleonic Wars. It was ideal because even when they rose to fire most of the Excalibur’s chassis’s would still be behind the ridge with only the heavily armoured turrets presenting a target.

Three minutes later with everything ready and the Alliance less than four miles distant Hicks gave the order to engage the enemy.

The Excalibur’s activated their engines and rose very slightly bringing their railguns to bare. The first volley of hypersonic metal slammed into the Alliance Armour and several Rollers exploded into scrap as their ammunition detonated.

‘Hit the Rollers first then go for the APC’s’ Hicks ordered ‘Otherwise fire at will’

Volley after volley of railgun fire tore into the enemy. It was a complete turkey shoot, those that fired back easily missed and hit the ridge or else their shells deflected off the thick sloped laminate armour on the Independent Tanks. In minutes the whole Alliance formation was smashed.

‘Incoming Hostile Aircraft from Northwest’ screamed Sergeant Hart into her radio. Her Excalibur was part of Hicks own First Platoon and she still had a fully working electronics suite.

‘Gamma Troop break and evade’ Hicks commanded and the Hovertanks shot backwards down the hell in random formation so as not to provide such a good target for a strafing run.

‘All units prepare to engage airborne targets’ Hicks ordered.

Turrets spun and Railguns elevated on the Excalibur’s as they prepared to open fire on the incoming hostiles.

‘Three fast movers on the horizon, will be in effective Railgun range in 5, 4, 3, 2…’ reported Sergeant Hart.

‘Rapid fire all tanks’

Excalibur’s were not built as an anti-aircraft platform but the extremely fast velocity of their Railgun bolts was reasonably good at the job provided the fire-control computers wee working fine and predicting flight-paths properly. The problem was that the Tanks were all in need of a decent overhaul and the Computers weren’t actually working as they should be.

Even so, one of the Ground-Attack Jets turned into a ball of flame as it was hit by large piece of hypersonic metal that punched straight through its thin aluminium alloy frame and kept going on its way into the stratosphere.

‘Aircraft coming into Chaingun range in 5, 4, 3, 2…’

‘All Chainguns open fire. Commanders man your machine-guns’

The 20mm chainguns situated alongside the main armament in each Excalibur started firing a storm of fire at the Jets. Meanwhile each Tank Commander grabbed their cupola mounted Heavy Machine Gun and swung it towards the enemy. That would be a real last ditch effort to protect the Troop though.

Another jet exploded but not before it and its surviving friend had launched anti-armour rockets which flared towards the Lancers.

‘Machine guns now’ Screamed Hicks into his headset and pressed the trigger on his own weapon. Lines of tracer fire arced towards the final jet.

A lucky hit tore the wingtip off the final enemy plane and it spiralled into the ground in a sheet of flame not a hundred yards away from the closest Excalibur.

Too late though. Five of the Independent Hovertanks had been hit by the incoming missiles and three were ablaze their crews unable to bail out. The other two tanks were crippled but the crews were okay with only two wounded crew between them.

Captain Hicks watched as six of his Troopers burned in the remains of their wrecked tanks. ‘The húndàn Infantry had better win at Du Khang’ He said through clenched teeth.

* * *

The Hicks Household - Toulouse – 2519 AD

When Dinner was ready everyone was called to the table and Jennifer surprised everyone by asking who wanted to say Grace.

‘After watching Steven argue with Shepherd Book I wouldn’t have thought this was a household that went in for such things’ Simon commented.

‘My Husband is the Godless Heathen in the family’ Jennifer told him. Then, in response to a grumble from her eldest, she continued ‘and Cally too of course’.

‘God is Santa-Claus for adults’ The 10 year old stated firmly. ‘But Daddy doesn’t believe in stopping Mummy following her silly superstitions’.

I’ll let Steven name his price. Mal thought, I’ve got to adopt that Girl and turn her loose on Book.

‘Did you teach her to say that?’ Jennifer regarded her husband sternly.

‘No I taught her to think for herself’ he replied. ‘I did however also teach her to be more polite in front of guests too so apparently not everything sinks in’ he continued admonishing his daughter.

‘Sorry Daddy. Sorry everyone’ Cally offered guiltily.

‘I’ll say Grace’ Inara offered and started to pray.

Everyone bowed their heads except for Mal, Steven and Cally the last of whom was shaking her head and rolling her eyes. This earned her a look from her father and she looked sheepish.

Dinner was excellent. Jennifer really knew how to cook and Steven bought out a couple of bottles of wine. The local vineyards were top class as you would expect from a world colonised by what Steven, in retaliation for her earlier besmirching of his own ancestry, called ‘a race of borderline alcoholic garlic chewers’.

The Dinner conversation turned to family. The crew already knew that Steven was estranged from his brothers and sisters because they were on Wessex and pro-Alliance but they didn’t know about Jennifer.

