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HOTPOINT

Death or Glory (Part V)
Saturday, January 17, 2004

As the Alliance tracks down Simon the Crew arm themselves for action


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 5231    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

* * *

Abandoned Warehouse Block – Toulouse – 2519AD

Deborah Setters was sat on the floor with her knees tucked up to her chin and her arms wrapped around her legs. She was watching her captors intently trying to decide if she was really in mortal danger or not.

She had certainly thought so at first when a man stepped in front of her car and aimed a pistol at her. He had been splattered with blood and had an intense look of grim determination on his face. She had also believed him when he told her to take him and the others to the spaceport or he would shoot her.

Now she wasn’t so sure.

After talking to a man he called “Mal” on a radio handset her captor had told her not to go to the spaceport but rather to the industrial sector of town and specifically the abandoned factories and warehouse of the old wartime industries. These covered a couple of square miles not too far away from the southern residential zones and had been falling into disrepair since the Alliance occupied Toulouse and shut down munitions production.

The buildings had been very hurriedly constructed from shoddy materials in the first couple of years of the war and without maintenance they were already starting to collapse. The entire area was condemned which did not initially stop children playing there, and occasionally getting themselves killed, until the local government boarded up all the doors and windows and fenced off the more dangerous blocks. After driving around for a long while to see if they were being followed Deborah had driven them to one of the smaller warehouses where the man called Simon shot the lock off the main doors and she drove the hovercar inside.

Inside the huge deserted warehouse their was a small sub-section of offices that probably once housed managerial and administration staff and these sat above part of the main loading bay on metal stilts being reached by a spiral staircase. The man who the others called “Simon” had left the one called “Inara” to watch her and then checked the warehouse out before telling everyone to go to the offices.

Once upstairs the woman with the child had found a pile of sacking and sat down on it rocking the little girl. Meanwhile “Simon” had pulled apart some of the boards covering the windows so he could see outside and then ordered Deborah to sit down on another piece of sacking.

It was after that that Deborah found herself wondering about her captors.

For a start the woman with a gun “Inara” just didn’t seem the desperado type. In fact she looked and sounded like a member of the educated upper classes. Similarly the other woman and the child, who turned out to be her daughter, were not other hostages as Deborah had first assumed but were friends of the armed couple.

Then there was the matter of “Simon” himself. Once he had decided they were safe for now he had put away the two pistols he had and began checking the little girl to see if she was alright. Apparently, from what Deborah could tell, he was actually a Doctor of all things and was worried that the girl “Cally” might be traumatised. She was certainly shivering, maybe with shock, and so the man took off his jacket and put it around her. Then he took care of a small cut to her head with a plaster he took from a pocket first-aid kit.

‘She’ll be okay Jennifer’ He told the Girls mother ‘It’s just a scratch. She needs a bit of time to get over what she saw and did though. Worst case scenario is maybe some counselling down the line but you know she’s a tough determined little thing’

He leaned in and kissed the girl on the top of the head ‘And as for you young lady thank you for saving me’ he told her smiling as sweetly as he could. This provoked the girl to look up at him and for a second she stopped shaking and looked okay until she started crying her eyes out.

Her mother began to rock her again and murmured ‘shush sweetheart, everything’s going to be okay’ over and over again.

Simon walked over to Inara who had been watching Deborah all this time.

‘What shall we do with her?’ Inara asked pointing at their captive ‘I don’t like the fact we’re holding her’

‘We needed to get away and we can’t set her free until we leave in case she calls the Law-Enforcement Agencies’ Simon responded.

‘I promise I won’t tell anyone’ Deborah said looking pleadingly up at Simon ‘I don’t care what you’ve done just let me go. You can keep my car’

Inara knelt down beside her. ‘We’re very sorry but we can’t take the risk. We’re all in too much trouble but I promise we won’t hurt you. We just can’t let you go yet’ she certainly seemed to be genuine.

