BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

HOTPOINT

Death or Glory (Part IV)
Thursday, January 15, 2004

Continuation of the 'Death or Glory' sequence. It never goes well too long for the Serenity crew


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 4795    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Disclaimer – Everything either does belong to Joss or it should. I’m just borrowing his shiny ‘verse for a while.

The 21st Lancers belong to the British Army so I’m borrowing them too. I hope they don’t mind

* * *

University of Toulouse – Toulouse – 2519AD

Simon deactivated the Console and detached the data cube on which he had been storing his research to. It had been eight weeks since Serenity had landed on Toulouse and he had been spending much of his free time using the University Library which by tradition was open to all.

An added bonus of the system of universal access meant that in addition to the shelves of books, and the racks of ROM Data Cubes on every conceivable subject, there were numerous unregistered free-access Consoles which he could use to obtain any neuroscience journals not available in the Library itself. There were plenty of medical students studying here before going to the Core Planets to finish their training so the downloading of such material would not arouse the suspicions of Alliance personnel and AI programs which monitored the Cortex. It was the first opportunity he had had for in-depth research into his Sisters condition.

Simon put the cube into his jacket pocket and went to meet Kaylee. They had arranged to rendezvous for lunch and he was running a bit late. He knew he’d still likely be there before her but tardiness bothered him.

The Café where they arranged to meet was just down the road from the University and less than a five minute walk if he cut across the grounds. It was a very pleasant environment in the traditional Campus style with well maintained parks and gardens usually filled with students debating, laughing, arguing and making out. Simon found the entire scene very reminiscent of his own days as a student, except for the making out because talking to girls had never been his strong suit, and he was probably happier now that he had been since leaving his previous life in order to save River. He had even sat in on a few lectures.

To his great surprise Kaylee was already sat on a table outside the Café when he arrived, she was chatting with one of the engineering students. Simon recognised him from an earlier meeting and suspected he was enamoured of the pretty young mechanic. For some reason Simon was struck by the atavistic territorial urge to growl at the young man, he had already sized him up and decided that he could take him in a fight. I must have been spending too much time with Jayne he thought.

‘Hi Kaylee’ Simon said bending down to kiss her before taking a seat at the table. He quickly shot the young student a look in which he tried to get the message across “The woman is mine, try anything and I’ll kick your ass” and then put his hand up to get the waiters attention.

‘Hello Simon. Do you remember Geoff he’s one of Professor Verdillacs’ students?’

‘I remember. Nice to see you again Geoff’ Simon said shaking his hand and applying just a bit too much pressure with the grip.

Geoff applied pressure back and the two of them glared at each other for a split second.

‘Men’ thought Kaylee and broke the scene by letting her cup fall a little distance onto the saucer. It made a satisfyingly loud noise and stopped the two of them trying to crush each others fingers.

Situation diffused Kaylee asked ‘How was your morning Simon?’

‘It was highly productive. It’s a shame we’re back to work tomorrow. Did you manage to fabricate the parts you needed?’

‘Yes. Geoff and the Professor gave me a hand in the machine shop’

‘It was no trouble Kaylee’ Geoff said ‘I’m glad to help out, my father was a mechanic on a Firefly’ he explained for Simon’s benefit.

‘Ah I see’ Simon responded thinking he could easily arrange some trouble for the young student.

‘Oh well’ Geoff said ‘I’ve got a lecture. See you next week Kaylee’. He picked up his books and stood up.

‘Bye Geoff. See you’ Kaylee answered and waved him off as he set out to the Engineering Department.

When he was out of earshot Kaylee turned to Simon grinning. ‘You’re jealous’ she said giggling.

‘Of that little squirt you must be joking’ he responded.

‘It’s okay I think it’s sweet’ she said smiling. ‘Anyway he’s too young for me’

‘You’re barely older than he is’

‘I prefer older men. Not too much older but older’ Kaylee said and blew him a kiss.

The waiter appeared and Simon ordered two coffees and some Crepes for the two of them. He did so in French which tended to afford better service in Toulouse eateries.

‘You really are quite handy to have around sometimes’ Kaylee told him and blew him another kiss which he caught out of the air smiling gently. He really did love the girl.

‘I am not entirely without my talents. Thinking of which I think we’ve got the ship to ourselves later on because everyone else is going to the Theatre’. Simon winked slyly.

‘How did you arrange that?’

‘Lets just say I’ll be cleaning dishes for a long while’ Simon answered. ‘The most difficult to convince was Book. He still very much disapproves of our pre-marital recreational activities’.

