BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

SCREWTHEALLIANCE

The Treasure of Lei Fong Wu -- Chapter Forty-Six
Monday, December 12, 2005

When Killer Robots Go Bad!


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2369    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

The Treasure of Lei Fong Wu

Chapter Forty Six

. ALPHA TEAM -55:20

“Almost there!” the General said gleefully. “Just another few hundred yards through this passageway, and then up six levels, and that should be it!” “Ain’t you the least bit suspicious that we ain’t hit nothin’ harder’n a mine, General?” Zoe asked. “Of course! I’m expecting something nasty at any moment. I can’t imagine my ancestor making things this easy for us. Especially not when the objective is the main control center for the entire Sun Tzu.” “I’m thinkin’ that chamber we saw on the map might could be a likely spot,” suggested Zoe. “It’s nice an’ wide, but there ain’t but the one way out. What was that thing again?” “The Officer’s Auditorium. Likely a room for demonstrations, classes, strategic briefings and the like.” “Figures,” grunted Zoe. “If anythin’ nasty is comin’, likely be an officer involved.” The General could only chuckle at that. They had made their way across the precarious bridge and into the forward section of the ship. They had passed through a number of areas of interest, including Orbital Bombardment Control, the Main Fire Control Center, which apparently controlled the three big lasers, and the Strategy and Tactics Center, full of classrooms and computer sims and the like. It seemed like most of the forward section was devoted to that sort of thing. Every section they had passed had been empty, although they had discovered two more mines, another Motion Seeker, and a regular old flash-bang concussion mine. The latter was more a nuisance than a real danger. One room that had caused them some pause to think was a heavily shielded doorway labeled ATOMIC ARSENAL. A brief – very brief! – reconnaissance by Master Lei had revealed three rows of nuclear weaponry sitting neatly, waiting for the day when they would be called upon. They were not the little five-kiloton devices used by Astroengineers to shove comets and asteroids around, either. There was a variety of deadly ordinance, everything from small little neutron bombs, designed to kill a population with minimal damage to the scenery, to a rack of tiny tactical weapons that could be fitted onto missiles or mortars, to huge, multi-megaton bombs that could endanger the mantle of a planet and wipe out everything in sight. The entire team waited nervously for the Heavenly master to appear, and when he did, bringing the news of what was behind the great lead vault, he looked disturbed. “Utterly horrible,” he pronounced. “Even though I walk the Way, a sight like that is too terrible to behold. I’ve seen nukes used in action. Xiao did so at the end of our last war, on Fumai on T’ien. It is almost as horrible as the dead moon.” “Will they still work after all that time?” Zoe asked. “Perhaps. Our ancestors were good engineers,” the General murmured. Shortly thereafter they arrived at the Officer’s Auditorium, and as per Zoe’s suggestion they did a thorough stealthy recon before entering. A good thing, too. The auditorium had three entrances – and one of the only ways to get to the Bridge that didn’t involve the system of lifts that would not function until the rest of the systems were brought online. It would be possible to go another route, but it would add significant time to their journey – the team would need to backtrack, descend four decks, then go hard to port for three sections before they could ascend towards the Bridge again. It was much easier, and far more expedient, to get through the auditorium. Except for the large and ominous-looking mechanical clamshell in the center of the stage that just obviously wasn’t supposed to be there. “Ta ma deh,” Zoe whispered. “I ain’t sure what it is, but it don’t look friendly.” “I believe it is a warbot. Advanced model, possibly a prototype,” the General noted quietly. “I’m not perfectly familiar with the design, but I recall that these were built to drop behind enemy lines, where they would activate and destroy everything in their path. Nasty things. Optical and Infrared targeting. Heavily armored. Plenty of nasty armament, too, probably – lasers, grenades, flamers –” “What’s the best way around it?” The General shrugged. “We can start by using the EMP grenades. I’ll take Hue and Lao with me on the left, you lead the others on the right. Heavy arms, armor piercing bullets. Try the grenades first, then we’ll go from there.” “It’s a plan,” Zoe agreed. After meeting with her team, which included Fu, the heavy-weapons man who had the big laser, she got into position just outside of the right entrance to the auditorium. She had loaded the only magazine of AP rounds she had into her Dragon, and made sure the others had done likewise. “Stay low and use cover. Fu stays in the rear, you two advance with me. EMPs first, then single-shots with the AP, then use whatever seems appropriate while Fu nails it with the fancy gun.” “What are we aiming at?” Moh, a bright-eyed private asked. Zoe shrugged. “Hell if I know. I ain’t never seen one o’ these afore. Look for something vulnerable, like a soft underbelly. And Fu? Don’t switch on the laser until all the EMPs are gone. It should be decently shielded, as long as it’s deactivated – and these grenades have a pretty short range. I think—wait up, there’s the signal. Go!” Zoe crouched and pushed her way through the swinging door and