‘But he said he’d shoot me’ Deborah said pointing at Simon

‘He didn’t mean it. He just needed you to do as you were told. Simon is a Doctor and a good man, he’s not a monster’ Inara looked towards Simon ‘Tell her’

Simon pulled a face and knelt down too ‘I promise I won’t hurt you unless you try to get away and I promise to let you go totally unharmed when we leave’ he held out his hand ‘deal?’ he said.

Deborah considered the outstretched hand for a second then forced herself to reach out and shake it. She was still scared but she didn’t think they were going to kill her.

‘What were you running from?’ Deborah asked.

Simon smiled awkwardly ‘Some Alliance Soldiers tried to arrest me. I didn’t let them’

‘What did you do?’

‘If you mean today’s events I beat three of them up and shot two of those in the knee so they wouldn’t chase us’

‘What about the third one?’

Simon leaned in close ‘He got shot in the head’ he stated calmly.

Deborah pulled herself in tighter and looked at Simon in fear again.

Inara spoke up ‘You misunderstand my Dear. Simon didn’t kill him. It was little Cally there that did it. That’s why she’s so upset’

Deborah stared wide-eyed at the little girl who was still being rocked by her mother.

* * *

Transport Ship Serenity - Toulouse Spaceport – 2519AD

The two Alliance Soldiers continued to poke around the ship whilst their Corporal talked to the crew. This was the third ship he’s checked and so far nothing. The Ships Captain and Pilot wanted to know what was going on but he didn’t really know himself he was just supposed to look for the man and the woman on the now slightly crumpled wanted poster he’d been given.

What made it worse was the family camped out in the cargo bay complaining that they were supposed to be going into orbit where the ship would was going to turn off its gravity decking so they could experience some zero-gee fun. The father was complaining that he’d paid out good money to charter this boat and now it was stuck sitting on the ground when it should be flying. Meanwhile the kids were moaning like crazy and that little girl had a pitch to her voice that could cut through steel plate.

The mans eldest daughter was pretty but she was doing nothing but babbling away in the local French to her siblings and giving him foul looks every time he took a peek, she had a touch of her fathers Wessex accent to her voice but was clearly local born. It was like this all over the planet, the locals absolutely hated Alliance Troops.

There was an honest-to-God Shepherd onboard too. Apparently he was one of the crew, tagging along with the ship ‘spreading the word to the heathen’ he said. Well at least that meant they must be decent god-fearing folk for him to be there surely?

‘Found anything?’ The Corporal asked his men.

‘Nothing except a hell of a lot of weaponry, nothing illegal though. Opened a few boxes but only found mining gear’ he didn’t mention he’d only opened the ones on top of the pile. Those boxes were heavy and too small to hide in anyway.

‘Weapons is ‘cause the Captains paranoid about Reavers’ explained the Pilot earning himself a reprimanding look from his boss.

‘Reavers are a myth’ the Corporal told them ‘everybody knows that’.

The Alliance NCO was wearing a radio headset and turned away to talk to someone on it ‘ID card says Steven Hicks; he says he’s a Professor at the University that true? Got three kids, Yep Two girls and a boy that checks out. Right I’ll get on to the next ship’

‘We done here?’ the ships Captain asked. ‘I don’t want to have to give a refund and I’ve got to get back to hauling cargo for the miners tomorrow so I can’t postpone this joy ride’

‘I’ll talk to my Lieutenant but it should be alright. We’re pretty sure the fugitives couldn’t have got here before we blocked off the road anyway. The Major was just being thorough’ or else just anal he thought to himself.

‘Who are these fugitives anyway?’

‘Got no idea, just know they’re from the Core and they shot three of our guys in town’

‘Shénme? They alright?’

‘Two are just wounded. One died though’

‘Friend of yours?’ The Ships Exec asked.