‘He can mind his own gorram business’ Kaylee stated.

The order arrived and after eating their light lunch they kissed goodbye and went about their afternoon business. Three days out of four they were in space hauling machinery and the more valuable processed ores to and from the Asteroid Mines and the orbital factories so they all tried to get as much use as possible out of the time they had on the ground.

Kaylee headed back for the ship carrying her holdall full of newly machined parts whilst Simon went shopping. The money they were earning was by no means fantastic but at least it was regular.

After a couple of weeks Jayne had been getting very bored but by luck stumbled onto a job he could do for a while instead. One night at one of the local whorehouses one of the clientele got too rough with one of the girls and beat her badly. Although not one of the ‘Verse’s great moral crusaders Jayne nonetheless had been raised by his mother not to strike defenceless women and he had a low opinion of those who did, as the violent client discovered when Jayne, who was in the next room, heard the girl screaming and being told this was not usual by the girl he was with, kicked in the door and beat the other man senseless.

The House Madam offered Jayne a well-paid job as bouncer ‘On account of my intimidating manner’ he told Mal and after the offer of ‘Fringe benefits’ he took the job. He swore to Mal that when the haulage contract ended he would return to Serenity and so Mal let him go. Jayne was living at the House now and was enjoying the time mightily ‘It’s just tail, booze and fightin’ he’d told Book.

The Shepherd himself divided his time between the local ministry and serving as a deckhand on Serenity. The work was simply haulage and nothing special but he enjoyed the simple pleasures of an active life and had no problem earning his keep through hard labour.

Mal would have preferred to have been doing something else but it was good honest work and he’d never been afraid of putting his back to the wheel. He also liked the fact that Jack Foreman, the Asteroid Miner he was contracting for, was a former Independent Naval Officer, who had been willing to put his ass on the line for his beliefs and his kin, and not just another money grabbing lowlife like most of the people Serenity did work for.

Zoe and Wash just followed Mals lead. The pilot got a certain perverse satisfaction from playing chicken with large rocks in the Asteroid belt and Zoe was just happy to be spending time with her Captain and her Husband without getting shot at.

One thing that did bother everybody about Toulouse was the Alliance Soldiers from the local garrison who could often be seen in the capital. The only good thing was that they tended to ignore everyone because all they got every time they were in town was a constant bombardment of hateful looks. Lots of Toulouse citizens had died in the war and there were a lot of brownjacket veterans around too, especially amongst the Miners. According to the locals, there had been a problem at first with the occupying forces pushing people around but eventually the locals started snatching the worst Alliance Troops off the streets, beating the crap out of them then throwing them out the backs of trucks outside Alliance HQ typically stark naked.. The garrison retaliated but in the end it was easier to order their own people to behave.

Simon walked on to the merchant district feeling happier and more secure than he could remember. He had a bit of money, his Sister was safe and he had a wonderful girlfriend who he loved, and who loved him.

Life was good.

* * *

Red Desert – Takashi – 2511 AD

‘Life Sucks’ complained Captain Steven Hicks and kicked the side of his Excalibur hard. The mechanics had just told him his machine was beyond fixing, given the scarcity of parts, and was going to be stripped for spares. That particular machine had been with him since 09 and after two years riding it to battle it was almost as much a part of him as the crews under his command.

The combat had been extremely vicious on Takashi. Rumour had it that this was the penultimate stage of what the Alliance hoped would be the final offensive of the war and judging by what they were throwing at the Independents here very few doubted it.

In the end the industrial might and greater population of the Core Worlds had told overwhelmingly on the battlefield. Despite often near suicidal courage and frequently superior tactical skill the Independent forces simply could not kill the enemy fast enough. The brownjacket infantry and armour formations were being ground down to nothing by the mechanical might and sheer numbers of Alliance Troops.

The fighting on Takashi had already been going on for three months when the 21st Lancers were sent in to reinforce the line. They were already badly under strength when they arrived and many of their Excalibur’s were practically falling from the air for need of an overhaul. Within a month of landing the Lancers were forced to cannibalise a quarter of their remaining tanks for spares just to keep the rest running.

The last two weeks on the moon saw some of the fiercest and most desperate fighting of the war. An Alliance invasion fleet was heading for Hera and high-command ordered an evacuation of as much material and manpower as could be removed from Takashi and shipped to what might well be the final battleground of the war. The problem was that the stream of transports leaving the planet made the Alliance well aware of what was going on and so and stepped up their attacks whilst more and more of the Independent soldiers needed to stop them were being leeched off.