‘My father passed on some years ago, she told them. Mama lives with my Sister and her Husband on the other side of the city’.

Kaylee hailed from a big family ‘Any brothers?’ she asked.

‘My brother was killed in the war’ Jennifer told them. ‘He was an asteroid miner and joined the Independent Navy. He died when his ship was destroyed in action’.

She hadn’t even been born at the time but Claire-Marie said ‘Uncle Henri died a hero defending us’ and her mother leaned over and kissed her on the forehead.

‘That’s right sweetheart he did’ Mal agreed and smiled at the little girl who smiled back at him.

Kaylee looked embarrassed at having raised the subject so Steven decided to intervene and asked she could dish out desert seeing as how she had prepared it. Her normally sunny disposition returned and she went to work handing out strawberries and cream.

As evening wore on everyone stayed in the garden and the hosts bought out blankets to sit on. To the delight of Zoe her husband continued to play with Marie-Clare and John for hours. ‘Got him’ she thought.

Cally insisted on staying with the grown-ups and once dinner settled she ended up playing Badminton with Simon against River and Kaylee. The latter had eaten far too much of her favourite desert and was letting down her graceful partner badly.

Jennifer and Inara talked about the Toulouse social scene. The companion had apparently contracted with the University Chancellor as escort for an upcoming function and Jennifer was letting her know the details of local society. At first Inara had been worried that Stevens’ wife might have an issue with her profession but it really seemed irrelevant to her. Actually she seemed to be enjoying her company very much and said it contrasted with boring academics from the University Steven usually bought around.

Mal and Zoe were working their way through Steven’s beer and picking on their host saying what an easy life the Cavalry had during the war. Steven retaliated by saying that if he’d wanted to march up and down and dig holes he’d have joined the ground-pounders but he’d decided to be where the action was.

The gauntlet thrown down, Mal and Steven decided to out-drink the other into submission and after the jokes and war-stories got too outlandish Zoe decided to step aside and leave them to it. She joined Wash in playing with the children whilst casting half smiles and knowing glances at the oblivious pilot.

After the youngest two were put to bed everyone retired inside and gentle conversation ensued until it was dark and time to go. Jennifer kissed everyone goodnight on both cheeks and everyone got a hug from Cally who told Mal ‘I know you were only in the Infantry but Daddy says you’re okay’.

As the crew arrived back at the ship Zoe and Wash were talking children. Simon and Kaylee were talking about going to the University with Steven tomorrow, Mal and Inara were thinking about each other but would never say it and River was wondering where she could swap Simon for a little sister and dancing to music only she could hear.

Part IV

COMMENTS

Sunday, January 11, 2004 2:40 PM

ANONYMOUS


Did I miss something about Jayne?

Monday, January 12, 2004 8:43 AM

ARTSHIPS


There's no ship-wide peril to drive a plot, but I don't miss it a bit, what with the entertaining stories. More, please!

Monday, January 12, 2004 3:28 PM

ANONYMOUS


The story is entertaining but has worn on a bit. Suggest that something "happen" in the next installment.

BTW, we do NOT consider grease a food group. Careful...my father is also a short Englishman :)

Tuesday, January 13, 2004 1:18 AM

HOTPOINT


To 'Anonymous' #1 - Jayne is mentioned twice in the story and his absense from Dinner is explained within the text. Do you have a specific question?

To 'artships' - I'm just making this up as I go along hence no overiding plot arc. Glad you like it so far

To 'Anonymous' #2 - I put a post on the community forums here asking if anyone had any preference for where I took the story. As yet no replies but based on your own comments I may go for an Action/Adventure finale that okay?

Excuse me for a second while I wrap myself in the Union Jack (Mmmm cosy and patriotic). It is not that we consider grease a food group but rather than the insidious garlic-munching French (represented by Jennifer) constantly mock our diet (BTW I am 5'8" and also English)
....

Finally I was asked by a real life friend why I called the Lancers Transport Ship 'Sir Percival'. For those that didn't realise there's a story there:

(i) Sir Percival is the actual name of a British Troopship (carried soldiers to both the Falklands and Iraq Wars)

(ii) In Legend the knight who returned King Arthurs sword Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake was also called Sir Percival

There you see. Two good reasons for the name, sometimes I surprise myself :-p

Tuesday, January 13, 2004 4:26 PM

GEEZER


I'm enjoying this so far. You have the military sci-fi genre down pretty darn good. Also like getting off on a bit of a tangent from crew-in-danger ship-in-danger scenario while still in the same setting.

Monday, May 30, 2005 10:52 AM

FREDEP


Whoohaa, Hotpoint, you were indeed right, these do keep gettin' better and better....and enourmously hilariours at points too...great stuff!


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