down the long sloping ramp that led to the stage. She used the seats as cover – though it didn’t look like the thing had taken any notice of them. She sat up on her knees when she felt she was in range and prepared her EMP. Before she threw, the General’s team beat her to it, sending their grenades in a low flat arc, as close to textbook as you could ask for. Both landed and exploded – not with the devastating sound of a concussion, fragmentation, or flash-bang, but like an expensive firework as the microwave core in each one overloaded and send out an electromagnetic pulse. Immediately the lights went out. Soon after, the clamshell came alive, growing four spindly legs and opening a hatch on top, revealing a sensor suite. “There’s your soft underbelly!” she shouted to her men. “Target the optics!” With that she threw her own EMP, then pulled her big Dragon to her shoulder to start taking pot-shots. The EMPs had little effect, it seemed, except for dimming the lights. The warbot was shielded against such things – mostly. The lasers the General promised didn’t seem to be working, but the ungainly-looking robot did produce a very effective projectile weapon of some sort, and began spraying the entire auditorium indiscriminately. “Fue!” Zoe yelled, squeezing off a third armor piercing shot – deflected, she noticed, by the robot’s armor – and diving for cover. Whatever the weapon was it wasn’t a firearm, technically. There was no smoke, no report, no muzzle flash. Just hundreds of small shards of metal flying at them at high velocities. She watched in horror from behind the seat as the chair Hue was hiding behind was chewed to pieces by the weapon – and then watched as Hue was likewise reduced. The shrapnel literally shredded him, ripping long strips of his flesh away from his bones until his neck gave way and his head came off. She had seen death before. Only one way to deal with it. Compartmentalize. Deal with it when she had time. She redoubled her efforts, moving slowly forward, keeping her head down, and popping up periodically to shoot at the robot. Someone made some progress, she noted as the last of her AP rounds hit the “elbow” on the leg, slowing the machine only slightly. One of the six optical sensors was a gaping hole now. And Fu was up and running, steadying the big infantry support laser on the back of a seat at the rear of the hall and stabbing red lances of coherent light at the mechanical beast. But it wasn’t going quickly enough. Moh had taken some shrapnel in his calf, and Hue was irrevocably gone. The General and Corporal Lao were blasting away at the thing with their small arms, but apart from another optic sensor exploding – leaving the machine only four – they were not making much progress. Zoe assessed the tactical situation, weighed the strengths and resources of her team against the weaknesses – such as they were – of the robot. There was precious little to work with. The problem was, she knew very little about the machine. While she was ruminating, she pulled a random grenade from her belt and tossed it, just to feel useful. She had pulled a flash-bang, a “soft” anti-personnel grenade favored for attacking shipboard positions, because the concussion and light was good for knocking out people without messing up machinery that your life may well depend upon. It produced a very loud noise, a bright flash, and enough concussion to knock a man off his feet. Against an armored battle-machine like this one, it was about the most useless thing she could have done. She noticed, however, that when the grenade detonated there was a three-second window in which the machine stopped – no doubt letting its optical systems recover from the exposure to very bright light. After that it went back to business, this time using its flamer on Lao’s position. Three seconds. What could you do with three seconds? She looked around the hall, a landscape of shredded foam rubber seats, aluminum seat frames, and precious little else. The carpets were institutional, high-traffic grade, barely worn. There were long draperies hanging from the walls – the ones on the left side now in flame, filling the air with an unpleasant smoke. Zoe began getting an idea. She started by getting on her belly and crawling towards the right hand wall of the theater, behind rows of seats. Twice the machine tried to target her with the shrapnel weapon, but she escaped with only a small impact on her chest armor. She doubted it would even leave a bruise. By the time she had reached the wall, her men had advanced to her old position, firing their weapons ineffectively at the thing. But it kept it busy. She grabbed hold of the long yellow drapes and pulled. At first it didn’t look like it would give way, but she persisted, and soon half of the cloth had fallen. She continued pulling until she had a heaping great wad of the material. “General!” she called out. “Flash-bangs! One every three seconds until they’re gone!” General Lei looked at her as if she was crazy, but then shrugged and ordered his men to comply. Each one had two or three flash-bangs. That gave her several seconds to enact her plan. She bundled up the torn drapes into a ball, dropped her Dragon and her other extraneous arms, and waited for the first grenade to go off. When it did, she ran. She made it up to the front of the auditorium with the first one. The second allowed her to get in position. The third gave her enough time to dive toward the machine, do a shoulder roll, and end up underneath it. Now she had issues. She glanced up, noting that the underbelly of the beast was just as well armored