Eventually the Independents were pushed back to a hundred square miles of the Red Desert. Only the incredible determination of their Angel Squadrons and Infantry was holding back the tide. Towards the end the fighting was occasionally hand to hand as the last few desperate brownjackets made their enemy pay with blood for even square foot of ground.

Captain Hicks was overseeing the loading of what was left of his armour onto the Sir Percival when the Colonel appeared accompanied by an Infantry Lieutenant. Hicks did not like the expression on the face of either of them.

‘Sorry Steven but I’m afraid I need your people for a little job’ The Colonel told him.

‘Our Excalibur’s are being loaded Sir. We’re not in a position to take the field unless you want us to unload again’

‘You won’t be requiring your Tanks. The Percival is leaving without you but you and your people have a place booked on the Tristram which is due to leave with 2nd Battalion in twelve hours. We already have more crews than Tanks on the Percival anyway.

‘What are we needed for?’ Hicks asked ‘Handling cargo?’

‘Handling Rifles, you’re joining the Infantry for a little while under the command of a Major Jacobs. Lieutenant Skye here will lead you to the lines’.

‘Sir my people are not trained Infantry soldiers. We all have weapons and we had to go through basic but we’re Cavalry’

‘You’re Soldiers Captain and you will do as ordered. At the moment we need bodies on the line and you’re unlucky enough to be here. It’ll be your Gamma Squadron plus the remains of Bravo also now under your command’’

‘Yes Sir I understand Sir’ Hicks turned to the Infantry Officer ‘I’ll have my troopers armed and ready for the field in five minutes Lieutenant’

‘I’ll be waiting right her Sir’ Skye told him.

The Lancer Captain saluted his superior and double-timed back to where his Lancers were helping load Tanks and equipment onto the converted mining vessel.

‘Gamma and Bravo to me on the double’ He yelled. The Lancers sprinted to him and he gave them the bad news.

‘We’re joining the Infantry?’ Lieutenant Hart said smiling ‘Well there goes our social standing’ the other Lancers laughed.

‘All right Troopers’ Hicks ordered ‘I want you all back here ma-shong with your carbines, side arms and battlefield gear and I want it ten minutes ago do you understand me?’

‘Yes Sir’ they called out.

Within an hour the column of dismounted Lancers following the Infantry Lieutenant was arriving near the front lines. Each of them was carrying one of the standard issue carbines given to cavalry units and usually found clipped to the backs of chairs inside the Hovertanks. The Wolverine Model 3 Carbine was a scaled down assault rifle of the bull-pup pattern with the ammunition clip behind the grip to make it shorter without compromising barrel length and accuracy. Every Lancer was trained in its use but very few ever got to fire it in action.

While Hicks was chatting to the young Infantry Officer Lieutenant Hart was giving the other Lancers some advice.

‘Alright Troopers when dealing with Infantry there are a few pointers I’d like to give you; Firstly do not beat up the ground-pounders regardless of provocation. You never know when you’ll need one to throw on top of a live grenade or dig a latrine for you. This brings me to my second point. The infantry prize two skills above all; these are digging holes and marching up and down. If you want to make one your friend complement him on his ability to master the art of walking. To make one cry criticise his fox-hole’

Clare had good timing and comic delivery and the Lancers were all laughing.

‘The Infantryman is several rungs lower down the evolutionary ladder than the Cavalryman’ she continued. ‘They are an ignorant, inbred, superstitious lot who will automatically distrust anyone who can read and write and whose parents were not cousins’. She paused for cheers from the Lancers before continuing ‘They cannot comprehend any technology much beyond the wheel so if you are asked how a tank works tell them “witchcraft” it’ll save you a lot of time and effort’

Now the Lancers were really howling although the Infantry Lieutenant was not impressed.

Clare raised her hands for quiet then moved on. ‘This brings me to the subject of interpersonal relations. If by some miracle you find an Infantryman or woman sufficiently hairless to be worth spending quality time with I have courtship advice’

‘Now we get the useful information’ somebody called out.

‘Firstly’ Claire began again ‘For the other Lady Lancers out there you will find you get good results from complementing an Infantryman on the size of his entrenching tool. As for you men however, the quickest way to get an Infantrywoman wet is to tell her you have both a full-sized Shovel and a Pickaxe clipped to the back of your Excalibur. Do that gentlemen and you may well go home with a souvenir pair of khaki panties’

‘I love it when an Officer Chick talks dirty’ one of the Troopers at the back of the column could be heard to say over the laughter.