‘Not really but we used to play poker sometimes. We’ll get the wúnéug de rén that did it’

‘Hope you do. Might see you later, we’ll only be up a few hours’

‘See ya around then’ The Corporal said and waved goodbye to the crew. He ignored the family. The girl was okay looking but far too young for him, besides which he’d never got used to being glared at by the locals like that. He might however come back and make a play for the cute mechanic, at least she wasn’t from Toulouse.

As the three Alliance Soldiers left the ship they ran into their Lieutenant.

‘Find anything Corporal?’

‘It’s just a cargo crew working for the miners and a family going for a joyride onboard Sir. Didn’t see who we were after’

‘They check out?’

‘Ships been hauling stuff round here for a couple of months. Family seems okay and checked out but they’re locals so they weren’t none too friendly’.

‘They never are. Miserable pro-independence luh-suh. It wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t speak French all the time instead of English or Chinese. Never know if I’m being insulted or not’

‘They were speaking plenty of the local gibberish Sir. I’d be willing to bet a months pay it weren’t too complementary ‘bout us neither. Anyhow they want to get going although they’ll be back in a couple of hours that okay?’

‘These gorram people need to learn to respect the rightful order of things. Anyway take your men and check the next ship. I’ll tell them they can leave’

‘Yessir’ The Corporal saluted and headed for the large transport in the next bay.

The Lieutenant wandered up to the aging Firefly Class ship and sure enough he could hear a few locals babbling away. He didn’t bother to go onboard just yelled up at them they could go although they’d be tracked by Radar and they shouldn’t leave orbit without permission.

Five minutes later he watched the ship take off. Ground Control told him it had risen to geosynchronous orbit and stayed there. Garrison Command was giving a bit more information now. Apparently the suspect Simon Tam had been with two women and a little girl when he made his escape although they didn’t know if either of the women might have been his sister. Apparently the local witnesses were being uncooperative and although the wounded soldiers didn’t think she was one of the two both had been dealt some damage in the fight before seeing them. Being pistol-whipped or kneed in the face does nothing for your vision and getting knee-capped afterwards clouds your recollections too.

* * *

Transport Ship Serenity – Toulouse Orbit – 2519AD

‘I’ll say this River that was impressive’ Steven told her. ‘You managed to make yourself look years younger wearing that dress and the voice was amazing’

The younger Tam shook her hair loose from the ribbons that had been in it and took a bow ‘It was nothing really’ she said this time in a full blown Wessex accent ‘all you need is the proper motivation “Dad”’

Mal came back from the bridge. ‘Alright we’re in orbit. I’m going to send down a shuttle in half an hour or so to collect everyone else then we’re out of here. You okay with that Steve?’

The academic leant against a box. ‘When I woke up this morning I wasn’t planning to go on the run with my family but I guess I haven’t got any choice now. I can’t exactly let the government put my 10-year-old in gaol’

‘For a man who wasn’t planning do you mind me asking why you had so much gear ready when Zoe arrived?’

‘Always worried that the Alliance was going to go “1984” on us big-time, so I kept a few rucksacks packed in case we had to head for the hills. Same reason I’ve got a few thousand in platinum and Ally Script with me too’ Steven shook his head and smirked slightly ‘Paranoia’ he said. ‘The gift that keeps on giving’

‘1984?’ Mal asked.

River spoke up ‘Literary reference from Earth-That-Was. Novel about a dystopian totalitarian future’ she paused ‘Good read but in my opinion far too optimistic. If you want a vision of the future imagine men in blue gloves carving up your brain not stamping on your face’ ‘You may be right’ Steven said sadly ‘Anyhow what now Captain?’

‘Send the shuttle down like I said. Say to ground control somebody got space-sick and wanted to go home but the rest wanted to stay in orbit. Pick up our people and run like hell’

‘Not going to work. Alliance is closing in’ River announced ‘They’ll be blood. Have to play the game, have to win’

Mal put his face in his hands. She was going all creepifying again, problem was she was always right you just sometimes couldn’t tell what she’d been right about until afterwards. The weird thing was that thanks to Simon’s latest drug treatment she could be talking perfectly normally for hours on end then suddenly she’d go strange again. In some ways the old permanently crazy River had been easier to deal with, kinda predictable in her unpredictability.