as the rest – she honestly had expected nothing different. She steeled herself for the impact of the next flash-bang, then hopped up behind the machine and flung the drapes over the top, obscuring its optics and making targeting that much harder. “Keep it up!” she yelled, shielding her face from the next one. She hopped up on the draped back of the thing, while it struggled to determine what the source of the visual obstruction was, and drew her knife. Before it could continue firing she used the steel blade to smash out the other optic sensors through the curtain, one after the other. They were armored carbon glass, but she also knew if you hit anything long enough, hard enough, it would break. She persisted until each one cracked in turn. The robot knew there was something amiss, and tried turning to see what had happened. The shrapnel machine started back up with a low whine and shredded a good portion of the drapes – not enough to remove the curtain from its damaged optics, however. Zoe studied the situation, waving off further grenade attacks while she was in such a precarious position – on her knees, on top of a four-footed death machine that had a mad pneumatic stapler for a weapon. It was targeting exclusively by infrared, now, through a hardened sensor that resisted every attempt she made to even crack it. In a fit of frustration she pulled the drapery off it’s sensors and looked at the damage. Wires, bits of glass and metal – and that nasty horn that was the IR sensor. The wires were the first indication that they had made any kind of progress against the destroyer. Without any better idea how to tackle it, she pulled her shotgun from its sheath, pumped a round into the chamber, stuck the sawed-off barrel into one of the empty optic ports, and pulled the trigger. The thing didn’t die – but it wasn’t happy, either. Apparently its armored carapace did not extend inside to protect vital system, because the two right legs had ceased to twitch at all. It shuddered a bit as the other actuators strained to pull it along, and it was still spitting metal at the auditorium at large, but it had lost some mobility. Grinning, she pulled the gun from the hole, levered a second round into the chamber, and chose another broken sensor to stick it into. The next shot still didn’t kill it – it didn’t do anything but make the hole bigger and cause the machine to shake like it had a palsy. Still the Stapler of Doom shot – didn’t this thing ever run out of ammo? She considered a third shot in a different hole, but decided that might take too long. Fu had taken a hit to his armored chest and the side of his head was bleeding badly, she could see. So it was time to end this. The bigger hole in the suite allowed her to pull a small incendiary grenade from her belt, activate it, and drop it down into the hole. It didn’t go far – while she was leaping away from it, the hole spat a gout of flame as the device detonated, pushing the body of the grenade out in a graceful arc. But it had the desired effect. The incendiaries she carried were made with a napalm-like flammable foam, which filled the interior of the machine like air in a balloon. Then it ignited, cooking the circuits and chips from the inside. As well armored as they were, such direct and constant heat was too much for them to bear, and the machine started shutting down about the time she skidded to a landing on her back, firing her shotgun a third time, pretty much just for the hell of it. It was redundant. The flaming foam had coated all the delicate electronics, and better yet, had reached the flamer’s internal fuel tank. In moments the death-dealing terror weapon went up in a pall of flame as it sputtered and squeaked and finally stood still. When it didn’t move for a whole minute, Zoe relaxed, hanging her head back and breathing deeply. She choked on the noxious fumes for a moment, coughed, and then sat up. The General was yelling triumphantly, and Moh, Lao, Fu and Wang brandished their weapons in victory, yelling the Imperial war cry and spitting in the direction of the machine. Zoe got to her feet and realized she ached all over. Of course Hue wouldn’t be joining them. As Lao tended to everyone’s wounds, Zoe and the General wrapped what remained of Hue in another section of curtain and placed the corpse – after removing personal effects and ammunition – on the stage in front of the burned-out machine. “He was a good man,” the General sighed. “Very enthusiastic. A little sloppy at drill, perhaps, but his valor was never in doubt.” “Everyone gotta die sometime,” Zoe agreed. “I liked him. He had a nice laugh.” “Well done,” Master Lei said, as he entered the tattered remnants of the room. He had waited in the outside corridor. In case they were all killed, he was to find the alternate route and get to the Bridge however he could. “I watched it all. Very ingenious, Ms. Washburne.” “It was inspired,” agreed the General. “That’s the kind of fighting I like to see! Adapts well to changing circumstances, finds innovative solutions to complex problems.” He glanced at his watch. “And we only lost about a half an hour.” “It is best we be expedient, then,” Master Lei agreed. “We have to hurry. There have been . . . developments in other quarters.” “What?” Zoe shot back. “What’s going on? The ship?” “Serenity is fine,” the monk assured. “I spoke with your husband just moments ago. He’s the one who relayed the news.” “What news?” “It seems that Gamma Team has disappeared. They have missed the last three check-ins. All of them. Mr. Washburne feels something . . . untoward may have happened to them.”