‘And Finally’ Clare said ‘For those of you that lean towards your own gender remember that the honour of the Regiment is at stake so make sure to go on top and don’t give them a turnaround’

Cheers and whistles from the Troopers. A grinning Sergeant Price said loudly ‘I hope you heard the last bit Trooper Collins’ to which he received a smiling thumbs up from the Excalibur Driver.

The Infantry Officer turned to Hicks. ‘Is it normal amongst your people for officers to talk in that manner to other ranks?’

Steven had already decided that the Lieutenant had a baton stuck up his rear but answered politely ‘Well Lieutenant Hart was raised from the ranks so she’s more in touch with the Troops than some others but relations between ranks are reasonably informal amongst the Lancers. When you spend weeks on end shut up in a metal box with people it’s hard to maintain distance’

‘At the Military Academy we were taught to keep our distance from the rank and file so that they continued to think of the Officers as separate and more informed than themselves and that they would therefore obey orders more readily’

‘That’s one school of thought’ Hicks replied. ‘However at Fosters Moon and many other places I learned that the Regiment works best as a family not a tyranny. I’ll tell you one thing I know for certain. Clare’s platoon, that is to say Lieutenant Hart’s, would follow her to hell’

The Lancers arrived at the Northern perimeter of the front lines where there was a lull in the fighting although the rumble of Artillery still continued to the far south. They were met by Major Jacobs who told Hicks ‘Alright Captain this is your section of the line. Mix your troopers in with my men and tell them to do what they’re told by my people. This is our style of fighting not yours’

‘Affirmative Major. Where is your HQ Sir?’

‘The bunker over there’ he pointed. ‘If the field telephones don’t work and you need me, send a runner. Our fibre-optic lines keep getting blown up by incoming artillery. Don’t worry though they’re mainly shelling the southern perimeter right now, that’s where we’re being hit hardest so that’s why we’ve reinforced there and fallen back on you lot for the lighter duty’

‘Just so you know Sir I’ll be taking my troops to the Tristram in about ten hours so don’t get used to us being here raising the property values’ Hicks grinned.

‘You’re damn cocky for a man who usually fights battles sitting on his ass’

‘I prefer to think of it as a man who tends to “win” battles sitting on his arse but that’s just me Sir’

The Major knew of the 21st’s combat record and let that slide ‘Just get on with it Captain’ Jacobs told him and set off for his bunker. Hicks split his troopers between the trenches and half dozen bunkers in his stretch of the line and choosing the central one for himself and three other Lancers.

When they dropped into the large central bunker they found it was already partially manned by a Sergeant and five Infantry Privates. Nearly a third of the Infantry strength on this part of the line had been diverted south so even with the Lancers they were still slightly under-strength.

‘Names Ashoor Sir’ said the Sergeant. He had the colouration and accent of New Mecca. That was not unusual given that the world had produced a lot of very determined soldiers in the fight against the Alliance.

‘Captain Hicks 21st Lancers’ Steven responded shaking an offered hand before introducing his men. Ashoor reciprocated then began to point out the sights.

‘We’ve laid mines in front and plenty of razor wire so any attack will bog down long enough for us to do serious damage’ The Sergeant told him ‘No artillery support but we’ve got a dozen mortars with plenty of ammo just back there’

‘Much anti-tank gear?’

‘Not a hell of a lot of rockets left but we figure the mines will keep us safe from enemy armour for now Sir’ the Sergeant paused ‘you know when we were told we were getting Lancer support we kind of expected the tanks to go with it’

‘Nah we only get the tanks out when things are really nasty. This is just a field trip’ Hicks told him. Putting his binoculars to his eyes and scanning the horizon.

* * *

Main Shopping Precinct – Toulouse – 2519 AD

Simon spotted Inara out shopping with Jennifer and Cally and he ran up to say hello. Apparently they were trying to get some dresses for Jennifer’s eldest who was resisting forcefully much preferring her usual more tomboy-esque attire.

Inaras’ friendship with Jennifer had been developing rapidly since their first meeting and when the Companion wasn’t working they could often be found together spending Stevens wages, well that was how Jennifer’s husband put it anyway.

‘Being pressured into dressing up then Cally?’ Simon asked the young girl.

‘It’s another episode in a continuing cycle of Tyrannical Despotism’ Cally replied having clearly spent far too much time talking to her father. ‘I’ll have ribbons in my hair next’ she pouted.

‘I don’t have this trouble with Claire-Marie’ Jennifer told Simon. ‘She likes to look pretty’.

‘Claire-Marie is shallow’ Cally decided to point out. ‘She’s also six’.