‘Alright River can you be a bit more specific’ Mal asked her.

‘Black pieces will already be on the board when the shuttle lands. We need to have our own ready for the game. I can outthink them, use better tactics but we need to be prepared to play’

‘Do you mean go down there heavily armed, and in numbers?’ Steven asked.

‘Bishop, Knight, King, Queen and Rook all must go’ River stated ‘and the player to guide the pieces’

‘I’m guessing I’m the Bishop’ Book surmised.

River jumped for joy ‘Yes you understand the game’

‘Love the chess metaphor’ Steven commented ‘I’ll guess that Mal and Zoe are the King and Queen and this old cavalryman here is the Knight. But who’s the Rook?’

‘Powerful piece deadly at all ranges but not prone to non-linear play’ River stated

‘Gotta be Jayne’ Mal said. ‘He’s not one to think his way round problems. Goes straight through ‘em quickly enough though’

‘What was that about me?’ Jayne asked entering the cargo bay with a cup of coffee. He’d been plenty annoyed at having to leave his job because Simon had got himself in trouble again but he was sort of getting used to it by now. The Doc was even starting to grow on him especially if he was going to start knee-capping folks on a regular basis. I’ve had a positive influence on that boy he thought.

‘You’re a Rook’ Mal told the big mercenary

‘I’m a what?’

‘It’s a chess piece’ Mal told him.

‘Is this a gorram River thing?’

‘Yup’

‘Rutting hell’ Jayne swore and stared at River ‘What ya thinking crazy girl?’

‘Play the game and check the black king, nothing more than that. Mustn’t sacrifice a piece though, mustn’t do that’ River said shaking her head with a serious look on her face.

‘Are you sure about this?’ Mal asked

‘Very sure’ River nodded

‘Are you the player who must go to direct the pieces?’ Book asked.

‘Yes. Make the tactics, direct the pieces, must be there. Black has many pawns on the board’ she answered.

Mal looked around at the crew and his guests ‘I’ll get Kaylee to look after the kids. Rest of you get yourselves armed up. We’re going to go save our people. I’ll get Zoe from the bridge. Time for us to be big damn heroes again’

* * *

Alliance Garrison HQ – Toulouse – 2519AD

The communications officer pulled off his headphones and called across the command centre ‘We’ve got a break Major Riordan’ he said. ‘Seems someone saw the fugitive Simon Tam stop a hovercar and commandeer it. Witness didn’t step forward until we offered the reward on the Cortex feeds’

‘Just what I expect from the local scum’ The Major hissed. ‘Do we know whose car it was yet?’

‘It was a blue 2518 model Smithson Convertible. Not too many of them about on Toulouse. Driver was a girl which narrows it down as well’

‘Once we’ve got an ID on the driver trace the car via its tracker. I knew having those fitted in every new vehicle would pay off. I still think we should implant a chip in every one of the Independent liúmáng on this planet too so we can track them whenever we like’

‘Yes Sir’

‘I’m going to get the men ready. We’ll be armed and ready to go when you’ve got the trace’

‘I’ll let you know as soon as we have it. Good luck Sir’

The Communications Officer put his headphones back on and began to trace the owner of the car on his Computer Console. Shouldn’t take too long to find out then use the satellite network to locate the tracking device.

Only a matter of time now and the fugitive would be in Alliance hands and facing justice.

* * *

Transport Ship Serenity – Toulouse Orbit – 2519AD

Everyone who was going down to the planet was checking weaponry and getting ready for battle. Book was praying to himself as he checked a small scoped rifle and loaded magazines for it. He stated that he would not kill anyone but would shoot to wound to save the others if necessary.