BETA TEAM -55:12

“Are we there yet?” Jayne asked, a weary note of disgust in his voice. He had been toting the big guns he had gathered on his shoulders, as well as half of Miller’s kit. Both wounded men had been given first aid, and in Campbell’s expert battlefield opinion both had survived the encounter with the hostile machines with a couple of broken rips apiece. A couple of shots of morphine, a few bandages, five hours of rest and recuperation and they were back on their way. But under Campbell’s orders they were to carry no more than their personal weapons for the remainder of the expedition. Jayne had accepted his share of the load without grumbling, but he was not happy about the extra weight, and after another four hours of hiking through corridor after corridor that unhappiness didn’t seem to be inclined to stay with Jayne. “Did you know,” Campbell replied, after a moment’s thought, “that under Imperial Law if you ask me that one more time I can shoot you dead?” Jayne thought about that. “Really?” “No, not really,” conceded Campbell. “But the moment we have a new Emperor I’m going to propose just such a law.” “I ain’t aimin’ to be a problem,” Jayne explained, with a sigh. “I just wanna know how much longer I gotta tote all this stuff.” “No more than another hour or so – provided we do not run into any more obstacles. We should be able to get to the computer core and activate it, which will speed the rest of our mission up dramatically. Once the central controls are reestablished most of the internal systems will be working again. And that includes the lift system. We should be able to be back to Serenity within an hour, once we have the computer on.” “Well, won’t that be pleasant? I’m lookin’ favorable on a nice leisurely lift ride. Maybe that’ll speed things up at the other two objectives and get us all the hell back to civilized parts, where I can start imaginin’ the decadence I aim to commit with my share.” “Is money really that important to you, Mr. Cobb?” “Ain’t it important to everyone? Look,” Jayne said, “I got all th’ respect in th’Verse for y’all that done the fightin’ in the war – both you Imperial fellas an’ Browncoats like Zoe an’ Mal. Takes a brave man to stand up for what he believes in, lay his ass in th’ line o’ fire for a cause. But it takes a smart man to know when he’s pissin’ in the wind uphill.” “You think that the struggle against Universal Sovereignty is futile?” “Nah, not at all. Glad y’all done it. Pretty sure you’re gonna do it again, you get this boat loose. But will that put coin in my purse? Not likely. I sympathize with y’all’s politics – don’t like the purplebellies one li’l bit, and from what I’ve seen they got a mutual feelin’ for myself. But to put on a uniform and march into their guns because some idjit officer says that’s the best way to die – and on that pay, too! – I can live without that. I figger I poke the Alliance in the eye just by existin’.” “Perhaps you do at that, Mr. Cobb,” conceded Campbell. “I can think of no other individual who is more at odds with the Alliance’s grand ideals of human destiny than yourself.” “Ma always said I could mess up a sunny day,” agreed Jayne with a trace of pride in his voice. “Where the hell does a man like me fit in their big picture? In the army? I’d hate it. Farmin’? Hate it. Factory? Hate it so bad I’d blow the place up. Now bordello inspector, there’s a good opportunity . . .” “Have you considered higher education?” Jayne regarded the man carefully. “Ain’t you been listenin’ to me for the last twelve hours? I ain’t the schoolin’ type.” “You may well surprise yourself, Mr. Cobb. The Master teaches that any man of any means may advance himself through education. And it is never too late to learn that.” “Too late for me,” grunted Jayne dismissively. “Only readin’ I wanna do is tech manuals on these sexy new guns.” “Then perhaps a career in law enforcement?” “Law . . . enforcement?” Jayne asked incredulously. “Not that I ain’t familiar with th’ industry, mind – been a customer for years. But what makes you think I’m the kind o’ man cut out for—” “I wouldn’t recommend you for the Interpol Academy,” Campbell laughed. “Nor do I think you possess enough raw indifference to become a Fed. But perhaps for a small town on a frontier world, your . . . gifts could be turned to the benefit of the community.” “Sheriffin’ ain’t ‘zactly rife with advancement opportunities,” grumbled the mercenary. “Ain’t ‘zactly lucrative, neither.” “Oh, there are always the bribes. And the power. You’d still get to shoot folk occasionally, but you would be protecting the people, not robbing them.” “I don’t rob people,” Jayne