‘I’m sure you’ll look delightful in this’ Inara told her holding up a little dress she had found in the clothing store.

‘I’ll look like an imbecile’ Cally said coldly.

‘Cally Elizabeth Hicks you will apologise to Inara and keep a civil tongue in your head’ Jennifer said sternly.

Cally looked at her mother. No she wasn’t faking she was definitely angry, better apologise ‘I’m sorry Inara’ she said.

‘That’s perfectly alright my dear. I like a woman with spirit’ Inara told her. This provoked a smile from the ten-year-old who liked to be thought of as grown up.

Cally took another look at the dress ‘Do you really think I’ll look alright in this?’

‘I think you’ll look very sophisticated’ Inara answered. The companion training was coming to the rescue again. You’ve got to understand the motivations of your client.

Won over by this new approach Cally said ‘I’ll try it on’ and headed for the changing room with the dress.

‘Can you imagine what she’ll do to the first boy that comes courting for her?’ Inara said laughing.

Jennifer chuckled along ‘Steven won’t need a shotgun anyway although the boys’ mother might’. She turned to Simon ‘And why are you out today?’

‘Story is I’m shopping for medical supplies. Truth is I’m looking for a present for Kaylee’

‘Looking for anything in particular’ Inara asked.

‘Inspiration’ Simon replied shaking his head in despair.

‘How about a Ring’ Jennifer suggested.

‘What, no, um I really like Kaylee but, um, I’m not sure…’

Jennifer inwardly smiled. Wash was right, winding up Simon was hilarious, almost as much fun as annoying her husband. ‘I didn’t say an engagement ring Simon but although if you really do care for her you might like to consider making an honest woman of her’

Simon looked extremely perturbed. Inara took pity and asked if he’d like her to choose something nice for Kaylee to wear that wasn’t covered in oil stains.

‘That would be very nice of you. I’m not the best judge of clothes’ Simon replied

‘Have you any particular lingerie preferences?’ Inara inquired deadpan provoking a look of horror from the Doctor. ‘Well I am only human and everybody else does it’ she thought.

‘No. I mean yes. But…’

‘Relax Simon I’ll find something nice for you. I’ll be upstairs Jennifer. Make sure Cally doesn’t change out of the dress before I get back’.

It suddenly occurred to Simon he was standing in the children’s section of a women’s clothes shop and he told Jennifer he’d wait outside. He wandered to the door and took up a position just outside so Inara could call him back in when she found something.

Just down the fairly quiet pedestrians only street Simon spotted an Alliance Sergeant leading a pair of soldiers. As usual they were not getting the best reception from the locals but at least they weren’t getting spat upon like they used to immediately after the war.

Not so long ago Simon would have ducked back into the store as soon as they appeared but the last few weeks on Toulouse had relaxed him a great deal. River still mainly stayed on the Ship but even she had been able to get out and about on occasion.

The Sergeant was playing with what looked like a Cortex Access pad. Judging by his expression he wasn’t doing so with much success and one of the other soldiers was trying to give him advice. It actually looked quite comical.

‘Simon would you like to see Cally’s new dress?’ Jennifer called out.

‘I’ll be right in’ Simon replied and walked back into the store.

The Alliance Sergeant stopped and looked again at the Pad. Only it wasn’t just a Cortex Access device it was also a viewer connected to facial image recognition software and it had just scanned and recognised a wanted fugitive.

Cally looked quite the picture and must have grudgingly conceded so too because while her mother was paying for the dress. Cally agreed to wear it home and had stuffed her normal clothes into her mothers’ shopping bag.

Simon was just about to say how pretty she was when a hand dropped onto his shoulder.

‘Simon Tam you are bound by Law and…’

Simon was definitely not the man he had been two years before because he was immediately spinning and the Alliance Sergeant was hitting the floor with a very surprised expression on his face thanks to a beautiful right cross. One of the other two soldiers pounced and went straight down too thanks to a kick in the groin followed by a vicious knee to the face.

Unfortunately, before he could take on the last one, the NCO on the floor lashed out with his legs knocking Simon over. The third Soldier drew his pistol and was about to shoot Simon when to his surprise a little girl grabbed his arm and bit down hard on his hand making him drop it.

He slapped her aside and she hit the ground hard.

Simon made a grab for the pistol but the Sergeant grappled him and the other two joined in trying to subdue the adrenaline fuelled Doctor. He struggled furiously and nearly threw them off until two of them managed to pin his arms.

The Sergeant drew his pistol and stuck it in Simons mouth ‘Don’t you rutting move’ he said.