Jayne had no such qualms. He was deciding which weapons to take based upon their lethality. Vera was a must and he had his Callahan Auto-Lock sat next to him on a blanket. He had a bandolier of spare magazines for the weapon lying nearby and he had already cleaned her one last time.

Zoe and Mal buckled on their gun-belts and practised their draw. Mal was also wearing a harness carrying spare magazines for a light assault rifle. It was one of the war-surplus Independent standard-issue you could pick up for a song right across the rim. Mal had carried one for several years during the war and preferred it for its familiarity rather than its looks. Whenever he put it to his shoulder it just felt sort of comfortable and maybe a bit comforting into the bargain too. Zoe carried her old lever-action rifle as a main weapon, she believed in stealth, accuracy and skill over Mals raw-firepower-and-yelling-a-lot approach so she shunned the idea of hauling along a full-auto and a ton of ammunition. They would only cramp her style.

Steven had been checking after his children then went to change out of his casual clothes when he arrived back at the cargo bay Mal looked up and whistled ‘Well don’t you look pretty’ he said.

‘What this old thing?’ Steven joked and did a turn. He was wearing his old Lancer jumpsuit with a pistol belt and a woven monomolecular fibre flak-jacket with ceramic laminate ‘trauma plates’ set into it, you can’t part a Lancer from his armour. He was also carrying a medium sized khaki back-back which seemed fairly heavy. ‘Can you give me a hand to shift these boxes?’ he asked after putting down the bag.

Mal stepped over and helped him move a couple of boxes of mining equipment underneath which was an anonymous padlocked crate that Steven had bought with him in the back of the taxi Zoe collected him in. It had taken him and the taxi driver to put it in the trunk and lift it back out when they got to Serenity.

Steven dragged the combination padlocked crate clear and bent down to unlock it ‘I think you’ll like this’ he stated.

The lid swung open and Mal gaped ‘Where the hell did you get that?’

‘I inherited it from a member of the Toulouse Militia who hid it after the war. His son had been a Lancer in my unit so he gave it to me, said his kid had always written home highly of me. It’s illegal as hell in private hands but I suppose that’s a moot point now’

Jayne was interested ‘What is it?’ he called over.

Steven leaned over and picked something large out of the crate. When he straightened up he got the most jealous look Jayne had ever given another human being.

‘Brimstone M2 Infantry Support Weapon System’ Steven announced. ‘Takes a fifty-round clip, a hundred- round drum or a two-hundred-fifty round box of 5 millimetre caseless ammunition. This thing under the barrel is a 20 millimetre magazine-fed semi-auto grenade launcher. Blow the wall off a house at 500 yards, 5 or 10 round clips’

‘I saw a few special forces guys carry those in the war’ Zoe announced equally impressed ‘I bet you haven’t got the field goggles too though’

‘You lose your bet’ Steven passed the Brimstone to Mal and reached back into the crate coming out with a small metal box. He opened it to reveal what looked like a pair of sunglasses but slightly bulkier.

‘I’m sorry I don’t understand’ Book said. ‘Sunglasses?’ he asked.

‘Well actually they can adjust how dark they are to suit the ambient light but really they’re sort of like a head up display. They grip your head so they don’t fall off and work the same way as the Visor HUD on an Excalibur. A small low-powered laser holograph beams directly into your eyes to project an image. It’s connected via a cable you plug in and wear under your outer layer of clothes down your arm to a special glove with interface pads on it. There are other pads on the grips of the Brimstone which relays information back to the glasses via the glove.

‘What kind of information?’

‘How many rounds remaining for one thing, you get a little counter of remaining rounds and grenades in the corners of your vision. Also you can project targeting data so that a crosshair appears to be floating in the air wherever the brimstone is pointing, Target a really distant object and it shows you where to shoot to correct for elevation automatically’ Steven paused and put on the glasses. ‘The sights of the weapon are actually a television camera too so you can even use it like a periscope and hold the gun round the corner and get a little projection of what it sees floating in front of your face’

Jayne looked extremely impressed.