corrected. “Mostly I rob companies, corporations and the like. Oh, if a fella is burdened with an overabundance with coin, and I have a deficit, I ain’t opposed to a shake-down. Don’t rob honest folk, though. Ain’t usually got much t’spare, and what they got they need. I prefer robbin’ corporations. They got more cash and they don’t take it so personal.” “Just a thought. You have very special talents, Mr. Cobb. While they are eminently suited to your current profession, should you suddenly find yourself prosperous enough to lay aside the need for mere acquisition of wealth, you should consider what you want to do with your life. Plan for your retirement, as it were. Consider how you can give back to the community that has given you so much.” “Hell, only community ever gave a damn ‘bout Jayne Cobb was the Mudders on Higgin’s Moon. Folk in Canton like me. But that’s only ‘cause they ain’t real bright. Not bright enough to know what kinda man I am.” “You are the kind of man you choose to be. Perhaps you can return there someday and help build that community.” “Ain’t real likely,” Jayne said doubtfully. “The people like me fine. The government there, well, it ain’t so fond o’ me. Got a crooked magistrate that would like to see me freshly dead, truth to tell. People can’t do nothin’ ‘bout it, though, ‘cause they ain’t allowed no guns.” “Then a man with means and a professional interest in firearms may well go far in such a place. Revolutions have begun with less. Successful ones, too. Perhaps such a cause would be a worthy endeavor for your retirement.” “That’s . . . that’s an interestin’ thought,” admitted Jayne. “Never thought I’d live to see ‘retirement’. Hell, never thought I’d see thirty birthdays, unless it was in prison. I guess I do gotta make some plans.” “Hold,” Campbell suddenly called to the men. They froze instantly, even the wounded. They were at an intersection, wider than most, where two main corridors came together. After consulting with the flexi map, Campbell pursed his lips. “If this map is correct, if we go left, here, and take the next right we will be at the outer security checkpoint for the computer core.” “You mean . . . we’re there?” “Yes, Mr. Cobb, we are there.” “Hot damn with spicy mustard!” he whooped, slinging the recoilless rifle down to a ready position and slamming the five-round AP magazine home. “Let’s get rollin’. Sooner we knock this out, sooner we can get back to the ship. I feel in need of some private time in the commode, truth to tell.” “Point . . . taken,” Campbell said carefully. “No doubt we can expect at least one final encounter before we are allowed entrance. Let’s go face it.” They reconned the area carefully, and Campbell’s words proved prophetic: standing in front of the wide double-doors that led to the main core was a seven foot tall figure, what looked in the gloomy half-light like a statue of an ancient warrior. It carried a spear and a sword, and wore ancient-looking armor. But unlike the terra cotta figure discovered by the Gamma team, this statue was made of bright metal and carbon fibers. “What the hell is that?” Jayne asked as the men dropped their packs and brought their weapons to bear on the figure. “That, Mr. Cobb,” the Colonel said in a low, respectful voice, “is a very special war-droid. A Yoshida G-21 Guardian. A robotic samurai. Originally made by a division of Sony on Yuan, they were the elite of the war machines: cunning, clever, and very good at what they did. Before the Tyrant came to power, they were heavily employed to guard the old Imperial family – not the Lei’s, but their predecessors on the Amber Phoenix Throne, the Hue’s.” “Huh. Looks fancy.” “It is. And expensive. The old Imperial family used three dozen as private guards. They were very deadly, and utterly incorruptible – which is a rare and special thing in a byzantine imperial court. They stopped at least two dozen assassination attempts, and were highly prized. That was one of the ways Shan Yu took power, actually. He conspired with the Sony arms merchant that supplied the Imperial Army and Security services and purchased a bypass code that allowed him to neutralize the G-21s around the Imperial Family so his own men could arrest them and imprison them. That is one reason why Emperor Le Fong Wu confiscated Sony’s holdings within the Empire, and forbade them from bidding on Imperial contracts. And one reason why Sony pushed so hard for the Alliance to engage our forces during the War.” “Sony makes cheap crap anyway,” sneered the mercenary. “What’s so special ‘bout them? I don’t see no guns.” “They have non-lethal systems built in, as well as a laser. But they