A pistol shot deafening in the confined space of the clothes store.

The Sergeants head jerked suddenly sideways. Blood and brain matter splattered the clothes racks behind him. Fortunately for Simon the hammer had not been back on the Sergeants pistol and the double-action required far more pressure to fire so it had not gone off when he was shot.

The trio grappling on the floor stopped fighting and looked over to see a young girl holding a very large automatic pistol. She was shaking wildly and there was no way of telling where the next shot was going to go.

‘Cally drop the gun’ her mother cried out hysterically.

Thinking faster on his feet, or rather his back, than the two Soldiers, Simon broke an arm free and elbowed one of his assailants as hard as he could in the gut. Then grabbing the Sergeants pistol he smashed it into the other ones face.

Besides the injuries neither soldier had the inclination to keep fighting anyway what with their Sergeants blood pooling beside them and with a crazed little girl aiming a gun at them. Simon rolled free keeping out of Callys’ line of fire and keeping his newly acquired automatic aimed at the two soldiers he told them to keep quiet and perfectly still or else, he leaned over took the pistol from the holster of the last one still armed and stumbled over to the girl.

The ten-year-old was clearly in shock and was still staring at the man she had killed. She started shaking even more and tucking one of his own pistols into his belt Simon gently took the gun from her.

As soon as she was no longer holding the gun Jennifer who was shaking almost as much as her daughter ran over snatched up her little girl and hugged her.

Simon had other issues to deal with, escape now and emote later. He looked around and spotted Inara by the stairs. She must have run down during the commotion but had the sense to not get involved.

Looking back at him the companion weighed up the situation. If she got involved now in a crowded shop the chances were she was throwing away her entire life.

‘The Die is cast’ she said to herself and ran down to Simon who had one gun on the Soldiers and the other aimed at the door. Inara took the third pistol from Simon’s belt and aimed it at the soldiers too.

‘We need to get the hell out of here’ Simon told her ‘They’ve got to come with us’ he said nodding in the direction of Cally and Jennifer.

‘We need to go now’ Inara told Jennifer who ignored her. Inara knew this was no time for hysterics and grabbed hold of the other woman ‘WE NEED TO GO NOW’ she yelled at her.

The light of comprehension of the situation appeared in Jennifer’s eyes and she picked up her daughter.

Simon considered the situation. Mal had always told him to make sure to cover your rear in a fire-fight and not leave a potentially dangerous enemy behind you. He weighed the options then walked over and shot both soldiers in the kneecap. They screamed as did Jennifer who was well on her way to shock herself.

Inara stood there stunned she couldn’t believe how ruthless Simon had been. She had watched him shoot at people before, although to her knowledge never to kill, but this kind of cold blooded efficiency was not something she would ever have imagined him capable of.

The Doctor leant his head outside and seeing that the street was already deserted in both directions, everyone having presumably fled at the sound of gunfire, he signalled for the women to follow him. A pistol in each hand, though with his arms down by his sides, he walked calmly but quickly and was followed by the others to the next road junction where the pedestrian area met the normal street.

The sound of Sirens was in the distance but getting close fast. Simon stepped into the path of an oncoming hovercar which came to an abrupt halt as its computer registered a human in the road ahead and braked.

Simon aimed one of his pistols at the female driver and ordered her to open the doors. The driver looked at his grim expression and blood splattered clothes and did as she was told quaking with fear.

‘Everybody in the car’ Simon ordered and waited until Inara, Jennifer and Cally got in the back before he got into the front passenger seat.

‘What’s your name?’ he asked the driver. She was perhaps twenty, possibly one of the University Students.

‘Deborah Setters Sir’ she answered looking at wide-eyed.

‘Okay Deborah. You are going to drive us to the spaceport. You will not stop for anything or I will shoot you. Dong Ma?’

‘Yes Sir’

‘Good girl now let’s get going’

The hovercar sped up and headed for the spaceport. Simon looked to the backseat ‘Are you three okay?’

‘We’re fine Simon’ Inara told him.

‘Good. I’ll radio Mal and let him know we’re leaving’ he said and pulled his small walkie-talkie out of his jacket pocket.

* * *

Red Desert – Takashi – 2511 AD

‘Do you wish you’d bought the tanks yet?’ Sergeant Ashoor yelled over the sounds of incoming artillery and outgoing machine gun fire.

‘Well it’s certainly an eventful field-trip I’ll admit that’ hollered back Captain Hicks as he loaded a fresh magazine into his Wolverine.