‘Hasn’t got the accuracy or armour-piercing capability of a Callahan like Jayne’s there, and she’s too bulky and unwieldy for close-in fighting but she’s one mean pōfù anyhow’ Steven finished his speech and took back the weapon from Mal. ‘Oh yeah. The sights have laser range-finding, night-vision etc’

‘It looks like it weighs a ton’ Wash said watching from the gantry.

‘Mostly composites so it’s lighter than it looks but fully loaded it ain’t no featherweight I’ll admit’ Steven shouldered the oversized weapon ‘but it does give a hell of a firepower advantage which is good because I’m no Infantryman. If you want serious fire-support though I’m there’ he grinned ‘just remember it’s heavy and I’ve got short legs so give me plenty of warning when you need me somewhere’

‘Got plenty of ammo for it?’ Zoe asked.

‘Couple of thousand rounds plus maybe a hundred mixed grenades’

‘If you get killed can I have your gun?’ Jayne asked.

‘As long as it isn’t you that kills me be my guest… No offence meant’ Steve told him

‘None taken’ Jayne said and began strapping on his own weaponry.

‘What else is in the crate?’ Zoe asked

‘Just the Brimstone ammo’

‘Thought I’d check in case you had a tactical nuke in there too’ she deadpanned.

River arrived in the cargo bay. She’d been getting changed into something more suitable for a battle. Her ubiquitous army boots were actually matching her ensemble for once.

‘I need a gun’ she said.

The Serenity crew looked worried. They’d seen her use a gun a couple of times before and it was damn scary. Jayne looked especially nervous.

‘Plenty of folks with firearms already River’ Mal told her.

‘You need me to have a gun’ she stated seriously ‘not just a pistol either’.

Mal considered what she said and nodded okay.

Steven looked around and weighed the situation. ‘I’ve got something she might be okay with’ he said and picked up the rucksack he’d been carrying.

Steven reached inside and pulled out a Wolverine Carbine which handed to River unloaded.

Jayne was not impressed ‘Those things jam real easy’ he commented.

‘No’ River said ‘This is the A2 version with the modified receiver. They fixed the design flaw just after the war’ She handled the small Carbine like she’s used one all her life pulling back the bolt to check the chamber and pulling the trigger to let it click empty on the unloaded breech. ‘How many magazines do you have?’

Now this was a somewhat creepy turn of events but Steven handed her a harness which he said held eight 50 round magazines in its pouches.

‘This should be fine’ she said and started putting on the harness

Mal straightened up ‘I want everyone armed and in Shuttle Two ready to leave in three minutes. Let’s move it people’

Kaylee appeared next to Wash on the gantry ‘Please bring them home safe. I’ll pray for you all’ she said voice thick with emotion.

* * *

Alliance Garrison HQ – Toulouse – 2519AD

The Alliance Major heard a voice coming from his radio and picked it up ‘Major Riordan here’

‘Sir it’s Command. We’ve got a trace on the car. You need to head for the old munitions district I’ll direct you accurately when you’re close’

‘Well done Lieutenant. I’ll see you get a commendation for your efficiency’

‘Thank you Sir’

Riordan turned to his soldiers. ‘Everyone get in your vehicles and follow me. We’re heading west towards the industrial zone’

The column of military vehicles set out towards their target.

Part VI

COMMENTS

Sunday, January 18, 2004 8:30 AM

AMDOBELL


Shiny! I found myself grinning like a loon at the thought of River all armed and ready to go. About time she got to be a Big Damn Hero herself. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, January 19, 2004 12:53 PM

ARTSHIPS


An intriguing turn of events, and a wonderful mix of Whedon and David Drake. Do, please, continue!

Saturday, September 18, 2004 1:59 PM

CASTIRONJACK


"If you get killed, can I have your gun..."
Joss would be proud...

Keep flyin'


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