did not depend on them, usually. That spear and sword are not display pieces, they are highly sophisticated weapons, carbon/titanium alloys with an edge beyond razor sharp. The Guardians move with lighting speed. They have significant armor. They are completely shielded versus EMP. Their computers are very sophisticated, and their programming is impeccable. We can expect either a very difficult fight. Or . . .” “ ‘Or’ what? They gonna do a little dance or somethin’?” “They will likely insist we answer questions. Riddles or something similar. Something that the Emperor would know . . . or like us to know. Let me do the talking, if you would, Mr. Cobb. It is possible I can reason with it better than any one else. They should respond to the old Imperial Intelligence over-ride code.” “Uh huh,” Jayne grunted. “You do that. I’m gonna be over here, twiddlin’ my thumbs and contemplatin’ retirement opportunities.” Campbell nodded, conferred with Han a moment – the man had a good knowledge of robotics warfare – and began his approach. When he got within ten feet, the machine came to life, as if it had been waiting for an invitation to dance. “Who approaches?” the robotic samurai asked in a pleasant, singsong tone. Campbell bowed deeply. “I am Nathanial Campbell, Colonel of Imperial Intelligence. I come at the behest of His Imperial Majesty, Lei Fong Wu, Son of Heaven.” There was the barest of pauses. “You are recognized, Colonel. I am here to guard access to the computer core. You must best me to complete your task. You may elect to either duel me with sword or spear, or engage in a series of complicated riddles. When I have been bested three times, you may pass. Beyond these doors is the panel where you may reactivate the core.” “May I confer with my men before making that decision?” The robot bowed deeply. “Take your time, Colonel. My effective power supply gives me two hundred and twelve more years of active life.” “Thank you.” He returned to his men, who were all looking at the robot suspiciously. “Gentlemen: we have a proposition to accept. Either we duel the machine or we outwit it. I’d say the duel would be more expedient, but less certain of the outcome. Conversely, the riddles may well prove in excess of our resources. There is no real way to tell. Your input?” “Jen dao mei. So lemme get this straight,” Jayne said, irritated. “We gotta play swords with the overgrown protein resequencer, or we gotta go through some gou tsao de word problems?” “That does seem to be the case.” “Why not just kick its metallic ass?” “That was not one of the options, Mr. Cobb. Besides, do you have any good idea how to do so?” Jayne looked at the Colonel, shrugged . . . then turned towards the robot, opening up with the recoilless rifle. The sudden attack startled the other men, and apparently took the robot by surprise. The first shell impacted in its abdomen, creating a large dimpled crater but not quite penetrating the armor. It did knock the robot back at least a yard. The Guardians were built as consummate individual warriors, not as all-purpose battle machines. As such they were designed with armor adequate to stop a concerted small-arms attack. They could be shot repeatedly with small caliber weapons and barely notice the fact. A 105 mm recoilless rifle was a small artillery piece, however, and it could not be treated with impunity. The second shell broke the spear the thing held, the third hit just above the first to similar effect. The fourth and fifth shell penetrated at such close range, and knocked the robot against the door. Before Campbell could say anything Jayne had released the magazine, slammed home a magazine of high-explosive rounds, and sent three of them through the now gaping hole in its innards. By the third shot the robot had effectively stopped functioning. “You . . .” Campbell said, staring at Jayne. Jayne glanced up over the smoking barrel of the rifle. “Hey, you asked if I had some options. I was just explorin’ one, is all,” he said defensively. “Had to see if that was ass that could be kicked by a sufficiently large firearm.” He looked back at the smoldering, twitching remains of the robot. Campbell sighed. “I guess you proved your hypothesis.” “I hate word problems,” Jayne explained. “Give me headaches.” “Good to know.” Campbell shrugged and walked over to the ailing machine. It was buzzing, some of the actuators were grinding, and it seemed to be trying to speak. Only a strained and battered hum emerged. “I wonder if there will be any repercussions to this? I’d hate to think we conquered, then get shot down the moment we step inside.” Jayne swallowed as the men looked uneasily