One of the Infantrymen next to him firing over the parapet took a round in the face which exited the back of his head though with insufficient velocity to go through his helmet which was knocked off by the impact instead and hit the ground just before the body of its owner.

‘Where’s that rutting artillery support?’ Hicks called out to the wounded Lancer manning the field telephone.

‘Major Jacobs said he’s trying but the Southern perimeter still takes precedence on all fire-support. They’ve got Rollers hitting them hard’

‘Māde’ swore Hicks and started firing three-round-bursts at the closest Alliance Infantry who were crawling up through the shattered razor-wire. The Independents may not have enough artillery to hit everywhere but the Alliance did and they were pounding the area with high-explosive.

One of the heavy machine gun posts was struck by a direct artillery hit sending sandbags, metal sheeting and body parts raining down over the perimeter. There had been four Lancers in there as well as the Infantry Crew manning the machine-gun and Hicks could see a ragged piece of grey uniform gently fall and be caught by the wind before snagging on the wire’

‘We can’t take this much longer’ one of the Lancers called out. They were experienced soldiers but this was not the arena they were used to and the weapons they held were not suitable for long drawn-out firefights in sandy conditions. Hicks own Wolverine had already jammed twice and he’d had to kick the bolt closed before it would fire again.

The Independent Mortars were stemming the tide of the Alliance Advance but they couldn’t stop it entirely. Much more of this and the line would break and then they’d really be in deep.

‘Death or Glory Lancers’ Hicks yelled out as loudly as he could. His voice must have carried because he heard others yelling the same thing in other bunkers and trenches the cry carrying up and down the line. It must have also rallied the troops a bit because firing heated up again as Lancers who had been sheltering rose to empty their Wolverines again.

The artillery had halted which meant that the Alliance considered their forward elements too close to the Independent lines to risk continued shelling. That was a kind of blessing but not an encouraging one.

Sergeant Ashoor ducked down to reload his rifle ‘Sir if we lose many more soldiers they’ll just walk up and blast us out of here with grenades. The gorram mortars and machine guns will be running red-hot by now and they can’t do that forever’

‘We’ve got nowhere else to go Sergeant so we fight’ Hicks told him.

‘Yes Sir but don’t expect we’ll get out of here standing’ The Sergeant stood up and began firing again while Hicks took his turn to reload.

‘Captain Hicks Sir, Major Jacobs says there are Angels on route from the Fleet loaded for bear with Napalm and Cluster Munitions. He says we just need to hold on a little longer’

‘Well that’s something’ Hicks responded. He only hoped that the Lancers could keep fighting long enough.

His Wolverine jammed again ‘Piece of crap carbine’ he hissed and picked up the Assault Rifle that had belonged to the Infantryman next to him.

‘Come on then you chùsheng xai-jiao de xiang huo lets have some’ Hicks set the rifle to full-auto and fired a long burst into a small group of Alliance soldiers three of which fell over.

Somewhere to the left of Hicks position someone had started singing. As more joined in he recognised the Lancer Anthem which rose and rose in volume as more and more Troopers up and down the line joined in. It was the kind of stupid harebrained thing that might just keep the soldiers up and firing. If it turned out he was wrong about God Hicks promised to apologise when he met him. By the start of the second verse they were all singing it, belting it out at the tops of their lungs while still firing their Wolverines and borrowed weaponry. Even Hicks found that he had started singing without realising it.

Once we rode on horses and carried wooden spears Now we ride Excaliburs designed by engineers But whether horse or hover-tank still Lancers are the same The foes of peace and freedom always tremble at our name

‘Lancers will hold the line’ Hicks yelled out between verses.

By the third verse even the Infantry were joining in singing the chorus. If Hicks was indeed wrong about the existence of God then only he knew what the Alliance Soldiers were making of it.

Our charge is irresistible, with rail-gun, mass and speed The fear we strike in foemen’s hearts would make a Reaver plead We’ll tell our foes “Well, you can run, if you are so inspired. But it really doesn’t matter, you’ll just end up dying tired.”

The badly wounded Lancer who had been manning the field telephone dragged herself to her feet bleeding from shrapnel in her stomach and joined the firing line holding one hand over her wound and firing her pistol held with the other. She was singing too but her voice was wracked with pain.

So saddle up my comrades, the battle will come soon Maybe on a Core world’s shore, or some abandoned moon And when our people call us, the answer will be clear Lancers ride to Death or Glory. Yes, the Twenty-First is here

Hurrah, hurrah, the answer will be clear Lancers ride to Death or Glory. Yes, the Twenty-First is here

As the song ended Lancers along the line howled out their ‘Death or Glory’ battle cry.