at each other. “You want me to go first?” he asked. “I blew it up. I’ll do that.” “No, Mr. Cobb, I am in command. I will take that responsibility.” Without another word he opened the wide doors and stepped bravely within the main core control room. Nothing happened. Campbell shrugged again and approached the control panel, Jayne and Han coming in behind. He touched the surface to activate it, then keyed in for voice. “On behalf of his Imperial Majesty, Lei Fong Wu, I activate this computer,” he intoned. Immediately, lights began coming on all over the room. All over the ship. “That’s one,” he said mildly. “Perhaps you’ll be so good to call it in, Mr. Cobb, while Han and I check over the systems and try to grasp what it is we have just done.” “Uh, yeah, I’ll do that,” Jayne said, starting to grin. He walked back to where the robot was still struggling – although not as much, now – and pulled the radio out of his vest. “Beta team to Delta Team. Come in.” Wash’s voice answered. “This is Delta, Jayne. I’m guessin’ you guys finished up, ‘cause there’s stuff happening all over out here.” “Yep, piece o’ cake,” Jayne said nonchalantly. “We the first?” “Affirmative. I just heard from Alpha Team and they have another hour or so to go. But we got problems with Gamma Team.” “What kinda problems?” “We got they-ain’t-checked-in-in-three-hours problems. Last I heard was from Book, and that was a while back. So I’m fretting. Any chance y’all can send some folk out to take a look?” “HellifIknow,” Jayne said. “I ain’t in charge. But I’ll relay it to the Colonel. We’ll probably come back, first, as we got some wounded that need tending. But we can probably get a search party ready quick. Don’t worry none, Wash, Cap is good at not getting’ hisself killed very often.” “Soon would be good,” Wash said simply. “Delta Team out.” Despite his casual attitude, Jayne was indeed disturbed by the report. He had a lot of faith in the man who had raised his station from a third rate-thug on a back-water moon to a first-rate thug and third-in-command of a clandestine Rimworld transport. He’d seen Reynolds sort or shoot his way through a variety of difficult situations. That tussle with Niska, for example, or his encounters with Saffron or whoever the hell she was. Sometimes he was cunning, sometime he just shot first. Difficult spots, all, but he got away every time. It was hard to imagine anything that could put Malcolm Reynolds in a tougher spot than those. But it made him uneasy, and that was a fact. When he reported the conversation to Campbell, the man was understanding. “Yes, we must pursue them. If only to complete their mission, we must. We can return to Serenity in a few minutes – I’ve summoned a direct lift, and it should not take long to make the return trip. I’m leaving two men here to guard this station. I’ve also taken the liberty of disabling the lifts for the entire aft section.” “Why’s that?” Jayne asked, confused. If they were going back there, his logic told him, a comfy lift would be preferable to hours and hours of footwork. “Because, Mr. Cobb, I’ve been over the diagnostics of this impressive machine. It cannot tell me their locations, per se, as the controls for that system are routed through the Engine Room, which has not yet been activated. But it has told me about a number of activations in the reserve infantry storage unit.” “Come again?” Jayne asked, perplexed. “The hibernation chambers,” explained Campbell patiently. “There are three main ones, and five minor ones, with a few individuals scattered about the ship. From what the ship has told me, there are over a thousand active chambers. A whole army, frozen in time. And some of those soldiers have awakened. About a dozen or so. Which means we are not alone, on this ship. And I don’t want to see a horde of confused Imperial military come off the lifts, looking for intruders. So I limited their access: nothing after this section,” he said, pointing at the fleximap, “works. I’ve shut it down. Because we are no longer alone, Mr. Cobb. There are . . . residents here. And I’m not hopeful that they will greet us as liberators. So they cannot go further than here without reconnaissance in force. Nor shall we be able to penetrate deeply in to the rear of the ship without getting out and walking. But until this is straightened out, I felt it best to keep them at bay.” “Good plan,” breathed Jayne, trying to wrap his mind around the idea that there were a bunch of young, well-trained hundred-year old men with guns that had been frozen on this ship. And some were now awake. Where the Captain had gone. “Yeah, that’s a good plan. Let’s go soon, huh?”