Suddenly the world erupted in explosion and flame knocking the Lancers and their Infantry comrades backwards into their bunkers. Angels were dropping Napalm and Cluster Bombs just in front of the position and thankfully they were landing in the right place.

Fire and death rained down for only a few minutes but it was enough to force the attacking forces into full retreat. As the smoke cleared and the Independents rose to look out they could see an apocalyptic scene of charred flesh, twisted wire and broken bodies. The Napalm had set off many of the anti-tank mines which further devastated the battleground.

The smell of burnt human flesh was indescribable. Many of the defenders threw up although most had the decency to step outside first.

Three hours later after being relieved by another unit Steven Hicks led the remains of his troopers back towards the Transport Ship Sir Tristram. He had lost fully a third of his command and they were carrying their wounded along with them.

Lieutenant Hart had taken a round in the shoulder and would be transferred to another ship before the Transport left orbit with her warship escorts. She and the other wounded would not be going to Hera with the rest of the Lancers.

For those that were still in one piece however they knew their next stop would be another battlefield. Scuttlebutt was that the Independents were digging in at Serenity Valley and it was likely that the remaining Lancer Excalibur’s would be deployed there in support.

As he lifted off from Takashi Hicks wondered how many of his troopers would make it off Hera.

* * *

Transport Ship Serenity – Toulouse Spaceport – 2519AD

Mal shook his head and grimaced. Once again the presence of the Tams on his ship was proving to be a royal pain in the ass. Simon had explained over the radio what had happened and Mal had told him not to head for the ship since the Spaceport would be watched but rather to find somewhere to hide out for a while instead. He would send for them or else dispatch a shuttle for a rendezvous if necessary once things calmed down and Jayne and Book could be bought back to Serenity.

One issue that was going to be difficult was the fact that Cally had managed to bag herself an Alliance Sergeant, that little girl never ceased to impress. Of course the government would take a dim view of such a thing which meant that the Hicks family were going to have to go on the run now too, especially given that they would now be linked with the Tams. Mal didn’t doubt that Rivers “Hands of Blue” would be very interested in getting hold of any people that had associated with their little project so there was no choice but to get them off-world. Quite how the family would react to having to drop their lives and head for the black Mal didn’t care to guess.

Mal had despatched Zoe in a taxi to collect Steven and the other children. Fortunately they were all at home as it was a school break and the Academic didn’t lecture today. Wash and Kaylee were prepping the ship for immediate launch, keeping busy was the best way for Kaylee to cope.

River was staring at a chessboard. When Mal asked her why she said the game was getting complex and she was trying to formulate the right moves.

There were no pieces on the board.

Part V

COMMENTS

Thursday, January 15, 2004 2:43 PM

GEEZER


Whoa! Synergy strikes. Glad I could provide you with a plot point. I'm gonna have to sit down and see if I can figure out what sci-fi has influenced your story line. Already got a couple of ideas.

Thursday, January 15, 2004 3:27 PM

AMDOBELL


Very good! My favourite bit? River at the very end, so in character and suitably cryptic. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, January 16, 2004 2:19 AM

HOTPOINT


To 'Anonymous' - Glad you liked the Simon character development. I just couldn't see Simon spending two years on Serenity without Jayne (and Mal) having an effect on his character

To 'AMDOBELL' - If you liked that wait until River starts playing the game ;-)

To 'Geezer' - I'd already written a dismounted Lancer scene but after your Filk I went back and rewrote it. It's better than it was so you have my thanks

My Lancer plot lines are more based on actual history than military sci-fi. For example the final charge of the Lancers is very loosely based on the Charge of the Light Brigade, which included Lancers (Crimea 1854) plus the Tank battle at Prokhorovka in 1943 when hundreds of German and Russian tanks clashed point-blank without air or artillery support

The battle at Takashi is a combination of the Pusan Pocket (Korea 1950) and the retreat from Dunkirk (1940)

Oh yes. When I invented (well borrowed) the Lancers I was thinking about the frequently superlative Confederate Cavalry and Raiders of the American Civil War (hence their grey uniforms). I then added a dash of the dash of Prince Ruperts Cavalry in the English Civil War

(As you have guessed I'm a History geek although usually from an economic/political viewpoint rather than military one)

Sunday, July 11, 2004 8:07 PM

LORDGECKO


Ultra shiney and full of the geeky, historical allutions that make sci-fi come to life. And the empty chess board....River's gonna be naughty soon. Keep the shinies coming.


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