COMMENTS

Monday, December 12, 2005 11:47 AM

RELFEXIVE


Just goes to show: you never want to mess with either Zoe or Jayne.

Excellent stuff!

Monday, December 12, 2005 12:36 PM

JUUL


yay!
boy oh boy i can't wait for the next one :)

Monday, December 12, 2005 12:37 PM

MPHILLIPS


Exellent--no agnst all action. You got Jaynes dialog down to a T

Monday, December 12, 2005 2:16 PM

BENDY


“Did you know,” Campbell replied, after a moment’s thought, “that under Imperial Law if you ask me that one more time I can shoot you dead?”

Whoa. Good law.



Monday, December 12, 2005 2:17 PM

ANONYMOUS


There is no problem that cannot be solved by the appropriate application of high explosives.

It's nice to see you reinforcing some of the more subtle Joss Whendon tropes here. Sure, Sony can make an incredibly dangerous ninja bot (and probably use it to seduce Megatron as well!), but nothing man-sized stands up to artillery pieces aimed with an eye for the perverse.

Monday, December 12, 2005 4:49 PM

CANTONHEROINE


*sigh*
Don't rightly know what to say that ain't gonna sound redundant...
a) I love this story
b) You're brilliant
c) Keep writing
d) All of the above

Monday, December 12, 2005 5:04 PM

GGCRONO


You just had to have another dig at Sony, didn't you? ;)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005 3:04 PM

ANONYMOUS


*Happy sigh* I love your style. I love your character development. I love your plot. I love your battle scenes.

But most of all, I love the unfailing regularity with which you update ^^

Friday, December 16, 2005 1:34 PM

BELLONA


*gulp* one...thousand...?
"He conspired with the Sony arms merchant"
see? never trust the conglomerates...they'll only jump up and bite you in the ass

b


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